washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

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

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

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

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

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

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

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

The Daily Strategist

April 26, 2017

Paul LePage’s Threat to the Senate

In those wonderful days before Donald Trump ran for president, the most ridiculously entertaining Republican pol in the country was often Maine governor Paul LePage. He was back in the news this week with a frightening threat, as I discussed at New York.

Per the Boston Globe:

“Maine’s Republican governor says he’s strongly considering running for the U.S. Senate, but also feels he ‘wouldn’t make a very good legislator.’’’

“Gov. Paul LePage made the comments on a radio appearance on WGAN-AM on Thursday morning. The two-term governor is termed out of his current job in 2018 and he has been the source of speculation about his next move.”

Most of said speculation has revolved around a 2018 LePage challenge to Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He’s considering it, even though he doubts he would be good at the job and is concerned committee meetings “would be boring.”

Since he’s not that jazzed about the gig, perhaps LePage should make a Senate run conditional on someone talking Eliot Cutler into running as well — Cutler’s two independent candidacies for governor aided LePage’s election in 2010 and reelection in 2014 by pluralities.

There is possibly a different, easier route for LePage to get from Augusta to Washington: Senator Susan Collins has been openly talking about returning to Maine next year and running to succeed LePage. If she won, under current state law LePage would get to appoint someone to finish the last two years of Collins’s Senate term. He might find the most qualified candidate to be the belligerent man staring back at him from the mirror.

Yikes.


Trump’s Obamacare Squeeze Play on Democrats Backfires Spectacularly

Donald Trump probably thought he was pulling a trick out of The Art of the Deal when he tried to pressure Democrats into helping him salvage his healthcare disaster. But he tricked himself, as I explained at New York:

A heavy-handed effort by the president to take hostage insurer subsidies critical to the proper functioning of Obamacare — with the demand that Democrats cooperate to salvage Trump’s own failed health-care initiative — seems to be backfiring loudly. Soon after Trump made it clear (first via a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, and then in his own words, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal) that he was indeed threatening to stop payment of the so-called Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies (amounting to $7 billion in 2017 and an estimated $10 billion in 2018), congressional Democrats quickly struck back, reports The Hill:

“Congressional Democrats are demanding that key Obamacare payments be included in the next spending bill, raising the possibility of a government shutdown if they are not.”

The “spending bill” in question is the omnibus appropriations measure needed to keep the lights on in the federal government beyond April 28, the expiration date of the funding bill enacted last December. It has been the subject of extended negotiations involving the White House and both parties in Congress, aimed at removing “poison pills” that might produce a deadlock, a Senate Democratic filibuster, and a government shutdown.

Providing an appropriation for CSR payments would permanently take this particular weapon out of Trump’s hands — no matter how an underlying lawsuit, over the constitutionality of the Obama administration making the payments without such an appropriation, turns out….

Far from forcing Democrats to the table to help him pass the Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation he cannot get with Republican votes alone, he has emboldened them to fight back. Given significant Republican support (even among House Freedom Caucus members) for keeping the CSR payments flowing to avoid an individual-insurance-market meltdown, Trump may have gone into battle with his own flanks exposed. And he has now managed to add a new complication to the already-sensitive discussions aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, for which he would inevitably bear the major responsibility.

He will likely have to back down pretty quickly. Besides the low odds of success — and the terrible optics of risking health coverage for millions of Americans because he can’t get his own party in line — there’s yet another problem: If Trump goes to the mats on this issue, he’ll have to answer to all the other powerful interests who are deferring their own demands to keep the federal government open. Is this complicated gambit on health care really more important to Trump than defunding Planned Parenthood or getting money for a border wall? That’s one of the problems with hostage-taking: All your friends will want their demands included on the ransom note.


Grass Roots Stirrings Bode Well for Dems

In her HuffPo article, “Democrats In Illinois Just Unseated A Whole Bunch Of Republicans: They’re local races, but they fit with an emerging trend that could mean big trouble for the GOP in 2018,” Jennifer Bendery provides an encouraging report for Democrats. Some excerpts:

In a spate of local elections last week in Illinois, Democrats picked up seats in places they’ve never won before.

The city of Kankakee elected its first African-American, Democratic mayor. West Deerfield Township will be led entirely by Democrats for the first time. Elgin Township voted for “a complete changeover,”flipping to an all-Democratic board. Normal Township elected Democratic supervisors and trustees to run its board ― the first time in more than 100 years that a single Democrat has held a seat.

“We had a pretty good day,” said Dan Kovats, executive director of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association. “We won in areas we normally would win, but we also won in areas Republicans never expected us to be competitive in. They were caught flat-footed.”

