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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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New GQR poll shows Democrats erase national security trust gap with Trump

The following article is cross-posted from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner research e-blast:

A new poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner shows a 55- 45% majority of registered voters trust Democrats in Congress more than Donald Trump to handle America’s national security.  This represents a huge 18-point swing toward Democrats since March, when a 54-46% majority said they trusted Trump more.

The declining trust of Americans toward Trump on national security comes at a time when the country and Trump administration face a host of foreign challenges, from growing tensions with North Korea, to Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran deal, to a consensus that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election.

GQR partner Jeremy Rosner, who served on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton said: “The American public is rapidly losing faith that Donald Trump can keep them safe. The more they watch him handling foreign challenges, from North Korea to Iran to Russia, the less confidence they have in him.”

The American public particularly lacks faith in Trump’s ability to deal with North Korea – arguably the most dangerous of his immediate national security challenges. The public trusts Democrats in Congress more than they trust Trump to deal with North Korea, by a 57-42% margin. This 15 point Democratic edge is up 5 points just since this August, when Trump first threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” – a sign that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric is undermining his own public support, rather than enhancing it.

Equally notable: at a time when Republicans in Congress have dismal ratings – CNN polling in September shows 72% of the public disapproves of the job performance of “Republican leaders in Congress” – the public trusts Trump even less than Republicans in Congress on these life-or-death issues of national security. By a wide 62-37% margin, respondents in the GQR poll say they trust Republicans in Congress more than Trump on national security.

Trump’s mishandling of national security is starting to erode the Republican brand on these issues. In March, voters trusted “Republicans in Congress” on national security more than “Democrats in Congress,” by a large 20 point, 60-40% margin. But nine months of Trump’s tenure as Commander in Chief has cut that margin to just a 5-point, 52-47% advantage. Indeed, the GQR poll shows that on the central threat of North Korea, the public already trusts Democrats in Congress more than their Republican counterparts, by a 53-47% margin.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey fielded online, October 3-10, among 2,000 registered voters.

For more information, contact GQR at info@gqrr.com.


Can the Republicans Win VA Governorship with Immigration Fear-Mongering?

MARION, Virginia, October 17 – There are a lot of ways to fall in love with Virginia. You could kayak along the Chesapeake shores, which America’s earliest European immigrants, including Captain John Smith, explored awestuck from their base at Jamestown. You can tour Virginia’s matchless historic sites, including not only presidential homes, colonial settlements and battelfields, but also Yorktown and Appomattox where the American Revolution and Civil War ended. Or just take a ride on Skyline Drive along the glorious Blue Ridge mountains.

But for political junkies, I would reccomend cruising along I-81, which traverses Virginia’s northwest to southwest, roughly parallel to the border the state shares with West Virginia. It’s a beautiful drive along several stretches, but the real political interest is the people in the small towns, like Marion, a few miles from the NC and TN state lines.

The southwestern region of VA has gotten recent attention as a key conservative stronghold in a state that has been trending in a blue direction in the last three presidential elections. While the area around Dulles airport is sometimes called the “high-tech coridor” of the east, there is also a high patents/population ratio in southwest Virginia, clustered around Virginia Tech. But the homes and businesses along I-81 are peopled with mostly white blue collar and middle class families, along with a smaller percentage of African Americans and Latinos.

The latter are frequently employed in construction, road-building and restaurants, like “Mi Puerto” in Marion, where I saw great affection between the highly professional and friendly Mexican-American staff and the local predominantly-white families. It was striking because I had been reading that very day about “rising tensions” between Latinos and white Virginians, largely as a result of fear-mongering about a Central American gang, emanating from the campaign of Republican candidate for Governor Ed Gillespie. One of his campaign ads is among the most repulsive example of immigrant-bashing I have seen. As Yvette Cabrera describes the ad at ThinkProgress:

In the ad, which began airing in mid-September, a narrator warns Virginia residents of the menacing threat of the [Latino] MS-13 gang while Coll’s photograph, stamped with the words “Kill, Rape, Control,” flashes across the screen. Gillespie’s commercial tries to pin the increase in MS-13 violence on his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, and criticizes the democrat for his vote against a Virginia bill that would have banned sanctuary cities, which do not actually exist in Virginia.

But the gang members in Coll’s photograph are not actually MS-13 gang members, nor were they photographed in Virginia. The photograph features Barrio 18 gang members that Coll photographed inside a prison in El Salvador. In fact, Barrio 18, a faction of the Sureños gang, is a rival of the MS-13 gang.

MS-13 has a very small presence in northern Virginia, and they are mostly from El Salvador. But Gillespie and the Republicans amplify a few incidents to spread fear and distrust of Latinos in general to steer votes away from Northam.

Gillespie is not a garden-variety Republican gubernatorial candidate. He is also a shrewd political strategist who has been credited with spearheading the GOP’s impressive victories in state politics in recent years, including the Republican pick-up of about 1,000 seats in state legislatures across the U.S. during the Obama Administration. He has been particularly adept at leveraging “cultural issues” to distract voters from the GOP’s dubious economic policies.

