washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

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

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

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

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

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

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

December 18, 2017

Mike Pence’s Brown-Nosing Rise To Power

I read McKay Coppins’ big profile of Vice President Mike Pence with interest. But while most observers focused on an incident when Pence supposedly signaled his willingness to replace Donald Trump when it looked like he might be forced from the ticket over the Access Hollywood revelations, I thought the big lesson was very different, as I wrote at New York.

[T]he far more enduring picture Coppins paints is of Mike Pence as a man who decided early on in his relationship with Trump that no one could look in the mirror at night and see a browner nose.

“In Pence, Trump has found an obedient deputy whose willingness to suffer indignity and humiliation at the pleasure of the president appears boundless. When Trump comes under fire for describing white nationalists as ‘very fine people,’ Pence is there to assure the world that he is actually a man of great decency. When Trump needs someone to fly across the country to an NFL game so he can walk out in protest of national-anthem kneelers, Pence heads for Air Force Two.”

This willingness to serve as First Toady was evident in Pence’s initial interview — on a Trump golf course — as a potential running mate:

“Pence had called Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, whom he’d known for years, and asked for her advice on how to handle the meeting. Conway had told him to talk about ‘stuff outside of politics,’ and suggested he show his eagerness to learn from the billionaire. ‘I knew they would enjoy each other’s company,’ Conway told me, adding, ‘Mike Pence is someone whose faith allows him to subvert his ego to the greater good.'”

“True to form, Pence spent much of their time on the course kissing Trump’s ring. You’re going to be the next president of the United States, he said. It would be the honor of a lifetime to serve you. Afterward, he made a point of gushing to the press about Trump’s golf game. ‘He beat me like a drum,’ Pence confessed, to Trump’s delight.”

This set the pattern for Pence, notwithstanding anything he might have contemplated during the brief but intense hours after the Access Hollywood revelations.

What makes Coppins’s take on Pence especially valuable is his understanding that sucking up to Trump was entirely in keeping with the Hoosier governor’s sense that God was working through the unlikely medium of the heathenish demagogue to lift up Pence and his godly agenda to the heights of power. Just as it has been forgotten that the Access Hollywood tapes nearly brought Trump down, it has rarely been understood outside Indiana that Pence was down and possibly out when Trump reached out to him to join his ticket.

“The very fact that he is standing behind a lectern bearing the vice-presidential seal is, one could argue, a loaves-and-fishes-level miracle. Just a year earlier, he was an embattled small-state governor with underwater approval ratings, dismal reelection prospects, and a national reputation in tatters.”

Pence’s apparent demise, moreover, came after his careful plans to position himself to run for president in 2016 went awry via his clumsy handling of a signature “religious liberty” bill and a fatal underestimation of the resulting backlash from the business community.

All of a sudden, he was lifted from this slough of despond and placed a heartbeat away from total power thanks to his ability to, as Kellyanne Conway put it, “subvert his ego” in the presence of his deliverer, whose own ego has no limits. He clearly has not forgotten this lesson of an ambition fed by self-abasement rather than self-promotion. And according to Coppins, he even has a theological justification for blind loyalty to Trump:

“Marc Short, a longtime adviser to Pence and a fellow Christian, told me that the vice president believes strongly in a scriptural concept evangelicals call ‘servant leadership.’ The idea is rooted in the Gospels, where Jesus models humility by washing his disciples’ feet and teaches, ‘Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.'”

Usually the idea is to be the “slave” of one’s followers and of the less fortunate, not the slave of the billionaire POTUS, but Pence has the “humility” part down pat.

Pence’s presumed reward in this redemption story could, of course, extend beyond the power he exercises as one of the more influential vice-presidents in history, and as Trump’s designated mediator with the Christian right and with those Republican elected officials who aren’t themselves in the great man’s retinue. He would be the obvious successor to Trump in 2024, when he will still be a relatively youthful 65 — whether or not Trump wins a second term in 2020. And in the meantime, as in the panic-stricken hours after the Access Hollywood tapes were released, Republicans will look to Pence as a reassuring and unifying figure whenever Trump’s presidency is endangered, whether it’s by the Mueller investigation or his own erratic conduct.

Pence has indeed come a long way since he was airlifted out of what was probably a losing gubernatorial race to the role of worshipful sidekick to Donald Trump. And he’s earned his actual and potential power via a habit of slavish loyalty that he may consider godly, but others find infernally corrupt if effective.

Inside the GOP Vision for America’s Health Care

Writing in The Progressive, Ramon Catleblanch paints a frightening picture of the Republican vision for America’s health care, as previewed in their tax legislation. Catleblanch’s article, “The Tax Bill Is Just the First Strike in the GOP War on Medicare and Medicaid,” explains:

This month’s congressional Republican tax legislation is a planned first strike against Medicare, Medicaid, and many other essential federal programs. Senator Marco Rubio admitted as much last week when he said that Republicans will have to institute “structural changes to Social Security and Medicare” to pay for the increases in federal debt created by their tax plan.

The published House Republican plan, known as “A Better Way,” raises the eligibility age for Medicare from age 65 to 67. And it does not allow newly retired seniors to receive traditional Medicare, but rather forces them into buying medical insurance with a government voucher. As the voucher could be for much less than the prices of available insurance, these seniors could have to pay large premiums.

The insurance available for those seniors to buy would be inferior to current Medicare. House Republicans have specifically called for a 20 percent copay for all services, including hospital care. This plan would also raise the deductible for outpatient care to about $1,500 per year. With such a high deductible, many seniors would likely forego essential care, leading to illnesses and injuries getting out of control and, in some cases, deaths.

And, “even after the 20 percent copay, physicians would not have to accept Medicare insurance payment as payment-in-full,” adds Castellblanch. Further, “medical groups could send supplemental bills to patients. If the patients didn’t pay those bills, physicians could then send collections agents after Medicare patients.” As a result, he predicts “for the first time in over fifty years, America would have an uninsured senior crisis.”

