Note: this item was originally published on October 28, 2008.
It’s been obvious for a while that attacks on Barack Obama for favoring “redistribution of wealth” and other “socialist” beliefs is the final gambit of the McCain-Palin campaign. They’re reached this essentially ridiculous position for a variety of reasons:
(1) It’s highly congenial to conservative “base” voters, who think virtually all Democrats are “socialists,” and who also view much of the New Deal/Great Society legacy as “socialist.”
(2) It’s also arguably persuasive to some swing voters, who may not like or trust either candidate, and are trying to figure out who represents the greatest risk.
(3) It intersects with the McCain campaign’s heavily tax-and-budget based approach to the economy, which it is intensifying in the absence of anything much to say about what he would do to deal with the actual economic crisis the country faces.
(4) It also intersects with the sleazier aspects of the McCain/GOP/conservative assault on Obama, aimed at painting him as a dangerous radical who “pals around with terrorists” and is secretly close to anti-American, black nationalist, and perhaps even Jihadist Islamic elements.
So anything Obama’s ever said and done that can be twisted into support for “redistribution of wealth” is being avidly promoted by the GOP. The latest example is a 2001 Chicago public radio intereview in which Obama the law professor discusses the reluctance of the judicial branch to engage in “redistributive” efforts.
This is really, really a reach, as Obama legal advisor Cass Sunstein explains at The New Republic. Obama was in fact articulating approvingly a conservative legal theory about the hamhanded nature of direct judicial intervention into social policies that don’t involve fundamental rights:
In answering a caller’s question, he said that the court “is just not very good at” redistribution. Obama added, with approval, that the Constitution “is generally a charter of negative liberties.”
Obama’s principal claim–about the institutional limits of the courts–was made by many conservatives (including Robert Bork) in the 1960s and 1970s: Courts should not attempt to guarantee “positive” rights, or interpret the Constitution to redistribute wealth. Obama is squarely rejecting the claim that was made by many liberal lawyers, professors, and judges at the time–and that is being made by some today.
So this latest attempt to show that Obama’s a “socialist” is almost completely bogus.
But facts aside, there are two other reasons these sort of attacks aren’t getting much traction.
First of all, most Americans generally understand that there are a variety of longstanding and very popular policies in this country that involve “redistribution of wealth” to some extent or other. Certainly Medicare and Medicaid aren’t “pay as you go” programs. Nor is public education. And the basic principle of progressive taxation is inherently redistributive.
Second of all, we are at a point in U.S. history when upper-income and corporate complaints about “redistribution” are going to fall on an awful lot of deaf ears, given the consequences of regressive conservative economic policies over the last eight years. As I noted in an earlier post about progressive taxation, a majority of Americans right now appear to actually support the use of the tax code to redistribute wealth from the rich to lower-and-middle class folk, which is what Obama is unfairly being accused of covertly supporting.
In general, the McCain-Palin campaign’s attack lines on “redistribution” and “socialism” are poorly timed, as were earlier efforts to brand Obama as an “extreme liberal.” This is one election cycle where given the choice between the economic policy status quo and a more liberal approach, “change” is the preferred option regardless of how it is mischaracterized with alarmist terms.
Note: this item was originally published on October 12, 2008 Conservatives are going to start claiming that the 2008 election will be “stolen by goons and hooligans,” that “Dems caused the financial crisis” and that Obama is a ”secret radical/terrorist sympathizer” — and they are going to throw John McCain right under a bus if he doesn’t play along.
Dedicated movement conservatives can read the poll numbers as well as anyone else and, in the last few days, they have started to see that John McCain may very well lose this election.
They can live with that. They have been in opposition before – like the Clinton years – and they can figure out a political strategy to follow once they are in opposition. But they are also aware that an Obama victory poses a threat of unprecedented dimensions to their brand of conservatism. It is the kind they like to call “existential” – a threat to their very existence.
Coming after an intensely fought election campaign with a compelling — indeed mediagenic, rock- star cultural conservative like Sarah Palin on the Republican ticket, a strong Obama victory would imply:
That most Americans don’t actually share cultural conservative’s vision of themselves as “the real America,” opposed by only a minority of educated elites.
