washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

January 19, 2018

Political Strategy Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Political Strategy Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Moser: Heeding Centrist Myths Poses Real Threat to Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tomasky: Why Dems Need Moderates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Teixeira: Will Rust Belt Voters Bail Out Trump?

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

171003-TrumpApproval-All-1

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

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


The Nearly Extinct Moderate Senate Republican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Do Dems Need Younger, More Moderate Leaders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomasky also argues for Democrats attracting more moderate candidates:

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

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

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

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


Political Strategy Notes

Gregory S. Schneider’s Washington Post article, “‘Malevolent neglect’: Are Virginia Democrats letting rural areas slip away?” provides a worrisome critique of Democratic strategy in the Old Dominion, focusing on the November 7th gubernatorial election. Despite Democratic candidate for Governor Ralph Northam’s lead in recent polling, Schneider writes, “Some in rural districts across Virginia complain that the state Democratic machinery continues to be more interested in populous urban areas that are reliably blue on Election Day than rebuilding relationships in the countryside. One county chairman briefly resigned two weeks ago, accusing the state party of “malevolent neglect…“We didn’t lose rural voters overnight, and we know we’re not going to win them back overnight, but I think it’s very important that we show up and compete everywhere,” [state Democratic party Chairwoman Susan] Swecker said.” Schneider notes that “Republicans have a comfortable 66-to-34 majority in the House of Delegates,” but in Virginia, as in many otyher states, “Democrats pumped up by anti-Trump fervor have fielded a historic number of candidates to try to slice into that GOP advantage.” Hower, “when it comes to active campaigning, Northam is more often found in Northern Virginia, Richmond or Hampton Roads…“The plain fact is that for Democrats the votes are in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Tidewater, Virginia Beach — and it’s probably enough to win an election if a Democrat racks up very large margins in the urban corridor,”…said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.”

At The Daily Beast, David Daley explains “How the GOP Made Your Vote Useless,” and notes that Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, Ed Gilespie “masterminded the devastating 2010 GOP strategy to retake Washington by winning crucial state and local elections that brought the power to redistrict the U.S. House…His plan, aptly dubbed REDMAP, worked so well that Republicans captured almost 700 state legislature seats in an epic rebuke of Barack Obama and Democrats nationwide. The true spoils of that victory came the following year. New GOP majorities in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania reinvented the gerrymander as a blunt-force partisan weapon…Democrats have realized that the future of their party will be determined down-ballot. Gillespie, the godfather of the GOP gerrymander and the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, is their most crucial target…A Gillespie win, combined with well-cemented Republican majorities in the state assembly and senate, would lock in GOP control when new legislative districts for statewide and congressional races are drawn in 2021…A victory by Democratic lieutenant governor Ralph Northam, meanwhile, would give Democrats a seat at the table when the new lines are drawn—something the party lacked in those blue and purple states nationwide in 2011, thanks to REDMAP.” For Dems, Daley writes, “Any comeback must begin in Virginia, then pivot to governor’s races in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. This will not be easy. Republicans have a deeper bench (another gerrymandered advantage) and may begin as the favorites everywhere.”

“Entrenched Democratic groups are facing growing questions about the return on the hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent over the years,” writes Kenneth P. Vogel in “The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics” in The New York Times. “Groups affiliated with Mrs. Clinton “spent so much money based on a bad strategy in this last cycle that they should step aside and let others lead in this moment,” said Quentin James, a founder of a political committee called the Collective PAC that supports African-American candidates…Mr. James’s committee is among more than three dozen outfits that have started or reconfigured themselves since the election to try to harness the surge in anti-Trump activism. In addition to political committees, grass-roots mobilization nonprofits and legal watchdog groups, there are for-profit companies providing technological help to the new groups — essentially forming a new liberal ecosystem outside the confines of the Democratic Party.” Vogel also notes, “The tug of war — more than the lingering squabbles between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — foreshadows a once-in-a-generation reorganization of the American left that could dictate the tactics and ideology of the Democratic Party for years to come.”

