washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

staff

Political Strategy Notes

According to the New York Times editorial board, Democrats and progressives should be encouraged by the appointment of Robert Mueller III as special counsel charged with investigating Russian interference in U.S. elexctoral politics. The editorial calls Mueller “one of the few people with the experience, stature and reputation to see the job through. Mr. Mueller led the F.B.I. for 12 years under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In 2004, he and Mr. Comey, then deputy attorney general, threatened to resign if President Bush allowed a domestic-surveillance program to continue without Justice Department approval.” However, notes the editorial “This appointment does not lift the burden on Congress to conduct its own, bipartisan inquiry, nor does it end the need for an independent commission. But under Justice Department regulations, Mr. Mueller will have significant latitude, including to pursue criminal prosecutions, if necessary — although Mr. Rosenstein has the power to overrule him…”

In his Washington Post column, “Trump Has Caused a Catastrophe’ Let’s End It Quickly,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “There is really only one issue in American politics at this moment: Will we accelerate our way to the end of the Trump story, or will our government remain mired in scandal, misdirection and paralysis for many more months — or even years? There is a large irony in the politics behind this question. The Democrats’ narrow interest lies in having President Trump hang around as close to the 2018 midterm elections as possible. Yet they are urging steps that could get this resolved sooner rather than later. Republicans would likely be better off if Trump were pushed off the stage. Yet up to now, they have been dragging their feet…Nothing could be worse than slow-walking the Trump inquiries.” It’s about striking the optimum balance between taking the time needed to adequately address key concerns, while moving forward to complete the investigation and then act end the chaos. It’s going to take a while, but Democrats should do what they can to move the process along briskly — for the overriding good of the nation.

But NYT’s  Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns report that “Democratic Leaders Try to Slow Calls to Impeach Trump,” and write “The barrage of reports about Mr. Trump’s chaotic and controversial administration has helped revive Democrats, raising their hopes that they can ride a Trumpian backlash to great success in next year’s elections…Party strategists fear that Democrats might sacrifice the moral and political high ground by appearing too eager, and some leaders worry that an impeachment drumbeat would drown out Democrats’ message to voters on kitchen-table issues like health care and taxes…The fear, Democratic officials say, is that they will invite the sort of backlash from their base that Republicans got for overpromising about what was possible while President Barack Obama was in office. They argue that methodically building a case — obtaining and revealing any memos or White House recordings, for example — is the soundest approach if they are to bring Republicans along.”

Democrats would be guilty of  political malpractice, however, if they failed to leverage Trump’s troubles in order to fight his regressive agenda, issue by issue. Josh Keller and Adam Pearce of The New York Times provide a handy, continually-updated widget  “Tracking Trump’s Agenda, Step by Step,” Dems can use to quickly check the status of 14 of Trump’s most frequently-cited policy goals.

“Russian strategic doctrine suggests that it sees hacking as a very specific kind of warfare,” writes Zack Beauchamp in his Vox post, “Vladimir Putin took time at a press conference to gloat about Trump.” Beauchamp further illuminates Putin’s grand strategy: “In an influential 2013 article, Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery V. Gerasimov argued that “non-military means,” including “new information technologies,” have eclipsed traditional weaponry in their strategic importance…The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”…The goal of Gerasimov-style interventions isn’t solely to elect leaders who will pursue Kremlin-friendly policies. It’s also to exacerbate internal divisions in hostile countries — to distract them with paralyzing infighting that makes it difficult for them to counter Russian strategic moves internationally.”

It’s one thing, when a Democrat accuses top GOP leaders of being paid off. But it’s quite another when it comes from the Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy:

In Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson has an update on Democrat Rob Quist’s campaign to take Montana’s sole House seat away from Republicans in the May 25th special election. It appears Quist is a genuine ‘outsider’ candidate in the sense that he isn’t getting much help from the national Democratic Party. “The Montana special election has laid bare a strategic disconnect between the Democratic Party’s base and the DCCC,” writes Dickinson. “And it underscores just how much work remains to rebuild a robust and effective DNC – the Democrats’ top committee, responsible for keeping all parts of the party working in concert…Montana has demonstrated, on one hand, the free-spending, go-for-broke ethos of the Democratic grassroots – activists eager to charge, uphill, into any battle against the Trump administration…Victory in a red state would make Republicans in swing districts fear for their political lives in the 2018 midterms – driving a wedge between GOP moderates and a president pressing to advance his extreme agenda…On the other hand, a cautious DCCC understands its mission as finding the path of least political resistance to rebuild a House majority for Democrats. Eager to keep its powder dry in advance of the crucial 2018 midterms – where the committee has identified dozens of winnable races in traditional swing districts – the DCCC is reticent to follow party activists into expensive red-district fights, where it does not see a clear path to victory. “We want to maximize gains,” a DCCC spokesman says, “competing in districts where we have a really good shot to win.” On May 3, the DCCC gave Quist’s campaign $400,000, and now he is just single digits behind his Republican opponent in recent polling. Those who want to help Quist can find his ActBlue donations page right here.

If ever there was an issue that will excite the Democratic base, particularly younger voters, it is net neutrality. Tony Romm reports at Recode that “Democrats are readying an all-out war to stop the FCC from killing net neutrality rules: Their hope: Generate enough backlash that Republicans cave.” As Romm explain s, “In many ways, net neutrality is the internet’s longest war: So far, it has spanned two decades, four presidents, scores of court challenges and multiple, wonky rulemaking proceedings at the nation’s telecom regulator, the FCC. It has pitted the country’s cable and broadband giants, which abhor regulation, against the likes of Facebook, Google, Netflix, Twitter and a host of startups that firmly believe net neutrality rules are critical to their existence….Huddling with reporters in the basement of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz put it plainly: “I just don’t think [Republicans] understand the ferocity of the resistance that they’re about to encounter…Part of our approach right now is to educate the public about the need to weigh in…I think the aperture for legislating in this moment is vanishingly narrow.” The danger is that the conflict will get lost in the media shadow of Trump’s debacle du jour.