That most Americans don’t share the view that Obama and Democrats are essentially un-American and unpatriotic.
That most Americans do, in fact, believe that it was eight years of Republican pro-free market policies that created the current economic crisis.
This, conservatives simply cannot accept. As a result, in the last few days, we have seen the beginnings of the new conservative narrative start to emerge from Steve Schmidt’s Rovian media operation within the McCain campaign. The key elements of this new narrative are as follows:
1. That Barack Obama is not only actually a secret radical/terrorist sympathizer but that there has been a vast and concerted conspiracy by “the mainstream media filter” to hide this truth from voters.
2. That leading Dems including Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and Harry Reed are the primary culprits in the current financial crisis
3. That primarily Black “goons and hooligans” are going to steal the election.
Each of these new tropes has been launched by one or more of the major McCain campaign ads in the last few days and each is widely repeated and reinforced by extensive viral e-mail campaigns.
As a result, each of these notions is already being reflected directly back to McCain in the remarks his supporters are making to him at his town meetings – remarks like the woman who insisted that Obama is actually “an Arab” or “a terrorist” or the men who argued that McCain should get “the names of the people responsible for the crisis and punish them” and that “goons and hooligans” are going to steal the election.
When McCain finally felt obligated to speak up and disagree with these distortions last Friday he was roundly booed by his own supporters – and it will only get worse after the election. If McCain does not rigidly stick to the new conservative script that Steve Schmidt has handed him to read and he loses the election, the conservatives – including Sarah – “et tu, Brutus” – Palin – will turn on him like wild hyenas.
If you think Democrats have been mean to McCain this year, just wait until you hear the conservatives rip him apart after the election. They will call him a “weakling,” “a bumbling fool” and a “senile, doddering old man who let an easy victory escape him.” “After all,” they will add knowingly, “he was never really a true conservative to start with.” This “the loss was all McCain’s fault” rationalization will actually provide the fourth and final element of the new conservative narrative.
This may seem cruel, but conservatives really have little choice except to explain the election in this way because a key part of their world view is an unrelenting insistence that politics is a simple morality play of good vs. evil — with themselves invariably in the heroes’ role. In this storyline Conservatives are always basically right and always essentially pure – they do not make fundamental mistakes or display major moral and ethical failings (if an individual conservative does any of these things, it simply proves that he or she was not actually a “real” conservative to begin with).
Thus, the new Steve Schmidt conservative narrative will make it possible for conservatives to continue to claim after the election that the American people don’t really support Barack Obama (they were tricked), that Republican policy did not really cause the current economic crisis (Democrats did) and that true conservatism was not really rejected by the American people (just the overly timid and bumbling John McCain).
Note: this item was originally published on October 10, 2008
Throughout this long presidential campaign, there’s been endless discussion of race as a factor. But until recently, such talk revolved around hard-to-assess white fears about Barack Obama’s racial identity, along with efforts to conjure up the ancient hobgoblin of the Scary Black Man via images of Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Now, in the wake of the ongoing financial crisis, racism has entered the campaign conversation from an unexpected direction. In the fever swamps of conservatism, there’s a growing drumbeat of claims that the entire housing mess, and its financial consequences, are the result of “socialist” schemes to give mortgages to shiftless black people whose irresponsibility is now being paid for by good, decent, white folks.
Some of this talk is in thinly-veiled code, via endless discussions on conservative web sites (though it spilled over into Congress during the bailout debate) attributing the subprime mortgage meltdown to the effects of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which was aimed at fighting the common practice of mortgage “redlining” in low-income and/or minority areas (basically, a refusal to make any mortgages, regardless of the creditworthiness of individual applicants, in such areas).
In truth, the CRA didn’t require lending to unqualified applicants (though it did provide that applicants’ credit-worthiness could be established through means more sophisticated that standard credit scores), and in any event, CRA doesn’t even apply to the non-bank lenders responsible for the vast majority of bad mortgages. (Sara Robinson has a very useful primer on CRA at the OurFuture blog).
