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

October 17, 2017

Trump Blunders Into the Virginia Governor’s Race

We’re now about a month out from Virginia’s gubernatorial election, one of the two being held this year. I looked at the latest developments at New York:

Yesterday morning the Washington Post released a new poll of the Virginia gubernatorial contest showing Democrat Ralph Northam blowing out to a 13-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie among likely voters, by far the biggest lead he’s managed in a general election survey.

Early last evening Donald Trump took to Twitter with this nasty-gram:

Perhaps it was a coincidence, given the president’s spotty consumption of news and other information that is not about his own self. But it’s likely some alarms went off in the White House about an impending Gillespie loss being treated (as off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey often are after a change of administration in Washington) as a referendum on the Trump presidency. That would have gotten POTUS’s attention for sure. And the tweet itself, directly accusing the lieutenant governor of Virginia of “fighting for” a violent criminal gang, is not subtle.

We don’t know at this point whether the Gillespie campaign invited, or even had advance knowledge of, Trump’s intervention. The MS-13 smear Trump deployed does track Gillespie’s own borderline racist ads attacking Northam for breaking a tie in the State Senate against a bill that would preemptively outlaw “sanctuary cities” (Virginia has none now), which has little to do with MS-13, but whatever.

Gillespie has for the most part given his party’s president a wide berth in this race. That makes sense. Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton by more than five points last year. According to Gallup, his job-approval ratio in Virginia over the first six months of his presidency averaged 39/56. The new Post poll showed Trump currently at 34/60 among the Old Dominion’s registered voters, with half of voters disapproving strongly of his job performance. In addition, Virginia has a history of rejecting gubernatorial candidates from the party that controls the White House: In the last ten gubernatorial elections, the White House party has lost nine (the only exception is actually the current, term-limited Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe).

So you wouldn’t figure that Trump leaping into the Virginia race would do much to help Gillespie, who has been in striking distance of Northam in most polls prior to the WaPo bombshell (in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, Northam’s lead is a modest 5.4 percent).

Still, the White House may be reinforcing a decision by Team Gillespie to go big on making this a “culture war” campaign. Not only are Virginia Republicans pounding the Democrat on his alleged sympathy for Hispanic criminals; they’re also trying to exploit the relatively positive feelings Virginians have toward Confederate monuments, the issue that blew up in Charlottesville this summer. This doesn’t necessarily reflect rampant racism: Virginia is saturated with Civil War monuments of all kinds (when I lived in the state, I passed through three Civil War battlegrounds on my daily commute to work). Gillespie’s primary opponent Corey Stewart, at one point Trump’s 2016 campaign manager in Virginia, made protecting Confederate monuments a signature issue and nearly upset the front-runner. Perhaps Gillespie now thinks such issues can work magic for him, too, along with fear of immigrants.

The bottom line is that, a month out, Northam has history and the polls on his side, along with a significant financial advantage. Making the race more explicitly a referendum on Trump will probably help him as well.


Will Bannon’s Primary Challengers Help Dems?

In his  Politico post, “Democrats look to wreak havoc in GOP primaries,” Gabriel Debenedetti reports that deepening divisions within the Republican Party are leading to primary challenges that endanger their mid-term candidates and may help Democrats. Citing Roy Moore’s recent win in the Alabama race for the Republican nomination for Senate, Debenedetti notes that Alt-Right strategist Steve Bannon, who supported Moore, is also evaluating similar challenges to the GOP establshment in Mississippi and Tennessee.

Ed Kilgore notes further at New York Magazine,

Regular readers of Breitbart News were aware that Judge Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy in Alabama had become a major priority of the fiery site over the last couple of weeks. And its chairman, Stephen Bannon, became very personally involved, as reflected by his leading role in Judge Roy’s final rally on Election Eve…When Roy Moore got to the podium (and before he brandished a gun), the famous Ayatollah of Alabama gave Bannon a shout-out as “an outstanding man” who had done more than anyone else to encourage the judge in his campaign.

So once the returns came in and Moore handily dispatched the appointed incumbent Luther Strange, Breitbart News was not at all bashful about taking credit and threatening more primary challenges. “MOORE WIN MAKES STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS TAKE CENTER STAGE” shouted the headline above a half-gloating, half-menacing story from Breitbart’s senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak.

Bannon may also be eyeballing divisive senate primaries in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio, Arizona and Nevada. As Debenedetti adds, “Democrats are considering ways to step in and wreak some havoc. The idea: Elevate the GOP’s most extreme option in each race, easing Democrats’ path to victory in a range of states tilted against them.” Also, notes Debenedetti, “At the Democrats’ Senate campaign headquarters in Washington and their local offices in the states, operatives have started compiling files of the GOP hopefuls’ more outrageous statements and positions, while combing through the daily news clips for hints of further themes to pursue against them.”

Debenedetti sees echoes of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s strategy of skillfully exploiting division in the Missouri GOP Senate primary five years ago:

At its most aggressive, the tactic could be a sequel to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s 2012 campaign against then-GOP Rep. Akin in Missouri. She actively intevened in the Republican primary with ads designed to boost the conservative Akin to the front of the pack. Once he became the nominee, a series of gaffes — led by his “legitimate rape” comment — and hard-line positions unraveled his campaign.