Rachael Bade and Kyle Cheny report at Politico that “More than 10 centrist Republicans over the past 48 hours have criticized Trump for reportedly sharing classified information with Russian officials or allegedly trying to quash an FBI investigation. Many joined Democrats in calling for a special prosecutor to take the reins of the Justice Department investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. (The DOJ named a special counsel on Wednesday.) Others want a select congressional committee to be appointed…The break from Trump among centrist Republicans is especially notable because some of them had stuck by the president through the brutal fight over Obamacare repeal legislation two weeks ago, backing an unpopular bill despite great political risk at home…“Any member of Congress who represents a marginal or swing district better develop their own brand very quickly,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who leads the moderate Tuesday Group. “It wouldn’t be too hard to figure out what the opposition’s attacks on them will be: They’re going to call everybody a rubber stamp” for Trump.”


Impeachment: The Downside for Democrats

Jeff Alson ruminates on the possible reverberations of impeaching Trump in his article “The Impeachment Trap: Be Careful What You Wish For: Trump is odious, but impeachment is dangerous—both for the Democrats and the progressive movement” at In These Times. Alson, “an engineer from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who grew up in Trump country,” offers some sobering insights, including:

…Outrage aside, we must keep one thing in mind: how progressives and Democrats approach impeachment could shape our democracy and the domestic political landscape for a generation. We must focus on what is best for the American people, not on what is worst for our so-called president. I believe it would be a major strategic blunder for the Democratic Party to fall for what I call the Impeachment Trap—the powerful temptation to lead the charge for impeachment without considering the strategic implications.

…The simple majority necessary to impeach in the House of Representatives, as well as the two-thirds majority that is required to convict in the Senate, can be achieved with the support of most or all Democrats and a minority of Republicans. Unfortunately, this scenario would offer enormous political benefits to the Republicans.

If Trump were impeached and convicted, Vice President Mike Pence, a right-wing, evangelical ideologue, would be a much more reliable and competent rubber stamp for the conservative policy agenda. Trump, for all his failings, cannot be counted on to support conservative Republican orthodoxy. While his cabinet picks and early policy proposals have largely catered to right-wing ideology, his policy flip-flops and incompetence make him a very unreliable partner for congressional Republicans. In particular, his positions on Russia, trade, entitlements, and deficits are antithetical to Republican dogma, and recently Trump even applauded Australia’s single payer health care system. And thus far, most of his attacks on immigrants and Muslim refugees have been turned aside by a wall of public outrage and judicial rulings, although we will need to remain extraordinarily vigilant about an emboldened ICE. Pence, on the other hand, who was given a 99 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, would be much more likely to cut Social Security, push National Right to Work, and try to restrict gay marriage, and would probably treat immigrants and refugees just as badly, in order to court the Trump base.

Alson could also have noted Pence’s track record of voter suppression. As recently as October 4th, Pence, as Governor of Indiana, ordered state police to raid and shut the state’s largest citizen-run voter registration program because it was registering a lot of African American voters. As Ari Berman noted in his article, “Trump’s Commission on ‘Election Integrity’ Will Lead to Massive Voter Suppression: It will be led by Mike Pence and Kris Kobach, who have a very long history of making it harder to vote.” in The Nation:

Two days after firing FBI director James Comey and creating a full-blown constitutional crisis, Donald Trump signed an executive order today creating a presidential commission on “election integrity,” based on his debunked claims that millions voted illegally in 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence will be the chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will be the vice chair—two men with very long histories of making it harder to vote, especially Kobach. Given the lack of evidence of voter fraud, the commission seems designed for one purpose: to perpetuate the myth of fraud in order to lay the groundwork for enacting policies that suppress the vote.

If you want to know what such voter intimidation looks like, take a look at Pence’s home state of Indiana, where state police in October 2016 raided the offices of a group working to register African-American and low-income voters. They seized thousands of voter-registration applications, even though only 10 were suspected to be fraudulent and no one has been charged.

Think about it. Using state police to suppress African American voter turnout. Few governors in recent years have gone quite that far.

Many progressives, Democrats, and even moderates, are eager to impeach Trump, as much for his obnoxious personality, as for his politics. Increasing numbers of people are feeling ‘Trump fatigue,’ and are tiring of his arrogance and the daily embarrassment he provides. At least Pence comports himself more like an actual grown-up. It’s understandible, but that doesn’t make it a good strategy for Democrats. As Alson brings brings it into focus:

Impeachment would also help restore the damaged Republican brand. Trump lost the popular vote by the largest margin of any incoming president in history. His administration is mired in incompetence, chaos, and suspicion, and has already sparked a massive public resistance. His public approval rating hovers around 40 percent, by far a record low for a new president. If these trends continue, his presidency will be a massive albatross around the GOP’s neck in future elections.

By contrast, the robot-like Pence—despite his extreme right-wing views—would be packaged as a comforting return to normalcy. The relief at no longer having an egotistical lunatic at the helm could provide Pence with a long and generous public opinion honeymoon. Republicans could claim that Trump was “never one of theirs,” and approach the 2020 campaign with the benefit of incumbency and without Trump’s liabilities.