But, it’s not just Illinois, as Bendery adds:

…a Democratic congressional candidate in Kansas nearly pulled off a shocking win in a heavily Republican district. In Georgia, 30-year-old Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff is outpacing his GOP rivals in a race to replace former Rep. Tom Price. The seat has long been Republican and was once held by former Speaker Newt Gingrich. These races come after a Democratic state Senate candidate in Delaware, buoyed by anti-Trump activism, annihilated her GOP challenger in an election that’s traditionally been close.

The mechanism that fired the grass roots victories in Illinois just may provide a workable template for local groups around the country. Bendery explains:

In the case of Illinois, a number of Democrats who just won got a boost from a program launched by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) called Build The Bench. It’s an all-day boot camp that offers nuts-and-bolts details for running a successful campaign. Bustos came up with the idea last year when she noticed a dearth of new Democratic candidates for Congress, and decided the best way to help build up her party’s ranks was at the local level.

She’s held two boot camps in her district so far ― The Huffington Post attended one of them in March ― and she’s already seeing tremendous payoff. Twelve Build The Bench alumni ran for local seats in this election cycle, and eight of them won. A ninth alum, Rita Ali, is currently down by one vote in her race for Peoria City Council.

“I am incredibly proud that the majority of our graduates who were on the ballot in April municipal elections won their races,” said Bustos. “If we want to be successful in the heartland, we need to connect Democratic candidates for office at all levels with the best practices, skills and expertise needed to run winning campaigns.”

Democrats face a steep, uphill battle to reverse the devasting effects of Republican gerrymandering in federal, state and local elective office districts. But it’s good to know that creative grass-roots initiatives are emerging, and good Democratic candidates are coming forward.


Political Strategy Notes

Democratic Senate candidates are doing well as their 2018 campaigns begin to crank up. As Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine, “The Democrats running in all those 2016 red states are by and large doing better than one might expect when it comes to job-approval ratings from their constituents. And the numbers do not invariably correlate to the presidential strength of the two parties in each state, either…Then we come to Democratic senators in states that Trump carried much more narrowly — indeed, narrowly enough that the usual midterm pushback against the party controlling the White House might erase any presumed GOP advantage entirely. All are in favorable territory…”

Alex Roarty of McClatchydc.com explores why “Liberals fume at Democratic establishment for refusing to take more risk,” and notes a debate about the role of the Democrtic Congressional Campaign Committee in the recent special congressional election in Kansas, in which a Democratic candidate lost in a bright red district by less than 7 percent: “The DCCC will continue its longstanding and failed model of helping only most favored candidates until grassroots disgust makes that stance untenable,” said Jeff Hauser, a longtime progressive strategist. “Taking `chances,’ especially in a cycle which might well prove to be a wave, should be the DCCC’s default approach.”…Democratic allies of the DCCC have argued that running TV ads in the Kansas district would do more harm than good because Republicans could have used them to argue that Thompson was a tool of the national party – a potent criticism in a conservative area. They also say that calls for the party to help with mail or field staff would have taken months of preparation for a race nobody knew would be competitive until last week. (The DCCC did not conduct a poll of the race until days before the election.)..Democrats in Washington – at the Democratic National Committee and the DCCC, which is House Democrats’ campaign arm – flatly reject the charge that they did anything wrong in Kansas, arguing that involvement from the national party would have been counterproductive and an unwise use of scarce resources. For many reasons, moving the needle in a district this conservative is difficult for a group like the DCCC.”

Trump’s gloating tweet, “Great win in Kansas last night for Ron Estes, easily winning the Congressional race against the Dems, who spent heavily & predicted victory!” was met with the following tweet from Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight: “Estes underperformed Trump’s margin by 20.3 points. If every district behaved like that, Dems would gain 122 (!) House seats next November…They’d also win Senate races next year in Texas, Utah and Mississippi (plus Arizona and Nevada).”

As political observers fix on the GA-6 House race, Kyle Kondix has this to say about it at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “We’re calling GA-6 a Toss-up, a designation we applied to the race roughly two weeks ago after the National Republican Congressional Committee sounded the alarm bell and started aggressively spending money in the district. That’s in addition to the millions the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC that is close to Speaker Ryan, has also spent in the district. Since then, Ossoff’s huge fundraising has come to light, as have early voting statistics that seem to indicate heavy Democratic interest in the race (although Republicans, who have more candidate choices and thus perhaps waited longer to vote, are catching up)…So there’s a lot of uncertainty about the outcome: Polling, typically spotty in House races, generally shows Ossoff in the low 40s. If that’s all he gets in the first round of voting, and the combined Republican vote is over 50%, one would assume that Ossoff’s general election opponent would start with the upper hand: After all, the first round results are better than any poll — they are actual voting results that can be a preview of the runoff on June 20, if there is one. However, if Ossoff’s vote and the scattered votes for the four other Democratic candidates add up to a total approaching 50% (say, 45% or more), it may indicate that the runoff should be quite competitive. Obviously, a first-round win by Ossoff would be noteworthy because he would have exceeded Clinton’s 46.8% 2016 share significantly — and blown recent previous Democratic House performance in the district out of the water. Another factor: As of now, Ossoff and Democrats have not been attacking the Republicans because it’s anyone’s guess how the first round will play out, while outside GOP groups have been hammering Ossoff, hoping to drive down his numbers (and while Ossoff has been running lots of positive ads on his own behalf). Ossoff and national Democrats may be preparing to drop the hammer on whichever Republican emerges from the first round, again assuming Ossoff does not win outright on Tuesday. In other words, the dynamic changes on Tuesday in advance of a possible runoff: The GOP survivor goes from running against his or her fellow partisans to running against Ossoff, while Ossoff can shift into attack mode because he would have a clear opponent.”

