washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Women Candidates Do Better as Democrats, But Party Still Lags Badly

The Center for American Women in Politics of Rutgers University provides the most up-to-date information about the gender of elected officials at the federal, state and local levels. Exploring their data yields this profile:

Women are 21 percent of the current U.S. Senate, with 21 senators, 16 of whom are Democrats and 5 are Republicans.

83 women are members of the House of Representatives, comprising 19.1% of the 435 members in 2017.  62 of them are Democrats and 21 are Republicans.

Five women, or 10 percent of the governors of the 50 states, including 2 Democrats and 3 Republicans serve as governors in 2017.

443 women serve as state senators, 22.5 percent of all state senators, incuding 253 Democrats and 176 Republicans

1399 women serve as state House/Assembly members, 25.9 percent of all House/Assembly members, including 859 Democrats and 532 Republicans.

292 women serve as Mayors of cities with over 30,000 population, or 20.7 percent of all mayors of cities this size. Party data for this subset is not avsailable. But a hefty majority of Mayors, especially in larger cities, are Democrats.

These statistics lead to the inescapable conclusion that Democrats have failed to recruit and elect enough women candidates, and the  track record of Republicans is an even greater embarrassment (with the exception of governorships and Lieutenant Governors). When the women’s rights movement began to catch fire in the 1970s, few thought that parity for women in politics would still be so far away, more than four decades later.

The top ten states in terms of the highest percentage of state legislators who are women includes:

Vermont (40.0%)
Nevada (39.7%)
Colorado (39.0%)
Arizona (38.9%)
Washington (36.7%)
Illinois (36.2%)
Maine (34.4%)
Oregon (33.3%)
Minnesota (32.3%)
Maryland (31.9%)

The worst include:

Wyoming (11.1%)
Oklahoma (12.8%)
West Virginia (13.4%)
South Carolina (13.5)
Mississippi (13.8%)
Alabama (14.3%)
Louisiana (15.3%)
Kentucky (16.7%)
Tennessee (16.7%)
North Dakota (18.4%)

Notice a blue state/red state pattern here? But Democrats clearly have a lot of work to do before they can lay claim to being the party that empowers women.

Among the organizations working to rectify the gender imbalance of America’s office-holders, Emerge America has set up state-wide affiliates in 18 states, which have had some impressive success in advancing the role of Democratic women as elected officials. The organization provides “in-depth, seven-month, 70-hour, training program providing aspiring female leaders with cutting-edge tools and training to run for elected office and elevate themselves in our political system.” and, “Since the first Emerge state was launched in 2002, the Emerge network has trained over 2,000 Democratic women to run for office to date…In the 2016 election, 70% of our 213 alumnae on the November ballot won their elections.”

Democratic women who are thinking of running for office can check out Emerge America’s resources right here.


Next Up: Montana’s At-Large House Seat

Montana’s at-large congressional district is actually a pretty big electoral prize. It is the most populous district in the nation with more than one million constituents, and it is second only to Alaska’s at-large district in square mileage.

The last time a Democrat held the seat was from 1993-97, when Pat Williams repped the at-large district, which is the same thing as serving the entire state. Since then Republicans have held the seat, including Ryan Zinke, who was re-elected in November, but who has now been appointed Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. A special election to fill the seat is slated for May 25th.

Democrats have nominated a candidate to fill the seat who is generating a lot of excitement, singer-songwriter Rob Quist, a single-payer, pro-choice progressive who suppported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. Quist has solid Montana bonafides, having been born and raised in a ranching family in the state, and he has traveled and worked all across Montana.

If GA-6 is emblematic of southern suburban congressional districts, Montana’s at-large seat could serve as a pretty good example of a Mountain West district Democrats can realistically hope to win back from Republicans. And like Ossoff in Georgia, Quist is an appealing candidate, perhaps even more so for progressives.

But Quist may not have the same fund-raising draw as Ossoff, even though he is going to need dough, lots of it, to take his progressive message all across Montana and compete with his software billionaire Republican opponent. Democrats and progressives who want to help Quist should check out his ActBlue web page.

