washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

What Democrats should keep in mind, however, is that whichever way he goes he is very likely going to betray his white working-class base — the people who put him into office — sooner or later. The “later” part is the most certain. Donald Trump does not have the power to bring back the Industrial Era economy he has so avidly embraced. He will not be able to reopen the coal mines, rebuild the manufacturing sector, or repeal the international economic trends that would exist with or without NAFTA or TPP. And for that matter, he has little ability to reverse the demographic and cultural trends most of his voters dislike.
–Ed Kilgore

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

“…The case he makes cogent and persuasive. If you’re anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re feeling pretty glum these days. Well, read this book.”
 —Michael Tomasky
E. J. Dionne Jr

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

Donald Trump cast himself as the champion of a besieged American working class and a defender of its interests. His early decisions tell us something very different: This could be the most anti-worker, anti-union crowd to run our government since the Gilded Age.
–E.J. Dionne Jr.

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

“…a powerful, provocative and persuasive case that progressives are in a better position than they realize to make our world better.”
—E.J. Dionne

The Daily Strategist

March 25, 2017

Political Strategy Notes

A New York Times op-ed by Stanley B. Greenberg and Anna Greenberg, “Was Barack Obama Bad for Democrats?” takes a nuanced look at the President’s political legacy: “President Obama will be remembered as a thoughtful and dignified president who led a scrupulously honest administration that achieved major changes…People argue over whether his impatience with politicians and Republican intransigence denied him bigger accomplishments, but that argument is beside the point: He rescued an economy in crisis and passed the recovery program, pulled America back from its military overreach, passed the Affordable Care Act and committed the nation to addressing climate change. To be truly transformative in the way he wanted, however, his success had to translate into electoral gains for those who shared his vision and wanted to reform government. On that count, Mr. Obama failed…His legacy regrettably includes the more than 1,000 Democrats who lost their elections during his two terms. Republicans now have total control in half of America’s states.”

Aropos of all of the discussion about whether or not Democrats should marshall resources to win back the white working-class, think on these stats from Guy Molyneux’s post, “Mapping the White Working Class: A deep dive into the beliefs and sentiments of the moderates among them“at The American Prospect: “Boosting white non-college moderates’ support for Clinton by just 5 percent or 6 percent would have delivered her the presidency. Democrats can lose the votes of every one of the 36 percent who are uneasy with America’s increasing diversity, and still make the progress required to win elections.”

Everybody is a quarterback on Monday morning, but it’s unlikely that all of Cenk Uygur’s points in the video below are wrong. Despite the cherry-picked unflattering photo on the cover, this video critique merits both serious consideration and a point-by-point rebuttal, where it’s needed:

From The Nation, here’s “Here’s an Organizing Strategy to Revive the Democratic Party That Doesn’t Depend on White Voters: Many Democrats assume it’s impossible to get more people of color to vote. That’s just not true” By Steve Phillips. “Clinton lost Michigan by 11,000 votes. Of those black folks in Michigan who did vote, 92 percent of them voted for Clinton, but 300,000 African Americans who were eligible to vote didn’t vote; 153,000 black voters in Michigan who came out for Obama in 2008 stayed home in 2016. Clinton lost Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes, and 400,000 African Americans who were eligible to vote didn’t cast ballots. In Arizona, the margin was 91,000 votes, and 600,000 Latinos who were eligible to vote were not mobilized to the polls…Lisa Garcia Bedolla, who literally wrote the book on Latino politics, has called for an affordable, effective, and sophisticated voter-engagement infrastructure she calls the Civic Web. The model is to use direct voter contact and long-term relationship building driven by neighborhood-based teams who work year-round in their communities with a universe of 100 people per team leader. The civic-web model would cost about $3 million to move 100,000 voters. By those metrics, margins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona could more than have been closed at a fraction of the cost of what was spent on television ads…In 2017, progressives can lay the foundation for the expansion of civic engagement of those voters who have shown the greatest propensity for supporting Democrats (74 percent of people of color supported Clinton; 80.5 percent for Obama). The way to do this is by targeting local races in strategic states whose demographics are trending in a progressive direction.”   These are good ideas, but the argument that Democrats can create a stable majority of the electorate without getting at least a healthier share of white working-class voters was largely discredited on November 8th.

Even though Hillary Clinton lost neartly all of the southern states, Georgia has emerged as the next likely major ‘purple’ state, where she lost by a smaller margin, 5 percent, than her defeat margins in both Ohio (8.6 percent) and Iowa (9.6 percent). Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution  has the best update on Democratic prospects in the Peach State so far. Bluestein notes, “Minority voters make up about 40 percent of the state’s electorate, but they don’t pack the same punch at the polls. Case in point: Fewer than half of registered African-American men cast ballots this year. The voter registration group [House Minority Leader Stacey] Abrams started, the New Georgia Project, aims to persuade 800,000 unregistered minority Georgians to sign up to vote by 2024. She said the party will focus next year on boosting funding for schools in poverty-stricken areas and continue to push for the expansion of Medicaid – two issues popular with the party’s base.”