A closely associated and even more racially tinged element of the conservative narrative on the financial crisis focuses on lurid claims about the vast influence of ACORN, a national non-profit group active in advocacy work for low-income Americans. Among its many activities, ACORN has promoted low-income and minority homeownership, mainly through personal counseling. More to the point, though it’s unrelated to any of the claims about ACORN’s alleged role in the financial crisis, the group worked with Barack Obama back in his community organizing days on the South Side of Chicago.
Now as it happens, I’ve never been a huge fan of ACORN, mainly because its ham-handed voter registration efforts in recent years have supplied Republicans with their only shred of evidence that “voter fraud” is a legitimate concern in this country. But ACORN, a relatively marginal group, had no real influence over toxic mortgage practices, which again, to state the crucial point, had little to do with CRA-enabled loans to low-income and minority homeowners. Google “ACORN financial crisis” and you’ll be treated to an amazingly huge number of articles and blog posts on the subject, virtually all of them from conservatives. None of them, so far as I can tell, establish that the group has had any significant involvement in mortgage decisions, mainly because most subprime loans were made in areas where ACORN activists would never set foot. ACORN is being singled out by conservatives for a leading role in the crisis simply because it’s crucial to the whole CRA/Socialist/Minorities/Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/Obama narrative about the financial crisis. And that narrative is not simply all over the internet: it’s common on the airwaves as well, from Lou Dobbs to an assortment of “analysts” at Fox.
While some conservatives are careful not to get too explicit about the racial underpinnings of this argument, others aren’t.
[Note: this post by James Vega was originally published on September 30, 2008]
In the very brief recent period between John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate and his erratic behavior during the last few days, very serious and fundamental questions about McCain’s character, behavior and temperament have become widespread.
But observers have found difficulty in fitting McCain’s various behaviors into any single recognizable pattern. Each critique focuses on a different and apparently unrelated issue – his instability, recklessness, tolerance for mendacity and self-righteousness among others.
There is, however, one very interesting psychological framework that actually does seem to fit the broad pattern of behavior we are now seeing.
Consider the following personality profile:
1. The person is impulsive and does not think about consequences – he or she seems to embrace the philosophy – “just do it”
2, the person is a risk-taker and thrill-seeker. His or her conduct often seems reckless and blind to possible damage or harm. There is a lack of normal prudence and caution.
3. The person exhibits an attitude of “the rules don’t apply to me.” The person clearly understands the difference between right and wrong and even becomes outraged and furious when other people violate the rules. But the person simply cannot apply these rules to his or her own conduct. These individuals’ own violations are always “no big deal” or somehow justified by circumstances.
4. The person exhibits a significant degree of self-centeredness and narcissism – He or she seems to operate according to a philosophy of “it’s all about me”. These individuals have an inability to see events in a larger context than how they affect the person him or herself.
Gee. Seems pretty on the mark, doesn’t it.
Yet, in fact, the description above is actually a profile that is familiar to many people in the juvenile justice system – it is a description of the behavioral syndrome seen in many adolescents – often from stable, good families — who become enmeshed in the criminal justice system because of repeated delinquent behavior like speeding, drunk driving, promiscuity, low-level drug dealing or burglary (not for survival but “just for kicks”) and a whole panoply of other juvenile misbehavior.
Traditional psychological approaches were not very successful in developing a coherent theory to explain this behavioral syndrome. Until the mid-1980’s, in fact, the attempts to understand these different personality characteristics were usually presented in separate chapters of standard textbooks.
The revolutionary advances in cognitive neuroscience in the last 20 years, however – and particularly in CT and fMRI based brain imaging – have provided a dramatically new perspective. It has been found that, although these different personality characteristics are localized in a variety of locations within the brain, they all appear to be mediated (“densely interconnected,” in neurophysical terms) through the prefrontal cortex.
This fact, together with the discovery that the prefrontal cortex often does not completely develop until the early 20’s, has led to a tremendous rethinking of youthful delinquency. An emerging body of legal theory, in fact, considers that neural imaging of the prefrontal cortex may even provide a legal basis for a defense of diminished capacity in young adults.
