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

March 22, 2018

Lamb Campaign Shows Democrats Can Win…If They Run

From The New York Times editorial, “Democrats Can’t Win if They Don’t Run“:

Regardless of who wins the special House election in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the Democratic candidate, Conor Lamb, has already accomplished something impressive by showing that his party ought to contest every election — no matter how daunting the odds.

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” goes the line often attributed to the hockey great Wayne Gretzky and quoted in school gymnasiums ever since. It’s a lesson that bears repeating to Democratic Party leaders, who in recent years effectively surrendered many seats to Republicans under the mistaken belief that Democrats had no chance. For example, the party did not bother fielding candidates during the 2016 and 2014 elections for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District seat, which recent polls show Mr. Lamb could narrowly win on Tuesday. While Donald Trump won the district by 20 percentage points, it has a large population of union members and more registered Democrats than Republicans.

“Even if Mr. Lamb loses on Tuesday,” the editorial continues, “analysts say he could easily win in November, when Pennsylvanians will vote under a new congressional map ordered by the State Supreme Court in an important gerrymandering lawsuit. Further,

It would be foolish to conclude that Mr. Lamb is doing well only because Mr. Saccone is not a good fund-raiser or that he has backed anti-union policies — two of the many criticisms leveled at him. Mr. Lamb has done what many Democrats have been unwilling or unable to do: speak directly and plainly to voters about their concerns. Smartly, he has not turned this race into a referendum on Mr. Trump’s popularity, which has been a losing proposition in other races, including in the 2016 presidential election. In this, he appears to have learned from the examples set by Mr. Jones and Democratic candidates who have won state legislative races in Virginia and elsewhere since the 2016 election.

In a sense, Lamb has already won by showing that Democrats can be competitive in historically-red districts, with good candidates, a well-organized campaign, a clear message and strong union support. Lamb has provided a potentially-powerful victory template for Dems, and they should make good use of it.

Political Strategy Notes

Re Elizabeth Warren’s statement that “I am not running for president,” note that she did not say “I will not run for president.” She probably means that she won’t run, but there may be some wiggle room in there way down the road. Either way. all a candidate who has dropped out of a race has to do, after a suitable period of time, is say that things have changed, and something like “I want to provide a voice that is missing from the current field of candidates.” The record suggests that voters don’t penalize candidates much for changing their minds about running. Warren’s dropping out nonetheless comes as a bit of a disappointment, because she has an impressive ability to articulate the need for financial reforms and economic justice, and seems more alert to class issues than the previous Democratic nominee. Assuming Bernie Sanders runs for the 2020 Democratic nomination, there will still be a strong progressive voice for economic justice in the campaign. But a double-barrelled megaphone for economic reforms would be even better. Warren will no doubt continue to speak out on economic issues, but the cameras and microphones will increasingly follow the candidates in 2020.

Warren has also made news with her blast against Senators — including 16 Democrats — who are supporting legislation to weaken Dodd-Frank. As Alexander Bolton reports at the Hill: “Liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling out fellow Democrats by name for backing what she is panning as the “Bank Lobbyist Act” and it’s not sitting well with colleagues up for reelection in November…They find it galling that Warren is blowing the whistle on a vote they took this week to begin debate on legislation rolling back part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act…Lawmakers find it especially annoying that Warren called them out in a fundraising email circulated among the liberal base…“Saying Democrats are helping roll back rules on big banks doesn’t make me the most popular kid on the team,” she acknowledged. “But Massachusetts didn’t send me here to fight for big banks.”

Alex Shephard also has some harsh words for the Democrats in his New Republic article, “Everything Wrong With the Democrats, in One Bill: The bipartisan push to roll back parts of Dodd-Frank reveals a minority party that can’t get it right on the policy or the politic.” As Shephard explains, “What’s so bewildering about all this is that blocking this bill would be politically valuable for Democrats…In the right hands, it could show just how beholden Republicans are to moneyed interests. After passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package for corporations and the wealthy, Republicans are making it easier for banks to take on the kinds of risks that nearly destroyed the financial system. This bill could be a neat encapsulation of a corrupt administration and an out-of-touch Republican Party. Instead, it has become a totem of a feckless and incompetent Democratic Party.” Shephard does note, however, that “The 17 Democrats who voted for the bill to proceed on Tuesday are either centrists or facing reelection in states that Donald Trump won in 2016. They have defended the bill on the merits, arguing that it will free up credit in rural areas and that it’s an overdue fix for Dodd-Frank’s flaws. There is also a sense among Democrats that this may very well be the best deal they can get on Dodd-Frank reform.”

