washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

June 23, 2018

Political Strategy Notes

“An electoral strategy that prioritizes high-tech areas and inner-ring suburbs faces daunting demographic math when applied nationwide. It has left liberalism in a historically weak political position, write Lily Geismer, author of “Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party” and Matthew D. Lassiter, author of “The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South,” in their New York Times op-ed, Turning Affluent Suburbs Blue Isn’t Worth the Cost. “Democrats haven’t paid enough attention to the substantial policy costs of turning affluent suburbs blue. That focus has failed to reverse the downward mobility of middle-income households and openly favored upscale communities without addressing economic and racial inequality…The Democratic fixation on upscale white suburbs also distorts policies and diverts resources that could generate higher turnout among nonwhite voting blocs that are crucial to the party’s fortunes and too often taken for granted. It should not be that hard for liberalism to challenge the Republican tax scheme to redistribute income upward, and build on Mr. Obama’s important but inadequate health care reform, with policy solutions that address the real diversity of American suburbia.”

Thomas B. Edsall has an instructive column about the drastic decline of worker rights in America at The New York Times, entitled “The Class Struggle According to Donald Trump.” Edsall draws from a range of scholarly studies and sources to illuminate the ways workers are increasingy restricted by “noncompete” and no-raid” agreements that severely restrict the mobility of an estimated 30 million workers in the U.S. Edsall also recounts the devastating effects of “alternative work arrangements ” (24 million workers in “temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers”) mandatory arbitration and spreading anti-union policies in the labor force. As for the Trump Administration’s role in American worklife, Edsall writes, “Trump campaigned as the ally of the white working class, but any notion that he would take its side as it faces off against employers is a gross misjudgment. His administration has turned the executive branch, the federal courts and the regulatory agencies into the sworn enemy of workers, organized and unorganized. Trump is indisputably indifferent to the plight of anyone in the bottom half of the income distribution: look at his appointments, look at his record in office, look back at his business career and look at the man himself.”

Net Neutrality is history starting today. As Daniel Politi writes at slate.com, “The repeal of the rules known as net neutrality, which essentially prohibit internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to certain websites, is officially set to take effect on Monday. Lawmakers and state officials are working to try to reinstate the rules shortly so the change may not be long-lived but that doesn’t change the fact that starting June 11, internet service providers will be much freer to block, speed up or slow down access to certain content…Online protests are expected on Monday to call attention to the issue as activists focus on lobbying the House of Representatives, where lawmakers still haven’t taken up a measure that would restore net neutrality. The measure passed the Senate on May 16 but the House is still around 50 votes short. Democrats have been pushing for a vote to get everyone’s position on the record, thinking it could become a key issue in midterm elections.” Smart Democratic candidates will make sure their constituents know who to blame for this attack against free speech — Republicans.

Michael Scherer’s “Should Democrats find a Trump of their own? Political outsiders find little room in 2020 presidential field” at The Washington Post considers some possible “outside the box” presidential candidates for Democrats, including Starbuck’s departing chairman, Howard Schultz, talk show star Oprah Winfrey, Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban, Disney’s Bob Iger, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and liberal financier Tom Steyer. Thing is, none of these potential candidates are far outside the corporate box. Cuban said last year that he would rather run as a Repubican. Schultz has even proposed cutting “entitlements” and opposes single-payer health care, which is becomming more popular with Democratic rank and file and elected officials. But credit the best quote in the article to Steyer, who says “As far as I am concerned, anybody who is thinking about 2020 is taking their eye off the ball.”

One of the GOP’s favorite targets is billionaire philanthropist, author and progressive activist George Soros, who has been a generous contributor to Democratic candidates and progressive causes, as well as a broad range of non-partisan humanitarian causes. In his Post Politics article, “‘I must be doing something right’: Billionaire George Soros faces renewed attacks with defiance,” Michael Kranish notes that Soros gave $25 million to mobilize Democratic voters in 2016 and plans to spend another $15 million supporting candidates this year. “This cycle, Soros has focused his political investments on congressional races and mobilizing voters on the left. His largest donation this year has been $5 million to Win Justice, a voter-mobilization group focused on minorities, women and young voters in Florida, Michigan and Nevada.” In addition, “His New York-based Open Society Foundations now spends $940 million a year in 100 countries, promoting values such as free speech and free elections.” Soros is arguably the most important and generaous progressive donor of our times, and the Democratic party would have a tough time of it, without his contributions as a counter-weight to the billions of dollars the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other conservative sugar-daddies have lavished on Republican candidates.

At The Plum Line, Paul Waldman writes that “the Trump administration has told the public that they want to make things much, much worse. Not only may health insurance continue getting less affordable, they even want to take away the pre-existing conditions protection you now enjoy, all while they’re working hard to destabilize the private insurance market…Indeed, polls have shown over and over again that the policy issue most on voters’ minds right now is health care. In Virginia’s 2017 elections, for instance, exit polls showed health care far and away the most important issue for voters, and those who said it was their top issue picked Democrat Ralph Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie in the governor’s race by a margin of 77-22 percent. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll also found that health care is voters’ top issue. As much as president Trump may dominate the headlines, the increasing cost of care is weighing heavily on voters…Take a moment to marvel at the position the administration has taken: They think insurance companies should once again be able to deny you coverage or charge you outrageous premiums because you have a pre-existing condition….If Democrats don’t repeat that sentence a thousand times a day between now and November, they’re nuts.”

Waldman takes a step back to ponder the irony of Republicans inadvertantly taking steps to discredit privatized health insurance and replace it with a more socialized system. “There’s an old Marxist idea that sometimes you need to “heighten the contradictions,” making the problems of the current system even worse so you can more quickly bring about the revolution that will replace that system with something better. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that today’s Republican Party is doing just that on the issue of health care, in the service of exactly the kind of big-government universal program they claim to despise…Republicans seem determined not only to make American health care more inefficient and cruel in every way they can think of, but to do it while making themselves as unpopular as possible. That could both bring about the political victory of their enemies the Democrats, and create the conditions for those Democrats to pass a universal coverage program. It’s quite an extraordinary strategy.” And if Democrats succeed, “it will be in no small part because Republicans made voters so disgusted with the existing health care system and afraid for their own health security that they’re willing to support radical change.”

In her post, “How Democrats plan to pitch their economic agenda in a strong economy,” at vox.com, Ella Nilsen writes,”Trump’s approval rating is at historic lows, but one thing he has going for him is a good economy. This is key to Trump’s message: He was elected in a wave of economic anxiety, especially in white, rural areas where manufacturing jobs had disappeared…Questions linger over how much a strong economy can help Republicans win in the midterms. That’s because historically, the economy matters much less in a midterm than it does in a presidential year… Take, for instance, the 2006 midterms, when the economy was good pre-2008 recession and Republicans were in power. They were still swept out of office by the Democrats. The opposite thing happened in 2014, when the economy was steadily improving yet Democrats lost control of the Senate and ceded ground in the House.” Trump’s penchant for rolling out daily distractions to deflect coverage of the Mueller probe may also crowd out “‘good economy’ stories.

