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

September 24, 2017

Lux: Three Keys to a Winning Strategy for Democrats

The following article by Democraic strategist Mike Lux, author of “The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be,” is cross-posted from HuffPo:

The Democratic talking points after losing two more House special elections, including one in Georgia that many people thought they would win, were partly right. All four of these congressional races were in deeply red districts, and we did considerably better than past Democratic candidates in those districts had done. If we over-perform based on past numbers in the competitive districts on the map in 2018, we’ll have a good year.

But with Trump’s numbers in the toilet, lots of Republicans with mixed feelings about the Donald, and Democratic outrage unleashing a flood of money, volunteers, and voter turnout, we had four special elections with legit opportunities to win… and we blew them all. We need to do a serious re-evaluation of our strategy as a party, and we need to do it right damn now.

I say this with a hyper-awareness that we are entering the week where the Republicans will try to not only repeal the Affordable Care Act, but will in the same bill be repealing Medicaid itself, one of the landmark achievements of the 20th century progressive movement. You heard that right, and this isn’t getting nearly enough attention: we’re not just talking deep cuts in Medicaid funding, we’re talking about ending the guarantee of health and nursing home care for the people dependent on Medicaid.

The money instead will be shifted into block grants, where the states — which for the most part aren’t exactly bastions of compassion — can do whatever they want with the far smaller amount of money they will be given. And understand this: Medicaid is not just for a small number of the poorest people in America. Twenty percent of Americans get their health coverage from Medicaid. Two thirds of the people in nursing homes have those bills paid for by Medicaid. And if you have disabilities and need medical care, odds are that those bills are paid by Medicaid as well. This is a BFD of maximum proportions.

You know what else I am hyper-aware of? That Donald Trump is turning America into a banana republic. He is a dangerous corrupt man giving largesse to his cronies and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. If Democrats don’t start winning elections in this election, in big numbers, our democracy will be in peril, as will the achievements of the last century in terms of civil rights, workers’ rights, the environment, health care, education. So much that is decent and good about our country will be blown to dust.

So when I say Democrats need a new strategy, that we need to start winning elections right away, I’m not just talking about how it’d be a little nicer to have more Democrats win. We are at the edge of the abyss, folks, and we desperately need to try something new when it comes to elections.

Here’s what we need to do:

1. Compete everywhere, districts that are more blue collar and rural included. Too many Democratic Party leaders have decided that we can’t compete very well among the “white working class.” That is one reason why the Kansas and South Carolina races were virtually ignored by the national party, and why national Democratic groups got out-spent almost ten to one in the Montana race, while a higher income suburban district in Georgia that was just as Republican as the other three got the lion’s share of money and attention from national Dems. In this political environment — where Trump and the Republicans are deeply unpopular, and where Democrats have far more enthusiasm about voting, volunteering, and giving money online — we should be competing everywhere and paying attention to the kinds of races we normally don’t.

Just because a lot of working class voters supported Trump last year doesn’t mean they will never vote for Democrats, a lot of those same voters voted for Dems in 2012. And news flash: white working class voters aren’t the only working class voters around. When you talk about issues that matter to blue collar voters — health care, Social Security, raising taxes on the wealthy, getting tough on Wall Street abuse of power, creating jobs and increasing wages, paid family and medical leave, child care — you are also reaching African-American working class folks, Latino working class folks, unmarried women, and young people who are working class folks.

2. Stop thinking of populism as some crazy lefty Bernie thing that can’t win in tough districts, that the message needed is safe and cautious “centrism” (whatever that means). Jon Ossoff ran a campaign very similar in targeting, message, and overall strategy to Hillary’s campaign — target upper-income suburban Republicans with an overwhelming amount of TV ads and mail with a safely centrist message mostly devoid of issue specifics and a ton of attacks on the opponent. But neither Hillary nor Ossoff won very many of those voters in spite of the millions spent on trying to do so.

Now, I will be the first to say that a candidate and their message need to fit the district, and GA-6 is a mostly suburban and upper-income district. I get how Ossoff was trying not to scare people that he was a crazy lefty, but there are plenty of older voters in GA-6. The Republican health care plan is unpopular everywhere, including GA-6, and he could have attacked it using quotes from popular groups like AARP and hospital CEOs. Social Security and Medicare are popular everywhere, and he could have talked more about the critical threats they face.

Running safe, mushy campaigns doesn’t win over very many Republicans; doesn’t usually work in getting swing voters on board; and doesn’t help turn out Democratic voters either.

At the same time, national Democrats didn’t think the more populist candidates in the more blue collar districts would appeal in the other three districts and made only very small investments in those districts while Ossoff was raising money hand over fist — more than $40 million was spent between the two candidates, making it the most expensive House race ever. Yet, we came closer in the South Carolina district totally ignored by Democrats, and we came very nearly as close in Kansas and Montana. If we had invested a fraction of the money spent in Georgia — 10% would have been $4 million — in those other three races, we might have picked up a couple of those seats. Populism sounds different from different candidates; different issues resonate in different districts, but in general, populism plays well in blue-collar districts.

Too many party strategists seem to believe that bland mushy messages win elections, but Republicans keep electing boldly conservative tea partiers and people like Trump. Democrats need to take populism back.

3. Less TV, more Facebook. Hillary vastly outspent Trump on TV in 2016. Multiple Democratic Senate candidates in swing races out-spent their opponents on TV and lost. Ossoff vastly out-spent Handel on TV and lost. Notice a pattern here? Republicans from Trump on down consistently spent more than we did on Facebook.

The reasons Democrats should be paying far more attention to Facebook and far less to TV are many. Fewer and fewer people are watching traditional TV, and when they are, they are figuring out plenty of ways to avoid watching commercials. And more and more people are spending more and more time on Facebook. TV commercials are the least trusted source of political information while content from your Facebook friends is among the most trusted sources of information. Most importantly, you can target individual voters on Facebook and learn from their reactions to ads and organic content. Democrats have many weaknesses in their electoral strategy, but if the only thing they did was shift 50% of their TV spending to Facebook (both in terms of turning out the vote and persuasion), they would start winning far more elections.

