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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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As New Head of GOP, Trump is both Sore Loser and Graceless Winner

Dana Milbank sums it up well in in Washington Post column:

To Trump’s many self-assigned superlatives, he can now add another: the sorest winner. With charity for none and with malice toward all but his supporters, he has in the past two months set a new standard for gracelessness in victory.

America has never before had such a prickly president-elect, nor one with such a sour disposition. You don’t have to be a shrink to see that Trump’s extreme defensiveness can be attributed to his titanic insecurities. Having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, his tweets and vents provide a textbook case study of a man living his fear that his fraudulence will be found out. He follows each new outrage with another, in hopes that his shell game will continue to distract the media, and so far it has worked.

As the winner of the Electoral College vote, however, as President-elect of the United States and leader of the Republican Party, you would think he would be smart enough to extend the hand of friendship to his adversaries, to reach out and at least make noises about bringing Americans together. Just the gesture would probably get him an upward bump in his approval ratings.

Somehow, that obvious, no-downside strategy has eluded him. Milbank elaborates on Trump’s increasingly sour disposition:

Instead of brushing off criticism, as a president-elect can afford to do, Trump in recent days marked Martin Luther King weekend by telling off civil rights icon John Lewis (a King acolyte) and his “falling apart” and “crime infested” congressional district. He bemoaned “Saturday Night Live” spoofs as a “hit job” and used the words “crap” and “sleazebag” in his public statements. He called the top Democrat in the land the “head clown” and accused the American intelligence community of acting like Nazis.

He responded to criticism from Meryl Streep by calling her an “over-rated” actress and a “Hillary flunky who lost big.” He likewise cheered that his “Celebrity Apprentice” replacement Arnold Schwarzenegger got “swamped” in ratings compared with “the ratings machine, DJT. . . . But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary.” Trump said the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee is discussed only because “the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!”

The losers often have hard feelings after elections. But this much enmity from the winner is extraordinary. Trump, after his election-night promise to “bind the wounds of division” and be a “president for all Americans,” never attempted reconciliation. A day later, he falsely condemned “professional protesters, incited by the media,” and at year end he taunted opponents via Twitter: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

…His behavior during this time has not been what one typically calls presidential. He has echoed both Vladi­mir Putin and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange on Twitter and blasted away in all caps. He attacked Vanity Fair magazine editor Graydon Carter after an unfavorable review of a Trump Tower restaurant. His attack on a local steelworkers union president resulted in death threats.

 Trump has used Twitter to attack everything from the “Hamilton” musical to the Chinese government, and, in one tweet, he appeared to commit the United States to attacking North Korea to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States.

There is no slight too trivial for the GOP’s new leader to ignore. He has a singular genius for converting a one-day story into a 3-day pubic relations disaster. That probably helps explain why his “favorability” rating has tanked in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.  As Milbank notes, “Views about his honesty, leadership and ability to unite the country dropped similarly.”

Jennifer Calfas reports at The Hill:

The ABC/Washington Post poll found that 54 percent of Americans view Trump unfavorably. The unfavorable ratings of former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama ranged from 9 to 20 percent when they entered office. The new poll echoes similar ones produced from CNN and Gallup.

CNN/ORC poll also released Tuesday also found Trump had a 40 percent approval rating — a historically low number for a president-elect.

Gallup poll released over the weekend found similar numbers, with Trump’s favorables historically low.

Trump’s propensity for the endless, nasty gloat may gratify some of his angrier supporters, and he clearly gets off on the feedback they provide at rallies. But how well does it serve his party’s prospects in the 2018 midterm elections? He’s already won a large majority of America’s sourest voters. There is no value added in marinating in bile for him or the Republicans, but that isn’t going to stop him from taking the bait every time.

All of this in stark contrast to outgoing President Obama, who gave Americans a new standard of dignity, grace and scandal-free government, as well as economic recovery, and greater health security. The new Gallup poll reports that President Obama leaves the White House with a 58 percent ‘favorable’ rating.

Despite the daunting landscape Democrats are facing in the 2018 senate races, their competitive position with respect to House races, governorships and state legislatures is improving. If Trump continues his daily temper tantrums, the GOP ‘brand’ could be in serious trouble by November, 2018.


Creamer: M.L.K. Day 2017– A Time for Principled Defiance

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

This Martin Luther King Day is an especially important time for us to celebrate and emulate the principled defiance of Dr. Martin Luther King. Persistent, unapologetic – doggedly non-violent – Dr. King stood like a rock – defiant of the bigotry, racism and disenfranchisement of his time. Refusing to bend, he inspired a movement that changed America.

In May, 1940, much of the British army was surrounded by German forces – its backs to the sea on the beaches of Dunkirk.