…“What happened [with Akin] has been multiplied [in Alabama], by both the character of this candidate and the positions he’s taken, but also by the fractures in the Republican Party — which are being fought much more publicly — and the extraordinary unpopularity of Mitch McConnell,” said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, referring to the Senate majority leader who became a central punching bag in Moore’s primary bid.

…Republicans are in an increasingly public, multi-front civil war, and Trump’s base is openly fed up with its own party’s congressional leadership. With support for McConnell as Republicans’ Senate leader emerging as a primary issue, Greenberg called his unpopularity figures among Republican voters “way beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

There may well be a bumper crop of opportunities in 2018 for Democratic candidates for office at the state and local level to actively exploit Republican divisions. It might even be a good idea for state Democratic parties to have projects and task forces developing variations on the ‘Akin strategy.’ But the emphasis for Democratic campaigns everywhere must be on recruiting, training and funding strong candidates for every state legislative seat, state-wide office and congressional district. With that commitment, Democrats will do well against all opponents.


No, Polarization Isn’t Just a Washington Thing

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in a new Pew Research report on parties and polarization. I wrote up some key findings for New York:

[T]here is an abiding belief among some academics and professional centrists that the warring tribes of Washington are fundamentally misrepresenting Americans who pretty much agree on the important things and wonder why we can’t just all get along.

The Pew Research Center now offers some fresh and abundant data illustrating the extent, nature, and implications of polarization among regular Americans. Pew’s central finding is that Americans are indeed much more polarized than they were in 1994, when they began asking the same questions to some of the same kinds of people.

“The divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values – on government, race, immigration, national security, environmental protection and other areas – reached record levels during Barack Obama’s presidency. In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger.

“And the magnitude of these differences dwarfs other divisions in society, along such lines as gender, race and ethnicity, religious observance or education.”

Much of the Pew data reinforces the hypothesis that we are experiencing the tail end of what one influential analyst called “The Partisan Sort,” the drift of liberals toward the Democratic Party and conservatives toward the Republican Party, severing ancient partisan ties based on ethnic loyalties and events as remote as the Great Depression or even the U.S. Civil War. Here’s one particularly rich finding:

“[I]n 1994 there was substantially more overlap between the two partisan groups than there is today: Just 64% of Republicans were to the right of the median Democrat, while 70% of Democrats were to the left of the median Republican. Put differently, in 1994 23% of Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat; while 17% of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican. Today, those numbers are just 1% and 3%, respectively.”

In other words, rank-and-file voters are separating into their “natural” parties just as much as are their representatives in Congress.

The murkier question about polarization is whether voters are becoming more extreme in their ideological leanings, not just following them into one party or the other. But Pew suggests our more consistently conservative and liberal party groupings are also becoming more liberal and conservative as they sort.

“[A]lthough many Americans continue to hold a mix of liberal and conservative views across different issue areas, that share has declined over time.”

It’s increasingly clear that the great object of traditional political persuasion, the “median voter” who holds positions equidistant from partisans and ideologues, is becoming a much less dominant element of the electorate.

There are obviously multiple ways to look at these phenomena. The most common is to wring hands and deplore both partisan and ideological polarization as preventing things from “getting done,” and as thwarting the natural goodness and reasonableness of Americans.

Another approach is to applaud polarization as creating political parties that consistently stand for important principles, and that aren’t just devoted to deal-cutting and constituency-tending. There was plenty of bipartisanship in the decades prior to the 1960s, much of it devoted to maintaining or turning a blind eye to Jim Crow, and supporting the kind of consensus foreign policy that led to the Vietnam War.

Still another approach is to examine the structural impediments to “getting things done” that don’t depend on a return to a lost, bipartisan “paradise,” whether it’s the filibuster, the creaky procedures for enacting legislation, or the dependence of the federal government on states and localities to implement national policies. Perhaps Democrats are presently rejoicing at the trouble Republicans are having in implementing a party agenda while controlling Congress and the presidency, but this ongoing fiasco also illustrates that “polarization” is not the only problem bedeviling democracy.

Love it or hate it, though, polarization is real, it isn’t a purely Washington phenomenon, and there’s no reason to think it’s going away any time soon.


Political Strategy Notes

“In general we have to be careful not to whipsaw our policy agenda back and forth based on the details of the last mass shooting. That’s why I think it’s important to constantly be talking about the one policy change that would save the most lives: background checks,” said [U.S. Senator Chris] Murphy.” However, notes Alexander Bolton at The Hill, “Some gun control activists say now is the time to strike on banning semi-automatic rifles with military stylings, such as pistol grips and barrel shrouds, as well as high-capacity magazines that allow sustained bullet sprays…“I would bring the assault weapons ban up. I don’t think background checks is the way to go in Congress,” said Ladd Everitt, director of 1Pulse4America, a gun-violence prevention group created after last year’s Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting that left 49 people dead…“I would get a vote in Congress on the assault weapons right now. This guy inflicted 600 casualties. This is nuts…”

But Alex Seitz-Wald reports at NBC news that “Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said her legislation would bar the sale, manufacture and possession of so-called bump stocks and other devices — all currently legal — that drastically increase a firearm’s rate of fire…Some Republicans have publicly expressed openness to banning bump stocks. Feinstein said she and Democratic leaders decided to pursue a narrow bill on bump stocks because it has a better chance of success in the GOP-controlled Congress than the more sweeping gun measures they would prefer.”