What Gillespie lacks in charisma and inspirational ability, he makes up with his strategic chops. That’s a good reason why Democrats should not get overconfident about Democratic candidate Ralph Northam’s lead in the polls (6.8 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average), and mobilize turnout with the same energetic commitment needed as if the polls showed a dead heat. Gillespie, who lost his 2014 race to Sen. Mark Warner by less than half of one percent, knows how to feast on  Democratic indiference in non-presidential elections.

Both Gillespie and Northam are nervous about Trump’s involvement in the campaign. Bush, Obama, Pence and Biden have already campaigned for their party’s nominee. But Gillespie is certainly emulating Trump’s immigrant-bashing and politics of cultural distraction as core elements of his strategy.

In the end, however, the outcome of this marquee off-year race on November 7th may depend on the turnout of northern Virginia liberals and moderates, who especially dislike Gillespie’s opposition to the reproduction rights of women, or conversely, conservatives in the Richmond burbs and exurbs. In either case, It’s all about GOTV now.

Democrats have reason to hope that Gillespie’s Latino-bashing will fail, as a result of the decency of the majority of Virginia’s middle-class whites who won’t deny the clear reality that the overwhelming majority of Hispanics are hard-working, law-abiding and sincerely religious people who enrich the culture and prosperity of their state.

A Gillespie victory would be an upset. If Northam wins, it will be an indication that Democrats are getting focused on the imperative of mobilizing turnout in off-year elections. If he wins big, it will fuel hopes for a ‘blue wave’ election next year and perhaps 2020 – and that would give Democrats some needed optimism.


Political Strategy Notes

Alvin Chang reports at Vox that “Only 1 in 3 voters approve of Trump’s executive order undermining Obamacare,” according to a survey by the Public Policy Polling conducted 10/12-13. Further, 48 percent of registered voters  and 10 percent of Trump voters disapprove of the order. In addition, 52 percent of RVs and 20 percent opf Trump voters want “congress to stand up to Trump on the issue of health care.”

At U.S.News & World Report, Sabrina Corlette Explains why Trump’s executive order is “A Blow to Working-Class Coverage,” and notes “The executive order sets the stage for new health plans that do not have to comply with Obamacare’s insurance rules, including requirements that plans cover a basic set of minimum benefits like maternity care, prescription drugs and mental health treatment, and refrain from setting premiums based on a person’s age, gender or health status…If you’re older or need to use health care services because of a current or past condition, you’ll likely be charged a lot more for your coverage. Many low-income people could be protected from these rate hikes, because the Trump administration can’t repeal the law’s income-related premium subsidies. However, if you’re not eligible for those subsidies – and an estimated 7.5 million people buy insurance on their own without federal financial help – you could face increasingly high premiums…Those hardest hit will be working- and middle-class Americans, who earn just a bit too much to qualify for premium subsidies and have the misfortune of being in less-than-perfect health.”

That’s what I’m talking about. In January, the “2nd Women’s March On Chicago To Draw Attention To Mid-Term Elections,” reports Joe Vince at The Chicago Patch. “Called “March to the Polls,” the 2018 event will be Jan. 20, and like the inaugural demonstration, it will be one of other “sister marches” held around the country. Organizers say the focus of this year’s march will be to draw attention to the upcoming mid-term and gubernatorial elections across the United States, including Illinois…In 2017, activists, new and seasoned, joined advocates in the fight for women’s rights and social justice,” Jaquie Algee, march organizer, said on the event’s website. “In 2018 we celebrate that movement, and march our demands to the polls.”..This year’s march will help launch voter education programs designed to heighten awareness around women’s rights and social justice. Some of the specific issues include affordable health care, living wages, immigration, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom and protections for workers, disabled individuals and the environment.”

Tina Nguyen’s “Will Bannon’s Far-Right Insurgency Destroy the GOP?” at Vanity Fair cautions Dems to not get overly-optimistic about the former Trump White House staffer’s wing-nut jihad to primary less-extreme Repubicans. “With the Party of Reagan suffering an identity crisis, Democratic strategists are reportedlyconsidering a reboot of the strategy that won Claire McCaskill re-election in 2012: actively helping to get unelectable fringe candidates nominated. In her memoir, McCaskill described how she discovered that Missouri Republicans were more energized in their support of Todd Akin, a founding member of the Tea Party Caucus, than they were for a more traditional candidate. Her solution: boost Akin in the primary by running ads calling him “too conservative.” It worked better than she expected, with Akin pulling off a double-digit upset—and then tanking, months later, when his infamous comment about “legitimate rape” sparked nationwide controversy…But assuming that Republicans will self-sabotage by lurching too far right could backfire spectacularly, just as it did for Hillary ClintonDespite party infighting, The Washington Post reports that the number of small donors giving to the G.O.P. is at its highest level in recent history. “You cannot force a fumble in these situations,” warned Democratic strategist Matt Canter. “The goal posts have moved on what’s considered sane and reasonable.”