Alexander Nazaryan explores some answers to the question, “Can Donald Trump, the Most Unpopular President Ever, Save Republicans from a Massive Defeat in 2018?” at Newsweek, and notes: “Back when Trump’s approval ratings were languishing in the 30s, there was little for Republicans to like, and even less to take. Now, the president has climbed back to the safer zone of the 40s. The generic ballot—which simply asks voters if they prefer Democrats or Republicans— saw a 13-point Democratic lead shrink in half (it has since risen to 6.9). Brian Walsh, a Republican consultant who runs a pro-Trump super PAC, says a generic battle that continued to favor Democrats by only 5 points would portend only a “bumpy night” for Republicans, whereas anything like a 12-point advantage on the generic would be “devastating.” Because partisan redistricting conducted in 2011 heavily favored Republicans, explains veteran University of Virginia pollster Larry Sabato, “Democrats must win a clear majority of the popular vote by 5 to 6 percent nationally to have a good chance to take the House.” (Pennsylvania has just redrawn its congressional district map to undo the effects of Republican gerrymandering; that will likely lead to Democratic gains in the House and, even more importantly, could signal a broader push away from district maps that favor the GOP.)..Democrats have now won 36 state legislature special elections since Trump’s inauguration, many in districts that he won. Republicans have won only four.”

At Brookings, Elaine Kamarck provides some early findings from the Brookings Primary Project: “Let’s start with the lay of the land. At this point, as the following chart indicates, Republican incumbents stand to face more competition than their Democratic counterparts from two key sources. First, many more Republican incumbents are being primaried (i.e., challenged) by well-funded opponents from their own party. Second, in a telling measure, there are many more competitive Democratic primaries in Republican-held districts than competitive Republican primaries in Democrat-held districts. Competitive elections can both stem from and generate the entry of higher-quality candidates. They also attract media attention. This means that more Republican incumbents will have to deal with well-funded primary challenges and well-funded, battle-tested general election foes who can make news—prospects incumbents tend to dread. In addition, there are over twice as many Republican retirements as Democratic retirements in the House—usually an indication that the exiting members think it’s going to be a bad year for their party.”

In Bridget Bowman’s “Can Unions Push Conor Lamb to an Unlikely Victory in Pennsylvania?” at cqpolitics.com she writes about the Democratic candidate’s campaign to filp PA-18: “Lamb has attempted to appeal to union workers by embracing labor groups, which have deep roots in southwestern Pennsylvania.” She notes that Tuesday’s election could “test the political power of organized labor — and whether union leaders can rally members around a Democrat at a time when predominantly white, blue-collar workers have been fleeing the party…Over the past month, unions have been heavily targeting 30,000 of their members by phone, in their neighborhoods and at their work sites, arguing that Lamb will fight for organized labor…Union leaders say Saccone’s record in the state House will hurt him with their members. He was endorsed by Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Work Committee in 2014 and he voted against a bill that expanded access to unemployment compensation…Both Lamb and Saccone signaled support for the proposed tariffs during a debate Saturday night.”

“The legitimacy of an election is only as good as the reliability of the machines that count the votes,” according to The New York Times editorial board. “And yet 43 states use voting machines that are no longer being made, and are at or near the end of their useful life. Many states still manage their voter-registration rolls using software programs from the 1990s. It’s no surprise that this sort of infrastructure failure hits poorer and minority areas harder, often creating hourslong lines at the polls and discouraging many voters from coming out at all. Upgrading these machines nationwide would cost at least $1 billion, maybe much more, and Congress has consistently failed to provide anything close to sufficient funding to speed along the process…Elections are hard to run with aging voting technology, but at least those problems aren’t intentional. Hacking and other types of interference are. In 2016, Russian hackers were able to breach voter registration systems in Illinois and several other states, and targeted dozens more. They are interfering again in advance of the 2018 midterms, according to intelligence officials, who are demanding better cybersecurity measures.”

