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Teixeira: Trump’s State Approval Ratings Provide The Key to 2018

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

There is nothing more important than the overall political environment for the magnitude of Democratic gains in 2018. The poorer that environment is for Republicans, the better the Democrats will do in any given race with any given candidate. And there is nothing more important to that environment than President Trump’s approval ratings which, as those who pay at least some attention to politics know, have generally been dismal at the national level.

But the 2018 races are run not nationally but in the individual states, so it is important to have a sense of how Trump is viewed in individual states to assess Democratic prospects. That is why the state approval ratings just released by Gallup are so useful, because they provide an approval rating for Trump in all 50 states. (The ratings are average ratings from 2017; Trump’s overall approval rating today appear to be slightly higher–a point or two–than its 2017 average, so the Gallup data cited here may be slightly underestimating his current state approval ratings).

The state ratings are particularly interesting in light of where the real battles of 2018 are likely to be fought. As Philip Bump has noted, 64 competitive House seats held by Republicans are in states where Trump’s approval rating is under 50 percent; 60 of these seats are in states where his rating is below 45 percent and 34 are in states where his rating dips below 40 percent.

One way to get a sense of just how much the political environment in a given state has shifted since Trump’s election is to compare Trump’s margin in 2016 with his net approval rating (approval minus disapproval) from the Gallup data. The results are rather striking when we look at states with key races.

The states with the largest number of competitive House seats held by Republicans are: California (8); Pennsylvania (6); New York (5); New Jersey (4); Virginia (4); Illinois (4) and Ohio (4). Trump’s average approval rating in these states is 36 percent (low of 29 percent in California and high of 45 percent in Ohio). And on average Trump’s net approval rating in these states is 12 points worse than the margin he attained in these states in the 2016 election. For example, Trump carried Ohio by 8 points in 2016; his net approval rating in 2017 was -5. Interestingly, the only state where the shift against Trump was not in double digits was California. But here his margin in 2016 was already -30, so he slipped to “only” -36 in net approval rating.

Drilling down a little bit farther, the same patterns can be found in most states with competitive Senate, governor’s and/or state legislature elections. In Arizona, where Democrats are targeting Jeff Flake’s open Senate, as well as seeking to make big gains in the state House and Senate, Trump’s net approval is now -12, a 16 point shift compared to his 2016 margin. In Florida, where the Democrats are defending a Senate seat and targeting Republican governor Rick Scott and the state Senate, Trump is also at -12, 13 points worse than his 2016 showing. In Iowa, where the Democrats are after the governorship and serious gains in the state House and Senate, Trump’s net approval is -9, 18 points worse than his victory margin in the state in 2016. In Nevada, where Democrats have good chances to flip Dean Heller’s Senate seat and the governor’s mansion, Trump is at -11, 13 points worse than 2016. Even in North Dakota and West Virginia, two states with Democratic-held Senate seats where Trump has (in relative terms) sky-high net approval ratings of 18 and 26 points, respectively, these ratings still trail Trump’s 2016 election margins by 16 points.

Most astonishingly, in Texas where the Democrats are after three House seats and have an outside shot at Ted Cruz’ Senate seat, Trump’s net approval is at -15, a stunning 24 point decline from Trump’s victory margin in 2016. But a word of caution here. Gallup’s net approval ratings are among all adults, a group that tends to be pro-Democratic relative to the likely or actual voting pool and this difference, as Harry Enten has pointed out, is particularly large in Texas. So don’t break out the champagne toasts for blue Texas quite yet.

Still, all in all, favorable data for Democratic prospects in the most important states in 2018. I shall have more to say in the future about the demographics of specific states and Congressional Districts and how this may play into the political trends summarized in this piece

Political Strategy Notes

In their New York Times article, “‘They Can’t Wait to Vote’: Energized Democrats Target Dominant G.O.P. in Statehouses,” Alexander Burns and Alan Blinder write: “As national Republicans dig in to defend their majorities in Congress in the midterm elections, party leaders across the country have grown anxious about losses on a different front: state legislatures…Over the last year, Democrats have snatched away Republican seats in more than a dozen special legislative elections from Seattle and Tulsa, Okla., to Atlanta and Miami, in many cases electing female and minority candidates with strong turnout on the left.” Burns and Blinder quote Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee: “What we have seen in the special elections is a significant spike in the interest, engagement, spending and energy by the liberal Democrats and progressive movement,” Mr. Walter said, adding: “The spending is real. The organizational prowess is real. And the energy is real.” However, “In many of the biggest purple states, however, Democrats must overcome huge Republican majorities and forbidding legislative maps…Though Republicans have thin majorities in a few states, like Colorado and Minnesota, the party is entrenched by gerrymandering across most of the Midwest and has long controlled Sun Belt prizes like Florida and Arizona.”

