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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Grass Roots Stirrings Bode Well for Dems

In her HuffPo article, “Democrats In Illinois Just Unseated A Whole Bunch Of Republicans: They’re local races, but they fit with an emerging trend that could mean big trouble for the GOP in 2018,” Jennifer Bendery provides an encouraging report for Democrats. Some excerpts:

In a spate of local elections last week in Illinois, Democrats picked up seats in places they’ve never won before.

The city of Kankakee elected its first African-American, Democratic mayor. West Deerfield Township will be led entirely by Democrats for the first time. Elgin Township voted for “a complete changeover,”flipping to an all-Democratic board. Normal Township elected Democratic supervisors and trustees to run its board ― the first time in more than 100 years that a single Democrat has held a seat.

“We had a pretty good day,” said Dan Kovats, executive director of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association. “We won in areas we normally would win, but we also won in areas Republicans never expected us to be competitive in. They were caught flat-footed.”

But, it’s not just Illinois, as Bendery adds:

…a Democratic congressional candidate in Kansas nearly pulled off a shocking win in a heavily Republican district. In Georgia, 30-year-old Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff is outpacing his GOP rivals in a race to replace former Rep. Tom Price. The seat has long been Republican and was once held by former Speaker Newt Gingrich. These races come after a Democratic state Senate candidate in Delaware, buoyed by anti-Trump activism, annihilated her GOP challenger in an election that’s traditionally been close.

The mechanism that fired the grass roots victories in Illinois just may provide a workable template for local groups around the country. Bendery explains:

In the case of Illinois, a number of Democrats who just won got a boost from a program launched by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) called Build The Bench. It’s an all-day boot camp that offers nuts-and-bolts details for running a successful campaign. Bustos came up with the idea last year when she noticed a dearth of new Democratic candidates for Congress, and decided the best way to help build up her party’s ranks was at the local level.

She’s held two boot camps in her district so far ― The Huffington Post attended one of them in March ― and she’s already seeing tremendous payoff. Twelve Build The Bench alumni ran for local seats in this election cycle, and eight of them won. A ninth alum, Rita Ali, is currently down by one vote in her race for Peoria City Council.

“I am incredibly proud that the majority of our graduates who were on the ballot in April municipal elections won their races,” said Bustos. “If we want to be successful in the heartland, we need to connect Democratic candidates for office at all levels with the best practices, skills and expertise needed to run winning campaigns.”

Democrats face a steep, uphill battle to reverse the devasting effects of Republican gerrymandering in federal, state and local elective office districts. But it’s good to know that creative grass-roots initiatives are emerging, and good Democratic candidates are coming forward.


Stoehr: Democrats Need a Larger Share of White Working Class Votes to Win Presidential Elections — Even a Small Increase Could Do It

The following article by by John Stoehr, a Yale political scientist, columnist and essayist, is cross-posted from U.S. News & World Report.

The Democrats were sweating the question of what to do about the white working class long before President Donald Trump came along. They used to be, virtually, the white working man’s party, while the Republicans used to be the white rich man’s party (with an influential African-American bloc) before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board decision and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, both signed into law by a Southern Democrat.

Race became then a complicating factor like never before. Southern whites abandoned the party. So did many white “ethnics” in major Northern and Midwestern cities who hated “forced busing” but loved Republican Richard Nixon’s message of “law and order.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had to make room for new and growing factions while holding on to what was left of the old ones.

Then came the election of America’s first black president. A new idea immediately took hold: Maybe the Democrats didn’t need to worry anymore about the white working class. The party’s base was increasingly diverse. The economy was changing dramatically. Maybe a party that relied heavily on voters who benefited from an economy based on manufacturing could safely and successfully pivot to voters who had not benefited from the old paradigm.

Obama didn’t think so. The president labored mightily to secure the support of voters in rusting industrial states like Wisconsin and Michigan, sending Joe Biden, the scion of blue-collar Scranton, to fire up crowds before joining in the attack of Mitt Romney, the corporate raider bent on tearing down the economy, as he tore down factories and good jobs. That populist message, and others like it, ensured Obama’s famous “Midwest firewall.” Even if he lost Florida and other swing states, he would still have

But even before his re-election, Obama was becoming a minority in his own party. As the Republicans made huge gains in the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014 – as well as in state legislatures around the country – Democratic elites, especially the party’s donor class concentrated on the coasts, remained convinced that time was on their side. Demographics, they told themselves, was destiny.

The story went something like this: The past belongs to the ignorant, the racist, the reactionary and those who could not keep pace with the technological challenges of the 21st century, while the future belongs to the Obama coalition, to the cosmopolitan and to the audacious who dared to hope for a more perfect union. Hillary Clinton’s loss was made more painful by the fact that everything post-Obama Democrats told themselves was true was false.

In retrospect, the problem was a familiar one. The Democrats tend to confuse politics for ethics. Sometimes they are the same. Sometimes they overlap. Sometimes they are distinct. But never in the history of the world has ethics been a substitute for politics. Post-Nixon Republicans have had no such illusions. They are often eager to jettison ethics if ethics threaten their hold on power.

Ethically speaking, the Democrats are right. Trump is a lying, thieving, philandering sadist whose pathological inclinations threaten American values and embolden America’s enemies. But being right didn’t win the election, and being right won’t win future elections. Yes, Clinton won 3 million more votes, but that means next to nothing as the Democrats rethink their strategy.

