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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Dems Will Limit Damage to Obamacare

If reason and rules prevail, the amount of damage Trump and the Republicans do to Obamacare should be limited, according to incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Mr. Schumer vows to block all efforts to kill Obamacare, or gut Dodd-Frank financial regulation. “We’re not going to undo it, period. And I have the votes,” says Schumer, quoted in the New York Times editorial “Can Senate Democrats Save the Party?” The Bipartisan Policy Center concurrs, noting “the Senate is not likely to have the 60 votes needed to pass a wholesale repeal” of Obamacare.

Schumer’s confidence may seem a little cocky in light of the electoral college thrashing Democrats just suffered. But Dems did pick up a couple of senate seats. And Clinton’s historically-unprecedened popular vote win for a presidential candidate who lost the electoral college vote — 2 million plus and counting — should temper the public’s perception of any mandate the Republicans can credibly claim. The Times editorial adds, further:

Much of the burden will fall on Democrats in the closely divided Senate, where arcane rules give the opposition party leverage to shape or block legislation passed by the rigidly conservative, Republican-dominated House. The challenge facing the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, is to determine when to say no and when to compromise on matters of broad economic benefit.

Numerous opinion polls indicate strong support for key provisions of Obamacare, and a healthy share of those who criticise the ACA want a stronger, not a weaker role for government in providing health care. Asked, “Now, please tell me if you favor or oppose having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all” last December, 58 percent of respondents in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they would favor such a reform.

Most Democrats have long been open to “mend it, don’t end it” reforms to make Obamacare better serve the public, with considerable public support. Asked “Which is closer to your view on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare? It is working relatively well, and it needs some fixes to be better. It is fatally flawed and should be repealed and replaced?” in Bloomberg Politics Poll conducted March 19-22,  50 percent of respondents agreed that “it needs some fixes,” while 46 percent said “it should be replaced.”

The Republicans have thus far refused to negotiate in good faith for anything short of an all-out repeal of the measure. The central question going forward is, will Trump eventually settle for reasonable changes to the ACA with bipartisan support?

After meeting with President Obama, Trump reportedly told the Wall Street Journal three days into his transition that he might keep popular Obamacare provisions, including “the prohibition against insurers denying coverage because of patients’ existing conditions, and a provision that allows parents to provide years of additional coverage for children on their insurance policies.” Trump said “I like those very much.”

President Obama has indicated even he might support “replacement” legislation that gives the Republicans some credit, if it preserves the popular provisions of the ACA, even if it’s called something else. If Trump gets to the point where he is willing to support bipartisan reform of Obamacare, he might get some deserved credit for real leadership, instead of parroting the GOP’s childish, triumphalist demand that Obamacare be obliterated and replaced with a vaguely-stated something more to their liking at a later date.

Even with bipartisan reform of the ACA, Trump and GOP leaders can still strut, crow and gush about how they ended Obamacare. But it will be sensibly-calibrated, bipartisan reform, if it’s anything at all. Republicans will likely win some of their favored “reforms,” such as health savings/reimbursement accounts and greater flexibility for the states in administering Medicaid allotments.

No doubt some Republican hard-liners are hoping enough Democratic senators will be so cowed by Trump’s electoral college win and the difficult 2018 senate race landscape Dems face, that they will simply cave and support repeal of Obamacare, with no guarantees of any of the popular provisions being included in some sketchy “replacement bill.” More likely, Democratic senators will insist on responsible reforms, and that they will get some of the credit for it.


Political Strategy Notes

At Politico Gabriel Debenedetti’s “Democrats wrestle with Rust Belt dilemma: Party leaders in fast-growing states warn against obsessing over Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin” cautions against overreacting to Trump’s electoral college win and notes a couple of bright spots for the future. “The Arizona and Georgia margins turned out to be closer than in Ohio and Iowa — two swing states Obama won twice,” notes Debenedetti. “…Reed, the Atlanta mayor, makes the point that Clinton lost North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes — where her team spent tens of millions of dollars — by just roughly one point less than she lost Georgia and its 16 votes…“It would be a mistake to not look at the gains that were made in Georgia,” said Rebecca DeHart, executive director of that state’s Democratic Party, nodding to the looming uncertainty about resources.”

Lynn Vavreck reported in the New York Times that “Only 9 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s appeals in her ads were about jobs or the economy. By contrast, 34 percent of Mr. Trump’s appeals focused on the economy, jobs, taxes and trade.”

In his Daily Beast post, “Dems Can’t Afford to Say Yes to Trump: The few last times Democrats were in the oppositional spotlight, they were excessively accommodating to Republican presidents. The party can’t risk that now,” Michael Tomasky makes a strong case against Dems taking an accommodationist tilt toward Trump. In one graph Tomasky shreds the myth that Dems outspent Republicans leading up to 2016, particularly at the state level: “…It’s the right that spends more. Rob Stein, the founder of the Democracy Alliance, the group of wealthy liberal donors that tries to coordinate investment in a progressive infrastructure, has studied this question for years. He told me: “The right has been building its infrastructure for more than 40 years. Whereas 10 years ago the right’s independent political apparatus was outspending progressives in electorally relevant state-based political mobilization by over two to one, in this cycle that margin appears to have been in excess of four to one.”

You’ve probably seen a fair number of posts disparaging “identity politics” in recent weeks. Most of these articles are talking about pro-liberal demographic groups. But Trump played the identity card with a much heavier hand than did Clinton, and more pundits than you can count attribute his electoral college victory and state upsets to his leveraging white working-class resentments. Laila Lalami’s “The Identity Politics of Whiteness” explores the phenomenon at The New York Times Magazine.

From “Vilsack’s tough message for fellow Democrats: Stop writing off rural America,” by Greg Jaffe at The Washington Post: “Democrats need to talk to rural voters,” Vilsack warned this summer. “They can’t write them off. They can’t ignore them. They actually have to spend a little time talking to them.” There is no question that Democrats do better in towns and counties where they put in the time, as Obama proved in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. For a strongly-stated opposing view, however, read this post.  A possible copromise might be for Dems to campaign more in rural areas in state and local races and during the presidential primary elections and caucuses, but for Democratic presidential candidates hold off on spending much time and resources in rural areas in the 2020 general election presidential race.

Although the 2018 election offers a scary landscape for Democrats campaigning for senate seats, at The Plum Line Greg Sargent points out that Democrats face more encouraging terrain in upcoming races for governorships. Sargent writes that “in 2017 and 2018, there will be a total of 38 gubernatorial contests…Of these races, those that will feature Republicans defending GOP-held seats…will vastly outnumber those that will feature Democrats defending Dem-held seats…The vast majority of these races take place in 2018 (only two, Virginia and New Jersey, take place next year), so we’re really talking about the 2018 map here. It has big transformative potential for Democrats, since many of the states in which Republicans are defending seats are ones Barack Obama (and to a lesser extent Hillary Clinton) won…There has been a great deal of chatter about how Democrats should retool their economic message to win back the working class and middle class whites that Trump overperformed among, but these races provide a chance to actually try to do this in the immediate future.”