Although Montana elected both Trump and Zinke in November, it does have a venerable tradition of electing Democrats, including America’s longest-serving Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who ran the U.S. Senate from 1961 to 1977, as well as the current Governor Steve Bullock and U.S. Senator Jon Tester.

In his New York Times article, “After Georgia’s Close Race, Montana Democrats Demand Party’s Attention,” Jonathan Martin writes about concerns that Democrats could blow an opportunity for a needed pick-up:

“National folks should be coming in here,” Governor Bullock said. “It is a winnable race.”

Mr. Bullock should know. His re-election last year, by four percentage points against the Republican Greg Gianforte, was the fourth consecutive gubernatorial race that Democrats have won in Big Sky country. The state has also not sent two Republican senators to Washington at the same time since the Constitution was amended to require the popular election of senators.

…He’s running against Mr. Gianforte, who was just beaten statewide. Mr. Gianforte and three Washington-based conservative organizations have spent more than $1.4 million on television and radio since February, much of it attacking Mr. Quist.

Democratic officials, contributors and activists in Montana, which Mr. Sanders carried in the presidential primary, are clearly agitated over their Washington-based party. They say the top-down leadership never misses an opportunity to play it safe…Echoing the demands that progressives made just over a decade ago when another Republican president ignited the liberal rank-and-file, Montana Democrats express irritation that they must persuade their party to contest red-tinged seats.

…Some Democrats here complain that no money has been spent focusing attention on the same issues that sank Mr. Gianforte’s run for governor last year, like his lawsuit to stop access to a river near his Bozeman home. Access to public lands is a perennial hot-button issue in vast Western states, particularly in pristine Montana.

There is also a Libertarian candidate on the ballott, which could help Quist — if Democratic strategists do what they can to drive  a wedge in between Montana’s conservative voters.

The Montana at-large congressional race may not get the media coverage of the GA-6 contest. But for Democrats, every House seat pick-up is equal when they are tallied to determine majority control and elect leaders. This is one of the best bets Democrats have for a pick-up, and it would be a shame to blow it.


Stoehr: How Dems Can Divide Trump Supporters with ‘Wedge’ Issues and Win Over His Persuadable White Working Class Voters

The following article by John Stoehr, Yale political science lecturer, Hearst Newspapers columnist, New Haven Register essayist and U.S. News & World Report contributing editor, is cross-posted from U.S. News & World Report:

I find Steve King to be a insightful indicator of what’s going on inside the far-right wing of the Republican Party. Not because he’s smart. Not because he’s important. But because the Iowa congressman tends to view politics in stark black and white instead of more opaque sepia tones.

King admitted in 2015 to the real reason hard-liners like himself are opposed to immigration reform: President Barack Obama, he said, “is importing millions of illegal aliens, who, when they arrive here, he thinks, and he’s right, they are undocumented Democrats. The next phase of this is to document these Democrats so they can vote. This is a raw political power move.”

Obama wasn’t importing anybody. But otherwise King was right. Naturalized immigrants, or their natural-born children, would likely over time vote Democratic. A raw political power move, maybe. This was astute political analysis underneath a layer of racism.

King was equally helpful last week. On a conservative radio show, he warned President Donald Trump that he had better deliver on the anti-immigrant platform he campaigned on or risk losing his base. King noted that Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, appears to be increasingly marginalized. The millionaire former head of Breitbart News was the visionary behind the president’s nationalist agenda.

Unfortunately, for him, Bannon picked a fight with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Blood is thicker than water to this president, so Bannon is now on the outside looking in. In his place is economist Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs CEO and, according to King, Trump’s “pro-immigrant” adviser. King told his interviewer: “People are policy. So whenever I see those kind of appointments come in place, I do get concerned about it.”

It would be easy to dismiss King’s remark as the racist drivel that it is. King has advocated for mass deportations, even of adults who were brought here as children and whose only country is the United States. But if we’re really deeply listening, racist drivel can be politically insightful – and helpful to Democratic strategy. As with King’s 2015 remark, there’s more here than meets the eye.