Central to that strategy should be the humble admission that the Democrats were wrong. Obama didn’t believe he could win without the white working class. Neither should any future Democrat. The party must continue, as it has for decades, to strike balance between old factions and new. The Great Recession, economic inequality, globalization and polarization are macro forces that have carved up the country in such a way that the Democrats face long odds in the Electoral College if they do not present a plausible alternative to Trumpism, especially in the Midwest. Yes, white won, as one of my favorite writers, Jamelle Bouie, put it post-election. But white has nearly always won. The strategy now should be figuring out ways to create electoral conditions in which white wins a little bit less.

The goal is more modest than it seems. The Democrats do not need, and should not try, to win over all white working class voters. Those like Bernie Sanders who decry “identity politics” and long for a return to labor movements are expressing nostalgia, or worse, not constructive advice. The party needs only to drive a wedge into that voting bloc. Seriously. It’s not going to take much. Trump won by about 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Democrats have the policy. Now they need the message. Time will tell what that will be. For now, my concern is about factions within the party that see appeals to the white working class as surrender to white supremacy. Indeed, the white working class was OK with bigotry. But being OK with bigotry is not the same as being for bigotry. And when the goal is driving a wedge into the white working class, racism can be met with powerful policies, like expanded Social Security, that only the Democrats can offer.

It has been argued that Trump expanded the map for Republicans, but it can also be argued that the Democrats allowed that to happen. The Republicans hope to maintain their hold on white working class voters in the Midwest. Perhaps they will, but not if the Democrats admit they were wrong and return to fight.


Democrats Reframing Tax Debate to Highlight Trump’s Abuses

As millions of taxpayers prepare to pay taxes to subsidize give-aways to the wealthy, Democrats are refocusing their strategy to call attention to the ways President Trump benefits from Republican tax “reform” and his refusal to honor his promise to release his tax documents. Greg Sargent explains the strategy at The Plum Line:

The Republican Congress has essentially built a protective wall around President Trump — and at times, this can make efforts to bring transparency or accountability to his unprecedented conflicts of interest and serial shredding of democratic and governing norms appear hopeless.

But now Democrats have a new opening to try to chip away at that protective wall: the debate over tax reform.

…The New York Times reports that Democrats are coalescing around a strategy that would use the White House’s desire for tax reform to try to leverage more transparency about Trump’s business holdings. The basic idea — which your humble blogger suggested back in January — is that tax reform is particularly ripe for conflicts of interest, given Trump’s refusal to divest from those holdings. So Democrats can use the reform measures the White House pushes to demand that he reveal the specific ways in which his holdings might benefit from those measures, while using the broader attention to the issue — which impacts the tax bills of millions of voters — to renew the demand that Trump generally release his returns.

In an interview with me this morning, former Obama ethics chief Norm Eisen noted that GOP divisions on health care have shown that Republicans struggle to pass legislation on their own, despite GOP control. “You’re going to see similar fractures,” Eisen said, meaning Democrats may end up with “substantial leverage.”

“Democrats can use questions about the multiple conflicts raised to drive attention to the issue and to insist on concessions,” Eisen continued. “One is specific disclosures related to any policies he’s pushing for. We’re looking at corporate rates. What is the rate differential going to be into his pocket? We’re looking at particular areas of cuts. Will there be a cut relating to real estate? Will the alternative minimum tax be eliminated?”…“When he signs this bill, he may be giving himself a huge financial transfer,” Eisen told me. “He may be directly benefiting himself with some of these tax policies, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

…We’re going to have a big burst of attention to his taxes this week, with the tax march,” Eisen said, adding that recent disclosure documents revealing that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump continue to benefit from an enormous array of holdings could increase the pressure to recuse themselves from policy debates that could impact them — such as tax reform…“You’re going to see angry constituents in the districts applying pressure as well. It’s going to be a continued festering wound for Trump. I believe eventually he’s going to have to make some concessions on this. It’s part of his low approval ratings. There’s been a constant miasma of scandal because he won’t provide this information and won’t divest.”

“At a minimum,” argues Sargent, the strategy “could draw increased attention to the fact that congressional Republicans continue to look the other way while Trump continues shredding basic norms of ethics and transparency.”

Sargent notes that the White House is planning a big campaign to spin Trump’s first 100 days as a great success, which will try to show that he honors his promises. But Democrats have an embarrassment of riches indicating the contrary. If they present their case well, the GOP media blitz could backfire spectacularly.

When Democrats call “attention to Trump’s untold conflicts of interest, lack of transparency around his holdings and refusal to release his returns — and to the ways in which those things are intertwined,” writes Sargent, it will help reveal that the “swamp” Trump promised to drain “has become a veritable cesspool.” Add to that images of Trump’s unprecedented number of golf outings, Mar-a-lago trips and the costs to tax payers of the jet-set shenanigans of his offspring, as well as exorbitantly-expensive policy ideas like his border wall, and a clear picture emerges of a President and party who give no pause to squandering the tax-payer dollars of working people to subsidize a corrupt regime — which now seems more accountable to Vladimir Putin than hard-working American taxpayers.


Political Fallout of Trump’s Attack Against Syrian Air Bases Challenges Dems

President Trump may get a temporary upward bump in his poll numbers, following his decision to launch tomahawk mssiles at Syrian air bases. Such is often the case after Presidents order a major military action. But Trump is already getting a harsh reaction from isolationist right-wingers in his party, even though conservative neocons, incuding Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have turned from criticizing his foreign policy to praising his attacks against the Assad regime’s air force.

