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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy Notes

In his Houston Chronicle article, “Beto O’Rourke carries Texas Democrats’ hopes in 2018 run against Ted Cruz,” Kevin Diaz takes the measure of Rep. O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate campaign and observes, “Cruz’s evident ambition – seen in his first trip to Iowa, within months of being sworn in as a senator – will be central to O’Rourke’s case as he crisscrosses Texas trying to rally long-marginalized Democrats, independents, first-time voters, Latinos, the anti-Trump “resistance,” and anyone else who might have grown weary of post-Trump Republicanism…Strategists on both sides know that the backdrop for the U.S. Senate race in Texas – possibly one of the marquee races of the 2018 midterm elections – will be the push or pull of Trump, who bested Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 percentage points…For O’Rourke, a Spanish nicknamed, fourth-generation Irish-American from El Paso, that is a source of hope. But first, the 45-year-old ex-punk-rocker with the toothy, Kennedyesque smile will have to prove it can be done – even as he eschews polls, Beltway consultants and, most importantly, political action committee money…O’Rourke could boast of 7,000 more individual donors than Cruz through the end of September, when their last financial reports were filed. But from a modern campaign perspective he will be fighting with one hand behind his back: Though he’s accepted campaign contributions from political action committees in the past, O’Rourke has sworn off PAC money in the race against Cruz.” Democrats can contribute to O’Rourke’s campaign at his ActBlue page right here.

This could be a good issue for Democratic candidates running in Appalachia: “The working class still carries the burden for American wars,” writes Jacob Stump at the Bristol Herald. “Michael Zweig, professor of economics and director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, conducted a study of the nearly 1,800 combat deaths in Afghanistan from 2001-2010. Zweig shows that while 62 percent of Americans are working class, 78 percent of the war casualties have come from working-class families. Overwhelmingly, those who fought and died in Afghanistan were working-class Americans…The main reason that working class youth from Appalachia and the South are over-represented in war fatalities has to do with economics. Poor and working class young men and women flee economically depressed areas and dead-end jobs in what critics like Joe Bageant call “economic conscription.” With no real prospects, a modest $1,300 per month salary, along with free room and board, skills and training, and the prospects of money for college make the U.S. military seem like a better future than one at home…The men and woman of Congress who authorize war are much-less likely to have served in the military and are much-more likely to come from upper-income families…The issue of working-class Appalachians and Americans carrying the burden of U.S. war-making is an important matter to consider, especially in light of the saber rattling with North Korea.”

It looks increasingly like the tax bill gives Democratic candidates from New York and New Jersey some added leverage in the upcomming elections for seats in the House of Reps. As Nicole Guadiano writes at USA Today, “If there’s going to be a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm elections, look for it to wash ashore in New York and New Jersey. House Democrats have targeted all but one Republican — Rep. Chris Smith in New Jersey’s reliably conservative fourth district — in the two states, where former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton beat President Trump in 2016. They need a strong showing there and in other states, such as California, to win back the House majority – a prospect that, while difficult, increasingly looks possible…Based on 2017’s election results, the question for New York and New Jersey will be whether Democrats see a surge in turnout and defections among higher-educated, white-collar Republicans, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Another factor could be the recently passed GOP tax bill, which could hurt high-tax states like New York and New Jersey by limiting deductions for state and local taxes.”

At Blue Virginia lowkell notes that, “A sure applause line for Virginia Democrats is to rail against gerrymandering, blame it for most/all of our problems in the Virginia House Delegates, and vow to do something about it. Yet for years, I’ve argued that a FAR bigger problem than gerrymandering is that Democratic voter “dropoff” from presidential years to “odd-year” Virginia elections is far, far greater than Republican voter “dropoff.”…The two key takeaways here are: 1) Democratic “voter retention” went from a pathetic 57.82% in 2013 to a MUCH more impressive 72.59% in 2017 — an increase of 15 percentage points, corresponding to a huge increase in the number of Democratic voters (~1.4 million in 2017 vs. ~1.1 million in 2013); 2) Republican “voter retention” actually increased a bit between 2013 and 2017, but only a bit, from 64.51% in 2013 to 68.63% in 2017; 3) the massive increase in Democratic voters in 2017 vs. 2013 completely overwhelmed the much smaller increase in GOP turnout, both at the statewide level and also in the House of Delegates districts.”

Conor Lynch’s Salon post, “Republicans are waging class war: It’s time for the left to fight back” lays down the challenge for Democrats in 2018: “Under the leadership of Trump, the Republican Party is no longer even attempting to hide the fact that it is waging a class war on behalf of the 1 percent. Republican leaders either believe that American voters are too stupid and uninformed to realize whats going on in Washington, or too deeply immersed in the culture wars to care about economic issues (which has often been the case over the past few decades)…It will ultimately be up to the left to make sure that class and the economy are at the front and center of the debate in 2018 and 2020, and to highlight the Republican assault on poor and middle-class families. For decades, Republicans have employed a populist-toned rhetoric that focuses almost exclusively on cultural and social issues, while enacting a pro-corporate agenda behind closed doors. Over this same period, Democrats more or less abandoned class politics and embraced a moderate form of neoliberalism themselves (especially during the Bill Clinton years). This turn away from class politics on the left enabled Republicans to portray themselves as populists — a trend that culminated with the election of Trump…According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, only 24 percent of Americans support lowering corporate tax rates (as the Republican tax bill does), while 52 percent support raising them…The new tax bill is a gift to the richest of Americans, but it is also an opportunity for the left to start playing offense in the class war that is currently being waged by the richest and most powerful people in our society.”

Elizabeth Kolbert New Yorker ‘splains “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds: New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason,” and shares this insight: “Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions…People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people…“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.”

Among the reasons for Democratic optimism cited by Fenit Nirappil in “Democrats eye state legislatures in 2018 after stunning gains in Virginia”  at The Post: “Democrats say their gains in the Virginia House were all the more impressive given that Republicans drew the playing field more specifically, they drew the legislative map in the last round of redistricting, in 2011…“We beat a gerrymandered map,” said Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party’s main organ for state legislative races. “Everything is on the table.”…Post said the DLCC thinks that it can flip as many as 10 legislative chambers — including in Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Arizona and Iowa.”