In the face of looming disaster, Prime Minister Winston Churchill rallied his nation and called on his people to take matters into their own hands. In response, hundreds of Brits launched boats of every size, crossed the English Channel, and helped to rescue their surrounded soldiers.

For the British people, the evacuation of the Dunkirk was simultaneously one of the most perilous and heroic moments of World War II.

Ordinary people stood in defiance of certain German victory, refused to accept defeat, helped assure that 330,000 British troops escaped certain disaster, and allowed the British Army to regroup and fight again.

Four years later – together with their ally the United States – many of those British soldiers joined the greatest armada in history as they once again crossed the channel. This time it was to mount the D-Day invasion that turned the tide of the war and ultimately defeated right-wing authoritarianism in Europe three quarters of a century ago.

The spirit of Britain’s defiance of certain defeat at Dunkirk was summed up by Prime Minister Churchill’s “Fight them on the Beaches Speech,” delivered to the House of Commons after the evacuation of Dunkirk was completed on June 4, 1940.

In it he said:

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills… we shall never surrender.

Today, many Americans prepare to confront our own brand of right-wing authoritarianism. As Donald Trump stands poised to be sworn into office, it is once again a time for Dr. King’s principled defiance.

Several weeks ago, my wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, hosted a rally in her district to mobilize her constituents to “Join the Resistance.”

It was a windy, bone-chilling, single-digit day in Chicago. Still 1,400 gathered in at the Armory on North Broadway.

Jan’s speech began:

It is a cold day in Chicago. But it will be a colder day in Hell before we allow billionaires like Donald Trump and (Governor) Bruce Rauner to turn the United States of America into a low-wage plutocracy with no place for immigrants, or people of color, or labor unions, or women’s rights.

The emotional high point of her speech was when Jan, who is Jewish, said:

We need to be united – one for all and all for one – when there are attacks… If, God forbid, a Muslim registry – we must all show up to register and tell Donald Trump: “We are all Muslims.”

That brought all fourteen hundred people in the room to their feet in agreement and applause. “We are all Muslims” they chanted.

That is the spirit of principled defiance that must define our movement in the days and months ahead.

There are many pundits who believe it is a foregone conclusion that Trump and his Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress will repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But if we fight hard enough and stand firm enough, that is not inevitable.

When it comes to the ACA, Republicans in Congress are beginning to hear from Americans with pre-existing conditions and chronic diseases who believe that they are alive today because the ACA saved their lives.

They are beginning to hear from the families that would have faced bankruptcy without the ACA.

They are beginning to hear from the tens of millions of Americans who would lose their health care coverage if the ACA were repealed.

They are hearing from the hospitals and health care providers in their districts that would be devastated.

They have begun to face the reality that if they act to repeal the ACA, many of those millions will blame them – personally – for taking away their health care. And it turns out that people get angrier when you take away something they have, than when you refused to give them something they wanted in the first place.

It is not inevitable that Donald Trump will be able to fill the open Supreme Court seat with a right-wing ideologue who would vote to take away our right to vote, or to form unions, or to assemble to seek redress from our government. That seat should have should have rightfully been filled by President Obama.

If Democrats in the Senate stand firm – and insist that any appointee to fill the seat stolen from President Obama must be filled by a person with the same stature and the same views as those an Obama appointee would have held – we can win.

Republicans only have 51 votes in the Senate that right now requires 60 votes to confirm a Supreme Court Justice. And it will be very hard for Republicans to permanently change the rules so that they could approve a Justice with a simple majority, since many of their own number realize that one day they too will once again return to the minority.

But when it comes to these, and other battles, what will be decisive is not what happens in Washington – but what happens in the states and Congressional districts across America.

Don’t let your Republican Senator or Member of Congress attend an event in your community without confronting them. Give them a first hand feel of the passion and defiance of their own voters.

There are few things more powerful in modern American politics than the combination of your Republican Member of Congress, passionate people and a video camera.

We need to follow the example of a man who is now known in Washington, DC as the conscience of the Congress – Congressman John Lewis.

Fifty years ago, John Lewis helped organize the campaign that ultimately resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act and ended decades of disenfranchisement for African Americans in many areas of our country.

Lewis stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in principled defiance of Selma, Alabama’s Sherriff Clarke, whose mounted police and local vigilantes beat him within an inch of his life.

Last week, John Lewis quietly but firmly said he did not believe that President Trump is a legitimate president – that there is real question whether the election was manipulated by a foreign power and whether or not there was collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

A few days ago, the right wing “Washington Times” had a headline reading that “the Left is now permanently in the opposition.” Not unless we completely lose our democracy.

That’s because most Americans are on our side.