According to a new CBS News poll (conducted 4/7-9), “More than half of Americans are worried about President Donald Trump’s ability to handle the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program, according to a new CBS News poll…Fifty-six percent of respondents described themselves as “uneasy” about Mr. Trump’s capabilities, while 39 percent said they were “confident” in his ability…On the plus side for Mr. Trump, a growing number of Americans say that he is not “too friendly” toward the Russian government. Forty-eight percent now say his approach to Russia is “about right,” and only 35 percent say he is too friendly. In February, that number was 43 percent.”

Yet, Claude Brodesser-Akner  of the NJ Advance Media for NJ.com reports, “A new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind found that 69 percent of New Jerseyans believe Trump is not releasing his tax returns “because they would show his close financial ties to political business figures in Russia.” Forty-four percent believe this to be “possibly true,” while 25 percent say the statement is “definitely true…The FDU poll found whatever New Jerseyans believe about Trump and Russia, it’s sharply informed by their party affiliation…Four-in-ten (39 percent) of Garden State Democrats believe it’s “definitely true” that Trump is hiding a close connection to political and business figures in Russia.Just four percent of Republicans believe the same.”

NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof taps into the insights of top experts of nonviolence and comes up with advice for the anti-Trump resistance. His key points: “First, advocates are often university-educated elites who can come across as patronizing. So skip the lofty rhetoric and emphasize issues of pocketbooks and corruption. Centrist voters may not care whether Trump is riding roughshod over institutions, but they’ll care if he rips them off or costs them jobs….Second, movements must always choose between purity and breadth — and usually they overdo the purity. It’s often possible to achieve more with a broader coalition, cooperating with people one partially disagrees with. I think it was a mistake, for example, for the Women’s March to disdain “pro-life” feminists…Third, nothing deflates an authoritarian more than ridicule. When Serbian youths challenged the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, they put his picture on a barrel and rolled it down the street, allowing passers-by to whack it with a bat…In recruiting for the Trump resistance, Stephen Colbert may be more successful than a handful of angry Democratic senators. Trump can survive denunciations, but I’m less sure that in the long run he can withstand mockery.”

“Bill Bishop, co-author of the book “The Big Sort” and a founder of The Daily Yonder, makes the case that the political split in America is not an urban-rural divide. Instead, he argues, it is between the largest cities and the rest of America. In an email, Bishop noted that…outside of cities of a million or more — and really outside of the 56 central city counties of these large metros — Democrats lose….This applies not only to presidential races, but to the House as well. In a piece for The Daily Yonder, Bishop wrote that “Democrats don’t have a ‘rural problem.’ They have an ‘everywhere-but-big-cities problem’.” He provided data on the pattern of partisan victory in 2014 House races on a scale from super urban to very rural. Democrats won a majority of districts only in the most urban counties, while Republicans won two out of every three in very rural districts.” – from Thomas B. Edsall’s New York Times op-ed column, “Reaching Out to the Voters the Left Left Behind.”

At some point, the ‘worst flip-flopper ever‘ designation has got to cost votes.


Stoehr: Democrats Need a Larger Share of White Working Class Votes to Win Presidential Elections — Even a Small Increase Could Do It

The following article by by John Stoehr, a Yale political scientist, columnist and essayist, is cross-posted from U.S. News & World Report.

The Democrats were sweating the question of what to do about the white working class long before President Donald Trump came along. They used to be, virtually, the white working man’s party, while the Republicans used to be the white rich man’s party (with an influential African-American bloc) before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board decision and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, both signed into law by a Southern Democrat.

Race became then a complicating factor like never before. Southern whites abandoned the party. So did many white “ethnics” in major Northern and Midwestern cities who hated “forced busing” but loved Republican Richard Nixon’s message of “law and order.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had to make room for new and growing factions while holding on to what was left of the old ones.

Then came the election of America’s first black president. A new idea immediately took hold: Maybe the Democrats didn’t need to worry anymore about the white working class. The party’s base was increasingly diverse. The economy was changing dramatically. Maybe a party that relied heavily on voters who benefited from an economy based on manufacturing could safely and successfully pivot to voters who had not benefited from the old paradigm.