Dem prospects are also looking better in the great swing state of North Carolina, as AP’s Gary D. Robertson reports: “Eager to reassert their longtime influence on North Carolina politics, the Democrats already have already fielded an unusually large pool of candidates for 100 seats in the 170-member bicameral legislature…With the GOP holding a 75-45 majority in the North Carolina House and 35-15 Senate advantage, Democrats would need to flip 16 House seats and 11 Senate seats in November to take back the General Assembly. Ending veto-proof majorities, which would force Republicans to negotiate with Cooper and some Democrats on some issues, would require only four House seats or six Senate seats. All legislators serve two-year terms…Rep. Graig Meyer of Orange County said the party is well on its way to fielding candidates for all 120 House seats. “Recruitments definitely got easier after Virginia,” said Meyer, who is helping to recruit candidates like LeGrand through the state party’s new “Pipeline Project.” Meyer and others have highlighted new female and LGBT candidates.

At The Atlantic, Clare Foran previews the next big House of Reps election: “The next closely-watched special election is set to take place in a conservative Pennsylvania House district that will test the Democratic Party’s appeal with white, working-class voters who now reliably vote Republican…Democrat Conor Lamb will face off against Republican state Representative Rick Saccone on March 13 in a race to replace former Republican Representative Tim Murphy, a pro-life congressman who resigned earlier this year after reports surfaced that he had allegedly asked a woman with whom he had an affair to get an abortion…Democrats have not yet shown they can win congressional seats in the Rust Belt and industrial midwest states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which flipped from blue to red in the last presidential election…“This gives Democrats an opportunity to go to the blue-collar, white voters that Trump won in 2016 and say, ‘Trump betrayed you. He said he was going to be a populist president, and fight for you, but all he’s done so far is favors for corporate America,’” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist and president of Bannon Communications Research, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm.”


Political Strategy Notes

In sore loser/sour grapes news, “Roy Moore files lawsuit to block Alabama Senate result,” reports AP’s Kim Chandler. “Moore’s attorney wrote in the complaint filed late Wednesday that he believed there were irregularities during the election and said there should be a fraud investigation and eventually a new election.”…Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told The Associated Press Wednesday evening that he has no intention of delaying the canvassing board meeting…“It is not going to delay certification and Doug Jones will be certified (Thursday) at 1 p.m. and he will be sworn in by Vice President Pence on the third of January,” Merrill said.” It’s not hard to envision Alabama Democrats and Republican moderates hoisting their tankards on New Year’s Eve to the bitter end of this once powerful politican, but now ineffectual loser.

In Trump’s latest betrayal of a former highly-praised associate news, WaPo’s Carol Leonnig reports that “Trump legal team readies attack on Flynn’s credibility. “President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy…The approach would mark a sharp break from Trump’s previously sympathetic posture toward Flynn, whom he called a “wonderful man” when Flynn was ousted from the White House in February. Earlier this month, the president did not rule out a possible pardon for Flynn, who is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

In unintentional consequences news, Robert Pear outs a delicious irony befalling Republican political strategy in his NYT article, “Years of Attack Leave Obamacare a More Government-Focused Health Law.” As Pear notes, “The Affordable Care Act was conceived as a mix of publicly funded health care and privately purchased insurance, but Republican attacks, culminating this month in the death of a mandate that most Americans have insurance, are shifting the balance, giving the government a larger role than Democrats ever anticipated…And while President Trump insisted again on Tuesday that the health law was “essentially” being repealed, what remains of it appears relatively stable and increasingly government-funded.”

At The Monkey Cage, Sarah Binder and Mark Spindel, co-authors of The Myth of Independence: How Congress Governs the Federal Reserve, share “5 lessons from a Republican year of governing dangerously,” which include ‘1. Congress veered to the right; 2. A strong economy cannot heal partisan divisions; 3. Internal divisions narrowed the GOP agenda; 4. Republicans bent and broke rules where needed; and 5. GOP played a strong game of kick the can.’ In their conclusion, Binder and Spindel note, “Congress may find moderate solutions to fund children’s health care and protect the Dreamers. Bipartisan efforts could roll back some banking regulations and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. Accomplishing these would require Trump and Republicans to set aside internal disagreements and tack to the center, engaging Democrats under the Senate’s normal, supermajority rules…But can Republicans manage that to convince voters they can govern — without further demotivating their partisan base — before the midterm elections next fall? Republicans’ year-end gift to taxpayers should give the economy one more boost before lawmakers face the voters, but it will be hard to run on a signature legislative achievement that is so disliked.”

A couple of juicy nuggets from columnist Robert Samuelson’s “The top 10 stats of 2017” at The Washington Post: ‘7. Americans make up 4.4 percent of the world’s population — and own 42 percent of the guns. 8. Ninety-one percent of Trump’s nominees to federal courts are white, and 81 percent are male, according to an Associated Press analysis.’

Single-payer advocates may want to take a gander at “The Leap to Single-Payer: What Taiwan Can Teach: How one nation transformed a health care system. Can America do big things anymore?” by public health experts Aaron E. Carroll and Austin Frakt, who explain, “Less than 25 years ago, Taiwan had a patchwork system that included insurance provided for those who worked privately or for the government, or for trade associations involving farmers or fishermen. Out-of-pocket payments were high, and physicians practiced independently. In March 1995, all that changed…Taiwan chose to adopt a single-payer system like that found in Medicare or in Canada, not a government-run system like Britain’s…The health insurance Taiwan provides is comprehensive. Both inpatient and outpatient care are covered, as well as dental care, over-the-counter drugs and traditional Chinese medicine. It’s much more thorough than Medicare is in the United States…Access is also quite impressive. Patients can choose from pretty much any provider or therapy. Wait times are short, and patients can go straight to specialty care without a referral…Premiums are paid for by the government, employers and employees. The share paid by each depends on income, with the poor paying a much smaller percentage than the wealthy.” There were pitfalls and problems aplenty on Taiwan’s road to successs, but “Taiwan’s ambition showed what’s possible. It took five years of planning and two years of legislative efforts to accomplish its transformation. That’s less time than the United States has spent fighting over the Affordable Care Act, with much less to show for it.”


Instead of Counting on Scandals to Flip Trump Supporters, Dems Should Listen Better

Yesterday J. P. Green noted that sometimes an outsider perspective can help illuminate our politics. Venezuelan Economist Andres Miguel Rondon takes a crack at it in today’s Washington Post, and makes a compelling argument that, rather than hoping Trump will be undone by scandals, “To beat President Trump, you have to learn to think like his supporters.” As Rondon writes,

If you’re among the majority of Americans who oppose Trump, you can’t understand why. And it’s making you furious. I saw the same thing happen in my native Venezuela with the late Hugo Chávez, who ruled as precisely the sort of faux-populist strongman that Trump now loves to praise. Chávez’s political career (which only ended with his untimely death) seemed not only immune to scandal, but indeed to profit directly from it. Why? Because scandal is no threat to populism. Scandal sustains populism.