The recent Quinnipiac poll showed President Obama with a 55 percent approval rating and Donald Trump at a dismal 37 percent ― lower than any president in two decades as they were being sworn in for their first term. And don’t forget that Hillary Clinton got 3 million more votes than Trump.

But more important, Americans support progressive values. They believe in unity, not division. They believe that we should build an economy that works for everyone, not just CEO’s and the wealthy. They believe in public education. They believe that health care should be a right not a privilege. They believe in the right to organize in the work place and negotiate your wages and working conditions. They believe that every American has the right to vote.

They believe that everyone – white, black, Latino, Asian…. everyone… is created equal and endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s everyone – not just the wealthy few. Not just people who are the right color or who are brought up in the “right” end of town.

My wife and I had the privilege of attending President Obama’s farewell address in Chicago. In his address, President Obama laid out his vision for an America that embodied those values. And he showed us the kind of dignity and character and decency that should be the hallmark of an American president.

Here is how he concluded his remarks:

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain. For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

Yes We Can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

In the months ahead, it is up to us to stand up for that vision forcefully – defiantly.

This week, as Donald Trump takes office, it is up to us to regroup like the British troops who were rescued by their fellow citizens from the Beaches of Dunkirk – and return to the electoral battlefield in 2018 and 2020 to defeat our own, home-grown version of the authoritarian right ― just as they did 75 years ago.


National Democratic Redistricting Committee Launched to Fight GOP Control In States

Elena Schneider reports at Politico that “Former Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday officially launched the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, billing it in a speech to the Center for American Progress Action Fund as the center of Democratic rebuilding in the era of President-elect Donald Trump and as Democrats’ main hope to roll back Republican gains in state legislatures and prepare for redistricting in 2020.”

The goal of the project is to position Democrats to win “House majorities in Congresses elected after 2020,” which should be doable. It’s a commendable initiative. Clearly, there is not enough being done to challenge Republican gerrymandering, since Republicans now have “trifecta” control — the governorships and majorities in both state senate and house — in 25 states, compared to just 6 for Democrats.

According to the NDRC’s web page:

The NDRC will target races in every election cycle through 2020 – including gubernatorial, state legislative and ballot initiative campaigns where Democrats can produce fairer electoral maps in 2021. Holder highlighted these major focal points in a speech at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, including: 

1. ELECTORAL – The NDRC will coordinate and support the critical state-based electoral work led by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and Democratic Governors Association to identify and invest in key down-ballot races with redistricting implications. 

2. LEGAL – The NDRC ensures that ongoing infrastructure is in place and adequately resourced to guide a proactive legal strategy using data, technical, and map drawing resources.

3. BALLOT INITIATIVE – The NDRC will support state ballot reforms where this is the best strategy to produce fairer maps.

The NDRC will have the active support of President Obama after his term expires. The hope is that his fund-raising cred can be leveraged to help finance promising Democratic candidates, as well as the organization’s projects. Former Presidents Carter and Clinton have done great work as ex-presidents, and President Obama could also make a tremendous difference for the better after his presidency, by empowering the NDRC to achieve its goals.

Schneider explains further,

The top of the NRDC’s priority list, Holder said, is simply winning state legislatures and governorships. Holder noted that three dozen upcoming gubernatorial races in 2017 and 2018 offer a direct path to affecting redistricting in many states. Holder also noted that other, less-noticed statewide officeholders, such as secretaries of state, are positioned to affect the redistricting process in certain states.

“Four of the nine House seats gained by Democrats this year were a result from new maps that came from redistricting cases in Florida and Virginia,” Holder said. “The NDRC is poised to seize on these early gains by advancing a very aggressive legal strategy.”

Over the years, Democrats have beneftted from the leadership development programs of both partisan and nonpartisan organizations like Emily’s List, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the Center for American Women in Politics, Emerge America, the Latino Victory Project and the National Democratic Training CommitteeActBlue is helping more than 1800 state and local Democratic candidates and campaigns at the grass roots level. But all of these groups together likely have but a fraction of the economic resources Republican candidates and political groups receive from their corporate and wealthy contributors.

The NDRC will bring long-overdue attention to the urgency of Democrats mobilizing to challenge Republican gerrymandering and provide resources needed to make Democrats more competitive in the states. You can support the project right here.


Collins Advocacy for Sessions a Marker for the End of Republican ‘Centrists’

It’s been a long time since “moderate” Republicans had significant influence in their party, which is now an instrument for the worst policies of the right-wing ideologues who currently dominate the GOP’s inner councils.

Those who have lived long enough can remember a time when Republicans like Sens. Javitz, Weicker, and Governor Rockefeller actually played leadership roles in defending and promoting civil rights and needed social programs. But, one by one, RINOs, Gypsy Moths, Rockefeller, Ripon and other moderate Republicans have become extinct.

