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

November 17, 2017

Lux: What Does It Mean to Be a Democrat?

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

The events of the last week have reminded all people of good will how important it is to elect a president who is thoughtful, even-tempered, and unalterably opposed to hate groups and hateful rhetoric. In times of violence and hate, we need a president who will stand up strongly for what is right and work hard to heal the hatred and bigotry in this country, not inflame it. Sadly, my Democratic Party allowed Trump to win the presidency because he had a far clearer message than we did. Now more than ever, we know that our failure allowed the worst person we could have elected to win, and for our country to be a decent place to live it is urgent that we start winning elections again.

But to do it, we have to answer an important question: what is a Democrat, anyway?

If you follow politics, you know that Democrats craft their message the way members of Congress make legislation: with committees making compromises and coalitions bickering over word choices. It’s like the old adage of legislation as “sausage making.” The difference is that while “sausage making” sometimes produces good legislation, it never produces good messaging. The latest example is the rollout of the big new slogan Congressional leaders recently announced: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” Besides not being very exciting, the whole frame implies tinkering, that the system is fine but we can do just a little bit better.

The problem with this is that most Americans today believe this country is seriously off-track, and are hungry for a powerful message of change. To find a path back and win, Democrats need to tell a big, compelling story, based on our values, of who we are, what we will do, and why we are Democrats in the first place.  What voters need to hear from any Democrat running for office is the answer to one central question: Why are you a Democrat? The Democratic Party has lost nearly a thousand state, local, and federal seats in the last decade, and is at one of its lowest points of political power in almost 90 years. Why are you putting the (D) next to your name?

As Democrats chart a path back and push through the current internal struggles, we all must answer this question: why are we Democrats?

I think we need to begin by going back to our roots, rediscovering our identity as the party of the people, not the well-off and powerful. We can start answering that identity question by looking at our party’s history as the oldest continuous political party in the world— it was founded in the first decade of our country’s existence. Doing that is tricky because our party, just like our country, was founded by deeply imperfect people, including racists, slaveowners, and people who countenanced the killing of the indigenous people already living here. We should not forget or forgive these sins, or sweep them under history’s carpet. But I do not believe we are well served by throwing away everything our ancestors did or believed in creating the United States of America. However flawed The Democratic Party’s founders were as people, their aspirational beliefs about equality and democracy laid the foundation for the country we live in today.

The Democratic Party, from its beginning days at the founding of our nation’s history, has always had as its foundational idea that the government should be of, by, and for the people.  Unlike Alexander Hamilton, who viewed democracy as a “great beast” and wanted the government to partner with big New York banks to run the country, and John Adams, who feared the idea of expanding the vote to non-property owners because someday people might want to expand the vote to “even women and slaves,” the founders of the Democratic Party, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, wanted the big banks to have less power and working people to have more power. They wanted to expand democracy so that the government would be more responsive to everyday working people. The name, “Democratic” Party, represented that idea and identity.  Democrats from the very beginning fought for more, rather than less, people getting the right to vote; more people getting a good public education; and more power for small businesses, farmers and workers instead of more power for the big banks.

That history still guides who we are today. To me, there are five reasons to be a Democrat:

First, we are Democrats because we take seriously the big idea in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which began by dedicating our new nation to the aspirational concept that all people are created equal. That means all of us should have the opportunity to have our liberty and pursue our happiness, that we should all be treated fairly in our courts of law, that we each should be able to get a good education and a legitimate chance to make a success of ourselves, that we should all be judged, as Martin Luther King said, “by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.” The irony is that even though Jefferson was a slaveowner, the power of that foundational idea has driven progressive reformers ever since to abolish slavery and secure equal rights for all our citizens.

Third, we are Democrats because we want to fight for the many, not the few. We know that when economic and political power gets too concentrated in a few very wealthy hands, the middle class, and our democracy, will break down. We know that huge corporate cartels with near-monopoly power distort markets, squeeze workers, jack up prices, evade rules everyone else has to live by, hurt small businesses and innovative entrepreneurship, and get sweetheart deals from government. We want to put more power into the hands of working people, communities, and consumers, and less into the hands of big business and the wealthy. That’s why Democrats fight for strong anti-trust enforcement, breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks, closing corporate loopholes, and having the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.

Fourth, as the party of the people, we value compassion and community. We want a government that invests in our people and fights for working folks, children, and senior citizens. We fight for people to have good jobs with good wages and benefits. Democrats have always advocated for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA care, strong labor unions, affordable college education, great public schools, and a higher minimum wage.  We know that compassion is not only the right thing to do, it pays off in the long run. Immigrants we welcome to the American community make huge contributions to building a stronger country and economy. Getting poor kids enough food and a good education pays off tenfold when they become productive adults. Giving people the security of health coverage allows them to take the risk of starting new businesses that generate good jobs.

Finally, Democrats understand what “freedom” really means. We know that people want freedom in the pursuit of their happiness; they want a chance at the American Dream. They want a good education growing up and a good job and decent place to live as they enter adulthood. They want the freedom to drink clean water and breathe clean air. They want a future without the specter of climate change hanging over their heads. Women need the freedom to control their own bodies and destinies. People don’t want to be burdened down by overwhelming debt. They want the freedom to be able to negotiate a decent wage with their employer. They want the freedom to start their own small business without worrying that huge corporations are going to make it impossible for them to innovate or compete.

This is what it means to be a Democrat.