Maybe 2016 really was the “facebook election,” though not in a good way, as Jenna Wortham observes, also in the New York Times Magazine: “Social media seemed to promise a way to better connect with people; instead it seems to have made it easier to tune out the people we don’t agree with. But if we can’t pay attention to one another, we might as well not live on the same planet at all.” Despite all of the educational promise of social media, it may be feeding polarization, instead of reducing it. Not only are left and right mostly preaching to their respective choirs on social media, the medium seems to encourage name-calling, insults and ostracism. What might help would be social media forums that  stimulate civil dialogue and consensus-building.

In The NYT Sunday Review Steven Greenhouse previews the tough times ahead for unions under Trump:  “Unions are expecting a series of stinging blows. Even as Mr. Trump talks of spending $1 trillion to improve infrastructure, many Republicans are eager to repeal an 85-year-old law requiring that contractors pay union-level wages on federal projects. Congressional Republicans are likely to take up nationwide “right-to-work” legislation, which would sap union treasuries by barring any requirement that workers pay union dues or fees. And even if Senate Democrats manage to block such a law, Republican gains in Kentucky and Missouri mean those states are likely to enact their own right-to-work laws…Mr. Trump will most likely scrap most of Mr. Obama’s executive orders on labor, including ones requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations, provide paid sick leave and pay a $10.10 minimum wage. He may also erase a regulation that lets four million additional workers qualify for overtime pay. (Last Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas suspended that regulation.) And the National Labor Relations Board under Mr. Trump will no doubt overturn numerous union-friendly moves by the Obama board, among them ones speeding up unionization elections and giving graduate research and teaching assistants at private universities the right to unionize.”

At HuffPo Robert Kuttner has an article that puts many of the Democratic-friendly post-mortems in perspective. Kuttner argues, “While posing as a populist, he [Trump] seems inclined to let the Republican establishment have its way, not just with welfare for the poor but with federal programs that Middle America actually values, such as social security and medicare…At some point, even the devout Trump backers may notice that the man is a fraud. And Democrats need to be there with a brand of constructive economic nationalism that actually serves working people…But in the meantime a great deal is at risk — not just the programs going back to Franklin Roosevelt and the civil rights victories going back to LBJ and Martin Luther King but constitutional democracy itself…Now, can the Democrats please suspend their usual ritual of the circular firing squad — and get on with the business of defending what’s decent in America?”


Political Strategy Notes

John A. Farrell’s Politico post, “What Today’s Democrats Can Learn From Tip O’Neill’s Reagan Strategy: In deciding to work with, rather than obstruct, the president, the wily House Speaker came out on top” is certain to generate buzz inside Democratic circles. Among Farrell’s several instructive paragraphs: “And the results of Nov. 8 brought nothing if not a lesson in humility to scribes who draw conclusions from insufficient or misread data. Yet, given the tides of politics and business, Democrats may have the opportunity to saddle Trump with all the ills he railed against—and much of what his white working-class constituency voted against…And the world, they are already discovering, is an unwieldy place. Wall Street banks won’t yield the Treasury Department to right-wing populists. Manufacturers won’t stop seeking low-wage workers because President Trump was elected. Immigrant women won’t stop bearing children. Health care costs won’t plummet. Powerful special interests won’t stop trying to rig the system. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News won’t stop finding cause to complain. Trade wars won’t bring on economic bliss. The planet won’t stop cooling. Tea Party Republicans won’t suddenly become reasonable, nor will Middle Eastern fanatics. American soldiers won’t stop dying. Hurricanes and microbes won’t stop at borders. Roads and bridges won’t repair themselves.”

In his WaPo column “For Democrats, the Road Back,” Conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer accuses Dems of marinating in short-sighted identity/tribal politics at home, while naively embracing universalist values in foreign policy under President Obama. Both accusations are characteristically  overstated, as is often the case with conservative commentators. And, reasonable people can disagree about whether Dems failed to include one of the largest tribes, the white working-class, in their big tent. But there is no question as to whether Trump’s noxious brand of “tribal” politics includes a comfy seat at the head table for white supremacists — and that is completely ignored by the columnist. Krauthammer also takes a shot at  Vladimir Putin, who “thinking tribally, renewed the savage bombing of Aleppo and then moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad to remind Europeans of the perils of defying the regional strongman,” while failing to acknowledge that Putin is Trump’s most fervent supporter abroad.

Nora Kelly notes at The Atlantic that five presidents have ben elected with smaller popular vote percentage leads than Clinton’s popular vote lead: James Garfield in 1880: 0.09 percentage points; John F. Kennedy in 1960: 0.17 percentage points; Grover Cleveland in 1884: 0.57 percentage points; Richard Nixon in 1968: 0.7 percentage points; and James Polk in 1844: 1.45 percentage points. Further, adds Kelly, “If the final vote count does, indeed, put her roughly 2 percentage points ahead of Trump, her margin would edge up against those of winning presidential nominees Jimmy Carter in 1976 (2.07 percentage points) and George W. Bush in 2004 (2.47 percentage points). And all this is not to mention the presidents who’ve been elected without winning the popular vote at all. That’s a list that includes Bush in 2000, and will soon include Trump. As my colleague Ronald Brownstein put it, Trump “is on track to lose the popular vote by more than any successfully elected president ever.”

Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane addresses a question that has preoccupied numerous writers posting at TDS over the years in his article, “What will it take for Democrats to woo the white working class?” Lane sees Democrats caught in a dilemma, and frames it tis way: “The Democrats’ dilemma, then, is this: They can make only limited political gains with an economic pitch to the white working class, unless they adjust on immigration and other issues of identity too, probably…Yet this would require compromising on what the party defined as matters of basic justice and tolerance, and turn off voters from their racially and ethnically diverse “coalition of the ascendant.” Lane does suggest a path forward, though in vague terms: “The alternative, of course, is to appeal to the public on the basis of our common American identity, and aspirations, rather than our overlapping grievances — cultural, racial, economic or otherwise.”

At The Wall St. Journal Democratic activist Ted Van Dyk has an article, “How Democrats Can Win Again: Develop a new vision now, and inspiring leaders to implement it will come later.” van Dyk observes, “The path to Democratic recovery does not lie with ever-shriller denunciation of Republicans as alleged racists, enemies of women, or allies of the wealthy. Democrats must demonstrate ourselves capable of growing a fair economy and keeping the country safe. Today, given our party’s and candidates’ ties to big money and finance, we are not credible as populists or allies of the common man. Millions of voters think we are committed to our own political success but not necessarily to the national welfare…Democrats should not worry about their current shortage of leaders. More will emerge. Better to ask: What are the country’s big problems? What are our plans to address those problems? How can we persuade a majority to support those proposals?”

At The Week Scott Lemieux writes on “The Democrats’ postmortem problem,” comments that “In retrospect, for example, it seems like the campaign made a mistake in making so much of its advertising negative attacks on Donald Trump’s character. Given that Trump always had high personal negatives these attacks had diminishing returns, and Clinton missed an opportunity to highlight economic policy differences where public opinion favored her position. While it was not unreasonable to think Trump’s particular unfitness for office created an opportunity to peel off suburban Republicans, it didn’t work.“… Be wary of assertions that there was One Magic Trick a candidate could have used to win an election, and be doubly wary when this magic bullet is an argument that the candidate advancing the policy ideas the pundit agrees with is also by remarkable coincidence always the best political strategy as well.”