At Talking Points Memo, Allegra Kirkland reports,

Conservative pundits and members of the white nationalist-friendly alt-right, who triumphantly boosted Trump’s “America First,” anti-interventionist campaign message, found themselves at a loss. The Breitbart News commentariat was outraged by support for the attack from “neo-conservatives” like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Paul Watson, a writer for the conspiracy theory website InfoWars, pushed out dozens of tweets lashing out at Trump for being a “deep state/Neo-Con puppet.”

“I’m officially OFF the Trump train,” he wrote.

Expect more such whining from the hard right, depeening divisions among Republicans.

Will the divisions inside the GOP over Trump’s Syria policy further restrain the GOP’s ability to act in concert on legislation in congress? It’s quite possible that his right flank will view his foreign and trade policy with even more skepticism. And Democrats can certainly hope that the divisions within the GOP will spill over and further impair their ability to unify on major domestic projects, like a renewed effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

The concern is that Trump may discover that the power of taking sudden military action is a potent distraction from his deepening problems, and he is prone to leverage the power of distractions far more frequently than any other U.S. President.

The main story Trump wants to smother with distractions has to be his Administration’s unsavory ties with Putin and Russia’s kleptocratic oligarchy. Now Trump will trumpet his bombing of Syria as proof that he is not Putin’s puppet, and don’t be surprised if some media falls for that spin with stories about “Trump’s break with Putin.”

There is already lots of spin comparing Trump’s Syria bombing favorably with President Obama’s more cautious approach to U.S. military action against Syria. Democrats ought to avoid getting bogged down in defending past policies, and focus more on what should be done now in their public statements.

None of Trump’s actions will change the fact of Russia’s unprecedented interference with U.S. democracy at his invitation. But it might help his spin team to project it as old news, arguing that what is really important is what he is doing now. It’s up to Democratic leaders to challenge that pitch at every opportunity, and it is important that they keep the heat on regardless of what happens in Syria.

As for the optimum progressive response to Trump’s attack on Syria, Mike Lillis reports at The Hill that “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to bring House lawmakers back to Washington in light of the United States’ airstrikes against Syria.

The lower chamber recessed Thursday for an 18-day spring break, but Pelosi says that’s too long to avoid debate over “any decision to place our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

“The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty,” Pelosi wrote to Ryan…“Congress must live up to its Constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation.”

Pelosi’s call got some support from Republican Senator Rand Paul, who argued “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked…The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.”

Democrats should also check out Ezra Klein’s analysis at Vox, which warns,

The cruise missile strikes President Donald Trump launched in reprisal for Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapon attack in Syria are well within the norms of American foreign policy. But they fall far outside the stated boundaries of Trump’s foreign policy, and reflect an administration bereft of a consistent, considered approach to the world — an approach that would make America’s actions predictable to both our friends and enemies, and guide the commitments we’re willing to make in the event of escalation or reprisal.

What we are seeing, instead, is a foreign policy based on Trump’s gut reactions to the images flashing before him on cable news. And that’s dangerous.

…While President Trump publicly worries over the fate of Syrian children, he is also barring them from fleeing to the US. While he speaks of “beautiful babies” dying, he is trying to slash what America spends on foreign aid, consigning many more beautiful babies to death and disease.

This, above all else, is what is worrying about Trump on foreign policy: He is unpredictable and driven by whims. He is unmoored from any coherent philosophy of America’s role in the world, and no one — perhaps not even him — truly knows what he’ll do in the event of a crisis.

When the bombing of Syria fades from the headlines, the issues of Russian meddling is the 2016 election, health care reform, immigration, trade policy and infrastructure investment will once again return to the forefront of media coverage. At that point Democrats should be ready to lead the national discussion as the party of progress with increasing clarity and conviction.


Political Strategy Notes

E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “The Gorsuch filibuster is about far more than payback” in his nationally-syndicated column and lays it out bold and clear: “This is thus about far more than retaliation, however understandable, for the Senate Republicans’ refusal to give even a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat Gorsuch would fill. Behind the current judicial struggle lies a series of highly politicized Supreme Court rulings…Let’s can all of these original-sin arguments about who started what and when in our struggles over the judiciary. From Bush v. Gore to Citizens United to Shelby County, it is the right wing that chose to thrust the court into the middle of electoral politics in an entirely unprecedented and hugely damaging way…There is nothing moderate about Gorsuch except his demeanor…Graciousness and tactical caution have only emboldened the right. It’s past time to have it out. From now on, conservatives must encounter tough resistance as they try to turn the highest court in the land into a cog in their political machine.”

At Mother Jones, Pema Levy explains “This Is What Democrats Have to Gain From Filibustering Gorsuch: For Democrats not to do this would have been a potentially catastrophic mistake.” As Levy reasons, “Beyond the issue of the base, some progressives see more potential upsides in triggering the nuclear option. “This is an exercise of a raw political power grab, and the hope is that the American people see that for what it is in coming elections,” said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, a progressive group that is supportive of Democrats’ current strategy of filibustering Gorsuch. This is a position echoed by Schumer himself. When asked at a press conference Tuesday what would happen if Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, he responded, “They will lose if they do it.” That’s because the voters willsee that McConnell “will do anything to get his way,” and Republicans will not be seen as acting in a reasonable or bipartisan fashion. In the long term, Sroka believes progressives will be better off without the filibuster hindering their own nominees when, perhaps after the 2020 elections, Democrats are in a position to pick the next nominee.”