Bret Stephens nails it succinctly in his NYT article, “Devin Nunes’s Nothingburger“: “The larger inanity here is the notion that the F.B.I. tried to throw the election to Clinton, when it was the Democrats who complained bitterly at the time that the opposite was true…Trump won the election. How that represents evidence of a sinister deep-state conspiracy is a question for morons to ponder. As for Devin Nunes, he has, to adapt an old line, produced evidence of a conspiracy so small. In modern parlance we’d call it a nothingburger, but the bun is missing, too.”

As Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus sees it:

E. J. Dionne, Jr. characterizes the Nunez nothingburger thusly: “A blatant McCarthyite hit piece that breaks little new ground, it cherry-picks from troves of information to feed a dangerous narrative: Even if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III gets the goods on Trump — on Russian collusion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, or all three — the facts won’t matter because the inquiry was driven by partisanship…And its underlying premise is laughable. To imply that the FBI’s leadership is a nest of left-wing Hillary Clinton sympathizers is as absurd as declaring that a majority of Philadelphians were rooting for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.” As Dionne puts it, the Nunes memo “simply showed how petrified Trump and his backers are of a comprehensive probe.”

At The American Prospect, Paul Waldman envisions a chaotic outcome after the Muellar probe is completed: “And what will happen when Robert Mueller’s investigation nears its end? Mueller has already indicted Trump’s campaign chairman and turned two Trump advisers (George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn), who agreed to plead guilty to minor charges and tell what they know. How will Republicans in Congress and the conservative media react to the charges Mueller raises, when Trump’s entire presidency is threatened?…We know already: They’ll go positively bonkers. Yes, they’ll argue that the whole thing can be ignored, which is part of what the Nunes memo was about: discrediting anything to do with the Russia investigation so Trump’s followers will already have their fingers in their ears when Mueller finishes his work. But the more serious the charges are and the more systematic the case Mueller makes against Trump, the more they’ll lose their minds. This was just a preview.”

“I think the Mueller investigation will blow through this flimsy excuse for an argument like a train through a willow tree,” writes Charles Pierce in his Esquire post, “‘Nothingburger’ Doesn’t Do This Memo Justice.” Pierce continues, “But the damage it will do to congressional oversight of the intelligence community—a dubious proposition on its best day, which was not Friday, god knows—will be long-lasting and far-reaching…Meanwhile, everybody involved in Friday’s burlesque, from Devin Nunes to Carter Page to the president* himself, knows full well that the Russian ratfckers are gearing up for the 2018 midterms.”

Alex Seitz-Wald discusses the downside of having too many candidates in “Democrats are having a banner recruiting year — and it could cost them” at NBC News: “Across the country, Republicans are salivating and Democrats are sweating their too-much-of-a-good-thing problem as the party’s chief asset in this year’s congressional elections, a bumper crop of strong recruits, is proving to be a liability too…Nationwide, an unprecedented 156 Democratic challengers had raised at least $5,000 by the third quarter of last year, according to a tally by the Campaign Finance Institute. That number was just 47 at this point in the last election. And before the GOP wave in 2006, the party had just 97 recruits, while Democrats had only 63 challengers before their 2006 blowout.That’s great for Democrats in many ways, and competitive primaries have been shown to increase engagement and turnout in November. But crowded primaries can also waste money, sow internal divisions, push candidates to the ideological extremes, and tarnish whoever emerges from the melee.” Jungle primaries can be a problem when there is a bumper crop of candidates. But the upside is that stronger candidates are likely to rise.