Those who were holding on to the fading hope that, somehow the centrist Republican would rise again as a force in the GOP, now must face the fact that the most prominent of remaining ‘moderate’ Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins, has abandoned all pretense to carry water for one of the Senate’s most relentless opponents of racial justice, Jeff Sessions. OK, Collins hasn’t been a genuine moderate for a long time. But now she is making a big show of her defection. At The Nation, John Nichols writes,

Thirty years ago, moderate Republicans upheld the basic standards to which presidential nominees must be held. But not anymore. So-called “moderate” Republican Susan Collins abandoned that standard on Tuesday and championed President Trump’s nomination of Sessions to serve as attorney general of the United States.

Because of some past breaks with party orthodoxy, particularly on social issues, Maine’s Senator Collins is still imagined by casual observers of the Senate to be a “moderate Republican.” It’s an image that Collins has fostered over the years, as she has sought to retain a Senate seat representing a New England state that regularly backs Democrats for the presidency.

This false yet lingering impression that Collins is a “moderate” made her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee one of the major moments of the first day of hearings on the Sessions nomination. Collins was portrayed in media reports as an “unlikely ally” of her fellow senator. In fact, she appeared before the committee as an ardent partisan, supporting a Republican president-elect’s most controversial Cabinet pick—and doing her best to dismiss credible criticisms of the nominee.

Nichols notes that “Collins’s offices in Portland and Bangor were packed with protesters this morning,” Maine Public Radio reported Tuesday morning. “They are calling on Collins to withdraw her support for Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator Donald Trump has nominated for U.S. Attorney General.” Nichols quotes Maine State Representative Diane Russell, who said, “Senator Collins is leading the fight to confirm the most racist, homophobic, anti-woman, anti-immigrant person we could possible imagine to be the defender of the U.S. Constitution.”

Nichols acknowledges that “Susan Collins has never been so outspoken or effective a dissenter as former Maine Republican senators such as Margaret Chase Smith and Olympia Snowe,” two of the most admired Republican moderates of the Senate’s history. But in recent times, Collins was regarded as one of the more ‘centrist’ Republicans in the distorted context of the GOP’s tea party era.

That illusion is now shattered, as Collins lends her rep to help one of the most retrogressive Attorney General nominees ever. Republicans hoping for a resurgence of moderate leadership in their party will have to look elsewhere, and the pickings are growing slimmer every day. It’s unclear whether Collins intends to run again for Senate or, perhaps Governor. If so, her support of Sessions may prove to be the decision that sank her prospects with Maine voters who are concerned about human rights.


President Obama’s Farewell Address

President Obama’s farewell address to the nation at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday (full text is available here):


Galston Warns of Growing Threat of ‘Illiberal Democracy’

Many Americans are understandably concerned about the future of a democracy in which the candidate who lost the popular vote wins the presidency twice in 16 years. But what may be even more alarming than America’s weakening of the principle of majority rule, is the erosion of the values that make our diverse, pluralistic society governable.

William A. Galston’s Wall St. Journal column on “The Growing Threat of ‘Illiberal Democracy’: What happens when rule by the people conflicts with individual rights?” reports on a frightening trend of minority-bashing in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary, where the ruling regime is encouraging vicious, Nazi-like rhetoric attacking minorities, particularly Jews, but also the Roma people. In Hungary, writes Galston,

Hungary’s Order of Merit, its second highest state honor, recognizes individuals who have demonstrated excellence in service to Hungary and the promotion of “universal human values.” Last August, Mr. Orban’s government gave this award to journalist Zsolt Bayer.

Here is how Mr. Bayer has promoted these values:

Writing in 2008 about the “Jewish journalists of Budapest,” he said that “their very existence justifies anti-Semitism.” In February and March of 2016, he published an 18-part op-ed series on the origins of anti-Semitism in Hungary, asserting that it was a natural reaction to actions by Jews against non-Jews.

Writing in 2013 about the Roma, a disparate collection of ethnic minorities, Mr. Bayer said that “These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist,” adding that “this needs to be solved—immediately and by any means necessary.” At a public rally in Budapest in 2015, he described the Syrian refugee crisis as a weapon guided by a hidden conspiracy against the “white race.”

Is this what illiberal democracy portends—state-endorsed hostility toward historically persecuted minorities, endorsed by the state? Are we facing a future in which national majorities may act without restraint, whatever the human costs?

It’s not just Hungary. Galston also notes that cotempt for liberal democracy seems to be spreading to Poland:

Mr. Orban’s approach is gaining ground. As early as 2011, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s then-minority Law and Justice party, said that he would “bring Budapest to Warsaw.” Today, a majority government led by his party is doing what he promised, starting with an attack on Poland’s constitutional court before moving to restraints on the public media, public prosecutor, and freedom of assembly.