Who is Trump’s base? The answer is rooted in what nationalism means. Does it mean anti-immigrant or pro-white American worker? Or both? If purely anti-immigration, King has little reason to fret. Trump has had a lock on the hardcore racist vote since the day he first cast doubt on the legitimacy of the country’s first African-American president. Trump’s administration is eminently capable of executing a passel of nativist policies. Hardcore racists are going to support Trump no matter what happens to Bannon.

But without Bannon, there is no significant voice in the Trump administration that represents, or at least pretends to represent, the white working class, a key part of Trump’s base. All that remains are the nativists like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the billionaires like Cohn. This is a huge problem for Trump, because without an economic message, the respective factions of his administration risk affirming everything the opposition is saying about the president – either he’s a racist or his in thrall to moneyed interests. Without Bannon’s populist messaging, even if it’s populist in name only, Trump’s base risks being irreparably wedged, because white working-class voters did not support Trump due to racist appeals alone. They want something in exchange for for their support. They want good jobs and a return to prosperity.

This is the political danger of running an explicitly racist campaign. The “other” isn’t real. It’s a rhetorical device intended to inflame racial resentments. Even if Trump were to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, it would make no positive difference in the lives of his supporters, because the “other” isn’t real. Deporting immigrants is to them like deporting an abstraction. Meanwhile, life continues to suck for the white working class, and Trump is too incompetent or too weak politically to do anything about it.

Despite much fanfare, the Trump administration’s regulatory changes, especially dismantling Obama’s environmental rules, are essentially a sop to the energy industry and the Republican Party’s donor class. His rule-gutting may have some trickle-down effect, but hardly enough to mitigate the despair felt by Trump’s white working-class base. The president’s photo-ops with corporate heads are only that. Good public relations, not effective jobs policy.

About the only economic agenda Trump could pursue that would truly give the white working class what it wants is a massive and historic $1 trillion investment in the country’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. That was Bannon’s brain child from the get-go, but we have heard nary a word about it during the president’s first 100 days. Even if Bannon were not marginalized from the White House’s sanctum sanctorum, his boss would need the Democrats to make infrastructure happen. But the Democrats have little need to compromise with a president increasingly weakened by scandal, incompetence and the baked-in insanity of his own party.

How can the Democrats appeal to the white working class without surrendering the hard-fought gains among women and minorities over two decades? This is how. Trump’s base is increasingly wedged. The Democrats need to wedge it further. They don’t have to return to their former days as the working man’s party. But they do need exploit what is going to become a baneful wedge issue.

There is overlap, obviously, but there are serious differences between hardcore racists who support the president no matter what and the working-class white voters who are seeking tangible results from a candidate who promised far more than he could possible deliver. Using a combination of policy proposals, like “Medicare for all,” and messaging, like “health care is a right,” the Democrats can drive the wedge down more deeply, picking off white working-class voters here and there as they rebuild their winning coalition.

The Democrats are already on their way to this end. They have proposed an alternative infrastructure bill, one that would truly empower the working class of all races. They have the policy. Now comes the right message and, more importantly, finding the right messenger.

As I said, Steve King isn’t smart and isn’t that important. But he’s good at telling us what Republicans fear most. Time will tell if the Democrats are listening, and if the base of the party will allow it.


Pundits Offer Cautious Optimism for Ossoff in GA-6 Special Election

Regarding the much-discussed special election today for the GA-6 congressional district, Nate Silver writes at fivethirtyeight.com:

If the polls are right, then Democrat Jon Ossoff will receive by far the most votes in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which is holding a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom Price on Tuesday.1 But Ossoff will probably finish with less than 50 percent of the vote, which would trigger a runoff between him and the next-highest finisher — most likely the Republican Karen Handel, but possibly one of three other Republicans (Bob Gray, Dan Moody Judson Hill) who are closely bunched behind her in polls.

Furthermore, the combined vote for all Republican candidates will probably exceed the combined vote for Ossoff and other Democrats, although it should be close. And the district has historically been Republican-leaning, although it was much less so in the 2016 election than it had been previously. All of this makes for a fairly confusing set of circumstances and a hard-to-forecast outcome.