The top 10 recipients of N.R.A. contributions and “spending to benefit the candidate” in both the House and Senate are Republicans, report David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Stuart A. Thompson at The New York Times. “Among the top 100 House recipients, 95 are Republican.”

From an interview with NC activist Rev. William Barber by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez at Democracy Now: “We had 26 presidential election debates on both sides of the political aisle. Not one hour on voter suppression. Not one. Not one hour on, excuse me, restoring the voting rights…if you put up a map, every state that has had deep voter suppression also has denied Medicaid expansion, also has denied living wages, also has some of the worst rules in relationship to Latino and immigrant brothers and sisters, also has some of the worst attacks on the LGBT community. So if you know a state is suppressing the vote, you can almost say that state is also against living wages…We talk about Trump winning in Wisconsin by 20,000 or 30,000 votes. There were 250,000 votes suppressed in Wisconsin. In North Carolina, we had over 150 fewer sites doing early voting…So it is amazing to me that we’re having a conversation about Russian hacking, but we’re not having a conversation about racialized voter suppression, which is systemic racism, which is a tool of white nationalism, which is a direct threat to our democracy.”

Here’s how felon voter suppression works in Alabama, according to Connor Sheets, writing in The Guardian: “In 1964, the 24th amendment abolished the poll tax, but to this day in Alabama, money keeps thousands of people away from the ballot box. According to the Sentencing Project, a Washington DC-based criminal justice reform non-profit, there are 286,266 disenfranchised felons in Alabama, or 7.62% of the state’s voting-age population…More than half of those disenfranchised felons are black, despite the fact that African Americans made up only 26.8% of the state’s population as of July 2016, according to a US census estimate…A new state law has cleared the way for people convicted of certain felonies to eventually regain the right to vote. But before that can happen, anyone who has lost the franchise in Alabama for any reason must first fulfill any financial obligations to the state and to their victims, according to the Alabama secretary of state, John Merrill…Researchers with the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard and Yale universities crunched reams of Alabama court records and data from the past two decades for a study published in June in the Journal of Legal Studies.  The research paper states that “a majority of all ex-felons in Alabama – white, black, or otherwise – cannot vote because of a debt they owe to the state.”

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn explains, “So far, four Republicans have announced they will not seek re-election in highly competitive districts (with a Cook Partisan Voter Index of Republican+5 or more Democratic; the Cook P.V.I. measures district partisanship based on its vote in recent presidential elections)…But without a string of retirements, the Democratic path to control of the House is challenging. Incumbents are just that hard to beat…Democrats often look at the districts carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election as top-tier targets. But it won’t be so easy. Based on recent elections, Democrats would do well to defeat even half of the incumbents running for re-election in those districts…Over the last decade or so, incumbents have run about seven percentage points ahead of non-incumbents from the same party in similar districts. That’s more than enough to let incumbents in competitive districts survive…Without a surge of Republican retirements, a Democratic House takeover would probably require the party to do even better at defeating Republican incumbents than it did in 2006 or the Republicans did in 2010. If Democrats merely matched those results, they would probably fall a bit short of the 24 seats they need.”

Gregory S. Schneider and Scott Clement of The Washington Post have an update on what is likely to be the most consequential state-wide race of 2017: “A relatively unified party base gives Democrat Ralph Northam a clear lead over Republican Ed Gillespie heading into the final month of the Virginia governor’s race, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll…Northam leads Gillespie by 53 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, with 4 percent supporting Libertarian Cliff Hyra…Northam is the sitting lieutenant governor and a pediatric neurologist. Gillespie is a longtime GOP operative who led the Republican National Committee and nearly unseated U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) in 2014… The advantage is similar to a Post-Schar School poll this spring but larger than in other public polls of likely voters released over the past month, most of which found Northam up by single digits…But the race is still fluid, with a sizable number of likely voters — one in four — saying they could change their mind before Nov. 7…Confederate monuments and illegal immigration have played prominently during the campaign, but voters say they care more about health care, the economy and education…”

Antonio Flores explains “How the U.S. Hispanic population is changing” at the Pew Research Center web pages, and notes: “The Latino population in the United States has reached nearly 58 million in 2016 and has been the principal driver of U.S. demographic growth, accounting for half of national population growth since 2000…In 2016, Hispanics accounted for 18% of the nation’s population and were the second-largest racial or ethnic group behind whites. (All racial groups are single race non-Hispanic.)..Hispanics of Mexican origin account for 63.3% (36 million) of the nation’s Hispanic population in 2015…California continues to have the largest Latino population among states, but Texas is seeing a faster growth rate. In 2015, 15.2 million Hispanics lived in California, a 39% increase from 10.9 million in 2000. Yet Texas has had even faster growth, with its Hispanic population increasing 60% over the same period, from 6.7 million in 2000 to 10.7 million in 2015. Meanwhile, Georgia’s Hispanic population has more than doubled since 2000, the fastest growth among the 10 states with the largest Hispanic populations.”