Georgia’s Democratic candidate for Governor Stacy Abrams just got a nice gift from the GOP frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, as Ed Kilgore explains at New York Magazine: “It’s not often that you see a seasoned politician go into a meeting with a political rival and insist he flipped-flopped on a key policy issue for dishonorable reasons. But that’s what Georgia’s longtime lieutenant governor and current gubernatorial candidate Casey Cagle did, according to a transcript published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: ‘Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told executive Clay Tippins he supported “bad public policy” to deprive another rival of supposed help from an outside group, in a recording obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News…Cagle’s conversation with Tippins, who finished fourth in the race, took place two days after the May 22 primary in Cagle’s campaign headquarters in DeKalb County. It was surreptitiously recorded on Tippins’ phone, which was in his coat pocket.” Of course it remains to be seen if Georgia voters have a high enough tolerance for such shenanigans to elect Cagle or his clownish Republican run-off opponent, Brian Kemp, who has a couple of messes of his own to explain to voters. Either way, Abrams will enjoy the GOP’s demolition derby, and she could get a bump from swing voters, few as they may be in Georgia.


The Iowa Bellwether

While perusing the less noticed January 5 primary states, I had some thoughts about that white working-class enclave in the prairies, Iowa, for New York:

California was the Big Kahuna of June 5 primary states. And New Jersey has four competitive House races going on this year.

But it’s another June 5 primary state, Iowa, that may wind up being the more important bellwether heading into autumn.

Democrats there are targeting two House seats and the governorship, along with other statewide offices and the legislature. But just as importantly, they are challenging the trend of the last two election cycles, in which Iowa tilted red at an alarming pace.

Entering 2012, Iowa was a classic battleground state, with one senator from each party (an arrangement Iowans seemed to like because it protected them against party swings in Washington), a governorship that had gone back and forth since 1998, a legislature with control divided between the two parties, and a three-Democrat, two-Republican House delegation. Thanks to redistricting, a Democratic and Republican House incumbent were forced to face off, and the Republican won. Barack Obama carried the state by just under 6 percent.

In 2014, the “Harkin seat” in the Senate (in which U.S. House Democrat Bruce Braley was the front-runner to succeed the retiring Harkin) went to Republican Joni Ernst by nearly nine points. GOP governor Terry Branstad was reelected by an astonishing 22-point margin. Braley’s First Congressional District, which he had held since 2006 fell to a very conservative Republican, Rod Blum. It was a terrible year for Democrats.

And then it got worse. Of the six states that flipped from Democrat to Republican in the presidential elections of 2012 and 2016, Iowa’s had by far the largest shift in popular votes: from D+6 to R+9 (Ohio was second with a net 11-point shift). From being a classic battleground state for years with most recently a distinct Democratic advantage (Obama carried it by 8.5 points in 2008), Iowa was suddenly more Republican than Texas. (This was particularly astonishing because Iowa was one of the few states Trump lost in the nominating contest.) The GOP also won undivided control of Iowa’s state government for the first time since 1998.

It was reasonably clear at the time that demographics were a big factor in Iowa’s lurch. As I said in 2016 in a piece headlined “Iowa Is So White It’s Turning Red,” Iowa was a microcosm of some important national trends:

“Iowa, once a classic blue-leaning battleground state (it went for Obama handily in 2008 and 2012), is moving toward the GOP and particularly Trump because of its high concentration of conservative white working-class voters and its small minority population. To put it another way, Democrats in both presidential and state elections have had to rely in Iowa (as in other Upper Midwestern states) on winning a relatively high percentage of the white vote. The ‘Obama Coalition’ in its full glory just doesn’t exist there. And as Democratic support among white voters — especially evangelicals, and especially non-college-educated people — has gradually eroded, it has gradually made Iowa more hospitable to Republicans, who won a very big midterm victory in the state in 2014.”

If Democrats are going to mitigate or reverse their losses among white voters (and especially non-college-educated white voters), states like Iowa are a great place to start. And Iowa Democrats have some good indicators. For one thing, their front-running candidates in three big, competitive races won their primaries easily: wealthy businessman Fred Hubbell in the governor’s race, state legislator Abby Finkenauer in the northeast Iowa First Congressional District, and small-business owner Cindy Axne in the southwest Iowa Third Congressional District. For another, the early signs sure don’t indicate another easy GOP year. A February 2018 Iowa Poll from the very reliable Selzer & Company showed incumbent Governor Kim Reynolds with a narrow 42/37 lead over Hubbell, who isn’t remotely as well known (but who has the resources to make up for that). In May, Roll Call named First District incumbent Representative Rod Blum the country’s most vulnerable House incumbent. Finkenaeuer has been out-raising him, and a late 2017 generic congressional poll of the district showed Democrats with a huge 18-point lead. Third District incumbent David Young isn’t in as much trouble as Blum, but Cook Political Report calls the race competitive (“Leans Republican”). Democrats also think they can make gains in the Iowa House, which is being targeted by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Such gains are a matter of sheer conjecture at this point, and the demographic factors that tilted Iowa red in the last two cycles have not gone away. But there’s no better laboratory for how to undermine the Trump coalition.


Is distraction caused by Trump’s sideshows a problem for Democrats?

Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. has a perceptive take on Trump’s politics of distraction, media enabling of it and what means for Democrats. As Dionne sees it:

Good reporters and editors labor mightily to be fair-minded in their reporting of episodes and events, and I’ll defend them to my last breath. But the larger battle, captured by the phrase “winning the news cycle,” involves a fierce competition to push reports that help your own side to the top while sidelining those that serve the interests of your opponents.

In the Trump era, this clash has fundamentally changed because the president and his lieutenants have realized that lying works; shameless dissembling is now standard operating procedure for the White House. Partisan outlets go with President Trump’s versions of events, even when they are demonstrably false. Mainstream outlets feel duty bound to report them, even as they debunk the lies.

Moreover, our chief executive instinctively knows what Alexander Hamilton taught long ago: that the despot’s “object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’ ” If the news gets troublesome, Trump and his minions create all manner of controversies and distractions that consume a lot of media space and time.

Dionne adds that “His latest discovery is how his pardon power can be a big news-cycle hit, especially when a celebrity is blended in.” Dionne notes other recent distractions, including the disinviting of the Philadelphia Eagles to the white house and blasting NFL players for their take-a-knee protests. You can add a few, if you like, including insulting his own Attorney General and heads of state who have been among the staunches allies of the U.S., hiring bomb-throwers like Giulani, announcing plans for a Soviet-style military parade and unrelenting tweets designed to provoke controversy and distractions du jour, to name a few.

Trump’s distractions can be divided into two categories: deliberate distractions, like those noted above, and his Administration’s numerous spontaneous eruptions of incompetence, such as ignorant comments about Canada’s responsibility for the white house burning down in 1812 or the anniversary of D-Day reminding us of our great relationship with Germany, keep the media in a tizzy, just trying to keep up. Too often, big media gets suckered into giving the sideshows far more coverage than the incidents deserve. But mostly, the press can’t just simply ignore the distractions, or their competitors will provide the coverage and dominate the market.

It’s gotten so bad that, as Dionne notes, “the sheer volume of corruption reports — starting with would-be Chick-fil-A spouse and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt — means that they start to drown each other out.” There is still a growing problem of false equivalence reporting, which often distorts the reality in a way that lets Repubicans off too easy. As Dionne explains,

Then there is the challenge of balance. So much of the journalism about Trump is negative because of what he does every day and because hard-working reporters and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation regularly turn up embarrassing facts. Therefore, journalists feel obligated to make sure that everyone knows they can be just as tough on Democrats. Looking “partisan” is a grave transgression. Trump and the Republicans try to paint this scarlet letter on the media almost daily.

Hats off to those members of the media who don’t fall for the distractions, and continue to report in-depth about the critical political issues, such as health care, pollution, war, racial discrimination and others. As for the enduring ‘divided Democrats’ and ‘the Democrats have been taken over by the extreme left’ themes frequently parroted by the more easilly-distracted journalists, Dionne clarifies the reality:

Lord knows, Democrats have their problems. Their own politicians regularly point them out by way of scoring points in the party’s factional wars. But with this year’s primaries nearly over, let’s at least shelve certain story lines that are simply wrong.