“A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday found Democratic and independent voters lukewarm on a handful of party leaders and most excited for “someone entirely new,” reports Eli Watkins at CNN: “Just over 22% of respondents said Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s failed candidate in the 2016 election, would excite them, while almost 15% said her running in 2020 would “make no difference” and about 62% said she should not run…Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders both fared about twice as well as Clinton, but still failed to elicit excitement from a majority of respondents…After publicly toying with the idea of running in 2020, Biden said he had no intention to do so. If he were to run and win, the current vice president would be 78 years old at the time of taking office. Sanders would be 79, and Trump would be 74…Meanwhile, about a third of respondents said they would be excited by a 2020 bid from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren…”

“Governor’s races aren’t the sexiest in politics, but it’s hard to overstate how important the seven listed below are. They won’t just chart the future of their states; they also may determine whether Democrats can get back on their feet in Congress and in key state legislatures at any point in the next 15 years. Democrats estimate they could pick up as many as 10 or more seats in the House of Representatives if they can have a say in post-2020 redistricting, and they’ve launched a new redistricting effort aided by President Obama to try to make that happen…“I truly believe that if we don’t win these states races — particularly governors’ races — in 2018, we are going to have another decade of lost Democratic leaders,” said Elisabeth Pearson, the executive director of the Democratic Governors’ Association.” – From “The Democratic Party’s future could be on the line in 7 hugely important governor’s races” by Ambder Phillips and Aaron Blake at The Fix.

At Governing the States and Localities, Mike Maciag writes: “A study conducted by Portland State University tallied voter turnout in the most recent mayoral elections in the 30 largest cities. It found that residents 65 years and older were a median of seven times more likely to vote than those ages 18 to 34, who frequently registered turnout rates in the single digits. “There’s an enormous disconnect with younger citizens in understanding the impact that local governments have,” says Phil Keisling, director of the university’s Center for Public Service. “They’re ceding to their grandparents the political decisions.”

In her post “Why the white working class votes against itself,” WaPo’s Catherine Rampell outs the strong undercurrent of bigoted racial stereotypes that many Trump voters embraced: “...A recent YouGov/Huffington Post survey found that Trump voters are five times more likely to believe that “average Americans” have gotten less than they deserve in recent years than to believe that “blacks” have gotten less than they deserve. (African Americans don’t count as “average Americans,” apparently.)…We’ve known for a long time, through the work of Martin GilensSuzanne Mettler and other social scientists, that Americans (A) generally associate government spending with undeserving, nonworking, nonwhite people; and (B) are really bad at recognizing when they personally benefit from government programs.”


Final Results in a Crazy Close Presidential Election

The longest, strangest campaign year since, well, 2000, is finally over. I had some appropriately ruminative thoughts about it all at New York this week:

The final shoe to drop that really matters to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election fell yesterday as the Electoral College lifted Donald Trump to the White House, ending quite possibly the most unlikely winning bid for the office ever. Today we have the denouement: the final certified popular vote returns from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2,864,974, which is 2.1 percent of the total vote. That is the second-largest margin (by percentage) by which anyone who lost the electoral vote has won the popular vote since the 1824 election, which was actually resolved by the U.S. House. The still-all-time champion among votes decided by the Electoral College remains the 1876 contest (wherein the “loser,” Samuel Tilden, actually won the popular vote by 3 percent), but that’s a misleading precedent since a bipartisan commission adjudicated disputed electoral votes and the whole thing was the subject of a vast bargain which, among other things, ended congressional Reconstruction of the South. Clinton’s margin significantly exceeds that of the most recent victim of the Electoral College, Al Gore in 2000, who won the popular vote by a mere 543,816. Whatever indirect assistance Trump may have received from a certain country where vodka is very popular, he did not need judicial intervention to prevail, the way George W. Bush did.

In the end, Trump won by taking three key battleground states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) by a combined margin of 77,744 votes. That, my friends, is crazy close in an election where more than 136 million votes were cast: just over one-twentieth of one percent of the vote. And that is why the debate over the reasons for the electoral-vote outcome may never end: It’s the kind of swing-state margin that could have been caused by any of the big things we have all been talking about, such as James Comey’s reminders of the email “scandal,” strategic leaks from Russian hacks, or a strategic error by the Clinton campaign about where its resources were committed. But it’s also small enough to be caused by tiny and remote things, like tactical decisions on the very last day, the weather, election-law decisions made years ago, or the tides of the moon….

We will never really know why Donald Trump appeared to be the luckiest and Hillary Clinton the unluckiest candidate in history in terms of the distribution of votes. But we will live with the consequences for far longer than even the longest postmortem.


Molyneux: How Dems Can Win Enough Moderate White Working-Class Voters

Guy Molyneux, partner and senior vice president at Peter Hart Research Associates, probes the political attitudes of moderates in the white working-class at The American Prospect. Molyneux, who also directs the trade union research division of Hart Research, argues that Democrats can connect with this pivotal constituency in substantial ways.

Molyneux writes that “Progressives must recognize that the white working class is not a monolith, but contains a wide diversity of political views.” He acknowledges that “About half of non-college-educated whites identify as conservatives, and nearly all of them have become reliable Republican voters.” But he also notes that the white working-class includes “a small group of liberals, who regularly vote for Democrats.” In addition, however,

In between is a critically important subset of potentially persuadable voters, the white working-class moderates, or “WWCMs.” About 35 percent of working-class whites have moderate or “middle of the road” political views, which means WWCMs represent about 15 percent of the overall electorate, or approximately 23 million registered voters. While Trump won the working class conservatives by an overwhelming 85 points (Clinton got a mere 6 percent), he had a much smaller 26-point margin among the WWCMs. That margin is double Mitt Romney’s 13-point edge in 2012, and this swing had a decisive impact. If Clinton had performed as well as Obama with those moderates, it would have doubled her national popular vote margin from 2 percent to 4 percent. Even if she had just lost ground among these voters at the same rate she did among white working-class conservatives, she would almost certainly have won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

On behalf of Americans for a Fair Deal, Molyneux conducted “a deep study of these moderate working-class white voters,” including focus groups in Montgomery, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Appleton, Wisconsin; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Rather than focusing on the presidential candidates,” writes Molyneux, “we held broader discussions about the nation and its political system, and explored both the barriers and opportunities that progressives face in working-class communities.” Molyneux reports that the study’s findings confirmed “that progressives could make inroads with these voters in the future, and take an important first step forward in identifying strategies for reaching them.” Further,

…White working-class moderates do perceive a decline of moral values in our nation, but the values these working people fear losing include progressive values as well as conservative ones. Many are disturbed by what they perceive as a rise in selfishness and lack of concern for others, calling for more “compassion” and more support for those who need it, especially veterans and the disabled.