Here’s a couple of revealing statistics, via Zack Stanton’s “The Bellwether County That Explains Eminem and Kid Rock” at Politico: “The Cook Political Report noted that just three counties—Macomb in Michigan, York in Pennsylvania, and Waukesha in Wisconsin—were responsible for Trump’s Electoral College win: “If those three counties had cast zero votes, Trump would have lost all three states and the election…Last year, Macomb County went for Trump overwhelmingly, delivering more votes for him than for any other presidential candidate in the history of the county. His margin of victory in Macomb was 48,348; statewide, he won Michigan by only 10,704 votes. In Macomb, Hillary Clinton received 31,699 fewer votes than Barack Obama had in 2012; if her drop-off had been only two-thirds that size, she would have won Michigan.”

Stanton observes in another graph: “Before he was a legend in his field, pollster Stanley Greenberg made his name examining the voters here in 1985, when local Democrats brought in the Yale professor to study what was happening and why they were losing. “Winning Macomb represents a kind of mastery of our history,” Greenberg later wrote in his 1995 book, Middle Class Dreams. “These middle-class suburbanites are conscious of being caught in the middle, doubly betrayed by those who would govern from the bottom up and by those who would govern from the top down. … What they really want is a new political contract—and the freedom to dream the American dream again.” It’s not hard to draw a line from these insights to the rise of the Clinton-era centrism Greenberg helped shape (he was the chief pollster on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign) and the basis of much of the past three decades of Democrats’ intraparty squabbles.”

Syndicated columnst E. J. Dionne, Jr. illuminates The We the People Democracy Reform Act, sponsored by Rep. David Price, D-N.C, and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a package bill that Democrats should prioritize the moment they regain the White House and a working majority of copngress: “Price and Udall propose a system of matching funds for small contributions that would create a strong incentive for politicians to rely on large numbers of modest donations from rank-and-file citizens rather than on the massive stacks of money made available by billionaires…Price and Udall would expand disclosure rules to include paid internet and email communications as well as robocalls…“Corporations, labor unions, super PACs and other groups would be required to have their top official appear in and take responsibility for the ads, and the top five donors to a group would have to be listed in the ads.” Voters should know who is trying to influence them…The bill also takes on gerrymandering by requiring states to establish independent citizen redistricting commissions to draw congressional district boundaries. It fights voter suppression by establishing automatic and same-day voter registration nationwide. And it addresses some of Trump’s specific abuses. It requires all presidential nominees to release their income tax returns. Both the president and vice president would have to divest themselves from any financial interest posing a potential conflict. Presidential visitor logs would also be made public.”

From Robert Borosage’s post at The Nation, “The Republican Plan to Rob America,” an article title which Dems can use in soundbite-sized descriptions: “…the tax cuts—totaling $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years—will give away tax dollars that could be used to address our true investment deficit: the shortfall of public investments vital to our economy. Virtually absent in the public debate is the reality that the competitiveness of this economy is crippled by the starving of vital public investments…Democrats need to be louder champions of public investment. They are cautious because 61 percent of Americans, including 44 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners, think Democrats “too often” see government as the only way to solve problems. The Wall Street wing of the party, with its embrace of austerity and neo-liberalism, is happy to feed that suspicion. Many politicians are reluctant to champion a cause that is compelling but controversial, but they shouldn’t be.”

If anyone has any remaining doubts about the importance of Facebook as an election communications tool, they should read Alexis C. Madrigal’s “What Facebook Did to American Democracy” at The Atlantic. Among Madrigal’s many provocative statistics and insights: “In late 2014, The Daily Dot called attention to an obscure Facebook-produced case study on how strategists defeated a statewide measure in Florida by relentlessly focusing Facebook ads on Broward and Dade counties, Democratic strongholds. Working with a tiny budget that would have allowed them to send a single mailer to just 150,000 households, the digital-advertising firm Chong and Koster was able to obtain remarkable results. “Where the Facebook ads appeared, we did almost 20 percentage points better than where they didn’t,” testified a leader of the firm. “Within that area, the people who saw the ads were 17 percent more likely to vote our way than the people who didn’t. Within that group, the people who voted the way we wanted them to, when asked why, often cited the messages they learned from the Facebook ads.”…By late October, the role that Facebook might be playing in the Trump campaign—and more broadly—was emerging. Joshua Green and Issenberg reported a long feature on the data operation then in motion. The Trump campaign was working to suppress “idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans,” and they’d be doing it with targeted, “dark” Facebook ads. These ads are only visible to the buyer, the ad recipients, and Facebook. No one who hasn’t been targeted by then can see them…Steve Bannon was confident in the operation. “I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine,” Bannon told them. “Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”


Are Panicked Democrats Showing Signs of Post-Trump Stress Disorder?

After reading several articles about the Virginia governor’s race, I was moved to do some psychoanalyis at New York:

The Virginia gubernatorial race concludes in just under four weeks. Democratic candidate and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has a lead of 6.8 percent over Republican Ed Gillespie in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. The last time Gillespie led in a public poll was in March. Northam has maintained a fundraising advantage throughout most of the general election campaign and in mid-September had twice as much cash on hand as his rival. Virginia is arguably a “blue state” now, having been carried twice by Barack Obama and then by Hillary Clinton last year (by more than 5 percent). Just yesterday Morning Consult released state-by-state approval ratio numbers for Donald Trump; in Virginia, he was at 42/53, worse than his national average. And then there is Virginia’s historical pattern in gubernatorial elections of almost always voting against the party controlling the White House; the only exception since 1974 was posted by the current Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe.