The Fix’s Amber Phillips interviews Carolyn Fiddler, former Democratic statehouse operative and current political editor for Daily Kos, who comments on Democrats flipping eight statehouse seats across the U.S. since President Trump got elected — all in districts Trump won last fall. Fiddler explains, “Those eight Democratic pickups are a significant percentage of the 27 total state and congressional special elections held in Republican seats this cycle — almost 30 percent, actually. If Democrats were to flip 30 percent of Republican-held congressional seats in 2018, the House GOP caucus would lose 72 of its members. Republicans haven’t picked up a single seat in a contested Democrat-vs.-Republican special election this year…Yet even in the seats Democrats aren’t picking up, there’s good news for team blue. Analysis of these special elections reveals that Democrats are consistently outperforming the presidential elections results from both 2016 and 2012. Democrats have beaten Hillary Clinton’s numbers in 30 of the 39 contested special elections this cycle, and they improved on Obama’s 2012 numbers in 27 of them. Compared to Clinton’s numbers, Democrats are performing an average of 12 percent better, and they’re even performing 9 percent better than Obama did in these same seats…Democratic voters are energized and Republican voters seem to be unenthused. Also, recruitment for these seats — like in Virginia’s races this fall and even at the congressional level for 2018 — is going incredibly well for Democrats, producing strong candidates who are well-positioned to take advantage of voter enthusiasm.”

In “Shifting attitudes among Democrats have big implications for 2020” Dan Balz observes, also at The Washington Post, “The pressure to embrace single-payer plans grows out of shifts in attitudes among Democrats. The Pew Research Center found in June that 52 percent of self-identified Democrats now support a government-run health-care system. That is up nine points since the beginning of the year and 19 points since 2014. Among liberal Democrats, 64 percent support such a plan (up 13 points just this year) and among younger Democrats, 66 percent say they support it…Health care isn’t the only area in which Democratic attitudes are shifting significantly. Others include such issues as the role of government and the social safety net; the role of race and racial discrimination in society; and immigration and the value of diversity.” Citing a recent Pew Center poll, Balz addds”Three in 4 Democrats say that “poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently,” up a dozen points in the past few years…Eight in 10 Democrats say the country needs to continue to make changes to give blacks equal rights with whites, up 18 points since 2014. And more than 6 in 10 say “racial discrimination is the main reason many black people can’t get ahead these days,” up from 4 in 10 three years ago.”

In his Daily Kos post, “Progressive activists must reach out to everyone—including Trump voters who seem to be a lost cause,” Egberto Willies writes, “Many respected Democrats and progressives put all Trump voters in one basket. They suggest that we give up on the white working class, saying they are permanent Republicans who are nativists, racists, anti-immigrant, and much worse. And that is true for many—but not all…Others say that it is time to recognize that the Democratic Party is the party of people of color, and there is no need to keep trying to win over the white working-class voter. That is just as dangerous a statement as the instantiation of the Republican Party as a white party…The Democratic Party must be the inclusive party, one where absolutely everyone feels welcome. It is true that for too long the Democratic Party suffered from the same racial animosities people of color have long faced, but with a facade of progressivism. Democrats would do well to clean up their own house before being too self-righteous…Let’s not allow Trump or anyone else to play us against each other. When we allow that, both sides are left holding the bag while they, those running the plutocracy, eat the caviar.”

Sue Sturgis, who writes facing South’s ‘Institute Index,’ has some data reflecting “The NRA’s death grip on Southern politics,” including: “The unprecedented amount of outside spending the NRA invested in the 2016 election: $52 millionOf that total, percent that went to support just six Republican Senate candidates and Donald Trump: 96Amount the NRA spent on re-electing North Carolina’s incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr: $6.2 millionRank of that investment among the largest the NRA has ever made in a down-ballot race: 1Percentage points by which Burr won: about 6…Amount the NRA invested in supporting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the group’s second-biggest congressional recipient: $3.2 million…”