Teixeira: Democratic Wave Building?

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

Special elections provide important clues on political momentum. One under-analyzed area of special elections is state legislative seats. There are many more of these than there are of the heavily-publicized Congressional specials. Brian Stryker and Zac McCrary of ALG Research provide a detailed analysis of the legislative specials and detect very considerable Democratic momentum. Bottom line: the patterns are so strong that if they continue they could be enough to shift dominance of state legislature from Republicans to Democrats in 2018. That would be huge.

Caveats apply of course and Stryker/McCrary provide some at the end of their article. And Republican advantages from incumbency are considerable. Still, their results are rather striking and in an area where Democrats pay far too little attention.

Note this also about where Democrats should compete:

Additionally, many Beltway pundits continue to debate whether Democrats should target so-called blue-collar Obama-Trump type districts or more white-collar, suburban Romney-Clinton districts. The answer so far on the legislative level, is “Yes”; Democrats need not acquiesce to that false choice. Just like FiveThirtyEight, we find that Obama’s 2012 performance and Clinton’s 2016 performance in a district are equally predictive of 2017 results….

Because both 2012 and 2016 have been equally important predictors, a lean Obama district that swung heavily to Trump is just as ripe an opportunity as a strongly Romney district that shifted to Clinton. Republican legislators who hold either of those types of districts — as well as a much broader swath of GOP districts — should be very worried by what has occurred at the legislative level over the past several months. Likewise, Democrats do not necessarily need to choose between targeting state houses in places like Iowa where Trump did well in 2016 or states like Arizona or Virginia, where Trump is generally weaker than other recent Republicans.


Vegas Mass Murder Spotlights GOP’s Failure to Protect Americans

The horrific mass shoting in Las Vegas raises the question, is it at long-last time to ban or restrict assault weapons?

The easy availability of semi-automatic/assault weapons has been a threat to national security for a long time, and we have seen clamor for gun control swell and fade after mass shootings time and again. But the horrifying toll of this one vicious shooting incident — currently at 59 fatalities and 500+ injuries — brings a new urgency to calls for congressional action.

We had a federal ban on assault weapons, which was enacted in 1994. But it was allowed to expire in 2004. there was a failed effort to pass the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013. Today, only seven U.S. states have assault weapons bans, and Minnesota and Virginia have training and background check requirements for assault weapons purchases. Some cities and counties in Colorado and Illinois have local laws banning sale of assault weapons, as does Washington, D.C.

The Editorial Board of The New York Times presents a graphics display which helps to put the problem in political perspective. Entitled, “477 Days. 521 Mass Shootings. Zero Action From Congress,” the graphic doesn’t provide the horrifiying death and injury toll, which is well into the thousands. But insert the term, “Republican-controlled” before “Congress” and you have a more accurate description of the reason for inaction. Republican leaders of congress have been extremely effective in preventing even modest assault weapons restrictions that might save lives from being enacted.

That’s not to say that all Democrats have supported restrictions on semi-automatic weapons. Some have been cowed by the NRA, and their silence is part of the problem. But it’s equally-accurate to say that all serious initiatives to restrict assault weapons in recent years have come from Democrats. Back in 1993 former Republican Presidents Ford and Reagan joined Jimmy Carter in calling for a ban on  “semi-automatic assault guns.” But today, nearly all Republicans in congress have failed to do anything to protect Americans from the scourge of easilly-available semi-automatic and assault weapons. Democratic Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.) introduced “Assault Weapons Ban of 2015” and was supported by 149 House co-sponsors, but not one of them was a Republican.

Democrats can be confident of public support for restrictions on semi-automatic and assault weapons. A 2016 Quinnipiac University National poll found that 59 percent of voters supported “a ban on the sale of assault weapons.” An even larger majority — 64 percent — agreed that “”It’s possible to make new gun laws without interfering with gun rights.”

There will be heated arguments over the next few weeks about the effectiveness of legislation to restrict assault weapons. But the NRA bromide about a “good guy with a gun” as the best remedy for stopping domestic mass murders has been utterly discredited by the Las Vegas killings. The only thing that is certain is that no legislative remedies will even be given a chance to succeed until Democrats win a working majority of both houses of congress.