…I know how you feel. You are outraged. What did you ever do to these people to deserve their hate? What can possibly be going on? How can they, for example, make sense of so many former Goldman Sachs men in the Trump Cabinet? Weren’t the bankers supposed to be the enemy? Not to mention Russia? All your senses (and your Facebook friends) tell you that, with all this hypocrisy, justice demands that Trump be impeached, indeed it should have happened long ago. For your sake and for his supporters’ sake, too. Instead, it continues, and each day that goes by, it makes less sense to you. As Venezuelans used to tell one another: Chávez te tiene loco. Trump is making you crazy. Making you scramble for ways to make this end.

Rondon reviews the  litany of Trump’s scandals, from the Access Holywood tape to the recent Mueller indictments and concedes that Trump’s approval ratings have been driven down. Yet, noted Rondon, “in one November poll, only 7 percent of his supporters from last year said they’d vote differently.” Scandals may influence public opinion, but don’t expect much change among his supporters. Further, “If you want to fight Trump effectively, you have to learn to think like they do and give up altogether the prospect that scandal will one day undo him.”

Rondon argues, “his supporters are convinced that you are to blame. Until you can convince them otherwise, they will cheer him on. The name of the game is polarization, and the rookie mistake is to forget you are the enemy.” Trump’s supporters have been whittled down to hard-core ideologues and those who are willing to cut off their noses to spite your face.

Many of Trump’s supporters do harbor an intense hatred of liberals, who they perceive as elitist snobs. Indeed, some may be more driven by this animosity than diferences on policy. But it’s doubtful that they add up to 40+ percent of the electorate.

Although political illiteracy is not exclusive to Trump voters, there are a large number of low-information voters in Trump’s hard-core base. As political researchers Richard Fordling and Sanford Shram note in their Monkey Cage article, “‘Low information voters’ are a crucial part of Trump’s support“:

Our research finds that Trump has attracted a disproportionate (and unprecedented) number of “low-information voters” to his campaign. Furthermore, these voters are more likely to respond to emotional appeals — whether about the economy, immigration, Muslims, racial relations, sexism, and even hostility to the first African American U.S. president, Barack Obama. They are the ideal constituency for a candidate like Trump.

We define low-information voters as those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. Those with a low need for cognition, on the other hand, find little reward in the collection and evaluation of new information when it comes to problem solving and the consideration of competing issue positions. They are more likely to rely on cognitive shortcuts, such as “experts” or other opinion leaders, for cues.

Fording and Schram conclude that “a core part of his base is made up of low-information voters who appear more susceptible to Trump’s appeals based on race and religion and less prepared to challenge his misstatements and untruths.” It’s hard to credibly quantify this segment, and even harder to ennumerate another group of Trump’s base, who are high-information, low-compassion voters focused more on their portfolios than what may be good for America.

But the most relevant segment for Democrats is the percentage of Trump voters who are now open to voting for Democratic candidates. Some statistical indicators, including recent generic ballot trends, suggest that readiness to vote Democratic is making a dent, however small, among Trump’s suporters. Harry Enten reports that “the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent.with an 18-point advantage among registered voters in the generic congressional ballot question.” And It only takes a small change to make a big difference.

But it does no good to point out to persuadable Trump supporters that they are low-info or morally-challenged. Rondon advises, “before you try to persuade them that they are being racist, or worse, ignorant by believing in Trump, you should ask yourself: Will this help convince them that I am not their enemy? Because what can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show them you care. Only then will they believe what you say.”

Democrats just might get an edge with ‘persuadable’ Trump voters by ascertaining their fears, hopes and policy priorities. To do this credibly will require some targeted polling, followed by a real commitment to reach out to them with empathy, instead of the anger and condescension of facebook rants.

“So as the second year of Trump’s administration approaches, stop,” concludes  Rondon. “Take a deep breath. Let all the hatred circle from afar. Don’t let it into your echo chamber.”

Rondon may be overstating the uselessness of scandals in changing political opinion. Certainly, there is a distinction to be made between sex scandals and the smell of massive corruption and election-rigging emanating from the Trump Administration’s dealings with Putin and Russian oligarchs. But Dems would be wise to focus their criticism on Trump and Repubican leaders — not on their supporters.


Political Strategy Notes

J. Oliver Conroy profiles “Mark Lilla: the liberal who counts more enemies on the left than the right” at The Guardian. Lilla, a former neo-conservative, now self-styled progressive rooted in the white working-class, has emerged as a oft-cited commentator in the debate about identity politics vs. a more class-based progressivism. As Conroy quotes Lilla: “American liberalism,” he wrote, “has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” Conroy notes further, “Working-class white voters are “doing a kind of expressive voting”, Lilla said. “It’s all about symbols, and an assertion of what they are in the face of what they deem to be a hostile culture … People who don’t make it in this country are going to feel bad about themselves, and when they feel bad they get defensive…When people are in that kind of psychological position, you need to talk them down from the ledge and show them where their real interests lie.”

Sometimes observers from other countries illuminate American culture and politics in a fresh, revealing way. At The Nation, contributing editor Jon Weiner interviews Gary Younge, a black and British columnist, who has written eloquent articles for the The Guardian, as well as The Nation. Younge is touring the U.S., focusing on exploring the attitudes of America’s white working-class. At one point, Younge notes the views of a white worker who voted for both Obama and Trump: “There’s a guy who’d voted for Obama. He had liked Obama’s jingle. He said, “I voted for hope. And then the jobs didn’t come. And then Trump said he’s going to make America great again. And I voted for that.” I said, “Okay. They see.” It’s the Democrats’ failure to deliver that to a large extent can explain some of these people switching sides. And why even more of them just stayed at home—they felt “there’s nothing out there for me.” Younge also notes, “I did say to this one guy, Jeff, “Trump looks like the guy that closed your factory—not the guy that was in the picket line with you.” And he said, “Yeah, but he looks like maybe he’d be the guy who might start another factory up.” It’s important to remember in all of this that Trump’s base was the white and wealthy and they will be the primary beneficiaries of his tenure. The white working class was a decisive but junior partner in the electoral coalition. The question is what was in it for them. I think in the absence of an appealing alternative, they thought, “Screw it. I’ll give this guy a go.” For those who bothered to vote, it was, “Let’s try this.”