Columnist Paul Krugman explains why Trump has such a poor track record when it comes to appointments and personnel: “A remarkable number of Trump appointees have been forced out over falsified credentials, unethical practices or racist remarks. And you can be sure there are many other appointees who did the same things, but haven’t yet been caught…Why is this administration hiring such people? It surely reflects both supply and demand: Competent people don’t want to work for Mr. Trump, and he and his inner circle don’t want them anyway…The Trump administration is a graveyard for reputations: Everyone who goes in comes out soiled and diminished. Only fools, or those with no reputation to lose, even want the positions on offer.”

“Democrats are just about as likely as Republicans to say they plan to vote in this year’s congressional elections, a break from the two previous midterm elections, in which Republicans were significantly more inclined to vote, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in January,” reports Scott Clement at The Fix…”Just over half of Democratic-leaning registered voters, 51 percent, say it is “more important to vote” this year than in previous elections, compared with 34 percent of Republican-leaning voters who say the same.” However, “Two Democratic-leaning groups that have turned out at lower rates in past years also express tepid interest in voting this year. Fewer than half of registered voters ages 18-39, 46 percent, say they are certain to vote, compared with 68 percent of voters ages 40-64 and 77 percent of seniors. And nonwhite voters are nine points less likely than white to say they plan to vote (56 percent to 65 percent).”

Ryan Discovers Job Training As a Way To Cut Safety Net Benefits

For anyone concerned about safety net programs, Ayn Rand disciple Paul Ryan bears close watching. I noted a fresh example of his bad and deceptive intentions at New York last week:

House Speaker Paul Ryan is a very frustrated man. His great passion in public life seems to be the destruction of the federal safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society. But political reality keeps getting in the way. His long-standing support for partial privatization of Social Security is a nonstarter since George W. Bush got burned for broaching it back in 2005. His plans to voucherize Medicare benefits have been rubber-stamped by GOP members of Congress when they were in no position to actually implement them; they’ve gone nowhere after Republicans took over the entire federal government last year.

Ryan’s best shot yet at “entitlement reform” went down in flames with the failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare — and permanently cap Medicaid spending. And when he raised the trial balloon late last year of coming at entitlements under the rubric of “welfare reform,” that hardy race-inflected favorite of conservatives everywhere, Mitch McConnell shut him down almost instantly.

But ever ingenious, at the GOP congressional retreat this week, Ryan tried one more gambit, as Politico reported:

“[T]he Wisconsin Republican is back at it again, repackaging his proposals in hopes of gaining traction on welfare reform.

“During a GOP retreat here in Appalachia, Ryan urged congressional Republicans to tackle ‘workforce development.’ He messaged the somewhat amorphous phrase as a matter of ‘helping people’— not a budget-cutting excursive.”

What Ryan is deploying is a massive bait and switch: Get people talking about beefing up job-training resources for the able-bodied but unemployed or underemployed poor, and then drop the hammer on the entitlement benefits they currently receive. Phase one of that hammer dropping, of course, would be work requirements:

“[A]t least a half-dozen Republicans told POLITICO that Ryan’s proposal could include work requirements for welfare beneficiaries, which could repel senators. Indeed, at least two Senate Republicans said Thursday that they liked the idea in theory — but weren’t sure the upper chamber would ever take it up.”

Ryan is likely counting on support from the White House, given the administration’s cautious moves toward letting states impose work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries. But more generally pushing people out of entitlement benefits and into jobs that may or may not exist requires more cover. And that’s where Ryan’s sudden enthusiasm for upgrading the workforce’s skills comes in.

“He emphasized the ‘jobs’ piece of the equation, pointing out that there are 6.6 million people on unemployment and more than 5.8 million open jobs. That skills gap, he said, could be filled by the unemployed population if the government provided the facilities to link the two.”

Here’s the trouble, though: Lawmakers from both parties and at every level of government have struggled for decades to come up with a successful system for job training. The Manpower Training and Development Act of 1962, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973, the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, have all, according to nearly every assessment, largely failed to address the enormous problems for workers caused by automation and globalization.

If Ryan has some brilliant ideas for overhauling this system, we’d all like to hear them. But if talk about job training is just a pretext for cutting benefits, then it’s just the same old same old from the inveterate enemy of the welfare state.