Maria Liasson is more skeptical about the effects of the Gorsuch filibuster in her NPR post “5 Insights On The ‘Nuclear’ Battle Over The Gorsuch Supreme Court Nomination.” She argues that “If Gorsuch is going to be confirmed one way or another, why tick off your base when you will gain nothing for it? That’s the situation Democrats find themselves in this week…The impending death of the judicial filibuster feels like another big step down the slippery slope to tribal politics…Trust in all American institutions is at an all-time low, including the Supreme Court and Congress. The end of the judicial filibuster will make that trust deficit even bigger.” But the end of the judicial filibuster could also encourage voters to pay more attyention to the Supreme Court, the ways it affects their lives and the votes they cast for President and Senator.

Katie Mettler’s “Angie’s List rejects O’Reilly boycott: Trusts members to make ‘make their own’ decisions” at The Washington Post probably spells trouble for Fox News, as well as the company. As Mettler writes, “More than 30 advertisers have fled the airwaves of The O’Reilly Factor, the most popular cable television show on the most popular cable network, after a New York Times report on previously unknown sexual harassment allegations against the host spurred yet another woman to step forward…Angie’s List, the Indianapolis-based online community that functions like a high-end Yelp, has said it will not self-censor, but instead let its customers think for themselves…Angie’s List was met with swift online contempt, incurring the wrath of #GrabYourWallet advocates who threatened to cancel subscriptions to the site and claimed the company’s position was effectively an endorsement of O’Reilly’s alleged actions. “Sexual harassment is not a ‘viewpoint,’” wrote one woman on Twitter, tagging the company. “You’re not spending your ad money wisely and we’re paying attention!” Several other companies, like Trivago and Expedia, have declined to comment on their ad buys related to The O’Reilly Factor, but none have solicited the same fierce backlash as Angie’s List.” The company was also reluctant to quit sponsoring Rush Limbaugh, when his program was boycotted. Although sponsors are boycotting The O’Reilly Factor boycott for the hosts alleged sexual harrassment, rather than his political views, the boycott does call ntion-wide attention to O’Reilly’s sponsors and their politics, which many of them don’t want.

Progressives may want to further explore leveraging economic withdrawall from companies and organizations which support right-wing causes. One example might be companies that serve on the “Corporate Board” of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which provides “template” bills that enhance voter suppression and advance other right-wing bills in state legislatures. Still another possibility would be organizations and companies, whose leaders give most heavilly to Republican candidates.

In their Washington Post article, “Bannon removed from security council as McMaster asserts control,” Robert Costa, Abby Phillip and Karen DeYoung include this quote from a House Democrat, who some observers see as a rising star in Democratic politics as a result of his deft probing of Russian meddling in the 2016 election: “Bannon says he was put on NSC to ‘de-operationalize’ it. Think the word he was looking for was ‘dysfunctionalize,’ ” tweeted Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Mission accomplished.”

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait predicts, only partly tongue in cheek, “Before This Is Over, Republicans Are Going to Wish Hillary Clinton Won” and writes, “Trump is not a shrewd politician. A string of horrifying leaks has depicted a man far too mentally limited to do his job competently. The president is too ignorant of policy — he simply agrees with whomever he spoke with last — to even conduct basic policy negotiations with friendly members of Congress who want him to succeed. Nor does Trump know enough to even identify competent people to whom he can delegate his work. He’s a rank amateur who listens and delegates to other amateurs. (In a normal administration, the hilariously broad portfolio charged to his political novice son-in-law would be seen not as a joke but as a crisis.)…One Republican staffer, dismayed by Trump’s flailing, told Ezra Klein, “If we get Gorsuch and avoid a nuclear war, a lot of us will count this as a win.”

William Wan’s “Democrats are still ignoring the people who could have helped them defeat Trump, Ohio party leaders say” features some informative and provocative comments from several eloquent sources, including David Betras, chair of Ohio’s Mahoning County Democratic Party: “It doesn’t matter how much we scream and holler about jobs and the economy at the local level. Our national leaders still don’t get it,” said David Betras, the county’s party chair. “While Trump is talking about trade and jobs, they’re still obsessing about which bathrooms people should be allowed to go into…The workers we’re talking about don’t want to run computers, they want to run back hoes, dig ditches, sling concrete block,” he wrote. “They’re not embarrassed about the fact that they get their hands dirty. . . . They love it and they want to be respected and honored for it…What Trump slapped onto his plate last election was a big juicy steak. Real or not — that’s what it looked like to the hungry working voter,” Betras said. “What the elitists in our Democratic Party did with their side issues was say, ‘Look at all this broccoli we have for you. Sure, there’s some meat pieces mixed in, too, but look at the broccoli.” If Democrats ever want to win back Ohio, they better listen to Betras.

The last word for this edition of our notes goes to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who said in his speech to the National Press Club, “If you pull a bait-and-switch on working people, if you say that you’re with us and then attack us, you’re going to fail,” Trumka said. When the president says, ‘I’m for you,’ and then he does the old switcheroozy and he pulls a healthy or safety regulation that hurts us, we’ll let him know…We will not be an ATM for any political party…We’ll stand up to the corporate Republicans who attack working people and the neoliberal Democrats who take us for granted…It gets frustrating to us when people say, ‘Why do you support so many Democrats?’ Give me more Republicans that support our issues and we’ll support them. But we can’t find them. We look everywhere, trust me. We look under rocks, but we can’t find them.”