Alson also worries that “Democratic ownership of impeachment would also cement the loyalty of working-class Trump voters to the Republican Party. Republican incumbents in swing districts could spin impeachment as a partisan witch hunt. Trump would become a martyr, and his voters would blame Democrats.” This seems a tad overstated. Yes, the hard core Trump supporters would likely feel this way. But it’s just as likely that many of Trump’s working-class supporters are tiring of Trump’s act. In any event, Democrats shouldn’t worry too much about what they can’t change.

Alson argues more persuasively:

Most important to progressives, Democratic ownership of impeachment would sacrifice the historic opportunity to integrate the massive anti-Trump resistance into a revitalized progressive movement and Democratic Party. A short-term focus on impeachment would divert the focus of many activists away from less glamorous, but more important, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and policy advocacy, and decrease the likelihood of mass grassroots mobilizations on critical issues such as health care, immigration, Planned Parenthood, electoral reform, climate change, and so many others.

Alson believes that Democrats would benefit more if Republicans actually lead the impeachment effort because it would further divide the GOP as we approach the 2018 midterm elections. So far Republican leaders have not indicated much interest in leading the charge. But the nut graph of Alson’s article describes a more plausible scenario:

Paradoxical as it may seem, however, the best scenario for Democrats is one in which they resist the impeachment trap, the Republicans stand by their president, and Trump, odious as he may be, remains in office. Admittedly, this would extract a major toll on the national psyche and require an active resistance to thwart Trump’s attacks on marginalized groups, but the country would (probably!) survive. From a policy perspective, a paralyzed Trump administration would be far better than a more competent and reliably right-wing Pence presidency. Politically, Trump would become a black eye for the GOP, and the Democratic opposition would remain energized, all of which would favor the Democrats in both 2018 and 2020. An especially delicious scenario is one in which an unpopular Trump insists upon running in 2020, and the Republican Party is torn apart by a war between Trump supporters and the Wall Street, evangelical and libertarian factions that each want to reclaim “their” party.

At The New York Times, Ross Douthat proposes an alternative to impeachment, “The 25th Amendment Solution to Remove Trump,” which charts an equally complex and tortuous route to Trump-removal. It would require approval of a majority of his cabinet officers and a two-thirds vote of congress. But don’t bet the ranch on his cabinet minions risking the ire of their wingnut supporters by dumping Trump.

“If the Trump presidency continues to unravel and a constitutional case for impeachment can be made,” adds Alson, “Democrats can force Republicans into a perilous Catch-22 over whether to own it. If Republicans refuse, they will likely fail to achieve much of their policy agenda, risk permanent damage to their party brand, and weaken their future electoral chances. If they do own impeachment, they blow up the tenuous Republican-Trump coalition.”

Call it political akido, allowing Republicans to drain their chi and what is left of their political capital on deepening their internal divisions. “Either way,” argues Alson “Democrats can focus their energies on mass resistance and rebuilding an electoral majority.” Further,

…It would be a major strategic mistake for us to focus on impeachment as a top strategic goal, thereby siphoning energy from the progressive movement. As deplorable as Trump is, we must focus our efforts in the next four years on blocking bad public policy and mobilizing for the future, and those goals are better served with Trump than with Pence.  If the Republicans figure this out, let them be the ones to expend their energy getting rid of Trump.

It won’t be easy to resist the temptation to humiliate the worst president in modern history, but Democrats must muster the discipline to resist the Impeachment Trap, insist that Republicans be the ones to take responsibility for their shameful president, and mobilize to build real grassroots democratic power for 2018, 2020 and beyond.

It is an appealing scenario, even if it is rooted in wishful thinking. “Republicans are in a political straitjacket,” concludes Alson, “—unless Democrats commit political suicide by falling for the impeachment trap.” No doubt, an equally compelling counter-argument for strong Democratic leadership for impeachment can be made.

Either way, timing is all-important, and there is every reason for Democrats to milk Trump’s damage to the G.O.P. brand for as long as possible, culminating in a rout favoring Dems in 2018.


Cohen: How Trump’s Latest Debacle Endangers National Security

At this point, nobody has explained it better than Eliot A. Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and author of “The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.” An excerpt from his article, “The Terrible Cost of Trump’s Disclosures“at The Atlantic:

If The Washington Post is right, President Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a jovial meeting in the Oval Office. Here is why this is appalling, beyond even this president’s usual standard.

There are multiple flavors of intelligence classification, from “Confidential” (which is often in the public record already, just not acknowledged), to “Secret” (usually, though not always available if you know where to look—or are willing to wait a few days), to “Top Secret” which is beginning to be serious. The codewords, which security officials began using in World War II to protect signal intercepts (e.g. ULTRA), tell you whence the information was derived—so Top Secret/codeword material really has to be protected. Any of us who have had those kinds of clearances have gone through repeated trainings about how to safeguard such material (cover sheets, multiple envelopes, proper paragraph marking, etc.). And if you hope to keep your job and stay out of jail, you take it seriously. You do not have access to any and all compartments if you have a top-secret clearance. This, apparently, is some of the information that Trump blew.

Cohen adds, further, that “In the normal course of events, Donald Trump would never have been given a high-level security clearance because of his psychological profile and personal record, including his susceptibility to blackmail.” After you wrap your head around that, note Cohen’s warning, “But it will be even worse if his behavior convinces others, including those who work for him, that classification is meaningless.”

“If Trump has indeed compromised a source of information,” writes Cohen, “it is not merely a betrayal of an ally’s trust: It is an act that will jeopardize a whole range of relationships…The Director of Central Intelligence cannot very well say, “Don’t worry, we won’t share that with the president.” So now everybody—even our closest allies like the United Kingdom—would be well-advised to be careful with what they share with us. That is a potential intelligence debacle for us, but the danger goes beyond that. If any foreign government harbored lingering illusions about the administration’s ability to protect any information, including sensitive but non-intelligence matters like future foreign-policy initiatives or military deployments, they no longer do.”