The GOP plan for Medicaid is “no less Draconian.” Federal funding foer tyhe program would be gutted by block grants and service cutbacks, and there would be newe premium requirements imposed by states. Thewre would also be drastic cuts in Medicaid funds for nursing homes, forcing staff cutbacks and closures.

As for “the repeal of the individual mandate to buy health insurance,” Maggie Fox writes at nbcnews.com,

While the mandate is unpopular among voters, it was a must-have for health insurance companies. They demanded such a mandate to even take part in the health insurance exchanges set up by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and without it, many more can be expected to hike premiums or drop out altogether from the Obamacare markets, experts predict.

“If the requirement to carry adequate health insurance disappears, so will the health care coverage of many Americans,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement…“As insurance rolls decrease, premiums will rise an average of 10 percent,” Brown said. “Paying more for health insurance will be a heavy weight to carry if you have a pre-existing condition like heart disease or stroke. We fervently believe this provision should be rejected and removed from the final legislation.”

In his New Yorker article, “The Passage of the Senate Republican Tax Bill Was a Travesty,” John Cassidy notes,

…The bill also included the repeal of the individual mandate to purchase health-care insurance, a provision that would undo much of the good Collins did when she voted against the Republican health-care bill. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would raise the number of uninsured Americans by thirteen million, and raise the premiums on individual plans by ten per cent. Using a tax bill to abolish the individual mandate amounts to a backdoor way of sabotaging Obamacare. Collins, Murkowski, and McCain have yet to explain why they went along with it.

By even moderate progressive standards, the Republican tax bill that emerges from the conference committee will likely be a regressive monstrosity of historic proportions. What it will bode for their vision of America’s health care will be  even more disturbing. If Democrats needed more encouragement to mobilize a landslide for the 2018 midterm elections, that should do the trick.

Teixeira: How Doug Jones Can Beat Roy Moore

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

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It won’t be easy. But the Washington Post/Schar School poll, a poll that gives Jones a 3 point lead among likely voters, shows how it will happen, if it does happen. First, overwhelming support from blacks, combined with solid turnout (this poll has blacks at about a quarter of likely voters, which is good but not unreasonably high). Then mega-swings in the white vote relative to 2016. Trump carried the white vote by 70 points in Alabama in 2016. In this poll, Moore carries the white vote by a mere 30 points (63-33).

The Post poll allows one to break down the white vote by college and noncollege. The poll has white noncollege voters supporting Moore by “only” 42 points. That sounds like a lot but compared to Trump’s 77 point margin among this group in 2016, it’s not bad. And there are twice as many white noncollege voters as white college voters so that swing, if it happens, will loom pretty large in determining the outcome. We can’t break white noncollege down between men and women but judging from other data in the poll, it seems plausible that white noncollege women will drive the swing. How much they move could determine Alabama’s next Senator.

Political Strategy Notes

Tony Pugh of mcclatchydc .com makes a case that “Voting at black colleges has tumbled. Can Dems fix the apathy in time for 2018?” and observes “Voter turnout among the estimated 300,000 students at HBCUs fell nearly 11 percent from 2012 to 2016, according to a national survey by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University. The decline, while consistent with a fall off among black voters of all ages in 2016, was a sharp departure…Certainly, the lower turnout reflected the absence of President Barack Obama from the Democratic ticket in 2016, a lack of enthusiasm for the new standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton, and a weakening of the longtime allegiance between the party and African-American youth. But the worst may be yet to come…If historic trends hold, Democrats could see black voter turnout drop 30 percent in 2018, resulting in 5.2 million fewer African-American voters, according to a report by the non-partisan Voter Participation Center and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake…In July, the DNC poured $1.5 million into the Virginia race. None of the money was used for television ads; all of it went toward mobilizing voters. Democrats more than doubled their grassroots organizing staff in Virginia from roughly 40 to about 90, locating most on or near college campuses and minority communities, the DNC said.”

Regarding the passage of the Republican tax bill, Sheryl Gay Stohlberg and Carl Hulse write at The New York Times that Democrats “believe that Republicans have made a political blunder because the reconfiguration of the tax structure — particularly new limits on the ability to deduct state and local taxes — will produce a tax increase for some voters who will be very unhappy when they realize it…“Today may be the first day of a new Republican Party — one that raises taxes on the middle class,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “The one thing Republicans always promised the middle class is ‘we are not going to raise your taxes.’” Only one Republican Senator, Bob Corker of TN, voted against the GOP tax bill.

Schumer also had this to say about the tax bill:

Karen Tumulty explores the nuances of “Another delicate challenge for Republicans: Reconciling House and Senate tax bills” at The Washington Post. Tumulty writes, “Lawmakers are expecting an intense period of work starting Monday as lobbyists descend on the conference committee that will negotiate differences between the two pieces of legislation. Of particular concern will be changes made hours before the Senate passed its final legislation early Saturday morning, when the Senate changed its bill to preserve a provision of the current tax code that sets an alternative minimum tax floor for very wealthy individuals. That provision would be eliminated in the House bill, and scrapping the alternative minimum tax has long been a priority for GOP tax writers.”

As for the political fallout of Michael Flynn’s plea deal, Harry Litman, former United States attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, writes in his op-ed “Michael Flynn’s Guilty Plea: 10 Key Takeaways” at The New York Times: “It seems Mr. Trump himself directed Mr. Flynn to make contact with the Russians. If Mr. Flynn testifies to this — ABC’s Brian Ross is reporting that he will — it presents another impeachable offense along with the possible obstruction of justice. Even more, it brings the whole matter well outside the purview of the criminal courts into the province of a political scandal, indicating abuses of power arguably well beyond those in the Watergate and Iran-contra affairs…The basis for the possible obstruction charge against the president has been his efforts to get the F.B.I. director, James Comey, to shut down the Flynn investigation during a Feb. 14 meeting in the Oval Office, coupled with his multiple lies on the subject. Obstruction is plainly an impeachable offense: It’s the offense for which Richard Nixon was threatened with impeachment.”