Are Dems Preparing to Correct Midterm Turnout Gap?

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn explains why “Democrats Are Bad at Midterm Turnout. That Seems Ready to Change“: Cohn writes that “the history of midterm turnout, the recent special elections, the protests, the donations and the early vote all seem consistent with the same story: The Democrats might be fixing their midterm turnout problem.”

In the past, notes Cohn, “Democrats have depended on young and nonwhite voters, two groups that produce low turnout in midterm contests. Nationwide, Republicans were more than 20 percent likelier to vote than Democrats (defined by party vote history and registration) in 2010 and 2014, according to an Upshot analysis of voter file data from the company L2.” More recently, however,

Democrats have fared well in recent special elections, and they have turned out in strong numbers in the four contests where complete turnout numbers are now available: a relatively uncompetitive special election in Iowa’s 45th State Senate district in December, two January contests in Virginia, and Delaware’s 10th State Senate district race in February.

In Delaware, the turnout for Democrats and the unaffiliated matched 2014 levels, while Republican turnout was five percentage points lower. In the end, the partisan composition of the electorate was about the same as in 2016, and Democrats won the race. (For a special election in a state senate race, simply matching previous turnout levels is an impressive feat.)

In Iowa, Democratic turnout was far higher than Republican turnout, improving the Democratic share of the electorate by 14 points since the last midterm election.

The turnout data is harder to interpret in Virginia, where voters do not register with a party. But Republican primary voters outnumbered Democratic primary voters by a somewhat smaller number in both contests than they did in the 2014 elections.

The trend toward higher Democratic turnout appears to be continuing in the April 18 special election for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, where early voting has recently gotten underway. So far, the party’s turnout is running about twice as high as it did at this point in 2014, while Republican turnout is about half what it was.

In her NBC News post, “Thousands of Would-Be Democratic Candidates Flood States in Trump Backlash,” Alex Seitz-Wald notes,

Democrats typically have trouble recruiting candidates for Statehouse races, but now they’re having trouble keeping up with all the people who want to run.

Candidates are already coming out of the woodwork across the country, thanks to a backlash against President Donald Trump and a newfound recognition on the left of the importance of state legislatures to counter GOP control in Washington, D.C.

…The surge of potential candidates has been so unusual that, for the first time, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee felt the need to coordinate its recruiting efforts with all the groups that work to find candidates. Democratic officials have had to add extra candidate training sessions to keep up with demand and increase enrollment in existing ones.

One major training group, Emerge America, reports an 87% surge in candidate applications over last year.

…When Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton campaign aide, launched Run for Something on Inauguration Day, she was planning to spend a lot of her time hunting for potential candidates…”We thought we would have to struggle to find 100 people who would want to run,” she said in an interview. More than 1,000 people signed up in the first week.

Good signs, all. “A few elections aren’t enough to prove that turnout is really shifting.,” as Cohn notes, but “millions who marched and protested a day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, or the abundant fund-raising for Mr. Ossoff” are also encouraging for Dems. Add to that the fact that “The Democratic turnout disadvantage is smaller — or basically nonexistent — when Republicans hold the White House.”

Further, “Republican turnout has been just 6 percent higher than Democratic turnout in midterm elections when Republicans have held the White House, like in 1982, 1986, 1990, 2002 and 2006.”

Both historical trends and recent developments provide Democrats with reasons to hope for a better turnout of pro-Democratic constituencies. If the national, state and local Democratic parties improve their turnout operations in competitive races, and take advantage of divisions among Republicans, the outcome could be even better.


Teixeira: Dems Must Mobilize Base, But Also Strive to Win More Working-Class Voters

Alex Carp has a revealing interview with Ruy Teixeira, author of influential political books, including “The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think” and (co-author with John Judis) of “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” at New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer. In one section of the interview Teixeira talks about the problems of the Clinton campaign messaging  strategy, and the implications for the future.

…Look at Hillary Clinton’s platform, for example, and the things she was supposedly running on. She actually had a lot of pretty good ideas for things that would benefit white non-college-graduates, even ideas that were specific to those areas of the country where they’re concentrated. But she didn’t talk about them; she didn’t even go to these places, by and large.

In fact, she didn’t really talk about policy. There’s a now well-known study of campaign advertising that showed Hillary Clinton was at a historically low level. She spent money like crazy — she way outspent Donald Trump, but the advertising was all about how Trump was not a progressive, he wasn’t a good guy, he didn’t like black people and Latinos and immigrants, and he’s intolerant, his issues with women, and so on. But very little of it was about what she actually would do for people, what her policies were.

As far as messaging goes, Clinton talked quite a lot about economic issues and reforms in her speeches. But, as Teixeira points out, her ads were much more focused on criticizing Trump. Perhaps one of the lessons of the 2016 presidential campaign is that campaign speeches are generally not well-covered. Indeed, when you see campaign speech coverage on television news, it’s usually a very short soundbite, and not always the best one. Clinton’s speech coverage was further undermined by Trump’s almost daily bomb-throwing tweets. Thus, speeches are good for rallying the host audience, but not so much for influencing swing voters nation-wide. Ads may be more powerful for meeting this last challenge, and candidates must use them to pitch their policies and vision, not just to beat up on the adversary.