The incident “shows, yet again, how easy this man is to play, particularly by veteran manipulators like his two experienced, talented, and thuggish guests.”

Despite assurances from Trump appointees that security precautions were honored at the meeting, Cohen notes, “it seems likely that the Russians captured all of the conversation—they were allowed to bring their electronics into the room, including the only video cameras, the American press having been excluded—they undoubtedly got all of it. And you bet that their analysts are even now chuckling as they figure out what the sources were.”

Nor is Cohen comforted by Secetary of State Tillerson’s assurance on Meet the Press that ““I have to earn his confidence every day.” further,

…One does not earn Donald Trump’s confidence by calmly conveying to him some unpleasant but essential truths. Rather, one earns his confidence by truckling to him, and by lying to everyone else. Now, what Tillerson, Powell, and McMaster said are not quite lies, but they are the kind of parsed half truths that are as bad, and in some cases worse. This is how one’s reputation for veracity is infected by the virulent moral bacteria that cover Donald Trump. Friends will watch, pained and incredulous, as they realize that one simply cannot assume that anything these senior subordinates of the president say is the truth. And having stretched, manipulated, or artfully misrepresented the truth once, these officials will do it again and again. They will be particularly surprised when they learn that most people assume that as trusted subordinates of the president, they lie not as colorfully as he does, but just as routinely.

Cohen concludes with a sobering obseervation:

…the only possibly redemptive part of this wretched tale, is if it motivates some Republican legislators to take a stand against their own party and for the law and the Constitution. If Trump nominates any kind of Republican political figure, no matter what their previous record, as FBI director, they must oppose it. They should denounce his misconduct for what it is. And all of us should begin contemplating the conditions under which—not now, maybe not even a year from now—the constitutional remedies for dealing with a president utterly incapable of fulfilling his duties with elementary probity and competence will have to be implemented.

Many would say we have already reached that turning point. The window of opportunity for Republicans who want to save their party from midterm disaster is closing very fast. History will not be kind to those Republicans who dither away their party’s remaining  credibility, such as it is.


McCain’s Moment

Timothy Egan’s New York Times column “Who Will Save the Republic?” poses a question of growing concern for Americans who care about freedom and democracy.

Trump’s firing of James Comey from the helm of the F.B.I. has diminished America’s ability to investigate breaches of the nation’s most precious assett, the integrity of our elections. “It’s obvious that Trump fired James Comey because he was getting closer to the truth of what happened with Russian manipulation of the American election,” Egan writes. “His advisers say an enraged Trump screamed at the television when this story would not go away.” Egan adds,

Donald Trump is the first president in history whose campaign has come under federal investigation for collusion with a hostile foreign power. And now the person heading that investigation, the F.B.I. director, has been fired.

We’re looking for a few good men and women in Congress to understand the gravity of this debasement. We don’t need more parsing about the bad “optics” or “timing” of Trump firing the man who could have ended his presidency. We need a Republican in power to call it what it is: a bungled attempt to obstruct justice.

And the tragic part is that Trump is likely to succeed, at least in the short term. The person he chooses for F.B.I. director will never assemble a prosecutable case of treason that leads to the doorstep of this White House.

It’s a bleak scenario. But Egan sees one hopeful path: “So, we turn to a handful of people in Trump’s own party to do something courageous — to do the job they were sworn to do.” But the top leaders of the House and Senate are among the least likely to rise to the challenge.

…The Irish Undertaker, Paul Ryan, is a lost cause — and increasingly looks like a bystander to the multiple-car wreck happening before him. The Senate leader, Mitch McConnell — whose wife, don’t forget, is in Trump’s cabinet — is also sitting this one out.

Call out the names: Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, Richard Burr and Bob Corker, Ben Sasse and Lisa Murkowski. They have committees and investigators at their disposal. Their party impeached Bill Clinton for lying about sex. The least they can do is demand some accountability of a man whose entire presidency is a lie.

McCain, more than the others, has the credibility to meet the challenge. Widely-respected for his patriotism, McCain has also shown flashes of integrity and bipartisanship as a U.S. Senator. It’s possible one of the other Republican committee chairs will step up and provide the needed leadership. But none of them would have the instant media cred McCain would bring to the effort.

It may be the last chance he gets to do so much good for his country, the integrity of his party and for restoring a bipartisan spirit to the U.S. Senate.

If McCain and other Republicans choose to duck the issue of Russia’s interference in our elections, it will send a signal to Putin and other tyrants that America does not protect its greatest strength — free elections. It will encourage more efforts to undermine our democratic process.

If no Republican provides the needed leadership tp conduct a genuinely bipartisan investigation, it falls to Democrats, progressives and the media to do everything they can to hold Trump accountable and protect our democracy. Writing at Daily Kos, Joan McCarter quotes Sen. Jeff Merkley:

“I think we have to convey that it’s not business as usual…I think my caucus hopes that Republicans will join us in fighting for the integrity of the American system of government. If they won’t join us, then we’re going to have to take aggressive actions to pursue this where it needs to go, with or without them.” That’s the message Mitch McConnell and his Republicans need to hear. It’s the message Democrats need to be united in sending.

Democrats are going to have to press the case for an independent investigation and prosecutor regardless. But having to fight this battle without bipartisan support would be a tragedy for the nation. It might also prove to be an electoral disaster for the Republicans — as soon as 2016.