Economist Jared Bernstein, author of The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity, floats a good idea in his article, “Fixing the tax bill: How Democrats should use some rare leverage,” at PostEverything: “Republicans need Senate Democrats to help them fix their tax bill, which, as documented in this New York Times piece, was jammed through with a bunch of drafting mistakes that are now posing real problems for farmers, small businesses and even multinational corporations…For example, based on a mistake that significantly hurts certain grain sellers, one executive from Oklahoma, an avowed Republican, said he’d be “receptive to selling our business” if the “grain glitch” isn’t fixed. In words that cannot be resonating well with Republican leadership, he said he longed to go back to the old code. Another grain operator claimed that unless the glitch is fixed, it would “drive investments in rural America away. We can’t compete.”…These rural farmers are not alone. Retailers, restaurateurs and U.S. companies with foreign operations are all calling for quick fixes to the sweeping bill….Here’s the crucial point: Republicans can’t fix most of these drafting mistakes without votes from Senate Democrats. That gives Democrats the leverage they lacked in the original tax debate, which was passed using a procedural method that required only a majority in the Senate, as opposed to 60 votes…Bernstein also provides a list of reforms Dems should insist on for their votes on the corrected tax bill, and concludes ‘The key to the whole strategy, of course, is stiff Democratic spines across the caucus.'”…in this case, forget “they go low, we go high.” Instead, go with this: In their rush to transfer billions to their funder base, they screwed up; here’s the cost of the fix. Take it, or leave it.

Is Country music just a conservative platform? Joseph P. Williams wrote in U.S. News that “A 2004 Gallup survey found nearly 60 percent of country fans identify more strongly with Republicans, compared with 11 percent who identify as liberal and around 30 percent who say they’re political moderates.” Jon Bernstein noted in his 2016 Guardian article, “Country Music Has Become Apolitical: Why Acts Have Kept Quiet on the Election,” that “A recent informal survey conducted by the trade publication Country Aircheck showed that 46% of the industry professionals who participated favored Trump compared to 41% who supported Clinton, with 13% supporting Gary Johnson.” An NPR report “A Political History of Country Music” explores the conservative and liberal (New Deal) roots of the genre, as does the WNYC (an NPR affiliate) program on “Class Politics, Country Music and Hillbilly Humanism,” which looks at the complex political attitudes of country music fans, the music and artists. Merle Haggard, who scored big with “Okie from Muscogee,” also recorded “Irma Jackson,” a heartfelt song about being in love with a Black woman. We could add moments like the defiant Dixie Chicks dissing Bush II, Johnny Cash performing with Pete Seeger on his popular TV show and Appalachian music icon Ralph Stanley’s endorsement of Obama. Alt-country’ artists, like  Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and Iris Dement, along with mainstream country artists, such as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers and newer artists, prefer to express progressive values in lyrics instead of public statements. It’s more about using the music to win hearts and minds.

California Here Trump Comes, With Bad Intent

As a transplanted Georgia Cracker who now lives in California, I am acutely aware of the low mutual esteem between the President of the United States and the citizens of the nation’s largest state. So his impending trip to California led me to explain it all at New York.

For a president who managed to spend $13.5 million on travel in one year, Donald Trump actually doesn’t get out that much. As the reigning expert on the subject explains, his travel is mostly limited and predictable. He mostly travels to his other homes:

“’He seems to be traveling a lot, but so much of it seems to be traveling to second homes,’ said Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who tracks presidential travel.”

If you expand the definition of “second homes” to hotels he owns, then that covers an awful lot of his travel:

“Except for foreign trips, Trump has spent only one night of his presidency at a hotel he didn’t own. Last August, he slept in Phoenix after a rally before leaving for Reno the next morning.”

While Trump has certainly had the means throughout his life to develop and indulge sophisticated travel tastes, his habits as president are more in keeping with the persona he’s developed as a salt-of-the-earth dude whose interests beyond work are limited to golf, rasslin’ matches, beauty pageants and the occasional white nationalist rally. As the expert Doherty put it: “He seems to like to go places where he’s already very popular or is likely to get a raucous welcome.”

These precedents are freshly relevant as Trump prepares for his first trip to California next week. It’s notable for a couple of reasons. First of all, this is the latest in a presidency that a POTUS has ventured into California since FDR. Back then, of course, presidential trips to the West Coast involved long train trips, not quick flights. And California was not what it is now: a demographic, economic, and political behemoth. From a political perspective alone, the state has 55 electoral votes, a big batch of competitive House districts, and a vast number of campaign donors that give it a reputation as a “political ATM.”

The state also has a reputation, however, as a bastion of the Resistance, and a place where Trump is profoundly unpopular. His trip does not seem well designed to change that perception:

“Sources familiar with Trump’s plans say he is expected to visit California to the US-Mexico border to look at border wall prototypes in the San Diego area.”

Trump critics in California are referring to the trip sardonically as a “border wall hallucination tour.” And hallucination or not, a border wall is not an idea Californians like: a survey last fall showed them disapproving of it by a 73/24 margin. So why is Trump rubbing their noses in it?