Nobel Prize laureate and NYT columnist Paul Krugman remains skeptical about the media’s commitment to adequately cover political policies of candidates: “Any claim that changed policy positions will win elections assumes that the public will hear about those positions. How is that supposed to happen, when most of the news media simply refuse to cover policy substance? Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to Mrs. Clinton’s emails…Beyond this, the fact is that Democrats have already been pursuing policies that are much better for the white working class than anything the other party has to offer. Yet this has brought no political reward.”

At Vox Timothy B. Lee explores the Jill Stein recount idea and sheds some interesting light on the process. Lee notes that “someone — likely the Russian government — tried to hack voting infrastructure in Ukraine to change the outcome of the election there. And a skillful attacker could alter the results of a vote without leaving any obvious fingerprints.” Lee explains what could be revealed by one kind of recount technology. But home-grown voter suppression, both “legal” and illegal, may be the more significant factor in the electoral vote outcome.

Yeah, everybody is sick of polls and skeptical about their value as a result of the election. But this one merits thoughtful consideration, because crafting an immigration policy that is just, economically-wise and politically-feasible is an imperaive for the incoming president. The central finding, that 60 percent of respondents “would like to see undocumented immigrants stay in the country and get a chance to become citizens” provides a sobering counerpoint to the cheap-shot immigration-bashing that characterized the GOP primary season.

 


Lakoff on Lessons of the 2016 Election

Those who have an interest in subtextual political messaging and the psycholinguistic underpinnings of political attitudes have an interesting article to read in George Lakoff’s “A Minority President: Why the polls failed, and what the majority can do” at HuffPo. Lakoff, author of “The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate” and “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Third Edition,” writes:

Hillary Clinton won the majority of votes in this year’s presidential election.

The loser, for the majority of voters, will now be a minority president-elect. Don’t let anyone forget it. Keep referring to Trump as the minority president, Mr. Minority and the overall Loser. Constant repetition, with discussion in the media and over social media, questions the legitimacy of the minority president to ignore the values of the majority. The majority, at the very least, needs to keep its values in the public eye and view the minority president’s action through majority American values.

The issue of moral legitimacy is central for Lakoff, and Clinton’s popular vote majority (actually a plurality at this point as commenter Jack Olson notes below) is a useful reminder that Trump has no mandate for eradicating all of the hard-won reforms of recent years. Trump and the Republicans would like the public to forget that he lost the popular vote by 2 million and rising, which could happen. It is the duty of Democrats and progressives to keep this central fact in the forefront of all political discussions that touch on what the voting public actually wants.

Lakoff argues that “the nature of mind is not a mere technical issue for the cognitive and brain sciences, but that it had everything to do with the outcome of the 2016 election,” and he reviews at length the key ideas of his books, and how they applied in the election:

Conscious thought is a small part of thought — estimates by neuroscientists vary between a general “most” to as much as 98 percent, with consciousness as the tip of the mental iceberg. We do know that people tend to make decisions unconsciously before becoming consciously aware of them. How the neural unconscious functions in decision-making is vitally important for politics.

…The first thing that is, or should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue…The Clinton campaign consistently violated the lesson of Don’t Think of an Elephant! They used negative campaigning, assuming they could turn Trump’s most outrageous words against him. They kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous. Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous. They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!

…The polls failed because they work by demography, using census data, and other readily accessible data. The census tells us where people live, their age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, marital status, income level, etc. These are objective data, and this kind of data is easy to get and sample. But demographic data leaves out what is most important in elections and in political polling generally: Values! One’s sense of right and wrong. That omission was crucial in this election.

A common observation of contemporary political discussions, from the dining room table to academic forums, is that many low and moderate income people routinely “vote against their own interests.” But economic, or material interests, are not the pivotal principle for many voters, according to Lakoff.

“Everyone likes to think of himself or herself as a good person,” notes Lakoff. “That means that your moral system is a major part of your identity — who you most deeply are. Voting against your moral identity would be a rejection of self. That is why poor conservatives vote against their material interests. They are voting for their moral worldviews to dominate, and for public respect for their values.”

Lakoff has a lot more to say about nurturant family values, the ‘strict father’ paradigm and how such modeling affects political attitudes. Regarding the white working-class, he writes,

Many members of the white working class have strict father morality, even those in unions. Many have their strict father views limited to their home life, but many have them as a major worldview. As conservatives, they believe in individual responsibility, not government “handouts;” they may resent union dues and prefer “right to work” laws; and they may implicitly accept the moral hierarchy and believe they are superior to non-whites, Latinos, non-Christians, and gays and should be in a higher financial and social position. Conservative women may accept their position as inferior to their men, but still see themselves above the rest of the hierarchy. The white working class has been hit hard by income inequality, globalization and outsourcing, computerization, the decline of coal mining, low-wage chain stores driving out small business, and if older, ageism. They are largely uneducated and see themselves as looked down on by the educated “elite” who tell them that everyone should go to college to merit today’s jobs. They also resent “political correctness,” which directs resources to those who need them even more, but are lower on the conservative moral hierarchy. They want the respect of being on the right side of politics, of having their moral views— and hence their deepest identity — confirmed.

It’s not hard to imagine how the need for respect and confirmation played out in the rust belt, where Trump found his treasure trove of voters, who delivered the electoral college victory to him. Lakoff believes, further that the tilt of the Supreme Court became a key consideration for voters who felt their values were disrespected. “All three of these groups — evangelicals, corporatists, and the white working class,” writes Lakoff, “correctly saw the Supreme Court issue as central to upholding their values across the board, on all issues.”

Lakoff cites ten trigger mechanisms to leverage the unconscious thought of voters, among them:

1. Repetition. Words are neurally linked to the circuits that determine their meaning. The more a word is heard, the more the circuit is activated and the stronger it gets, and so the easier it is to fire again. Trump repeats. Win. Win, Win. We’re gonna win so much you’ll get tired of winning.

2. Framing: Crooked Hillary. Framing Hillary as purposely and knowingly committing crimes for her own benefit, which is what a crook does. Repeating makes many people unconsciously think of her that way, even though she has always been found to have been honest and legal by thorough studies by the right-wing Bengazi committee (which found nothing) and the FBI (which found nothing to charge her with.) Yet the framing worked.

There is a common metaphor that Immorality Is Illegality, and that acting against Strict Father Morality (the only kind off morality recognized) is being immoral. Since virtually everything Hillary Clinton has ever done has violated Strict Father Morality, that makes her immoral to strict conservatives. The metaphor makes her actions immoral, which makes her a crook. The chant “Lock her up!” activates this whole line of reasoning.

4. Grammar: Radical Islamic terrorists: “Radical” puts Muslims on a linear scale and “terrorists” imposes a frame on the scale, suggesting that terrorism is built into the religion itself. The grammar suggests that there is something about Islam that has terrorism inherent in it. Imagine calling the Charleston gunman a “radical Republican terrorist.”

Trump is aware of this to at least some extent. As he said to Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer who wrote The Art of the Deal for him, “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”

“Our neural minds think in certain patterns,” continues Lakoff. “Trump knows how to exploit them. Whatever other limitations on his knowledge, he knows a lot about using your brain against you to acquire and maintain power and money.”