Comey Firing Amps Up Calls for Special Prosecutor, Independent Commission to Investigate Trump’s Russia Ties

Democratic and progressive leaders are responding to President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, with a growing chorus calling for a special prosecutor and an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections and  complicity of the Trump campaign. From The Washington Post:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “We know the FBI has been looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?…If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein does not appoint an independent prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up.”

Al Franken: “I am also deeply troubled by the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who pledged to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his own Russia connections, involved himself in Director Comey’s firing. This is a complete betrayal of his commitment to the public that he wouldn’t be involved in the investigation…“We cannot trust an investigation led by this administration. And it’s now clearer than ever that we need an independent investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.”

Kirsten Gillibrand: “No more excuses: We need an independent special prosecutor to investigate the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia.”

Maggie Hassan: “This episode reinforces the need for both a special prosecutor as well as a thorough Congressional investigation to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference and any connection to President Trump’s campaign in order to ensure complete confidence in our democratic institutions.”

Sen. Kamala Harris: “we must have a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI’s Russia investigation. This cannot wait.”

Ed O’Keefe reports, also at The Washingon Post,

“The President’s sudden and brazen firing of the FBI Director raises the ghosts of some of the worst Executive Branch abuses,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday night…She added in her statement, “The interests of justice demand Congress act immediately to create an independent, bipartisan commission to pursue the Trump-Russia investigation free from the Administration’s attempts to silence it.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) expressed a similar view. “Now more than ever, we need an independent investigation into Russian ties to ensure American people can have full confidence in findings,” he said Tuesday. The phrase “now more than ever” appeared in many other statements issued by Democrats on Tuesday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “We need an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.”

…On Sunday night at a fundraising dinner for Iowa Democrats in Des Moines, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) earned cheers and a partial standing ovation when the emcee reminded the crowd that the senator was one of the first Democrats to call for an independent probe. Later, Klobuchar mentioned her support for an independent investigation during her speech and earned another round of hearty applause.

…“Democrats and Republicans who still have dignity should grind government to a halt until a special prosecutor is named,” tweeted Jon Favreau, a speechwriter for President Barack Obama who now co-hosts a podcast popular with progressives.

Trump has blundered his Administration into a constitutional crisis, inviting comparisons to Nixon’s ‘Saturday night massacre.’ Even some Republicans are beginning to embrace the need for a special prosecutor and an indepenent commission as the only way to sort out Trump’s latest disaster. That may take some time, but at least Democrats are unified in pressing the case. If any party benefits from the reverberations of this latest mess in the 2018 midterms, it will likely be the Democrats.


Greenberg and Rosner: Polling Still Reliable, Given Key Safeguards

The political polling industry took some sharp criticism when Donald Trump won slim majorities in battleground states that enabled him to win an electoral college majority and become President. But Democratic candidates and campaigns should now take note of a Washington Post article by Anna Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner (also available at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research’s website), which affirms the impressive accuracy of carefully conducted polls regarding the 2016 election, the Brexit referendum and the election in France and takes a deeper look at what is really going on with modern polling practices. As Greenberg and Rosner write:

…Polling in recent years has had to grapple with major challenges, from low response rates to non-response bias , in which some groups choose not to participate (there is evidence of this to some extent among Donald Trump voters). But none of these problems means that the basic science behind survey research has failed or that we can no longer produce high-quality, accurate data. The problem is that too many people are misusing and abusing polls — in three ways in particular.

First, many people treat polls as predictions instead of snapshots in time based on a set of assumptions about who will turn out to vote. Ron Fournier, the publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business, for instance, has argued that Nate Silver got the election wrong because he awarded Trump only a 34 percent chance of winning. Pollsters make judgments about the composition of the electorate based on historical experience and levels of interest in the current election to pull a list of voters to interview. But if those assumptions are wrong, then the polls will be wrong on Election Day. The polls in the Midwest that predicted a Clinton victory generally did not anticipate that, in key industrial states, more rural and exurban white working-class voters would vote than in past presidential contests.

The tendency of elites to underestimate working-class anger is a real and global problem. The United States and most other major democracies are grappling with intense and historic levels of public grievance related to slow growth; income inequality; and resentments over trade, technology and immigration. That has made voter turnout among specific blocs less predictable worldwide. But that’s not a problem with survey research methodology. Rather, it puts a bigger premium on listening to voters and picking up on who is particularly angry or energized.

Second, the rising cost of collecting high-quality data — because of declining response rates and the increased use of cellphones — has led many researchers to cut corners. Rather than spend more to address such problems, some organizations skimp on practices such as call-backs (to people who didn’t answer) or cluster sampling (to make sure small geographic areas are represented proportionately). They may also use cheap and sometimes unreliable data-collection methods such as opt-in online panels or push-button polling (interactive voice recognition) that systematically exclude respondents who primarily use mobile devices.

Indeed, according to “Shattered,” the new book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the Clinton campaign relied heavily on “analytics” surveys rather than “old school polling” to track the candidate’s standing because the former were cheaper. Analytics surveys are used to gather data for building voter targeting models. They tend to have large sample sizes but skimp on common practices that make traditional polls more accurate. The book quotes a Clinton pollster acknowledging as much on election night: “Our analytics models were just really off. Time to go back to traditional polling.”

Third, good polling requires good listening. Powerful new techniques in big data modeling make it possible to segment and target voters in ways that were undreamed-of a decade ago. Yet voting is an inherently human activity that defies being completely reduced to formulas. The best polling has always been accompanied by directly listening to people, face to face, in their own words.

Many campaigns and media organizations miss opportunities or succumb to polling errors because they do not invest in simply listening to voters. Focus groups are invaluable, as are other ways of listening, such as conducting in-depth interviews, reading online discussion boards or even systematically monitoring conversations on social media.