You’d never know any of these data points if all you had to go by was the mood of Democrats concerning this contest. Earlier this week the Daily Beast’s veteran political reporter Sam Stein wrote that Democrats were “panicked” over Virginia, worried about a lack of enthusiasm for their candidate and the absence of the kind of massive national small-dollar investments in the campaign that characterized the congressional special election in Georgia earlier this year. A prominent Virginia activist penned a piece that rocketed around the internet with this headline: “Heads Up—An Impending Disaster in Virginia.” And Vox’s Jeff Stein penned a classic glass-half-empty assessment noting that polls showed the race as “surprisingly close” while “worried” Democrats fretted over Gillespie’s “culture war” attacks on Northam.

So what’s up with all the “panic” and “worry” and premonitions of “disaster” for Democrats in Virginia, given all the positive objective indicators of the state of the race? Jeff Stein may have touched on the underlying reason:

“The Virginia governor’s race this year is making some on the left queasy as a redux of Election Day 2016 ….

“Fear is creeping in that instead of beginning to beat back the tide of Trumpism and race-baiting dog whistles, Democrats will once again be submerged in it.”

In other words, the more Gillespie’s campaign begins to resemble Trump’s in its borderline-racist savagery about criminal gangs of immigrants and politically correct efforts to take down Confederate monuments, the more Democrats relive Election Night 2016, when all those objective indicators of a Clinton victory proved illusory.

Democrats may be suffering from their own version of PTSD — Post-Trump Stress Disorder — in which pessimism operates as a natural defense mechanism to prevent the kind of shocked disappointment they experienced on the night of November 8, 2016. After all, nothing’s really happened since then to dispel the irrational but powerful sense among left-of-center folk that they and their country are being punished by an angry God using this terrifying president as a scourge. Hopes of a quick recovery from the Trump madness were temporarily raised by Jon Ossoff’s special-election campaign in Georgia, which at one point looked like a certain win, but then that, too, turned out to be another bitter buzzkill.

So perhaps all the bad vibes Democrats are feeling about Virginia have less to do with the race itself than with the daily reality of waking up each morning and realizing that Donald Trump is president of the United States and apparently none of us will deserve good things for the foreseeable future.


Political Strategy Notes

Try not to puke when you look at the smug portrait of contempt for Democracy in the photo that accompanies this New York Times article by Robert Pear, Maggie Haberman and Reed Abelson. As the authors explain, President Trump has scrapped “subsidies to health insurance companies that help pay out-of-pocket costs of low-income people, the White House said late Thursday. His plans were disclosed hours after the president ordered potentially sweeping changes in the nation’s insurance system, including sales of cheaper policies with fewer benefits and fewer protections for consumers…The twin hits to the Affordable Care Act could unravel President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, sending insurance premiums soaring and insurance companies fleeing from the health law’s online marketplaces. After Republicans failed to repeal the health law in Congress, Mr. Trump appears determined to dismantle it on his own.” As Schumer and pelosi put it, ““It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America,” they said. “Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it.”

In her op-ed, “Why Democrats need a 50-State Strategy,” Washington Post columnist and editor of The Nation Katrina vanden Heuval spotlights two critical Democratic campaigns for the U.S. Senate that are polling surprisingly well in red states — Doug Jones’s bid to win a U.S. Senate seat representing Alabama and Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Texas campaign to take the senate seat now held by Ted Cruz. As vanden Heuval writes, “These are still uphill races. But both candidates are proving why, for Democrats to go from resistance to power, a bold 50-state strategy is critical. Even if the Jones and O’Rourke campaigns do not end in victory, there is clear value in mobilizing progressive voters and building the state and local infrastructure to compete in future races, particularly at the all-important state and local levels. On that front, the recent string of progressive victories in local elections nationwide, some in places where Democrats had not won in years, shows that there is a real desire for progressive solutions in every part of the country, including areas that many Democrats have unfortunately written off. ”

“White working-class people in our study felt disconnected from her because she representedthe political elite, “insiders,” and Washington DC. Her language and campaign appeared to forget about white working-class voters in preferencefor appealing to college graduates, minorities, and the urban middle class. The sense was that her life experiences and varied roles in politics—first lady, US senator, US secretary of state—confirmed her as part of the establishment and disconnected from real people rather than being qualified to run for president…During the 2016 election campaign, Clinton stated that some of Trump’s supporters were “deplorables” because of their xenophobic, sexist, and homophobic views (Jacobs, 2016). The sense that white working-class voters were racist jarred many in our study; they eagerly pointed out the ethnic diversity of family and friends, and how they supported work colleagues who were being subjected to racial and sexual harassment. Many had voted for the first black president in 2008. “Deplorable” became a form of cultural resistance against a sneering and out-of- touch elite…” — from the study, “The Other America”: White working-class views on belonging, change, identity, and immigration. Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK. by H. Beider, S. Harwood, and & K. Chahal, (2017).