Contrary to a popular meme, the Democratic primary electorate is not veering sharply to the left. Left-wing candidates did not fare particularly well because rank-and-filers aren’t interested in ideological warfare and are choosing on the basis of personal qualities — it really helps to be a woman this year. Democrats cast pragmatic primary ballots in large numbers because they devoutly want to end their powerlessness.

This pragmatism is what allowed Democrats to avoid catastrophe in California on Tuesday.

Because of the state’s appropriately nicknamed “jungle primary,” the top two finishers in the first round compete in November, even if they are in the same party. Although a couple of races were close, it appears there will be Democratic candidates on the ballot this fall in every target district. Democratic voters successfully identified their own strongest contenders, and party-supported advertising pummeled Republican candidates who threatened to shut the Democrats out. A gang we thought couldn’t shoot straight actually hit the mark.

Dionne concludes by noting that “Trump tests journalists and news consumers in a way they’ve never been tested before. Like would-be autocrats elsewhere, Trump is pursuing a strategy of disorienting the citizenry with a steady stream of provocations, untruths and diversions. We cannot afford to treat any of this as the usual spin or garden-variety politics.”

The daily distractions pumped out by Trump and his Administration remain a difficult obstacle for Democrats, who are trying to get more media and public attention focused on the critical issues facing America, especially those that favor their party. The not so unrealistic hope is that ‘Trump fatigue’ is spreading to the point where enough of his support will evaporate by election day to give Democrats a House majority.

For Democrats, urging the media and voters to address the major issues, instead of the daily distractions, is a continuing challenge — and it’s one Dems must get better at meeting to build an enduring majority.


Political Strategy Notes – Democratic Midterm Primary Super Tuesday

“The night’s biggest headline,” writes Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic, “was that the Democrats appear to have placed candidates for November in all of the California congressional districts where they feared being locked out by the state’s unusual top-two primary system. That unexpected outcome—reinforced by the party’s success at nominating its preferred candidate in each competitive seat in New Jersey—means the Democrats still have an opportunity to recapture the House this fall, primarily by winning seats in states that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016…After their apparent success in California, Democrats can come close to retaking the House majority just by sweeping away the last remaining Republicans in otherwise Democratic-leaning states…At the same time, Republicans are positioned to defend or expand their majority in the Senate if they can beat some of the 10 Democrats defending seats in states that voted for Trump over Clinton. The GOP has chosen strong challengers in those states that have selected nominees so far, a pattern that continued Tuesday with the victory of Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale, the favorite of party and conservative-group leaders, for the Republican Senate nomination against Democrat Jon Tester.”

Democratic voter turnout in southern California was significantly increased over the 2014 midterm elections. As Brownstein explains, “”Overall, the California primary generated a very modest turnout: Though the final vote count will increase the total, the secretary of state reported Wednesday that only about one in five registered voters participated. But Democratic candidates on Tuesday tallied significantly more votes in each of the crucial LA-area seats than their counterparts did in 2014, the last midterm primary…For instance: Democrats on Tuesday amassed nearly 37,000 votes in the congressional district north of Los Angeles held by Republican Steve Knight. That compares to only about 20,000 votes in 2014. The overall increase was similar in Democrat Gil Cisneros’s win in the Orange County seat that Republican Representative Ed Royce is vacating…None of these LA-area districts are sure things for Democrats in November, and the primary results underscored the party’s continuing challenge of mobilizing young and minority voters in midterm elections. But the big Democratic-turnout gains around Los Angeles underscore how far the party can progress toward retaking the House just by channeling the resistance to Trump in the places that have been most dubious of him from the start.”

Brownstein notes, further, “The Cook Political Report’s nonpartisan rankings show that many of the Democrats’ top House opportunities are concentrated in blue states; among the seats that Cook rates as toss-ups or leaning toward the Democrats are five in California; three in New Jersey; two each in New York, Illinois, and Minnesota; and one each in Colorado, Virginia, and Washington. Cook rates another five seats in Pennsylvania, which Trump carried by only about 40,000 votes, as toss-ups or Democrat-leaning. Democrats also have a more long-shot chance at 10 GOP-held House seats in Clinton states that the Cookrankings rate as Republican-leaning…For Democrats, those blue-state seats may be more promising than their comparable openings in otherwise red states (such as the suburban seats around Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta), simply because the overall local environment remains so much more hostile to Trump.”

G. Elliot Morris, a data journalist for The Economist, offers a graph-rich, daily-updated midterm prediction at his blog, The Crosstab. The latest: “In my projection of the Election Day vote share, based on polls of the generic ballot and the swing toward Democrats in special elections, the Democratic Party is ahead, winning by 8.8% of the vote share on average. The margin of error is roughly 6% points…Democrats earn a median of 227 seats in our simulations of the 2018 midterms. This may differ from the strict predictions below because of the larger number of Lean Republican seats than Lean Democratic seats in the current Congress. Effectively we are saying that the below number is an ideal estimate, meant to give you context as to which seats are competitive, but that we expect Democrats to overperform expectations based on the assessment of our error in past predictions…Democrats have a 62.9 percent chance of winning a House majority on November 6th, 2018.” Morris’s methodology: “My forecast of the election day vote works in three stages. First, I average all of the generic ballot polls with an algorithm designed to produce the most predictive average for each week in the cycle. Second, I use that average to predict the most likely election day polling average for Republicans, Democrats, other parties and undecided voters. Finally, I combine the projected Democratic margin in election day polls with Democrats’ average performance in special elections between 2017 and 2018 to predict the outcome of the vote on election day.”

Noting Morriss’s analysis, Brownstein’s article and other sources, Ruy Teixeira adds in his FB post, “Democrats Looking Good for House Takeover, “The primary results from this Tuesday indicate that the Democrats remain in a good position to take back the House this November. They avoided the dreaded top two “lockout” in key California House races and now are positioned to compete in all the races where they have a chance to win. Primaries in other states like New Jersey produced strong candidates for the fall…Just how good are the Democrats’ chances of taking back the House at this point? The Economist model is now at 68 percent. Another model (linked to below) from G. Elliott Morris’ Crosstab site has Democrats’ chances at 63 percent. The recently-rolled out CBS Battleground Tracker model has it close to even with a slight Democratic advantage. Ditto Nate Cohn at the NYT. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball has it pretty much even-steven…Hold on to your popcorn! But this Tuesday definitely keeps the Democrats on track.”

From “Women Won Big In Tuesday’s Primary Elections” by Willa Frej at HuffPo: “A record-breaking number of women are running for ― and winning ― spots on ballots in this year’s primary elections. Of the 92 women who participated in Tuesday’s eight primaries, at least 36 of them have emerged victorious…The overwhelming majority of women who ran were on the Democratic side of the aisle, she said, where they have a high likelihood of winning this fall if they’re running in largely Democratic districts…More than 500 women have so far filed to run in primaries this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. That number represents a 67 percent jump from 2016. More than 110 of those women have won their races, 30 of them in California alone. Most of the women running are Democrats, although one-third of Republican women running have also won their races…Many of these women credit President Donald Trump’s election and the potency of the Me Too movement with fueling their desire to run.” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List explained, “All that energy, which is still building, is going to lift Democrats up and down the ballot,” she said. “Women will be the reason Democrats win the House in November.”