“Bill Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings Institution, who served as a policy adviser to former President Clinton during his administration, said Democrats will use the bill to argue that Trump is not putting into place the populist policies he promised. One vulnerability for the president is that the bill does little to change the favorable tax treatment for wealthy investment managers…“No doubt Democrats will be combing the bill for little nuggets, particular provisions that do embody highly targeted policies that will look like giveaways,” he said. “And if Democrats want to make an issue of the president, they can use it to weaken any populist credentials he may have…“They just have to find effective ways of saying what the majority of the public already believes,” he said.” — From “Dems see tax bill as giving them midterm advantage” by Amy Parnes at The Hill.

In his FiveThirtyeight article, “The Democrats’ Wave Could Turn Into A Flood,” Harry Enten writes, “A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data)…And while the CNN poll is a bit of an outlier, the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent. That average, like the CNN poll, also shows Republicans in worse shape right now than any other majority party at this point in the midterm cycle1 since at least the 1938 election…When the generic ballot is showing this large of a lead for one party, the playing field of competitive races also tends to be correspondingly huge.”

At The Hill, Ben Kamisar spotlights “Seven primary races to watch in 2018,” featuring updates for “closely-contested” races for both Republicans and Democrats in: IL-3, KY-6, NC-9, TX-7, MN-1, VA-10 and FL-27. Meanwhile Margaret Kadifa explains why “Democrats’ Hopes of Taking Back the House Could Hinge on Two Districts—in Texas” at mother Jones, and notes that “Thanks to the state’s infamously gerrymandered districts, Democrats have few places where they can realistically pick off incumbent Republicans, even with the kind of increased African American turnout that propelled Doug Jones to his surprise Senate win in Alabama. That’s why Texas Democrats are focusing on two solidly Republican districts that Hillary Clinton flipped in 2016: Rep. John Culberson’s District 7, near Houston, and Rep. Pete Sessions’ District 32, around Dallas…“Trump will represent a millstone around both Culberson and Sessions’ necks,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “The lower his approval rating, the worse Culberson and Sessions will do.”

For a sobering read, I suggest “How Citizens United Changed Politics and Shaped the Tax Bill” by Lawrence Norden, Shyamala Ramakrishna, Sidni Frederick at The Brennan Center for Justice. Among insights shared by the authors: “Perhaps even more striking is the brazenness with which donors themselves are admitting they have threatened members of Congress. Conservative donor Doug Deason of Texas explicitly said the “Dallas piggy bank” was closed until tax and health bills were passed. “Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed…You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up,” Deason told Republican leaders…Deason refused to host fundraisers for Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “I said, ‘No I’m not going to because we’re closing the checkbook until you get some things done.”…The real impact of an unregulated campaign finance is on policy, and the proof is in this year’s tax bill.”

Lawrence P. Glickman says it well in  his article “Forgotten Men: The Long Road from FDR to Trump” at The Boston Review: “Trump’s forgotten men and women are the descendants of Lowndes and other conservatives, who used this class to frame a compelling political narrative. In their vision, the welfare state and social movements to expand it were not efforts designed to help the less fortunate but rather a multi-pronged assault on the pocketbooks and dignity of white, middle-class Americans. Theirs was a language that mythologized white people living above the poverty line as a group that paid more than their fair share—that “seldom goes to extremes about anything,” in Upton’s words—and yet were being pushed into protest by the combination of economic exploitation and humiliation that they faced. Such a discourse, emergent as Donald Trump inherited his first millions, gave children of privilege sanction to understand themselves as victims…The conservative forgotten-man rhetoric fundamentally shaped Trump’s worldview and politics. He won the support of a cross-class coalition of whites who, whatever their position in society, felt ignored, exploited, and disrespected. Moreover, it allowed Trump and his followers, a group that has benefited disproportionately from a racialized welfare state, to weaponize resentment toward the less fortunate, to express cruelty toward racial others at home and abroad, and to view diversity as weakness.”

Jennifer Berkshire interviews Joan Williams, author of “The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” at Alternet on the “limits of college for all.” Williams observes, “…There are a lot of very concrete reasons why working-class kids, by which I mean the true middle class, might not want to go to college. It’s  economically very risky to go to college right now. It’s very expensive and a lot of people end up starting college and not finishing. They end up paying many thousands of dollars in debt while they’re earning the wages of a high school graduate. Middle and working-class kids are very well aware of that. It’s also literally harder for them to get into college with the same credentials than it is for kids of professional classes…What we really need is a new education to employment system where local community colleges or companies identify the specific skills that employers are going to need as we transition to an economy where 60 percent of jobs will require interaction with robots. People are going to need technical skills not necessarily a four year degree.”

“…If the resistance energy engendered by Trump and the Republicans continues to fuel efforts at democracy reform, and the results of the 2018 elections are as the tea leaves of 2017 suggest, then regardless of the outcome of the Gill case, the possibilities for reform will jump dramatically in 2019, and the district-drawing of 2021 could look a whole lot different and more promising than 2011. At the very least, progressives and people who care about our democracy should not assume that redistricting reform is a hopeless cause, and should get to work at organizing for real reforms, and working on legislative elections, as a major part of a pro-democracy strategy.” — from “Prospects Brightening for Redistricting Reform” by Miles Rapoport at The American Prospect.


Creamer: Tax Bill Puts GOP Brand in Free Fall

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

In the long struggle to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, the forces of greed and inequality have just won a battle.

The owners of the Republican Party – a small, elite class of wealthy investors and CEO’s – successfully ordered their minions in public office to massively lower their share of the taxes that we all pay for the things we do together, as a country.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center has found that when all of the provisions of the Republican tax bill are in full effect by 2027, 82.8 percent of the bill’s benefits will go to the top 1 percent ― and 53 percent of Americans would actually pay more in taxes.

The bill also contained provisions that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says will mean 13 million fewer Americans will be covered by health insurance and that premiums will increase by double digits for millions more.

The GOP was successful at teeing up its next campaign – to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and education in order to offset the rising federal deficits that will result from their tax cuts for the very rich.

They have won that battle. But the battle will actually make it more likely that progressives will ultimately win the war.

Winning wars is not just a story of individual victories. It is about maneuvering, the alignment of forces, the morale of the troops, the underlying geography defining the conflict. It is about who can take and seize the high ground – in this case, the high political ground.