Obama didn’t think so. The president labored mightily to secure the support of voters in rusting industrial states like Wisconsin and Michigan, sending Joe Biden, the scion of blue-collar Scranton, to fire up crowds before joining in the attack of Mitt Romney, the corporate raider bent on tearing down the economy, as he tore down factories and good jobs. That populist message, and others like it, ensured Obama’s famous “Midwest firewall.” Even if he lost Florida and other swing states, he would still have

But even before his re-election, Obama was becoming a minority in his own party. As the Republicans made huge gains in the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014 – as well as in state legislatures around the country – Democratic elites, especially the party’s donor class concentrated on the coasts, remained convinced that time was on their side. Demographics, they told themselves, was destiny.

The story went something like this: The past belongs to the ignorant, the racist, the reactionary and those who could not keep pace with the technological challenges of the 21st century, while the future belongs to the Obama coalition, to the cosmopolitan and to the audacious who dared to hope for a more perfect union. Hillary Clinton’s loss was made more painful by the fact that everything post-Obama Democrats told themselves was true was false.

In retrospect, the problem was a familiar one. The Democrats tend to confuse politics for ethics. Sometimes they are the same. Sometimes they overlap. Sometimes they are distinct. But never in the history of the world has ethics been a substitute for politics. Post-Nixon Republicans have had no such illusions. They are often eager to jettison ethics if ethics threaten their hold on power.

Ethically speaking, the Democrats are right. Trump is a lying, thieving, philandering sadist whose pathological inclinations threaten American values and embolden America’s enemies. But being right didn’t win the election, and being right won’t win future elections. Yes, Clinton won 3 million more votes, but that means next to nothing as the Democrats rethink their strategy.

Central to that strategy should be the humble admission that the Democrats were wrong. Obama didn’t believe he could win without the white working class. Neither should any future Democrat. The party must continue, as it has for decades, to strike balance between old factions and new. The Great Recession, economic inequality, globalization and polarization are macro forces that have carved up the country in such a way that the Democrats face long odds in the Electoral College if they do not present a plausible alternative to Trumpism, especially in the Midwest. Yes, white won, as one of my favorite writers, Jamelle Bouie, put it post-election. But white has nearly always won. The strategy now should be figuring out ways to create electoral conditions in which white wins a little bit less.

The goal is more modest than it seems. The Democrats do not need, and should not try, to win over all white working class voters. Those like Bernie Sanders who decry “identity politics” and long for a return to labor movements are expressing nostalgia, or worse, not constructive advice. The party needs only to drive a wedge into that voting bloc. Seriously. It’s not going to take much. Trump won by about 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Democrats have the policy. Now they need the message. Time will tell what that will be. For now, my concern is about factions within the party that see appeals to the white working class as surrender to white supremacy. Indeed, the white working class was OK with bigotry. But being OK with bigotry is not the same as being for bigotry. And when the goal is driving a wedge into the white working class, racism can be met with powerful policies, like expanded Social Security, that only the Democrats can offer.

It has been argued that Trump expanded the map for Republicans, but it can also be argued that the Democrats allowed that to happen. The Republicans hope to maintain their hold on white working class voters in the Midwest. Perhaps they will, but not if the Democrats admit they were wrong and return to fight.


Democrats Reframing Tax Debate to Highlight Trump’s Abuses

As millions of taxpayers prepare to pay taxes to subsidize give-aways to the wealthy, Democrats are refocusing their strategy to call attention to the ways President Trump benefits from Republican tax “reform” and his refusal to honor his promise to release his tax documents. Greg Sargent explains the strategy at The Plum Line:

The Republican Congress has essentially built a protective wall around President Trump — and at times, this can make efforts to bring transparency or accountability to his unprecedented conflicts of interest and serial shredding of democratic and governing norms appear hopeless.

But now Democrats have a new opening to try to chip away at that protective wall: the debate over tax reform.

…The New York Times reports that Democrats are coalescing around a strategy that would use the White House’s desire for tax reform to try to leverage more transparency about Trump’s business holdings. The basic idea — which your humble blogger suggested back in January — is that tax reform is particularly ripe for conflicts of interest, given Trump’s refusal to divest from those holdings. So Democrats can use the reform measures the White House pushes to demand that he reveal the specific ways in which his holdings might benefit from those measures, while using the broader attention to the issue — which impacts the tax bills of millions of voters — to renew the demand that Trump generally release his returns.

In an interview with me this morning, former Obama ethics chief Norm Eisen noted that GOP divisions on health care have shown that Republicans struggle to pass legislation on their own, despite GOP control. “You’re going to see similar fractures,” Eisen said, meaning Democrats may end up with “substantial leverage.”