Political Strategy Notes

“The Brookings Institution noted that by the end of June, 209 Democrats not currently in Congress had registered with the Federal Election Commission to run,” notes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.  “That was nearly triple how many Republican challengers had registered at this point in 2009, when the G.O.P. was galvanized by antipathy toward President Obama and new candidates were coming out in what was then considered droves. Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House the following year… 23 Republican incumbents represent congressional districts that Clinton won last November…“You have to shoot for the stars,” the Democratic operative Hilary Rosen told me. “You might just reach the moon.”…But even as Rosen said that, she hedged any prophecy of a rout, in a manner that spoke to the difficulty of properly calibrating optimism in 2018. She worried about Democrats’ policy agenda. She worried about the party’s tone. “I still think we lack a sunny, aspirational outlook,” she said. “We’re going down in the mud with Donald Trump.”…She added that the party wasn’t focused on change in the right, compelling fashion. “The change that Donald Trump was selling was blowing up the system,” she observed. “What’s our change? Is our change to patch up the system? Not very sexy.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. boils it down nicely in his column, “The only thing the Republican Party knows how to do” at The Washington Post: “The party of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell has abandoned the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, who championed the Homestead Act and land-grant colleges; Teddy Roosevelt, who protected vast tracts of nature on behalf of future generations; and Dwight Eisenhower, who pushed for student loans and the Interstate Highway System…The only thing today’s Republican Party knows how to do is cut taxes for the very rich.”

If you were looking for a couple of soundbite-sized stats to frame the Republican’s tax “reform” bill, WaPo’s Kelsey Snell has it at PowerPost: “…Democrats and some outside groups say the outline favors top earners over the middle class. A study released Friday by the nonprofit Tax Policy Center found that the top 1 percent of earners would see nearly 80 percent of the benefits under the GOP tax plan, while those earning between $150,000 and $300,000 would see a slight tax increase.”

At The Fix, Amber Philips provides three reasons Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s entry into the contest for Republican Jeff Flake’s U.S. senate seat in Arizona is a “big deal,” including: “1. Flake is one of two vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection next year; 2. Sinema is the Democrats’ top choice to take on Flake; and 3. Democrats needed a good candidate in Arizona to help them hold the line against Republicans and Trump.” Sinema’s compelling announcement:

PowerPost’s David Weigel  notes another great ad produced by Cheri Bustos (D-IL): “At one point, the candidates saw a direct-mail advertisement Bustos had sent after passing a bill that required the federal government to buy U.S. flags that had been entirely made in the United States. “Made in America, thanks to Cheri Bustos,” read the front of the ad….“It’s the best piece of mail I’ve ever sent,” Bustos said.”

A couple of salient points from  Justin Gest, author of “The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality,” from Chauncey Devega’s interview at salon .com: “The people who I encountered in Youngstown and its surrounding areas were people who voted for Trump not because they thought he was brilliant or he was a once-in-a-generation politician. It was because they had a sense of desperation. They voted Democrat before. They voted Republican before. They had just sat out before as well. They tried everything and they couldn’t get their way. They couldn’t get someone to pick up their issues, to actually empathize with their plight. Because, remember, in Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin they have been feeling a Great Recession way before 2007, going back to the ’70s. Yet no one has come to rescue them. They said, “Hey, what do I have to lose?…I don’t think white working-class people thought the Democrats gave a damn about them in 2016. You know what the truth is? They were right. I don’t think white working-class voters are necessarily “low information.” The truth is, they could easily discern that Republicans didn’t care about them. They were right, which is why they voted for someone who is effectively neither a Democrat or a Republican. That is why I bristle a little bit at the narrative that white working-class people vote against their interests. They are just not voting in their material interests. They’re voting in their cultural interests.”

Michael D. Shear and Yamiche Alcindor report at The New York Times on the Democrats’ strategic dilemma regarding immigration policies: “Fearful of concessions to Mr. Trump that could increase immigration enforcement aimed at their families and friends, the activists are targeting Democratic congressional leaders with loud political protests. And Democratic politicians may be vulnerable. They have already shifted to the left on a number of issues, such as health care, as they try to take advantage of liberal fervor stoked by the Trump era….But moving too far to the left on border security could hold serious risks for a party that lost the presidency with defeats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa — all states where immigration remains a hot-button issue.” Nonetheless, “We are determined to get Republicans votes to pass the clean Dream Act,” says House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

In his Plum Line column, “Why Democrats aren’t tearing themselves apart — yet,” Paul Waldman shines some sobering light on the “Dems in Disarray” meme that has become a staple of lazy political journalism: “…The market for ideological warfare within the Democratic Party just isn’t as robust as it is within the Republican Party…That doesn’t mean that liberal Democrats are going to eschew strongly liberal candidates and flock to centrists. But it may mean that at certain times, they’ll decide to put aside ideological fights for another day. They may look at a race like Arizona and say, “okay, so Sinema is never going to be my favorite senator. But if she’s the strongest Democratic candidate in this particular election in this particular state, I’m not going to try to turn the primary into an ideological bloodbath.” With 2018 presenting the possibility of a genuine wave election that gives Democrats the House and maybe even the Senate, the stakes of every race become incredibly high…It’s good to remind yourself now and then that Twitter is not America. There will certainly be raging fights in some quarters about this or that 2018 candidate, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when you pull out and look at the broader picture, the Democrats seem polite, cooperative and reasonable in their internal debates — particularly when you contrast them with the Republicans.”

From Joy Reid’s MSNBC interview with Faiz Shakir, national political director of the ACLU, about his organization’s new state-specific project to end voter suppression:


Roy Moore’s Abortion Extremism Is Beyond Comparison

In the brief period since Roy Moore won the GOP Senate nomination in Alabama, conservatives have tried to paint Democratic nominee Doug Jones as an “extremist” on abortion policy. As I argued at New York. nobody’s an “extremist” like Roy Moore.