In order for our democracy and our decency as a country to survive, Democrats need to start winning elections again. But we won’t get there without a new strategy that actually reaches out to working class voters of all races and ages, and fights for issues that matter to their every day lives. Our strategy must shift from TV into the age of Facebook, and it needs to happen now.

Political Strategy Notes

“Many of the party’s existing economic priorities play well in both spheres of underdevelopment, the urban and the rural, and among groups found in both places, such as millennials. Reducing costs or eliminating tuition at public colleges and universities is popular everywhere. The public’s level of support for Medicaid, which congressional Republicans’ proposed ACA repeal seeks to slash, is overwhelming: A Quinnipiac Poll from March found just 22 percent of Americans favored cuts to Medicaid while 74 percent opposed them; among white working-class respondents, 29 percent favored the cuts and 66 percent didn’t. The declining incomes of white workers and the rising eligibility thresholds of the ACA have combined to increase the number of Medicaid recipients within the white working class—a development that Paul Ryan and his ilk failed to anticipate…unless and until the Democrats devise compelling programs for these Americans—programs that not only help revive their economy but make clear that they are as much a part of the Democrats’ vision of America as any other group—Democrats’ electoral prospects in district after district and state after state will remain dim. And the Democrats’ ability to deliver for their base will continue to be thwarted by basic electoral arithmetic.” — from Harold Meyerson’s “Place Matters” in the Roundable on The White Working Class and the Democrats in The American Prospect.

Democrats field a glut of House candidates in 2018 but remain divided on how to win,” report Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel at The Washington Post. “The largest number of Democratic congressional candidates in decades is putting into play dozens of House districts across the country, raising the possibility of a bitterly contested midterm election cycle next year as the party and its activists try to take advantage of President Trump’s unpopularity to win a majority in the House.” Despite differences across a liberal-moderater political spectrum, “Democrats can exceed their past performance in at least 70 House districts across the country controlled by Republicans, primarily because more Democrats registered to vote, said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a memo to his colleagues last week…“In recent cycles, candidate recruitment meant dialing the phone and asking people to run. This cycle, it’s about answering the calls when they come in,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks congressional races.”

“To win again,’ writes Franklin Foer in The Atlantic, “the Democrats don’t need to adopt an alien agenda or back away from policies aimed at racial justice. But their leaders would be well advised to change their rhetorical priorities and more directly address the country’s bastions of gloom. The party has been crushed—not just in the recent presidential election, but in countless down-ballot elections—by its failure to develop a message that can resonate with people beyond the core members of the Obama coalition, and by its unwillingness to blare its hostility to crony capitalism. Polling by the group Priorities USA Action shows that a stunning percentage of the voters who switched their allegiance from Obama to Trump believe that Democratic economic policies favor the rich—42 percent, nearly twice the number who consider that to be true of Trump’s agenda…The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map. Doing that does not require the abandonment of any moral principles…”

In his Washington Post article, “Beyond opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message,” DanBalz writes, “Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites…Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.”

If you had to pick a state that had the most to lose under Trumpcare, it shouldn’t take long to settle on West Virginia. Michael Tomasky explains why in his Daily Beast post, “If She Votes for Trumpcare, Her Home State Gets Mauled: No senator who has yet to come out for or against the health care bill faces a more open-and-shut case than Shelley Moore Capito.” As Tomasky elaborates, “…It’s estimated that about 150,000 West Virginians, maybe more, gained coverage under the ACA (see page 9 of this Urban Institute report). That study is a little bit old. It may now be 170,000. That’s in a state with a population of about 1.8 million; so, nearly 10 percent…A policy brief to be released this week by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policynotes that the health care industry accounts for more than 10 percent of the state’s GDP and estimates that 10,000 West Virginians could lose their jobs, and the state could lose $1 billion in GDP. Health care jobs have been one of the few growth sectors in the state. A lot more than coal…Medicaid pays for 72 percent of nursing-home care for the state’s seniors, provides $20 million in school-based services for young people, and brings in $110 million for drug treatment. All that would be gone…with Rand Paul voting no on one side and Nevada’s Dean Heller doing the same on the other, it might come down to Capito. Of all of them, she represents the state that would most clearly just get mauled by this GOP bill.”

Conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt explains why “Replacing Obamacare is a make-or-break moment for Republicans,” and notes ‘If the GOP defaults on its core promise, it is doomed as a party to minority status, probably as early as 2018 and certainly in 2020…It will forfeit every other Republican goal because failing to deliver on the central promise of eight years of debates and campaigns will shatter the credibility every Republican, not just those who block the bill. The party as a whole will be gravely wounded, perhaps beyond healing for a generation or more.”

“The most glaring weakness in the modern Democratic coalition is the decline of white working-class support that once provided a major pillar of the Democratic Party,” Andrew Levison writes in “Winning (Some) Middle-of-the-Road Working-Class Whites” in the Roundtable on The White Working Class and the Democrats at The American Prospect. “In 2008, even in the midst of a massive and terrifying economic crisis and an unprecedented military fiasco, Barack Obama still received only 40 percent of the white working-class vote. In 2012, Obama’s share declined to 36 percent and in this year’s election, Hillary Clinton suffered an unprecedented 8 percent additional drop to an abysmal 28 percent of white working-class support, according exit polls…For 40 years, polls have repeatedly shown that majorities of white working people support quite a substantial range of basically progressive economic policies but, oddly, never vote for the Democratic politicians who promise to enact them…Even in predominantly white working-class communities, where a larger segment of the common-sense, middle-of-the-road white workers might be open to Democratic candidates, the simultaneous emergence of grassroots independent candidates would in many cases still be a net benefit to Democrats. Such candidates would tend to draw more support from Republicans than Democrats, helping the latter…Because it would split the GOP vote, a three-way race that included an independent candidate would still provide a greater opportunity for the Democrat to win a plurality than a two-way race against a Republican would provide the opportunity for winning an outright Democratic majority.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr. spotlights “The Senate’s three big lies about health care“: They are “Lie One: Democrats and progressives are unwilling to work with Republicans and conservatives on this issue…In fact, Democrats, including President Barack Obama when he was in office, have said repeatedly that they would like to work with Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act. Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer’s office put out a list of such offers, including a June 15 letter from Schumer to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a cross-party meeting to “find a way to make health care more affordable and accessible.”Lie Two: This bill is primarily about improving health care for American families. No, this effort is primarily about cutting taxes…Lie Three: The Senate bill is a “compromise.” Really? Between whom? The House wants to destroy Obamacare quickly, the Senate a bit more slowly while also cutting Medicaid more steeply over time. This is only a “compromise” between two very right-wing policies.”