As for the tendency of the media to echo Trump’s messaging, Lakoff observes that “The head of CBS, Leslie Moonves, for example, said that CBS benefitted by giving Trump free airtime during the campaign. “It may not be good for America, but it’s good for CBS,” he said.”

“More than ever we need courage and imagination in the media. It is crucial, for the history of the country and the world, as well as the planet,” says Lakoff. The media can better serve the public interest by doing some soul-seartching regarding the terminology they use, and to consciously avoid being manipulated by right-wing frames and memes.  For example, notes Lakoff,

One possibility is for journalists to use more accurate language. Take government regulations. Their job is to protect the public from harm and fraud composed by unscrupulous corporations. The Trump administration wants to get rid of “regulations.” They are actually getting rid of protection. Can journalists actually say they are getting rid of protections, saying the word “protection,” and reporting on the harm that would be done by not protecting the public.

Can the media report on corporate poisoning of the public — through introducing lead and other cancer-causing agents into the water through fracking and various manufacturing processes, through making food or toiletries that contain poisonous and cancer-causing ingredients, and on and on. The regulations are there for a purpose — protection. Can the media use the words POISON and CANCER? The public needs to know.

Looking toward the future, Lakoff has some thoughts on what can be done to prevent Trump from further manipulating the public and the media with his ‘strict father’ messaging:

There are certain things that strict fathers cannot be: A Loser, Corrupt, and especially not a Betrayer of Trust.

Trump lost the popular vote. To the American majority, he is a Loser, a minority president. It needs to be said and repeated.

Above all, Trump is a Betrayer of Trust. He is acting like a dictator, and is even supporting Putin’s anti-American policies.

He is betraying trust in a direct way, by refusing to put his business interests in a blind trust. By doing so, and by insisting on his children both running the business and getting classified information, he is using the presidency to make himself incredibly wealthy — just as Putin has. This is Corruption of the highest and most blatant level. Can the media say the words: Corruption, Betrayal of Trust? He ran on a promise to end corruption, to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Instead, he has brought a new and much bigger swamp with him — lobbyists put in charge of one government agency after another, using public funds and the power of the government to serve corporate greed. And the biggest crock in the swamp is Trump himself!

The Trump administration will wreak havoc on the very people who voted for him in those small towns — disaster after disaster. It will be a huge betrayal. The $500 billion in infrastructure — roads and bridges, airports, sewers, eliminating lead water pipes — will probably not make it to those thousands of small rural towns with in-group nurturance for the townspeople. How many factories with good-paying jobs can be brought to such towns? Not thousands. Many of those who voted for Trump will inevitably be among the 20 million who will lose their health care. And they will become even further victims of corporate greed — more profits going to the top one percent and more national corporations, say, fast food and big-box stores paying low wages and offering demeaning jobs will continue to wipe out local businesses. Will this be reported? Will it even be said? And if so, how will it be said in a way that doesn’t wind up promoting Trump?

Trump as betrayer is a powerful image that can help limit his ability to fully institutionalize a kleptocratic government that enriches his wealthy associates at the expense of working people and their families. But the protests must also include an alternative, positive vision. As Lakoff concludes,

By fighting against Trump, many protesters are just showcasing Trump, keeping him in the limelight, rather than highlighting the majority’s positive moral view and viewing the problem with Trump from within the majority’s positive worldview frame. To effectively fight for what is right, you have to first say what is right and why.

Trump’s election confounded pollsters, pundits and Democratic activists who placed too much confidence in their data-driven analyses and high-tech GOTV, and not enough focus on how Democratic messaging frames morals and values. If ever there was a time for Democratic leaders to study Lakoff’s ideas more seriously, that moment has arrived.

Criticizing Trump’s corruption with specifics is essential. But, as Lakoff argues, it is even more important that Democratic messaging spell out the moral dimensions of the society progressives want to create, and the more inclusive is the vision, the better. When a substantial portion of the white working class feels like they are included in such a vision, a stable progressive majority can become a reality.


Political Strategy Notes

At New York Magazine Jonathan Chait’s “Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi Have a Plan to Make President Trump Popular” makes a strong case against Democrats cooperating much with Trump’s infrastructure “plan,” such as it is: “How and where to cooperate with Trump presents many dilemmas for the opposition, pitting the Democrats’ self-interest against the need to safeguard the welfare of the country’s political institutions. There are certainly venues where Americans alarmed by the incoming president ought to consider working with him for the sake of preserving the welfare of the country. But infrastructure is not one of those dilemmas. Supporting a Trumpian infrastructure bill would be to cooperate with the subversion of American government and an act of political self-sabotage. It is an idea so insanely bad it disturbingly suggests the party utterly fails to grasp the challenge before it, or the way out…For Democrats to cooperate unconditionally with this strategy is to institutionalize a political order in which Democratic presidents must be punished with contractionary policy while Republicans are rewarded with expansionary policy. Reasonable people can disagree about what level of national debt can be sustained, but the figure is finite. The political system seems to passively accept that America’s long-term debt should be allocated toward the goal of maximizing growth exclusively during Republican administrations. Why Democrats would find this system good for their country, let alone their party, is difficult to understand…Trump is actually proposing to invite unprecedented levels of corruption into government. Trump’s high potential for corruption involves the interplay of two different rejections of political norms. First, unlike every other presidential candidate in modern history, he has refused to disclose his tax returns, so his financial interests remain opaque. Second, he will continue to hold his interests in office rather than retreat into passive investment.”

In “Should Democrats Work With Donald Trump? Only under the following extremely stringent conditions,” Jim Newell writes at slate.com, “Since Election Day, Democrats of all stripes have signaled a willingness to work with the president-elect on issues of common concern. Specifically, they’ve broadcast their interest in helping Donald Trump follow through on his vow to fix the nation’s ailing roads, bridges, and grids….Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat representing Phoenix, said that Trump’s “infrastructure plan is really a privatization scheme, rife with graft and corruption, whose real purpose is to enrich the Trump family and his supporters.”…To whatever extent Democratic senators work with Trump on these proposals, they should work extra hard to block the rest of his agenda. They should fight mass deportations, hard. They should fight appointments, like Jeff Sessions’ for attorney general, hard. They should walk out of Congress if Trump moves forward with a “Muslim registry.” They should use all the leverage they can possibly muster in the appropriations process to block rollbacks of the social safety net. If they do it right, they can show that they’ll work with Trump on areas where he meets their interests, on their terms, while also making it known that they’re not, in any way, interested in seeing this president serve a second term.”

Here’s how political commentator Julian Zelizer addresses the question “Should Democrats cooperate with Trump?” at CNN Politics: “Right now there is no reason for Democrats to believe that Donald Trump will refrain from pursuing a fairly radical political agenda. With united government and a rightward GOP, he will be under intense pressure to move forward with the most radical elements of his agenda: a draconian immigration crackdown, rolling back regulations on climate change, regressive tax cuts, deregulating the financial sector, harsh national security measures targeting Muslims and more. As Politico reported, bankers are pretty optimistic from what they are seeing in the transition that this White House will be extremely friendly to them. House Speaker Paul Ryan is planning to move forward with plans to privatize Medicare…The obstructionist and confrontational approach might be less palatable; it certainly does not sound as good in public and will put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of doing exactly what they didn’t think Republicans should do…M ore importantly, the party needs to make a decision about entering into any kind of an alliance with a politician whose ideas and arguments were so antithetical to every ideal that the party has been fighting for over the past few decades. While some Democrats might worry about how this would “look” to the public, they should remember that it didn’t look good for Republicans to be obstructionists and they now have control of the White House, Congress, and 34 state legislative bodies.”