Teixeira is more hopeful about the future:

I think that’ll be corrected. Is there a single policy or two policies that they’ll talk about? I don’t know. But I think there’s going to be a lot of ripe targets from the first two years of the Trump administration, in terms of them doing and saying things that are directly an attack upon those people. And these voters voted for Trump because they thought he was going to solve their problems. This is something that the left should hang on to with tenacity. Don’t typecast these voters as voting for Trump just because he had reactionary views on immigration or race or what have you. These voters want their lives to be better, and they thought that Trump could make it better. When this doesn’t happen, when things don’t get a lot better, and in fact when things might even get worse in some ways, that’s an opening.

Asked “Do you think the recent wave of outreach to white working-class voters by Democratic strategists and thinks tanks is smart?,” Teixeira responds:

I do, I do. There is some debate about this, obviously. There are people who have made the case that essentially these voters are hopeless and that the real problem is not investing enough in mobilizing base Democratic voters, but I think that’s crazy, basically. Clearly, you can and should do both!

Any party worth its salt mobilizes its base, and it would be silly not to. But I think it’s political malpractice not to go out there and try to narrow your deficits among these very large groups of people in very important parts of the country. And if it requires somewhat more resources than you’ve been investing to do it, of course you should do it. I mean, I don’t even think it should be much of a debate.

Earlier in the interview Teixeira acknowledges that “even though the Democrats represented more people, they were inefficiently distributed for political purposes,” as a result of systemic problems, including gerrymandering, the small state advantage Republicans enjoy in the Senate and the distortion of voting power in the Electoral College — all of which have undercut the political advantage of demographic trends favoring Democrats.

Democrats now appear to be much more attentive to addressing these structural problems, and hopefully, a little wiser about what issues and vision to emphasize in campaigns. Add to that the growing rifts in the GOP, and Democratic prospects for 2018 and 2020 look much improved than was the case just after the election.


Gorsuch’s Media Persona Hides Partisan Tilt

The P.R. campaign to sell Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to the public is well-underway, with a strong emphasis on portraying him as a moderate/centrist who wouldn’t be so bad for Democrats. It’s a strategy rooted in deception because Gorsuch holds right-wing views on worker rights and has an unsavory history of partisan activity, despite his lofty affirmations about the importance of the independent judiciary.

Gorsuch, who artfully dodged questions about Citizens United and Bush v. Gore, is a fairly slick manipulator of media, which helps to project an image of moderation. As Adam Liptak notes in The New York Times:

The nation’s first extended look at Judge Gorsuch in an unscripted setting revealed a smooth performer who shared some qualities with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who handled his 2005 confirmations hearings with such deep reserves of poise and wit that he was said to have retired the trophy.

Judge Gorsuch’s testimony was folksier, a little more combative and a little more canned. But he shared the chief justice’s ability to describe complex legal doctrines without taking a position on how they applied to actual controversies.

“I care deeply about the independence of the judiciary,” Gorsuch said on Tuesday. “When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity or motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening and demoralizing.”

Apparently Gorsuch didn’t “care deeply” enough about his fellow jurist Merrick Garland, a moderate, who is held in high esteem for his personal integrity, being denied a hearing by Republicans, nor even a meeting with any Republicans. This Mike Luckovitch cartoon captures the limits of Gorsuch’s principles regarding “the independence of the judiciary.”

Any Democrat who votes for Gorsuch is, in a sense, giving the Republicans a free ride on the total obstruction of a moderate nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.

Another indication that Gorsuch harbors hyperpartisan convictions underneath his practiced media persona has been noted by Ari Berman at The Nation. As J.P. Green recently noted,

Ari Berman cuts to the chase in his article in The Nation, “In E-mails, Neil Gorsuch Praised a Leading Republican Activist Behind Voter Suppression Efforts. Gorsuch’s ties to Hans von Spakovksy suggest a hostility to voting rights.” As Berman writes: “Few people in the Republican Party have done more to limit voting rights than Hans von Spakovsky. He’s been instrumental in spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud and backing new restrictions to make it harder to vote. But it appears that von Spakovsky had an admirer in Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, according to e-mails released to the Senate Judiciary Committee covering Gorsuch’s time working in the George W. Bush Administration. When President Bush nominated von Spakovksy to the Federal Election Commission in late 2005, Gorsuch wrote, “Good for Hans!””…At very least, the e-mails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy. But it’s far more disturbing if Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views on voting rights. Given that we know almost nothing about Gorsuch’s views on the subject, this is something the Senate needs to press him on during confirmation hearings next week.

Gorsuch has already cited Justice Antonin Scalia as a role model, who said the Voting Rights Act had led to a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Gorsuch, if confirmed, could be the deciding vote on whether to weaken the remaining sections of the VRA and whether to uphold discriminatory voter-ID laws and redistricting plans from states like North Carolina and Texas. In many ways, the fate of voting rights in the United States hangs on this nomination.

There is also Gorsuch’s very problematic record regarding worker rights and protection. In her Roll Call article, “Senate Democrats Preview Their Case Against Gorsuch: Supreme Court nominee cast as foe of workers.” Bridget Bowman writes, “Judge Gorsuch may act like a neutral, calm judge,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “But his record and his career clearly show he harbors a right wing, pro-corporate, special interest agenda.”