…White working-class voters do not perceive progressives (or Democrats) to better represent their economic concerns. Polling showed that voters overall divided fairly evenly on whether Donald Trump (46 percent) or Hillary Clinton (42 percent) would do a better job of dealing with the economy, yet Trump enjoyed a 27-point advantage (57 percent to 30 percent) on this question among non-college whites, and an enormous 42-point advantage among non-college white men. This result cannot be explained by Trump’s intermittent economic populism. In 2015, by 73 percent to 27 percent, white working-class voters said that the federal government, far from helping them, had made it harder for them to achieve their goals, and by a 4-to-1 ratio said that the federal government’s economic impact was negative.

…we saw no evidence that these voters have rejected a progressive economic policy agenda. As confirmed in numerous polls, many elements of that agenda—higher taxes on the wealthy, reining in Wall Street, ensuring paid leave for workers—are popular. But these voters’ somewhat abstract desire for more progressive economic policies is undercut and overwhelmed by their deeply negative view of government, which includes a strong aversion to spending and government intervention in the economy. While they are economic progressives, in important respects they are also fiscal conservatives.

“To a disturbing extent,” continues Molyneux, “these working-class voters have rejected politics as a meaningful way of improving their communities or nation…It would be hard to overstate the disconnect WWCMs feel from current politicians, whom they see not only as greedy and self-interested, but also as out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. The principal political division perceived by these working-class voters is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between politicians and ordinary people.” He adds:

They see Democrats as working on behalf of a series of interest groups rather than the public interest. In their view, the allocation of government benefits reflects political calculation, not any moral or economic principles, with both parties lavishing benefits on their respective constituencies. The GOP version (handouts for the wealthy) may be less attractive, but from the white working-class perspective both stories translate into “not for me.”

And Democrats emphatically do not have to “win” the majority of the white working-class. “Boosting white non-college moderates’ support for Clinton by just 5 percent or 6 percent would have delivered her the presidency,” notes Molyneux. “Democrats can lose the votes of every one of the 36 percent who are uneasy with America’s increasing diversity, and still make the progress required to win elections.

But Democrats have to get smarter about how to reach working-class moderates. As Molyneux puts it, “Community organizations and non-elected community leaders must be the “tip of the spear” as progressives seek to engage white working-class communities.” While proposals to make college more afordable and community colleges tuition-free are popular, Molyneux argues,

Many working-class voters (and others) worry that public schools focus exclusively on preparing students for college, while neglecting the equally important task of preparing non-college-bound students for successful transitions into the workforce. They enthusiastically endorse proposals to provide quality vocational education, apprenticeships, and other programs that would expand opportunities for young Americans—including many of their own children and grandchildren—who are unlikely to pursue a four-year degree after high school.

Going forward, Democratic candidates must pay more attention to the concerns of working-class moderates. Molyneux concludes that “we did find clear openings that give progressives a chance for productive dialogue and engagement with the white working class…If progressives are willing to engage them in a smart and targeted way, they will make significant gains within white working-class communities in the years ahead.”


Where Trump Voters Want More Federal Spending, Protection and Cuts

From The Hill, Nikita Vladimirov presents interesting data from a new Glover Park Group (GPG) poll conducted by Morning Consult, which indicates Trump voters want to see a lot more federal spending than do traditional conservatives. Among the Findings:

…A majority of Trump voters said that they believe in keeping the power of numerous federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Departments of Education, Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

“This poll shows that the coalition that supported President-elect Trump values and has distinct priorities for the role of government, and isn’t making the same demands as traditional conservatives for across-the-board cuts,” said the senior vice president of research at GPG, Katie Cissel.

The poll found that Trump voters also support increases in government spending on immigration enforcement, the military, homeland security, infrastructure and Social Security, while supporting decreases in foreign aid and welfare…They also express support for maintaining the spending levels of the current administration in the environment, healthcare and public education,” Cissel noted.

Of particular interest to progressives who want a mjor investment in infrastructure improvement: “A majority of Trump voters, 53 percent, also expressed support for his proposed $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, with 20 percent saying that the sum is too large and 11 percent stating that it is too low.”

Where Republicans are uflagging champions of deregulation, Trump voters, as a whole, take a more measureds approach. “The poll found that 76 percent support forcing manufacturers to produce more energy efficient appliances, 84 percent are in favor of drinking water regulations, 78 percent are supportive of air pollution restrictions and 61 percent are in favor of mandatory carbon emissions regulations for businesses.”

It would appear, from, this data, that Trump’s cabinet picks are completely antagonistic to the political attitudes of Trump voters towards public safety regulations and consumer protection. This suggests a potentially-productive opening for Democrats in blocking the Trump cabinet’s plan to unravel the social reforms of the last half-century. Democrats who take a strong stand for consumer protection and public safety regulations will have significant public support, even among Trump voters.

After Trump is inaugurated and the new congress is sworn-in, the Republicans are going to play the de-regulation card as fiercely as they can; that has been as much of a unifying principle for them as anything, other than tax cuts for the rich. But the Morning Consult/Glover Park Group poll clearly demonstrates that the public, including Trump voters, is highly skeptical about deregulation and its effects on public safety and consumer protection. This is going to be a very tough sell for them — provided Democrats take a firm stand, and in the words of Democratic strategist James Carville, “expose and educate” relentlessly until the message that the GOP’s deregulation project poses a dire threat to the health and well-being of American families is broadly-understood.