But what does this possibly have to do with a 72 year old man with a long career in political life? John McCain is clearly not going to hotwire a Mustang and drive off on the beltway at 90 miles an hour.
The answer is that some individuals consistently tend toward the expression of these personality characteristics throughout their entire lifetimes. In McCain’s case simple observation also suggests two additional conclusions:
1. That the above noted, seemingly unrelated personality characteristics which McCain is exhibiting are actually part of a single, coherent behavioral syndrome.
2. That, for whatever reason, the expression of these characteristics in John McCain’s behavior has dramatically increased in recent months.
A number of years ago I observed as a leading expert in delinquent behavior delivered the news to the distraught parents of a young man that there was no easy answer or quick fix for their son’s behavior. The expert concluded:
“You just have to wait and trust that time will help to reduce his problematic conduct. In the meantime, just use common sense – don’t go out of town and leave him alone in the house, and –whatever you do – don’t give him the keys to the car.”
Gee, that sure sounds like good advice to me, doesn’t it.
(Note: this item from the TDS staff was originally published on September 6, 2008)
In modern politics it has become increasingly important to be able to present the Democratic perspective in either very brief, one or two sentence sound-bites or short, one paragraph summaries of major issues and perspectives.
The format of many political discussions on television and radio allows each participant to speak only a few words at a time before being interrupted. Many “roundtables” and other print discussions give each individual commentator space for only one or two paragraphs.
In this kind of communication environment, having a set of sharply worded, succinct statements of the Democratic position on major issues becomes critical.
The speakers at the recent Democratic Convention produced dozens of first-rate sound-bites and short, one-paragraph summaries of this kind. The TDS staff have brought together a large group of these quotes in a convenient format for use by Democratic spokespeople, citizen advocates and grass-roots supporters.
We believe you will find this collection quite useful during the coming weeks.
[Editor’s Note: this is the second item in a two-part series on Democratic communications strategy by James Vega. It was originally published on August 8, 2008] Print Version
With the recent appointment of Steven Schmidt and several other staffers to the highest levels of the McCain campaign, the political protégés of Karl Rove have now taken almost complete control. As a result Rove’s basic political strategy has been elevated to the core approach of the campaign.
At its heart, Karl Rove’s approach for the last 20 years has been an essentially class-based attack on Democrats – one that portrays them as representing an out-of-touch, educated elite who have little in common with average Americans. In this strategy, individual Democrats are not simply wrong about specific issues; their errors all arise from deep, pathological defects in their basic values and character.
This general strategy can be traced back to the campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968 and 1972. But one of Rove’s distinct additions was to recognize that attacks on a candidates’ character must be psychologically plausible – they must be fine-tuned to exploit weaknesses the opposing candidate actually appears to reflect in his behavior.
In this regard, Rove has always had an exceptionally sinister aptitude (one that is reminiscent of Hannibal Lector’s perverse but penetrating form of psychological insight) for being able to recognize subtle human weaknesses and frailties. For example, although Al Gore and John Kerry were both products of relatively advantaged, prep school environments and were clearly not working class “ordinary guys”, they were nonetheless quite distinct. On the one hand Gore was vulnerable to being portrayed as somewhat pompous, self-important and egotistic. Kerry, in contrast, invited the caricature of being a long-winded, detached, emotionally remote New England Yankee. The overall class-based frame worked for both men, but the political hit-man’s art lay in recognizing and exploiting the subtle variations between them.
Obama presents an even more complex challenge. Although meditative, professorial, articulate and elegant, he nonetheless does not fit the image of a typical left-wing college professor (or, for that matter, of a Black militant, a well-to-do New York limousine liberal or corrupt Chicago pol).
The solution the Rove team developed, only days after taking control of the McCain campaign, was to portray Obama as a resident of the rarified world of the “Hollywood movie star liberals” – a pampered universe of exclusive health and exercise clubs, expensive hotel suites and fancy bottled water. The implication was that, like other Hollywood stars, Obama must be “self-infatuated and effete” or “vain and out of touch” or “effete, elite and equivocal” – in short, a weak and vain man without real character; a male fashion model living a movie stars’ life and not the real life of ordinary Americans.