NYT political reporters Carl Hulse and Jonathan Martin put it this way: “Democrats enhanced their prospects for winning control of the House with Tuesday’s coast-to-coast primary results, skirting potential calamity in California and lining up likely gains in New Jersey and possible victories in Iowa and New Mexico.” However, “But among the ballots that have been counted so far*, votes for Democratic candidates outnumber those for Republicans in only one district, the 49th, in Tuesday’s open primary elections…Republicans avoided their own worst-case scenario as well, securing a spot in the California governor’s race, which should help bring G.O.P. voters to the polls this fall to vote for their party’s House candidates. Republicans missed a slot on the ballot to challenge Senator Dianne Feinstein’s re-election bid, but a shutout in both California’s Senate race and its contest for governor could have severely depressed conservative turnout…Republican voters also chose strong candidates in Southern California for the showdown in November.”

In their post, “Top takeaways from 2018’s biggest primary night,” David Siders, Natasha Korecki, Carla Marinucci and Steven Shepard report at Politico that “The blowback for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other national Democrats who maneuvered in California’s House primaries was fierce. But as the votes were tallied Wednesday morning, it appeared that the party’s multipronged strategy — attacking Republicans, taking sides among Democrats and cajoling some other candidates to drop out — had paid off…if there’s a Democrat on the ballot in each of California’s 53 House districts in November, the party establishment in Washington will likely see its primary efforts as worth all the trouble.” It also appears that Democratic candidate for California Governor Gavin Newsom pulled off a modified version of ‘the McCaskill template,’ as the authors note: “Newsom and his supporters, hoping for an easy race against Cox instead of a difficult one against a Democrat, had aired ads reinforcing Cox’s conservative credentials for Republican voters.” Newsom’s win and his highly-likely ascension to the governorship of our largest state makes him a top ‘rising star’ in Democratic politics, as well as Tuesday’s biggest winner.

We’ll conclude this edition of Political Strategy Notes with this shamelessly optimistic excerpt from Michael Scherer’s “Democrats strengthen hand in seeking control of House, even if odds of a blue wave are diminishing” at The Washington Post: ““They have enough seats in play and enough quality candidates in those seats to win the majority,” said Nathan Gonzales, who handicaps House races for Inside Elections. “Democrats have done a good job of turning enthusiasm into a large number of candidates, of turning enthusiasm into fundraising,” Gonzalez said. “But now they have to turn that enthusiasm into votes because that is what is going to matter in November.”…Voters have cast primary ballots in 32 of the 56 Republican-held House districts most vulnerable to a Democratic takeover, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Of the 28 races that have been called, Democratic women have won in half the districts, with women leading the Democratic ticket Wednesday afternoon in one of the four remaining seats still being counted in California. The party’s nominees in these crucial districts also include six military veterans and seven nominees who are black, Latino or Asian…The winners include new political stars such as Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot running in Lexington, Ky., and Mikie Sherrill, a Navy pilot and former prosecutor running in northern New Jersey…Democrats also have benefited from a rare unity between the party’s wings. A predicted liberal Democratic rebellion has not materialized at the polls, in part because mainstream candidates have shifted to the left on policy.”


Still Waiting For the Next RFK

In connection with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, I offered these thoughts at New York:

Fifty years ago today, I awoke to a radio that was playing the famous recording from Mutual Broadcasting System reporter Andrew West, who was an eyewitness to Robert Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles:

“Senator Kennedy has been … Senator Kennedy has been shot! Is that possible? It is possible, ladies and gentlemen! It is possible! He has … Not only Senator Kennedy! Oh my God! … I am right here, and Rafer Johnson has hold of the man who apparently fired the shot! He still has the gun! The gun is pointed at me right this moment! Get the gun! Get the gun! Get the gun! Stay away from the guy! Get his thumb! Get his thumb! Break it if you have to! Get the gun, Rafer [Johnson]! Hold him! We don’t want another Oswald!”

Moments before being fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan, Kennedy had said to the celebrating crowd at the Ambassador: “It’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there!” That year as in most years, the California primary was the last on the schedule, and RFK was pointing toward the twilight struggle over delegates that would precede the national convention in late August.

It has been widely surmised in the years since, with the special intensity of a counterfactual myth that can neither proved nor disproved, that had Kennedy not been assassinated that night, he would have gone on to win the Democratic presidential nomination and then the presidency, sparing America and the world from years more of bloody conflict in Vietnam, and from the Nixon presidency with its polarization, corruption, and eventual disgrace.

In fact, our best guess from this distance (reinforced by serious examinations of the issue from RFK biographer Evan Thomas and historian of the 1968 election Michael A. Cohen) is that Kennedy’s odds of winning the nomination were slim by the time of his death. His antiwar rival Eugene McCarthy was in no mood to get out of his way, and the Johnson-Humphrey administration had an iron grip on delegates from many of the 33 states that did not hold primaries (and even some that did, but which did not bind delegates to primary results). Kennedy himself seemed to believe his only chance to win was by reconstructing his late brother’s alliances with old-school urban political bosses like Chicago’s Richard Daley, and it’s at best a wild conjecture that they would have defied LBJ and the unions that were so close to Humphrey to take a flyer on Bobby.

And even if Kennedy had won the nomination, he, like Humphrey, would have led into the general election a divided party that had done horribly into the 1966 midterms and had lost much of its white southern wing to George Wallace. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether RFK’s countercultural associations would have alienated fewer Democrats than Humphrey’s tardy establishment of an independent position on Vietnam. And there’s no telling what LBJ might have done to complicate life for the bitter rival he loathed and feared for so long.

Even RFK aide Jeff Greenfield, who wrote an alternative history account of a Robert F. Kennedy presidency, concedes that on this day 50 years ago the path to that actually happening was rocky and uncertain:

“’We were losing altitude,’ de facto campaign manager Fred Dutton reflected later, looking back at the political terrain Kennedy was facing. In fact, the day of the primary, Dutton was skeptical enough of our chances to suggest that RFK would take the vice-presidential slot if offered.”

There is a reason for the persistent myth of the world we lost to RFK’s assassin, that goes beyond loathing for LBJ or Humphrey or Nixon or the policies they embraced. And it involves more, I think, than just general Kennedy/Camelot nostalgia. For a whole generation of progressive political activists and journalists, there was a glimmer of something different in RFK than the more conventional politics of his brothers Jack and Ted — an ability to both put together a mind-bending coalition of minority and white-working-class voters that would blow up the racial politics the GOP was beginning to aggressively embrace by 1968 and to keep the fraying New Deal majority alive.

This coalition was glimpsed by some journalists watching Kennedy win African-American and Polish-American voters in Indiana, and others examining his California victory and its heavy reliance on a black-brown-and-white working-class support base that eschewed the McCarthy-loving suburbs. Without exit polls and other modern tools, it is difficult to discern how broad RFK’s 1968 voting coalition actually was. But the fact that Kennedy was later adopted as a patron saint for all sorts of left-of-center folk (both left-bent radicals and centrist “New Democrats”) who were tired of the old-time religion of interest-group liberalism suggests that he might have been onto something new. Indeed, in a critical 2000 book about the RFK myth, Ronald Steele suggested just that:

“He was the link between two competing visions: the welfare state world of the New Deal and the ‘middle way’ of latter-day New Democrats like Bill Clinton.”

Indeed, in the real world of politics without RFK, it has often been southern-bred centrists who have been been able to put together solid biracial coalitions that maintained minority enthusiasm and reached deep into the white working-class. No Kennedy coalitions were more mind-bending than that of Jimmy Carter in 1976, who had equally devoted support from African-Americans and former Wallace supporters — albeit only in his native South. Bill Clinton had some of the same appeal. But so too (mostly outside the South) did Barack Obama in 2008.