Judis: Why Dems Must Tread Carefully on Immigration Policy

At The American Prospect Long Form, John Judis has an article, “The Two Sides of Immigration Policy: We need to legalize the undocumented already here, but open borders will mean lower wages for American workers,” which merits a thoughtful read by Democrats.  Judis, author of The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, writes:

Democrats and liberals have rightly rejected Trump’s words and deeds. And they have reasserted the need to find an eventual path to citizenship for the 12 million [undocumented immigranrs]. But in responding to Trump’s xenophobia, many have gone to the opposite extreme and denied, in effect, that a problem really exists. They have consistently downplayed or denied that there is any urgent need to stanch the flow of unauthorized immigration. The party’s 2016 platform plank on immigration gave short shrift to the problem of illegal immigration, merely calling for law enforcement that is “humane and consistent with our values.”

…Democrats believe, of course, that in downplaying illegal immigration and insisting that immigration benefits everyone, they are standing up for their own constituents. They think that working-class Americans who backed Trump on this issue failed to understand their own interests. But Democrats are wrong in this case. While many American businesses and the well-to-do have clearly benefited from the massive influx of unskilled immigrants, many middle- and working-class Americans, including such key Democratic constituents as African Americans, have not.

Judis goes on to present evidence that, while Latino voters favor Democrats, their views on illegal immigration reform are not far different from American voters in general. He notes,

…pluralities or majorities of Hispanics are leery of illegal immigration, and want it restricted. They look with disfavor on the massive immigration of unskilled workers. In a 2013 Gallup poll, 74 percent of Hispanics favor and only 24 percent oppose “tightening security at U.S. borders,” and 65 percent favor and only 34 percent oppose “requiring business owners to check the immigration status of workers they hire.”

Reviewing some recent polling data, Judis concludes “In sum, the Democratic stance on these issues is not only unpopular with most voters, but with many Hispanics as well. Except as a response to Trump’s xenophobia, the Democrats’ response makes no political sense, and is not benefiting their own working-class constituents.”

In his NYT op-ed, “Trump Has Got Democrats Right Where He Wants Them,” Thomas B. Edsall writes, “For a Democratic Party whose electoral strength depends on Hispanic support (64 percent of Latinos identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party in 2016) preventing the deportation of the Dreamers and providing them with legal status has become a matter of political necessity.” Edsall also notes, however, that “The greatest unknown is how immigration reform will influence the voting behavior of the white working class.”

Noting the Democratic belief that “large-scale immigration of unskilled workers will help the Democrats politically and hurt the Republicans,” Judis argues that “Hispanics may not prove to be a dependable Democratic constituency,” as they “move up the economic ladders.” Further, “Republican candidates for governor in Texas and the Senate in North Carolina have almost broken even among Hispanic voters.”

Judis argues that “the continual surge of low-skilled immigrants into the United States will contribute to an impoverished underclass that holds down wages and creates welfare costs for small towns and states.” He notes that  “The existence of that underclass has helped fuel bitter cultural-economic conflicts that have riven America over the last 30 years. It undercuts any promise of an American social democracy or extension of New Deal liberalism…”

Democrats have to tread a policy that rejects both nativism and open borders, while protecting the Dreamers and demonstrating genuine concern for secure borders and decent wages for all workers. As Judis concludes,

What, then, can the Democratic Party do? On the one hand, it is reasonable to push for a path to citizenship, and especially to prevent the cruel deportation of immigrants who were brought here illegally as children and often literally have no home country to return to. It’s also important to defend the labor rights of all residents of the United States, even those without papers, and to resist wholesale raids. But Democrats make both a policy mistake and a political one when they become cheerleaders for illegal immigration and for expanded immigration in general, while denying the plain fact that in many cases immigrants do indeed lower the wages of local workers. Building a wall is bad policy, but so is ignoring the plain realities.

It’s a narrow path, which will require nuanced policies to insure fairness for both immigrants and American workers. Republicans will miss no opportunity to distort Democratic immigration policies as extravagant indulgences that hurt American workers. To win in 2018, as well as 2020, Democrats will have to demonstrate that their party provides the best hope for American workers, as well as immigrants.

Is the GOP’s Era of Small Government Already Over?