At The Guardian, Lauren Gambino details the scope of Medicaid, which would be subjecgted to “deep cuts” under Trumpcare: “Medicaid is the nation’s largest public insurance program, providing health benefits to nearly 74 million Americans including low-income adults and children, seniors and people with disabilities. It has unparalleled reach: about half of all babies are born on Medicaid and four in 10 children are covered by Medicaid or its sister benefit, the Children’s Health Insurance Program…Those programs also cover roughly three in 10 people suffering from opioid addiction. Medicaid has also become a critical benefit for elderly Americans whose medical needs are not covered by Medicare, including six in 10 residents in nursing homes.,,The Senate healthcare plan, like the House bill that narrowly passed last month, would phase out Medicaid expansion under the ACA, under which 31 states and the District of Columbia added more than 11 million low-income adults to the program.”

Political Strategy Notes

AP’s Erica Werner makes a case that “McConnell stakes it all on health care bill” and writes thaT “The shrewd Kentuckian has made himself practically the sole arbiter of the bill and will be largely responsible for the outcome, whether it’s a win, a loss, or a win that turns into a loss over time as unpopular consequences of the legislation take hold…he has almost no margin for error. McConnell will be able to lose only two senators from his 52-member conference and still pass the bill, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Democrats are unanimously opposed….He doesn’t always prevail. McConnell is not a fan of unnecessary conversation and plays his cards close to his chest, which can create the impression that he has a secret plan up his sleeve when that’s not the case.” My guess is he has a plan, and like LBJ in the 1960s, he knows where the bodies are buried and he doesn’t like to lose. Dems should plan for the worst.

From an NBC/Wall St. Journal poll released yesterday and flagged at The Daily 202: “Only 16 percent of Americans believe that the House health care bill is good, down from 23 percent last month. Even among Republicans, just one in three view the measure positively. But the public is basically split down the middle over Obamacare, with 41 percent saying the 2010 law is a good idea and 38 percent saying it’s a bad idea. Asked if Congress and the president should continue their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the split is similar: 38 percent say yes, 39 percent say no, and 20 percent have no opinion. But here’s the rub: 71 percent of Republicans want Congress to continue its effort to repeal the ACA, and only 12 percent of GOP voters want to move on. Independents also slightly favor forging ahead with repeal, 38 percent to 32 percent.”

The Trumpcare bill has already drawn condemnation from some powerful organizations, including AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Association of American Medical Colleges, report Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan. “We are extremely disappointed by the Senate bill released today,” the medical school association wrote. “Despite promises to the contrary, it will leave millions of people without health coverage, and others with only bare-bones plans that will be insufficient to properly address their needs.”

Kaplan and Pear also noter President Obama’s reaction to the GOP bill: “The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill,” Mr. Obama wrote on his Facebook page. “It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else…In a message to his supporters, Mr. Obama urged people to demand compromise from their lawmakers before senators vote on the Republican bill next week.”

As inhumane as is the Trumpcare bill is, the best hope for defeating it may come from four senators who think it’s too liberal. “Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah said in a joint statement they’re “not ready to vote for this bill,” report Miranda Green, Phil Mattingly and Ashley Killough, at CNNPolitics. “Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” the senators said. “There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.” Of course the four senators know perectly well that they are going to have to vote for some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act later on in any replacement bill. But for now they must make a big show of saying they stood firm for Obamacare repeal. Reading between the lines of their statement, don’t be shocked if they cave and vote for it as soon as some piddly token is tossed their way. The four are more about limelight theatrics than anything else.

As James Hohmann reports in The Daily 202: “THE BIG IDEA: Much of the concern that Republican senators expressed yesterday about the draft health-care bill felt more like political posturing than genuine threats to torpedo the effort. There are not currently the 50 votes necessary to advance the legislation that Mitch McConnell unveiled Thursday. There will need to be concessions and compromises, and there are several ways the push could still fall apart in the coming days. But pretty much every Republican, including the current holdouts, wants to pass something. And no GOP senator wants to bear the brunt of the blame from the base for inaction. That factor must not be discounted…Cruz issued a joint statement with three other conservatives — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah — saying that they cannot support the legislation as it stands. Parse their words carefully, and it’s notable how many outs they gave themselves.

As for the concerns of what nowadays passes for Republican “moderates,” Hohmann adds , “There are some obvious “gives” that could get a few of the wavering moderates on board: “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters Thursday that she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would try to amend the Planned Parenthood restrictions during next week’s ‘vote-a-rama,’ a period when senators can offer unlimited amendments to the health-care measure,” Kane reports. “GOP insiders expect Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who oppose the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid, to be mollified by more cash to combat the opioid epidemic.” That might leave Rand Paul as the biggest hurdle, but McConnell could afford to lose the junior senator from his state. (We’re keeping a running whip count here.)”