According to Matthew Pennington and Emily Swanson of the Associated Press, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons development is spooking most Americans, and two-thirds of them say President Donald Trump’s war of words with the isolated nation’s leader is making the situation worse. Less than 1 in 10 thinks Trump’s comments are making it better…Those are the findings of a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, as tensions between the adversaries escalate and North Korea comes closer to its goal of having a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the continental U.S.”

In  his post, “Did Voter Suppresion Give Trump the Election?,” Richard Prince writes at the Root: “A study from the battleground state of Wisconsin “estimates 16,800 or more people in Dane and Milwaukee counties were deterred from casting ballots in November because of Wisconsin’s voter ID law,” Patrick Marley and Jason Stein reported Sept. 26 for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel….“The study by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Ken Mayerconcluded 16,800 to 23,250 voters in the two counties — the Democratic strongholds of Wisconsin — did not vote because of the voter ID law,” they wrote.”

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall quotes Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, who says “The greatest threat to the next Democratic nominee for President isn’t white working class voters, but in fact our inability to cobble back and hold together the core of Obama’s back to back majority coalitions. The “protest vote” by millennials — HRC’s significant underperformance with younger voters, particularly younger voters of color — is actually where she was most notably off of Obama’s performance in the overall battleground aggregate…when you have between 6 to 9 percent of younger voters of color breaking 3rd Party in their ‘protest vote’ that kills the Democrat’s chance to reach Obama’s margins most notably in places like Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin.” As for winning the votes of the white working class, Edsall quotes political scientist Bruce Cain to good effect: “The cultural problem is Democrats looking down their noses at blue collar work and flyover country. First, cut that shit out. Second, let’s get back to celebrating the work of those who fix pipes, install wind farms, etc. Many of us in Democrat bubble lands are just too full of ourselves. Also, let’s look at how to upgrade vocational schools and training to make it more prestigious, not places where people are relegated to because they cannot compete in a college prep curriculum.”

Ronald Brownstein writes in “The Democrats Pipeline Problem” at The Atlantic about the party’s disconnect between its older, white leadership and the increasing reliance on turning out people of color to secure electoral victories. As Brownstein notes, “…Hillary Clinton, the party’s 69-year-old presidential nominee, struggled to excite Millennial and minority voters despite the clear and present danger Donald Trump presented to almost all of the values they profess. “There is a great urgency for Democrats now to turn the generational wheel,” said Simon Rosenberg, founder and president of NDN, a Democratic advocacy and analysis group. “It’s a pragmatic, practical thing that the younger candidates are just going to do a better job of speaking to this emerging coalition that we have,” which “has not been turning out with the frequency and intensity that we need.” Yet younger and diverse leaders remain as rare as MAGA hats at the very top of the Democratic ladder…Democrats need to maximize both turnout and their margins among non-white and younger voters (who are themselves far more diverse than older generations of voters). Despite the provocation Trump provided, Democrats decisively failed on that front in 2016: Turnout among white and Hispanic Millennials disappointed, and it plummeted among younger African Americans compared with 2012.”

At The Plum Line, Paul Waldman also addresses the question shared by many Democrats, “Is it time for the Democratic Party’s old guard to step aside?” and observes “The answer is “Yes, but…” There are good reasons why all those leaders might step aside, or at least begin preparing to do so…Democrats should be looking for new leadership, but not because they need to do it if they’re going to win in 2018 and 2020. Both of those elections will turn mostly on how Americans feel about Donald Trump. They should do it because they’ll have to eventually no matter what, and it’s never too early to start preparing. But if it’s going to happen, younger Democrats are going to have to take a risk, step up, and convince people that they’re capable of carrying the party forward.”

So where do things stand in the Virginia Governors campaign, the marquee statewide political race of 2017? Geoffrey Skelley writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “A concern for the Northam campaign has to be the recent history of polling in Virginia and nationally that has missed some conservative voters. For example, the final RealClearPolitics average in 2013 showed McAuliffe leading Ken Cuccinelli (R) 45.6%-38.9%, with Libertarian Robert Sarvis getting 9.6%. Although McAuliffe led by 6.7 points, he only won by 2.5 on Election Day, 47.7%-45.2%. Some of that was Sarvis’ slide to 6.5%, as it’s likely that some Republican voters considering Sarvis came home to the GOP in the end (some of Sarvis’ purported voters probably failed to show on Election Day, too). In 2017, there’s also a Libertarian candidate, Cliff Hyra, though he looks set to win a far smaller share of the vote than Sarvis did. Nevertheless, Cuccinelli’s actual percentage was 6.3 points higher than his polling average while McAuliffe’s was only 2.1 points higher. We’ve seen this phenomenon in recent races, most notably some swing states in the 2016 presidential race, but also in contests like the 2015 Kentucky gubernatorial election. What Northam has to hope for is that with a different party holding the White House, the polls are either on the mark or they underestimate Democrats, not Republicans…While it’s true that Virginia polls were relatively on the mark in 2016, if Northam isn’t consistently hitting 50% in some polls heading into Election Day 2017, he will have good reason to fear a surprise.”