Bipartisan Cooperation with Trump on Infrastructure Looks Like a Bad Bet

Now that the “we can stop Trump in the Electoral College” fantasy has been exhausted, the debate in the Democratic Party now centers on how much faith Dems should have in the possibilities for bipartisan cooperation with Trump. At The New Republic Graham Vyse takes a hard line in his article, “Democrats Should Stop Talking About Bipartisanship and Start Fighting” and argues:

There are innumerable reasons for Democrats to adopt the exact same strategy congressional Republicans took on day one of Barack Obama’s presidency, denying him any bipartisan support for signature initiatives. Trump is far less popular than Obama was in late 2008, so an opposition strategy based on refusal and obstruction wouldn’t carry much political risk. And given Trump’s utter moral bankruptcy, he’s also far less deserving of their comity and collaboration.

There’s another benefit to this approach: We know, thanks to the Republicans, that it works.

Some Democratic leaders believe that Trump’s statements favoring infrastructure investment open the door to possible collaboration. William A. Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, “said he’s “heard from people quite close” to House Speaker Paul Ryan that greater public investment in infrastructure might be negotiable.” Further,

“If the Trump administration proposes something that, with negotiation, can be made consistent with the public interest, we ought to negotiate,” Galston said. “When its ideas are bad, we should reject them and propose better ones, and when its actions threaten basic constitutional norms and institutions, we should resist by all means possible.”

It’s a reasonable approach, provided a strong emphasis on consistency with the public interest, proposing  better approaches and “resisting by all means possible,” when necessary. However, warns Vyse,

In a normal political environment, with a normal president-elect, this kind of open-minded posture would be laudable. But it looks impractical in the current environment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put Trump on notice about public infrastructure spending, saying “I hope we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus,” and there’s every indication the president-elect will defer to congressional conservatives on policy details. Besides, if McConnell is this quick to push back on Trump from the right, why would he let Schumer shift policy to the left? Nothing about this transition period suggests Republicans are amenable to compromise with Democrats—not Trump’s appointments and nominations, not the GOP’s behavior in Congress, and certainly not all of the crowing from the likes of Gingrich.

In his post, “Collaborating With Donald Trump Is Doomed to Fail” at New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait put it in even stronger terms:

…The entire last eight years have been a Republican social-science experiment dedicated to proving that they can be as partisan, crazy, dangerous, and racist as they want without adverse political effect. What this tells Democrats is that working with Trump is the surest way to help him win reelection and his party to maintain its control of Congress.

In reality, his administration is a bonanza for economic elites. The Democratic Party should be repeating every word of this Ben White story in Politico, which reports, “Wall Street bankers and their Washington lobbyists are quietly celebrating.” Trump’s administration is stuffed with Wall Street bankers, and it is poised to shower them with tax breaks and lax regulation. What’s more, Trump himself is engaging in unprecedented levels of corruption by intermingling his public office and the continuation of his business. He and his family are almost certainly going to enrich themselves through power, and their nondisclosure policy will mean the public will have no accountability. The only actual accountability mechanism for this dangerous kleptocracy is an opposition party that hammers every Trump decision as potential self-dealing. The correct infrastructure strategy, for instance, is to define an opposing pro-infrastructure plan while lambasting Trump’s as a crooked giveaway that will make his rich business pals richer without much of anything to repair infrastructure. This attack line appeals to intuitive cynicism about politicians, and also happens to be accurate.

Winning on economic populism means blowing up Trump’s reputation as the friend of the little guy. To accommodate his claim to help the working class, by legitimizing his plans for infrastructure or child care, is to surrender. Again, there may be vital substantive or humanitarian cases where the Democrats should sacrifice their political interest in order to cooperate with Trump. But the idea that cooperating will help their party is simply wrong.

Collaborating with Trump in some ways might make sense for Democrats, if his cabinet picks had indicated a reaching out to Democrats, instead of an “in-your-face, progressives” attitude. Democrats have no choice now, other than perceiving Trump’s cabinet as designed for scorched-earth warfare to repeal and undermine all of the social programs from the New Deal forward. Indeed, Trump, Ryan, McConnell and other Repubican leaders have argued that infrastructure investments should be funded by budget cuts elsewhere, which most likely includes putting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other safety net programs on the chopping block. Democrats who go along with that are inviting further disaster.


Political Strategy Notes – Electoral College Decision Edition

You probably have a better chance of winning the powerball jackpot than Trump not being inaugurated, but the effort to persuade 37 of the 305 members of the Electoral College who are expected to vote for  Trump to ditch him has intensified impressively. Thus far, only one elector has announced his intention of switching his vote. But, in his Washington Post article, “In last-shot bid, thousands urge electoral college to block Trump at Monday vote,” Robert Samuels provides some interesting observations on the topic, including “Amid the uncertainty caused by Russian influence, 10 electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — asked for an intelligence briefing to get more information about Moscow’s role.” However, adds Samuels, “No one knows for sure how many are considering alternate votes; estimates vary from one to 25.” One elector cited by Samuels is getting 50 letters a day and 3000 emails.