It may be significant or incidental that Carter lost a lot of his white working-class support in 1980 (after surviving an intraparty challenge from RFK’s brother) as did Obama in 2012. And then in 2016, Hillary Clinton lost in no small part because she did very poorly among white working-class voters while suffering from low turnout by minority voters as well. In terms of the enduring myth of RFK, HRC was the anti-Bobby, or at least the representative of a party that was struggling with both its New Deal and more recent constituencies.

And that’s partly why Bobby Kennedy remains so fascinating a character. In trying to build a multiracial coalition that includes a robust share of the still-very-large white working class, there remains the ancient formula of the social-Democratic Left: a class-based appeal that eschews all cultural or identity issues and simply pounds away at the need to defend and extend the universal benefit programs, progressive taxes, and anti-corporate regulations and trade policies that presumably all poorer folks support or ought to support. It seemed to work pretty well for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, and in all honesty, it has never really been tried by the national Democratic Party since the days of the actual New Deal.

But for progressives who, for one reason or another, don’t think white working-class losses or lagging minority turnout are the product of too little “populist” agitation or too much talk about the racial or cultural issues that voters seem to care greatly about, there is a persistent craving for something less formulaic and more poetic. Is it possible to develop a message that transcends group tensions by a higher appeal to common values and aspirations that cannot be captured by tax or benefit distribution tables or the lashing of a common corporate foe? Fifty years after the fact, the abiding myth of Bobby Kennedy is a testament to that abiding hope.


RFK’s Legacy for Today’s Democrats

One of the reasons that it’s hard not to romanticize RFK and his legacy, is that he was a hell of a romantic figure. In addition to the Kennedy mistique, being a great-looking guy and poster-boy for family men, he had a compelling a story. He was known as a “ruthless” political operative, who worked for, ugh, Joe McCarthy and crusaded against labor rackettering. But he also ran his brother’s successful presidential campaign and was JFK’s most trusted advisor, who played a critical role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Like JFK, he had wit and eloquence to burn, though not as much charm or warmth. By most accounts, RFK was a damn good Attorney General and U.S. Senator.

The assassination of his brother, who was also his closest friend, was a soul-shattering experience that seemed to make RFK more vulnerable and humane. He turned his attention toward healing his family, while navigating the complex politics of the era. But many who knew RFK say that he had a transformative experience in the Spring of 1967, when he visited Marks, Mississippi at the urging of NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney, Marian Wright, who felt strongly that Kennedy needed to see first hand the kind of brutal poverty Black Americans were experiencing in the Mississippi Delta. She was right. Kennedy spent some quality time with the impoverished families and their children and was said to be deeply affected. Public service was always a Kennedy family tradition. But when Kennedy left Marks, he became more determined than ever to become a leader who could help alleviate human suffering. From then on, his was a powerful voice for the disadvantaged and downtrodden, especially African and Hispanic Americans.

But Kennedy also could connect with white blue-collar Americans in ways that few of his fellow Democrats could match. As Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow of the Century Foundation, explains in his outstanding essay on “The Inclusive Populism of Robert F. Kennedy“:

This report makes three central points. First, it outlines the evidence suggesting Kennedy achieved a remarkable political coalition in time of strong political antagonism. Although contemporary witnesses to the campaign believed Kennedy’s appeal to be strong, some historians have subsequently questioned RFK’s ability to attract working-class whites. This report seeks to debunk the debunkers, drawing upon polling data and precinct results in key states to suggest Kennedy had powerful appeal with working-class blacks and whites alike.

…In the end, he was able to communicate that he cared about both groups in a way that few politicians can today by respecting both their interests and their legitimate values. Unlike right-wing urban populists, he was inclusive of minority populations, and unlike today’s liberalism, Kennedy placed a priority on being inclusive of working-class whites. In short, he was a liberal without the elitism and a populist without the racism.

…as he began his 1968 campaign, RFK faced a major political dilemma. The New Deal Coalition of working-class whites and blacks, which had supported progressive candidates for more than three decades, was in tatters, rent apart by racial strife and resentment. Should he try to bring these groups back together, or instead seek a new coalition of highly-educated whites and minority voters?

If the challenge was daunting, Kennedy had a plan. Whereas progressives typically told working-class Americans they will look out for their interests, and conservatives typically told these voters they support their values, Kennedy would emphasize connection to both their economic interests and their legitimate values.28 Kennedy would underline common class interests as progressives traditionally did. But he would do more, and suggest that he respected working-class values of hard work and respect for the law. He was not going to backtrack on his commitment to civil rights or his commitment to pursuing peace in Vietnam. But he would augment the pursuit of racial justice and peace with a commitment to toughness—on crime, on welfare, and on national security. This message was reinforced by a personal history of strength that was meant to give working-class whites and blacks the sense that he respected their American values as well as their interests.

…Kennedy told journalist Jack Newfield, “You know, I’ve come to the conclusion that poverty is closer to the root of the problem than color. I think there has to be a new kind of coalition to keep the Democratic party going, and to keep the country together. . . . Negroes, blue-collar whites, and the kids. . . . We have to convince the Negroes and the poor whites that they have common interests.

During the campaign, RFK continually pounded away at the ability of rich people to escape taxes by exploiting loopholes. He offered “A Program for a Sound Economy,” which the Wall Street Journal denounced in an editorial entitled, “Soak the Rich.”31 Lewis Kaden, who was primarily responsible for the proposal, says it was in the classic populist tradition “of attacking big corporation and rich individuals who weren’t paying their fair share of taxes.”32Recognizing that tax reform was a complicated issue, he tried to cut through the fog by calling for a minimum 20 percent income tax for those who earned over $50,000 (in 1968, a considerable sum) in order “to prevent the wealthy from continuing to escape taxation completely.”33 RFK speechwriter Jeff Greenfield recalled in an interview that on the stump, Kennedy was not afraid to name names. “He would constantly cite” oil tycoon H. L. Hunt. Kennedy “would use statistics of 200 people who made $200,000 a year or more and paid no taxes. . . He kept coming back to those 200 people . . . and then he’d say: ‘One year Hunt paid $102. I guess he was feeling generous.’ If you think about it, there is no better populist issue than that issue.

Progressives frequently hit issues of economic inequality in campaigns, but RFK’s message was particularly strong, which earned him the enmity of business leaders. A survey conducted by Fortune magazine found Kennedy was the most unpopular presidential candidate among business leaders since Franklin D. Roosevelt. “While President Kennedy was never a great favorite among businessmen,” a March 1968 Fortune article noted, “the suspicion with which he was regarded is nothing compared to the anger aroused by his younger brother.” The survey of business leaders found that “mention of the name Bobby Kennedy produced an almost unanimous chorus of condemnation . . . there is agreement that Kennedy is the one public figure who could produce an almost united front of business opposition.”…

Kahlenberg goes on to write about RFK’s positions on tricky social issues, like “law and order,” always paring his policies with statements of compassion for those who were suffering and experiencing hardship. Kahlenberg notes further, that in the Indiana campaign,

Journalist Jules Witcover wrote of the motorcade: “In the history of American political campaigning, certainly in primary elections, Kennedy’s final day in the Indiana campaign must be recorded among the most incredible.” He continued: “What set the motorcade apart, and what made it significant for Kennedy the candidate, was the unbroken display of adulation and support as he moved from Negro neighborhood to blue collar ethnic back to Negro again, over and over and over.”82 Robert Coles told Kennedy, “There is something going on here that has to do with real class politics.”