Moser: Heeding Centrist Myths Poses Real Threat to Dems

In his article, “Clintonian Democrats Are Peddling Myths to Cling to Power: Centrists are falsely equating Trump with Nixon, and Sanders with McGovern, because they’re scared of what a leftist party means for them” at The New Republic, Bob Moser, TNR’s editor-at-large, makes a strong case that the worst thing Democrats can do is respond to their party’s rising progressive tide with a fear-driven retreat into the timid moderation Dems embraced in the pre-Obama era. Moser’s article is in part a response to the centrist agenda of New Democracy, and partly a response to a much-buzzed about Washington Post article, entitled “Trump Is On track to Win Reelection” by Doug Sosnik, a fomer senior advisor to President Bill Clinton.

Moser dismisses New Democracy as “merely a reassertion of the wealth-first economics, go-slow social progressivism, and hawkish foreign policy peddled by white Democratic power-brokers and Clintonian neoliberals for three decades now.” He describes Sosnik’s article as “built on tortured logic and tendentious claims” and translates Sosnik’s conclusion as ”Let the old, white, Democratic establishment pick its favorite for 2020, and everybody else get in line. Or else.” Moser adds,

The “no more McGoverns” argument has been recycled and appropriated by anti-liberal Democratswith nips and tucks to suit the needs of the moment—in practically every presidential election since 1972. They wielded it like a tiki torch against Jesse Jackson’s populist insurgency in 1988, and invoked it to torpedo Howard Dean in 2004. And after its ironclad logic failed to derail Barack Obama in 2008, the “McGovern threat” was revived with a vengeance against Sanders in 2016.

The goal of these disinformation campaigns has always been the same: to frighten the left into falling in line with the moneyed masters of the party. And at a moment when the party is finally abandoning the New Democratic formula—suck up to big business and the military-industrial complex, pander to white supremacy, and win!—fear-mongering is the only thin reed of hope the “moderates” have to retain their supremacy in the party…By reviving the hoary old arguments about why McGovern lost to Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in American history, the old New Democrats aim to once again scarify a majority of Democrats into reluctantly backing a neoliberal championing wealth-first (sorry: “middle class”) economics and a bloodthirsty view of American power on the international stage.

Moser writes that “otherwise intelligent Democrats still have a strange Pavlovian response to the dire warnings they issue, like clockwork, every four years: Embracing liberalism will always and forever end in defeat (even if Barack Obama disproved that theory not once but twice).” Yet, many left-Democrats faulted Obama for being a centrist and too cozy with Wall St. after he was elected and re-elected. But Obama did run a bold campaign in 2008, challenging Americans to rise above our fears and live up to our best progressive ideals. In between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party, there is a broad spectum from which Democrats can run winning campaigns.

Moser does an excellent job of shredding the notion that Trump is like Nixon, who Moser shows was a hell of a lot smarter, more accomplished and capable than Trump, despite Nixon’s corruption and poor judgement on Vietnam. Nixon ran for reelection in 1972 “on an impressive record of progressive domestic policies, a landmark arms-reduction treaty with the Soviet Union, and the historic un-thawing of relations with China. Again, emphatically: not Trump.”

The centrist characterization of Sens. Sanders and Warren as neo-McGovernites is also way-overstated. McGovern was essentially an anti-war candidate, and both senators are today staking out a tough, economic populist approach far more broadly credible than than McGovern’s best efforts. If either Sanders or Warren gets nominated, you can bet that they will be campaigning hard in the blue collar precincts of the Rust Belt, as will any Democratic nominee. And, even if neither one gets nominated in 2020, their hard-headed, progressive economic advocacy seems to be catching on with other potential Democratic candidates.

Moser is also correct that the divisions within the Democratic party were far worse during Nixon’s reign. Snarky comments on facebook between Bernie Bros and Hillary Heads are pretty tame compared to the factional conflicts among Democrats in the late 1960s and 70s. However, Jason Le Miere notes at Newsweek that “According to the analysis of the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, fewer than 80 percent of those who voted for Sanders, an independent, in the Democratic primary did the same for Clinton when she faced off against Trump a few months later. What’s more, 12 percent of those who backed Sanders actually cast a vote for Trump.” However, about 12 percent of Republican primary voters cast ballots for Clinton in the general election.

But Moser may be too casual in asserting that “The old New Democrats know perfectly well that the chances of Trump winning reelection in 2020 are approximately as good as the Democratic nomination going to Kanye West, with Kim Kardashian as his running mate.” Trump’s Electoral College win in November shows that any fool thing can happen, especially if the economy is in good shape in the fall of 2020 and Dems fail to run an effective campaign, regardless of the nominee. Neither of those scenarios is all that unrealistic. Overconfidence is as dangerous to Democratic prospects as being driven by fear. In fact, that may be one of the salient lessons of Clinton’s Electoral College defeat.

There is every reason for Democrats to be optimistic and to reject a campaign limited by outdated fears, and Obama’s 2008 victory still provides a useful template for a fear-free, vision-driven campaign. Democrats can’t count on having a messenger as eloquent and charismatic as Obama in the next presidential election. But the Democratic nominee can benefit from the lessons of 2008 and 2012, as well as 2016.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned between now and 2020, and the debate between moderate and progressive Democrats will continue. What’s more urgent right now is for Democrats to get focused on mobilizing a landslide, nation-wide upset in 2018. Nothing would do more to help set the stage for the  working majority needed to empower the next Democratic president.