The Republican Party will pay a huge political price for their tax “victory.”

Granted that the rulers of the Party may not care. The owners of the Party made it ever so clear that their Congressional troops were expected to pay any price to give them the trillions of dollars they will receive from the Republican tax bill.

The GOP foot soldiers were told pretty explicitly that the Party’s owners had invested millions over the last two decades, and now that they were blessed with a once-in-a-generation control over both Houses of Congress and the White House, they expected to be paid their return right now – while the getting is good.

A Senate Budget Committee Analysis shows the kind of payoff the GOP tax bill gives to big GOP donors.

Goldman Sachs for example invested $26,894,393 in donations to Republicans from 1990 to 2017. It will receive about a $6 billion tax cut.

Here are some of the biggest winners:

Goldman Sachs: Contributions, $26,894,393 – Tax Cut, $6,091,800,000

General Electric: Contributions, $20,025,764 – Tax Cut, $15,990,000,000

Citigroup: Contributions, $19,759,908 – Tax Cut, $9,165,000,000

Microsoft: Contributions, $17,934,790 – Tax Cut, $27,690,000,000

Exxon Mobil: Contributions, $16,845,751 – Tax Cut, $10,530,000,000

Pfizer: Contributions, $15,673,394 ― Tax Cut, $38,794,080,000

Walmart: Contributions, $12,894,979 – Tax Cut, $ $5,187,000,000

Chevron: Contributions, $12,779,874 – Tax Cut, $9,048,000,000

Eli Lilly: Contributions, $9,764,311 – Tax Cut, $5,460,000,000

Google: Contributions, $7,392,522 – Tax Cut, $11,836,500,000

Johnson & Johnson: Contributions, $5,636,745 – Tax Cut, $12,909,000,000

Proctor & Gamble: Contributions, $3,682,275 – Tax Cut, $9,555,000,000

IBM: Contributions, $1,873,305 – Tax Cut, $13,923,000,000

Apple: Contributions, $500,381 – Tax Cut, $47,970,000,000

Total: Contributions, $178,903,432 – Tax Cut, $236,453,880,000

As a group, these firms will see tax cuts 1,321 times their original investment in contributions. You have to admit, the GOP is delivering for those who own the Party.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the bill will be, as Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said during floor debate, an anchor around the ankles of every Republican candidate for office in 2018 – and in 2020.

Progressives gained three major advantages from this year’s tax battle.

1). First, Progressives crushed the opposition when it came to framing the tax battle and branding Republican tax policy.

The GOP tax plan is now politically toxic. The most recent NBC poll found that by a margin of 63 percent to 7 percent, Americans believe the GOP tax plan was designed to help corporations and the wealthy, not the middle class. Majorities also say they expect their own taxes and those of middle-class families to stay the same or go up under the bill, while taxes for corporations and the wealthy go down.

The forces opposing the tax bill wanted to brand it as a tax cut for millionaires, billionaires and wealthy corporations paid for by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and education – and by raising taxes on the middle class. They were successful.

A recent CNN poll found that only 33 percent of Americans supported the bill and 55 percent opposed. A Quinnipiac poll had disapproval of the Republican plan at 55 percent, vs. 26 percent approval.

Progressives also won the underlying debate over whether tax cuts for the rich ultimately “trickles down” to ordinary people. According to a recent USA Today poll, most respondents believe it would not materially help grow the economy. White House arguments that the tax bill would raise wages by $4,000 per person were written off by the public as being laughable.

Does all of this matter politically? Quinnipiac found that 43 percent say they are less likely to vote for a U.S. Senator or Member of Congress who supports the plan, with only 18 percent saying they would be more likely. That is a net deficit of 25 percent who are less likely to support those who voted yes on the bill.

Some Conservatives argue that the bill will actually become more popular as working people see cuts in their taxes next year. But as pollster Geoff Garin points out:

Here’s the truth: 80 percent of taxpayers will see an increase of less than 2 percent in their after-tax income (it is not until you get to the 95th percentile that the after-tax income benefits are much greater). There is NO history of voters being grateful for tax cuts that small – in fact history suggests that most taxpayers do not even recognize having received a tax cut when it is that small. The problem is compounded for the Republicans in two ways: (1) they have raised expectations in people’s minds that they would receive a much larger tax cut, and (2) people will feel their tax cut is especially paltry when they hear about the size of the tax cuts that millionaires and billionaires are receiving.

The Republicans have another, even bigger problem: Voters pay more attention to what they are losing than what they are getting. And going forward every proposed Republican cut to things people care about – including Medicare, Medicaid, and education ― can credibly be described as occurring in order to pay for the GOP’s tax cuts for millionaires and big corporations.

And organizations like Not One Penny and Americans for Tax Fairness that spearheaded the campaign against the Republican tax bill plan to run major efforts over the months ahead to drill this frame into the consciousness of the voters.

2). Second, the campaign against the tax bill put large numbers of people into motion. There is nothing more important to engage people in politics – or in a political movement – than motivating them to take action. When people go to a demonstration or town hall meeting or press event – when they make a phone call to Congress or share a Facebook post – they become emotionally invested in the issue and feel a sense of empowerment that spurs further action.

The Republicans and the Tea Party understood that in 2009, when they launched their war on the Affordable Care Act. That paid off in a highly-motivated Republican volunteer and activist base in the 2010 elections.

The tax battle drew from – and added to – the already robust ranks of the Resistance to Trump and GOP policies. Many of those tax warriors will turn their attention to voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities in the months leading up to next fall – the same way they have in Virginia and Alabama.

3). Third, the fact that the campaign to stop the Trump Tax Cuts made the proposal politically toxic, helped insure that not one Democrat voted to support it. You could not ask for a more iconic example of the difference in Republican and Democratic economics. It is a clear example that Democrats support the interests of ordinary people, while the Republican Party is in business to defend the interests of the 1 percent.

Every Republican in the Senate voted to do the will of the GOP donor class.

Susan Collins, often referred to as a “Moderate,” stood up, saluted and did the bidding of the Party’s owners on Wall Street.

Lisa Murkowski – who was a heroine of the ACA battle earlier this year, got down on the proverbial floor and kowtowed to the oil barons who wanted drilling rights in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge and the Koch Brothers who wanted huge corporate tax cuts.

“Deficit Hawk” Bob Corker apparently felt just fine abandoning his “principled” stand against increasing the deficit once huge tax cuts for real estate investors like himself and his friends were added to the bill.