After watching the State of the Union Address, and reading many assessments, I made this observation about what Trump did not discuss in a take for New York.

[T]he president’s 2018 State of the Union Address was a big hit on the right. It’s probably true that some of them were mostly relieved that he performed competently in a venue that does not play to his extemporaneous strengths.

But the praise was somewhat less fulsome from those who take the substance of conservative policy seriously — because it was almost entirely absent from the speech. Here’s National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru:

“[T]here was almost nothing of substance about 2018. The great exception is immigration, where he laid out a relatively detailed proposal in a way that will strike people without strong views on the subject as fair and sensible. Long stretches of the speech were, however, simply vacuous, as when Trump endorsed higher infrastructure investment and lower opioid addiction rates without saying a word about how these goods would be achieved. These were goals, not policies.

“One reason the speech was so heavy on shout-outs to heroes and victims in the audience was that the policy cupboard is pretty bare”

Ponnuru’s colleague Jonah Goldberg was even more pointed in what the speech omitted:

“[E]xcept for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn’t a hint of fiscal conservatism to it. Trump wants a huge increase in infrastructure spending and an end to the sequester for military spending, but he never mentioned the debt or deficit. Well, there was one mention of the word ‘deficit’ — the ‘infrastructure deficit.’ And he endorsed a new entitlement — paid family leave — while failing to mention any effort to reform the existing entitlements.”

Indeed, if there was any lingering possibility that Paul Ryan’s dreams of an assault on entitlements this year would be realized, this speech eliminated them once and for all. Given Trump’s equally conspicuous refusal to mention additional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare (a major emphasis in his proto-SOTU address to a joint session of Congress a year ago), it may well be that the White House is going along with Mitch McConnell’s inclination to rule out any use of the congressional budget process at all this year.

That is certainly the safest route for a majority party facing an adverse midterm-election-year climate. And perhaps the massive deficit-expanding GOP tax bill is too fresh a memory for Republicans to risk derisive guffaws by pretending to care about fiscal probity.

But it’s bound to bother conservatives who do care about Big Government that so little of their concerns animate this president who is so ferocious toward criminal immigrants and disrespectful foreigners and athletes who don’t stand for the national anthem. If Trump won’t treat fiscal hawks as a constituency worth pandering to in a speech this long, the odds are pretty good that he figures feeding them cultural red meat and sheer partisanship is enough to keep them on the reservation. And if so, he’s almost certainly right.

Political Strategy Notes

It looks like 2018 will be the year that the debate about revitalizing America’s infrastructure intensifies. For openers, read economist Jared Bernstein’s “Yes, this nation needs a real infrastructure plan. No, that’s not what President Trump offered tonight” at PostEverything. Bernstein, now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of ‘The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity,” writes “How can you tell when an infrastructure plan is not real? Here’s a three-part test: 1) does it provide a meaningful boost in our stock of public goods, 2) does its funding design shift the historical federal responsibility for public investment to states and private investors, and 3) when it includes “pay-fors,” are they budget cuts taken from programs that support low-income families?…We got almost no details in tonight’s State of the Union address, but based on what we do know, President Trump’s infrastructure plan handily fails this test…Ever since Trump took office, he has ignored the working-class voters who helped put him there and outsourced policy decisions to a Republican Party whose goal is to shrink government and return the proceeds to their wealthy donors. Though Trump’s sales job tonight tried to obfuscate this reality, his infrastructure plan perfectly fits this mode.”

See also “Trump’s $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Is Light on Federal Funds, and Details” by NYT reporters Jim Tankersly and Julie Hirschfield Davis, who note “The increased infrastructure spending would be offset by unspecified budget cuts. Officials would not detail where those cuts would come from, or how the proposal would effectively leverage at least $6.50 in additional infrastructure spending for every dollar spent by the federal government, a ratio many infrastructure experts consider far-fetched. The officials said Mr. Trump would leave it up to Congress — where there is little consensus about how to pay for such a plan — to figure out the details, giving lawmakers wide latitude in creating what would need to be a bipartisan bill against the backdrop of the midterm elections.”…“That’s not a plan. That’s a hope,” said Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which has lobbied for a large infrastructure bill. “It’s sort of pathetic.” Further, “The idea that a $200 billion federal investment would drive $1.5 trillion in total spending is “the great hocus-pocus,” said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. “There’s absolutely no evidence for that.”