Tomasky: Why Dems Need Moderates

Michael Tomasky’s latest Daily Beast article, which we highlighted yesterday, provides a succinct summation of the argument for Democrats welcoming moderate candidates, as well as progressives. Here’s an excerpt:

This is a fact, and I mean it’s an immutable, undeniable fact, which I’ve written about before. Democrats can’t get to 218 (a House majority) with liberals alone. Republicans can get to 218 with conservatives alone. Right now there are 240 Republicans in the House, only about a dozen of whom you’d call moderate, and even that’s stretching it. There are 194 Democrats, most but not all of whom you’d call liberal. And that’s about the outer limit on liberalism in House districts. So to be a majority, Democrats need moderates, and quite a lot of them.

That means they need to make efforts to appeal to voters in the kinds of districts they won back in 2006 and 2008 but have lost overwhelmingly in the Obama/Tea Party era. Look at these two maps. This one is a map of congressional control after the 2008 election, when Democrats held 257 seats. And this one is a map of the same thing after the 2016 elections, when Democrats were reduced to 192.

Look how much bluer the first map is. Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. North Carolina, Georgia, Florida. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. Real estate yielded everywhere.

n 2006 and 2008? It wasn’t coastal liberals, friends. It was the kind of candidate who could win in a place that was somewhat more conservative than your typical metropolitan/suburban blue district. And it’s those people who gave the Democrats their majority, who made Nancy Pelosi speaker, and who passed us (with some agita, but still, they did it) Obamacare. There were, as I recall, 53 Democrats in the Blue Dog coalition in 2009. There are 18 now.

The only way for the Democratic Party to grow is with more Blue Dogs. And so as they think about their post-Pelosi/Hoyer/Clyburn future, Democrats ought to think about this. Obviously, any Democratic leadership team has to be racially diverse, and has to include at least one woman. It seems to me especially important that the new triumvirate include a Latino, which would be a first.

The next leader should not, however, be from New York or Boston or Los Angeles or San Francisco. Chicago might be a little different, the city of broad shoulders and all that jazz. But they should find someone who isn’t from a deep-blue district. Look at Paul Ryan. He’s from a district that Cook Political Report rates as R+5; it leans Republican, but only leans. Pelosi’s district is D+37. Having a leader from a district like that reinforces the media trope, fair or not, that the party represents only certain cosmopolitan enclaves. The Democrats’ next leader should be from a district that’s a little closer to a 5 than a 37.

Trump’s unpopularity opens the door for a Democratic comeback. I think a bold move like this could kick that door wide open and could actually augment Pelosi’s legacy. She helped pass monumentally historic legislation, and now she can pass the torch at a time when the party needs someone with the self-awareness to lead the way.

The most moderate Democratic members of congress are far more amenable to progressive reforms than even the most moderate Republicans, who Ed Kilgore reminded us yesterday are nearly extinct. The majority party in congress gets to set the agenda and control the debate, as well as committee chairmanships. That’s too important to shrugg off in pursuit of ideological purity.


Teixeira: Will Rust Belt Voters Bail Out Trump?

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other major works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog, The Optimistic Leftist:

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As Trump’s approval ratings continue to fall everywhere, his tenuous hold on the key Rustbelt states that handed him the Presidency is slipping away. Here’s the key paragraph from a new Morning Consult analysis of data from 472,000 (!) interviews conducted since Trump’s inauguration:

A majority of voters in 25 states and the District of Columbia said they disapproved of the president’s job performance in September, including those residing in Upper Midwest states with large Electoral College hauls that were critical to Trump’s victory over 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — and some of which are home to some of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats of the 2018 election cycle. Fifty-five percent of respondents in Michigan said they disapproved of Trump, as did 53 percent in Wisconsin and Iowa and 51 percent in Pennsylvania.


The Nearly Extinct Moderate Senate Republican

After reading various conservative complaints about the nefarious moderate Republicans on the Senate, I decided to do some research, and wrote it all up for New York:

The Senate’s moderate Republicans have been hunted nearly to extinction over the years. Within living memory, not only moderate but by any definition liberal Republicans were thick on the ground in the U.S. Senate. But today, “moderate” is mainly just a term of contempt for any GOP senator maverick-y enough to break ranks on something the heavily conservative party has decided it needs.

To illustrate the trend, I looked at the gold standard for measurements of congressional Republicans’ ideological fidelity since 1971, the American Conservative Union’s lifetime ratings for members of the Senate. I took a less-than-50-percent rating as a pretty noncontroversial benchmark for moderation.

Forty years ago, in 1977, there were 14 Senate Republicans with a less-than-50-percent lifetime rating from ACU: Ted Stevens, Lowell Weicker, Charles Percy, James Pearson, Charles Mathias, Edward Brooke, Clifford Case, Jacob Javits, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Richard Schweiker, John Chafee, and Robert Stafford.

Thirty years ago, in 1987, the number of “moderate” Republicans in the Senate had dropped to nine: Lowell Weicker, David Durenberger, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, Robert Stafford, and Dan Evans.