“Democrats can use questions about the multiple conflicts raised to drive attention to the issue and to insist on concessions,” Eisen continued. “One is specific disclosures related to any policies he’s pushing for. We’re looking at corporate rates. What is the rate differential going to be into his pocket? We’re looking at particular areas of cuts. Will there be a cut relating to real estate? Will the alternative minimum tax be eliminated?”…“When he signs this bill, he may be giving himself a huge financial transfer,” Eisen told me. “He may be directly benefiting himself with some of these tax policies, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars or more.

…We’re going to have a big burst of attention to his taxes this week, with the tax march,” Eisen said, adding that recent disclosure documents revealing that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump continue to benefit from an enormous array of holdings could increase the pressure to recuse themselves from policy debates that could impact them — such as tax reform…“You’re going to see angry constituents in the districts applying pressure as well. It’s going to be a continued festering wound for Trump. I believe eventually he’s going to have to make some concessions on this. It’s part of his low approval ratings. There’s been a constant miasma of scandal because he won’t provide this information and won’t divest.”

“At a minimum,” argues Sargent, the strategy “could draw increased attention to the fact that congressional Republicans continue to look the other way while Trump continues shredding basic norms of ethics and transparency.”

Sargent notes that the White House is planning a big campaign to spin Trump’s first 100 days as a great success, which will try to show that he honors his promises. But Democrats have an embarrassment of riches indicating the contrary. If they present their case well, the GOP media blitz could backfire spectacularly.

When Democrats call “attention to Trump’s untold conflicts of interest, lack of transparency around his holdings and refusal to release his returns — and to the ways in which those things are intertwined,” writes Sargent, it will help reveal that the “swamp” Trump promised to drain “has become a veritable cesspool.” Add to that images of Trump’s unprecedented number of golf outings, Mar-a-lago trips and the costs to tax payers of the jet-set shenanigans of his offspring, as well as exorbitantly-expensive policy ideas like his border wall, and a clear picture emerges of a President and party who give no pause to squandering the tax-payer dollars of working people to subsidize a corrupt regime — which now seems more accountable to Vladimir Putin than hard-working American taxpayers.


Political Strategy Notes

Rebecca Savransky writes at The Hill: “A HuffPost/YouGov survey finds 51 percent of Americans support the president’s decision to order the airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical attack last week that killed civilians in northern Syrian. Thirty-two percent of Americans are opposed to the strikes and 17 percent are uncertain…Among Trump voters, 83 percent support the president’s decision, while just 11 percent oppose it….About 40 percent of Americans think the strikes were an appropriate response, compared to 25 percent who think they were too aggressive and 10 percent who think they were not aggressive enough….Still, only about one-third of Americans though think the airstrikes will be even somewhat likely to deter the future use of chemical weapons…Slightly more than one-third of respondents think the president should not take additional military action, compared to 20 percent who believe Trump should. Another 45 percent were unsure of what the president should do regarding future military action.”

“Fifty-seven percent of Americans approve of the airstrike against Syrian military targets – calling immoral the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons that led to the strike – but most are leery of any military involvement beyond airstrikes, a CBS News poll shows,” report Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus, Kabir Khanna and Anthony Salvanto at cbsnews.com. Further, “President Trump’s overall approval rating edged up, though most respondents voice unease about his approach to Syria going forward, and say Congress must authorize further actions there…Seven-in-ten Americans think Mr. Trump needs to get authorization from Congress before any further action against Syria; more than half of Republicans agree…Since the strike. Mr. Trump’s overall job approval rating has seen an increase to 43 percent.  Slightly fewer now disapprove than did before. Forty-nine percent now disapprove of his performance. The increase in approval is driven mainly by independents, who are now at 42 percent approval up from 34 percent, while Republicans have held steady…Fewer Americans now see the president’s approach to Russia as “too friendly” than did in February. The drop is largely among independents.”

At The Guadian U.S. Edition, Owen Jones blisters some media for gushing about Trump’s order to bomb Syria: “So now we know what it takes for an unhinged, bigoted demagogue to win liberal applause: just bypass a constitution to fire some missiles. It had seemed as though there was consensus among those in the anti-Trump camp…Let’s examine what is being said about Trump now. A press he denounced as liars and “enemies of the people” are eating out of his hands, tiny or otherwise. “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States,” cooed CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria in response to the bombing. Trump “reacted viscerally to the images of the death of innocent children in Syria,” declared Mark Sandler in the New York Times. The original headline on that article, since amended? “On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First.”…So the man who once bragged to a baying audience that he would tell five-year-old Syrian refugees to their faces that the US would not offer them safety, is now driven by his heart. Touching indeed. The “moral dimensions of leadership” had penetrated Trump’s Oval Office, declared the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. MSNBC’s Brian Williams described the missile launches as “beautiful” three timesin the space of 30 seconds…History will ask: how did this man become president? And how did he maintain power when he did? Look no further than the brittle, weak, pathetic liberal “opposition”. The US deserves better, and so does the world.”