This seems to be part of an administration-wide effort to treat the nation’s largest state not as an object of loving persuasion but as a target, and as a demon-figure for the edification and excitement of people in Trump Country. Here’s how CNN sums it up:

“President Donald Trump and his administration have very much tied his political efforts to California by essentially declaring a policy war on the Golden State. On immigration, legalized marijuana, climate change and more, California is the chief policy foil of the White House.”

That strategy was underlined earlier this week when the attorney general of the United States chose to travel to Sacramento to shriek at state officials and the mayor of Oakland about California’s “sanctuary” policies that let local law-enforcement officials choose to limit cooperation with ICE.

Now the idea of California being the source of all evil is hardly novel in the annals of conservative agitprop, at least since the GOP lost its grip on the state in the 21st century. With the state’s economy booming and the state’s budget in balance, it’s not as easy as it used to be to claim the place is one big dystopia. But on the cultural front, there’s always an audience for those who claim California is a hellscape of hippies and sodomites and snooty Hollywood and Silicon Valley elites and illegal aliens, all plotting to destroy the American Dream.

It’s not entirely clear how California Republicans feel about their state becoming a comprehensive punching bag for their administration in Washington. Some represent constituencies that don’t like hippies or immigrants much more than Trump does. But all in all, it can’t be helpful for them that POTUS and his representatives only come to California to attack it.

Vanden Heuval: Why the Democratic Party Must Make More Room for Progressives

In her Washington Post column, “Democratic Party establishment, it’s time to respect insurgent progressives,” Katrina vanden Heuval makes a persuasive case that “when insurgent forces are mobilized and a new progressive infrastructure is beginning to rise, Democrats should not revive a doomed strategy of excessive caution and deference to the permanent consultant class.”

Citing “genuine reasons for optimism” even in Texas, including “a huge enthusiasm gap in favor of Democrats,” a doubling of the 2014 turnout rate and “a new state record for early voting in a non-presidential election,” vanden Heuval notes that polls indicate that Democrats now have a realisic chance to pick up three House seats, as well as electing progressive Beto O’Rourke to the Senate. Further,

These chances for flipping seats aren’t unique to Texas. Across the country, including states and districts that Democrats have written off in prior elections, sustained grass-roots energy is boosting the party’s prospects. Yet there is also serious cause for concern, as some Democrats seem intent on sapping that energy in an attempt to reassert control of the party.

In late February, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ official campaign arm, infuriated progressives by clumsily inserting itself in the primary in Texas’s 7th Congressional District. Although it’s not unusual for party committees to pick sides in primaries, the DCCC took the extraordinary step of publishing opposition research against Laura Moser, a progressive, pro-choice woman who has been a leader in the resistance to Trump. In 2017, Moser drew national attention when she created Daily Action, which enables subscribers to receive a text message every morning with a political action to take that day. But the DCCC disingenuously condemned Moser as a “Washington insider,” a particularly rich attack considering the source.

The cheap hit revealed how actual Washington insiders often work in the shadows to undermine progressives. The Intercept recently highlighted a number of primary races in which the DCCC and allied groups have taken sides based on wrongheaded views of candidates’ viability that largely come down to their ability to raise money. Also disheartening is that there are several cases of Democratic women attempting to thwart strong female candidates whose opponents are less progressive but more connected to donors. There is evidence suggesting that Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice women, has endorsed candidates (including one of Moser’s primary rivals) on the strength not of their progressive values but of their fundraising potential.

Tensions between the party and the progressive movement are threatening to bleed beyond this year’s midterms into the 2020 presidential race. Democratic National Committee members met last week to discuss proposed changes recommended by the Unity Reform Commission that was formed in the wake of the 2016 primary to make the nomination process more open, fair and inclusive of insurgent campaigns and their supporters. A vote on the proposals could come as early as this week, but there is a sense among those close to the debate that the party is unlikely to embrace the sweeping reforms that progressives are pushing for.

Vanden Heuval concludes with a warning that Democrats “may well never win in Texas or other similar places by quashing the passion of those who have been roused in this past year.”

Considering the divisive fallout in the wake of the DNC’s bias favoring Clinton over Sanders in 2016, the DCCC’s meddling in the Texas Democratic primary could prove costly in November if the Republicans hold these districts and Cruz’s senate seat by close margins. The same goes for other states.

There are compelling reasons why the  DNC, DSCC and the DCCC and other party institutions at the national and local levels would be wise to avoid taking sides in the primaries. There are plenty of other vehicles for supporting specific candidates for those who feel strongly about taking sides. But tainting the integrity of Democratic Party institutions by favoring candidates over other Democrats in primaries is a bad practice that is poised to backfire, perhaps in a big way. Neutrality in primaries is the safest bet for the DNC, DSCC and DCCC.