At The Nation, Steve Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color and senior fellow at The Center for American Progress, argues that “Democrats Don’t Need Trump Supporters to Win Elections: The 2017 elections made clear that the Obama coalition is the majority.” Phillips believes the Virginia elections, in which Democrats won with only 26 percent of  white, non-college voters indicates that Democrats no longer need white working-class voters to win major elections. Phillips explains that “What happened in 2016 was not a mass defection of Democratic voters to Trump. What happened was a dramatic decline in black voter turnout (because of voter suppression, grossly insufficient investment, and overall lack of inspiration from the all-white Democratic ticket), combined with a splintering of the Obama coalition that saw statistically significant numbers of Democratic voters defect to the third- and fourth-party candidacies of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.” But a significant number of white working-class Obama voters switched to Trump in key states in 2016, and unfortunately, we are still stuck with the Electoral College, unless there is a Democratic landslide in 2018, and they get rid of it or increase the victory threshold. Phillips is right, however, in saying that Democrats need not tweak their message in a more moderate direction to win over white working-class voters. With just a little more support from this constituency, which was about 45 percent of the national electorate in 2016, Dems can insure a stable majority for years to come.

Susan Milligan’s “Return of the Rising American Electorate: In order to win, Democrats need to focus on new voters – and Rust Belt voters they lost in 2016” at U.S. News & Wortld Report tweaks the victory formula for Democrats in this direction as RAE (“Rising American Electorate”), plus some (not all, not even a majority of) white working-class votes. “Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., his party’s second-in-command in the House, reckons that there are 91 House seats in play next year, giving the party more than a fighting chance to pick up the 24 seats they’d need to take the majority. Part of that equation is motivating the Rising American Electorate and wooing back at least some of the disaffected white, working class voters (some of whom are now just as disaffected with Trump, Hoyer says)…”We believe our diversity is our strength. We’re the party of inclusion,” Hoyer says. But he stresses that the party needs to deliver a broader message about wages, jobs and the economy. “Are we concerned about our subsets? We are. Does the economy affect people differently? We know that to be the case,” Hoyer says. “But we know that all of them are interested in economic well-being. That’s the common thread that goes through us all.”…Hoyer says the plan is to appeal to all groups with a “make it in America” pitch.”

According to a new poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University,”With less than two weeks to go, support for Democrat Doug Jones stands at 50 percent vs. Moore’s 47 percent support among likely voters — a margin of a scant three points that sets up a nail-biter for the oddly timed Dec. 12 special election,” report Michael Scherer and Scott Clement. “Fifty-three percent of voters say Jones, a former federal prosecutor, has higher standards of personal moral conduct than Moore. In contrast, about a third of likely voters say Moore, who has cast his campaign as a “spiritual battle” with heavy religious overtones, has higher moral standards…Among the 1 in 4 voters who say the candidates’ moral conduct will be the most important factor in their vote, Jones leads, 67 percent to 30 percent…And Jones, whose strategy relies in part on peeling way Republican support from Moore, has the backing of 1 in 6 GOP-leaning likely voters. About 1 in 14 Democratic-leaning voters are backing Moore.”

At Campaigns & Elections, Deepak Puri discusses “How to Use Facebook to Nudge Low Propensity Voters to the Polls.” Puri, a co-founder of Democracy Labs, “a San Francisco-based non-profit that connects technical and media experts with progressive campaigns,writesHere are some of the lessons learned by DemLabs and Local Majority, a Democratic PAC…We discovered that it helps to use multiple targeting methods. We started with a list of LP voters from Catalist. This included people in four Virginia districts who had voted in 2016, but not in the prior gubernatorial cycle in 2013 election…This list was supplemented with more names using Facebook’s “lookalike audiences” feature. We wanted to focus our limited funds on the neighborhoods that really mattered. To do this, we targeted our social media campaign to certain zip codes in the district that we found through the Statistical Atlas…Videos perform extremely well on social media campaigns…The combination of compelling video with the precise targeting of social media is a powerful combination. We measured how many people saw the video and how many watched it all the way to the end. It cost less than $0.05 per viewer to have over 87,000 people watch the video message.”

Democrats Turning Around a Big 2018 GOP Senate Advantage

After looking at the rapidly changing Senate landscape for 2018, I wrote this assessment for New York:

For Democrats, the 2018 Senate elections have been approaching like an Arctic cold front for years. In part the product of two exceptionally good years for Senate Democrats in 2006 (when they gained five net seats) and 2012 (when they gained two more), the 2018 landscape is one of the best in living memory for Republicans. They are defending only nine seats, as compared to 25 for Democrats (two of which — Bernie Sanders and Angus King — are technically independents, who caucus with Democrats). Only one Republican seat up this year is in a state (Nevada) carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Ten Democratic seats up this year are in states (Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin) carried by Donald Trump last year. On paper, this should be a year when the GOP makes sizable Senate gains, and indeed, early in the cycle there were elephant dreams of achieving a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the upper chamber.

But a combination of factors, including some unusually popular Democratic senators in red states, and an unusually unpopular Republican president generating stronger-than-normal anti–White House midterm headwinds, has changed the expected dynamics. Thanks to a potential GOP calamity in a special Senate election in Alabama on December 12, Democrats actually have a decent chance of making their own gains in 2018. And there is even a discernible (albeit tricky) path to a net-three-seat gain that would give Democrats control of the Senate. If it happens, that would be a disaster of the first order for the Trump administration and the conservative ideologues who are counting on a Republican Senate to rubber-stamp the president’s Executive and Judicial branch nominees, including (potentially) a fifth vote on the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade.