At Campaigns & Elections, Tim Lim explains why “Democrats Need a New Advertising Strategy for 2018.” As Lim notes, “While every scenario is different, and you still need to take an audience first approach, we recommend at least 20 percent of the persuasion media spend to be spent on digital and layered with other mediums to be able to make an impact. That doesn’t including resources for the other pieces of a campaign around fundraising, mobilization or other direct response efforts…The centerpiece of the advertising program for most campaigns is the minute-long TV ad. The same ad that is put on broadcast television is the same ad that you see on YouTube and Facebook. This trend is not creating engaging content for voters. Before the TV shoot even happens, there needs to be consideration for different ad formats, which aren’t centered on the TV ad. For instance, online videos should have the main message be shown in the first 6 seconds and there should be plenty of space infographics and rich media.”

Democrats’ 2017 Losing Streak Likely To End in November

After the agony of Election Night for GA-06 on January 20, I thought it might be a good idea to offer Democrats some immediate hope. So I wrote up the electoral prospects for the rest of 2017 at New York:

[M]any Democrats are undoubtedly wondering when the impressive anti-Trump passions of 2017 will produce a win in a nationally significant and competitive contest. The two remaining scheduled special elections this year are not very promising for the Donkey Party. The first, in November (assuming a battle over control of the special election between the governor and legislature is resolved) is in dark-red Utah, in the district of Representative Jason Chaffetz (who is resigning at the end of this month), the 16th-most Republican House district in the country according to the Cook Political Report. There are 15 Republicans, as compared to four Democrats, who are running for the Chaffetz seat at this point.

In December (after primaries in August and party runoffs in September), Alabama will hold a special election to formally choose a successor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Republican Luther Strange at least temporarily holds the seat he was appointed to by disgraced former governor Robert Bentley, who resigned shortly after filling the seat). There is a lot of intrigue around the crowded GOP primary for this seat, and potentially some divisive intra-Republican activity, but no one at this point is giving any Democrat a chance. Perhaps that could change if the infamous “Ten Commandments judge,” Roy Moore, wins the GOP nomination. But Moore has won statewide as recently as 2012, which is something no Alabama Democrat can say. Democrats haven’t held a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in 20 years, since Howell Heflin was replaced by Jeff Sessions.

So more than likely Democrats looking for a boost going into the midterm-election year of 2018 will rely on their solid prospects in the two states holding regular gubernatorial elections in November, New Jersey and Virginia.

The Garden State contest looks like a very solid bet to break the Democratic losing streak. This remains a fundamentally Democratic state; Hillary Clinton handily defeated Donald Trump 55–41 there in 2016, and the state legislature has been under Democratic control since 2004. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy (a former ambassador to Germany and one of the remarkably large cast of former Goldman Sachs officials in politics these days) has money to burn and is fresh from an easy June 6 primary win over a large field. Republican Kim Guadagno won her primary pretty easily as well, but as lieutenant governor she is laboring in the large and dark shadow of Chris Christie.

According to a post-primary Quinnipiac poll, Christie’s job-approval rating has dropped to an astounding 15 percent, the worst Quinnipiac has found in any state for any governor in the last 20 years. (Not that he cares.) Unsurprisingly, the same poll showed Murphy leading Guadagno by better than a two-to-one margin (55 percent to 26). The best news for the Republican is that half of voters don’t know enough about her to have an opinion of her — though it is unclear where Guadagno will get the money or the credibility to convince them she’s what the state needs.

In Virginia, the Gillespie/Northam campaign has just begun, but a new Quinnipiac poll shows Northam leading 47 percent to 39. Aside from a united party and the support of reasonably popular incumbent governor, Terry McAuliffe, Northam has history on his side: Nine of the last ten Virginia gubernatorial races were lost by the candidate from the party controlling the White House (McAuliffe, in fact, was the one exception). Things could change, but Donald Trump does not seem like the kind of president who will help his party buck that trend in a state he lost last year.

So Democrats who are wondering why they cannot have good things may only have to wait for a little less than five months for some validation.

What Ossoff Did Right

You may have already had your fill of post-mortems of the GA-6 election. Just about everybody has had their say about what Jon Ossoff did wrong, or what went wrong in the Atlanta ‘burbs special election, save the candidate himself. His reflections will be of considerable interest when he shares them.

Among the critiques of Ossoff’s campaign messaging and strategy, several resonated with me. Ed Kilgore’s observation that “Negative ads still work” was certainly verified by Handel’s relentless ads, arguably the overarching component of her strategy.  Ossoff’s “attack” ads were comparatively tame and polite, and he really didn’t give Handel’s gaffe about opposing a “living wage” an energetic workout.

The GA-6 election and other special elections of 2017 suggest that Democratic candidates could toughen up a bit. I agree some with Cenk Uygur’s argument that Democrats have to start calling out their Republican opponents as “corrupt”, whenever it applies, which is a lot. Ossoff could have done more to characterize his adversary as a toady for her wealthy contributors, even in a district where the median income is quite high.

Reluctantly, I have to agree with Republican ‘Morning Joe’ Scarborough that Democrats may be wasting too much political energy on demonstrations relative to front-porch canvassing or registering voters. Yes, the anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ demonstrations have helped to rally public opinion against him and the Republican agenda. But at least some of that time, energy and expense could be more productively invested in voter registration and GOTV.

The ‘Morning Joe’ program also featured one of the lamer blanket observations about the GA-6 election I have heard, Mark Halperin’s characterization of the vote as “an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats.” As a friend put it in an email, “I’m confused: 2016 — GOP wins deep red district by 23 points. 2017 – GOP wins deep red district by 4 points. Conclusion: unambiguous Democratic disaster?”

We shouldn’t move on, however, without a nod to what candidate Ossoff did right, because those lessons may be useful.

First, Ossoff had the metttle to step up and run in a district that most political wonks would call a lost cause for Democrats, and he damn near won it in the first round. Democrats are always yakking about how we need fresh faces, and we do. But it takes courage and personal sacrifice for a relatively unknown someone to take the risk and actually join the fray and make a go of it. He gets Aces for raw determination.

