washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

staff

Cohn: Why Battleground State Polls Underestimated Trump’s Support in 2016

Nate Cohn’s “A 2016 Review: Why Key State Polls Were Wrong About Trump” considers three theories to explain why Trump did exceeded polling projections in the Rust Belt, NC and FL. As Cohn explains:

At least three key types of error have emerged as likely contributors to the pro-Clinton bias in pre-election surveys. Undecided voters broke for Mr. Trump in the final days of the race, or in the voting booth. Turnout among Mr. Trump’s supporters was somewhat higher than expected. And state polls, in particular, understated Mr. Trump’s support in the decisive Rust Belt region, in part because those surveys did not adjust for the educational composition of the electorate — a key to the 2016 race.

“Some of these errors will be easier to fix than others,” writes Cohn. “But all of them are good news for pollsters and others who depend on political surveys.”

Further, Cohn adds, “At the annual conference of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), as well as at a number of other meetings held earlier this year, evidence pointed toward an explanation in one of these categories:”

A postelection survey by Pew Research, and another by Global Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, re-contacted people who had taken their polls before the election. They found that undecided and minor-party voters broke for Mr. Trump by a considerable margin — far more than usual. Similarly, the exit polls found that late-deciding voters supported Mr. Trump by a considerable margin in several critical states. These three results imply that late movement boosted Mr. Trump by a modest margin, perhaps around two points.

Cohn cautions, however, that there is a “tendency for respondents to over-report voting for the winner.” Cohn also note “the so-called “shy Trump” effect,” the notion that “Trump supporters took telephone surveys but were embarrassed to divulge their support for an unpopular candidate. If true, the “undecided” voters were really Trump voters all along; they just didn’t want to admit it to pollsters until after their candidate won.”

Cohn also discusses the arument that “likely-voter screens may have tilted polls in Clinton’s direction,evidence in inconclusive. He also notes that an Upshot/Siennna survey found that “Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were likelier than Mr. Trump’s supporters to stay home after indicating their intention to vote.”

In addition, many of the polls failed to adequately ‘weight’ polls to reflect educational levels in keeping with demographic realities. It appears that less educated voters, were somewhat underrepresented in key state polls.

About 45 percent of respondents in a typical national poll of adults will have a bachelor’s degree or higher, even though the census says that only 28 percent of adults have a degree. Similarly, a bit more than 50 percent of respondents who say they’re likely to vote have a degree, compared with 40 percent of voters in newly released 2016 census voting data…Most national polls were weighted by education, even as most state polls were not.

The good news for pollsters, adds Cohn, is that the more accurate “performance of national surveys has been one of the better reasons to assume that last year’s misfire wasn’t a broad indictment of public opinion polls.” However, Cohn cites a need for better demographic data in state polls including more accurate samples of education levels by race. That would help pinpoint correct percentages weighting for whites with no college education in state surveys. Cohn notes,

But many lower-quality state pollsters did not even ask about education at all, suggesting that it wasn’t on their radar as a potential issue in 2016. That’s surprising. The potential for bias should have been fairly obvious, given the media coverage of Mr. Trump’s strength among less educated voters and the well-established difference in response rates along educational lines.

Weighting errors, ‘shy’ Trump voters and late-deciding voters all taken together may explain most of the state-wide polling failure to predict Trump’s success in the Rust belt and other battleground states. Then there is the thorny problem of low-level civic engagement, “the best-known response bias in polling,” which is a more difficult fix to implement. “It’s certainly possible that Mr. Trump’s white working-class supporters were less likely to respond to telephone surveys,” writes Cohn. “But the data, at least in the public realm, is not very clear.”

Looking toward the future, Cohn is not optimistic that state polls are going to get better, in part because newspaper budgets for polling are shrinking. Also, “The failure of many state pollsters to even ask respondents about education does not inspire much confidence in their ability to stave off less predictable sources of bias.”