Midterm anti–White House dynamics have probably wiped out any fleeting GOP advantage in a number of states that went narrowly for Trump in 2016. According to September data from Morning Consult, Trump’s approval/disapproval ratings are now significantly underwater in Michigan (40/55), Pennsylvania (45/51), and Wisconsin (41/53), where Democratic senators are running for reelection, and also in the Republican-held states of Arizona (44/51) and Nevada (44/51). Some states where Trump remains very popular also happen to have especially popular Democratic senators as well. In West Virginia, for example, Trump’s approval ratio is an impressive 60/36, but Joe Manchin’s, at 53/36, isn’t bad, either. Similarly, Trump is at 51/44 in North Dakota, but Heidi Heitkamp looks even stronger at 55/32. And in Montana, Trump is at 50/45, but Jon Tester is at 53/33. There is no particular reason to think any of these incumbents is in deep peril at the moment so long as the president’s popularity continues to gradually erode. Joe Donnelly of Indiana (47/26) and Claire McCaskill of Missouri (42/39) are looking significantly more vulnerable; not coincidentally, both won six years ago when Republicans nominated unusually weak candidates who imploded after saying stupid things about rape.

At least two Democratic incumbents — Bill Nelson of Florida and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin — will be running in highly polarized states with very competitive gubernatorial elections where the campaign could become a long, painful, expensive slog. While Nelson is reasonably popular with an approval ratio of 50/26, he is likely to face Governor Rick Scott, who can self-finance to an enormous extent in a state with many pricey media markets. Baldwin (in dicier territory with an approval ratio of 41/38) may not face as formidable opponent, but her race could be overshadowed by Scott Walker’s attempt to win a third full term as governor.

Meanwhile, Republican problems in their own territory are by no means limited to Alabama. A potentially toxic primary for the Arizona seat of retiring Senator Jeff Flake makes this a strong pick-up possibility for Democrats, who have been steadily gaining strength in the state recently. And the GOP pain could be doubled if poor health forces John McCain to step down before next November. Nevada senator Dean Heller (whose approval ratio is among the worst in the Senate at 39/39) is vulnerable to both a primary challenge and to likely Democratic opponent Representative Jacky Rosen. And a potentially fractious and complicated GOP primary to choose a successor to retiring Tennessee senator Bob Corker could conceivably open a path for Democrats in that unlikely territory, particular if former governor Phil Bredesen decides to run.

Along the same lines, a real wild card for 2018 involves Steve Bannon’s threats to run right-wing insurgent primary challenges to several Republican incumbents who would otherwise be expected to stroll to reelection. The potential targets include Roger Wicker of Mississippi (already opposed by Chris McDaniel, who very nearly defeated Thad Cochran in 2014), Deb Fischer of Nebraska, John Barrasso of Wyoming, and Orrin Hatch of Utah (who may well retire, leaving the seat in all probability to Mitt Romney). These races are all in very safe Republican territory, but at a minimum could drain resources better deployed by the GOP elsewhere.

Nasty Republicans primaries could also cause trouble for the GOP in otherwise-promising Indiana, where U.S. representatives Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are holding a true grudge match; in Arizona, where Establishment Republican Martha McSally and fiery conservative Kelli Ward are likely to collide; and in West Virginia, where Representative Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrissey are challenging each other’s pro-Trump credentials.

As always, there is the possibility of competitive races emerging that no one currently expects. One possibility involves New Jersey Democratic senator Robert Menendez, who recently underwent a much-publicized corruption trial that ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. Menendez’s approval/disapproval ratio is a dismal 32/41, according to Morning Consult, and the embattled senator could face new charges from federal prosecutors, or at least an ethics investigation by the GOP-controlled Senate. But leading New Jersey Democrats are without exception sticking with Menendez, and so far New Jersey Republicans have not found a credible challenger. Given the strong Democratic lean of the state, it’s no wonder the incumbent is favored to survive.

The big intangible for all 2018 races at every level is turnout. In recent elections Republicans have gained a distinct advantage in midterms as their voting base became aligned with the demographic categories (older, whiter voters) most likely to participate in non-presidential contests, even as Democrats became more reliant on the younger and minority voters most likely to sit out midterms. But if the special and off-year elections of 2017 are any indication, Democratic — or to be more precise, anti-Trump —enthusiasm could erase or even reverse that GOP advantage, at least for this one midterm.

All in all, it’s a Senate landscape that could produce any number of outcomes. At present the Cook Political Report, which is very cautious about its projections, shows ten highly competitive races (including the 2017 special election in Alabama); six are rated as tossups (Democratic-held seats in Indiana, Missouri, and West Virginia, and Republican-held seats in Alabama, Arizona and Alabama), and four more (all currently Democratic) are rated as leaning Democratic (Florida, Maine, North Dakota, and Ohio)….

For the obvious reason that only a third of the states are holding Senate elections next year, there is no national polling lens for judging the Senate landscape like the generic congressional ballot, which is highly correlated with the national House popular vote. But if the generic ballot remains as strongly pro-Democratic as it has been during much of 2017 (the Democratic advantage in the RealClearPolitics polling average is currently at 9.3 percent), the likelihood of Democratic gains or at least minimal losses will continue to grow. As Democrats looked ahead at 2018 a year ago, that scenario would have seemed idyllic. And it’s worth making a mental note that the 2020 Senate landscape is skewed toward Democrats nearly as much as this year’s is skewed toward Republicans. So if happy days are not yet here again for Senate Democrats, they could be arriving soon.

Political Strategy Notes

Yesterday we posted an article about Michael Tomasky’s support for Brookings scholar Benjamin Wittes’ 18-point proposal urging a broad, bipartisan coalition against Trumpism. Now Jeet Heer, a senior editor of The New Republic has an article explaining why “A Grand Anti-Trump Coalition Is a Terrible Idea for Democrats,” which argues, “Wittes and Tomasky are half right. Opposing Trump’s authoritarianism and corruption shouldn’t be a partisan issue.” Heer adds, however, “But an anti-Trump Popular Front could only work in an ad hoc fashion on specific issues, like those outlined by Tomasky and Wittes. It can’t supersede partisan politics even on a temporary basis because success for the two major parties depends on energizing their respective bases, and nationwide elections are never more than two years away. To run on a depoliticized program of centrist anti-Trumpism would demoralize and demobilize Democratic voters, a lethal move for the left since Trump has been successful at mobilizing hardcore Republicans…We also don’t need to speculate on whether an anti-Trump Popular Front would work. It was attempted in last year’s election…The result of this outreach: Clinton outperformed expectations in traditionally Republican leaning suburbs, but underperformed among Democratic voters, a sufficient number of whom ended up voting for Trump, staying home, or voting for a third-party candidate, thus costing Clinton the election…The best way to take down the president is to strengthen the Democratic Party from within, not dilute it with fickle fellow travelers.”