Democrats need more such gutsy newcomers, especially women and candidates of color. The obstacles, especially the financial hurdles, are so formidable, that when someone rises to the challenge from nowhere and does well, it’s a national news story. That leads to another of Ossoff’s impressive accomplishments — fund-raising. He raised more dough than any congressional candidate ever, which is quite amazing for a previously no-name Democrat. If nothing else, Democrats ought to study the hell out of his fund-raising strategy, and the DNC and state Democratic parties would be smart to hire him as a consultant.

Ossoff’s campaign turned an R+23 district into an R-3.7 district. He also recruited an estimated 2,000 volunteers, which may also be close to a record. I don’t buy the argument that a more “charismatic” candidate would have done better. The political world has plenty of charismatic individuals who don’t know squat about fund-raising, or lack the work ethic and grit to put up a good fight, or the skill-set to hold their own in a debate with a more experienced candidate.

I hope that Ossoff will run again for elective office, and leverage the lessons of his campaign. No doubt some potential candidates may be discouraged by Ossoff’s loss in the GA-6 race.  Nonetheless, today Democratic newcomers all across America are thinking more seriously about running for office, thanks to Jon Ossoff’s campaign. That alone makes him a rising star in my book.

Lessons From the Sixth District of Georgia

After overcoming an emotional hangover, I had this to say about the Handel/Ossoff race at New York:

As I noted as the returns were still coming in, the spin wars over the meaning of this contest will be nearly as intense as the contest itself. Here are some things we legitimately learned from GA-06:

Democrats aren’t the only voters with sufficient enthusiasm to turn out in today’s political climate. The template for a Democratic win in what is after all a congressional district Republicans have easily held since it was created was fairly simple: mobilize aroused Democrats, Democratic-leaning independents, and anti-Trump Republicans to the max and count on GOP divisions and doubts about Trump to produce a crucial turnout advantage. It looked like it might work in the special election’s first round, when several GOP rivals went after front-runner Karen Handel with hammers and tongs and Democratic turnout reached midterm levels. But Ossoff fell just short of a majority. Had Georgia followed its usual practice of a quick runoff election, he would have probably won. But with two months to work with and plenty of national GOP money on hand, Team Handel slowly but surely built an effective turnout machine for the runoff. In the end, Handel nearly erased Ossoff’s big first-round advantage in in-person early voting, and total turnout soared well above midterm levels, reaching 259,000 (as opposed to 210,000 in 2014).

With skill and luck Republicans can walk the tightrope between embracing and repudiating Donald Trump. GA-06 was the only competitive House district on this year’s menu where Trump did relatively poorly in 2016. Indeed, after last night the president retained his record as having the worst performance of any congressional or presidential candidate in GA-06 (in its current, North Atlanta incarnation) ever. So the trick for Karen Handel was to keep her distance from Trump without antagonizing his supporters. For the most part she succeeded. She may have received some inadvertent help in this respect from her opponent, who more or less abandoned his original “make Trump furious” messaging in favor of validating himself as acceptable to swing voters. As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel points out, Team Ossoff did not run a single ad tying Handel to Trump. So she was able to have it both ways. For all of the president’s crude chest-thumping and self-congratulations after the race was called, he was less of a factor in this election than probably anyone expected.

Negative ads still work. The clear and consistent focus of the GOP message in GA-06 was to remind the district’s dominant Republicans that Jon Ossoff is a Democrat, and to convince them his mild, centrist persona disguised a monstrous radical leftist who is “not one of us.” This conveniently fit in with Karen Handel’s constant emphasis on Ossoff’s non-residency in the district. The barrage of anti-Ossoff ads financed by outside GOP groups was relentless and even to my jaundiced eye unusually shrill and, well, stupid: again and again Ossoff was depicted as a puppet of Nancy Pelosi and her godless San Francisco hippie allies. Once comedian Kathy Griffin became a national pariah via her own stupid (and universally denounced) video of a beheaded Donald Trump, she began to be featured heavily in these ads on the specious grounds that she endorsed Ossoff on Twitter (she had no actual contact with the campaign in any way, shape, or form). Every anti-Ossoff ad I saw also featured anarchists shattering windows and setting fires. The very worst ad, appearing on Fox News just before the election, included images of shooting victim Representative Steve Scalise alongside the suggestion that Ossoff’s “extremist” friends had to be stopped by the voters of GA-06. It was so evil that is was actually condemned by Handel. But while this particular ad was put up by a relatively obscure right-wing PAC, most of the hate-filled cascade of anti-Ossoff ads were sponsored by the official House GOP party committee and by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s PAC. Whether or not they really made a difference, Handel won, which means we are going to see a lot more like them in 2018.

Issues don’t matter much if you don’t address them. One of the most frequent criticisms we will hear of the Ossoff campaign is that it was not really “about” any of the issues that separate candidates, mobilize supporters, and attract swing voters. Had Handel lost, she would have received exactly the same criticism. Yes, the candidates had two debates that were actually pretty wonky. But despite some skirmishing on health care, taxes, and spending — and a rare Handel gaffe when she said she did not “support a livable wage” — the campaigns were more about sending signals than crusading for or against policy proposals. Thanks to the basically conservative nature of the district and the candidates’ own calculations, messaging in this race really boiled down to the Republicans calling Ossoff an out-of-touch lefty’s lefty and Ossoff saying “I’m not!” Ossoff presumably decided specific issues would not help him with swing voters, and that his own base would turn out robustly thanks to the desire to smite Donald Trump and his campaign’s massive get-out-the-vote operation. So now Democrats are left wondering if a campaign that obsessively tried to exploit the unpopular health-care bill Handel said she would have voted for, or embraced popular progressive causes from environmental protection to education to protection of Social Security and Medicare, might have done better. We may never know.

The campaigns in GA-06 may have proven it is possible to contact voters too much. There is abundant anecdotal evidence that the “ground game” in GA-06 was so intense and relentless that by the time June 20 rolled around many voters just wanted it all to end. And in part because the money-and-volunteer-rich Ossoff campaign was engaged in this level of effort from the beginning, the Democrat may have been unequally affected by voter fatigue, as this report from Business Insider suggests:

“I have received non-stop calls, texts emails for two months solid. It’s harassment honestly,” local artist Sydney Daniel told Business Insider. “I liked Ossoff before but now I don’t want to vote at all because of how obnoxious and ruthless they have been.”