It’s not clear how much an be done to correct for ‘shy’ voters and late deciders. But whether media-linked polls get their act together in state and local polls or not, it is incumbent on Democratic pollsters to at least address the weighting issue, if Democratic strategy is going to reflect demographic reality. Democrats, in particular, can’t afford to cut corners on their inside polls — if they want a reality-based strategy.


Feingold: How to Fight Voter Suppression

From former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold’s Vox post, “Voting rights are under assault nationwide. Here’s how to protect them.“:

Our democratic legitimacy will be determined by how we respond, as a country, to the growing assault on voting rights. The successful suppression of a single vote is an assault on the citizenry as a whole; it’s an attempt to shift power away from the people and to a specific elite class. We cannot stand back and rely only on our courts to challenge every new voter suppression law. This could be our generation’s civil rights moment, our 1965, and we must rise to meet it. We need a 21st century Voting Rights Act. The onus is on us to demand one, and on Congress to pass it.

…We need a new formula. And the only one that can ensure that no voter is suppressed in America is one that covers all 50 states. Any change to voting regulations in any state should have to be reviewed and precleared. There would be no targeting of specific states and counties, in the way Shelby County invalidated, nor any benchmark in history that can become outdated. The right to vote must be sacrosanct, and that means leaving no room for voter suppression anywhere.

To make a 50-state rule effective, Congress must provide the means to enforce it. It can do so by establishing an independent Office of Voting Rights. The Trump administration makes clear why independence is so essential. In just a few months, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his DOJ have shifted to a much weaker stance towards voting rights than that taken by the Obama administration. Sessions’s DOJ, for example, reversed its position on Texas’s voter ID law, going so far as to seek dismissal of the department’s previous claim that the law was intentionally discriminatory.

…We need an office with the resources and independence to handle a 50-state caseload, regardless of the party in power. The Office of Voting Rights would exist solely to review and approve or disapprove of any proposed changes to voting rights regulations, state by state.

Feingold, who has  formed a new organization,  LegitAction, an organization focused on restoring legitimacy to our democracy, notes further:

There rightfully exists a high threshold for any law that subjects states to the oversight of Washington. Jim Crow met that threshold, the Supreme Court decided in the 1960s. The onslaught of voter suppression in the past four years should also be recognized as the emergency that it is — especially as the state-level efforts have been coupled with an executive branch intent on doubling down on such suppression. This extraordinary set of circumstances meets the criteria justifying oversight. Protecting voting rights — the vehicle through which the power of the people is exercised — must take precedent over the convenience and sovereignty of the states.

Feingold’s 50-state strategy sounds like a fresh approach to a critical problem facing the nation, and Democrats in particular. “Trump’s commission on “election integrity” may be just the first step in a White House-led assault on our most fundamental democratic right,” Feingold concludes. “At this precarious moment, the United States needs a 21st century Voting Rights Act. Every candidate for national office should be required to make public her or her position on this vital piece of legislation.”


GOP Win of MT House Seat Tainted with Assault Charge

In his victory statement on winning the special election for Montana’s House seat by 6+ points, Republican Greg Gianforte, facing assault charges for allegedly attacking a reporter who’d asked him about the recently released CBO scoring of the GOP’s health-care bill, offered a vaguely-stated apology. As David Weigel and Elise Viebeck report at The Washington Post, Gianforte told his victory rally, “I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way,” he told supporters at his rally here…Some in the crowd laughed at the mention of the incident. “I made a mistake,” said Gianforte.” Further, note the authors,

In interviews at Quist’s final rally, at a Missoula microbrewery, voters were skeptical that the attack could change the race. Gianforte entered the contest with high negative ratings and an image as a hard-charging bully who had joked about outnumbering a reporter at a town hall meeting and sued to keep people from fishing on public land near his home.