[Editor’s note: This is the first item of a two-part series on Democratic communications strategy by James Vega. It was originally published on August 6, 2008] Print Version
As the McCain campaign has rolled out its new, “Karl Rove style” personal attack on Barack Obama, Democrats have begun to feel a very familiar sense of frustration.
On the one hand, for many Democrats the “high road” taken by the Barack Obama campaign in replying to the attacks until several days ago did not seem adequately aggressive. At the same time, the DNC and other third party Democratic attacks on McCain’s close financial ties to oil companies and other lobbyists and his subservience to the policies of the Bush administration seem somehow to be glancing blows that do less damage to his personal image than do his attacks on Obama.
There is a reason for this. One fundamental element of the Karl Rove approach is to focus the most visceral and aggressive attacks on the opposing candidate’s character and personality rather than his policies. The recent Democratic attacks on McCain criticize, sometimes very bitterly, his positions and actions, but the Republican attacks on Obama are directly aimed at impugning his character.
In the past, Democrats often felt that focusing one’s attacks on an opposing candidates’ character was inappropriate – that politics should be about issues and policies, not personalities. But repeated muggings by the Rove Republicans have made many, if not most, Democrats now quite willing to respond to personal attacks in whatever way seems required.
The more difficult problem is that McCain is not, at first glance, an easy target for attacks on his character. His youthful military experience as a pilot and POW and his well-cultivated media reputation as an occasional “maverick” in the 80’s and 90’s present no obvious vulnerabilities. Current characterizations of him as old, ill-tempered, easily flustered and prone to blundering, while certainly true, are also essentially trivial. Comparing McCain to “The Simpsons’” Mr. Burns or to a clichéd grouchy grandpa simply has no meaningful political effect.
But, in fact, McCain is actually profoundly vulnerable to a powerful, aggressive and damaging attack on his character. McCain’s actions in recent weeks have provided compelling evidence for three genuinely disturbing propositions about his character, core values and integrity.
1. That John McCain has become desperate to win this election and is willing to sacrifice his deepest principles and his personal honor in order to do it
2. That the John McCain we see today is only a pale, diminished shadow of the man he once was in his early years.
3. That John McCain is allowing men he once despised and held in complete contempt to manipulate him and tell him what to do – to literally put words in his mouth and tell him what to say.
At first glance these statements are so strong that they sound almost defamatory. But each is supported by McCain’s recent actions (as described below) and they fit together into a single coherent narrative of ambition overcoming integrity and moral character.
Here is how this narrative can be presented in the format of a typical 45-60 second TV spot
Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to publish this Strategy Memo by Bruce W. Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy Studies and Political Science at Duke University. Dr. Jentleson is probably best known as the author ofAmerican Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century. This item was originally published on July 3, 2008. Here’s a Print Version of the piece.
His opposition to the Iraq war helped Barack Obama win the Democratic presidential nomination. Will it help him win the presidency?
It could and should, but isn’t necessarily helping him yet. Polls show Americans very strongly opposed to the Iraq war but not sure whether the anti-war Obama or pro-war John McCain will handle the issue better going forward. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer even issued a “bring it on” dare to “make the election about Iraq.”
Why this seeming paradox? And how can Obama translate opposition to the Iraq war to support for him?
Iraq needs to be addressed as a three-dimensional issue: (1) the war itself and the need to shift emphasis from what Obama is against to what he is for, and not just the calendar for getting out but the alternative strategy for doing so; (2) Iraq as a measure of Obama’s overall foreign policy capability, particularly passing the commander-in-chief test without getting trapped into the “I’ll bomb, too” Democratic wannabe role; and (3) Iraq as a temperature-taker as to whether this is another anti-military Democrat or someone who genuinely respects the institution, its people and its culture. Initial General Election Poll Data
Four main points should be made about Iraq and public opinion:
First, Iraq remains a crucial issue. The economy is now issue #1, with 33% saying in the June ABC-Washington Post poll that it would be the most important issue in their vote for president. But Iraq is issue #2 at 19%, with the next nearest issue being health care at 8%. While it’s true that Iraq was the top issue a year ago, the fact that it is still as high as it is amidst the worst economic problems in at least a quarter century and despite the surge having reduced the sense of immediate crisis shows real political staying power.