Pretty much everyone agrees that the skyrocketing early voting numbers —just over a fourth of voters cast ballots early before the first round, while over half did so in the runoff — was in part driven by people who wanted to get themselves off campaign contact lists and stop the phone calls and knocks on the door. Add in the saturation-level and highly redundant ads, and you have a recipe for taking the fun out of voting. It is not surprising that some of the informal hindsight commentary you heard from Democrats yesterday was that the Ossoff campaign should have devoted less money to hounding the same group of “likely voters” and more to registering and mobilizing marginal voters.

The idea that it is possible to overkill in get-out-the-vote efforts is a highly heretical one that political professionals will resist. And most campaigns aren’t going to have the kind of money that makes it possible. But it’s a phenomenon worth watching.

The results in Georgia, and in other 2017 special elections, should be encouraging to Democrats — but they don’t guarantee a big midterm win. Yes, a lot of Democrats are depressed over what many had expected to be an Ossoff win, and more generally, on the failure of the Donkey Party to convert anti-Trump passion into a special election victory this year (the earlier contest in CA-34 which was dominated by Democratic candidates was never competitive, and two future special elections in heavily Republican Utah and Alabama probably won’t be, either). But as virtually every observer who was not simply spinning has pointed out, the special House elections in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina (the scene of an surprisingly strong if unsuccessful June 20 Democratic candidacy) were all on GOP turf — as one might expect since the vacancies to be filled were created by Trump’s appointment of incumbents to his Cabinet! And without question, all four Democratic candidates in these elections performed well above historic expectations (as House election wizard David Wasserman measured it, these Democrats won on average 8 percentage points more than the character of the districts they were running in would have suggested). Even more fundamentally, these results indicate that the recent pattern of Democrats struggling to turn out their voters in non-presidential elections may have come to an end, just in time for the 2018 midterms.

It is impossible to tell from these or any other special elections what will happen next year — particularly when the main variable in every midterm, the performance and popularity of the president of the United States, is so difficult to predict with any precision. But Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight probably expressed where we are right now as well as anyone could:

“The results simultaneously suggest that an impressively wide array of Republican-held seats might be competitive next year — perhaps as many as 60 to 80 — and that Democrats are outright favorites in only a fraction of these, perhaps no more than a dozen.

“In order to win a net of 24 seats next year — enough to flip the House — Democrats may therefore need to target dozens of Republican-held seats and see where the chips fall. They can variously attempt anti-Trump, anti-Republican or anti-incumbent messages depending on the district….

“[A] ‘pretty good’ year for Democrats might yield a gain of only 15 seats for the party, whereas a ‘very good’ year — if the political climate is just a few points more Democratic-leaning — could produce a 50-seat swing instead.”

So while Republicans have earned a moment of celebration for holding off a Democratic assault on their home territory, Democrats should stay focused on the big picture, and the still robust possibility of a 2018 “wave” in their favor.

Why Ossoff Lost and What He Won

It’s a little harder today than it was yesterday morning to challenge the argument that the suburban, heavilly-gerrymandered south is still ‘fool’s gold’ for Democratic House candidates. Handel’s victory provides red meat for Democratic strategists who argue that, generally, Dems shouldn’t squander resources running in southern, predominantly white House districts.

Ossoff’s loss by less than 10,000 votes cast out of more than 259,000 cast (51.87 to 48.13 percent) may dampen the enthusiasm of the “run everywhere” advocates in the Democratic Party, at least as far as House districts are concerned. But Obama’s 2008 victories in NC, FL and VA and 2012 wins in VA and FL still indicate that good Democratic presidential candidates can still do well in southern states. It’s the House races in southern, predominantly white districts that look a bit less accessible today.

Handel ran a competent campaign. She didn’t whine too much about attacks against her; She kept on attacking Ossoff relentlessly and apparently made her memes about her opponent stick. As Ed Kilgore notes in New York, “Handel’s strategy – keeping a prudent distance from Donald Trump and reminding GOP voters in endlessly rerun ads that the mild-mannered centrist candidate was linked to “extremist liberals” ranging from anarchist street protesters to Hollywood to Nancy Pelosi – was effective.”

John Cassidy writes in his New Yorker article, “Jon Ossoff’s Georgia Sixth Loss Is a Reality Check for Democrats,” that “The G.O.P. high command depicted Ossoff as a puppet of Hollywood celebrities and Nancy Pelosi, who, according to the Journal Constitution poll, has a ninety-one per cent disapproval rating among local Republicans…the Republican barrage proved effective, something Handel acknowledged in her victory speech.”

As for the argument that Ossoff “would have done better if he had adopted a more populist and overtly anti-Trump approach,”  Cassidy writes, “In a district as red as Georgia’s Sixth, the disheartening truth is that Ossoff probably wouldn’t have done better had he run to the left.” But I do have to wonder of Ossoff could have hit Handel harder with the video clip showing her opposition to a “living wage.” I’m left with a feeling that he could have attacked her more effectively, at least on that gaffe.

Handel also handled White House participation delicately, using Vice President Pence for fund-raising, but not for rallies and avoiding talk about Trump. “During her two debates with Ossoff, ” writes Frank Bruni in The New York Times, “she sidestepped any utterance of Trump’s name to a point where Jim Galloway, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, cracked that “the clothes have no emperor.” As Robert Costa, Paul Kane and Elsie Viebeck and put it in The Washington Post, Handel also did a good job of  “deflecting the barrage of questions about Trump’s latest tweets or his handling of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”

A former Georgia Secretary of State who knew the district from the inside out, Handel also had all the benefits of her party’s domination of state politics, along with buckets of GOP money, and she leveraged these assetts well. Ossoff should also be credited with running a good campaign. He almost won it without a run-off, and he did recruit an estimated 12,000 volunteers.