The tax battle has already changed the perceptions of the Republican and Democratic brands.

In June, the NBC/WSJ poll showed Americans preferred Republicans over Democrats to handle the tax issue by 4 percentage points. Now, they prefer Democrats by 4 points. Republicans have moved from a 7 percentage point advantage to a 5 percentage point deficit when it comes to which Party voters think is best equipped to handle the economy.

That is one reason why a new CNN Poll finds that voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a whopping 18 percent point margin – 56 to 38 ― as their choice in the 2018 Mid-Term elections. And when asked about the Presidential election in 2020 in an NBC poll, 52 percent said they would definitely or probably vote against Trump while only 36 percent said they would definitely or probably vote for his re-election.

The combined effects of the tax battle, the fight to prevent the GOP from taking away people’s health care, Trump’s unpopularity – and the impact of the GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore ― resulted in the surprising result that the Republican Party was actually more unpopular than the Democratic Party in exit polls taken after the Senate election in Red State bastion Alabama.

Nationally, the Republican brand is in a free fall.

If the GOP pursues its goals of “reforming” – actually cutting – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, this trend will intensify and harden.

As we saw during the battle to defend the ACA, people get really riled up when someone tries to take something away from them – like their health care. We saw the same thing in 2005 when President Bush tried to privatize Social Security and during House Speaker Ryan’s previous attempts to turn Medicare into a voucher system.

Remember, from the voter’s point of view it isn’t just who wins that matters – it’s who is out there fighting for them. It’s all about who is on your side.

And don’t expect the fact that they now have one “legislative” victory to bolster the GOP’s position with the voters. Only Washington pundits think about putting legislative points on the board – ordinary voters couldn’t care less.

Barack Obama put dozens of legislative points on the board in the first two years of his administration. That didn’t do Democrats any good at all in the 2010 mid-terms.

In 2010, the GOP successfully mobilized millions of people to vote against Democrats who they claimed were trying to “take away their health care.” That was, of course a complete lie. The ACA and the other pieces of legislation passed in Obama’s first two years were actually good for ordinary people – and now they are all very popular.

The GOP tax plan is horrible for ordinary voters. Many might see piddling reductions in their taxes next year or the next. But they will hardly be noticeable. And in the end, whatever benefits there are for ordinary people will expire and those for huge corporations will go into the future – or at least until they are repealed by a Democratic Congress and President. Most people already think they have been had, and they won’t change their minds because they have, in fact, been had.

The GOP tax “victory” won’t look so glorious from the standpoint of late November 2018. As my wife Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky says, we can’t yet see the huge Democratic wave next fall, but we have begun to feel the spray.


True Lessons From Doug Jones’ Win in Alabama

A few days after Doug Jones’ Senate win in Alabama, I read various assessments and offered some more refined thoughts about the significance of this remarkable event at New York:

The celebration among Democrats after Doug Jones’s unlikely victory in an Alabama special Senate election on December 12 was sufficiently extravagant that it’s wise to take a step back and examine what it did and didn’t mean for American politics going forward. Iconic political journalist Elizabeth Drew gave excited donkeys a bit of an ice bath in a piece for The New Republic warning against an over-interpretation of the results.

The two candidates we wound up with down in Alabama, notes Drew, were like a “planetary collision: We’re not likely to see another like it for a very long time.” She rightly observes that Roy Moore was very problematic to a lot of conservative business types in the state long before the sexual-misconduct allegations arose. And she’s also spot-on in observing that Jones threaded a difficult needle by being moderate enough for white voters while having a deep and authentic connection with African-Americans. And he won by an eyelash thanks to a fortuitous series of events. “[Jones] was the proverbial dog walking on his hind legs.”

But while we are not going to see “a series of Alabamas” in 2018, there are some significant and very real implications for the future, so long as one keeps in mind the very uniqueness of the situation that Drew points out.

A 2017 win in Alabama does not, for example, mean Democrats can suddenly stipulate that the 2018 Senate elections in similarly red territories like Wyoming or Nebraska will be competitive. There’s actually nothing that happened in Alabama that is especially relevant in highly conservative states with few minority voters and no huge controversies hanging over the GOP candidates. Yes, maybe Democrats will do several points better than they have done in the recent past, but not well enough to create a competitive contest.

On the other hand, Jones will be in the Senate until at least 2020, and no one can take that away from Democrats, who can now see a credible path to a Senate majority in 2018 without future Alabamas, since a net gain of just two seats will flip the chamber. Nevada and Arizona looked like promising states for Democrats long before the Jones/Moore contest. John McCain’s declining health could well mean there will be a second Arizona seat at stake next November. And yes, the Alabama results do mean Democrats can dream of an upset win in very red Tennessee, where former governor and Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen goes into the race in much stronger shape than Doug Jones did.

Even before Alabama, Democratic Senate incumbents facing voters in 2018 in relatively conservative states were doing well; none of them are in immediate danger of losing, and only a couple are highly vulnerable at the moment. Now it is more obvious than ever that partisan polarization has its limits, even in the most conservative states, if only because Republicans in places other than Alabama have their own internal differences that could prove fatal. It’s looking more and more like Democrats can play offense on a Senate landscape that looked so terrible for them going into 2017.

Beyond the lowered Senate target for 2018, there are elements of the Alabama results that are not necessarily a product of unique local circumstances. Yes, the identity of the two candidates had something to do with the impressive African-American turnout that won the race for Jones. But we saw similarly high African-American — and also Hispanic and Asian-American — turnout in Virginia last month. Similarly, Jones did very well among younger voters, as did Ralph Northam in Virginia. It looks like the so-called Obama Coalition of young and minority voters that usually fails to show up proportionately in non-presidential elections might well go to the polls next year, and that could be decisive in close races.

Should Democrats be excited about the renewed possibility of a 2018 wave? Absolutely. A Democratic House would throw a huge monkey wrench into any legislative plans for the GOP in the last half of Donald Trump’s term. And a Democratic Senate would be even more devastating to Trump, taking away his ability to stack SCOTUS and other federal courts with extremists enjoying life-time appointments. Taking away the GOP’s trifecta would also make it immeasurably more difficult for Trump and his allies to halt enforcement of, or further pare back, laws and regulations affecting the environment, the economy, or health and safety that corporations find annoying.