“Greg thinks he’s Donald Trump,” said Brent Morrow, 60. “He thinks he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”

Gianforte and the allied super PACs had deflected attention from his low approval numbers with ads attacking Quist over unpaid taxes and gaffes about gun rights and military spending. To the extent the assault charge hurt — a GOP-aligned poll found 93 percent of voters aware of it — Republicans thought it denied them another day of attention on Quist.

In his Esquire column, “The Ben Jacobs ‘Body Slam’ Was Not an Isolated Incident,” columnist Charles P. Pierce noted,

These attacks on individual reporters should be no surprise. In the wider political world, people like [Gianforte campaign spokesman] Shane Scanlon and Greg Gianforte operate secure in the knowledge of precisely who their audiences hate and why they hate them. They know that those audiences cheered when reporters covering the Ferguson protests got roughed up and busted by the cops, and when that guy got arrested in West Virginia for questioning HHS Secretary Tom Price, and when that reporter got put into a wall while asking questions at an FCC event, and, ultimately, when the 2016 Republican candidate for president spent a good portion of every campaign rally coming right up to the edge of setting a mob loose on the penned-up press at the back of the hall.

A proper history of Republican thuggery in the 21st century should probably include the notorious “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000, when the GOP flew in goons to intimidate the presidential vote recount in Miami. Wikipedia notes that Roger Stone, who has served as an advisor to both Trump and Nixon, is listed among the Brooks Brothers Riot participants.

As for the after-effects of Gianforte’s win, in his post, “Greg Gianforte’s assault charge puts Republicans in a lose-lose situation in Montana,” CNN Editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote:

Now, consider what happens if Gianforte wins. Some time between now and June 7, he will have to appear in court to face the assault charge. And based on the audio provided by Jacobs as well as the eyewitness reports from a Fox News crew, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t get convicted. (Nota bene: I am not a lawyer.)
What do Republicans do then? Every member of leadership will be asked, daily, whether seating Gianforte represents a willingness to look the other way. And for a party already struggling with branding issues, that’s not the sort of story House Republicans need bouncing around Washington. If they don’t seat Gianforte, then what? Can they force him to resign? And would that mean — as I suspect it would — another special election where the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist, would almost certainly run and might well start as the front-runner due to the controversy surrounding Gianforte?
Gianforte losing is a bad story for national Republicans. Gianforte winning might well be a worse one.

Today is an especially-sad day for those who are old enough to remember a time when Montana voters repeatedly elected one of the classiest, most dignified and widely-respected political leaders of any era, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.


Brownstein: How Trump’s Budget Would Betray His Rust Belt Suporters

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains how Trump’s full budget would bring new hardships to the very the working families of the Rust Belt who provided his margin of victory in the Electoral College:

In the key Rustbelt states that tipped the 2016 election to President Trump, blue-collar white voters at the core of his constituency represent a majority of those receiving benefits from the federal income-support programs he has targeted for large cutbacks in his budget, according a new analysis conducted for The Atlantic.

Whites without a four-year college degree constitute most of those receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, and Social Security’s disability program in each of the five Rustbelt states that flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016: Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They also represent a majority of the programs’ beneficiaries in other heavily working-class interior states—from Arkansas and Kentucky through Missouri and Montana—that are central to GOP fortunes in upcoming elections.

Although Trump’s budget is designed to minimize hardships on white seniors, who turn  out at the polls in grater percentages than other constituencies, “the reductions still inevitably reach many of the lower-income and less-educated whites that have emerged as the cornerstone of the modern Republican coalition.” Brownstein notes, further,

As William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center who formerly worked as a top Senate Republican budget aide, told The New York Times: “The politics of this make no sense to me whatsoever, in the sense that the population that brought them to the dance are the populists out there in the Midwest and South who rely on these programs that he’s talking about reducing.

…”The tilt toward blue-collar whites is, if anything, even more pronounced in the programs Trump’s budget targets than in the health-care law. Consider the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. The analysis examined households that have received income from the program over the previous year and separated them according to the education level of the household member with the most schooling.