Weep not for the death of the judicial filibuster. Tom Donnelly and Jeffrey Rosen explain at The Atlantic why “Political Polarization Killed the Filibuster: The practice once promoted debate and compromise, but now, the 60-vote requirement is tantamount to a legislative death sentence.” The bottom line for Democrats is that Mitch McConnell easilly nuked the judicial filibuster, as he would have done for any Trump nominee, so it’s utility as a part of our ‘system of checks and balances’ is a sham. Good riddance.

At The Monkey Cage, John Sides offers a couple of notable insights about the ramifications of McConnell’s Garland blockade and deployment of the nuclear option, including “The confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court has left shattered political conventions in its wake: the refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, the first partisan filibuster of a high court nominee, and the demise of the Senate filibuster for judges altogether. All this smashed political pottery shows not only how polarized our politics have become, but how dramatically the stakes of filling a vacant Supreme Court seat have increased…the average tenure of a justice is much longer now. From 1941 to 1970, justices served an average of about 12 years. But from 1971 to 2000, they served an average of 26 years…In the first era, a two-term president typically would appoint four or five justices, or more than half the court. But since 1970, a two-term president would typically appoint two or three justices…the power of the Supreme Court has increased significantly. Over the 20th century, the court became more aggressive in declaring federal and state legislation unconstitutional. In the 1940s and 1950s, the court was invalidating about one act of Congress each year. In the 1990s, that number had become about four a year. Since 2010, it has been about three per year. And a bare count of numbers can’t capture the significance of key decisions: A decision that strikes down state laws that deny same-sex marriage has far greater resonance than a decision that strikes down one particular economic regulation…in our era of polarized and fragmented political parties, the court’s word is more often the last word. Congress is frequently too divided and paralyzed to reject the court’s interpretations of federal law…The Supreme Court confirmation wars will become less heated only if the stakes in individual appointments diminish. One way to bring that about would be a constitutional amendment limiting Supreme Court terms to 18 years, staggered so that vacancies would occur at regular two-year intervals. Academic authorities on the Court and others have been floating versions of such proposals for years, but they have gotten little political traction. Absent change of this sort, the confirmation wars are likely to grow hotter.” A promising idea, but it shouldn’t deflect history’s judgement on McConnell’s abuse of power, nor the GOP’s toxic embrace of politics as all-out warfare.

Politifact’s Allison Graves shares a couple of statistics about deployment of the filibuster that put Republican obstructionism in revealing perspective: “Less than one nominee per year was subject to a cloture filing in the 40 years before Obama took office. From 2009-13, the number of nominees subject to a cloture filing jumped to over seven per year…By our calculation, there were actually 68 individual nominees blocked prior to Obama taking office and 79 (so far) during Obama’s term, for a total of 147…By our count, cloture was filed on 36 judicial nominations during the first five years of Obama’s presidency, the same total as the previous 40 years combined.”

Greg Grandin argues at The Nation that “Obsession With the Russia Connection Is a High-Risk Anti-Trump Strategy: It lets Democrats off the hook for their own failures—and betting the resistance on finding a smoking gun is a fool’s game.” As Grandin writes, “I’m in favor of anything that undermines, or brings about the downfall of, Donald Trump. He’s a monster. And to the degree that focusing on his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia to game the 2016 election helps with this, then fine. The Senate should investigate and independent journalists should look for more damning information. But it’s high risk to bet the resistance on finding a smoking gun, proving that Donald Trump—not an associate, not some weird hanger-on, not even an in-law—knowingly worked with Putin to hack the DNC, or offered some back-channel dollars for a détente deal. Anything short of tying it to Trump means Trump survives. Tim Weiner, a former New York Times national security journalist and Pulitzer Prize–winning author, says the investigation of the Russian story could last years…As many others have pointed out, an obsessive focus on Putin absolves the Democratic Party from having to reckon with their own failings, as if it was Moscow that tricked Hillary Clinton to not campaign in Wisconsin, or to spend the whole month of August (after Bernie Sanders’s gracious call on his supporters to back her campaign) courting neocons.” Grandin is surely right that Dems must focus more on repairing their own failings, but letting Trump and Putin off the hook would likely green-light further Russian meddling to the dedytriment of Democrats.