Lawrence Lessig, Founder of Equal Citizens, sees some common ground among voters in a 2016 University of Maryland poll. Writing at The Hill, Lessig explains: “Ninety-two percent of Americans (95 percent of Republicans/89 percent of Democrats) believe “the government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.”…Further, 85 percent (87 percent-R/84 percent-D) believe Congress “does not serve the common good” and 89 percent (89 percent-R/90 percent-D) believe “corporations and their lobbyists have too much influence.” Finally, 91 percent believe “big campaign donors have too much influence.” (90 percent-R/91 percent-D). No statistician could look at those numbers and see any difference between Republicans and Democrats here. We do not have a government that represents us. On this, we are all essentially agreed…This unity might suggest hope. There is common ground to build upon. But the dynamics of American politics makes that building incredibly difficult.” Lessig names some candidates, including Beto O’Roark in Texas (challenging Ted Cruz for Senate) and Illinois gubernatorial candidate Daniel Bliss, who are ready to help lead the way to reforms that will check the power of monied lobbyists

Celeste Katz has a Newsweek profile of Randy Bryce, who is running to upset Speaker Paul Ryan in his Wisconsin congressional district. Entitled “Is Ironstache the New Bernie Sanders? Meet the Ironworker who wants to Bring White People Back to the Democratic Party,” Katz notes “While Bryce is a longshot candidate—the district is heavily Republican and preferred Trump by about 10 points last fall—Democratic Party leaders and operatives are now seeking to replicate his brand of bootstrap pragmatism and Heartland patriotism…On the trail, Bryce can talk not only about working with his hands, but about serving in the military. Fighting cancer. Caring for sick parents. Filing for bankruptcy. Being a single dad. (As one Entertainment Weekly wag put it, Bryce was “genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs.” In the same vein, a strategist joked to Newsweek that Ward, the former Marine running in Virginia, “was basically created in a lab for other white men” who could potentially vote Democratic.)

Ed Kilgore has the skinny on the latest GOP scam in his New York Magazine article “Republicans Trying to Engineer a Government Shutdown They Can Blame on Democrats.” Kilgore discusses “reports that Republicans are mulling a maneuver designed to tempt Democrats into threatening (or even causing) a government shutdown over immigration policy.” It’s a Ryan-McConnell short-term spending bill designed to “avoid an intense spending fight before the end of the year that might interfere with the final maneuvering over a tax bill, and/or push Republicans into concessions they will later regret. But it would be advanced in hopes of getting Democrats to fight over whether they should deny votes to pass the stopgap measure out of fidelity to the Dreamers…More than likely all this gambit will accomplish is to buy Republicans a couple of extra weeks to figure out what they actually want and are actually willing to accept in spending negotiations…”

Rachel Bade, John Bresnahan and Sarah Ferris elaborate in their post, “GOP looks to jam Democrats in shutdown fight” at Politico: “Many Democrats have vowed to withhold their votes from any spending agreement that does not include a fix for the young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors. Democratic leadership sources have suggested that Pelosi and Schumer could back a one- or two-week CR. But they’re loath to move the deadline past Jan. 1….Still, Democrats may come under pressure to avoid a government shutdown over DACA, which does not fully expire until March. One House Appropriations Committee Democratic source said there could be some wiggle room in the party’s stance on DACA that could help avert a shutdown. The source speculated that while many Democrats are dead-set against a full-year spending package without an immigration deal, there may be fewer who would object to a CR into January.”

In his Washington Post column, “Our political foundation is rotting away,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. spotlights the danger of the public growing numb to Trump’s endless assault on human decency and integrity in politics. As Dionne writes, “Great nations and proud democracies fall when their systems become so corrupted that the decay is not even noticed — or the rot is written off as a normal part of politics …President Trump has created exactly such a crisis. He has not done it alone. The corrosion of norms and values began long before he propelled the nation past the edge, and his own party is broadly complicit in enabling his attacks on truth, decency and democratic values…We are so inured to the chaos and the lying that characterize Trump’s presidency that we see each outrage as little more than another passing episode on an ongoing cable news drama.”

There is lots of media buzz comparing sexual harrassment allegations against President Trump and Sen. Franken, along with arguments about whether one or both should resign. The most immediate question, however, is whether a majority of Alabama voters are going to get suckered on December 12th by the ‘everybody does it’ meme and send one of the creepiest senate candidates in U.S. history to Washington. One recent poll shows Republican Roy Moore up by 5 points. But it now looks like a write-in candidate, retired U.S. Marine Col. Lee Busby, could damage Moore’s chances by peeling away enough conservative votes. At Vox, Jen Kirby notes that “The Alabama secretary of state’s office issued instructions Wednesday on how to fill in a write-in ballot “due to a large number of requests…Write-ins candidacies also have an advantage in the age of social media, where, as Foley noted, word can spread fast and cheaply. This is Busby’s strategy, as he told the Washington Post.”

The New Republic staff writer Alex Shepard sees the politics of media distraction at the center of the debate on the tax bill: “With tax reform, Republicans are following a similar strategy, using non-stop crises as cover to push an odious bill through the House and Senate while the media plays Whack-a-Mole with the news of the day. They have also been abetted by a media that has failed to learn the main lesson of the Obamacare repeal effort, which is that the GOP is no longer a normal political party that is beholden to the welfare of voters. It has become so bankrupt that it is willing to use any means to pass unpopular, highly damaging legislation that will have little positive impact on anyone but a very thin slice of people at the top. But the coverage does not reflect that bedrock dynamic; instead we often see stories that focus on the GOP’s desperate need to pass “major” legislation before the end of the year, even if that legislation amounts to daylight robbery.”