White households whose most educated member held less than a four-year college degree represented the highest share of all households receiving SNAP benefits in Trump’s key states: 69 percent in Iowa, 57 percent in Ohio, 55 percent in Wisconsin, 52 percent in Michigan, and 50 percent in Pennsylvania. The numbers were comparable in heavily white and blue-collar states like West Virginia (85 percent), Maine (82 percent), Kentucky (74 percent), Montana (68 percent), Indiana (61 percent), Missouri (59 percent), Tennessee (56 percent), and Arkansas (55 percent).

Brownstein also presents other statistics that reveal the extent of Trump’s betrayals of the beneficiaries of the Social Security Disability program, “a lopsided tilt toward whites without a college degree” in key Rust Belt states.

During the next year the effects described by Bronwstein will be increasingly felt in the Rust Belt, as well as the rest of the country. If Democrats have successfully rebranded their party as the real champion of America’s working-class by Fall of 2018, a wave election that will put an end to Republican domination will become a reality.


Dems’ House Battleground Map Grows

From Jim Newell’s post, “The Class of Trump: Why Democrats feel so comfortable trying to expand the 2018 map” at slate.com:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is getting bolder. On Monday it announced 20 new districts it would target for recruitment and potential investment, raising its total target list to 79 districts. The initial round of 59 targeted districts, announced in January, took care of most of the perennial low-hanging fruit, but this new one cuts into some ambitiously red districts…The average rating of the 20 new districts, using the 2017 Cook Partisan Voting Index figures, is R+7.8. In a normal year, a host of districts like that are not worth much time, investment, or recruitment.

..Passage of the American Health Care Act opened new frontiers for Democrats. Representatives from each of the new districts voted for the AHCA, which would use nearly $1 trillion in Medicaid cuts to finance tax cuts for the wealthy. The health care bill itself is just an amuse-bouche for the party’s chief agenda item: additional tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. You don’t have to like Democrats to hate this.

Newell notes a couple of other issues that are encouraging Democrats, including a campaign funds scandal anbd involvement in the Trump-Russia mess, but cautions that “The list is aspirational. Not all of the Democratic challengers for all of these districts are going to get all of the DCCC’s money and support.” He also cites retiring Republican House members and the emergence of some promising Democratic recruits joining the 2018 fray.

At The Hill, Ben Kamisar and Lisa Hagen affirm the same key reasons for improved democratic prospects in the House:

Democrats are increasingly bullish about the prospect of a wave election in 2018 amid backlash against the passage of the House GOP’s ObamaCare replacement bill and the snowballing revelations coming out of the White House…“Anyone who thinks the House isn’t in play is kidding themselves,” a former GOP aide told The Hill…The House healthcare bill is full of landmines and the constant White House drama Republicans have to defend is destroying any ability we have to be on offense or talk about a positive message.”

Kamisar and Hagen note further,

Democrats are, on average, leading Republicans by 7 points when voters are asked which party they prefer in the upcoming elections, according to Friday’s RealClearPolitics average…That average didn’t include a recent Quinnipiac University poll that put Democrats up by 16 points when participants were asked which party should win control of the House in 2018.

The Cook Political Report moved ratings for 20 House districts in favor of Democrats following the healthcare vote in the House, while Sabato’s Crystal Ball did the same for 18 districts in the days after that.

In their Politico post “Paging Rahm: House Dems revive 2006 playbook for 2018: The party is reviving the strategy it used the last time it took the House 11 years ago, but a lot has changed since then,” Edward-Isaac Dovere and Gabriel Debenedetti write:

..Democrats see the same ugly storm forming for Republicans that delivered them the majority 11 years ago, and they’re digging out the blueprint…The party is vastly expanding the number of districts it plans to contest, recruiting veterans and business owners to compete in conservative terrain as it did back then. Three senior House Democrats are soon heading to Chicago to seek advice from Rahm Emanuel, the party’s 2006 master strategist. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been tutoring members on the party’s campaign efforts that year.