Silver then crunches numbers, poll averages. regressions, aggregate party margins etc. and comes up with a formula that yields the result of Ossoff winning a runoff by 4 percent. However, Silver cautions that the partisan voting index favors Republicans and his calculations include a large margin of error (“about 8 percentage points for projecting one candidate’s vote share in the runoff, or 16 percentage points (!) for projecting the margin between the candidates”).

Apply these principles to the Georgia 6 race, and you’ll conclude that Tuesday night’s first round won’t actually resolve that much — unless Ossoff hits 50 percent of the vote and averts the runoff entirely. (That’s an unlikely but hardly impossible scenario given the fairly high error margins of polls under these circumstances.) Even if Ossoff finishes in the low 40s, it will be hard to rule him out in the second round provided that he still finishes in first place by a comfortable margin…An Ossoff win would unambiguously be good news for Democrats. But a narrow loss could be anywhere from disappointing to encouraging for them, depending on the margin and whether you think 2016 represented the new normal in the district. If judged by its 2012 results, merely coming within single digits in Georgia 6 would count as a decent result for Democrats, as was the case in a special election in the Kansas’s 4th Congressional District last week.

But Democrats will like Silver’s conclusion:

As of Sunday evening, betting markets gave Ossoff about a 40 percent chanceof eventually being the next member of Congress from Georgia 6, whether by winning a majority of the vote on Tuesday or prevailing in the June runoff. While that isn’t a ridiculous assessment, it looks too pessimistic on Ossoff. If the polls are right, the outcome of a runoff is more like a true 50-50 proposition — plus, there’s an outside chance that Ossoff could win outright on Tuesday…But I generally think the conventional wisdom has been too slow to catch upwith the fact that midterm and off-year elections are often problematic for the president’s party, and especially when the president is as unpopular as Trump. What might seem like an extraordinary feat — Democrats flipping Gingrich’s old seat — is going to be more commonplace in an environment like this one.

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik observes,

We’re calling GA-6 a Toss-up, a designation we applied to the race roughly two weeks ago after the National Republican Congressional Committee sounded the alarm bell and started aggressively spending money in the district. That’s in addition to the millions the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC that is close to Speaker Ryan, has also spent in the district. Since then, Ossoff’s huge fundraising has come to light, as have early voting statistics that seem to indicate heavy Democratic interest in the race (although Republicans, who have more candidate choices and thus perhaps waited longer to vote, are catching up).

So there’s a lot of uncertainty about the outcome: Polling, typically spotty in House races, generally shows Ossoff in the low 40s. If that’s all he gets in the first round of voting, and the combined Republican vote is over 50%, one would assume that Ossoff’s general election opponent would start with the upper hand: After all, the first round results are better than any poll — they are actual voting results that can be a preview of the runoff on June 20, if there is one. However, if Ossoff’s vote and the scattered votes for the four other Democratic candidates add up to a total approaching 50% (say, 45% or more), it may indicate that the runoff should be quite competitive. Obviously, a first-round win by Ossoff would be noteworthy because he would have exceeded Clinton’s 46.8% 2016 share significantly — and blown recent previous Democratic House performance in the district out of the water. Another factor: As of now, Ossoff and Democrats have not been attacking the Republicans because it’s anyone’s guess how the first round will play out, while outside GOP groups have been hammering Ossoff, hoping to drive down his numbers (and while Ossoff has been running lots of positive ads on his own behalf). Ossoff and national Democrats may be preparing to drop the hammer on whichever Republican emerges from the first round, again assuming Ossoff does not win outright on Tuesday. In other words, the dynamic changes on Tuesday in advance of a possible runoff: The GOP survivor goes from running against his or her fellow partisans to running against Ossoff, while Ossoff can shift into attack mode because he would have a clear opponent.