Democrats have often opposed recent Republican nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis of  the nominee’s views on “social issues,” especially reproductive rights. And there is more than enough to be concerned about concerning Gorsuch’s rulings and views on a range of such issues. But it is especially  encouraging that Democrats are now focusing on Gorsuch’s positions on worker rights, which would concern an even larger constituency — all working people.

Whether Gorsuch gets nominated or not, Democrats can use this opportunity to strengthen their image by taking a high profile, front and center, as the real champions of worker rights. If they can stop the Gorsuch appointment or further delay the agenda of Trump and the Republicans, so much the better. The Republicans certainly deserve no better than all-out obstruction, since that has been their policy for over 8 years.


Creamer: Why Protests vs. Trump Could Be a Turning Point In U.S. History

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

It is entirely possible that Donald Trump’s election may indeed mark a significant inflection point in American political history – but not because it spawns a rebirth of white supremacy or the authoritarian right; quite the contrary.

I have been involved in progressive political organizing for 50 years – beginning in the late 1960s. There was an enormous amount of progressive energy, enthusiasm and passion generated during the Civil Rights movement and the mobilizations aimed at stopping the Viet Nam War. But the level of progressive mobilization generated by Donald Trump’s victory surpasses the 1960s and ‘70s or any other time in the last half-century.

Millions of ordinary Americans – many of whom have never been engaged in political activity of any kind – have joined the “resistance.” They have begun to attend town hall meetings, or participated in the amazing Women’s March following the Trump Inauguration, or they were part of the explosive response to Trump’s immigration policies and his refugee ban.
In fact, as far as I know, the Women’s March was the largest one-day series of nation-wide protests in American history.

The emergence of new grassroots-led organizations like Indivisible, the Town Hall Project, and the Women’s March have already transformed the political landscape. And the memberships of grassroots progressive organizations like MoveOn, Planned Parenthood, Organizing for Action (OFA), People For the American Way, and many others have all exploded.

When you attend town meetings or progressive political events – or just talk to your neighbors – the universal question is: “What can I do – how can I become involved to stop Trump and his policies?”
And already, we’ve seen evidence that the new level of political mobilization washes over very directly into electoral politics. In the Delaware special legislative election where the GOP and Democrats were fighting over a swing seat to determine control of the legislature, the Democrat won going away because turnout far surpassed expectation.

Political observers are watching the Georgia special election to replace former Congressman – now Trump Health and Human Services Secretary – Tom Price. Donald Trump won the election in the district by only 1 percent ― a seat that Price won handily last fall. It is entirely possible that a massive special election turnout generated by the new level of progressive mobilization may carry Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff to victory. That would send shivers down the Republican Party’s collective spine and could presage a Democratic takeover of the House next year.

Some people think that the current level of energy and engagement may fade with time – and they may be right.

But as anyone who has done political organizing knows, it’s much easier to get people fired up about things someone is trying to take away from them than about things to which they aspire. Once people have something, they don’t want to give it up.

At the same time, if you give newly energized people a taste of success, they are much more prone to deepen their engagement.
Ironically then, on the one hand the more successful Trump and his forces are at taking away our health care insurance, public television, school lunches or the rights of the immigrant community, the more angry and fired up people will be. On the other hand, the more progressives are successful at stopping Trump from achieving his declared goals of taking these and other things away, the more that success itself will inspire people to fight on.

This is not at all to say that the new level of progressive mobilization will inevitably continue. If progressives were to allow Trump to truly consolidate power, limit the rights of free speech and assembly, further suppress the right to vote, eviscerate the judiciary, pack the Supreme Court with Trump rubber stamps like his nominee Neil Gorsuch – or blunder into a truly devastating war ― that could change the picture.
But unless Trump is truly able to make himself into an American Putin, the Trump victory and the new level of political mobilization it has inspired present progressives with an historic political opportunity to catapult the country into a truly progressive direction that allows us to break through the gridlock ― and political and economic constraints of the last 30 years.

Increased progressive voter turnout massively changes the equation at every level of government. In addition, many voters who supported Obama, and then supported Trump in 2016 have already begun – gradually – to realize they were conned. Many of those most negatively impacted by repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for example, would be the older, rural, white working class voters upon which Trump most heavily depended for his surprise win last November.

And just last week, an iconic article appeared in The Huffington Post quoting a Trump voter saying that she didn’t know he would cut her Meals on Wheels program. “I was under the influence that he was going to help us,” she said.

If in 2018 Democrats take back the House and begin to retake the Governors’ mansions and legislatures upon which redistricting depends in 2020; if in 2020 itself we oust Trump and replace him with an inspiring populist progressive bent on building an economy that works for everyone – not just CEO’s and the wealthiest; and if the new level of progressive engagement allows us to simultaneously take back the Senate and make further inroads at the state and local level: if all of those things happen, America could make more social and economic progress over the next decade than we have made in the last half-century – all compliments of the progressive mobilization precipitated by the election of Donald Trump.

But to realize that possibility, progressives must do everything we can to nurture and encourage that mobilization. Here are some of the rules of engagement:

Do everything we can to provide people with useful, strategically valuable things to do. People will not be “burned out.” They want more to do, not less. We must provide them with the times, dates and places of town hall meetings and demonstrations; engage them in voter registration operations, creating press events, and – next year – the critical task of turning out the vote.