“…For the past generation, the Democratic Party has been dominated by leaders and funders who supported shipping jobs overseas. And those same leaders largely supported the monopolization that has jacked up prices and driven down wages at the jobs that remain here. That must now end…Democrats should stand for roads and bridges, for broadband and clean water infrastructure, for the Erie Canal spirit that we can and must build a future together. Democrats must also stand against all unfair or dangerous concentrations of private power, in every sector of our political economy.” – Zephyr Teachout, “The Price of Failed Thinking” in the Washington Post

“We need first to acknowledge the root of this election’s pain — on Election Day, economic fears trumped social values. And while a clear majority of Americans agree with us on social values — that government should stay out of our bedrooms and marriages, that there is no place in America for racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia — these messages get lost if we aren’t helping Americans reduce their debt, buy a house and grow our economy for everybody.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, “The Root of the Pain” in the Washington Post.

From Robert Reich’s “The Democratic Party Lost Its Soul. It’s Time to Win it Back” at HufPo: “…What we now have is a Democratic party that has been repudiated at the polls, headed by a Democratic National Committee that has become irrelevant at best, run part-time by a series of insider politicians. It has no deep or broad-based grass-roots, no capacity for mobilizing vast numbers of people to take any action other than donate money, no visibility between elections, no ongoing activism…If it is to be relevant to the future, the Democratic party must be capable of organizing and mobilizing Americans in opposition to Donald Trump’s Republican party – turning millions of people into an activist army to peacefully resist what is about to happen by providing them with daily explanations of what is occurring in Trump’s administration, along with tasks that individuals and groups can do to stop or mitigate their harmful effects.”

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley observe at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that “the Democratic bench has taken an unprecedented hit during President Obama’s time in office. The numbers have worsened slightly following Obama’s final election as a part of the political environment. With most 2016 results in (adding projections for some uncalled races based on who is ahead at this point), the damage is as follows: a net loss of 13 governorships, nine Senate seats, 63 House seats, 949 seats in state legislatures, and 29 state legislative chambers. Some other modern presidents lost more governorships, Senate seats, and state legislative chambers, but none has lost more net House seats and — especially — state legislative seats.” This is not to blame President Obama, who has faced an unprecedented level of GOP obstruction and an extremely well-organized, corporate-financed effort to defeat Democrats in state electoral politics. Clearly it’s time for the state Democratic parties to step up their game or go under.

In his RealClear Politics post, “The God that Failed,” Sean Trende notes “…Trump received more votes from white evangelicals than Clinton received from African-Americans and Hispanics combined.  This single group very nearly cancels the Democrats’ advantage among non-whites completely.  This isn’t a one-off; it was true in 2012, 2008 and 2004…You may wonder why this group voted in historic numbers for a man like Trump.  Perhaps, as some have suggested, they are hypocrites. Perhaps they are merely partisans.  But I will make a further suggestion: They are scared…the sneering condescension of the Samantha Bees and John Olivers of the world may be warranted, but it also probably cost liberals their best chance in a generation to take control of the Supreme Court.”

Here’s some salient points to put Trump’s “mandate” in perspective, from “The voters gave Democrats a mandate to fight Trump’s extremist agenda” by Laurence Lewis at Daily Kos” “In last week’s election, Hillary Clinton received more votes for president than any candidate not named Obama ever. Hillary Clinton received more votes for president than any Republican candidate ever. Hillary Clinton received more votes for president than any white male candidate ever. Hillary Clinton received over 1.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, and that number continues to rise. She lost the election because of the arcane and undemocratic Electoral College—and while the rules are the rules, her margin of defeat under those arcane and undemocratic rules was miniscule…This was no mandate for Trump. Mandate winners have coattails, sweeping their parties to gains in both the House and Senate. Not only did Trump fail to have coattails, but it was Clinton, the national popular vote winner, whose party picked up seats in both the House and Senate.”


Democratic Paths

In his Washington Post column, “Republicans have heart disease. Democrats have a gushing head wound,” Michael Gerson, Former speechwriter for George Bush II, describes the crossroads the Democratic party faces:

What are the Democratic options moving forward? First, there is the Bernie Sanders option — the embrace of a leftist populism that amounts to democratic socialism. This might also be called the Jeremy Corbyn option, after the leftist leader of the British Labour Party who has ideologically purified his party into political irrelevance. Second, there is the Joe Biden option — a liberalism that makes a sustained outreach to union members and other blue-collar workers while showing a Catholic religious sensibility on issues of social justice. Third, there is the option of doubling down on the proven Barack Obama option, which requires a candidate who can excite rather than sedate the Obama-era base.

Gerson sees option number three at the most promising for Dems. “Democrats should not overlearn the lessons of a close election. Option No. 3 is the Democratic future on the presidential level.” It’s a ‘demography is destiny’ argument, and the case for it will be stronger in four years, given current trends. Gerson believes, however, that Dems could well chose the Bernie Sanders option, which Gerson argues would lead to another electoral disaster.

Clearly, it’s a simplistic menu of choices. While you’ve probably already heard fellow Democrats say that Sanders or Biden could have beaten Trump, they would have to be running at ages 78 and 77 respectively in 2020. It should also be noted that Sanders is a hell of a lot more politically-astute than Gerson observes — you don’t win 22 states in the Democratic primaries, including a healthy portion of the Rust Belt, by campaigning as an impractical leftist.

More likely that Democrats will come up with a ‘fresh face’ option that charts a path somewhere between Gerson’s narrow alternatives. Party strategists are already mentioning names, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, a well-grounded Ohio progressive, along with impressive newcomers, including NV Senator-elect Catherine Cortes Masto. Neither Brown or Cortez Masto fits neatly into Gerson’s choices. There are others who are ready to prove that the Democratic ‘bench’ is much better than pundits have indicated thus far.

The emerging leaders of the Democratic Party have lessons to learn about the nuances of strategy, tone and messaging from Sanders, Biden, Obama, Clinton, and yes, even Trump. It will be a tough road back for Democrats, and the candidate who can beat Trump in 2020 will be better prepared to take on the GOP’s echo chamber.

All four of those Democrats are highly-experienced realists, whose insights about their respective victories and defeats can help guide the Democratic Party back to a more competitive posture. And if other Democratic leaders and state parties will do their part to improve leadership recruitment and development, Dems will be in a much stronger position in 2020, if not 2018.


Political Strategy Notes

Sen. Sherrod Brown’s NYT op-ed “When Work Loses Its Dignity” should be a handout for Dems concerned about rebuilding the party in the wake of the 2016 election. Sen. Brown, frequently mentioned as a future Democratic presidential candidate, writes, “Ohio families will watch to see if the new president follows the billionaire agenda of the Republican leadership in Washington, which has called for overturning a new rule that increases overtime pay for many workers — an action that would strip thousands of dollars in wages from 130,000 of Ohio’s moderate-income workers. They will measure this president to see if he continues to oppose increasing the minimum wage, which is worth nearly 20 percent less than in 1980. Workers will expect the president to keep his promise of a trade agenda that puts their jobs above corporate profits. And they will scrutinize whether he will throw in with Washington’s moneyed interests at the expense of middle-class and working-class families…If President Trump takes the likely path that almost all Washington Republicans hope — tax cuts for the rich, an easing up on Wall Street, more voter suppression — Ohio workers will feel betrayed. Again. And they will respond.”