In his FiveThirtyEight post “Five Blue States Could Determine Who Controls The House In 2018,” Harry Enten writes, “…whether Democrats manage to win the House in 2018 could come down to how many seats they pick up in the five most populous states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia…while California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia account for only a small percentage of Republican-held seats overall, they are home to a disproportionate share of vulnerable Republicans. According to the Cook Political Report, these five states are home to 38 percent of all the Republican-held seats that are truly in play in 2018... If you add them all up, a total of 25 Republican seats in these five populous Clinton states could flip to the Democrats. That’s one more seat than Democrats need to gain a majority. In other words, they could take back the House without flipping a single seat in a state that Trump came close to winning in 2016.

In his post  at The Upshot, “A ‘Blue’ Florida? There Are No Quick Demographic Fixes for Democrats,” Nate Cohn writes, “As many as 300,000 people have fled to Florida from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And a ballot initiative this November could return the vote to the state’s estimated 1.5 million discharged felons. At first glance, either tally of these two Democratic-leaning groups would seem to dwarf Donald J. Trump’s 113,000-vote margin of victory in the state in 2016…But the reality for Democrats is that neither development is likely to fundamentally alter Florida’s political character heading into the 2020 election…The main reason? The electoral effect dwindles after accounting for the relatively low turnout rates among these groups. More generally, even big demographic shifts that seem to favor Democrats could easily be swamped by other demographic shifts that do the opposite.”

“The network of organizations founded by the conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch is going “all in” to defend GOP majorities in Washington and around the country in 2018, planning an early investment in paid media to work against what they concede is a daunting political environment for their allies in government,” reports Mike Memoli at NBC News. “Top officials from Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch network’s chief political arm, made a half-hour presentation Monday to more than 500 donors at their semiannual “seminar,” outlining their $400 million strategy to protect like-minded incumbents while targeting vulnerable Democrats in key Senate races…Key to the strategy is going on the offensive now, particularly in Senate races with television ads to try and define the narrative early against Democratic targets…AFP has affiliates in 36 of 50 states — a list that doesn’t include deeply blue states where officials say their efforts have failed to move the needle in the past. In Florida alone they have 13 field offices, 33 paid staff members and more than 200,000 volunteer activists.”

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait flags “4 New Trump Corruption Stories From the Last Day Alone.” The stories include: Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control after revelations of her stock purchases after she took office; reports that “Health and Human Services Secretary Ben Carson’s son, Ben Carson Jr., participated in his father’s work in ways that may have benefited his son’s businesses”; “A report yesterday found that Trump’s infrastructure council is filled with business owners who stand to benefit from the policies Trump is advancing.”; and “reports that Trump Realty is expanding its operations in southern Florida. The ongoing business by Trump’s business empire is a massive corruption risk, as Trump and his family can benefit from the publicity conferred by his public office, and stand to benefit by anybody who wants to curry favor throwing business their way.” CHait ads, “These stories are merely the news of the last 24 hours, a day in the life of self-dealing in the Trump administration…But from a political standpoint, his greatest liability may be more ordinary. Trump is a rich man whose policies have benefited himself and other rich people. He promised to raise his own taxes and shake up the status quo, but he has done the opposite. Does he have any greater vulnerability than that?”

Democrats will be glad to note the announced retirement of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), one of the nastier critics of Hillary Clinton. Elise Viebeck and David Weigel report at PowerPost that, so far, “More than 40 House Republicans have decided to step down this cycle. Some received jobs in the Trump administration; others are leaving to seek higher office or because they were accused of sexual misconduct or harassment. Still others faced tough reelection campaigns or blamed the divisive political climate.” His district, however, is solidly Republican, and unlikjely to be seen as a potential pick-up for Democrats. Also Gowdy’s statement, expressing his yearning for a return to practicing law, may indicate that he is in line for an Appeals Court apointment, as one of Trump’s favored apple-polishers. “It was unclear what role Gowdy might seek in the justice system,” noter Viebeck and Weigel. “One of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit took “senior status” Tuesday, creating a vacancy on the bench.”