In his PowerPost analysis, “Ossoff chose civility and it didn’t work. How do Democrats beat Trump?,” Paul Kane discusses the possibility that Ossoff should have campaigned a little more like a warrior and a little less like a gentelman: “In Ossoff, Democrats hoped they had found a potential new path to defeating Republicans with a message of peace and civility. They calculated that the fiery rage, often associated with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would not win over moderate Republicans and centrists…So Ossoff chose the high priest route instead of the fierce warrior. It was civil disobedience rather than civil unrest.”

Kane notes that an Ossoff volunteer, Jeff Jacobsen, “acknowledged that there were times he wanted Ossoff to be more of a fighter. “Sometimes my wife and I are a little frustrated, but if that’s who he is, that’s who he is. He’s not getting down and dirty…” There is both a hunger for more candidate civility on the part of many voters, coexisting alongside a longing for more aggressive candidates who deploy tougher rhetoric. Tone is important in the context of different electorates and opponents. In any case, Ossoff’s toughness was more in his energetic determination than in his rhetoric. I suspect such tone choices are a usually a washout, unless taken to extremes.

Kilgore affirms that “Ossoff’s strategy was to win in the first round before local and national Republicans got their act together.” In this, he very nearly succeeded. Or, according to one insider, Dee Hunter, director of the Civil Rights Center of Washington, D.C., only voter suppression prevented him from winning in the first round. It is possible, though not likely, that another Democrat in another transitional district might have better luck with a such a first-round blitz. But it appears that Republicans have developed solid enough ground games for run-off elections.

What did Ossoff win? He forced the GOP into record-level spending in a solid red district. More importantly, as Kilgore writes, “Democrats searching for a silver lining in the Georgia race don’t have to look too far. This is the third consecutive special election (the fourth if you count South Carolina) in a historically Republican district where the Democratic percentage of the vote jumped sharply. Democrats will surely retake the House if the swing in their direction is similarly strong in 2018.”

Looking toward the future, the lessons of the GA-6 election may soon be buried in the rubble of coming political earthquakes. As Cassidy concludes, “If the White House and the Republicans go ahead and pass unpopular measures, such as tax cuts for the rich and a health-care bill that raises premiums and causes tens of millions of people to lose their insurance coverage, they could well suffer the consequences in 2018.”

So often the seeds of future victories are hidden in electoral defeats. Just as Handel has learned the useful lessons of her past political defeats, Georgia Democrats can hope that Ossoff will be back in politics again. Having learned the lessons of his defeat in the special election run-off, he now has greater name-recognition and fund-raising smarts — both of which could serve him well in the next election.

How Dems Might Motivate Liberal Non-voters

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt shares a vision of a brighter future for Democrats. It is predicated, however, on meeting a difficult challenge — increasing voter participation among liberals who haven’t been voting.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Hillary Clinton would be president. Even with Donald Trump’s working-class appeal, Clinton could have swept Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Democrats would control the Senate. Clinton or Barack Obama could then have filled the recent Supreme Court vacancy, and that justice would hold the tiebreaking vote on campaign finance, labor unions and other issues.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, the country would be doing more to address the two defining issues of our time — climate change and stagnant middle-class living standards. Instead, Trump is making both worse.

Ditto for health care, immigration and education, among other defining issues. Regarding tommorrow’s GA-6 election, Leonhardt writes, “Jon Ossoff, has a real chance to win partly because he isn’t suffering from the gap in voter passion and commitment that usually bedevils Democrats, especially in off-year races.”

As for the nation-wide implications, “It would be a big deal if Democrats could more often close their passion-and-commitment gap. Even modestly higher turnout could help them at every level of politics and hasten the policy changes that liberals dream about.”

Leonhardt rightly urges Dems: “..Don’t make the mistake of blaming everything on nefarious Republicans. Yes, Republicans have gerrymandered districts and shamefully suppressed votes (and Democrats should keep pushing for laws that make voting easier). But the turnout gap is bigger than any Republican scheme.”

He also suggests that Democrats do a better job of leveraging digital technology, and adds “I’d encourage progressives in Silicon Valley to think of voting as a giant realm ripe for disruption. Academic research by Alan Gerber, Donald Green and others has shown that peer pressure can lift turnout. Smartphones are the most efficient peer-pressure device ever invented, but no one has figured out how social media or texting can get a lot more people to the polls — yet.”

The DNC and state Democratic parties should develop a template app, with localized voter registratiion deadline alerts, poll location info and maps, a celebrity GOTV pitch and a progressive slate up and running for every federal, state and local election in the U.S.

In terms of the quality of messaging needed to increase liberal turnout, Leonhardt urges “a passionate message of fairness,”  — “providing jobs, lifting wages, protecting rights and fighting Trump’s plutocracy” However, “it should not resemble a complete progressive wish list, which could turn off swing voters without even raising turnout.” He believes that many liberals who don’t vote “are not doctrinaire…They are looking to be inspired.”

Sometimes the best way to project a message of fairness is to offer diverse candidates. Democrats urgently need more women, African American, Asian American and Latino candidates to run in every district and jurisdiction.

As Leonhardt concludes, “The country’s real silent majority prefers Democrats, if only that majority could be stirred to vote.”

Good points, all. But let’s not forget that many citizens don’t vote because of problems associated with voter registration requirements and voting convenience. Democrats must make Saturday voting, early voting, on-line and mail voting  and universal automatic registration top priorities. And Dems are going to need better monitoring of voter suppression practices like “caging” and other methods used to obstruct voters of color and younger voters.

Leonhardt is surely right that Democrats can and must do a better job of engaging liberal non-voters. It’s a tough, but do-able challenge and it’s one Dems can’t shirk — if they want to be competitive in the upcoming election cycles.