Political observers have also noted the worrisome rise of intolerance of minorities in political movements gaining ground in Austria and France. In the U.S., rising intolerance also threatens foundational democratic values protecting minorities, as Galston notes,

There are signs of impatience with liberal democratic restraints even in the U.S., where constitutionalism and the rule of law are more deeply entrenched than in the newer European democracies. A June 2016 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found 49% of voters agreed that “because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” This figure included 57% of Republicans, 60% of white working-class voters, 72% of Trump supporters, and—tellingly—59% of those who felt that the American way of life needs protection from foreign influences.

Even more worrying than the attack on liberal democratic institutions is the relegitimation of long-suppressed antipathies to ethnic and religious minorities.
When Donald Trump whipped up hostility to Muslims and Mexicans in the U.S., he not only encouraged  intolerance and bigotry; he also undermined the values of liberal democracy that have undergirded  America’s freedom. If further drift toward ‘illiberal democracy’ can be stopped, it’s clear that Democrats have to provide the leadership.

GOP’s Ethics Stumble, Walkback Opens Opportunity for Dems

Don’t put too much stock in the meme being parroted by President-elect Trump’s minons that his tweet prevented a Republican attempt to weaken the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Here’s  “What really changed the GOP’s mind,” a CNN post by Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America and author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”

Less than 24 hours after both traditional and social media lit up with outrage over House Republicans’ plans to severely weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics, House Republicans decided that maybe this wasn’t the brand image they wanted to start 2017 with. So Republicans reversed themselves: The Office of Congressional Ethics will remain independent and therefore powerful, not a silenced fiefdom of the member-controlled House Ethics Committee, as the original GOP rules package had proposed.

…Republicans who supported the seemingly obscure changes must have figured hardly anybody would notice, and even fewer people would care. Perhaps, some members concluded, given what President-elect Donald Trump has been getting away with, norms really had changed. Why should members of Congress have to suffer?

…To be sure, there may be some who give Trump’s Twitter account credit for the course correction. But though it surely had an impact on some of the members, Trump’s tweets merely rode the crest of public opinion against the changes, rather than leading it. It is a mistake to give Trump too much credit, just as it is a mistake to take his Drain the Swamp plan seriously.

At times some Democrats have been hostile to the Office of Congressional Ethics, as Drutman notes. But this time it was the House Republican’s baby, and the press coverage was very tough, which is a good thing. As Drutman puts it,

The successful fight to preserve the Office of Congressional Ethics is an encouraging development. The media was on the story quickly, organizations mobilized, the public responded and Congress heard the outrage loud and clear. This is how democratic accountability is supposed to work. Hopefully this is a sign of more good fights to come. It’s a promising sign that a sustained and well-organized call for Trump to divest from his business conflicts might have an impact, too.

It’s important to commend the media when they do a good job, and it’s encouraging that the public outcry was part of the incentive to prevent the weakening of the OCE.

It’s equally-important, however, for Democrats to seize the mantle of leadership on congressional ethics. While some Democrats have been implicated in ethics violations over the years, the record shows that Republicans in congress have a much longer, more problematic ethics rap sheet. With oil barons, billionaires and Wall Street tycoons dominating Trump’s cabinet nominees, along with Trump’s web of shady business dealings and hidden taxes, and with congressional Republicans cozying up with lobbyists,  Democrats are going to have to work overtime just to remain vigilant in monitoring Republican ethics violations.

It’s worth it. By relentlessly exposing Republican ethics violations — and every indication suggests there will be plenty more coming in the new congress and the Trump Administration — and by enhancing the Democratic Party’s capacity for self-policing on ethics, Democrats have an excellent chance to self-brand as the only party that fights for clean government and transparency. Supported by effective messaging, that’s a brand that will produce electoral gains.


Krugman: Trump’s Phony Populism Screws Working-Class Supporters

From Paul Krugman’s syndicated column, “Working-class voters duped by Trump’s ‘populism‘”:

Authoritarians with an animus against ethnic minorities are on the march across the Western world. They control governments in Hungary and Poland, and will soon take power in the United States. And they’re organizing across borders: Austria’s Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, has signed an agreement with Russia’s ruling party — and met with Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser.

But what should we call these groups? Many reporters are using the term ‘‘populist,’’ which seems inadequate and misleading. I guess racism can be considered populist in the sense that it represents the views of some non-elite people. But are the other shared features of this movement — addiction to conspiracy theories, indifference to the rule of law, a penchant for punishing critics — really captured by the ‘‘populist’’ label?