Open-ended listening can reveal the need to reword survey questions; for example, our recent focus groups suggest that “globalization” is all but meaningless to many voters. Open listening can cast doubt on things that may have become conventional wisdom in a campaign; for instance, we have worked on many races where the “front-runner” was actually quite weak, but that was more evident in focus groups than in standard survey measures of favorability or job performance. Direct listening can also show that not all polling numbers are created equal: While we did not poll for last year’s Clinton campaign, we conducted many focus groups across the country in which it was clear that voters were willing to overlook or tolerate concerns about Trump, while they could not do the same with Clinton (e.g., “I just don’t trust her”). Direct listening revealed that low favorability ratings meant different things for the two candidates. These are qualitative tactics that many media polls and campaigns skip or skimp on, partly because of the cost.

As the authors conclude, the future of credible polling “will depend less on math and more on old-fashioned matters of hard listening, wise budgeting and human judgment” — a good checklist for political campaigns, as well as for pollsters.


Senior Voters Growing Skeptical About Trumpcare Kool-aid

From “Older Voters Are Complicating the GOP’s Plans for Health Care” by Ronald Brownstein and Leah Askarinam at The Atlantic:

An Atlantic analysis shows that House Republicans who have expressed opposition to the GOP’s replacement plan are heavily concentrated in districts where the median age, the number of seniors, or both exceed the national average. Because President Trump ran so well in older and often blue-dollar districts, that dynamic produces a paradoxical result: Most of the House Republicans expressing hesitation about the bill, whose passage Trump supports, represent districts he carried. In most of those seats, Trump improved on the performance of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

That unexpected pattern underscores the GOP’s continuing difficulty reconciling its traditional small-government ideology with the material needs of the older and lower-income whites increasingly central to its coalition. While retaining the traditional conservative skepticism of programs targeted at the poor, those older whites have departed from conservative dogma by consistently expressing support in polling for government programs—from Medicare to Social Security—that they believe would benefit their own families. As the House’s legislative struggle suggests, it appears the ACA may be joining that list.

Likewise, in a recent ABC/Washington Post national survey, over three-fourths of adults 50 and older opposed allowing states to opt out from the ACA’s nationwide protections for insurance consumers with preexisting health conditions, as the latest version of the GOP bill allows. The same survey found three-fifths of adults in that age range opposed the bill’s provision allowing states to opt out of providing a menu of essential health benefits, such as covering substance abuse. Those sentiments loom over the pattern of opposition and hesitation on the bill that’s detailed in an unofficial whip count published by The Hill.

It appears that many seniors, if not most of them, are embracing a more prudent brand of conservatism with respect to health care reform. No doubt many are factoring in Trump’s erratic behavior and policy pronouncements into their reluctance to grant him carte blanche on Obamacare repeal.

The thing is, these seniors vote, even in miderm elections, and their Republican representatives know it. As Askarinam and Brownstein note, further,

…Over three-fourths of the bill’s declared House Republican opponents represent districts older than the national average. That significantly exceeds the nearly three-fifths of all House Republicans who represent such greying districts, according to Atlantic calculations. (Updates to the whip count published Tuesday morning did not significantly change any of the patterns described here.)

…Another list of opposed and undecided House Republicans produced by NBC yielded similar results. Among the 20 members NBC listed as opposed, four-fifths represented districts older than the national average and three-fourths held seats with a larger-than-average number of seniors. Of the 16 NBC identified as undecided, three-fourths held seats where the median age exceeded the national average; the same share held districts with an above-average share of seniors.

Republican representatives of these districts who support the latest version of Trumpcare are running a very significant risk of losing their seats next year, while those who play it safe and decline the Trumpcare kool-aid stand a better chance of being re-elected. The deepening doubts about Obamacare replacement held by senior voters who are living on modest budgets will further undermine the credibility of Trump and the Republicans. This could be the first major wedge dividing the GOP’s senior supporters, and  Democrats could realize the benefits.


New Research Confirms Dems Need Both Stronger Base Turnout, Plus Better Engagement of White Working-Class

Alex Roarty of McClatchy’s DC Bureau shares the findings from a new study, which clarifies the reasons why Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college vote, and what Democrats must do to win future elections. As Roarty writes:

…New information shows that Clinton had a much bigger problem with voters who had supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but backed Trump four years later.

Those Obama-Trump voters, in fact, effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost, according to Matt Canter, a senior vice president of the Democratic political firm Global Strategy Group. In his group’s analysis, about 70 percent of Clinton’s failure to reach Obama’s vote total in 2012 was because she lost these voters.

Roarty reports that the findings are “shared broadly by other Democrats who have examined the data, including senior members of Clinton’s campaign and officials at the Democratic data and analytics firm Catalist. (The New York Times, doing its own analysis, reached a similar conclusion.)” Each of these groups did a data-driven analysis, based on demographics in key states and “prior vote history.”

The white working-class is a still large share of the national electorate and that of many states and congressional districts. Yet, “There’s still a real concern that persuasion is harder and costs more than mobilization,” notes Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way. She says many say “let’s just triple down on getting out the people who already agree with us” is the more promising approach.

But the study solidifies the growing consensus that arguments for focusing on base turnout vs. winning back a majority of the white working-class present a false choice. Democrats are going to have to do a better job of meeting both challenges to be competitive.  “This idea that Democrats can somehow ignore this constituency and just turn out more of our voters, the math doesn’t work,” Canter said. “We have to do both.” Further, explains Roarty,

Democrats are quick to acknowledge that even if voters switching allegiance had been Clinton’s biggest problem, in such a close election she still could have defeated Trump with better turnout. She could have won, for instance, if African-American turnout in Michigan and Florida matched 2012 levels.

Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA  adds “I really do believe that we should reject this idea that if we just focus on turnout and the Democratic base that that will be enough. If that really is our approach, we’re going to lose six or seven Senate seats in this election…But, I also believe that just talking about persuasion means we are not capitalizing on an enormous opportunity.”

Overall, Roarty  adds, “the data says turnout was less of a problem for Clinton than defections were.” Trump didn’t win so many new voters in the key states — Clinton actually did better in that metric. It was the “defections,” Obama voters who voted for Trump. Focus groups indicate that many of these disenchanted voters felt that the Democratic leaders have gotte too cozy with Wall St. and the wealthy, while failing to defend the interests of working people — of all races.

The centerpiece of a winning Democratic strategy is “a strong message rooted in economic populism,” reports Roarty. Democrats also have to brand their party as the one that looks out for working families. That has to be the indelible message that reaches all voters by election day. This shouldn’t be so hard, especially since the Republicans have already branded themselves as the party of privilege and greed.

None of the lets F.B.I. Director James Comey off the hook. Regardless of the different theories Other data indicate at least a strong possibility that Clinton would have won, had Comey refused to be used for partisan intervention in the closing days of the 2016 campaign.

Trump threaded such a narrow path to electoral college victory than any number of ‘what if’ factors could have changed the outcome. What is now crystal clear is that Democrats can do a lot better with a new committment to both turn out their base and win more support from white working-class voters. Democrats already have the policies and history of accomplishments, including Social Security, Medicare, and numerous other reforms improving wages and working conditions for working people. But they have to do a better job of claiming this heritage, making it known and explaining their policies.


Creamer: Democrats and Disillusioned Trump Supporters

The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of  Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, is cross-posted from HuffPo.

One hundred days in, why do most of his voters still love Trump? It might not be what you think.

A recent poll showed 96% of Trump supporters have no regrets about their votes. As always, it is still a minority of Americans. But after all of the miss-steps, and outright lies of the first 100 days, that leaves many other Americans mystified. Is there anything progressives can do to chip away at his seemingly solid base?

Politics is more like a love affair with the voters than an exercise in convincing some economic theorist’s “rational decision maker” to make calculations about the benefits and negatives of a candidate or leader. People don’t tote up all of the ways a candidate will benefit them or hurt them on lists and weigh the calculation, any more than a lover makes a list of the pros and cons of the subject of his or her affection.

There are some very biological reasons why people fall into “lust.” But falling in love is different.

You don’t fall in love with someone because you have such a high opinion of all his or her personal qualities, or their skills or their brilliant mind or their body. When you fall in love, it is more than anything else because you feel good about yourself in the presence of the other person. It is because your lover makes you feel special, empowered – because he or she pays attention – to you.

The same is true in politics. People become committed to leaders who make them feel good about themselves – who make them feel strong and respected – empowered and cared about.

It’s not about their policy agenda, or their great abilities, or their political skill. All of these might contribute to the feeling we have about our relationship with them, but the feeling itself is the central matter at issue.

People become committed to leaders who make them feel good about themselves – who make them feel strong and respected…

Just like in a love affair, we want to feel that the leader is unconditionally on our side; that he or she really likes us for who we are; that the leader respects us – believes that we’re important, that we matter. We want to feel that the other person empowers us to be more than we would otherwise be.

Competence matters, but it matters in exactly the same way it does in a personal relationship. We want to believe not only that the leader is unconditionally on our side, but that we can trust him or her to have the competency to take care of us – to keep us safe – to actually find a way to be there for us when we need her.

Inspiration functions exactly the same way.

When we say that a leader inspires us, we mean something very specific. The feeling of inspiration has two components. First, the leader makes us feel that we are part of a cause that is bigger than ourselves. But second, he or she also makes us believe that each of us, personally, can play a significant role in achieving that larger goal or mission. In other words, we are not inspired by someone because of his or her qualities. We are inspired because of how he or she makes us feel about ourselves. We are not inspired because we think that the leader is “important,” but because the leader gives us a sense that we are important. The inspirational leader gives us meaning.

Donald Trump courted his base. Before Donald Trump, many of his base voters felt they had been left behind by the global economy – ignored and cast aside by political leaders. Some felt they had been ridiculed as bumpkins or rednecks.

Donald Trump didn’t just make them feel that he cared. He made them feel that they mattered. He gave them a sense of empowerment. Some of it was good old fashion racism. But it was more than that. At his rallies he made his base voters feel good about themselves. He gave them a sense of agency.

Of course, Donald Trump was a great con man. He didn’t really love ordinary working people. He was not unconditionally on their side. He could not be trusted to keep them safe. It’s not too big a stretch to say that he showered his attentions on them, he seduced them, he married them – for their money.

He may come home at night with flowers. He may look them in their eyes and whisper sweet nothings into their ears. But every day he goes out and gallivants around with his true lovers: the billionaires who – like himself – want to con them out of their already shrinking assets.

Donald Trump didn’t just make them feel that he cared. He made them feel that they mattered.

His base voters should have remembered what all of their mothers had told them: don’t marry someone you want to reform. He cheated on them from the first day – the same way he cheated years earlier on the students he defrauded at Trump University.

He proposes eliminating health insurance coverage from 24 million Americans – many of whom voted to support him – so he can give $600 billion in tax breaks to himself and the billionaire elite.

He proposes cutting taxes for big corporations and the wealthy – because he says, it will create jobs for you, “my love.” Of course there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that cutting taxes for the rich creates new jobs, or new tax revenue. In fact, we tried trickle-down economics during the Bush years and it ended producing stagnation and ultimately the Great Recession that cost 8 million jobs. Tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy have always had only one result: they make the rich, richer – every time.