Right on time, Trump has just presented his 305 electors with yet another reason to switch their vote, well-encapsulated in the Washington Post headline “China said it would return a seized U.S. naval drone. Trump told them to ‘keep it.’ As the authors, Missy Ryan and Emily Rauhala report, Trump’s Saturday night tweet “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!” adds to growing doubts about his commitment to America’s national security. “The comment could prolong one of the most serious incidents between the U.S. and Chinese militaries in recent memory,” write  Rauhala and Trump, “potentially complicating ties ahead of Trump’s inauguration.” They cite a mocking editorial from Beijing’s The Global Times, “Before Trump’s generous announcement that he didn’t want the drone back, the Pentagon had already announced publicly that they have asked China to return the ‘illegally seized’ [unmanned underwater vehicle] through appropriate governmental channels,”

Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip meddling in the incident may have actually provoked the drone seizure, reports Paulina Firozi at The Hill: “Some have suggested that China’s initial seizure of the drone was a response to the president-elect’s phone call with Taiwan’s leader earlier this month…Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen have both downplayed the significance of the conversation, but China formally protested the call, which broke with decades of U.S. protocol.”

WaPo’s political reporter Dan Balz also has some serious questions about Trump’s competence and commitment to defend U.S. national security, which the electors ought to consider: “…If standing up to Russian attempts to interfere with American democracy isn’t a foundational principle of an “America first” policy, what is? Trump’s response has suggested a different focus and different philosophy, one that might be described as “Trump first,” rather than “America first.” His instincts appear to be aimed at shielding himself…On top of all this is the president-elect’s apparent lack of interest in receiving daily intelligence briefings, a standard procedure for presidents. That raises questions about how he plans to conduct foreign policy. Will he seek all available evidence as he weighs decisions? Whom will he listen to and trust? And will he ever have a trusting relationship with the vast intelligence-gathering resources at his command?”

It’s not gonna happen because the request has been denied, but a “Majority Want Monday’s Electoral College Vote Postponed In Wake Of Russia Scandal: New Poll,” notes HuffPo Washington, D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim. “A majority of American voters favor delaying the December 19th Electoral College vote until electors can be fully briefed on Russian interference in the election, according to a new poll conducted by YouGov.  The survey, sponsored by the progressive advocacy group Avaaz, found 52 percent of people supportive of stalling the vote, set to take place Monday…A surprisingly high number of people ― 46 percent ― were also willing to support so-called “faithless electors,” the name given members of the Electoral College who spurn the vote of their home state and vote for a different candidate instead…Some states mandate that electors vote the way their state instructs, but the the 10th Circuit Court ruled late on Friday that such laws are unconstitutional.”

The hope that the Electoral College will elect Hillary Clinton president is even less likely to be fulfilled  than Trump being denied the presidency. But Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, a former Democratic presidential candidate, nonetheless makes a compelling case for Trump electors switching to Clinton, as the winner of the popular vote by a margin approaching 3 million. “…There is an especially good reason for them [the presidential electors] not to nullify what the people have said — the fundamental principle of one person, one vote. We are all citizens equally. Our votes should count equally. And since nothing in our Constitution compels a decision otherwise, the electors should respect the equal vote by the people by ratifying it on Dec. 19…The framers left the electors free to choose. They should exercise that choice by leaving the election as the people decided it: in Clinton’s favor.”

In an MSNBC interview by Chuck Todd, Lessig raised eyebrows with his claim that 20-30 electors have indicated an interest in switching votes away from Trump. Lessig has created an organization, “Elector’s Trust, which “provides free and strictly confidential legal support to any Elector who wishes to vote their conscience…The Electors Trust will defend your right to exercise your “independent and nonpartisan judgment.”…We will defend you against any fines or legal claims that might threaten the freedom of your vote…If you are an Elector, we will also allow you to know how many others like you there are. How many, not who. Because we will never reveal any Elector’s views, to anyone, ever…If you’re a conscientious Elector, and you’d like advice or support, send an email to ElectorsTrust@durietangri.com. Your name, email address and any other personal information will be kept strictly confidential.”

At Vox, however, Andrew Prokop’s “The last-ditch push for the Electoral College to stop Trump, explained” throws a load of ice-water on the whole project: “…This particular batch of electors is highly unlikely to defect from Trump because of who they are — generally, they’re Republican Party stalwarts or activists chosen during state party deliberations, as the excellent Politico feature “The People Who Pick the President” makes clear. Almost always, the parties do a good enough job of vetting their respective electoral slates to ensure that they will indeed loyally back their party’s presidential nominee. And while some Trump skeptics are electors, the vast majority of them have said they’d affirm the results in their states.” And, even in the unlikley event that the election was thrown into the House — the most probable  scenario if 37 Trump electors defect — odds are the house would pick Trump anyway, since most House Republicans have already lined up to kiss his ring.

Getting real, the best argument for continuing to encourage Trump electors to switch is to further undermine his case for a “mandate.” Not that it would influence Trump’s decision-making, such as it is. But it can’t hurt to remind congress that there is considerable doubt about his policies and judgement, even among his electors, and congress has a responsibility to check his worst ideas and limit the damage he does to America’s future. Still, there shouldn’t be much doubt among those who take the trouble to actually read the “Hamilton Electors” credo in The Federalist Papers: #68 that the best purpose of the Electoral College is to deny someone so manifestly unfit the power to run our government, and we have never had a better reason to use it for exactly that reason. That it won’t be so applied when it is most needed clinches the argument that the Electoral College should be abolished in favor of dirtect, popular election of the President of the United States.


Will Trump Rubber-Stamp Congressional GOP Budget?