Political writers in the U.S. have struggled with the term “populism” for a long time, since it encompasses both pro-worker and racist movements. But they use it more frequently nowadays to describe the more authoritarian, racist movements that have emerged on both sides of the Atlantic. But Krugman pinpoints the crucial distinction between ‘populist’ movements in the U.S. and those in Europe.

…The European members of this emerging alliance have offered some real benefits to workers. Hungary’s Fidesz party has provided mortgage relief and pushed down utility prices. Poland’s Law and Justice party has increased child benefits, raised the minimum wage and reduced the retirement age. France’s National Front is running as a defender of that nation’s extensive welfare state — but only for the right people.

Trumpism is, however, different. The campaign rhetoric might have included promises to keep Medicare and Social Security intact and replace Obamacare with something ‘‘terrific.’’ But the emerging policy agenda is anything but populist.

All indications are that we’re looking at huge windfalls for billionaires combined with savage cuts in programs that serve not just the poor but also the middle class. And the white working class, which provided much of the 46 percent Trump vote share, is shaping up as the biggest loser.

For those who may be wondering why European populist movements deliver some benefits to the working-class, while the U.S. versions never produce any such reforms, the answer is the stronger labor unions in Europe, particularly in north Europe. Racist leaders in Europe know they have to defend and expand worker benefits to survive in a unionized economy. And so they do, even as the whip up xenophobic attacks on their immigrant workers, who are mostly from predominantly Muslim nations.

In the U.S., however, Trump’s cabinet picks and other actions so far have more in common with an all-out war on his white-working-class supporters, than an effort to improve their lives. As Krugman explains:

Both his pick as budget director and his choice to head Health and Human Services want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and privatize Medicare. His choice as labor secretary is a fast-food tycoon who has been a vociferous opponent of Obamacare and of minimum wage hikes. And House Republicans have submitted plans for drastic cuts in Social Security, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.

What would these policies do? Obamacare led to big declines in the number of the uninsured in regions that voted Trump this year, and repealing it would undo all those gains. The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimates that repeal would cause 30 million Americans — 16 million of them non-Hispanic whites — to lose health coverage…And no, there won’t be a ‘‘terrific’’ replacement: Republican plans would cover only a fraction as many people as the law they would displace, and they’d be different people — younger, healthier and richer.

Converting Medicare into a voucher system would also amount to a severe benefit cut, partly because it would lead to lower government spending, partly because a significant fraction of spending would be diverted into the overhead and profits of private insurance companies. And raising the retirement age for Social Security would hit especially hard among Americans whose life expectancy has stagnated or declined, or who have disabilities that make it hard for them to continue working — problems that are strongly correlated with Trump votes.

“European populism is at least partly real,” wrties Krugman, “while Trumpist populism is turning out to be entirely fake, a scam sold to working-class voters who are in for a rude awakening.” Krugman warns that Trump’s supporters will try to blame President Obama and the Democrats for Trump’s failure to deliver any benefits to working families. They will also roll out media distractions and stunts and international confrontations to deflect accountability for  Trump’s failures.

For Democrats, the challenge is to stay focused on the core issues of economic opportunity and refuse to let Trump and the Republicans off the hook. “Above all,” concludes Krugman, Democrats “shouldn’t let themselves be sucked into cooperation that leaves them sharing part of the blame. The perpetrators of this scam should be forced to own it.”


Russo: Bellwether Ohio Leads Political Realignment

The following article, John Russo, former co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies, coordinator of the Labor Studies Program at Youngstown State University and visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor at Georgetown University, is cross-posted from Moyers & Company:

This year’s election has led some to predict a realignment of the two-party system in the US. We can see early signs of this in Ohio, where both parties are facing internal divisions.

The Republicans

As we are beginning to see in Congress and at Trump Tower (think about the embarrassingly public debate over Mitt Romney), the divide is all about loyalty to Donald Trump on the GOP side. Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges faces a challenge over lukewarm support of the president-elect. Jane Timken, vice chair of the Stark County Republican Party and wife of Tim Timken, a major Trump fundraiser and chief executive of TimkenSteel Corp., wants Borges’ job. In a letter to the GOPs State Central Committee that in January will decide on the next state chairperson, Timken wrote:

Once the nomination was settled, Chairman Borges had the obligation to fully support the nominee and his campaign. He did not, and his actions have divided the state party leadership. This was his choice.

Borges’ arm’s-length relationship with the Trump campaign is just the beginning of the extraordinary situation in Ohio: The state’s two top Republican elected officials publicly repudiated their nominee.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who won his own re-election Nov. 8 with more than 200,000 more votes than Trump got in the Buckeye State, initially offered tepid support for the Republican presidential nominee; then, after the infamous Access Hollywoodtape was released, he refused to vote for Trump. Portman said he would write in Mike Pence’s name for president. Even more strident in his opposition: Republican Gov. John Kasich, who said he wrote in John McCain on his November ballot. Such resistance on the part of Ohio Republican leaders led Trump and his loyalists to cut ties with the state Republican Party.