The Democratic Party’s problems will not be solved by a new slogan. Our credibility and our very identity as a party has been badly eroded over the last few decades. Most voters don’t see us as the party of the people, in large part because too many Democrats forgot where we came from and lost their way. Clinton and Obama won by promising hope and change for people who worked hard and played by the rules, and they did a lot of good things. But when Wall Street bankers who crashed the economy got bailouts, bonuses and get-out-of-jail-free cards, while millions of workers lost their jobs, people turned away from us. And we have paid the price, losing over 1,000 offices up and down the ballot since 2009.

Our message and identity problems will be only solved when we go back to our roots: Democrats began as the champion of workers and farmers and small businesses. Our founders promoted aspirational ideas like equality, fraternity, the freedom to pursue happiness as each of us defined it, and building a more perfect union.  If we embrace those historic values, and fight for them, rather than just mouth the words, we will start winning elections again.

Political Strategy notes

At The St. Louis Post-Dipatch, columnist Tony Messenger writes, “Already, scientists are pointing to climate change as a culprit to explain the expected record 50 inches of rain that might fall in Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and the rising tide of water that is swamping and isolating America’s fourth-most-populous city…Perhaps Harvey, hitting hard in the conservative Gulf Coast of Texas, in the nation’s center of the oil business — which has funded climate change denial to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade — will turn the tide…Responding to massive flooding and the threat of climate change in the 1990s, leaders in the Netherlands, where much of the country is under sea level, have been waging a battle that would look foreign in St. Louis or Houston. They don’t build more levees, they give the water room to roam…Congress has an impending September deadline to renew the nation’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is currently about $25 billion in debt. Failing to plan for floods in the age of climate change, you see, is really expensive. It’s also deadly. That’s the story of the day in Houston…Today, we mourn the dead. Tomorrow, let’s honor their memories by pulling our nation’s collective heads out of the murky and dangerous waters of climate-change denial.”

Politico’s Elena Schneider and Austin Wright report that Democrats are targeting several Republican House members who are embroiled in ethics controversie. “Among the incumbents on their early target list are California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, whose ties to Russian officials have come under scrutiny and was once warned by the FBI that Russian spies were trying to recruit him; New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who faces an ethics complaintfrom an outside watchdog group over a letter that some perceived as targeting an activist; New York Rep. Chris Collins, whose stock-market investments are under investigation; Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to assault for attacking a reporter; and California Rep. Devin Nunes, whose handling of classified information is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee.”

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats For Life of America, writes at The Hill: “Some have charged that allowing anti-abortion Democrats to run in pro-life districts is a way of ignoring the wishes of the poor, women, and African-Americans. The evidence, however, shows that support for a small-tent strategy is found predominantly among affluent white liberals. One poll finds that just 7 percent of African-American Democrats support a small-tent approach, compared to 35 percent of white Democrats. Poor and working-class Democrats, likewise, are more likely to oppose an abortion litmus test than are Democrats in the highest income brackets. And fewer Democratic women favor exclusively restricting Democratic Party support to proponents of legal abortion than Democratic men do, rejecting this approach by a two-to-one margin…Most polls over the last decade show that between a quarter and a third of the Democratic Party identifies as pro-life.” Day’s bio notes that she “also advocates for policies to reduce abortion in America by providing more support to pregnant and parenting women and their families.”

But, in her article, “Hey, Democratic Candidates: Pro-Choice Women Are Your Base: Running an anti-choice candidate might pick up a few Republican votes—at the expense of turning off the party’s loyal voters,” Katha Pollit, columnist for The Nation, writes, “Only women are expected to let history roll backwards over them. Only women’s rights to contraception and abortion are perpetually debatable, postponable, side-trackable, while those who insist on upholding the party platform—and the Constitution—are dismissed as rigid ideologues with a “litmus test.” Party leaders can’t come right out and say so—in fact, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez has issued a statement declaring that abortion rights are non-negotiable…What tends to get forgotten by those who push for the Democratic Party to run anti-abortion candidates is that the party base is pro-choice. That is who votes in primaries, and that is who knocks on doors and makes phone calls and gets out the vote on Election Day. An anti-abortion Dem might steal some votes from the Republican candidate, but at the cost of losing the most ardent Democrats—who happen to be women.”

There is a profound difference between the “pro-life” advocacy of Democrats, who consistently support funding for policies that help take care of children and the conservative ideologues who don’t show much concern about children’s health once they are born. As Sister Joan Chittister, Order of Saint Benedict, has said, “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Emily Badger addresses a trend I’ve wondered about in her post, “Political Migration: A New Business of Moving Out to Fit In.” At The Upshot Badger cites Bill Bishop’s book, “The Big Sort,” which posits that Americans have been self-selecting since the 1970s into like-minded communities that are less likely to hold competitive elections…In a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of people who are “consistently conservative” and 35 percent who are “consistently liberal” said it was important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views. It is less clear, though, how many people actually act on that sentiment. Most movers are primarily concerned with job prospects and affordable housing.” However, adds badger, “One study that relied on the voter files of millions of people in seven states, by Wendy Cho, James Gimpel and Iris Hui, found that registered Republican movers show a preference for ZIP codes that are more heavily Republican than the ones they left. Democrats do the same, although to a lesser degree.”

“You could even argue pretty convincingly that impeaching and removing Trump would be very adverse to the short- and long-term interests of the Democratic Party. Why make some conventional Republican like Pence or Paul Ryan (the next in line) who has not bragged about sexual assaults or embraced racists or cozied up to Vladimir Putin or gone crazy on social media a sitting president? What horrendous public-sector policies or congressional initiatives would impeaching Trump torpedo? Why squander the opportunity to reap electoral benefits from a good backlash against Trump?” — from Ed Kilgore’s New York Magazine post, “No, Impeaching Trump Would Not Reverse the 2016 Elections.”