HuffPo poll wonks Ariel Edwards-Levy and Grace Sparks note,

HuffPost Pollster’s average puts Ossoff at just below 43 percent, with surveys from both parties this month giving him a share of the vote ranging from 39 to 45 percent. As Enten notes, even with undecided voters proportionately allocated between the candidates, that leaves him several points shy of the 50 percent needed for an outright win…

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn warns:

Republicans have dominated the district for a generation, but the leading Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, has an outside shot to win outright on Tuesday by winning more than 50 percent of the vote…It’s not clear what to expect Tuesday night, however. It’s hard to estimate how many people will vote, and the public polls are of fairly low quality. One prediction: It’s likely that the first votes counted will be misleadingly good for Mr. Ossoff…There is no reasonable way to look at the polls and conclude that Mr. Ossoff is likely to get to 50 percent. But it would not take an especially unusual polling error, at least for a special election, for him to pull it off.

Tom Baxter, one of the top political observers of Georgia politics, takes note of the 6th district’s demographic stew:

…There are some interesting aspects to the 6th. Only 13 percent of its voters are black, but Latino and Asian voters comprise 21 percent of the electorate, second only to the neighboring 7th District to the east, where the combined Latino-Asian total is over 29 percent. These are not “us” voters.

The 6th District also has the state’s highest share of residents — 21 percent — classified as “white ethnic” based on their response to Census questions. This can refer to anyone who identifies with a list of over 30 countries, very few of which are “us” countries. As a political rule of thumb it generally applies to Jews, Greeks and Italians. For a point of comparison, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s south Florida district is 27 percent white ethnic…Set aside white ethnics and you are left with only 43 percent of the district that can safely and confidently, winking at every nod, be called “us.”

I think Ossoff’s potential has been so oversold that anything shy of an outright win — which would be a stunning achievement for a Democrat in this district — will be looked on as a disappointment in some corners. But there are reasons why this could be an important election, past its short-term significance as a national bellweather.

The popular conception of what’s going on in the district is that a lot of reliably Republican voters, sort of like the ones you see in the NRCC ad, are so turned off by President Trump they are turning away from a buffet line of Republican choices to vote for a Democrat in the race to succeed Tom Price.

Some of that is going on, surely. A lot of normally Republican voters didn’t vote for Trump last November, and that’s what worries the national party most. Republican voters may also be disgusted with the Republican Congress and perhaps even Price for failing to deliver on an ObamaCare replacement. But it’s a much more difficult leap for a practiced Republican to vote for a Democrat five months after the presidential election.

 Ed Kilgore, who knows Georgia politics from the inside out, comments at New York,

If these indicators are accurate, Ossoff may have banked a majority of early votes (representing as much as a third of the total vote) and is fighting to hold off an election-day majority of Republicans. This is the same dynamic that characterized last week’s special election in Kansas, although Ossoff has resources for getting out his vote on election day that Kansas Democratic candidate Jim Thompson could have only dreamed of possessing. The other variable that separates the contests in Kansas and Georgia is that the latter does not have the former’s deep reservoirs of intensely pro-Trump rural counties. Indeed, it is the preponderance of college-educated white suburban voters who aren’t fond of Trump that made Georgia’s sixth district a Democratic target the moment Tom Price was confirmed and resigned his seat.

…Polls vary, but it appears the GOP challenger with the best chance of beating Handel is Bob Gray, a local elected official from Handel’s home base of north Fulton County (where about half the electorate resides) who is being backed by the Club for Growth and by elements of the Trump 2016 organization (Gray is going total MAGA in branding himself). If he winds up in a runoff with Ossoff, the already-high typecasting of this election as a referendum on Trump will, if possible, ascend even more.

Yes, Republicans would have nine weeks to unite before a runoff, and it’s unclear Ossoff could sustain anything like his early fundraising pace as other campaigns (such as the May 25 special election in Montana) and the soon-to-be-assembling 2018 field compete for resources. So his win-it-all-the-first-time strategy makes abundant sense…

This is likely a close race, and the large Republican field undoubtedly helps Ossoff in the first round. If Ossoff wins it all in the first round, it will be a political earthquake. The consensus is that he will at least be competitive in a runoff, and that is very good news for Democrats.


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.”