Whether the challenge to Borges is the beginning of a civil war, as some have suggested, is uncertain. While both wings of the Ohio GOP have kept the fight largely under wraps, it could prove more an internal battle over positioning future candidates and political spoils of a successful presidential victory rather than a fight over the ideological direction of the party.

The Democrats

Even trickier to settle are the conflicts within the Ohio Democratic Party. Its leaders and regulars largely supported Clinton. Bernie Sanders supporters were clearly underrepresented in leadership ranks, though Sanders won 43 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. Also absent in the post-election discussions: the many Democrats statewide who crossed party lines to register as Republicans this year. These two groups will not likely return to the party if the leadership remains the same.

Meanwhile, factions within the Ohio Democratic Party are blaming each other for Hillary Clinton’s loss. The questions being raised in this debate mirror those the party must confront on a national level about whether the party was too quick to write off its once-loyal blue-collar base and questions about whether enough effort went into mobilizing voters in what the party views as its new strongholds: big cities and minority communities.

Harsh public criticism of both Ohio party leaders and Clinton’s Ohio campaign came in the form of:

  • An open letter circulated by party activists that pointed to a series of humiliating defeats and questioned the party’s commitment to its working class voters;
  • report issued by Strategic Resources on anemic African-American turnout in 2016. Strategic Resources is an Ohio-based consulting firm that has worked for Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and that, according to Federal Election Commission records, did work for the Clinton campaign early in 2016.

After issuing a boastful public relations blast in the spring that mocked their Republican counterparts for disarray, Ohio Democrats suffered losses this year that were nothing short of catastrophic. In a state that was once a political battleground, not only did Trump trounce Clinton, but Ted Strickland — hand-picked to increase Democratic turnout — went down to a crushing 21-point defeat to Sen. Rob Portman, who was once seen as vulnerable.

It’s the latest in a series of Democratic Party defeats over the past two decades, as Youngstown political reporter David Skolnick recently pointed out: Ohio Republicans have a 12 to 4 advantage in the US House of Representatives; Democrats hold only nine seats in the 33-seat Ohio Senate General Assembly and only 33 of 99 seats in the Ohio House; and except for 2006, Democrats have not held a single executive branch seat in Ohio since 1990. Skolnick also suggests that Ohio Democrats’ failures have put Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in danger of losing his next re-election bid in 2018.

This is not unlike the situation facing the party nationally: Barack Obama’s back-to-back election triumphs masked the fact that Democrats have been steadily losing ground in state legislative and congressional elections.

It also mirrors what’s happening in the party nationally in other ways. As in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, critics of the Ohio Democratic party leadership are now calling for changes — especially in the symbiotic relationship practices between state Democratic Party and campaign officials. But an Ohio Democratic Party executive committee meeting ended earlier this month with state Chairman David Peppers still at the helm.

One example of Democratic denial came in a post-election forum, in which Aaron Pickrell, the senior adviser for the Clinton and Strickland campaigns in Ohio, defended the campaign by saying that it had the infrastructure and funding to win, and noted that urban areas garnered large victory margins as expected. “I don’t know what we would have done differently in Ohio,” he said. “I don’t know how we could have swung it, because of the national narrative.”

But in the aforementioned open letter to state Democratic Party leaders, which was discussed at the executive committee meeting, critics provided overwhelming evidence that these claims had no foundation. While they agreed the Clinton campaign had sufficient resources, they said they weren’t used properly. They argued that the campaign took African-American and urban voters for granted, a failure reflected in voting tallies: Clinton won fewer votes than Obama had in 2012 in 8 out of 10 urban counties, and her total vote count in those areas was 184,228 less than Obama won in 2012.

The suggestion that part of the blame lies with Rust Belt countiesthat usually bring out strong support for Democrats only raises questions about why Democrats did nothing about a crisis they had to know was brewing. Internal memos that appeared in The Washington Post, reveal county party leaders delivered early warnings to the state Democratic Party and Clinton campaign that Trump was gaining traction among core Democratic voters. Those local Democrats’ pleas for action to counter Trump’s appeal were never heeded. Now the party — and the — must live with the consequences.


Molyneux: How Dems Can Win Enough Moderate White Working-Class Voters

Guy Molyneux, partner and senior vice president at Peter Hart Research Associates, probes the political attitudes of moderates in the white working-class at The American Prospect. Molyneux, who also directs the trade union research division of Hart Research, argues that Democrats can connect with this pivotal constituency in substantial ways.