Democratic candidates and campaigns have an article to read at Foreign Affairs, “What America Owes Its Veterans: A Better System of Care and Support” by Phillip Carter at Foreign Affairs. Among Carter’s observations: “But despite some recent improvements, the VA and other federal agencies struggle to keep other promises to active service members and veterans after they come home. Aging bureaucracies struggle to meet the needs of a diverse and dispersed population. Educational and economic support programs fail to keep pace with the changing needs of veterans and their families. To fix these problems, the United States must rewrite the contract it strikes with its service members, building a support system that not only ameliorates their battle wounds and financial losses but also helps them thrive after their service in a twenty-first-century economy…..Without scaling back programs such as disability compensation and health care, which primarily ameliorate the harms of service, the government should expand benefits such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill and small-business financing, which can create enormous economic opportunities for those who serve. It should also find ways to leverage the enormous social capital that veterans develop during their service for economic and societal gain.”

Trump, His Base, and White Racial Grievances

After considerable meditation on why Trump’s sympathetic attitude towards Neo-Confederates hasn’t disturbed his base, I offered these conclusions for New York:

GOP elected officials have been unusually willing to put some distance between themselves and Trump on the validity of protests to defend Confederate and neo-Confederate symbols. But as my colleague Eric Levitz pointed out last week, that sentiment has not been shared by the large pro-Trump segment of the Republican base. Indeed, these voters are far more likely to agree with Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville than with the health-care legislation he has been promoting all year.

That’s the most important reason the president’s shocking expression of solidarity with the “fine people” among the open white supremacists carrying torches in Charlottesville has not much affected his approval ratings. It’s true, as Nate Silver observed this week, that Trump’s public standing is so generally low that a negative reaction to any one development might not move the needle much. But there was a visible erosion of support for Trump that appeared after earlier missteps, such as the firing of James Comey, and his embrace of a very unpopular health-care bill. Voters expect Trump to be — well, if not racist, then anti-anti-racist. And his supporters responded to demands to take down symbols of unvanquished southern white pride much as Trump did in his infamous August 14 press conference: as just another “politically correct” imposition on perpetually hard-pressed white people. As Silver puts it:

“Issues related to race, gender, sexuality, religion and social class have long been an animating force in American politics, of course. But they’ve come back in an especially strong way in the Trump era, so much so that views on these questions tend to be stronger markers of support for Trump than views on economic and policy issues.”

Drawing on research about the attitudes of 2016 Trump voters, Thomas Edsall goes further, suggesting that the president’s base easily identifies with white protesters against alleged offenses to “our history, our legacy,” as Trump himself put it in this week’s rally in Phoenix. Indeed, political scientists looking at Trump’s emergence as the shocking front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination last year noted at the time that “white racial identity and beliefs that whites are treated unfairly are powerful predictors of support for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.”

A more recent study by prominent political scientists zeroes in on the importance of white racial grievances to core Trump supporters, as Edsall explains:

“The three authors describe a rapidly “growing sense of white victimhood.” They cite surveys showing that among Republicans, the perception of discrimination against whites grew from 38 percent in 2011-12 to 47 percent in January 2016.

“A February 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute separately asked voters whether “there is a lot of discrimination” against various groups. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.”

These findings help us to understand the special rage Trump supporters exhibit when they (or their leader) are accused of racism. They think of themselves as the victims of anti-white racism. And Trump has frequently fed that perception, as Christopher Ingraham reports:

“Trump has used the word “racist” or “racism” at least 56 times on Twitter, according to the Trump Twitter Archive, a website that tracks and archives all the president’s tweets. In two-thirds of those Tweets, Trump levied accusations of racism at individuals or groups of people. And those accusations followed a very clear pattern: Trump has directed accusations of racism toward black people three times as often as he has done so against whites.”

Trump’s current determination to view anti-racists demonstrating in Charlottesville as just as objectionable as, if not more objectionable than, the white marchers whining about being “replaced” fits into this pattern, and has evoked a predictable, if shocking-to-elites, response from his core supporters.

You can argue all day long that this makes them, and him, prima facie racists. But racists or not, they are definitely anti-anti-racists who manifest a knee-jerk negative reaction to protests against racism as advancing the interests of non-white people who, in their view, have been coddled for too long. They oppose the removal of the statues of the Confederacy, not because they particularly care about them, but because anti-racists would like to see them removed. That is an attitude that is just beneath the surface in their attitudes toward race-tinged conflicts involving police violence and immigration, as well as monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow.

But even Trump must be careful not to take anti-anti-racism too far; there are limits to what even his core followers will support out of antipathy to his opponents. A quarter century ago, when David Duke (who was, like a political zombie, present among the white rioters of Charlottesville) was on the very brink of being elected governor of Louisiana, he wasn’t brought down by his past as a Ku Klux Klan leader. It was when photos of him wearing a swastika arm band as an LSU grad student started circulating (punctuated by opponent Ed Edwards saying to him in a televised debate, “I was working on welfare reform back when you were still goose-stepping around Baton Rouge”) that white Louisianans had second thoughts about making him their governor and national symbol. There were, of course, a lot more World War II veterans alive back then. Still, Trump must learn to keep his anti-anti-racism semi-respectable. It’s not an easy balancing act, particularly for a man of our president’s temperament.