At Roll Call Nathan L. Gonzales takes a look at the next midterm elections in “Senate Landscape: Never Too Early to Look at 2018.” Democrats have some rerason to be optimistic, since the party out of the white house usually makes gains in  int he midterm election. Gonzales cautions, “Not only are Democrats defending more seats in 2018 (25, including two held by independents who caucus with the Democrats), compared to just eight by the Republicans, but 17 of those Democrats were initially elected in 2006 or 2012, which were good or great Democratic years.

“In 1964, 37 percent of Ohio workers belonged to a union; that number fell to 12 percent by 2016, and incomes for the working class tumbled in tandem. It’s a similar story in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Republican policies are largely responsible, but Democrats have done little to address the precipitous decline of the working class…Trump, despite being very short on specifics, spoke directly to people who have felt overlooked for decades. “Today is our Independence Day. Today the American working class is going to strike back, finally,” he said as he ended his campaign in the hard-luck state of Michigan. Trump stepped directly into a vacuum left by the fall of unions and the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the white working class.” — From Sean T. Posey’s “How Democrats lost the Rust Belt in 2016: The party of the working class is reaping the harvest of decades of neglect” at salon.com.

Burgess Everett writes at Politico: “Though incoming leader Chuck Schumer has yet to show his hand, the outline of a Democratic strategy for dealing with Donald Trump is beginning to take shape, based on interviews with several senators and aides. Their thinking: Exploit the inevitable divisions between Trump and the increasingly conservative GOP leadership over tax policy, infrastructure spending and possibly social issues. And Senate Democrats hope to use the filibuster — the only real leverage they have to stymie Trump and congressional Republicans — sparingly…While it might seem like wishful thinking for Democrats to think they can do an end run around a Congress firmly under Republican control, Democrats say they could envision cutting deals with Trump on passing a public works package, killing the “carried interest” loophole, and cracking down on currency manipulation by China. Many conservatives oppose all those proposals.”

But The Plum Line’s Paul Waldman isn’t having any of the ‘Dems should make nice’ talk towards the incoming Trump Administration. As Waldman writes, “Trump ran one of most vile presidential campaigns in American history, one based on racial and religious hatred, resentment and fear. He sought to normalize toxic misogyny. He celebrated violence. He mainstreamed white supremacy. His election has spurred a wave of racist intimidation and hate crimes, as bigots across the country have become emboldened by his victory to act out their most despicable impulses. He’s a demagogue and a dangerous fool, and while Democrats aren’t going to question the legitimacy of his presidency the way Republicans did with Obama, he shouldn’t ever be treated like an ordinary president with whom Democrats just have some substantive disagreements…So, absent an incredibly powerful reason to cooperate with him on any particular bill, the last thing Trump should get from Democrats is a clean slate and a hand extended in cooperation.”

Time magazine’s Sam Frizell has an update on “Democrats’ First Big Decision Since the Election: Choosing a New Leader.” Thus far the competitors for DNC chair include: Rep. Keith Ellison; former VT Gov. and former DNC Chair Howard Dean; and possibly former MD Gov. Martin O’Malley; DNC Vice Chair Ray Buckley; Labor Secretary Tom Perez; and SC Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison. The new chair will be elected in March.

Pro-choice voters can find a source of qualified encouragement in Amelia Thomson Deveaux’s Vox post, “Trump Probably Can’t Get Roe v. Wade Overturned: But expect more abortion restrictions under the new administration.” As Deveaux explains, “As the states continue to grapple with abortion restrictions, President Obama will leave behind one potential barrier to additional limits on the procedure: a federal judiciary full of Democratic appointees. “After the Supreme Court’s decision in June, the lower courts will be the ones deciding how that ruling is interpreted,” Hill said…But for abortion-rights advocates who were hoping to gain momentum after the Supreme Court decision in June, Trump’s win is a definite loss. “It’s more and more difficult for women to access abortion services, especially rural women and low-income women,” Nash said, “and we certainly don’t have reason to believe it will get easier under this new administration.”

Just a thought for progressives, especially writers and commentators. Instead of using the term “Clinton’s defeat,” say “Clinton’s Electoral College defeat,” a reminder that she won the popular vote, and quite substantially. This is not just sour grapes or a pointless consolation prize; it is more accurate; it serves the purpose of building awareness and discussion about a festering injustice that has frustrated the will of a majority of voters about the direction of our country twice in 16 years; and it also challenges the myth that Trump has a genuine popular mandate to eradicate needed reforms. “Nationally, just 3 in 10 Americans — 29 percent — say he has a mandate to carry out the agenda he presented during the campaign, while 59 percent say he should compromise with Democrats when they strongly disagree with the specifics of his policy proposals,” note Scott Clement and Dan Balz at the Washington Post, reporting on a Washington Post-Schar School national poll.

Speaking of “mandates,” Julia Azari probes the concept in her Vox post, “Every president claims to have a mandate. Does Trump actually have one?” Azari notes, “In my research on presidential mandate claims, drawing on an analysis of more than 1,500 presidential communications from 1929 through 2009, including press conferences and major and minor speeches, I found a distinct pattern. Although election margins have tended to be tighter since the 1970s, presidents have talked more about how those election results justify what they’re doing…Research suggests that mandate claims, despite their tenuous connection to reality, can be effective in affecting legislative behavior. Research also shows that these perceptions can be influenced by how politicians and the media frame elections. But these effects are short-lived. Political science studies show that legislators will change their behavior in response to the perception of a mandate election — but only for so long.”

 


Political Strategy Notes

“Hillary Clinton didn’t just win the popular vote. She won it by a substantial margin…By the time all the ballots are counted, she seems likely to be ahead by more than 2 million votes and more than 1.5 percentage points, according to my Times colleague Nate Cohn. She will have won by a wider percentage margin than not only Al Gore in 2000 but also Richard Nixon in 1968 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.” — from David Leonhardt’s New York Times op-ed, “Clinton’s Substantial Popular-Vote Win.”

“Trump called Electoral College a ‘disaster’ in 2012 tweet,” reports William Cummings at USA Today.

As for Electoral College reform and the difficulties posed by GOP domination of state legislatures, Ed Kilgore notes, “As it happens, there is a way around the constitutional-amendment process and its small-state veto power: the National Popular Vote initiative. It is an interstate compact whereby states agree to cast their electoral votes for the popular-vote winner. It becomes effective once states controlling 270 electoral votes agree to it. So it basically nullifies the Electoral College without abolishing it…At present, 11 jurisdictions (ten states plus the District of Columbia) representing 61 percent of the electoral votes needed to make it effective have signed onto the agreement. Earlier momentum has been stalled by the current dominance of state governments by Republicans, who (rightfully, it would seem) perceive themselves as benefiting from the status quo. It’s a good reason, in addition to such obvious considerations as redistricting and the considerable power of state governments, that Democrats might want to place a real premium on making large gains at the state level in 2018.”