In his syndicated column, Nicholas Kristof warns Democratic rank and file about the folly of stereotyping all working-class Trump voters as moral cretins and imbeciles: “Hatred for Trump voters also leaves the Democratic Party more removed from working-class pain. Democrats didn’t do enough do address this suffering, so Trump won working-class voters — because he at least faked empathy for struggling workers. He sold these voters a clunker, and now he’s already beginning to betray them. His assault on Obamacare would devastate many working-class families by reducing availability of treatment for substance abuse…So by all means stand up to Trump, point out that he’s a charlatan and resist his initiatives. But remember that social progress means winning over voters in flyover country, and that it’s difficult to recruit voters whom you’re simultaneously castigating as despicable, bigoted imbeciles.” Further, adds Kristof, “The blunt truth is that if we care about a progressive agenda, we simply can’t write off 46 percent of the electorate. If there is to be movement on mass incarceration, on electoral reform, on women’s health, on child care, on inequality, on access to good education, on climate change, then progressives need to win more congressional and legislative seats around the country. To win over Trump voters isn’t normalizing extremism, but a strategy to combat it.” And once again, Democrats don’t need to win all of the white working-class, just a slightly larger share of it. The view here is that this would not require a change in Democratic policies, and a more inclusive tone in political speech could help.

Robert Borosage’s article in the L.A. progressive, “Don’t Let Trump’s Bedlam Distract from Betrayals,” provides a well-stated analysis of the political challenge currenty facing Democrats: “Trump’s betrayals come less because he is ignorant than because he is cynical. He promises are written in the wind of his rhetoric. He is and always was a con man. His faux, right-wing populism can’t be answered with politics as usual. It must be answered with people’s movements and political leaders exposing the con and putting forth clear, bold reforms to make this economy work for working people…Our Revolution, People’s Action, Moveon, Democrats for America, Credo and others are right to build an independent capacity, fueled by small donations, to recruit, train and run progressives who can challenge our corrupted politics and its compromised politicians. A peace and justice movement will be needed to challenge the endless wars and global policing embraced by the national security elite of both parties…Resistance can’t be about restoration. It must be about fundamental reform. There are a lot of sophisticated, experienced Clinton and Obama people wedded to defending the old order. And too many Democratic politicians and political operatives are comfortable with the big money politics that corrupts our politics.”


California Democrats Show How To Get an Infrastructure Bill Passed

You may have missed this news from California late this week, so I wrote it up at New York:

Even as Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure investment proposal remains, as Matt Yglesias cleverly calls it, mostly “vaporware,” California Democrats led by Governor Jerry Brown just met a tight self-imposed deadline by getting their own $52 billion plan for fixing roads, highways, bridges, and some transit facilities over a two-thirds threshold for revenue increases. And in so doing they may have provided a few lessons for Trump in the “art of the deal.”

Brown and Senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon had a particularly tough time in the legislature’s upper chamber. But they did what to be done, according to the Los Angeles Times:

“Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda voted against the bill, saying his constituents were against higher taxes as proposed by a 2-1 margin. But Brown and De León persuaded Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres to vote in favor of the measure, reaching the two-thirds vote needed for passage.

“The governor and legislative leaders ended up giving nearly $1 billion to specific transportation projects in the districts of legislators who had been on the fence before voting for Senate Bill 1. Brown and De León agreed to provide $500 million for projects in Cannella’s district, including the extension of a commuter rail line from the Bay Area to Merced.

“’At the end of the day I asked for certain things and they delivered them, so I needed to vote for it,’ Cannella told reporters afterward.”

In another sign that Brown and company were paying attention to the arguments against their package, it included a call for a 2018 ballot initiative to prohibit the legislature from diverting the new revenues to other uses.

And it all got done before the legislature’s spring recess, and in time for Jerry Brown’s 79th birthday celebration today.

The man once known as “Governor Moonbeam” is pretty down to earth after all.


Political Fallout of Trump’s Attack Against Syrian Air Bases Challenges Dems

President Trump may get a temporary upward bump in his poll numbers, following his decision to launch tomahawk mssiles at Syrian air bases. Such is often the case after Presidents order a major military action. But Trump is already getting a harsh reaction from isolationist right-wingers in his party, even though conservative neocons, incuding Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have turned from criticizing his foreign policy to praising his attacks against the Assad regime’s air force.

At Talking Points Memo, Allegra Kirkland reports,

Conservative pundits and members of the white nationalist-friendly alt-right, who triumphantly boosted Trump’s “America First,” anti-interventionist campaign message, found themselves at a loss. The Breitbart News commentariat was outraged by support for the attack from “neo-conservatives” like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Paul Watson, a writer for the conspiracy theory website InfoWars, pushed out dozens of tweets lashing out at Trump for being a “deep state/Neo-Con puppet.”

“I’m officially OFF the Trump train,” he wrote.

Expect more such whining from the hard right, depeening divisions among Republicans.

Will the divisions inside the GOP over Trump’s Syria policy further restrain the GOP’s ability to act in concert on legislation in congress? It’s quite possible that his right flank will view his foreign and trade policy with even more skepticism. And Democrats can certainly hope that the divisions within the GOP will spill over and further impair their ability to unify on major domestic projects, like a renewed effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

The concern is that Trump may discover that the power of taking sudden military action is a potent distraction from his deepening problems, and he is prone to leverage the power of distractions far more frequently than any other U.S. President.