Kyle Kondik argues in “House 2018: Less Than a Year Out, Race for Control Is a Coin Flip” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Overall, our ratings list 224 seats safe, likely, or leaning to the Republicans, 191 seats safe, likely, or leaning to the Democrats, and 20 Toss-ups. For the sake of argument, let’s say the Democrats can win about two-thirds of the Toss-ups (13 of 20), and otherwise let’s assume all the other seats go to the party they currently at least lean to. That would net the Democrats 10 seats, close to halfway to the 24 seats they need to get the majority. So Democrats need to push more seats into the more competitive categories, but as our ratings changes indicate, the playing field is growing.”

Tomasky: It’s Time for a ‘Popular Front’ Against Trumpism

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky expresses support for Brookings scholar Benjamin Wittes’ 18-point proposal, tweeted last weekend, urging a broad, bipartisan coalition to end Trump’s reign of chaos. As Tomasky writes, “all decent people of left and right must set aside their differences and unite to defeat Trump and Trumpism.”  Tomasky explains further,

Under the hashtags #CoalitionofAllDemocraticForces and #IBelieve, Wittes argued that he wants to see “a temporary truce on all [questions of disagreement], an agreement to maintain the status quo on major areas of policy dispute while Americans of good faith collectively band together to face a national emergency. #IBelieve that facing that national emergency requires unity.” He wants Americans “across the political spectrum [to] unite around a political program based on the protection of American democracy and American institutions.”

Wittes, writes Tomasky, is “correct about two basic things”:

…One, that this is a national emergency. If I have to spell out why for you, you’re reading the wrong column and should stick to the gossip pages. Trump is a clear and present danger the likes of which we’ve never seen. Two, that the top priority far and away of decent people of all ideologies has to be to confront Trumpism and to stop it.

Tomasky cites the “popular front” against fascism during World War II, which brouigh together such politically-disparate leaders as FDR and Stalin, as well as rank and file liberals, conservatives, socialists and communists, all of whom recognized the urgency of defeating Hitler.

United in that singular objective, they prevailed. The ‘Popular Front’ coalition members didn’t sacrifice any of their core principles, and after stopping Hitler and Mussolini, they resumed their conflicts with each other.

Tomasky adds that Wittes’  “principles, by the way, are bipartisan and unobjectionable,” and they include “Commitments to the First Amendment; to transparent government; to getting to the bottom of Russia; to science and evidence; to no Muslim-bashing, “full stop”; to fighting presidential abuse of power; and more along those lines.” Tomasky urges leaders and “maybe tens of thousands of regular citizens to co-sign on Facebook.”

Yes, there would be problems in mobilizing and sustaining such a diverse coalition. Tomasky calls the roll of some leading conservatives who are already on board with ending Trumpism:

..I look over the past 11 months, and I don’t see that I’ve changed a whit. Instead I see Kristol and George Will popping up on MSNBC, I see Max Boot emerge as one of the most powerful critics of Trumpism around, and I peruse Jennifer Rubin’s columns that with each passing week are reading more and more like Molly Ivins’. Irving Kristol, Bill’s father, famously said that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. Today, a liberal is a conservative who’s been trumped by it.

He could have added the Bush family, journailists Michael Gerson, Joe Scarborough and a growing list of other Republican politicians and conservatives, who are fed up and calling for change.

Tomasky’s pitch makes a lot of sense. Such strategic alliances are the only remaining course, since Democrats and moderate Republicans have failed, working separately, to compel Trump and his enablers to restore some basic dignity and decency to our politics. Numerous opinion polls and Trump’s dismal approval ratings indicate that a majority consensus for ending Trumpism has arrived. Now it’s up to patriotic liberals, moderates and conservatives to coalesce into a powerful force that can get that job done.

Metzgar: Social Class and Trump Voters

The following article by Jack Metzgar is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Politico’s Michael Kruse visited my hometown earlier this month to get a look at “one of the long-forgotten, woebegone spots in the middle of the country that gave Trump his unexpected victory last fall.”  Kruse concluded that “Johnstown Never Believed Trump Would Help.  They Still Love Him Anyway.”  The story, based on interviews with nine Trump supporters and one man who voted for Hillary Clinton, is part of a stream of articles attempting to explain why Trumpians have remained so loyal to a president who has failed to deliver on any of his campaign promises so far and, for the most part, hasn’t even tried.  Problem is that about the same time as this spate of articles appeared a well-respected poll showed “Most White Workers Souring on Trump.”

This sounds like a potentially important debate, but it never really becomes important because there is such a confusion of categories, often made worse by a lingering white-trash class prejudice that is sometimes used to resolve the confusion.  Different authors are simply looking at different parts of an elephant while thinking they’re seeing the whole thing.

Kruse, for example, is focused on “Trump supporters,” who are often referred to as “Trump’s base” and who appear to be sticking with him come hell or high water.   References to “Trump’s base” usually refer to “working-class whites,” who are white people without bachelor’s degrees and are generally thought to be a reservoir of racist, sexist, and other deplorable attitudes.  But this class language confuses more than it clarifies.  Whites without bachelor’s degrees voted overwhelmingly for Trump, and they are by far the largest group of Trump voters.  But whites with bachelor’s degrees also narrowly voted for Trump over Clinton.  Only 48% of Trump voters were working-class whites, while 38% were middle-class whites (by education), and 13% were nonwhite.

“Trump supporters” or “Trump’s base” are somewhat smaller groups than “Trump voters,” many of whom voted against Hillary rather than for Trump.  But the larger point is that whether voters or supporters, Trumpians are not all whites without bachelor’s degrees – only about one-half of them are.  The identification of Trump with the white working-class is mostly not true.

When Michael Kruse searched out nine people to represent all of Johnstown, he found one retail worker, one retired nurse, two retired teachers, three small business owners, the Johnstown city manager, and a man who would not identify his occupation.  Kruse pays no attention to who does and does not have a bachelor’s degree.  He very sensibly highlights their occupations, not their formal education. That means that Kruse’s interviewees are much more likely to reflect the complex class make-up of Trump’s base than the convenient belief that only un-college-educated white people would fall for a carnival-barker snake-oil salesman like Trump.   In fact, more than 24 million white people with college educations voted for the guy.