As we get closer to the fateful day when Donald Trump becomes president, there remains a lot of mystery about what, exactly, he and congressional Republicans plan to do. I speculated about the role of the budget in this scenario at New York this week:

After November 8, the prospect of sweeping budget legislation implementing long-desired conservative policies gained even more ground, with talk of a really early budget bill that would address urgent GOP priorities like the repeal of Obamacare and defunding of Planned Parenthood — perhaps to be whipped through Congress in time to arrive on Trump’s desk when the Oval Office is still full of boxes to be unpacked. There’s been a lot of talk about how, exactly, this momentous bill will handle the difficult question of how quickly to phase out Obamacare, and the differences of opinion among congressional Republicans on that subject. But no one seems to doubt the reconciliation train, whatever its exact cargo, is coming down the track very rapidly.

A lot of Congress watchers assume Paul Ryan always has a budget bill in his pocket, ready for use at a moment’s notice. Senate Republican leaders also have a lot of experience in drafting budget legislation, thanks to their many efforts to force Barack Obama to veto their work.

But what about the new administration’s input? If a January Budget Blitz is in the offing, you wouldn’t guess that from the scant attention apparently being given to budget matters in the Trump transition effort. As longtime budget maven Stan Collender has pointed out, the many Cabinet appointments made so far do not include a director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“Yes, OMB isn’t the only major cabinet position that hasn’t yet been announced. But given all of the budget-related work that Trump will be have to face early next year – a 2017 budget resolution in January or February, a debt ceiling suspension that expires in March, the possibility of a government shutdown when the continuing resolution runs out at the end of April and the possible submission of a 2018 budget, not to mention budget-related issues such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act – you would think that the selection of the OMB director would be one of the president-elect’s most pressing needs.”

But no. And more surprising still, as Collender earlier reported, there’s some buzz that Trump could break every precedent by refraining from submitting his own federal budget for the fiscal year that will begin next October.

Now that might help explain why an OMB director is not a very high priority for Team Trump. But what does that say about administration involvement in a Budget Blitz, whether it is in January or later on (whatever is leftover from the first budget bill — including major tax and spending cuts — will probably be rolled over into a second and much larger bill later in the year)?

Two possible explanations come to mind right away. The first is that Trump intends to outsource budget policy to congressional Republicans for the time being, letting Ryan & Co. have their way with the evisceration of liberal programs and policies they have been rehearsing for the last eight years. That would certainly make those conservatives who have so conspicuously distrusted Trump very happy, and would probably convince them to let the new president pursue his own policy hobbies in other areas without a lot of GOP carping.

The more unsettling possibility from the GOP point of view is that Team Trump simply hasn’t come to grips with budget policy and personnel just yet, and will at some point abruptly put the brakes on any Ryan Express aimed at setting federal spending and revenue priorities very early next year. One can imagine the pleasure presidential chief strategist Stephen Bannon would take in calling up Ryan and telling him to cool his jets on any budget bills until otherwise instructed by the White House.

Which is the right explanation? I certainly don’t know. But if there’s any significant chance Trump and congressional Republicans are on very different pages when it comes to how they will together reshape the federal government and its funding, the prospects for GOP unity that have been glimmering on the horizon since November 8 could turn out to represent a false dawn.

The issue has major implications for the opposition party, too, of course. If Republicans on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are ready to rock and roll with one or more budget bills to be dealt with on up-or-down votes that cannot be delayed by filibuster, then Democrats’ only hope is to close ranks and fight like hell to turn the three Senate Republicans they’ll need to throw a monkey wrench into the process. But if behind the scenes the White House is planning some nasty surprises for Paul Ryan and other conventional Republicans eager to enact his budget blueprint, then Democrats may simply need to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show.


Moyers and Winship: The Cost of Putin’s Meddling in Our Elections

In their post, “Trumped by Putin: There are lots of reasons why Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump won, but the hacking of our election by Russia’s Vladimir Putin is the most frightening” Michael Winship and Bill Moyers sound an alarm at Moyers & Company, which the Electoral College ought to consider before casting their votes:

As we all know, The Washington Post and The New York Times recently reported just how deeply Russian hackers invaded the computers of the Democratic Party, a move intended to confuse voters with leaked excerpts of emails and other documents and thus throw a monkey wrench into the election. Now The Post reports that the CIA believes the Russian meddling was deliberately intended to help sway the vote in Trump’s favor. And NBC News says it was Putin himself who “personally directed” those leaks

….It is, in the words of former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who briefed George W. Bush on 9/11 but supported Hillary Clinton this year, “an attack on our very democracy. It’s an attack on who we are as a people. A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11.”

Nancy LeTourneau notes at Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog, “To understand what is happening here, it is important to reject the old Cold War frame about a contest between capitalism and communism. Russia has long since ceased to be a country built on the teachings of Karl Marx and has evolved into a right-wing ethno-nationalist plutocracy.”

So why did Putin do it? The most important reason, accoding to Michael McFaul, the former American ambassador to Russia: “He wants to discredit American democracy and make us weaker in terms of leading the liberal democratic order. And most certainly he likes President-elect Trump’s views on Russia.” According to former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson it may be “the largest intelligence coup since the cracking of the Enigma code during World War II.” Further, Moyers and Winship write:

Did Trump or members of his staff know what was going on? Probably. Remember that Trump’s first campaign manager Paul Manafort — the “King of K Street” lobbyists — had pro-Russian factions as clients; his name with multimillion amounts beside it was found in a log of financial transactions after he had helped Putin’s friends in the Ukraine. When word began to spread of these ties, Manafort left the campaign. He is now back in Trump’s graces and, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, positioned to reap the  harvest of his relationship with Trump and his merry band of crony capitalists. It could be most revealing to hear what Manafort would say, under oath, about his intercession between Trump and Putin.

And just how extensive are our president-elect’s ties to Russian oligarchs? How much does he owe Russian banks? Now we may know more exactly why Trump has refused to release his tax returns; they could be full of clues about his foreign creditors. We’d learn more if he’d divest his business interests, too, but he won’t. We do know that Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And there’s more to come as Putin and Trump mix and mingle Russian oligarchs with American plutocrats.