But it could take many steps over the line to convince Trump’s base that he’s doing anything other than standing up for their rights. He may lose support for breaking economic policy promises, but on the cultural and racial front, they are quick to take his side against those they view as oppressors of the white majority.

Is the Public Option the ‘Sweet Spot’ for Dems?

Democrats who support single-payer, Medicare for all or universal health care coverage have reason to be encouraged by the growing popularity of these reforms with Party leaders and in recent polls. Potential 2020 presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer and many others have said that it’s time for Democrats to rally around a much stronger government role in providing health security for all Americans.

Jocelyn Kiley reports that a Pew Research Center poll condcuted June 8-18 indicates that “Public support for ‘single payer’ health coverage grows, driven by Democrats.”:

Currently, 60% say the federal government is responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, while 39% say this is not the government’s responsibility. These views are unchanged from January, but the share saying health coverage is a government responsibility remains at its highest level in nearly a decade.

Among those who see a government responsibility to provide health coverage for all, more now say it should be provided through a single health insurance system run by the government, rather than through a mix of private companies and government programs. Overall, 33% of the public now favors such a “single payer” approach to health insurance, up 5 percentage points since January and 12 points since 2014. Democrats – especially liberal Democrats – are much more supportive of this approach than they were even at the start of this year.

…Among Democrats, 52% now say health insurance should be provided through a single national insurance system run by the government, while fewer (31%) say it should be provided through a mix of private companies and government programs. The share of Democrats supporting a single national program to provide health insurance has increased 9 percentage points since January and 19 points since 2014.

Nearly two-thirds of liberal Democrats (64%) now support a single-payer health insurance system, up 13 percentage points since January. Conservative and moderate Democrats remain about evenly divided: 38% prefer that health insurance continue to be provided by a mix of private insurance companies and government programs, while 42% favor a single-payer approach.

Kiley notes also that adults under the age of 30 are more receptive to single-payer, with 45 percent favoring a “single national program,” compared to 30 percent for those 65 and older. Further, “66% of Democrats and Democratic leaners ages 18 to 29 say government health coverage should be provided through a single national system, compared with 48% of Democrats and Democratic leaners ages 30 and older.”

At The Los Angeles Times, Evan Halper reports that “Large numbers of Democratic politicians, emboldened by the failure of Republicans to repeal Obamacare, are now backing” single-payer health care reform. However, Halper also notes some push-back by Democratic centrists and moderates:

“I am completely dubious of these claims that socialized medicine is wildly popular,” said Jonathan Cowan, president of Third Way. “They never tell people in their polls that it would mean taxes go up significantly and they would not keep their doctor. Try that out. The moment you actually tell people what it is, support collapses.”

Cowan noted that Colorado voters in November soundly defeated a single-payer proposal. “This is a dangerous political fantasy,” he said. “If you believe in single-payer health insurance and don’t care about the consequences, fine. But to argue it is a political winner when it literally has never gotten more than 30% in a ballot measure is wrong.”

Cowan is likely wrong about the taxes part of his argument. Americans are already fed up with private insurance premium price-gouging and escalating out-of-pocket and drug costs. Arguments that government would do worse than what is going on are impossible to prove and a tough sell.

But the Republicans and the insurance industry will certainly hammer the meme that single-payer reform would result in many health care consumers losing their doctor. It may prove to be their most effective counter-argument.

Democrats can address this concern by including in any health reform package an iron-clad guarantee that those who are very concerned about keeping their physicians can do so. It would surely require all physicians to work within the system.

Most single-payer advocates would likely agree that it can’t be implemented all at once. That would be too disruptive to the health care and insurance industries and the economy. There will have to be a substantial phasing-in period adequate for health care and insurance companies to diversify and reconfigure their operations.

Perhaps the best way to accomplish this may be to provide a public option amendment to the Affordable Care Act as an interim first step toward a single-payer system. A public option has the appeal of offering health care consumers a choice, and it would provide an incentive to private insurers to expand coverage and reduce premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

Insurance companies and conservatives will fight any reforms that expand a government role in providing health care. That fight can’t be avoided. But Democrats are holding the better cards in the struggle for health care reform, since the Republicans have squandered what little credibility they had in the Trumpcare fiascoes.

For Democrats, the way forward is to keep urging single-payer reform. The public is awakening to the cost-effective benefits of the single-payer approach, which has an impressive track record in other countries, while privatized health insurance becomes increasingly expensive in the U.S.

Americans have always preferred choices to being told there is only one way they can do something. By offering the choice of a public option for health insurance, Democrats can win the good will of more voters who value having a choice, while moving health care reform toward the cost-savings and expanded coverage of a single-payer system.

It may be that the best system for the U.S. is a stronger mix of public and private health insurance options, similar to that of Germany or the Netherlands, or we may evolve to the more centralized single-payer systems of the U.K. or France. Either way, the public option is a good beginning.

Obamacare was a good start. Indications are, adding a public option would be an excellent next step.

History Says Senate Democrats Can Overcome Bad Landscape in 2018

It’s always worth looking at electoral history before looking ahead, and I did so today at New York.