While most reports on votes or polling define the working-class by lack of a college education, others define the working class by income (usually households with annual incomes below $50,000). But that definition of class also doesn’t support the idea that Trump won because of the white working class. Whites from households earning less than $50,000 are less likely to vote than other whites, and in 2016 those who did vote did not lopsidedly opt for Trump.

While education, occupation, and income are all reasonable ways to define a person’s social class, each describes a somewhat different group whose voting behavior is significantly different — despite overlap among these three categories.  This generates constant confusion as different commentators make what seem like contradictory claims about the white working class when they are actually focused on somewhat different white working classes.

This is a legitimate intellectual confusion, especially common among well-educated journalists whose higher educations included little or nothing about class in America.  Less legitimate, and much more  false, is the growing willingness of political writers to use an educated/uneducated class binary among whites to distinguish between Trump voters in suburbs whose basic sense of decency can be appealed to and the Trump base which is seen as a hopelessly ignorant stew of economic nationalists who pine not just for lost jobs and economic prospects, but also for the good old days of patriarchy and white supremacy.  The latter group definitely exists and, as Kruse demonstrates, it is not hard to find examples in places like my hometown, but the educated/uneducated binary does not hold, as at least half of Kruse’s sample likely have bachelor’s degrees and some of the weirdest attachments to the man with orange hair seem to reside in white business owners, not workers.

But there are two other problems with contrasting Trump voters from suburbs to Trump supporters from “woebegone spots in the middle of the country” as if they represented a simple educated/uneducated class binary.  First, about two-thirds of adults who live in suburbs do not have bachelor’s degrees, and therefore, would be classified as working class.  The suburban vote in large metropolitan areas is not synonymous with an educated white middle class – and hasn’t been for decades.  Second, and even more elementary, just because you can easily find Trump supporters in woebegone spots doesn’t mean that all white folks in those spots are Trump supporters, as Kruse’s reporting so strongly implies.

Johnstown offers much more interesting fodder for political analysis than its woebegone-ness.   It is in a swing county that in the 21st century has swung from Al Gore to George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Mitt Romney and finally to Trump last year.  As British reporter Gary Younge found in his visit to Johnstown, economic desperation and every kind of decline you can think of accounts for both the area’s swingy-ness and its large number of Trump voters in 2016.  Combining my own impressions with this county-wide voting data, here’s how I’d characterize Cambria County’s citizens:

The largest group among the white working class are non-voters, who either don’t care about politics at all or are disdainful of politicians of all stripes. They simply believe voting makes no difference.  This group is itself complex, ranging from people who keep up with the news and have independent-minded opinions about issues to people who never watch or read much news at all and do not form opinions of their own about current issues.  Among regular voters, there are strong Democrats and strong Republicans, somewhat skewed by race and class, but both groups include people with and without bachelor’s degrees.

But most importantly, Johnstown has swing voters, a group that has been growing larger as conditions in their communities and their lives continue to deteriorate.  This group, along with the Democrats, voted for Obama in 2008, and a sizeable part of it voted for him again in 2012.  But when Donald Trump came to Johnstown and promised to bring back coal mining and steel jobs, there was an enormous swing toward him in 2016.  Given what President Obama had produced – a steady, substantial, but exceedingly slow economic recovery during which their already diminished lives either did not change or got worse – and what Hillary Clinton was half-heartedly promising, the Cambria County swing to Trump had a what-the-hell quality to it that was neither pathological nor irrational.  As a former steelworker who voted for both Obama (twice) and Trump told Gary Younge, “I liked [Obama’s] message of hope, but he didn’t bring any jobs in.”

Trump tapped into a large well of hateful resentments that were simmering in Johnstown before he showed up, resentments that so far as I can tell are no more common in the white working class than in the white middle class.  But if you focus on the swing voters, not the Trump zealots, you have to ask yourself what might swing these voters back to a more progressive politics. I suspect these alternative focuses are applicable across the Rust Belt states.

And this is part of the problem with the way reporters and other analysts focus on the Trump zealots as if they are the whole of the white working-class: they encourage Democrat politicians to aim to win over what they imagine as “traditional Republicans” in “affluent suburbs” – folks they hope will be increasingly disgusted by the character and behavior of our president.  That approach may yield some votes. But this merely anti-Trump focus allows Dems to avoid hammering out a governing vision, message, and program that could really make a difference to voters like many in Johnstown – those who are desperately swinging back and forth in the vain hope that voting in the world’s oldest democracy might make a difference in the lives they get to live.

Will Puerto Rican Migrants Turn FL Blue?

The political fallout of Hurricane Maria may well include a transformational effect on one of the most influential swing states, reports Sam Petula in his post, “The Puerto Rican migration could shape Florida politics for years to come” at CNN Politics:

Figures on school enrollment provided to CNN from the Florida Department of Education suggest that well over 50,000 Puerto Ricans will have moved to Florida and made it their residence heading into the midterm election next year…These voters are likely to be strong Democrat supporters, as an analysis by Dan Smith, a University of Florida professor, found that heavily-Puerto Rican districts only gave 15 to 35% support to Trump.

…With a colleague, Melendez found that if 9,600 Puerto Rican children enroll in schools, that means a total of about 41,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to Florida. On the high end, if 15,400 students enroll, an estimated 83,000 Puerto Ricans migrated. There is a very high probability based on the current trend that the lower estimate will be surpassed by next November. Migration at this level will mean Republicans face an even harsher demographic shift in a state already trending away from them. Hispanics constituted an estimated 12% of the eligible voter population in Florida in 2000. Before the Hurricane, that number was expected to double by 2030.