At Alternet Jeremy Sherman takes a look at “How Trump Won—and How Candidates Will Win From Now On: The election was not decided on issues, values, character, scandal or national direction, but on confidence.” Sherman argues “Trump postured as the infinitely confident candidate. Though most of us thought he would lose, he campaigned throughout as though he were infallible…He acted as though he believed in his own supreme power to interpret reality correctly and to do whatever it takes to bring reality to heel under his command…Confidence is what all advertisers sell” He may be on to something here. Raw, relentless confidence may be worth a couple of  points with the GOP’s low-information voters, Ted Cruz and other conservatives have referenced.

In his November 11 NYT op-ed, “Where the Democrats Go From Here,” Bernie Sanders argues “I believe strongly that the party must break loose from its corporate establishment ties and, once again, become a grass-roots party of working people, the elderly and the poor. We must open the doors of the party to welcome in the idealism and energy of young people and all Americans who are fighting for economic, social, racial and environmental justice. We must have the courage to take on the greed and power of Wall Street, the drug companies, the insurance companies and the fossil fuel industry.” Great points, all,  and I think most Democrats believe that. But our messaging and image usually gets smothered by Republican repetition of the Big Lie — that Democrats are more elitist than them. We’ve got to figure out how to overcome their messaging edge.

Frank Bruni’s NYT column, “The Democrats Screwed Up” makes a persuasive argument that Democrats have failed to provide younger, more dynamic leaders needed to win elections, relying instead on old-timers who provoke more yawns than excitement. Bruni doesn’t deal with possible solutions, like investing more in candidate recruitment and training. Some Democratic organizations and progressive institutions like the Center fo the American Woman in Poltiics, NALEO and Emily’s List have modest leadership development programs. But the scale and funding should cerainly be expanded across the board.

Maybe a little more precision is needed than this retread. How about “It’s the infrastructure, stupid” for a 2018 midterms mobilizing theme? Trump has made some vague infrastructure program noises, and Dems might gain some leverage calling out Republican senators and house members who block it.

Abby Phillip, John Wagner and Anne Gearan explain why “A series of strategic mistakes likely sealed Clinton’s fate” at Washingron Post Politics,” and note in a revealing paragraph: “Some Democrats inside and outside of the campaign say that there is little Clinton could have done to stop the slide even if she had spent more time campaigning in Wisconsin and Michigan. The forces­ that caused her loss in the upper Midwest were also at work in places­ where her campaign sent her far more often and invested huge amounts of money, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.”

Worst ‘trial balloon’ ever.


Skocpol and Judis: An Exchange on the Presidential Election Outcome

Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com, presents an illuminating exchange of views on the presidential election results between two of the sharpest progressive thinkers, John Judis and Theda Skocpol.

Responding to Judis’s earlier TPM post, “Why Trump Won – And Clinton Lost – And What It Could Mean for the Country and the Parties,” Skocpol writes:

John, your piece is an elegant example of a genre of post-election autopsy that works no better, I fear, than those polling models.

You offer speculative interpretations of exit poll responses (known to be problematic data) presented as margins for various voter blocs in an aggregate national election. A lot of creative argument that HRC was a poor candidate because voters did not hear the economic message you wish she had delivered. Two problems: national polls showed that voters said she was better than Trump on plans for the economy. That is a small problem, however, because virtually no real policy discussion occurred in this election. Second, huger problem: HRC actually won the national aggregate election you are imagining in the TPM piece by a whopping 2.5 million or more votes. If America were what you measure here, she would be President-Elect.

Judis believes that Skocpol underestimates the public opinion reaction to the economic hollowing-out in rust belt states. As Judis writes,

If you look at a map of where the U.S. has lost manufacturing jobs since 2000, the two leading places are Michigan and North Carolina, and not far behind are Ohio, Pennsylvania (especially in the western half), and Indiana – all states that Trump won, and in the case of all but Indiana, states that Democrats campaigned in, and had won in the past. They are states where many of the voters blame trade and runaway shops — two of Trump’s big issues — for the loss of their jobs.

I haven’t seen any polls asking residents of once-thriving, but now depressed former factory towns in the Rust Belt how they feel about the presidential candidates. But Nate Cohn notes further at The Upshot,

Youngstown, Ohio, where Mr. Obama won by more than 20 points in 2012, was basically a draw. Mr. Trump swept the string of traditionally Democratic and old industrial towns along Lake Erie. Counties that supported Mr. Obama in 2012 voted for Mr. Trump by 20 points.

Skocpol is correct that polls show voters liked Clinton’s economic views better and that policy discussion was weak throughout the presidential campaign. But Trump and the GOP nonetheless succeeded in branding in the minds of millions of voters the image of Clinton as a ruling-class elitist, who cozied up to Wall Streeters. I heard some media-driven version of that throughout the long campaign, even in “liberal” media — despite the fact that Clinton supported clear, strong positions favoring Wall St. reform and against off-shoring jobs.

Regardless of how accurate was the meme, it was repeated ad nauseum until a critical mass of persuadable/lazy voters bought it. That’s not to say a majority of white working-class voters believed it. But it sure looks like a lot of them did.

Further, Clinton certainly should have been considered much more “trustworthy” than Trump on these concerns, given both his lengthy track record of screwing workers and his daily whoppers and contradictions. His campaign will hold the Pinnochio record for a long time, but none of his supporters seemed to care much. They wanted their anger at liberal failures vented, and Trump delivered. Never mind the fact that it was almost completely Republican obstruction that prevented any hope of forward progress.

Trump and the Republicans were able to do this by deploying ‘the big lie’ repeatedly. In one of  the most compelling insights of the exchange, Skocpol notes,

Previous work shows that Trump voters are NOT disportionately affected by trade disruptions, factory closings, etc. What is more likely is that these nonmetro areas had organized networks – NRA, Christian Right, some RNC and Koch network/AFP presence – that amplified the right media attacks on HRC nonstop and persuaded many non-college women and some college women in those areas to go for Trump because of the Supreme Court…HRC’s narrow loss was grounded in this absent non-metro infrastructure – and Dem Party losses in elections overall even more so.

There is no question that the Republicans have a louder echo chamber, as Skocpol cites, in their “longstanding natural organized networks” that penetrate into the rust belt and heartland, more extensive, disciplined and cooperative than the Democratic hodgepodge of single-issue constituent groups concentrated in coastal areas. The conservative organizational commitment to meme repetition is enviable, and the 2016 campaign shows the power of it. Repeat the big lie often enough and resistance to it eventually evaporates, especially when it goes unchallenged. It’s a scary phenomenon, and Democrats better find a creative way to address it.

Skocpol’s reminder that “HRC actually won the national aggregate election you are imagining in the TPM piece by a whopping 2.5 million or more votes…If America were what you measure here, she would be President-Elect” may be scant comfort in light of the fact that Clinton lost the electoral college majority. But it is worth repeating every time Trump or his minions try to infer that he has a genuine mandate.

Democrats should leverage the moral advantage that can be gained from reminding the public of the injustice that that the nation-wide popular vote margin, no matter how large, is irrelevant in selecting  America’s chief executive. Two million votes isn’t chicken change, and every Democrat called on to comment should say so until it sticks. It won’t give Dems back the white house; but it could help to prevent a stampede to repeal some Democratic reforms.