On May 7, primary election day, journalists were struck by the remarkable coalition Kennedy seemed to have assembled. On the one hand, RFK did extremely well with black voters, winning 86 percent of their votes against McCarthy and Humphrey stand-in Roger Branigin.84 “What was surprising,” political analysts Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wrote, “was his record among the backlash ethnic voters that gave George Wallace his remarkable vote in Indiana four years ago….While Negro precincts were delivering around 90 per cent for Kennedy, he was running 2 to 1 ahead in some Polish precincts.”

Kahlenberg goes into considerable detail regarding RFK’s vote percentages in the primaries and debunking the view that Kennedy didn’t perform well with white blue collar workers. Among Kahlenberg’s conclusions, he notes

If a class-based, multi-racial progressive coalition is possible, necessary and desirable, what kind of policies could progressives pursue to begin the effort to recreate the Kennedy coalition? The balance of this report outlines four ideas: (1) Stay committed to progressive principles of inclusion for marginalized groups; (2) consistently emphasize common class interests; (3) signal the inclusion of working-class whites by extending civil rights remedies to class inequality; and (4) respect the legitimate values of working-class people.

In his closing paragraph, Kahlenberg frames the challenge facing Democrats:

If the campaign of Robert Kennedy fifty years ago showed that the progressive coalition of working-class whites and minorities is possible, the election of Donald Trump showed that efforts to renew the progressive coalition are vitally necessary. Trump has governed as Kennedy’s segregationist opposite George Wallace might have, absent Wallace’s leavening of liberal economic policy. We have seen the disaster that transpires when progressives ignore or condescend to white-working class voters and allow a demagogue to fill the vacuum. A half century after Robert Kennedy’s remarkable campaign, his approach deserves a second look. As Kennedy himself often said: “We can do better.”

As we commemorate the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy, Kahlenberg’s reflections offer hope that RFK’s example remains instructive a half-century later. Democrats should give Kahlenberg’s article a thoughtful read.


Exclusive: ‘Top Secret’ 2018 GOP Ad Strategy Now Exposed

The following article by TDS contributing editor Andrew Levison, author of The White Working Class Today: Who They Are, How They Think and How Progressives Can Regain Their Support and other books and articles focusing on the working-class in American politics, is cross-posted from a TDS e-blast:

Well, OK, it’s not exactly top secret.

What actually is available is a new book that on the surface appears to be an in-depth sociological portrait of Trump voters in a wide range of Rust belt cities, small towns and rural areas. It presents the conclusion that, contrary to popular stereotypes, these folks are really all just basically decent Americans–heartland populists who voted for Trump out of a mixture of patriotism, legitimate economic grievance, defense of traditional values and anger at condescending coastal elites.

At first glance the book, The Great Revolt–Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, looks like a substantial and indeed an impressive piece of ethnographic research. One of the authors, a professional journalist, is described as having traveled 27,000 miles across the upper Midwest in order to interview over 300 people. The book includes 23 extended profiles of individuals, each one presented in substantially greater depth than the usual journalistic dispatches that one encounters in articles in newspapers and magazines.

But there’s something about these profiles that’s just a little bit odd. Not a single one of the 23 subjects who are profiled expresses even the most microscopic iota of prejudice or bigotry toward any group–not African Americans, not Latinos, not Muslims, not GLBT individuals. In the book they and the over 300 interviewed people that they represent are all described as being just decent, hard-working, “salt of the earth” Americans–Norman Rockwell illustrations come to life. Most of the people interviewed, in fact, are either Obama-Trump voters or independents and not one is a firm Rush Limbaugh ideological conservative.

Since the book clearly gives the reader the impression that it is presenting a representative group of “typical” Trump voters, and not a carefully selected subgroup of tolerant, non-racist Trump supporters, this is, to put it mildly, more than a tad improbable. Interviewing over 300 “typical” Trump supporters without encountering a single racially prejudiced individual is statistically about as likely as interviewing 300 attendees at the annual National Book Awards ceremony and not finding a single English major or interviewing 300 people at a Grateful Dead concert and not finding anyone who had ever smoked marijuana.

But when the book is viewed, not as sociology, but as a market research document prepared for the major GOP advertising agencies, it suddenly becomes both extremely interesting and profoundly important for Democratic candidates to study and understand.

When a major business corporation like Ford or Apple begins to plan a massive ad campaign for a new product like their latest model car or home entertainment system the company’s ad agency usually starts by doing a substantial amount of focus group and interview research in order to prepare a series of “target customer profiles”— detailed descriptions of the intended audience. These profiles are designed to guide ad copywriters about how to talk to them. These documents typically analyze how the people in the target audience see themselves and how they want to be seen by others, about what things they value and care about in their lives and about their trials and disappointments in the past and their dreams and hopes for the future. The goal of these documents is not to create a totally objective psychological profile but rather a picture of how these customers like to think about themselves and how to use this information to sell them goods.

Seen this way, the book suddenly makes sense. It is organized into seven categories that the authors call “archetypes” but the labels they attach to these categories clearly locate them in the familiar world of market research and market segmentation e.g. “Red Blooded and Blue Collared,” “Rotary Reliables,” “Rough Rebounders.” These are the typical kinds of names that ad agencies give to defined submarkets within an overall target audience, groups that they intend to individually target with special ads and other messaging.

As a result, what the book actually provides is seven detailed customer marketing profiles–guides for how a GOP candidate should craft his or her ads to appeal to the non-racist sector of Trump voters who will not vote for Trumpist candidates in 2018 simply because such candidates offer an explicitly racist or conservative ideological platform.

The truth is that there actually are a substantial number of decent and basically tolerant people in blue collar and red state America and it is they, not the die-hard bigots and right wingers who will provide the critical margin of victory in many of the elections next November. That is why it is so vitally important for GOP candidates to have in-depth market research to effectively communicate with them.

It is therefore no accident that the book has been touted by Trump himself and has blurbs from Rush Limbaugh and Tom Cotton. It is, in reality, a detailed marketing handbook that the ad writers for GOP candidates will use to craft their appeals to the non-racist sector of rural, small town, suburban and white working class voters.

But critically, in order to do this the book cannot avoid also being an extremely useful “advance guide for Democratic candidates” about what they should expect next fall – a preview of how their opponents will craft their TV, radio, direct mail and internet messaging, what topics they will try to avoid and what kinds of narratives they will try to emphasize. It indicates the likely techniques GOP ads and messaging will use to appeal to this pivotal group of voters.

With this information in hand, democratic candidates can begin even now to plan their responses to ads that won’t appear until September. This is very valuable advance political intelligence.

As a result, the ironic consequence is that even if the analysis that the book presents actually had been stamped “Top Secret” and carefully locked away in an ad agencies’ secure storage area instead of being published, it would have been worth it for Democratic strategists to launch a “mission impossible” type covert operation to sneak in and steal it. Instead they only need to tolerate the minor annoyance of having to buy a book that is specifically designed to assist their opponents.


Teixeira: Why the Social Safety Net Will Expand, Not Shrink

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

With the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia last week, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that, despite all the fulminations of conservatives about shrinking government, it’s damn hard to actually shrink the safety net because, well–people like it!

James Hohmann of the Washington Post noted after the VA expansion: “It’s another nail in the coffin for efforts to repeal Obamacare and a fresh reminder of how difficult it is to scale back any entitlement once it’s created. Many Republicans, in purple and red states alike, concluded that Congress is unlikely to get rid of the law, so they’ve become less willing to take political heat for leaving billions in federal money on the table.”

Noah Smith of Bloomberg has a bigger picture piece on positive trends in the social safety net, which I think many people on the left are not cognizant of or downplay:

U.S. government transfers have been increasing over time. The U.S. system of taxation and spending has become more progressive during the past two decades. Per-capita government transfers were about $8,567 a person in 2016, up from about $5,371 at the turn of the century (adjusted for inflation) — an increase of 60 percent.