In her Facing South “Institute Index” blog, Sue Sturgis adds some numbers that Democrats should find encouraging:

Number of Puerto Ricans who currently live in Florida, a political swing state: over 1 million

Number of Puerto Ricans expected to arrive in Florida’s Orlando area alone in the next few months: more than 100,000

Percentage points by which the last two presidential and gubernatorial races were decided in Florida: less than 1<

Percent of Florida’s non-Cuban Latino vote that went to Hillary Clinton: about 70

Clinton’s edge over Trump among Florida’s Puerto Rican voters: 3 to 1

Given Florida’s history of voter suppression, Democrats should be only cautiously optimistic about the political effects of the Puerto Rican migration to Florida. But it’s clear that Democrats have much to gain by putting some muscle into voter registration and GOTV targeting Puerto Rican migrants, who have a bone or two to pick with Republicans who have neglected the crisis in their homeland.

10 Reasons Democrats Can Be Thankful

In the spirit of Thanksgiving weekend, at New York I wrote up some reasons for Democratic gratitude this year:

As a new poll from SurveyMonkey shows, Donald J. Trump will loom over Thanksgiving tables this year to a remarkable extent; his name is far more likely to spark arguments than any other topic, public or private. And for liberals, such arguments will serve as a reminder that there is no moment, however sacred, that the 45th president cannot spoil with his vengeful, glowering presence, so much like a nightmare the morning light cannot dispel.

Last Thanksgiving Day the shock of Trump’s election was too fresh to be fully absorbed. But now, a year later, the reality of President Trump is with us like an endless nagging headache that periodically flares into a life-threatening stab of pain. So when his name inevitably comes up at the Thanksgiving table or at postprandial gatherings of families and friends, it will be a good time for left-of-center Americans to count their blessings. I offer some comforting thoughts about things for which we should be thankful, in no particular order:

1. The U.S. Constitution endures. Yes, conservatives sometimes act as though the First Amendment is strictly about letting tax-exempt churches and their affiliates do whatever they want; that the Second Amendment is the only other significant element of the Bill of Rights; and that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments aren’t really valid because the Founders weren’t around. But the Constitution does provide major hurdles against would-be tyrants, which is why the president spends so much time raging against the federal judges who enforce it.

2. Obamacare lives. A year ago I would have bet the farm, had I owned one, that the Republicans who controlled the White House and Congress would have repealed the Affordable Care Act by now. They had the congressional majorities, the means (the budget process, making enactment of legislation by a simple majority possible), and the motive (years and years of fiery promises to dismantle the 44th president’s great legacy) to get it done. But it turns out they didn’t have the unity in the U.S. Senate, or the ability to persuade the public that going back to the days when insurers walked tall and citizens had no protections beyond their own wealth was a good idea.

3. Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are still the law of the land. Trump would not have become president had he not convinced conservative evangelical leaders that even though he might not share their faith, he shared their determination to make reproductive rights and marriage equality things of the past. With Neil Gorsuch, he got halfway to a Supreme Court that would likely reverse or significantly modify Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood and turn back the clock to 1973, and perhaps repeal or at least curtail LGBTQ rights. But he remains a Justice short, so liberals should combine thanks for that fragile reality with prayers and best wishes for the health of 84-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 79-year-old Stephen Breyer.

4. The 2017 elections represented a liberal comeback. While the fairly steady Democratic vote gains in the special elections of 2017 could be dismissed as no more than moral victories so long as they didn’t produce actual takeovers of congressional or statewide offices, November 7, 2017, was an unambiguous anti-Trump triumph. It came complete with the kind of suburban wins and Democratic “base” turnout patterns that augur very well for Donkey Party prospects in 2018.

5. The 2018 elections represent liberal hope. Taking back the U.S. House (much less the Senate) remains a tough challenge for Democrats in 2018, but one that looks more realistic every day. So long as Trump’s approval ratings remain underwater, Democrats have a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and the anti-Trump young and minority voters who normally sit out midterms remain energized, then at a minimum the 2018 elections should reduce the GOP’s margin of control in the House to a sliver that makes governing even more difficult than before, and with some luck will give Paul Ryan’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.

6. There’s a competitive Senate race in Alabama. A whole series of incidents from a corrupt-looking appointment of a temporary Republican senator to a vicious primary culminating in the nomination of the highly controversial extremist Roy Moore to revelations that the self-same Moore used to troll for (and perhaps assault) teenage girls when he was a 30-something prosecutor, have all combined to make Democrat Doug Jones an even bet to be elected in Alabama next month. The very possibility is playing havoc with Senate Republicans’ tax bill and year-end spending bill. And a Jones win would open up a path to the once-remote possibility of a Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2018. If that were to happen, all of the right’s ambitions for flooding the judiciary with right-wing Trump appointees could come to a screeching halt.

7. Robert Mueller. Whether or not the special counsel investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election finds evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, and/or finds reason to chase significant figures in the president’s entourage toward the hoosegow, his proceedings represent if nothing else a reminder that this president is not yet above the law. Beyond that, the slow unfolding of the Mueller investigation and the steadily climbing number of indictments mean that liberals aren’t the only ones with reasons to dread the future.

8. The Reckoning. Yes, the current firestorm over sexual harassment and assault in government and media is creating some difficult questions and some painful repercussions for liberal as well as conservative leaders. But in the end, like the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy over a quarter-century ago, the sudden defenestration of powerful men caught acting very badly will likely represent a step forward toward workplaces where actual work is valued and abuses are no longer tolerated. And as a bonus, every time a sexual predator is disgraced he may well be replaced by a talented woman previously denied a fair chance at advancement. Nancy Pelosi isn’t the only woman who may get a promotion in 2018.

9. William J. Barber II. The North Carolina clergyman and leader of “Moral Mondays” protests against right-wing dominance of his state is a living reminder that Jerry Falwell Jr. is not the exclusive face of American Christianity.

10. Memories of 2016 will eventually fade. As we approach the 2020 elections and the possibility of an orderly end to the Trump Era (barring the very long odds against its being more abruptly ended by resignation or impeachment), memories of that traumatic night in 2016 when it began will slowly fade, and psychic wounds will slowly heal. It is even possible that by next Thanksgiving fights between liberals over the Clinton–Sanders nominating contest can begin to wind down. For that I would be profoundly thankful.