[T]he [2018] Senate landscape seems impossibly difficult for the Donkey Party, which is defending 25 of 33 seats up next year, ten of them in states carried by Donald Trump last year. And of the Republican incumbents who are defending their seats, only two appear vulnerable at this point (though both, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, are now really vulnerable, facing both primary and general-election opposition). Everyone understands that the pro-GOP landscape and the anti–White House midterm dynamics are pushing these races in different directions. But it’s hard to get a handle on the magnitude of these contending forces.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball filled in some of our knowledge gap today, with a study by Geoffrey Skelley of Senate races in midterms dating all the way back to 1914. The numbers are pretty clear: “91% (287 of 314) of non-presidential party incumbents won reelection in midterms.” That’s much better than the 75 percent midterm reelection rate of senators from the presidential party.

Lest you imagine this is all a vestige of a bygone era of wide-scale ticket-splitting, there’s this factoid:

“If anything, out-party incumbents losing in a midterm is becoming less common: In six of the last eight midterms, including the last three (2006, 2010, and 2014), no such incumbent lost reelection.”

Here’s the fun part of the Crystal Ball analysis:

“Applying the historical averages to next year’s Senate elections would result — drumroll please — in a net party change of…zero seats. If 91% of the Democrats/Democratic-caucusing independents are reelected, that would be 23 out of 25, and if 75% of the Republicans are reelected, that would be six of eight, leading to no net change.

“Without making any predictions, such a scenario is plausible: Democrats could lose two of the incumbents defending dark red states, in states such as Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, but otherwise hold everything else, while Republicans could lose the only two seemingly vulnerable seats among their much smaller stable of incumbent-held states: Arizona and Nevada.”

It is clear that the tendency to lump all of the so-called Trump Ten senators into the same endangered category has never made much sense. Trump carried Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by narrow enough margins that even the mildest midterm anti–White House breeze could carry Democratic incumbents over the finish line. Ohio (an 8-point Trump margin in 2016) is more promising for Republicans, with Indiana (a 19-point margin) and Missouri (18 points) even more promising, and Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia (20-point-plus margins) really ripe targets. But Democratic incumbents in all these states have their own distinctive strengths, and at the moment not one of them is trailing according to the authoritative Cook Political Report.

There is one more imponderable to throw into the mix: Will the tendency of demographic groups that have recently become central to the Democratic coalition to significantly underperform in midterms change? There is reason to believe, in part based on special elections since Trump took office, that the spirit of resistance to the 45th president will offset some if not all of that phenomenon. But it’s something to keep in mind.

In general, the shape of the Senate after 2018 is going to be conditioned by a variety of competing and conflicting factors. One thing, however, is very clear: Had Hillary Clinton won last November, we would probably be looking at big Senate — and House — gains for the GOP next year. Using the in-party/out-party historical percentages, here’s what you’d get according to Crystal Ball’s Kyle Kondik:

“Just going by the averages, we’d expect the Democrats to lose a half-dozen seats and the GOP to lose one or even zero incumbents. And the net Democratic losses probably would have been even bigger because it’s easy to imagine one or more red state Democrats seeing the writing on the wall and retiring in advance of a tough midterm, giving the Republicans an easy open-seat pickup or two.”

In other words, had Clinton won, we might be talking about a GOP drive to get a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. There are always silver linings for the party that falls short in presidential elections.

Galston: Trump’s Charlottesville response falls flat with public, working-class base

The following article by William A. Galston, Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow – Governance Studies at Brookings and author of  Public Matters: Politics, Policy, and Religion in the 21st Century, is cross-posted from Brookings:

An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll released on August 16contained bad news for President Trump. Only 31 percent of registered voters believe that his response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, was strong enough, compared to 51 percent who think that it was not.

A CBS News poll released the next day continued the drumbeat, with a new twist: the more the president reacts, the deeper the hole he is digging for himself. Among respondents surveyed before Mr. Trump’s impromptu news conference on Tuesday, 35 percent approved of his response and 52 percent disapproved, a negative margin of 17 points. Among those surveyed after the news conference, approval fell slightly, disapproval rose sharply, and his negative margin widened to 25 points.

In both surveys, reaction to the president divided along partisan lines, with a majority of Republicans supporting the president and majorities of Democrats and Independents opposed. But there was a surprise that should give the rally-the-base strategists in the White House pause: although 59 percent of Republican respondents in the NPR/PBS/Marist poll felt that that Mr. Trump’s Charlottesville response was strong enough, just 32 percent of white working-class voters—the linchpin of Mr. Trump’s upset victory last November—agreed.


Political Strategy Notes

Aaron Blake reports that “President Trump’s own pollster just confirmed his base is cracking” at The Fix. As Blake notes, “Trump’s own pollster just shared data showing 1 out of every 4 Republicans (25 percent) disapprove of Trump — a number that has increased by 6 percentage points since June. If that’s not losing your base, I’m not sure what is. Does it mean the base has completely deserted him? Of course not. But it shows the steady deterioration from other polls is confirmed by Trump’s own pollster. And it sure as heck rebuts Trump’s recent claim that his base is “stronger than ever.”

Joan C. Williams, author of “White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America,” offers several good insights in her article, “Liberal elite, it’s time to strike a deal with the working class” at The Guardian, including: “The Democrats have become a regional party, confined to blue coasts and blue-dot islands, leaving an ocean of Republican rural and rust belt red in between…For Democrats to make progress in that sea of Republican red, we need to be willing to address what’s fueling economic populism: economics. When Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, asked Trump supporters what Democrats needed to do to win their votes, a 27-year-old apprentice in a metal shop answered: “Get us good jobs. Plain and simple. Seems like I got to work my butt off, and I barely get by…Democrats need to prioritize good jobs for non-college grads affected by or alarmed about the hollowing out of the middle class ahead of some issues that matter more to me personally, notably abortion rights and gun control…Democrats need to thread a necklace that includes four overlapping groups: the liberal-to-moderate college-educated elite, the white working class, communities of color, and the progressives and millennials who flocked to Bernie Sanders. Good jobs hold deep appeal for both communities of color and the white working class. College-educated liberals and moderates will vote Democratic regardless. Democrats need to thread a necklace that includes four overlapping groups: the liberal-to-moderate college-educated elite, the white working class, communities of color, and the progressives and millennials who flocked to Bernie Sanders. Good jobs hold deep appeal for both communities of color and the white working class. College-educated liberals and moderates will vote Democratic regardless.”