The increasing generosity of the U.S. safety net in the 21st century began under President George W. Bush. Although mostly remembered for the war in Iraq, Bush in many ways fulfilled his promise to be a compassionate conservative. Major expansions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, were carried out in 2002 and 2008. Bush’s Medicare reform added prescription-drug benefits to the government’s premier health-care program. And Bush’s so-called housing-first policy reduced homelessness dramatically during his second term. Overall, real per-capita government transfers increased by about 38 percent during the eight years of the Bush administration.

Under President Barack Obama the pace of welfare expansion slowed a bit, probably as a result of the Great Recession. But it didn’t stop. Food stamps continued to expand, extended unemployment insurance helped many during the recession, and homelessness kept declining. Obama also implemented a number of tax credits for low-income families and passed the Affordable Care Act, which subsidizes health insurance.

After 16 years of expansions in the safety net under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, the U.S. has a much more robust welfare state than people seem to realize. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, using the U.S. Census Bureau’s new comprehensive poverty measure, estimates that government transfers have driven child poverty to a record low. Thanks mostly to government aid, the number of American children in poverty has fallen from more than one in four in the early 1990s to about one in seven today.

Furthermore, I expect safety net and other needed government programs to expand further in the future. Consider:

In all advanced societies, the state, as measured by spending as a share of GDP over time, has grown larger over time, albeit in an irregular rather than steady pattern. But the end result is clear. In the US, for example, government spending was only 7 percent of GDP at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, it is around 37 percent. Of course, the percentage is higher in most other industrialized countries, reaching around 60 percent in the prosperous Nordic countries of Denmark and Sweden. Indeed, the US could add 10 percentage points to the GDP share of government spending and still be only in the middle of the pack of today’s advanced countries.

Such a development might strike some as radically infeasible because Americans famously are not fond of big government and, depending on how survey questions are asked, declare their lack of interest in a general expansion of government’s role. But such a view misunderstands the dominant ideology in America, which combines what political scientists Christopher Ellis and James Stimson refer to as “symbolic conservatism” (honoring tradition, distrusting novelty, embracing the conservative label) with “operational liberalism” (wanting government to do more and spend more in a wide variety of areas).

In their definitive book, Ideology in America, they characterize symbolic conservatism as “fundamentally different from culturally conservative politics as defined by the religious right. It is respect for basic values: hard work, striving, caution, prudence, family, tradition, God, citizenship and the American flag….[I]t is the mainstream culture….It is woven into the fabric of how ordinary Americans live their lives.”

And on operational liberalism they note, “Social Security is…no exception. Most Americans like most government programs. Most of the time, on average, we want government to do more and spend more. It is no accident we have created the programs of the welfare state. They were created—and are sustained—by massive public support.”

So there would appear to be no insuperable ideological obstacle to a substantially expanded role for government in 21st century America. Indeed, such an expansion is fully in accord with Americans’ durable commitment to operational liberalism.

Of course these expanded government programs will not happen all at once. Far from it. Like the programs of the past, they will be phased in gradually over time, in fits and starts, frequently in inefficient and suboptimal forms. That’s the messy business of politics in a democracy.

But happen they will and once enacted they will be hard to get rid of; instead, just as in the past, the programs will be modified, improved and even expanded. The reason is simple: people like programs that make their lives better and are far more likely to respond to program defects by demanding they be fixed than by demanding programs be eliminated.


Greenberg: To Gain White Working-Class Votes, Democrats Must Project a Vision and Message Beyond Trump-Bashing

The following article by Eleanor Clift is cross-posted from The Daily Beast:

Macomb County, Michigan is where Democrats go for the hard truths to save their party. The working-class suburb of Detroit sent Bill Clinton to the White House and delivered two solid wins for Barack Obama before turning on the Democrats and giving Donald Trump 54 percent of its votes.

Globalization stole many good-paying jobs from Macomb, leaving fertile ground for Trump’s anti-trade message. Democrat Debbie Dingell, who represents the Detroit area — as her husband did before her, and his father before him – recalled to the Daily Beast how she confronted Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

“I told her in no uncertain terms, if you leave Michigan and people here don’t know you’re opposed to the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), and will be opposed to it when you’re president – You can just forget it,” Dingell said.

She meant forget being president, which is what happened. Dingell still gets exercised over how her frantic calls for action then were ignored. “Anybody I talked to, I said it was a problem,” she recalled. “It was clearly a problem in Michigan. I was told not to worry, everything was fine.”

Democrats were so confident the “blue wall” would hold that Clinton made just one trip to Michigan that August, telling workers at Futuramic Tool & Engineering in suburban Detroit that she was against TPP, and would be as president. It wasn’t reassuring, not with President Obama openly lobbying for the trade deal, telling naysayers it would get done in the lame duck Congress after the election.

“Obama wanted it as a legacy issue, and that left her (Clinton) clearly muddled and jumbled,”  Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told the Daily Beast. “Trade was a major factor in Trump’s victory, and she was perceived to be ambivalent. She was so concerned with not appearing to have any distance from Obama on the economy.”

According to Greenberg, Obama called into the platform committee before the Democratic Convention to change the wording to be less critical of TPP. Dingell was “apoplectic about TPP and Clinton not being clear,” says Greenberg, as was his wife, Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. The two women conveyed their anger to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, apparently to no avail.
“I hate to be Debbie Downer again, but you can’t take this for granted,” says Dingell, sounding the alarm ahead of the November midterm elections for Democrats to up their game. “You don’t know how many people will stay home out of general disgust or think their vote doesn’t matter.”

Greenberg shares her angst about Macomb. He has made a career out of monitoring attitudes in the working-class suburb. The insights he gleaned more than 25 years ago paved the way for Bill Clinton to reorient the Democratic Party more to the center, allowing a Democrat to win the White House after 12 years in the wilderness.

The veteran pollster says Democrats don’t yet have a winning economic message that speaks to the real struggles people are having. Rising health care premiums top the list, he says. “I can’t tell you how powerful the health care issue is. People are in tears about the cost of health care, and they blame the Republicans.” The salience of the health care issue is a key takeaway from focus groups Greenberg conducted in March in Macomb with Trump voters and Detroit area base voters. He found that white college-graduate women “seemed as much a base, anti-Trump group as the African Americans.”

Greenberg sees Macomb as a bellwether for the country. In 2008, these working-class voters supported Obama, making a judgment about him that transcended race, “that he wouldn’t just work for his own folks, he would work for everybody.”

They voted for Obama because of economic self-interest, and they voted for Trump for the same reason. Working-class men in Macomb support Trump by two to one, and many have paid a high price for their vote in their own family. The politicized, polarized civil war in the country is in the family, says Greenberg, with older voters blaming the mainstream media’s “fake news” for their millennial children failing to understand what Trump is trying to do.

Greenberg coined the phrase Rising American Electorate to describe the Obama coalition of single women, minorities and young people. But he questions whether these evolving demographics are enough to return Democrats to power. “I’m not a big fan of the assumption that it will automatically translate into victory,” he said. “All these groups are struggling economically, and they’re desperate for an economic message that recognizes how much they’re struggling.

“Clean up corrupt government is not enough for them. Identity politics are not enough,” he says. Asked what he thinks of the Democrats’ new slogan, Better Deal, he replies, “Not a fan of it.”