“Not only does this increasingly seem like yet another step in Putin’s worldwide subversion of liberal democratic beliefs and Trump’s desire to enrich his family and cronies by surrounding himself with multimillionaires and billionaires known for their predatory appetites,” write Moyers and Winship, “it is one more step to a planet dominated by international oligarchs and kleptocrats…”

These are sobering insights to add to the fact that Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes for President than did Trump. On Monday the electors have a patriotic duty to give them serious consideration before deciding whether or not they want to become accomplices to thwarting the will of the people.


Political Strategy Notes

In his nationally-syndicated column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. provides the best argument thus far for the Electoral College rejecting Trump’s victory claim: “Memo to the electoral college that votes next Monday: Our tradition — for good reason — tells you that your job is to ratify the state-by-state outcome of the election. The question is whether Trump, Vladimir Putin and, perhaps, Clinton’s popular-vote advantage give you sufficient reason to blow up the system…One passage from Federalist 68 seems eerily relevant to the present circumstance. Hamilton wrote that the electors could be a barrier against “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” Hamilton asked: “How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”…The CIA’s finding that Russia actively intervened in our election to make Trump president is an excellent reason for the electors to consider whether they should exercise their independent power. At the very least, they should be briefed on what the CIA knows, and in particular on whether there is any evidence that Trump or his lieutenants were engaged with Russia during the campaign….Trump himself said in July of Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” By publicly inviting a foreign power to intervene in our election, Trump put himself ahead of the nation’s interest in holding an election that would be untainted by foreign meddling. It is one of many reasons conscientious electors might decide that Trump is unfit to be president and may even be a danger to the country”

Conservative columnist Katheen Parker agrees that the Electoral College should dump Trump for a litany of good reasons. But she urges “Republican electors to defect — not to cede the election to Hillary Clinton but to join with Democrats in selecting a compromise candidate, such as Mitt Romney or John Kasich. It wouldn’t be that hard to do.”

Democrats at Crossroads: Win Back Working-Class Whites, or Let Them Go?” by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at The New York Times could have given more consideration to the non-binary strategic option. True, there are Democrats who argue for writing off the white working-class, and those who say, no, Dems must focus on winning them back. But other Democratic strategists don’t see it as an either-or choice, arguing instead that winning just a modest segment of this large demographic group could secure a stable Democratic majority in the years ahead. In addition to more inclusive messaging to get at least a larger cross-section of working-class whites, a follow-up article probing the possibilities of targeting a sub-segment of the white working class (e.g. seniors, rural voters or unionized workers) might be interesting.

Dahlia Lithwick and David S. Cohen have a NYT op-ed, “Buck Up, Democrats, and Fight Like Republicans,” which makes a compelling case that the Democratic Party has accepted Trump’s Electoral College victory claim way too easily. The op-ed includes several provocative observations, among them: “There’s no shortage of legal theories that could challenge Mr. Trump’s anointment, but they come from outsiders rather than the Democratic Party. Impassioned citizens have been pleading with electors to vote against Mr. Trump; law professors have argued that winner-take-all laws for electoral votes are unconstitutional; a small group, the Hamilton Electors, is attempting to free electors to vote their consciences; and a new theory has arisen that there is legal precedent for courts to give the election to Mrs. Clinton based on Russian interference. All of these efforts, along with the grass-roots protests, boycotts and petitions, have been happening without the Democratic Party. The most we’ve seen is a response to the C.I.A. revelations, but only with Republicans onboard to give Democrats bipartisan cover…Contrast the Democrats’ do-nothingness to what we know the Republicans would have done. If Mr. Trump had lost the Electoral College while winning the popular vote, an army of Republican lawyers would have descended on the courts and local election officials. The best of the Republican establishment would have been filing lawsuits and infusing every public statement with a clear pronouncement that Donald Trump was the real winner. And they would have started on the morning of Nov. 9, using the rhetoric of patriotism and courage.”

In her Washington Post column, “How to mount a progressive resistance,” Katrina vanden Heuval provides an inspiring account of reform campaigns across the nation at the state and local level, which offer hope to those who are discouraged by Trump’s Electoral College majority. Vanden Heuval concludes that “Trump, of course, still can wreak havoc, stripping millions of health care, trashing America’s leadership role in addressing climate change, unleashing a new lawless era of crony capitalism and sowing division rather than decency. But even with Republicans in control of Congress, neither he nor his Cabinet of bankers, billionaires and generals will have a free hand. Resistance will come, not only in the streets but also from leaders in states and cities who are intent on making America better.”

More rays of hope — and an excellent action agenda for Democrats — from “The voting rights manifesto: a state-by-state plan to defend democracy,” a Vox post by Daniel Nichanian: “As Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections has documented, automatic voting proposals can be directly submitted to voters in at least 20 states. This process has already started in Nevada, where activists affiliated with the organization iVote collected enough signatures to force the Nevada legislature to consider AVR in the upcoming legislative session. (Either the legislature adopts the reform or else the issue is placed on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide.)…At this moment, Democrats only fully control the governments of six states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, and Rhode Island). But plenty remains to be done even there. Some of these states allow no early voting, allow no weekend voting, and fail to automatically register citizens — and hundreds of thousands of people with felony convictions are disenfranchised within them…Democrats are also well positioned to take control of many state governments in 2017 and 2018 (Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, and Washington, to name the most notable). Where and when they do, it is crucial that they be ready to act decisively and unflinchingly — not just to roll back recently introduced restrictions but also to increase access to the franchise and remove longstanding obstacles to electoral participation.” Read the whole thing. There’s more here worth doing.