Roy Moore has staked out the most hard-core position imaginable on abortion, and has maintained an uncomfortably close relationship with activists who justify violence against abortion providers and punishment of women for exercising their right to choose. And that’s aside from his regular comments suggesting that legalized abortion and homosexuality have brought down divine wrath on America.

Wherever Doug Jones would draw the line between legal and illegal abortions, there is zero question where Roy Moore would draw it: He wants to make every abortion under any circumstances illegal from the moment of conception, and punish those who procure them, regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court says. He made that clear not in some op-ed, but in an opinion from his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, in a 2014 case involving prosecuting a woman for endangering her fetus by using drugs:

“Because a human life with a full genetic endowment comes into existence at the moment of conception, the self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights’ encompasses the moment of conception. Legal recognition of the unborn as members of the human family derives ultimately from the laws of nature and of nature’s God, Who created human life in His image and protected it with the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Therefore, the interpretation of the word “child” in Alabama’s chemical-endangerment statute, § 26-15- 3.2, Ala. Code 1975, to include all human beings from the moment of conception is fully consistent with these first principles regarding life and law.”

As this quote illustrates, Moore is a leader in the “Personhood Movement,” which holds that from the moment of conception a zygote enjoys the full protections of the Equal Protection Clause, which precedes and preempts any claim by the woman involved. If there was any doubt about Moore’s position, it should have been removed by a 2012 amicus brief he and his Foundation for Moral Law signed in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a proposed personhood constitutional amendment in Oklahoma. Moore and his group noted they were promoting a personhood initiative in Alabama similar to Oklahoma’s, and then argued:

“While Personhood laws may challenge the legitimacy of the so-called ‘right’ to abort that person under Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the Oklahoma Supreme Court, by blocking personhood protection for every preborn child, ‘threw the baby out with the bathwater’ and rejected the many other ways a state may protect the life and dignity of the preborn child.

“Finally, the Holy Scriptures provide additional support for the personhood of the preborn child. Though some interpretations of scriptural passages try to devalue the preborn, the Bible, rightly divided, consistently protects the life of preborn persons from murder and assault as equally as it does those already born.”

How extreme is the zygote-personhood position, which would arguably ban in vitro fertilization clinics and various forms of contraception? Extreme enough that initiatives to place personhood provisions into state constitutions have failed by large margins on the five occasions they’ve made it to the ballot: three times in Colorado, once in North Dakota, and perhaps most relevantly for Alabama, once in arch-conservative Mississippi.

Even though it had widespread support from Republican and even a few Democratic elected officials, Mississippi’s Amendment 26 was defeated by a 59–41 margin in 2011.

Roy Moore’s position on abortion was too extreme for Mississippi. Is it just right for Alabama? Perhaps that question should be answered before anyone starts picking apart Doug Jones’s interview answers. But without question, Jones needs to occupy more, not less, of the vast ground between Moore’s positions and those of regular Alabamians, who may frown on late-term abortions but don’t want to treat women as distrusted, ungodly bystanders in the reproductive process.


Creamer: Trump’s War Threats Should Be Met by Renewed Calls for Disarmament

The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, is cross-posted from HuffPo:

No one really believes that an even moderately rational leader of North Korea would use nuclear weapons to launch a first strike against the United States. Such a move would almost certainly lead to the annihilation of North Korea itself – and its leadership. It would be suicidal.

But history shows that the confrontation between the United States and North Korea still carries with it enormous danger: the danger that a horrific conventional or nuclear war could occur as a result of miscalculation or mistake. And the likelihood of such a catastrophe increases exponentially when the leaders who could launch a war are impulsive, erratic megalomaniacs like Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, historians have identified dozens of close calls – miscalculations or mistakes – that could have led to a nuclear war.

On October 27, 1962, the Soviet Fox-Trot class diesel submarine B-59 was cruising in waters off Cuba near the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Randolph and nine destroyers. The submarine B-59 was in international waters, but as part of the U.S. naval blockage of Cuba, the destroyers began dropping depth charges around the B-59 signaling it to surface to be identified.

The B-59 had been cruising too deep to monitor U.S. broadcasts and had not been in touch with Moscow for three days. Fearing that the depth charging meant that a war had already broken out, the Captain of the B-59, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky decided to launch the ship’s nuclear-tipped torpedoes at the attacking U.S. ships.

Normally, the Captain only had to get agreement from his political officer to launch nuclear-tipped torpedoes or missiles. Luckily, on the B-59 the Captain, his political officer Ivan Maslennikow, and the second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov had agreed that all three must unanimously agree before the B-59’s nuclear armaments were used. This stemmed partially from the lucky coincidence that Ankhipov, though he was only second-in-command on the B-59, was commander of the entire flotilla of submarines and of equal rank with the Captain.

The Political Officer agreed with the Captain to use the nuclear-tipped torpedoes. Only Ankhipov refused to agree and ultimately convinced the Captain to surface and contact Moscow. Ankhipov’s case was bolstered by the lucky fact that the sub’s batteries were low, the air conditioning had failed, and heat and carbon dioxide levels onboard had risen.