The Republicans got off easy in 2000. This time their presidential candidate will lose the popular vote by at least four times Gore’s popular vote margin, and Hillary Clinton’s popular vote edge will be greater than that of both Presidents Nixon and JFK. If Democrats let the public forget that, Trump and the GOP will be emboldened to eradicate all of the hard-won reforms Democrats have achieved in the 21st century — and maybe more.


Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times op-ed article, “Presidential Small Ball,” Thomas B. Edsall nicely sums up the key demographic components of Clinton’s supporters: “Clinton held an 80-point advantage among African-Americans, but was unable to match Obama’s 87-point edge in 2012 or his 91 points in 2008. She won 65 percent of Latino voters, compared with the 71 percent who voted for Obama in 2012. She won 28 percent of non-college white voters to Trump’s 67 percent, the largest gap in this demographic since the early 1980s, according to Pew. Moreover, she lost whites with college degrees 49-45. Among millennials, she won 54 percent of voters aged 18 to 29, compared with 60 percent for Obama in 2012…Clinton’s heavy investment in building support among women produced a one-point improvement on Obama’s 2012 record: according to exit polls, she won women by 12 points (54-42), compared to Obama’s 11 points (55-44). Obama lost men by 7 points in 2012, 52-45, while Clinton lost them by 12 points, 53-41.”

Does the second popular vote win/electoral college defeat for Democrats in presidential elections in 16 years mean Dems should make direct popular vote election a priority? In a close popular vote presidential election like 2016, Democrats could just as likely have benefitted from the electoral college, and, in 2000 the Florida vote count and Supreme Court decision muddied the effect of the electoral college. So there is probably no built-in advantage for Republicans in the electoral college. The best argument for direct popular election of the President is a moral one: Majority rule should mean majority rule. We don’t need an 18th century filter to protect us from the will of the voters, and you could argue that in 2016 the electoral college actually served the worst instincts of the rabble the founders feared. For a good backgrounder/update on the movement for direct popular election, check out James Lartey’s post, “Hillary Clinton poised to win popular vote despite losing presidential race” at the Guardian.

Does the 2016 election indicate that voters want to reign in ‘free trade’ and globalism? When you look at the arc of rust belt states for Trump stetching from PA to WI, it’s hard to avoid that conclusion. Whatever the actual economic benefits to the U.S. of ‘free’ trade, NAFTA, TPP and the free ride for runaway plants, it is a very tough sell, which defies credible explanation and makes it’s proponents sound like elitists. Hillary Clinton’s inability to shake off the globalist stigma of her husband’s administration, Trump’s free trade-bashing and Bernie Sanders’s primary/caucus wins in 22 states as a critic of unbalanced trade agreements provide ample testimony that many voters believe trade has in recent years been more of a job-killer than a job creator. Be sure to read Edward McClelland’s Washington Post article on the topic, “The Rust Belt was turning red already. Donald Trump just pushed it along.” In one key graph, McClelland explains, “Clinton, on the other hand, seemed to take the Upper Midwest for granted, never campaigning in Wisconsin and finally making a panicky visit to Detroit on the Friday before the election. In the 1980s, Michigan was the forging ground of the Reagan Democrats: hawkish, socially conservative, suburban, blue-collar workers who ignored the United Auto Workers’ entreaties to vote for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. (Their heartland, Macomb County, just north of Detroit, voted for Obama in 2012 but gave Trump 54 percent of its vote on Tuesday.)”

In his article, “How the Rustbelt Paved Trump’s Road to Victory” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein observes “those who did vote stampeded to Trump in insurmountable numbers. In particular, Trump beat Clinton among white voters without a college education by an astonishing 39 percentage points—a margin larger than Ronald Reagan’s against Walter Mondale in his 1984 landslide. Trump not only beat her by nearly 50 points among blue-collar white men, but by almost 30 points among non-college-educated white women. (Trump is president largely because white working-class women gave him double-digit margins in key states—a development that may occupy gender studies scholars for years.) Similarly, Trump captured more than three-fifths of rural voters nationwide; in the decisive Rustbelt states—Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and possibly Michigan—Clinton suffered death by a thousand cuts, as Trump improved over Mitt Romney’s 2012 performance almost everywhere outside the biggest cities.”

But don’t be fooled by the vast swatchs of red ink on election maps, which have more to do with geography than political preferences of voters. As L.A. Timess reporter Cathleen Decker puts it desribing Hillary Clinton’s electoral college shortfall, “A switch in three states of only about 50,000 votes out of some 120 million cast nationwide would have been enough to give her the victory.”

As you scan the post-mortems on the 2016 election, also have a gander at Naomi Klein’s critique, “It was the rise of the Davos class that sealed America’s fate,” also at The Guardian, which begins, “They will blame James Comey and the FBI. They will blame voter suppression and racism. They will blame Bernie or bust and misogyny. They will blame third parties and independent candidates. They will blame the corporate media for giving him the platform, social media for being a bullhorn, and WikiLeaks for airing the laundry…But this leaves out the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves wide awake: neoliberalism. That worldview – fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine – is no match for Trump-style extremism. The decision to run one against the other is what sealed our fate. If we learn nothing else, can we please learn from that mistake?…The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned. From Elizabeth Warren to Nina Turner, to the Occupy alumni who took the Bernie campaign supernova, there is a stronger field of coalition-inspiring progressive leaders out there than at any point in my lifetime.”

So how did Democrats do in the battles to win majorities of state legislative chambers? According to the National Conference of State legislatures, “Four chambers switched from Republican to Democratic control: New Mexico House; Nevada Assembly; Nevada Senate; and Washington Senate (Republicans, however, will have functional control as one Democrat will caucus with the Republicans.)…Three chambers switched from Democratic to Republican control: Kentucky House; Iowa Senate; and Minnesota Senate. …Two chambers will be tied: Connecticut Senate and Delaware Senate.”

The Center for American Women in Politics notes that, despite Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win/electoral college loss, women do have some encouraging election gains, including: “Nine new women of color, all Democrats, will enter Congress: three in the Senate and six in the House. A total of 37 women of color will serve in the 115th Congress…A total of six women have won Senate races. The totals include four newcomers, all Democrats, and two incumbents (1D, 1R) winning re-election…The newcomers include two women who won open seats: Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV); and 2 women who defeated incumbents: Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH)…A total of 10 new women (8D, 2R) have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, joining 73 incumbents who won re-election.” However, there will be one less woman in the House than the number currently serving.”

Lastly, presidential election post-mortems are understandably hard on the losing candidate. Putting her candidacy and career in politics in perspective, Hillary Clinton’s achievements and conributions are extraordinary. As a social change activist, First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has earned high praise for her tireless commitment to public service, her work ethic, policy acumen and genuine decency as a human being. The Republicans threw everything they had at her for decades, including the ugliest lies and innuendo any political figure has had to endure in our times, and she never flinched or retreated. And let’s not forget two of her historic accomplishments — as the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major political party and the first woman to win the popular vote in a presidential election. If she never did anything else, her accomplishments so far provide a source of inspiration and encouragement — to young women in particular, who are considering a career in politics and public service — and to all American progressives.