Some revealing statistics from “The Working Class and the Federal Government’s Social Safety Net,” a study by the American Enterprise Institute, Oportunity America and Brookings Working Group on the Working Class, as reported by AEI’s Angela Rachidi:  “Approximately one-third of working-class people in America (defined by income between the 20th and 50th percentile with no college degree) receive government safety-net benefits…Since 1998, an increasing share of working-class people have received government safety-net benefits. In 1998, one in five received assistance; in 2014 it was almost one in three…This increase was driven almost entirely by Medicaid, food assistance, and disability assistance…Unsurprisingly, the share of working-class people who receive benefits falls below that of lower-income people and above that of higher-income people, but the increase since 1998 is unique to the working class.”

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, has an update on “The Districts That Will Determine the Next House Majority.” Kondik writes that “as of this moment, the race for House control is about a coin flip. Democrats should gain seats, but on the face of the seats currently available to flip, we’re unsure if they can net the 24 seats they need to win control.” Kondik takes a look at dozens of specific races and concludes, “It seems highly likely that there will be at least one more, and perhaps several more, key retirements from swing seats that move ratings in the Democrats’ favor. Again, we just had two more over the last week: Republicans Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) and Meehan (PA-7). The more retirements there are, the fewer incumbent-held seats listed above are required to flip the House, and the better the Democrats’ chances become.”

Sen. Sanders Brings the SOTU Critique

While Rep. Joe Kennedy brought the vision, Sen. Sanders brought the critique following Trump’s State of the Union address. The text follows (via In These Times):

Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

Tonight, I want to take a few minutes of your time to respond to President Trump’s State of the Union speech. But I want to do more than just that. I want to talk to you about the major crises facing our country that, regrettably, President Trump chose not to discuss. I want to talk to you about the lies that he told during his campaign and the promises he made to working people which he did not keep.

Finally, I want to offer a vision of where we should go as a nation which is far different than the divisiveness, dishonesty, and racism coming from the Trump Administration over the past year.

President Trump talked tonight about the strength of our economy. Well, he’s right. Official unemployment today is 4.1 percent which is the lowest it has been in years and the stock market in recent months has soared. That’s the good news.

But what President Trump failed to mention is that his first year in office marked the lowest level of job creation since 2010. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 254,000 fewer jobs were created in Trump’s first 11 months in office than were created in the 11 months before he entered office.

Further, when we talk about the economy, what’s most important is to understand what is happening to the average worker. And here’s the story that Trump failed to mention tonight.

Over the last year, after adjusting for inflation, the average worker in America saw a wage increase of, are you ready for this, 4 cents an hour, or 0.17%. Or, to put it in a different way, that worker received a raise of a little more than $1.60 a week. And, as is often the case, that tiny wage increase disappeared as a result of soaring health care costs.

Meanwhile, at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the rich continue to get much richer while millions of American workers are working two or three jobs just to keep their heads above water. Since March of last year, the three richest people in America saw their wealth increase by more than $68 billion. Three people. A $68 billion increase in wealth. Meanwhile, the average worker saw an increase of 4 cents an hour.

Tonight, Donald Trump touted the bonuses he claims workers received because of his so-called “tax reform” bill. What he forgot to mention is that only 2% of Americans report receiving a raise or a bonus because of this tax bill.

The Vision: Rep. Joe Kennedy’s Democratic Response to the SOTU

The text of Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address follows:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to join you tonight.

We are here in Fall River, Massachusetts – a proud American city, built by immigrants.

From textiles to robots, this is a place that knows how to make great things.

The students with us this evening in the autoshop at Diman Regional Technical School carry on that rich legacy.

Like many American hometowns, Fall River has faced its share of storms. But people here are tough. They fight for each other. They pull for their city.

It is a fitting place to gather as our nation reflects on the state of our union.

This is a difficult task. Many have spent the past year anxious, angry, afraid. We all feel the fault lines of a fractured country. We hear the voices of Americans who feel forgotten and forsaken.

We see an economy that makes stocks soar, investor portfolios bulge and corporate profits climb but fails to give workers their fair share of the reward.

A government that struggles to keep itself open.

Russia knee-deep in our democracy.

An all-out war on environmental protection.

A Justice Department rolling back civil rights by the day.