Continue to avoid the kind of sectarian, circular firing squads and hand wringing that often accompany major defeats like the Trump victory. The most inspiring thing about the tone of the new progressive movement is its clear understanding that Benjamin Franklin was right: we must all hang together or we will all hang separately.

Relentlessly take on Trump and the Republicans. Most Americans support progressive values – on economic issues, social issues, and international issues. We need to self-confidently stand up for those progressive values and never give in to those who say we should “compromise” or cut our losses.

In spite of their November election victory, the right wing in America is on the defensive. They’re in the same place as the dog that caught the bus. For eight years they have been free to criticize Democrats at every turn because they did not have responsibility for actually governing. Now they own it all. And they have to show they can govern. But instead they are in disarray.

When you have them on the run, that’s the time to chase them, not the time to settle down and act like we have to negotiate with Trump because he is the “new normal.”Those newly mobilized progressive activists expect us to go to war to defend our values. Progressives will win if we listen to our mothers, who tell us to stand up straight.

Celebrate our victories, but never try to claim that a defeat – or some minor modification in a horrible right wing policy ― is a victory. Victory is stopping them from achieving their agenda. Victory would be stopping them from eliminating the ACA – or making them take months to achieve their goal. Victory is stopping the Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination cold. Victory in the short run is driving Trump and the GOP approval rating through the floor. Victory is living to fight another day and preparing for real game-changing wins in 2018 and 2020.

Don’t be afraid to make it completely clear at all times that any victory that we achieve while the GOP controls the House, Senate, and White House is only a holding action until we can take back the reins of government in 2018 and 2020. One thing many “non-political” Americans learned in no uncertain terms last fall is that elections have consequences. Another is that we can’t count on the conventional wisdom to be right, we can’t count on other people to do it for us – everyone has to take personal responsibility for creating the society we want. No one can ever again sit out an election. We must all get involved in electoral politics.

Once we take back the reins of government, our first priority must be raising the wages of ordinary working people. That means we must end the era of growing income inequality and reduce the share of national income that goes to the top 1%. America’s gross domestic product per capita increased 48% over the last 30 years, but the wages of ordinary people flat-lined. That’s because those increases all went to the top 1%. Our failure to adequately address that fact created the fertile ground in which Trumpism flourished. We must never fail to address this fundamental question again.

Finally, while people are much easier to mobilize to prevent someone from taking something away rather than achieving something to which they aspire – they also most be inspired. They must have hope for the future. Hopelessness and fear are the enemies of empowerment and mobilization. Inspiration and hope are the catalysts that light the fire. Inspiration requires that someone believe that they are part of something larger than themselves – but that they themselves can play a personal, instrumental role in achieving the larger goal. We must remember that in fighting against the forces of darkness, we must always offer the sure belief that a bright, exciting future is possible – that it is sometimes darkest right before the dawn.

Dr. King was right, the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. But it is our hands that will make it so.


Vanden Heuval: To Win Back Working-Class, Dems Must Offer Proactive Agenda

Katrina vanden Heuval explains how “How Democrats can win back the working class” in her Washington Post column.

…A tireless commitment to fighting Trump’s disastrous policies and support for the activists marching in the streets are important. But there is also a natural danger of falling into the default mode of opposing Trump, and merely defending existing policies, without offering the serious solutions that people so desperately need. Rebuilding the party requires Democrats to speak boldly about what they are for and not just what they are against. Otherwise, they risk replicating the failed campaign strategy of 2016, when the Clinton campaign hammered away at Trump without appealing to working Americans with a clear and bold alternative vision of its own. To that end, it has been encouraging to see progressive leaders recently taking their message straight to working-class voters across the country, including in red and purple states where Trump maintains solid support.

In addition to Sen. Bernie Sanders, writes vanden Heuval, Democrats have another exemplar who is focused on meeting this challenge, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has unveiled “a progressive populist economic blueprint that he’s been developing since late 2015. At the heart of Brown’s plan is the fundamental principle that “it’s not businesses who drive the economy — it’s workers.” Vanden Heuval credits Brown with offering “a passel of bold measures designed to empower workers, from a $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave to protections against wage theft and expanded collective bargaining rights.”

In addition, vanden Heuval cites impressive progress towards a proactive working-class message and agenda at the state level:

Meanwhile, progressives have been aggressively pushing a pro-worker agenda at the state level as well. State Innovation Exchange (SiX) Action, which advocates for progressive policies in state legislatures, responded to Trump’s congressional address by spearheading a “week of action” that brought together progressive lawmakers and grass-roots organizations in more than 30 states to advocate for some 130 pieces of pro-worker legislation. As part of the effort, state legislators introduced, advanced or highlighted paid sick leave in Michigan and Maryland, equal pay in Oklahoma and Colorado, and minimum wage hikes in New Mexico and North Carolina, among other bills.

None of this is to back away from strong criticism of Trump and the Republicans, whose increasingly “barbaric policies” must be called out and challenged. However, concludes vanden Heuval, “regaining the trust of working-class voters who supported Trump will take more than opposition. As Sanders recently argued, it will take a forward-looking message and a real commitment to addressing the challenges that working people face. “You cannot just be defensive,” Sanders said. “You need a proactive agenda that brings people together to fight for a new America.”

Leaders like Sanders and Brown are lighting the way forward for Democrats who want to win the support of workers of all races. Progressive candidates and campaigns who want to shed the Republican branding of the Democratic party as elitist ought to pay close attention to the messaging and policy agenda of these  two energetic champions of the working-class.