Second, the public remains very opposed to the war. On whether going to war was the right or wrong decision, the numbers are 38% vs. 54%; phrased as “whether it was worth fighting,” 34% yes – 63% no. Some credit is being given to the surge with the percentage saying we are winning up from 29% in January 2007 to 38% in June 2008 (ABC-Washington Post). But the same poll showed only 41% in support of keeping military forces in “until civil order is restored” and 55% opposing. The Newsweek June 18-19 poll giving options for keeping “large numbers of U.S. military personnel in Iraq” had 45% saying bring them home now or in less than one year, 20% saying within 1-2 years, 4% 3-5 years and 26% as long as it takes to achieve U.S. goals.
Third, Democrats are faring well on party preference questions for both Iraq and foreign policy generally. When asked which party would handle Iraq better, Democrats have been pretty consistently getting a 10+ margin, e.g., 50% to 34% in an April CBS-New York Times poll. On who would do a better job generally on foreign policy, the gap in recent polls varies but favors Democrats, 51-31 the largest margin, 45-40 the narrowest. Even the narrowest contrasts quite favorably with the strongly pro-Republican pattern that largely held for many years, including 47-28 in the early Reagan years; 60-26 in October 1991 after the first Gulf War; 51-33 in March 1994 amidst the early Clinton administration failures in Somalia and elsewhere; and 53-36 at the beginning of George W. Bush’s second term. Terrorism is the one issue on which Republicans still hold an advantage. Here the recent range goes from 47-40 to 31-30, although juxtaposed with disapproval of the Bush terrorism policy (57-38).
Fourth, though, is that when personalized to the presidential candidates, the assessments are more mixed. McCain was ahead 50-41 in an April poll on who would do a better job handling the Iraq war. This was down to 46-43 in a May poll, and 47-46 in a June poll (ABC-Washington Post). Obama does better on the differently phrased question on confidence to “make the right decisions about the war in Iraq”. When asked in February their overall confidence levels were comparable (58% McCain, 57% Obama) but within that those very confident in McCain were 27% while only 20% were very confident in Obama. The following month the candidates remained even at 56% in the overall numbers but McCain’s very confident number had fallen to 19% with Obama at 17%. Still, these are quite different from issue-based preferences on which the anti-Iraq margin is much more robust.
In sum, while Iraq is not McCain’s issue, it is much less Obama’s than it could be given the issue preferences.
Editor’s Note: The relative strength of the two parties among Hispanic voters is an enormous short-term and long-term challenge and opportunity for Democrats. Two notable academic experts on the subject–Michael Alvarez of Caltech and Jonathan Nagler of NYU–offer this timely take on Democratic prospects for winning the Hispanic vote this November. It was originally published at TDS on June 12, 2008. Winning the Hispanic Vote in 2008
by R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler Introduction
Historically, Democratic presidential candidates have done quite well with Hispanic voters (with some exceptions, such as Cuban-Americans). For the past three decades, Democratic presidential candidates have typically received more than 60% of the votes cast by Hispanics.
But in the 2004 presidential election, Hispanic support for John Kerry was lower than the historic norm. While there has been much debate over the exact percentage of support that Kerry received from Hispanic voters in 2004, a consensus has emerged that at best Kerry might have received 60% of the Hispanic vote. But no matter what we think the exact percentage was, Hispanic voters were attracted to Bush in greater percentages in 2004 than to any previous Republican presidential candidate in recent history (See David L. Leal, Matt A. Barreto, Jongho Lee, and Rodolfo O. de la Garza, “The Latino Vote in the 2004 Election”. PS: Political Science and Politics, v. 38, 41-49, 2005; Marisa A. Abrajano, R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler, “The Hispanic Vote in the 2004 Presidential Election: Insecurity and Moral Concerns”, Journal of Politics, forthcoming (April, 2008); David L. Leal, Stephen A. Nuno, Jongho Lee, and Rodolfo O. de la Garza, “Latinos, Immigration, and the 2006 Midterm Elections.” PS: Political Science and Politics, v. 41, 309-317, 2008.).