From Democratic strategist Guy Cecil’s responses on the topic of “How Democrats can win again” in an interview byChris Cillizza at The Fix: “We can be a party that stands up — fiercely and strongly — against racism and still support expanding economic opportunities for all Americans.  We can be a party that supports my marriage to my husband, and one who supports the groundbreaking work being done by building trade unions who invest in worker training. We can support the DREAMers worried about their future in America and the dreams of poor whites who have been screwed by big business, big agriculture, and in many ways, their own government…Our party has become too focused on the presidential race, to the detriment on local and state races…We have competitive governor’s races across the country and many winnable majorities in state legislatures…The Democratic National Committee is part of the solution, but they are insufficient to turning around state parties, most of which are in disrepair…The way to win is not to become a liberal version of Trump, mired in division and hatred. More darkness in our political process will only lead to despair. It is time for activism, passion, protests, righteous anger and moral clarity. It is also time for more light.”

Eric Lipton and Scott Shane focus on some of the damage done down-ballot in their NYT article, “Democratic House Candidates Were Also Targets of Russian Hacking.” The report includes a chilling description of the reaction of one Republican blogger to a Russian leak by “Guccifer 2.0” of thousands of pages of documents stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: “I don’t think you realize what you gave me,” the blogger said, looking at the costly internal D.C.C.C. political research that he had just been provided. “This is probably worth millions of dollars.”

Incumbency rules even more now, report Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley at Crystal Ball: “This election cycle, 393 of 435 House representatives, 29 of 34 senators, and five of 12 governors sought reelection (several of the governors were prohibited from seeking another term). Of those, 380 of 393 House members (97%), 27 of 29 senators (93%), and four of five governors (80%) won another term. These members of Congress and governors not only won renomination, but also won in November….Those reelection rates are all a little bit better than the already impressive post-World War II averages…”


Trump’s Team of Saboteurs

As Donald Trump’s proposed Cabinet takes shape, we are all a bit taken aback by the number of people he is choosing who have no experience or whose experience is a total mismatch with the job in question. But there is a more alarming feature of Team Trump, which I discussed earlier this week at New York:

[T]he most disturbing feature of the Trump cabinet so far is the number of appointees who do not believe in the core missions of the agencies they are being asked to run. Indeed, they seem designed to sabotage any effort to fulfill those missions.

We will have a pretty dramatic example in former Texas governor Rick Perry, whom Trump has tapped as his secretary of Energy. Perry famously proposed to eliminate that department (and two others) during his first run for president in 2012, and even more famously could not remember its name in a candidate debate that probably doomed his White House aspirations. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t repeat that same pledge in his subsequent presidential run, though his underlying hostility to any energy policy deeper than “Drill, baby, drill” did not seem to change.

Other Trump cabinet picks are equally conspicuous in their near-hatred for the historic roles of the entities they may soon supervise.

Perhaps by the time of his confirmation hearings, EPA Administrator–designee Scott Pruitt may be able to think of a single EPA regulation he favors. But it will take some hard work and ingenuity to find it. His official biography as Oklahoma’s attorney general boasts that this fossil-fuel enthusiast is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” The venerable Sierra Club described his appointment as “like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”

Labor Secretary–designee Andrew Puzder, CEO of the company that owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardees fast-food chains, will if confirmed have the rare distinction of rapidly moving from being a prime target of a federal agency’s regulatory efforts to becoming its chief. He has opposed higher minimum wages, the expanded overtime pay rules promulgated by the Obama administration, and (of course) making companies that operate through franchises accountable for the labor practices of franchisees. The department he has been tapped to lead found that more than half of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations had wage violations, according to a Bloomberg BNA analysis this year.

Trump’s choice for Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is part of a husband-wife billionaire team that has devoted its time for decades to the cause of making public funds available to private schools via vouchers or to minimally regulated charter schools. It says a lot that some education advocates are reassuring themselves that the damage she could do to public schools will be contained by the relatively limited role of the federal government in K-12 education.

It would not be accurate to say putative attorney general Jeff Sessions would just as soon shut down the U.S. Department of Justice. But it is true that in many respects he will execute a 180-degree turn in the policies and priorities of his department, much like Puzder can be expected to do. Sessions is almost certain, for example, to stop prosecuting recently proliferating incidents of state and local government voting-rights violations and instead ramp up prosecution of the phantom menace of “voter fraud.”

The appointment that is perhaps hardest to explain (other than as perpetuation of the job involved as a “diversity hire”) is Dr. Ben Carson at HUD. He has zero experience in this field. But he has manifested a strong hostility to federal anti-poverty efforts, which makes him another potential warrior against his own employees.

It is easy to say Trump has decided to make these sort of “screw you” appointments because he and/or his voters hate Washington generally, or hate do-gooder “liberal” agencies especially. But he could have used appointments to “enemy agencies” to build bridges to potentially hostile constituencies — or even to supply patronage.

Why is he waging war on big elements of the Executive branch of government that is now his own turf? That will only become clear when his administration’s full agenda is rolled out. Quite likely he plans big cuts in federal programs and/or changes of direction in the energy, environmental, labor, housing, and legal-affairs areas, and wants people in his cabinet who will cheer the evisceration of their jurisdictions instead of lobbying him to reverse it. An alternative theory is that he doesn’t much care about some of these agencies and is giving them over to people with powerfully bad intentions as a reward or inducement for loyalty. And as is the case with many new presidents, Trump could grow tired of his initial team and remake it before long.

As it stands, he’s going to need to make sure his cabinet members have funding for their own food tasters. Instead of a creative “team of rivals,” Trump seems to have decided on a destructive team of saboteurs.