…Still, a lot has changed for Democrats since 2006, mostly for the worse, so re-adopting the campaign tactics from that year alone probably won’t cut it. For starters, Democrats need 24 seats to take back the majority vs. 17 seats to make up in 2006. The 2010 redistricting tilted the House landscape toward Republicans, putting more seats even further from Democrats’ grasp. And there’s a year-and-a-half to go in the most unpredictable environment in modern political history.

…This cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is investing early in research into Republican incumbents, diving deep into their records and histories for possible corruption and other liabilities, in hopes of promoting a narrative they then can tie to suspicions about Trump’s self-dealing…“Ethics,” said DCCC Executive Director Dan Sena, “will play a significant role.”

With nearly 18 months to go, Democratic candidates have good reasons not to get overconfident. But there are equally-good reasons for optimism — and for investing resources in promising candidates.


How Public Attitudes on Impeachment and Trump’s Collusion with Russia Inform Democratic Strategy

A poll conducted May 17-20 by the Harris Poll for the Harvard Center for American Political Studies sheds light on pubic attitudes about collusion between the Trump Administration and Russia in the 2016 election and prospects for impeachment of President Trump. Among the findings, as reported by Jonathan Easley exclusively for The Hill:

…54 percent of voters said they have not seen evidence to suggest that Trump campaign officials conspired with Moscow to influence the 2016 election….Respondents were largely split along partisan lines, with 80 percent of Republicans saying there is no evidence of collusion and 74 percent of Democrats saying there is. Only 38 percent of independents said there is evidence of collusion.

When voters were asked, irrespective of the evidence, whether they believe that Trump campaign officials had coordinated with Moscow, 52 percent said no and 48 percent said yes. A majority of independents, 54 percent, didn’t think there was any collusion.

Among Democrats, 66 percent believe Trump will be impeached, while only 36 percent of independents and 20 percent of Republicans believe the same…“Right now nearly 60 percent believe impeachment will go nowhere, though a majority of Democrats think it will and so there is great potential for … disappointment among the party base,” said Harvard-Harris Poll Co-Director Mark Penn.

In addition, “A majority, 52 percent, said it was inappropriate for the president to have divulged sensitive classified information” to the Russians, “including 56 percent of independents.”

Meanwhile Nate Silver reports at fivethirtyeight.com that “people putting money on the line are taking impeachment seriously. According to the prediction market Betfair, the chance that Trump will fail to serve out his four-year term is about 50 percent (!). There’s even a 20 to 25 percent probability (!!) that Trump doesn’t finish out 2017 in office, these bettors reckon.”

Silver proceeds with an exhaustive analysis of impeachment prospects based on what little data is available and historic experience, and he cautions “this is a thought experiment and not a mathematical model.” But Silver adds, “I do think I owe you a range, however. I’m pretty sure I’d sell Trump-leaves-office-early stock (whether because of removal from office or other reasons) at even money (50 percent), and I’m pretty sure I’d buy it at 3-to-1 against (25 percent). I could be convinced by almost any number within that range.”

All of the above taken into account, Democrats don’t yet have reason enough to make impeachment of Trump their top priority. Indeed, as Jeff Alson has persuasively argued in In These Times, there are good strategic reasons for Democrats to avoid “the impreachment trap.” Better to let the Republicans take the lead on it and divide their party, while Democrats focus on building a strong midterm campaign.

Given Trump’s recklessness, however, and the mounting revelations of his administration’s collusion with the Russians to interfere in our 2016 presidential elections, at some point Democrats could be perceived as shirking their duty to protect our national security, if they don’t take impeachment action. Determining the best approach may require daily recalibration, but at least the Democrats don’t have the increasingly bad menu of choices facing the Republicans.


Political Strategy Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Impeachment: The Downside for Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alson argues more persuasively:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cohen: How Trump’s Latest Debacle Endangers National Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohen concludes with a sobering obseervation:

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

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


McCain’s Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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