The main story Trump wants to smother with distractions has to be his Administration’s unsavory ties with Putin and Russia’s kleptocratic oligarchy. Now Trump will trumpet his bombing of Syria as proof that he is not Putin’s puppet, and don’t be surprised if some media falls for that spin with stories about “Trump’s break with Putin.”

There is already lots of spin comparing Trump’s Syria bombing favorably with President Obama’s more cautious approach to U.S. military action against Syria. Democrats ought to avoid getting bogged down in defending past policies, and focus more on what should be done now in their public statements.

None of Trump’s actions will change the fact of Russia’s unprecedented interference with U.S. democracy at his invitation. But it might help his spin team to project it as old news, arguing that what is really important is what he is doing now. It’s up to Democratic leaders to challenge that pitch at every opportunity, and it is important that they keep the heat on regardless of what happens in Syria.

As for the optimum progressive response to Trump’s attack on Syria, Mike Lillis reports at The Hill that “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to bring House lawmakers back to Washington in light of the United States’ airstrikes against Syria.

The lower chamber recessed Thursday for an 18-day spring break, but Pelosi says that’s too long to avoid debate over “any decision to place our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

“The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty,” Pelosi wrote to Ryan…“Congress must live up to its Constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation.”

Pelosi’s call got some support from Republican Senator Rand Paul, who argued “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked…The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.”

Democrats should also check out Ezra Klein’s analysis at Vox, which warns,

The cruise missile strikes President Donald Trump launched in reprisal for Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapon attack in Syria are well within the norms of American foreign policy. But they fall far outside the stated boundaries of Trump’s foreign policy, and reflect an administration bereft of a consistent, considered approach to the world — an approach that would make America’s actions predictable to both our friends and enemies, and guide the commitments we’re willing to make in the event of escalation or reprisal.

What we are seeing, instead, is a foreign policy based on Trump’s gut reactions to the images flashing before him on cable news. And that’s dangerous.

…While President Trump publicly worries over the fate of Syrian children, he is also barring them from fleeing to the US. While he speaks of “beautiful babies” dying, he is trying to slash what America spends on foreign aid, consigning many more beautiful babies to death and disease.

This, above all else, is what is worrying about Trump on foreign policy: He is unpredictable and driven by whims. He is unmoored from any coherent philosophy of America’s role in the world, and no one — perhaps not even him — truly knows what he’ll do in the event of a crisis.

When the bombing of Syria fades from the headlines, the issues of Russian meddling is the 2016 election, health care reform, immigration, trade policy and infrastructure investment will once again return to the forefront of media coverage. At that point Democrats should be ready to lead the national discussion as the party of progress with increasing clarity and conviction.


GOP Getting Worried About “Safe” Kansas U.S. House Seat

We all know there’s a red-hot special congressional election in Georgia April 18. But a week earlier, Kansans go to the polls in another “special” that was supposed to be a snoozer. Now Republicans are getting jittery, as I discussed at New York:

It’s an old story by now that Republicans are jittery about holding onto the Georgia U.S. House seat once held by Newt Gingrich and Johnny Isakson, and mostly recently by HHS Secretary Tom Price, in an April 18 special election. But it’s another thing altogether to learn that Republicans are worried about a special election a week earlier in Kansas to replace CIA director Mike Pompeo. Here’s the news from Politico:

“The NRCC is pouring money into a last-minute TV ad buy in Kansas ahead of a Tuesday special election, seeking to pump up Republican enthusiasm and turnout in a district that President Donald Trump carried by 27 percentage points just a few months ago.

“The late independent expenditure seeks to boost Republican state Treasurer Ron Estes …. Kansas Republicans are fretting that Estes’ margin is closer than expected in his race against Democrat James Thompson, an attorney.

“’Kansas should not be in play, but Kansas is in play,’ said one Kansas Republican consultant.”

Yikes.

Just last month the authoritative Cook Political Report rated this race “Safe Republican.” And no wonder: Aside from Trump’s margin in the 4th district of Kansas, Pompeo won it two-to-one last November, and it hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential or House election since 1992….

[M]aybe GOPers are just getting jumpy, or maybe they are seeing something in Kansas and elsewhere in their own ranks that suggests underwhelming turnout. The NRCC ad, which basically calls Thompson an enthusiastic baby-killer, is about as subtle as an electric cattle prod plunged into the bathwater of GOP base voters.

If the idea is that Republicans need to beat expectations in all these special elections to avoid a buzzkill for the troops or a Twitter screed from the White House, the NRCC going medieval on Thompson makes some sense. But if they’re really worried about losing KS-4, that should terrify Elephant-Party people everywhere.