Williams also provides this perceptive take on ‘litmus tests,’ and she obnserves, “To build a coalition, everyone has to give a little. But saying abortion should not be a litmus test is very different from saying the party is backing off support for reproductive rights…What “litmus tests” should mean is that we won’t hold candidates in red districts to progressive “purity”. Whose issue should we trade off? Trade-offs should be balanced and situational. Announcing that you are always going to abandon the most cherished priority of a single group is a recipe for discord…The Democratic National Committee should make a considered assessment of who the most viable candidates are in a given district, and make trade-offs about whom to run so that no one group’s ox gets gored consistently…No one gets their way all the time: that’s called a coalition. And it’s coalitions that win, folks. If you want purity, become a priest…”

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, has an update on U.S. Senate races, with detailed analyses for a score of contests. Kondik also looks at the big picture, and onbserves, “Republicans currently hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, and they would need to gain eight seats to get to the magic 60-seat threshold needed to overcome Democratic filibusters. Such a gain does not seem like a realistic possibility with an unpopular Trump as president, although the map is so attractive that the Republicans easily could start 2019 with more seats than they hold now. A Democratic takeover seems very unlikely given that they have so many seats to defend and only two real targets, Arizona and Nevada. The best possible scenario for Democrats, barring an unexpected vacancy triggering a special election, would seem to be a 50-50 Senate with a Republican vice president breaking ties, and even that seems improbable from the perspective of August 2017…Regardless, the best bet right now seems to be one in favor of only marginal net change either way in the next Senate.”

In her Washington Post column, Katrina vanden Heuval notes the pivotal role of “citizens movements,” which have helped to “stiffen the spines of Democrats and enforce unity in opposition to the right-wing agenda of Trump and the Republican Congress. The mobilization against the Republican health-care plan, which would have stripped millions of health care to pay for tax cuts for the few, included virtually the entire activist base of the party — unions, senior groups, women’s and civil rights groups, online activists such as MoveOn.org, grass-roots groups such as People’s Action, and more. They enforced Democratic unity while challenging Republicans in their offices and town-hall meetings.” She adds that “activists will challenge Trump’s infrastructure plan, which appears to feature the worst forms of crony capitalism: “public private partnerships” that privatize highways and bridges and impose tolls on users; tax giveaways to companies stowing profits abroad.”

At vox.com Sarah Kliff and Jeff Stein post on a boomlet in support for a Medicaid buy-in among Democrats. “In an interview with Vox, [Sen. brian] Schatz [D-HI] revealed that he’s preparing a new bill that could grant more Americans the opportunity to enroll in Medicaid by giving states the option to offer a “buy-in” to the government program on Obamacare’s exchanges…That would make Medicaid into the Affordable Care Act’s public option, creating another insurance plan in markets with few or no private plans and putting private payers in competition with the much cheaper Medicaid system…One of the unintended consequences of the Republicans trying to cut Medicaid is they made Medicaid really popular,” Sen. Schatz said in an interview…Schatz said he would support Medicare-for-all, even as he puts forward a different proposal. “If there’s ever a vote for single-payer, I’m a ‘yes,’” he told Vox. “But there are lots of things we can do in the meantime to make progress for tens of millions of Americans. And we should do those things…His proposal would expand the public health insurance program from one that covers only low-income Americans to one open to anyone seeking coverage, depending on what each state does. The idea is similar to the government-run “public option” that some Democrats advocated for during the battle over the Affordable Care Act’s passage.”

Paul Krugman concludes his New York Times column, “Trump Makes Caligula Look Pretty Good” with this salient observation: “So the odds are that we’re stuck with a malevolent, incompetent president whom nobody knowledgeable respects, and many consider illegitimate. If so, we have to hope that our country somehow stumbles through the next year and a half without catastrophe, and that the midterm elections transform the political calculus and make the Constitution great again.”

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall sheds light on Trump’s ‘white identity’ politics: “…The president has capitalized on the increasing salience of race and ethnicity in recent years. The furious reaction to many different historical and cultural developments — mass immigration; the success of the civil rights and women’s rights movements; the election and re-election of a black president; and the approaching end of white majority status in the United States — has created a political environment ripe for the growth of white identity politics…Once Trump secured this “white identifier” base — making him competitive in a multicandidate field — he was positioned to expand his traction among traditional Republicans, including a decisive majority of those who backed Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush…Trump has mobilized the white identity electorate, and in doing so has put the tenuous American commitment to racial and ethnic egalitarianism on the line…now, under siege, his only strategy for survival is to pour gasoline on the flames.”