So the wrong lessons for Democrats to take from what happened in Alabama last week are that all states are now purple or that 2018 will be a cakewalk. A tough Senate landscape, gerrymandering of the House by Republicans, trench warfare involving 36 gubernatorial races and even more state legislative races, the seemingly endless cash available to the GOP, hard-t0-predict international and domestic events — all these factors could make the midterms an abattoir for Democrats and disappointment at the end of the road a real possibility. But just a year after widespread talk of Democrats being weaker than at any time since the Harding Administration, happier days seem to be here again.


Political Strategy Notes

At New York Magazine, Frank Rich explains “How Democrats Can Win the Spin War Over the Trump Tax Cuts,” and notes “Already, the GOP’s biggest donors, the bill’s biggest beneficiaries, have been pouring money into campaigns to sell it to voters. It’s up to Democrats to get into the trenches with tough and clever counter-messaging that will explain in concrete and un-wonky terms why the bill is a disaster for most Americans. Mere scare words (eg., Nancy Pelosi’s invocation of “Armageddon”) will not reach those turned-off-by-Trump suburbanites who have been defecting from the GOP in special elections this year, from Virginia to Alabama…The midterms could well be a wave election but not if Democrats fail to make their case and instead repeat the Clinton campaign error of expecting anti-Trumpism to do most of the work for them. In that regard, I have to confess to being baffled by the prevailing liberal political spot on television these days — the ad in which the Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer calls for Trump’s impeachment. David Axelrod was exactly right when he called it “more of a vanity project than a call for action.” What is the ad’s point after all? As long as Congress remains in GOP hands, there will be no impeachment. Period. What anti-Trump voter (now nearly two-thirds of the country) needs to be reminded that this president is unfit for the White House? This ad amounts to little more than a masturbatory diversion, wasting time, energy, and money that could instead be poured into the blistering economic argument required to flip one or both chambers to the Democrats.”

In his article, “The Double-Edged Sword of a Party-Line Victory” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes that “The tax bill likewise failed to win support from even a single Democrat. By historical standards, that’s even more striking than the ACA’s partisan shutout. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s sweeping tax cuts drew support from 25 Democrats in the Senate and 113 in the House. George W. Bush appealed more narrowly with his 2001 tax cut, but even then, 28 House Democrats and 12 Democratic senators voted yes. But not even the 12 House Democrats in districts that supported Trump last year nor the 10 Democratic senators facing 2018 races in states he carried felt compelled to support this latest measure…To pass their bill, Republicans ignored the hostile polls, the unified Democratic opposition, and a succession of independent analyses showing the plan would massively increase the federal debt while generating minimal additional growth.”

From David Weigel’s article, “Democrats ready year-long assault against tax cut package” at PowerPost: “Democrats, routed but unified against the tax bill, plan to make it the centerpiece of a midterm campaign — one that may play out in a growing economy where the worst predictions about the tax cuts fall flat…Democrats are raring to point out the difference between what Republicans ran on and what they passed. The most memorable visual symbol of the tax-cut push, a hypothetical postcard to demonstrate the simplicity of the GOP’s tax plan, disappeared as Republicans put together a compromise that expanded the number of tax brackets and left many loopholes intact…The idea of the bill as a corporate giveaway was key to Democrats’ final pre-vote messaging, including a moment in the Senate debate when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) flung open  one of the Senate’s doors and pointed to McConnell’s office to dramatize the influence of lobbyists…It will also be a key part of a 2018 campaign by the #NotOnePenny coalition, formed by progressives to oppose the tax cut. Next year, the coalition will up its media buy from $5 million to $10 million, hold 100 days of anti-tax cut events, and rally on April 15 in Washington “against tax policy that further rigs the economy in favor of the wealthy.”

Bryce Covert’s NYT op-ed “The Trojan Horse in the Tax Bill,” outs the Republicans’s long-term strategy: “…Now that they’ve succeeded in passing a tax package that will reduce government revenues so much, the ensuing cost will serve as the excuse to get everything else they want. They’ll count on our short memories to forget who created larger deficits in the first place. Those deficits will serve as the motivation to enact cuts they’ve sought all along. The tax bill isn’t just a regressive giveaway to corporations and the rich. It’s a Trojan horse with deep government reductions stuffed inside.”

“At least four senators are urging Al Franken to reconsider resigning, including two who issued statements calling for the resignation two weeks ago and said they now feel remorse over what they feel was a rush to judgment,” Edward-Isaac Dovere writes at Politico. “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who urged Franken not to step down to begin with — at least not before he went through an Ethics Committee investigation — said the Minnesota senator was railroaded by fellow Democrats.” It’s not impossible that Franken could still retract his resignation. But it looks like it would be a sloppy mess, since his replacement, MN Lt. Governor Tina Smith, has already been named, spoke at a press conference about it and is working with Franken to facilitate a smooth transition, reports Dovere. The Washington Post reports that Franken will resign on January 2nd. But it appears that Democratic leaders and rank and file will remain divided about whether Franken was treated fairly.

At The New Republic, Jeet Heer’s “The Democrats’ Risky Pursuit of Suburban Republicans” includes this skeptical observation: “There’s one very compelling reason to be wary of this pursuit of disaffected suburban Republicans: Hillary Clinton tried it last year….The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reportedly found that in the 2014 and 2016 elections, suburban voters were “inching away from Republicans, but too slowly to flip many seats.”…Suburban ex-Republicans are worth pursuing, but not at the risk of diluting liberal policy commitments. While opposition to Trump is helping to swell Democratic ranks, the truth remains that excessive centrism will dishearten core voters. Watering down the party’s identity only ensures more defeats further down the road, when Trump won’t be around to scare up an ad hoc Democratic coalition.”

At The Nation, Anna Heyward spotlights one of the largest organized groups supporting Democratic candidates and policies, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and notes that “24,000 people—70 to 80 percent of them under 35—who have joined DSA since November 2016.” Further, Heyward writes that “DSA is now frequently referred to as “the largest socialist organization in the United States,” with 32,000 dues-paying members…Today, the median age of DSA’s membership is 33, down from 68 in 2013…There are now more than 300 local groups—are experimenting with doing their own electoral campaigns, some with running local candidates. In the state and municipal elections across the country on November 7, 15 DSA members won their races, bringing the total number of DSA members in elective office to around 35, as high as it’s ever been.” Founder Michael Harrington’s slogan, “the left wing of the possible,” still serves as a sort of unifying principle. Most current members strongly supported the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders and generally share a commitment to vote Democratic. But there is a sizable faction that is open to forming or supporting a third, more leftist political party.