He might not have realized it at the time, but Ankhipov’s good judgment and resolve probably prevented a nuclear war. But what if it had been a different sub?

Historian Graham Allison begins his new book Destined for War, by quoting German chancellor Theobald von Bethman Hollweg. “Ah, if we only knew,” he said when pressed by a colleague to explain how his choices, and those of other European statesmen, had led to the most devastating war the world had seen to that point – World War I.

Allison goes on to note that none of the major actors in Europe wanted a war. And by the time it was over in 1918 the key players had all lost what they fought for: “the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the German Kaiser ousted, the Russian tsar overthrown, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of it treasure and youth. And for what. If we only knew.”

The major actors unthinkingly made mistake after mistake and “blundered into the abyss.”

In his December, 2016 article in the New Yorker entitled, World War Three, by Mistake, Eric Schlosser says: “Harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.”

He goes on to describe a terrifying episode:

On June 3, 1980, at about two-thirty in the morning, computers at the National Military Command Center, beneath the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (norad), deep within Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and at Site R, the Pentagon’s alternate command post center hidden inside Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, issued an urgent warning: the Soviet Union had just launched a nuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan, and the animosity between the two superpowers was greater than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

U.S. Air Force ballistic-missile crews removed their launch keys from the safes, bomber crews ran to their planes, fighter planes took off to search the skies, and the Federal Aviation Administration prepared to order every airborne commercial airliner to land.

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at norad headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.

 Let’s remember what a nuclear war is all about. One study showed that a single 1-megaton bomb exploded above the city of Detroit would cause up to 630,000 deaths and injuries from blast alone. And many of those who escaped death initially would ultimately suffer horrific deaths from the effects of nuclear fallout or burns.

In all three of these instances, the decisions leading to a war – or almost leading to a war – did not involve a grand design or conscious action. They involved mistakes or near mistakes that were, or could have been catastrophic. And their likelihood of doing so vastly increases if they are made by erratic, impulsive people who lack self-confidence and a sense of history – people like Donald Trump or Kim Jong Un.

Every day, there are reports of a lover or spouse who kills his or her significant-other in a fit of uncontrolled anger or rage. These are not cases where one spouse wakes up one day and coolly decides to kill the other. The man murders his wife in a fit of uncontrolled passion.

Everyday you hear of teenagers who get into a fight over a girlfriend, pull guns and ruin each other’s lives because somebody insulted somebody else. Neither rationally planned the attack; the names start flying, the hormones start flowing, and pretty soon one or more kids lies dead on a sidewalk or a barroom floor.

Donald Trump seems to have the emotional maturity of one of those teenagers. And remember that the kids who shoot at each other in a dispute over a girlfriend would be throwing punches rather that shooting bullets if they did not have access to guns.

Donald Trump has control of the nuclear launch codes to thousands of nuclear weapons.

And the likelihood of a mistake or miscalculation is not simply limited to national leaders. Once the stakes go up and forces are entangled, the mistakes or miscalculations of scores – or even hundreds – of people who are outside of the span of control of national leaders can snowball into international calamity.

At one point in the Cuban Missile, Kennedy elevated the alert level to Defcon II. With that order German and Turkish pilots took their seats in the cockpits of NATO fighter-bombers, armed with nuclear weapons, ready to attack. If one of those Turkish or German pilots had gone rogue, that one pilot could have started World War III by flying 2 hours or less and dropping his nuclear payload.

That’s why it is so critical that in the cases of both North Korea and Iran, the leadership of the United States lowers the tension. In reality, of course, Donald Trump has done everything he can to bring tensions to the boiling point.

In a world brimming with nuclear weapons, our true national security has very little to do with whether our president can do a better job slinging insults than the leader of North Korea. It has everything to do with avoiding another horrific war – and in particular a nuclear war.

The willingness of North Korea to limit its nuclear program has everything to do with the willingness of the United States to give North Korea credible assurance that it will not attack them, nor seek to change their regime. Every time Trump escalates military threats he does more to convince them that their only defense is nuclear arms.

The North Koreans saw what happened to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi when he ended his nuclear weapons program, and they don’t want it to happen to them.

And, of course, if Trump abandons the Iran Nuclear Agreement, then the North Koreans will be completely convinced that they can’t trust any deal to limit their nuclear program that is agreed to by the United States.

Instead, the United States should use strong economic sanctions to pressure North Korea to the bargaining table and provide an off-ramp for them that guarantees their security ― the same way the Obama Administration did so effectively with Iran.

With the advent of nuclear weapons that are capable of destroying our species, human survival depends on our ability to develop non-violent means of conflict resolution that do not involve war.

Like it or not, knowledge and technology will continue to spread. The only long-term solutions to our survival are strong international agreements to limit and then eliminate the use of that technology to produce nuclear arms at all. And to devise political structures that resolve differences fairly and democratically across the face of the planet.

This is not a radical idea. Mainstream leaders like Pope Francis, former Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz, and Clinton Secretary of Defense William Perry have all called for enforceable international agreements to eliminate all nuclear weapons – including those controlled by the United States and Russia.