Eric Alterman explores “How Conservatives Manipulated the Mainstream Media to Give Us President Trump” at Moyers & Company. Alterman draws from an “extremely critical” Harvard/MIT report on the impact of journalism on the 2016 presidential election authored by six academics. Noting that the report received “almost no attention in the mainstream media,” Alterman adds, “The report, titled Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 US Presidential Election, deploys the device of a “media cloud” to help us visualize the manner in which media is actually consumed. Because people tend to get their news in a haphazard way these days — picking up stories from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, local TV, talk radio, cable, network news, newsweeklies, daily newspapers, and the websites that may or may not be part of a daily diet — it doesn’t make sense to simply treat media consumption as a matter of statistics. Sure, many sources — like this one, for instance — are far more trustworthy when it comes to facts and evidence than many others, but most news consumers do not make this distinction…The media cloud project clarifies a number of points that ought to alarm anyone who cares about the future of American democracy and the ability of the mainstream media to cut through the massive layers of propaganda purposely created by far-right elements to confuse facts and undermine evidence. Indeed, what the cloud shows is that the mainstream media is much more likely to follow the lead of the liars than to challenge them.”

Cohn: Data Suggests Dems Can Win Back a Share of Obama-Trump Voters

Regarding the impact of Obama-Trump voters in 2016, Nate Cohn writes at The Upshot:

The story of the 2016 presidential election is simple. Donald J. Trump made huge gains among white voters without a college degree. His gains were large enough to cancel out considerable losses among well-educated white voters and a decade of demographic shifts.

There are questions and details still up for debate: whether Democrats can win back these voters, and how to think about and frame the decline in black turnout. But postelection surveys, pre-election surveys, voter file data and the actual results all support the main story: The voters who switched from President Obama to Mr. Trump were decisive.

Cohn cites a study which “found that 9.2 percent of Obama voters flipped to support Mr. Trump — a hair lower than the estimates from other surveys.” But Cohn emphasizes that the Obama-Trump voters were critically-important in key states, noting that Clinton “lost primarily because of the narrow but deep swing among white working-class voters who were overrepresented in decisive battleground states.” Further, “Just 74 percent of white Obama voters with a high school diploma or less backed Mrs. Clinton,” according to the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. “Similarly,” notes Cohn, “the Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that Mrs. Clinton won just 78 percent of white Obama voters without a bachelor’s degree. The figure was even lower in the key Rust Belt battlegrounds.”

Cohn adds that “Strong evidence suggests a lot of these voters will lean Republican for the foreseeable future, and certainly will lean toward Mr. Trump. But Democrats can still win a meaningful and potentially decisive share of these voters, many of whom probably voted Democratic down-ballot in 2016.”

Cohn concludes that “it does seem likely that at least a portion of the Obama-Trump vote can be lured back to the Democrats — especially against traditional Republican candidates who emphasize small government, free markets and social conservatism…Whether that means it should be the crux of the Democrats’ path to power is another question. But it will most likely be a part of it, and will probably need to be for Democrats to secure parts of the Rust Belt that continue to play an outsize role in American elections.”

And what keeps getting overlooked in many media discusssions of Democratic prospects for winning back white working-class voters is that it doesn’t have to be a majority, or even a plurality of this large constituency — just a bigger share in key states.

Political Strategy Notes

Strategic voting — as a Republican — anyone? That’s what Andrew Abramson discusses in “Why Democrats Could Consider Registering Republican To Stop Trump: It’s a lot to digest but at the end of the day Democrats can realistically control Trump’s future” at HuffPo. Abramson writes, “assuming that Trump is still in office and continuing his assault on American decency, he could be stopped even before the 2020 general election…Expect several mainstream Republicans to enter the race. The primaries might seem like a lifetime away but debates will begin two years from now…Perhaps Republican voters will come to their senses and choose a candidate who at least seems mentally capable of leading the country. Democrats could ensure that happens if enough of them vote in the Republican primary. In closed or semi-closed primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania that means changing their party registration from Democrat to Republican after the 2018 midterm elections.” Abramson cautions that the “strategy could ultimately end with a non-Trump Republican president — and if that’s the case is it better or worse for the country?”

Ed Kilgore reports on “The Growing Battle Within the Progressive Left Over Medicare-for-All” at New York Magazine, and notes “There is a split happening among left-of-center folk over health care. On the one hand, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is pushing the party to make support for single-payer health-care — often referred to as “Medicare-for-All” — a litmus-test issue. On the other hand, both policy and political concerns about the feasibility of Medicare-for-All are spreading, even among highly self-conscious progressives…It is unclear at this point whether the argument within the progressive left over single-payer will eclipse the long-standing argument between left and center over health-care policy. So long as Obamacare remains under imminent threat from Republicans, it’s unlikely Democrats will go to war with each other over what should eventually replace it.”

At Vox, Lyman Stone discusses the problems and benefits of “devolving power to states and cities” as a trend that could, in some cases, win support from both conservatives and progressives. As Stone writes, “…Today, some on the left have begun to make common cause with conservatives and argue for devolution: not as much to states as to cities, where progressives hold most political power. But conservatives have balked: As blue cities have responded to Federal gridlock by experimenting with progressive policies at the municipal level, red states have intervened, passing laws to interdict local efforts on topics like the minimum wage, on allowing transgender people to choose the bathroom they want to use, and other subjects…The result is a confusing hodgepodge, and probably a recipe for getting nothing done. But the crucial insight of distributism, as Chesterton described it, is that decentralization of power requires more than just devolution of a few powers here or there, but a society-wide commitment to transferring power, authority, and responsibility back down the totem pole…”

For insight about Trump’s flip-flop on Afghanistan, read E. A. Crunden’s Think Progress post, “Why did Trump just reverse course in Afghanistan? The answer may be underground,” which notes, “For Afghans, U.S. interest has value. Many Afghans feel that an ongoing U.S. presence in the country is key to stability, and fear an exit could do more harm than good. Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, indicated to Reuters in June that capturing Trump’s attention is seen as a net positive…“President Trump is keenly interested in Afghanistan’s economic potential,” Mohib said. “Our estimated $1 trillion in copper, iron ore, rare earth elements, aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. That’s new.”