Political Strategy Notes

Gabriel Debenedetti’s Politico post “Democrats sweat the details in Georgia special election: Party officials fear the potentially demoralizing effect of a defeat” may be overstating the psychological effects of a possible Ossoff defeat in the GA-6 election this Tuesday. The party pros are not going to fold up in the fetal position if their candidate doesn’t win. They will be focused on the next important race within hours. And savvy observers know that Ossoff has already won in two important ways: First, getting to “toss-up” status in the polls one day out is a major accomplishment in a suburban, white majority southern district. And second, given Georgia’s track record with respect to voter suppression, it is quite likely that Ossoff would have won the district without a run-off, had there been no voter suppression. Ossoff, a smart, but not particularly charismatic candidate, has already demonstrated the application of Goethe’s insight, “Boldness has genius and magic in it” — especially for Democratic candidates.

On the other hand “If Ossoff can pull off this victory in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, it will deliver a much-needed positive jolt to the party apparatus,” writes Paul Kane at PowerPost…”An Ossoff win, just a week after Northam’s convincing primary victory, would signal that the Democratic establishment is still alive and kicking…An Ossoff victory — far from a sure thing — would also signal that the GOP, despite controlling all of Washington, remains more beset by ideological divisions and personality disputes than the Democratic Party. Neither party appears particularly unified, but Democrats have been bracing for anti-establishment candidates’ knocking off party veterans in the same manner that Republicans have endured in recent years.”

So now there’s a TV ad that tries to link Ossoff to Kathy Griffin’s sense of political humor and the Scalise shooting, as Julia Manchester reports at The Hill. “The unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting Republicans,” the ad’s narrator says…“When will it stop? It won’t if Jon Ossoff wins on Tuesday,” the narrator continues.” Of course the Handel campaign was all crocodile tears in denouncing the ad. My hunch is that any voters dumb enough to fall for this one were a lost cause anyway. But it’s probably too much to hope that it will actualy help Ossoff with the very few remaining ‘swing voters.’

There have been more than 150 mass shotings this year already, with only one by a guy who claimed to be a progressive and who  expressed hatred for Republicans. Guess which incident got the most coverage. In addition to President Trump’s encouragement of violence during his campaign, the displays of hypocrisy, demonization and political amnesia among haters of Democrats have been off the charts. One conservative radio host, Jesse Lee Peterson has chartacterized Democrats as “children of Satan.”

Fenit Nirappil reports at The Washington Post that Virginia Democrats are unifying behind Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial campaign to defeat Republican Ed Gillespie, founder of the Repubican ‘Freedom Caucus,’ which has done so much damage to the tone of American politics.

Some encouraging stats from the VA governors elections, reported by Holly Stouffer of WHSV-TV: “Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam secured his spot with 303,429 votes in the Democratic primary. Ed Gillespie had 160,039 votes in the Republican primary…If you take a look at the overall totals for the governor’s race, there’s nearly a 200,000 vote difference between the Democrats and Republicans across the state…More than 540,000 people voted for the two Democrats and the Republican side had around 360,000 voting for the three candidates on the ballot.”

And Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley note at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “Solid African-American turnout is also a Northam priority, and his apparently robust performance with that bloc of voters is helpful. His new running mate might help in that regard, too. Attorney Justin Fairfax (D), an African-American lawyer, won the lieutenant gubernatorial primary after he narrowly lost a 2013 primary for attorney general. There’s some evidence that having a black candidate on the statewide ticket can help with black turnout. Rounding out the Democratic statewide ticket is Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who deferred to Northam in the gubernatorial race and is seeking reelection to an office he only won by a minuscule margin in 2013.”

Here’s an ad being tweaked for use in the campaigns to defeat Republicans Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Ted Cruz (Tex.), and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R):

There is such a thing as “good guilt,” at least in the political sense, and Javier Panzar’s L.A. Times post, “These Democrats feel guilty for sitting out the 2016 elections, and they aren’t waiting to register voters for the midterms” shows how it can work.

The AHCA Isn’t Just Unpopular Nationally–It’s Unpopular Everywhere

Watching Senate Republicans struggle in the darkness with their health care bill this week, I began to realize how difficult a task they have brought upon themslves. I outlined their main problem at New York:

[A]t a meeting with Republican senators, [the president] reportedly called the House-passed American Health Care Act “mean” and a “son of a bitch.” Assuming he did not mean these words as complimentary, they were definitely embarrassing, given his stout support for and intensive lobbying on behalf of the self-same “mean son of a bitch” bill in the House.

But there is another possible explanation: Maybe the president has just been indulging his taste for polls. As two political scientists writing for the New York Times explain, the AHCA is not just unpopular nationally: It’s unpopular everywhere:

“We found that Republicans have produced a rare unity among red and blue states: opposition to the A.H.C.A.

“For example, even in the most supportive state, deep-red Oklahoma, we estimate that only about 38 percent of voters appear to support the law versus 45 percent who oppose. (Another 17 percent of Oklahomans say they have no opinion.) Across all the states that voted for President Trump last year, we estimate that support for the A.H.C.A. is rarely over 35 percent. A majority of Republican senators currently represent states where less than a third of the public supports the A.H.C.A.”

Might this matter in 2018? The GOP senator thought to be most vulnerable, Dean Heller of Nevada, is from a state where the approval ratio for AHCA is a really dismal 28/53. Perhaps the second-most-vulnerable Republican senator, Jeff Flake, is a bit luckier: Arizonans only disapprove of AHCA by a net margin of 14 points. Given the evidence that support for Obamacare had a negative effect on Democrats running in 2010, some warning signs should be flashing for congressional Republicans generally.

And that brings us back to Trump’s comments and the really difficult political maneuver the GOP is trying to pull off in the Senate. Senators very much need their bill to be perceived as much less damaging to the American health-care system than the House bill. But at the same time, it needs to be close enough in reality to the House bill that the ultimate House-Senate conference product can still get through the lower chamber.

Presumably Trump is focused on the first task of suggesting — or pretending — there’s a world of difference between the two pieces of legislation. So maybe the leak of his derisive comments was intentional. But someone in the White House needs to be calling up key House Republicans to explain that this is all for show.