Trump rails about companies that outsource jobs abroad. But all the while his firm has outsourced the production of clothing and furniture and even steel.

When Donald Trump wants to socialize, he doesn’t go to a VFW hall or the corner tavern – he goes to his exclusive private club at Mar-a-Lago.

When Donald Trump selects decision-makers for his cabinet or to staff his White House, he doesn’t turn to those who work to advance the interests of workers or organizes unions that allow ordinary people to bargain together with the boss for better wages and working conditions. He turns to his true loves – millionaires and billionaires.

So why are all of those ordinary voters who fell in love with Trump sticking with him?

For the same reason lovers of all stripes ignore the fatal flaws in the subject of their affections for a long time before they decide to break it off. They are invested. He still comes home and tells them – with enormous sincerity – just how much he loves them – how much they matter.

You can’t really tell someone that his or her spouse is a complete jerk. People have to find out for themselves.

And before long, many Trump supporters – especially those who supported Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 – will inevitably begin to have second thoughts.

Their ardor will cool. And even if they don’t completely abandon him, they’ll become disillusioned. In fact, many won’t be chomping at the bit to go out to vote for GOP members of Congress who supported his program in 2018.

And in 2018, Democrats and progressives will have something else going for them. All of the vast majority of Americans who never fell in love with Trump will be fired up like never before.

But what about those working-class Trump supporters? What can we do to speed the process of disillusionment along? How can we help them see Trump’s true colors sooner rather than later?

Three things are key:

  • We can continuously point out the contradictions between his ardent testimony about how much he cares about ordinary people and his actual actions and policies.
  • We can offer bold, compelling initiatives that actually do address the interests of ordinary people: more taxes on the rich, not less; a public option that guarantees an affordable health care alternative to all Americans who need it; stronger unions to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions for ordinary workers; breaking up the biggest banks – rather than eliminating the restrictions that are intended to prevent their excesses from once again sinking the economy; a real bold public infrastructure program to create jobs and create value for us all, rather than subsidies for companies who build private infrastructure for themselves.
  • Most importantly, we must respect and pay attention to the needs and interests of all ordinary Americans – not just the big campaign donors and the coastal elites. Respect is the key. We have to show them everyday that we will do battle for miners’ pensions; that we insist that our society spends as much educating the kids of rural and urban parents as we do educating the kids of families in upscale suburbs; that we are completely devoted to the idea that everyone should have a job that allows them to really contribute to our society and to build an economically secure future for their family – everyone.

If we do those things, we can be confident that by 2018 a portion of those Trump supporters will be “former” Trump supporters – and for many others, the heat of Trump passion will have faded into the cold morning light.

And for some – hell hath no fury like a voter scorned.


He’s Ba-a-a-ack: Wolfowitz, Trump-Whisperer

Now that former isolationist Trump has flipp-flopped into budding neo-con Trump, he is starting to attract the counsel of some of the political wizards who brought us the six-trillion dollar debacle interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, reports Heather Digby Parton at salon.com. As Parton writes:

It was entirely predictable that as soon as President Donald Trump decided to drop some bombs on a Middle Eastern country, the neoconservative claque that had rejected him during the election would slither back into the GOP orbit…Despite the obvious fact that Donald Trump is a torture-loving, “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil” kind of guy, his opportunistic distancing of himself from the Iraq War (despite evidence that he actually supported it) gave many people the impression that he wouldn’t support military intervention. That included members of the neocon establishment, who were leery of him. But now they’re back in the public eye, and one of the main architects of the Iraq War is once again making his presence known. According to Susan Glasser of Politico, Wolfowitz can take some credit for the action. In an interview with him she said:

Paul, you’ve jumped back into the fray as it were with what appears in hindsight to be an extremely well-timed intervention in the Wall Street Journal, saying Donald Trump should go ahead and do something in Syria, should intervene militarily in some way to respond to the chemical weapons strike. Miraculously enough, perhaps, he surprised much of the world by going ahead and taking your advice and doing so.

Parton adds that “Wolfowitz modestly replied that he’s not sure Trump took his advice but he’s awfully glad he did bomb Syria because the U.S. is back in business…” However, notes Parton, “The scariest part of the interview…involved Wolfowitz’s views on Iraq. He seems eager to get right back into the quagmire and stay there… Wolfowitz recalled the period after the Iraq “surge” with great nostalgia as a sort of golden era:

[W]e do have a model there. I think it’s a model that worked dramatically…the alternative is to let a very important, critical part of the world go to hell literally and lose American influence.”

Given Trump’s tendency to reverse policies with no qualms whatsover about appearing dangerously inconsistent, poorly-informed and trigger-happy, there is no way for Democrats to anticipate his next move, particularly as he surrounds himself with right-wing extremists of al sorts. The only constants in Trump’s foreign policy appear to be chaos, confusion and disarray, and Democrats have to be ever-ready to respond with reason, prudence and consistency.

As if Trump’s Mid East polcies weren’t chaotic and dangerous enough, he has attacked and confused many of our strongest allies, and added nuclear weapons brinksmanship with North Korea into the mix. There are good reasons for moderates, as well as progressives, to be concerned when two world “leaders” with the emotional maturity of nine year-olds are threatening each other with real weapons of mass destruction.

What Democrats must do as Trump’s foreign policy follies roll on, is provide a clear demonstration that they are the adults in the room, the ones who can actually resolve crises without making a horrific global mess. The hope is that enough moderate Republicans will eventually realize that America — and the world — have too much to lose by allowing this confusion to continue, and join in taking action to help restore a some sobriety to our foreign policy.