In the end, any thing short of that leaves our own security at terrible risk. And those who bluster on about making America “Great Again” by wiping other countries off the face of the earth, are jeopardizing that security more than anyone else.


How Doug Jones Might Upset Roy Moore in Alabama

After watching Judge Roy Moore dispatch GOP Senator Luther Strange in a Republican special election runoff, I took a long look at New York at the possibility of Democrat Doug Jones pulling off a general election upset. \

The bad news — and it’s really bad — for Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones heading toward a December 12 special general election is that no one from his party has won a statewide election since 2008. And that was just the chairmanship of the Public Service Commission. The good news is that the one time it nearly happened since then (in 2012) the Republican candidate was Roy Moore.

That’s right: the Ten Commandments Judge, who had been stripped of the state’s Chief Justice’s gavel in 2003 for defying a federal court order to remove a giant monument to the Ten Commandments from his courtroom, and then lost two GOP gubernatorial primaries, made it back to the Chief Justice position five years ago by a narrow four-point margin over Democratic circuit court judge Bob Vance. As has generally been the case throughout Moore’s career, he was heavily outspent (better than six to one), but like the rest of the GOP ticket, won anyway.

Moore subsequently got into another fight with the federal judicial system, this time over compliance with the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. While he technically still holds his judicial office, in September 2016 he was suspended from the exercise of its powers until his term ends early in 2019.

The question now is whether Moore — who finished first in the GOP primary and then trounced incumbent Luther Strange in a runoff — is sufficiently controversial to enable Jones to break Alabama’s recently but firmly established mold of race-based partisan voting.

As in several other Deep South states, the tipping point where Republicans began routinely winning statewide and a majority of other contests in Alabama was in 2010, when the GOP conquered both state legislative chambers and every statewide position up for election. Before then, a coalition of 90 percent of African-Americans and 30–40 percent of white voters kept Democrats competitive, and even dominant at the state legislative level. Since then the Democratic share of the white vote in Alabama has regularly fallen below 20 percent; Barack Obama got around 10 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 2012, according to exit polls (there were no exit polls in Alabama in 2016, but Donald Trump won a higher percentage of the total vote than did John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, and it’s unlikely that enhanced margin came from African-Americans). Doug Jones is going to have to beat that performance significantly, while pulling off the difficult task of mobilizing minority voters in what is normally a low-turnout special election where Moore’s conservative Evangelical base will definitely show up.

One might normally think Jones could batten on embittered supporters of the GOP candidate Moore just beat. But it’s unclear there is a distinctive “Luther Strange vote.” Some voters probably pulled the lever for the incumbent because he was an incumbent, and others because the president and vice-president, along with the senior senator from Alabama (Richard Shelby), endorsed him. Moore is already getting solid GOP support, particularly from the White House.

There are, however, certainly Alabama Republicans who either don’t agree with Roy Moore’s theocratic views, and/or who fear he will damage the state’s image (and its attractiveness to transplants and investors) with the kind of extremist antics he’s performed so often in the past — but this time on the higher-profile platform of the U.S. Senate. Alabama, after all, is still sensitive to the hilarity surrounding their former governor (dubbed the Luv Guv) Robert Bentley, who was forced to resign after a lurid sex-and-corruption scandal. For reasons of his own, Luther Strange did not talk about Moore’s extremism during the primary and runoff (he tried, somewhat hilariously, to attack Moore as a “liberal” and a career politician). Doug Jones can and will, perhaps with quiet encouragement from the Alabama business community and other “respectable” opinion-leaders.

It is clear from the get-go that Jones understands Moore’s main vulnerability: In his initial statement on the general election, variations on the word “embarrassment” are used often:

“After years of embarrassing headlines about top public officials in this state, this race is about the people of Alabama and about choosing a candidate with character and integrity they can be proud of. I will never embarrass the people of Alabama.”

Jones’s own profile as the prosecutor of the 1963 Birmingham Church bombers certainly comports with what Alabamians would prefer to think about themselves. Beyond that, there are some things about the prospect of Roy Moore serving in the Senate that haven’t really been explored adequately. Is he going to ask his enemy Mitch McConnell for Jeff Sessions’s old seat on the Judiciary Committee? How appropriate would it be for a senator who has twice defied federal court orders to vote on confirmation of federal judges? And to what extent can a man who quite literally believes God Almighty is directing his career be expected to behave himself in Washington for the sake of his state’s reputation?

National Democrats have some decisions to make about Alabama. Putting a third GOP-held Senate seat into play (right now only Arizona and Nevada are deemed competitive) could convert 2018 from a purely defensive struggle for Senate Democrats into a drive — a long shot, but hardly impossible given the near-certainty of a midterm trend against the party controlling the White House — for actual control. Moore’s career-long aversion to fundraising could provide a real opening. But anything heavy-handed could help Judge Roy play the martyr and stimulate Alabama’s ideological and partisan juices in an unfortunate way for Doug Jones. The Democrat has a chance, but will have to run a much smarter campaign than Luther Strange’s.