Hatred and supremacy proudly marching in our streets.

Bullets tearing through our classrooms, concerts, and congregations. Targeting our safest, sacred places.

And that nagging, sinking feeling, no matter your political beliefs: this is not right. This is not who we are.

It would be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos. Partisanship. Politics.

But it’s far bigger than that. This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us – they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.

For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure.

By your net worth, your celebrity, your headlines, your crowd size.

Not to mention, the gender of your spouse. The country of your birth. The color of your skin. The God of your prayers.

Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count. In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.

That is the American promise.

But today that promise is being broken. By an Administration that callously appraises our worthiness and decides who makes the cut and who can be bargained away.

Teixeira: The math is clear – Democrats need to win more working-class white votes

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

Following the noteworthy Democratic successes in the 2017 elections, we’re once again hearing that Democrats can achieve their electoral goals without any greater success among the white working class. Indeed, some on the left seem to feel that Democratic gestures toward the white working class would not only be ineffective but are politically suspect.

“There’s always been something problematic about the Democratic Party’s fixation on white working-class voters,” writes Sally Kohn at the Daily Beast. “After Alabama, it’s clear that obsession isn’t just fraught with bias. It’s also dumb.”

Steve Phillips of Democracy in Color remarked in a New York Times op-ed: “The country is under conservative assault because Democrats mistakenly sought support from conservative white working-class voters susceptible to racially charged appeals. Replicating that strategy would be another catastrophic blunder.”

“The ceiling with the white working class is what it is,” Phillips adds with a shrug in The Nation.

However popular, the view that Democrats can get along without working-class white voters is simply wrong. It reflects wishful thinking and a rigid set of political priors — namely, that Democrats’ political problems always stem from insufficient motivation of base voters — more than a cold, hard look at what the electoral and demographic data say. Consider the following:

There were far more white non-college voters in the 2016 election than shown by the exit polls

The exit polls claimed there were more white college voters (37 percent) than white non-college voters (34 percent). But in a report for the Center for American Progresssynthesizing available public survey data, census data, and actual election returns, Robert Griffin, John Halpin, and I found that 2016 voters were 44 percent white non-college and just 30 percent white college-educated. (The balance were black, Latino, Asian, or “other.”)


Win Working-Class Voters with State Level Consumer Protection

The following article by Marc Dann, former Attorney General of the State of Ohio, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Donald Trump’s election, made possible in part by his ability to capture the hearts, minds, aspirations, and votes of working-class men and women, has caused confusion and consternation among Democratic Party leaders. Stunned by the outcome, the Party has spent the last year searching for new messages that could lure this critically important constituency back into the fold. So far, that search has been unsuccessful.

However, as Democratic Party factions bicker, Trump himself may be handing them the issue they can use to end his presidency—and it doesn’t involve porn stars, Russians, racism, or tax cuts for the rich, none of which seem to matter much to the president’s supporters.

No, the Trumpites won’t turn away from him because of the outrageous things he says, or even the possibly illegal things he’s done. But they might abandon him when they finally realize that he’s betrayed them by gutting the regulatory framework that really made America great for the working class. Trump’s crusade to kill every rule and law he can get his hands on could be the thing that kills his presidency.

Some may scoff at this idea, but consider how these actions, all taken in the interest of his buddies on Wall Street, harm families who live on Main Street:

  • Net neutrality may seem like an arcane issue, but FCC Chair Ajit Pai ‘s decision to roll back Obama-era internet rules will inevitably lead to increased costs for internet access.
  • Betsy Devos, the clueless Secretary of Education, is repealing rules that made it difficult for private universities to rip-off students and making it more expensive for kids and parents to repay student loans.
  • Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who was installed as director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), has submitted a “zero budget” for the agency he absolutely loathes, and instituted a hiring freeze and a prohibition on new regulations.  Just for good measure, he’s also decided to make it easier for the vultures in the payday lending industry to prey on the poor and the working class.
  • The Labor Department’s decision to allow pool-tipping and to ditch rules that would have made hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers eligible for overtime pay will cost working families millions of dollars each year.
  • The unrelenting attack on the Affordable Care Act, which survived repeal but has taken a number of other hits, will lead to premium increases and the loss of coverage in the years ahead.