Rachel Maddow reports on a promising way to fight against gerrymandering:

Democracy: A Journal of ideas is running a symposium, featuring six articles on the topic, “What Is Red-State Liberalism?” Here’s a teaser on the “importance of red-state liberals” from the introduction by the editors: “First, they’re trying to uphold our values in some places where doing that isn’t easy…Second, their liberalism, while rock-solid, is nevertheless a little different from yours. Mostly, these differences aren’t about issue positions but come down to questions of sensibility and lifestyle. How does it affect a person to be in the decided minority, to have many conservative friends, to live outside the blue bubbles many of us inhabit?…We’re delighted that the package includes an important piece by Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor and agriculture secretary under President Obama. Vilsack offers up smart and specific steps progressives need to take to reconnect to rural voters and their concerns.”


Dems ‘New Southern Strategy’ Emerging…Carefully

Ronald Brownstein’s “Democrats have a new Southern strategy” at CNN Politics provides a solid update of Democratic prospects in the region. In the euphoric wake of the election of Alabama’s Doug Jones, however, a couple of adjustmentss may help Dems get a workable strategy on track.

Brownstein writes that “the coalition that Jones mobilized closely resembled the voter alignments that have powered other recent Democratic victories in governors’ races in Virginia, North Carolina and Louisiana.” Further,

…Above all, Jones demonstrated that Democrats could simultaneously inspire passionate turnout from their base supporters, led by African-Americans, and make inroads with centrist white-collar white voters — each of which, for different reasons, is recoiling from Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency. That combination allowed Jones to overcome Moore’s lopsided margins among blue-collar, evangelical, older and rural whites — the four building blocks of the Trump coalition…Keeping momentum and agreement among those groups won’t be easy, but Democrats see it as a possible pathway to majorities in the 2018 midterm elections.

…Jones’ victory was centered on minorities, millennial voters and college-educated suburban whites, especially women. That’s exactly the formula Democrats now depend on in most states. But even with strong African-American support, Southern Democrats until recently come up short, largely because they haven’t attracted nearly as many college-educated whites as their party does elsewhere.

Now, with Democratic constituencies energized and suburban swing voters uneasy about Trump, Southern Democrats are suddenly finding it more possibe to assemble the coalition that the party relies on in other regions. And that could create new opportunities for Democrats across the South, most immediately in suburban House districts in 2018, but potentially also in statewide contests such as the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia and Senate battle in Tennessee.

Brownstein acknowledges that “Jones benefited from the unique vulnerabilities of his opponent, Republican Roy Moore, who was a deeply polarizing figure even before he was besieged by allegations that he had pursued relationships with teenage girls, some of them underage, while in his 30s.” In addition, Jones was a uniquely well-qualified candidate in terms of the interracial bridge-building the south (and America) so urgently needs. As the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, who secured convictions of Ku Klux Klansmen Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry, the perpetrators of the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th St. Baptist Church in 1963, which took the lives of four young girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, Jones had significant credibility with Alabama’s African American voters, particularly Black women.

Jones, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, did not just stumble into the case and do a competent job of securing a measure of justice for the victims of this horrific atrocity. He took real initiative and demonstrated extraordinary tenacity in winning the case. Alabama is somewhat unique in the south in that its African American activist community has carried forward the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement to a significant extent. Some veterans of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama are still alive and their children are carrying forward the acitivist tradition to a new generation. They  found a worthy state-wide candidate in Jones, whose track record merited the energetic voter mobilization in the state’s Black communities that won the day for the Democratic candidate.

That’s not to say that investing more resources in African American communities in other southern states won’t pay off for Dems; it probably will. But Jones’s victory in Alabama underscores the importance of Dems running really good candidates in the south, who have demonstrated credibility in terms of interracial bridge-building.

Jones and his campaign manager Joe Trippi also played a very smart hand with respect to white voters. They navigated a nuanced strategy that mined the vein of educated white voters who were ready to vote Democratic, without alienating Republican voters who were disgusted with Moore and who were likely to skip voting on election day. As Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine, “Jones threaded a difficult needle by being moderate enough for white voters while having a deep and authentic connection with African-Americans.” Jones and Trippi skillfully avoided the myriad booby traps awaiting a Democratic candidate in 2017 Alabama. Credit Jones and Trippi also with a tireless work ethic — Jones showed up everywhere in Alabama and put in the time needed to cement the critical personal relationships that can make a real difference in a close race.

Democrats should also note that, while white non-college voters, went overwhelmingly for Republicans in the special elections of 2017, there is not a lot of wiggle room left here. In close elections, Dems can’t afford to lose more of these numerous voters, who are about 45 percent of the electorate, nation-wide, perhaps more in the south. There is also the possibility that adept Democratic candidates can actually improve performance with white, non-college voters, without alienating African American voters. Even a small improvement could produce stable, enduring Democratic majorities in key purple states, especially FL, NC and VA.

Another problem with any unified field ‘southern strategy’ theory is that there are major differences in the demographics of southern states, particularly with respect to African American voters — who are 37.3 percent in Mississippi, but just 11.9 percent in Texas. Democrats aren’t going to get much traction in many southern states without making at least some headway with white working-class voters.

So Democrats should tread carefully in talking about a creating a new southern strategy. But Dems can certainly do better in the south with good candidates and well-crafted strategy — and the Jones campaign does indeed provide some instructive lessons.


Teixeira: Will Gerrymandering Block Democratic Wave?

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

abram table

In a word, no. That is to say, if there is a decent sized wave the Democrats have an excellent chance of taking back the House, despite the fact they are disadvantaged by gerrymandering. And by a decent-sized wave, I don’t mean the Democrats carrying the House popular vote by a gaudy margin of 8-10 points or more. They can probably do it with considerably less.

Alan Abramowitz shows this in an elegant little analysis just published on Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Abramowitz controls for the effect of post-2010 gerrymandering–which he does find is significant and large–and still finds that the Democrats could get a House majority with around 52 percent of the two party House vote (prior to 2010, the model indicates that slightly less than a majority of the popular vote–49 percent–would have sufficed).

And 52 percent looks like a pretty easy target to hit, based on results we have been seeing in the generic Congressional ballot polling. Abramowitz notes:

In recent weeks, Democrats have been averaging a lead of between eight and 10 points according to RealClearPolitics….that large a lead on the generic ballot would predict a popular vote margin of around five points and a gain of between 30 and 33 seats in the House — enough to give Democrats a modest but clear majority.

There you have it. Gerrymandering is bad….but it is far from an insuperable obstacle.