The 1992 election that propelled Bill Clinton to the White House was famously staked on the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.” Greenberg still thinks that has to be the bedrock message even with another month of positive job numbers released last Friday. People believe the economy is growing and more jobs are available, “but that has not diminished their frustration and insecurities about their stagnant pay in the face of rising costs,” Greenberg writes in his latest report on “Macomb and America’s New Political Moment.” Anti-Trump voters are consolidated and motivated, “and increasingly intent to vote,” Greenberg concludes. “They are seeking out tools and information to win arguments” and to convince themselves that Democrats have a vision that is about more than just reflexively resisting Trump.

It is a time unlike any other in recent history when the stakes are so elevated that both sides speak about a virtual civil war in the country, and in their own families.

Anti-Trump voters are consolidated and motivated, “and are increasingly intent to vote,” Greenberg says. “They are seeking out tools and information to win arguments,” and to convince themselves that Democrats learned from the last election and have a vision for the economy, and for the country, that is about more than Trump.


Political Strategy Notes

Vivian Yee explains why “Democrats Hope an Asian Influx Will Help Turn Orange County Blue” at The New York Times: “Though they have gravitated toward the left ever since the 1990s, they are fractured. According to a national survey of Asian-Americans conducted after the 2016 election, Indian- and Korean-Americans tack progressive, Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans more conservative. While Asians registered as Republicans in Orange County outnumber Asian Democrats, more than one-third of Asian voters identify as independents…And though they tend to hold liberal views on issues like gun control, climate change and public spending, the political causes that some Asian-Americans have rallied around in recent years have veered conservative. Organizing on the social media platform WeChat, Chinese immigrants mobilized in 2014 to kill legislation that would have resurrected affirmative action at California universities…Even so, many Asians oppose the Trump administration’s makeover of the immigration system, and their votes evince a broader discomfort with the president. Orange County Asians re-elected their Republican congressional representatives, yet tilted toward Mrs. Clinton in 2016.”

So how can it be that the nation’s largest, most progressive state has a “weak bench” of Democratic House candidates? Ronald Brownstein probes the question at The Atlantic, and citing , “a long-term failure by California Democrats to invest in building a network of credible local elected officials…Particularly in Orange County, the epicenter of the competition for House seats in the state, Democrats are confronting what could be called a “resume gap”….While Republicans are fielding an array of candidates who are current or former elected officials, Democrats are relying entirely on first-time contenders who entered their races without any elected experience, existing political networks, or name identification in their districts. That’s making it tougher for any of the Democratic candidates to consolidate support within their party…The lack of experienced candidates “without question poses a big problem to the Democrats,” said Michael Moodian, a political scientist at Chapman College in the city of Orange. “The reason is that for decades the Orange County Republican Party has done a much better job than the Democrats at establishing a farm team of candidates.”

Dems have been warned: “State Websites Are Hackable — And That Could Compromise Election Security,” writes Clare Malone at FiveThirtyEight.com. “After receiving a tip from a small cyber firm called Appsecuri, FiveThirtyEight has confirmed that two states, Alabama and Nevada, had vulnerabilities that left them open to potential compromises of their state web presences….With five months to go until the midterm elections, the subpar preparation of state websites and election systems remains a concern for cybersecurity experts… Officials from both states said the flaws did not have the potential to allow the posting of erroneous vote counts to official pages. But outside experts suggested that there’s still reason to be concerned…“A lot of these vulnerabilities are easily classified as a cosmetic error until someone thinks through how they can be used for other purposes,” said Harri Hursti, a cybersecurity expert with a focus in election security. A hacker’s attack may seem minor now, but it could grow into a bigger, more urgent problem come Election Day.”

Attention all Democratic candidates and campaign workers in states and communities with substantial Puerto Rican populations: Read Alvin Chang’s Vox post, “How the media ignored Puerto Rico, in one chart,” which notes “This week, we learned that Hurricane Maria may be the deadliest natural disaster on US soil in the past 100 years, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that most of the estimated 4,600 deaths were because of delayed medical care…But on cable news, the top story by a wide margin was ABC canceling Roseanne after a racist tweet from its star, Roseanne Barr. In the New York Times, Roseanne was on the front page and Puerto Rico was on A13…This was yet another example of the media putting the Puerto Rico story on the back burner — something it’s been doing for a long time now. We analyzed the amount of airtime the major cable news networks devoted to Puerto Rico and found that after the first month, coverage has been virtually nonexistent.” The twin targets of negligent Republicans and twisted media priorities are begging to be blasted, and Democrats should not hesitate to bring it.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Sunshine State. As Stephanie Griffith reports in “As Puerto Ricans’ numbers grow in Florida, Hurricane Maria becomes pivotal campaign issue: “We’re a highly motivated vote, because Trump and the Republican Congress failed Puerto Rico” at ThinkProgress: “The Pew Research Center found that the number of Puerto Ricans in Florida has increased from around half a million in 2000 to more than a million in 2014...“We’re a highly motivated vote, because Trump and the Republican Congress failed the island,” U.S. Representative Darren Soto (D-FL) told ThinkProgress in an interview at his office on Capitol Hill…Soto said the Orlando community had already seen an influx of thousands of people each month fleeing a brutal recession on the island. The hurricane only accelerated the exodus…“In a state where the last several presidential and gubernatorial elections have been decided by less than one point, any changes can make a big difference. This is a state where Obama won twice by one point and Trump won by one point,” the Democrat said.”

The next time your crazy conservative uncle starts railing against “big government” meddling in health care, you can quote from “It Saves Lives. It Can Save Money. So Why Aren’t We Spending More on Public Health? Funding for health campaigns is surprisingly low when you consider they’re often so valuable that they pay for themselves” by Aaron E. Carroll and Austin Frakt at The Upshot. For example, Carroll and Frakt note that “A 2017 systematic review published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health looked at studies that calculated the return on investment for public health interventions. The researchers identified 52 studies that looked at interventions at a local or national level…Health protection interventions, which would include vaccinations, have saved $34 for every $1 spent on them, according to the review. But not every vaccine has a positive return. For example, in years for which the flu vaccine is a poor match for the actual influenza types that are circulating, the return on investment can be as low as -21, meaning that it costs $21 to save $1…In years for which the vaccine matches the disease well, the return on investment can be as high as 174. Such a high return occurs because of all the disease and death prevented.”

In his review article, “Ratfucked Again,” at The New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky illuminates the political opportunity — and dangers — provided by the upcoming census and the role of the midterm elections in the outcome: “…As the next census approaches, state executive mansions and legislatures are at least as important, as liberals have belatedly come to realize. The Democrats actually have two election cycles to see how much ground they can regain here, as new district lines won’t be drawn until after the 2020 election results are in. The party that wins the right to draw the legislative maps of the 2020s will have enormous power to shape future Congresses and state legislatures—to determine, for example, whether districts are drawn in such a way that Republicans need only worry about winning conservative votes and Democrats liberal ones, or in a way that might push candidates toward the center; and whether districts comply with the Voting Rights Act, in a decade when much demographic change is expected, enough to perhaps turn the crucial state of Texas at least purple, if not blue. Much is at stake.”

“This coming Tuesday nearly 100 women will be on the ballot in congressional primaries…Women make up 23 percent of nonincumbents running for congressional seats in 2018 compared to 16 percent in the previous two cycles. In addition, nearly 80 percent of those women have been Democrats…Among all women nonincumbent candidates who have run so far, 47.55 percent have either won their race outright or advanced to a runoff. Only 23 percent of male candidates have kept up, as the table below indicates. — From “The pink wave makes herstory: Women candidates in the 2018 midterm elections” by Elaine Kamarck, Alexander R. Podkul, and Nicholas W. Zeppos at Brookings.

Check out Roll Call’s handy, color-coded, roll-over 2018 Election Guide, featuring projected outcome data on every congressional district, U.S. Senate seat and Governorship.