NYT columnist Charles M. Blow describes one facet of Trump’s politics of distraction thusly: “…Trump is abusing his power by trying to squash dissent through defamation of individual journalists, individual shows and individual networks or newspapers….This battle that Trump insists on maintaining also serves a wider goal for him: distraction. As long as we focus on the latest outrage he publishes on Twitter attacking one person or another, the less time we have to focus on the fact that his presidency thus far is a colossal legislative failure, his cabinet is an unending game of cloak and daggers meets musical chairs, his Justice Department is systematically and unrelentingly expressing its hostilities to equal rights, and Trump’s reckless, emotionally triggered language and actions are making us less safe by denigrating diplomacy and advocating military aggression.” A friend describes Trump’s media strategy this way in a recent email: “(1) take some initiative that appears to promise to deliver on his campaign promises (e.g. abrogate the Iran deal, destroy Obamacare) (2) back off from fully following through with the initiative which would have drastic negative consequences (3) obscure the failure with a flurry of red-meat tweets blaming others for the  apparent setback (4) make a vague overture to Democrats, generating a news cycle or two of simpering MSM approval (5) obscure this overture with a flamboyant attack on some group (Blacks, Latinos etc.) that easily inflames his base. Rinse, cycle, repeat.” The question arises, can he continue to get away with this routine indefinitely? Rachel Maddow, alone among television media, has stated that her show will focus on what Trump does, rather than what he says. That may be the best way for serious reporters to avoid getting suckered by white house media maipulation.

A “polling nugget” from FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten: “CNN viewers are similar to MSNBC’s — MSNBC has ridden Trump bashing to all-time record ratings. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, however, CNN (which cultivates a down-the-middle image) and MSNBC (generally considered more liberal) have similar audiences in terms of ideological makeup. They have a similar percentage of viewers who identify as liberal Democrats — 26 percent at CNN and 30 percent at MSNBC — and conservative Republicans — 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively. The Fox News audience, meanwhile, may as well represent a different planet: Just 10 percent of Fox viewers call themselves liberal Democrats, while 43 percent call themselves conservative Republicans.”


Trump Blunders Into the Virginia Governor’s Race

We’re now about a month out from Virginia’s gubernatorial election, one of the two being held this year. I looked at the latest developments at New York:

Yesterday morning the Washington Post released a new poll of the Virginia gubernatorial contest showing Democrat Ralph Northam blowing out to a 13-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie among likely voters, by far the biggest lead he’s managed in a general election survey.

Early last evening Donald Trump took to Twitter with this nasty-gram:

Perhaps it was a coincidence, given the president’s spotty consumption of news and other information that is not about his own self. But it’s likely some alarms went off in the White House about an impending Gillespie loss being treated (as off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey often are after a change of administration in Washington) as a referendum on the Trump presidency. That would have gotten POTUS’s attention for sure. And the tweet itself, directly accusing the lieutenant governor of Virginia of “fighting for” a violent criminal gang, is not subtle.

We don’t know at this point whether the Gillespie campaign invited, or even had advance knowledge of, Trump’s intervention. The MS-13 smear Trump deployed does track Gillespie’s own borderline racist ads attacking Northam for breaking a tie in the State Senate against a bill that would preemptively outlaw “sanctuary cities” (Virginia has none now), which has little to do with MS-13, but whatever.

Gillespie has for the most part given his party’s president a wide berth in this race. That makes sense. Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton by more than five points last year. According to Gallup, his job-approval ratio in Virginia over the first six months of his presidency averaged 39/56. The new Post poll showed Trump currently at 34/60 among the Old Dominion’s registered voters, with half of voters disapproving strongly of his job performance. In addition, Virginia has a history of rejecting gubernatorial candidates from the party that controls the White House: In the last ten gubernatorial elections, the White House party has lost nine (the only exception is actually the current, term-limited Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe).

So you wouldn’t figure that Trump leaping into the Virginia race would do much to help Gillespie, who has been in striking distance of Northam in most polls prior to the WaPo bombshell (in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, Northam’s lead is a modest 5.4 percent).

Still, the White House may be reinforcing a decision by Team Gillespie to go big on making this a “culture war” campaign. Not only are Virginia Republicans pounding the Democrat on his alleged sympathy for Hispanic criminals; they’re also trying to exploit the relatively positive feelings Virginians have toward Confederate monuments, the issue that blew up in Charlottesville this summer. This doesn’t necessarily reflect rampant racism: Virginia is saturated with Civil War monuments of all kinds (when I lived in the state, I passed through three Civil War battlegrounds on my daily commute to work). Gillespie’s primary opponent Corey Stewart, at one point Trump’s 2016 campaign manager in Virginia, made protecting Confederate monuments a signature issue and nearly upset the front-runner. Perhaps Gillespie now thinks such issues can work magic for him, too, along with fear of immigrants.

The bottom line is that, a month out, Northam has history and the polls on his side, along with a significant financial advantage. Making the race more explicitly a referendum on Trump will probably help him as well.