Twenty years ago, in 1997, the Senate’s moderate GOP tribe had shrunk to five: Susan Collins, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, and Jim Jeffords.

Ten years ago, in 2007, there were two moderate Republican senators left according to the ACU standard: Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter.

And now, there’s just one: Susan Collins (who temporarily lifted herself to a 50-plus ACU lifetime rating before lapsing back into heresy).

Collins is now thinking about leaving Washington for the cozier confines of Augusta, Maine, by running for governor. Not everyone left is a hard-core conservative; Lisa Murkowski will still be around with her 60 percent lifetime ACU rating. But it’s not like there is a bench of moderate Republicans out there moving inexorably toward the U.S. Senate. So in a very real sense, Collins could be the last of the breed. It’s been a long sharp downward road to nowhere.


Do Dems Need Younger, More Moderate Leaders?

In his article at The Daily Beast, “The Democrats Need a New Generation of Stars,” Michael Tomasky comments on the lack of younger national leaders in the Democratic party:

Look, Nancy Pelosi has been a great legislative leader. Not good. Great. She really knows what she’s doing; has that LBJ gene. The cat-herding she did to get the Affordable Care Act passed was truly impressive…But she’s 77. And the Democrats’ number two, Steny Hoyer, is 78. And their number three, Jim Clyburn, is 77. That just doesn’t project a future orientation. Paul Ryan is 47. Kevin McCarthy, his deputy, is 52.

Age isn’t everything, and I’m not saying that she or the other two can’t do their jobs. But it’s a legitimate thing. There comes a moment when it’s just time to give some other people a chance. Tip O’Neill hung it up when he was 74. And now you’ve got Dianne Feinstein announcing at 84 that she’s going to seek re-election, and two men, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who are looking to run for president in 2020 who will be 79 and 77, respectively, on Election Day 2020. And they’re applying for eight-year jobs, not two years, like a House member.

So what I think Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn should do is hold a joint press conference and say: We, the three of us, are going to serve one more term in leadership, and that’s it. We’re going to leave before getting past 80, no matter what. If the voters give us the House majority in 2018, great, we’ll all serve one more term as a kind of victory lap, and we’ll investigate this administration and subpoena the britches off them and all the rest.

Tomasky concedes that his recommendation isn’t going to happen. “I know, I know. They’ll never do it.” However, he adds “It would give Democrats a jolt of energy, something to buzz about, and give all their candidates a fresh future to imagine and describe to voters.”

Writing in the Georgia Political Review, Alex Soderstrom notes notes a “drastic age disadvantage” for younger Democratic leaders. “This inequity is most apparent in the House of Representatives, where the average age of Democratic leadership is 71, while Republican leadership averages a more youthful 49. Further,

In the Senate, the difference amongst the leaders of the two parties is less dramatic, as both Republican and Democratic leaders are, on average, in their 60s. But some of the most visible Republican voices in the chamber, such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have yet to break 50. Contrast this with key Senate Democrats, such as 67-year-old Elizabeth Warren and 75-year-old Bernie Sanders, and the future becomes murkier for Senate Democrats.

Election and polling data show that senior voters, as a whole, more frequently favor conservative candidates. Conversely, Sen. Bernie Sanders tremendous success with younger voters indicates that candidate age is not a primary consideration for them either…yet.

Some may say that calling for younger leadership is a form of ageism. But isn’t the same true for denying younger leaders a chance to enter the leadership ranks? At the very least, Democrats should explore new ways to give their younger elected officials more visibility. There are plenty of impressive younger Democrats serving in the House (here’s a few), and as mayors of major cities, and they could use more exposure.

Tomasky also argues for Democrats attracting more moderate candidates:

Democrats can’t get to 218 (a House majority) with liberals alone. Republicans can get to 218 with conservatives alone. Right now there are 240 Republicans in the House, only about a dozen of whom you’d call moderate, and even that’s stretching it. There are 194 Democrats, most but not all of whom you’d call liberal. And that’s about the outer limit on liberalism in House districts. So to be a majority, Democrats need moderates, and quite a lot of them.

That means they need to appeal to voters in the kinds of districts they won back in 2006 and 2008 but have lost overwhelmingly in the Obama/Tea Party era. Look at these two maps. This one is a map of congressional control after the 2008 election, when Democrats held 257 seats. And this one is a map of the same thing after the 2016 elections, when Democrats were reduced to 192…Look how much bluer the first map is. Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. North Carolina, Georgia, Florida. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. Real estate yielded everywhere.

Tomasky adds, “There were, as I recall, 53 Democrats in the Blue Dog coalition in 2009. There are 18 now…The only way for the Democratic Party to grow is with more Blue Dogs.” Other Democrats believe that investing more in base turnout can enable Democratic victories, without courting more Blue Dogs. Perhaps a compromise — more Blue Dogs, coupled with a larger commitment to turning out of African-American voters in purple districts.

To be a genuine ‘big tent’ party that looks like one, Dems should cultivate diverse leadership from all constituencies, including every age group and across the liberal-moderate spectrum. Diverse Democratic leaders who are focused and well-prepared will look sober and ready to govern, compared to the adversary’s dwindling party of angry ideologues and culture warriors.