The Washington Post Editorial Board hones in on an issue that should be of overriding concern for Democrats and progressives: “…even if all 1,500 Confederate symbols across the country were removed overnight by some sudden supernatural force, the pernicious crusade to roll back voting rights would continue apace, with voters of color suffering its effects disproportionately. Pushing back hard against those who would purge voter rolls, demand forms of voter ID that many Americans don’t possess, and limit times and venues for voting — this should be a paramount cause for the Trump era…Mr. Trump’s voter fraud commission is at the vanguard of this crusade, and the fix is in. Its vice chairman, Kris Kobach, is the nation’s most determined, litigious and resourceful champion of voter suppression. Under his tutelage, the commission is likely to recommend measures whose effect will be that new obstacles to voting would be taken up in state legislatures. Millions of voters are at risk of disenfranchisement from this effort, and the knock-on effects of such a mass act of disempowerment are dizzying.”

Yet another reason to vote Democratic in the midterm elections next year from Luke Graham at cnbcnews.com: “A win for the Democrats in Congress next year may push U.S. President Donald Trump to resign rather than face a possible impeachment, says a political risk analyst…”If the Democrats win in 2018 as far as the House of Representatives, they can then actually publish the tax returns of the president,” John Raines, head of political risk at IHS Markit, told CNBC’s Street Signs…If the Democrats gained a majority in Congress, they could take control of certain Congressional committees. Some of these committees have the power to request anyone’s tax returns, including those belonging to the president. These committees could then share the returns with other members of the committee or make them public.”

Former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, Robert Reich, makes a case that Trump has been so damaged recently by his Charlottesville comments, the Bannon resignation, the Obamacare repeal debacle, the investigation into his Russia ties and sinking polls, that impeachment is not the Democrats bnst strategem. “Although Trump will still hold the title of President, he’s on the way to being effectively removed from the presidency. Neutered. Defanged…We’re not out of danger. Trump will continue to rant and fume. He’ll insult. He’ll stoke racial tensions. He could still start a nuclear war…But, hopefully, he won’t be able to exercise much presidential power from here on. He’s being ostracized like a obnoxious adolescent who’s been grounded.”..When the media stop reporting his tweets, his isolation and irrelevance will be complete.

With respect to the Bannon resignation, Charles Pierce explains “Why I’ Not Popping Corks Over Steve Bannon’s Exit: Paul Ryan, and others like him, now see an opening to influence Trump’s future.” at Esquire:…While it’s even more entertaining to speculate what vengeance Bannon and his army of angry gnomes could wreak on this presidency*, I am not going to be turning handsprings along the Charles over this development. First, it’s eight months overdue and both Stephen Miller and the ridiculous Dr. Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D. are still there. Second, I decline at the moment to believe that Bannon will be blocked entirely on the president*’s cell phone. And third, given that this is a president* who would require his paper boy to sign a non-disclosure agreement, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that Bannon’s silence will be handsomely remunerated. But there’s one more general reason that I am not popping corks over this…Whatever else he was, Bannon was one of the few people in that operation who still at least was making mouth noises about economic populism after inauguration day. I have to think that the various corporate sublets in the Republican congressional leadership—Paul Ryan, chief among them—are looking at Bannon’s departure as an opportunity to lead a president* who knows nothing about anything right down the trail of corporate oligarchy. I’m glad he’s gone, but there’s still enough left to concern us all.”

Not that the Gianforte mugshot will necessarilly make a difference in the next MT-1 election. But it will serve as an ever-present reminder of his bullying character.

Democrats Beating the Spread in 2017 Special Elections

As part of our continuing look ahead at 2018, I offered these thoughts about 2017 developments at New York.

Projecting what will happen in midterm elections is always tricky. Yes, the party controlling the White House almost always loses House seats — though that didn’t happen in 1998 and 2002. Sure, the president’s approval ratings seem to have a very significant impact on the White House party’s losses or (in rare occasions) gains. But predicting approval ratings is tough.

But one bit of objective data you can track that’s not simply a matter of projections is the performance of the two parties in special elections heading toward the midterms. And while no one special election necessarily has predictive value, if you add them up it starts mattering.

That’s what Harry Enten did today at FiveThirtyEight, and better yet, he scored all these elections like a bookie would score a sporting contest: with a “spread.” In this case the spread was the partisan “lean” of every congressional or state legislative district that’s had a special election so far this year, based on its performance in the last two presidential elections, with the last one weighted most heavily (as one would expect). There have been five U.S. House special elections this year. Democrats beat the spread in all five, by an average margin of 16 percent of the total vote (ranging from 6 percent in Georgia’s sixth district to 23 percent in Kansas’s fourth district). That’s a lot.

There have also been 25 state legislative special elections this year. Democrats beat the spread in 21 of them, by an average of — again — 16 points. None of the four races where Democrats failed to do better than the partisan lean were competitive contests.

Enten notes that Trump’s approval ratings would historically suggest an 11-point GOP deficit. The generic congressional ballot has been showing a 9-point GOP deficit at present. So the special elections are showing a stronger swing to Democrats than the standard data points.

In any case, it represents a lot of arrows pointing in the same direction.