There are two questions that Kerry’s performance with Hispanic voters in the 2004 presidential election raises. One question is why — what was it about the context of the 2004 presidential election, and the messages articulated by Kerry and Bush, that caused more Hispanics to support Bush than is normal for a Republican presidential candidate? The second question is what does this imply for the 2008 presidential election — what strategies should the Barak Obama, the presumptive Democrat nominee, pursue to insure a stronger performance among Hispanic voters in November 2008?
In this article we provide answers for both of these questions.
This year, as always, Republicans will seek to create and exploit an advantage over Democrats in credibility on national security issues, despite George W. Bush’s terrible foreign policy record and John McCain’s identification with the war in Iraq. One recurring problem is that Democrats sometimes fail to fully engage on national security issues, viewing it as a “Republican issue.” And another is that some Democrats simply don’t feel comfortable talking about the larger issues of defense and military strategy.
Strategic consultant James Vega has written a five-part analysis of the challenges and opportunities for Democrats on military strategy. Part 1 is entitled: How the Democrats can argue with McCain and the Republicans on military strategy and
win. Part 2 is entitled: Iraq is not a “classic counter-insurgency;” it’s a full-blown civil war. Part 3 is entitled: The surge isn’t “working”, it’s just “postponing” — and in the long run it’s making things worse. Part 4 is entitled: The Republicans do have a military strategy – it’s called “Divide and Rule”, it takes at least 50 years, requires lots of casualties and – the half-hearted way we’re doing it – almost never works
And part 5 is a summary.
Late in the evening of the special election in PA-18 Tuesday night, before it was clear Democrat Conor Lamb had won, I offered some reflections at New York
While we don’t yet have a clear winner in this election, we do have a clear loser: the Republican Party. This was, as I argued some time ago, the “no-excuses” special election for the GOP. This congressional district is strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. Saccone wasn’t a perfect candidate, but he wasn’t a disaster like Roy Moore, either: He had enough outside money and enough get-out-the-vote help from the national party and conservative groups to counteract anything Lamb could throw at him. Plus, he had massive support from the president, his family, and his administration, in an iconic Trump Country district that almost perfectly typified the Rust Belt areas that decided the presidency. If Lamb wins, it will represent a historic disaster for the GOP. If Saccone wins, it will still send a stark warning sign to the majority party in the House as we head toward November.
Republican message-meister Frank Luntz put it plainly this evening:
Whatever the outcome tonight, #PA18 is an extremely bad omen for the @GOP.
Make no mistake: It is a leaning Republican district that is leaning no more.
Yes, this is a special election; some might imagine that in a regular election, such as the one in November, more Republican voters will show up. The problem with that hypothesis is that turnout today was at full midterm levels. There’s no reason to think turnout patterns in November will be more favorable for the GOP, particularly given the massive Trump administration attention that this district got during this contest.
Another Republican rationalization we have already heard from the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito is that Conor Lamb is not a real Democrat (because he was nominated by a convention and didn’t have to win the votes of left-bent primary voters), and thus his performance does not show how real Democrats will do in November. But, by any standard, Saccone is a real Republican who ran more than ten points behind the normal GOP vote in Pennsylvania’s 18th district. And Lamb was lifted to parity with Saccone by the very same labor movement — battered and diminished as it is — that will be fighting for Democrats in swing districts all over the country. Dismiss labor, dismiss energized rank-and-file Democrats, and dismiss the ability of the Donkey Party to find suitable candidates like Lamb, and you’re well on the way to underestimating the likelihood of a Democratic wave in November.
Yes, a lot of things can change between now and then. But we are now seeing a regular pattern of Democratic over-performance in special elections — whether they ultimately win or lose — spanning the entire Trump administration so far. This election may just be another data point among many, but put them together and they unambiguously show big trouble for Trump and his party. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if they can’t make it there (in southwest Pennsylvania), they can’t make it anywhere. And it’s time they woke up and smelled the bitter coffee.
As of this writing, Saccone still hasn’t conceded, despite his cause looking hopeless. But it could be some time before his party recovers from this one.