Molyneux writes that “Progressives must recognize that the white working class is not a monolith, but contains a wide diversity of political views.” He acknowledges that “About half of non-college-educated whites identify as conservatives, and nearly all of them have become reliable Republican voters.” But he also notes that the white working-class includes “a small group of liberals, who regularly vote for Democrats.” In addition, however,

In between is a critically important subset of potentially persuadable voters, the white working-class moderates, or “WWCMs.” About 35 percent of working-class whites have moderate or “middle of the road” political views, which means WWCMs represent about 15 percent of the overall electorate, or approximately 23 million registered voters. While Trump won the working class conservatives by an overwhelming 85 points (Clinton got a mere 6 percent), he had a much smaller 26-point margin among the WWCMs. That margin is double Mitt Romney’s 13-point edge in 2012, and this swing had a decisive impact. If Clinton had performed as well as Obama with those moderates, it would have doubled her national popular vote margin from 2 percent to 4 percent. Even if she had just lost ground among these voters at the same rate she did among white working-class conservatives, she would almost certainly have won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

On behalf of Americans for a Fair Deal, Molyneux conducted “a deep study of these moderate working-class white voters,” including focus groups in Montgomery, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Appleton, Wisconsin; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Rather than focusing on the presidential candidates,” writes Molyneux, “we held broader discussions about the nation and its political system, and explored both the barriers and opportunities that progressives face in working-class communities.” Molyneux reports that the study’s findings confirmed “that progressives could make inroads with these voters in the future, and take an important first step forward in identifying strategies for reaching them.” Further,

…White working-class moderates do perceive a decline of moral values in our nation, but the values these working people fear losing include progressive values as well as conservative ones. Many are disturbed by what they perceive as a rise in selfishness and lack of concern for others, calling for more “compassion” and more support for those who need it, especially veterans and the disabled.

…White working-class voters do not perceive progressives (or Democrats) to better represent their economic concerns. Polling showed that voters overall divided fairly evenly on whether Donald Trump (46 percent) or Hillary Clinton (42 percent) would do a better job of dealing with the economy, yet Trump enjoyed a 27-point advantage (57 percent to 30 percent) on this question among non-college whites, and an enormous 42-point advantage among non-college white men. This result cannot be explained by Trump’s intermittent economic populism. In 2015, by 73 percent to 27 percent, white working-class voters said that the federal government, far from helping them, had made it harder for them to achieve their goals, and by a 4-to-1 ratio said that the federal government’s economic impact was negative.

…we saw no evidence that these voters have rejected a progressive economic policy agenda. As confirmed in numerous polls, many elements of that agenda—higher taxes on the wealthy, reining in Wall Street, ensuring paid leave for workers—are popular. But these voters’ somewhat abstract desire for more progressive economic policies is undercut and overwhelmed by their deeply negative view of government, which includes a strong aversion to spending and government intervention in the economy. While they are economic progressives, in important respects they are also fiscal conservatives.

“To a disturbing extent,” continues Molyneux, “these working-class voters have rejected politics as a meaningful way of improving their communities or nation…It would be hard to overstate the disconnect WWCMs feel from current politicians, whom they see not only as greedy and self-interested, but also as out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. The principal political division perceived by these working-class voters is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between politicians and ordinary people.” He adds:

They see Democrats as working on behalf of a series of interest groups rather than the public interest. In their view, the allocation of government benefits reflects political calculation, not any moral or economic principles, with both parties lavishing benefits on their respective constituencies. The GOP version (handouts for the wealthy) may be less attractive, but from the white working-class perspective both stories translate into “not for me.”

And Democrats emphatically do not have to “win” the majority of the white working-class. “Boosting white non-college moderates’ support for Clinton by just 5 percent or 6 percent would have delivered her the presidency,” notes Molyneux. “Democrats can lose the votes of every one of the 36 percent who are uneasy with America’s increasing diversity, and still make the progress required to win elections.

But Democrats have to get smarter about how to reach working-class moderates. As Molyneux puts it, “Community organizations and non-elected community leaders must be the “tip of the spear” as progressives seek to engage white working-class communities.” While proposals to make college more afordable and community colleges tuition-free are popular, Molyneux argues,

Many working-class voters (and others) worry that public schools focus exclusively on preparing students for college, while neglecting the equally important task of preparing non-college-bound students for successful transitions into the workforce. They enthusiastically endorse proposals to provide quality vocational education, apprenticeships, and other programs that would expand opportunities for young Americans—including many of their own children and grandchildren—who are unlikely to pursue a four-year degree after high school.

Going forward, Democratic candidates must pay more attention to the concerns of working-class moderates. Molyneux concludes that “we did find clear openings that give progressives a chance for productive dialogue and engagement with the white working class…If progressives are willing to engage them in a smart and targeted way, they will make significant gains within white working-class communities in the years ahead.”