Trump Takes Republicans Back to Their Protectionist Heritage

As the debate over the president’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports raged, I though it was important to give the subject a bit more historical perspective. So I did so at New York:

A lot of the pushback the president is getting on his decision to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports suggests he is violating Republican economic policy orthodoxy. Here’s just one example from Russell Berman:

“The hastily arranged announcement horrified the veteran free-traders who lead the GOP in Congress: not only House Speaker Paul Ryan, but also the chairmen of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over trade, Kevin Brady of Texas and Orrin Hatch of Utah, respectively. Trump has rebuffed the efforts by Republican lawmakers and some of his own advisers to slow his drive for tariffs, and GOP leaders appear to lack either the will or the votes in Congress to block him legislatively.”

Yes, Republicans have recently been the party of free-traders, more or less. But as the paleoconservative Pat Buchanan reminds them, there’s an older tradition in the GOP to which Trump is entirely faithful:

“From Lincoln to William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt, and from Warren Harding through Calvin Coolidge, the Republican Party erected the most awesome manufacturing machine the world had ever seen.

“And, as the party of high tariffs through those seven decades, the GOP was rewarded by becoming America’s Party.”

Buchanan is right. Certainly in the late 19th century the GOP was defined as the party of protectionism as much as it was identified with any other issue position. It was the great cause to which Benjamin Harrison devoted his career. William McKinley proudly put his name on the very high-tariff measure that Harrison signed into law. And McKinley’s successor Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Thank God I’m not a free-trader!” This was a policy tradition, moreover, that could be easily traced back to the GOP’s Whig ancestors and ultimately to Andrew Hamilton.

And Democrats were very much the party of free trade, at least from the days of Martin Van Buren. (Trump’s hero Jackson was not a free-trader in any systematic sense.) Tariffs were the key question separating the two parties in those close elections that capped the 19th century. But beyond that every single Democratic president since Van Buren has made lowering trade barriers a priority. That includes the last several Democrats in the White House; this is not an issue, like civil rights or economic regulation, where the two parties just exchanged positions in the 20th century, with “free trade” being a conservative position. FDR was perhaps the most rigorous free-trader ever, insisting on unilateral trade concessions to Western Europe after World War II. Going back further, the famous populist William Jennings Bryan was a big-time free-trader, too.

Republicans never completely stamped out their protectionist heritage, though market-based and internationalist trade policies became part of the anti-communist consensus after World War II. Recent GOP presidents from Nixon to George W. Bush found it necessary to impose the occasional retaliatory measure on imports affecting vulnerable and politically sensitive sectors like textiles and steel.

But when you listen to Trump talk about trade and tariffs, it’s clear that protectionism is at the center of his understanding of economic policy, not the periphery. I noticed this in June of 2016, when he had nailed down his party’s presidential nomination and was pulling no punches, going “high protectionist” in a speech in the ever-tariff-friendly state of Pennsylvania. Here’s a sample:

“Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization — moving our jobs, our wealth, and our factories to Mexico and overseas. Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.

“When subsidized foreign steel is dumped into our markets, threatening our factories, the politicians do nothing.

“For years, they watched on the sidelines as our jobs vanished and our communities were plunged into depression-level unemployment. Many of these areas have still never recovered.”

This isn’t the language of a pol who just thinks trade negotiators haven’t been tough or smart enough. He objects to the very idea that economic globalization is or can be a good thing. So why wouldn’t he be perfectly happy with restricting trade?

The big question economically is whether Trump’s new tariffs, which aren’t a huge thing in themselves, have a spiraling effect on other country’s policies and on global investment markets. But the big question politically is whether Republican pols and opinion-leaders follow him down this path, as they have done on so many other matters.

Democrats have their own sorting-out to do on trade policy; “free trade” is now an unsavory term for most of them, and even Hillary Clinton abandoned Barack Obama’s trade agenda in 2016. But it’s important for them to understand the back-to-the-future trend in the GOP.

Political Strategy Notes

Some hopeful and sobering numbers from the Texas primary, flagged in Alex Seitz-Wald’s post, “Democrats hope biggest Texas midterm primary turnout in 15 years starts national wave” at nbcnews.com: “Democratic turnout was up 84 percent from the last midterm primary, in 2014, while Republican turnout increased about 14 percent, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. GOP turnout was the highest since the 2010 midterm…It also was a big night for female candidates — more than half of the nearly 50 women running won their primaries or advanced outright to runoffs in May, the Associated Press reported…Republicans still easily outnumbered Democrats at the polls on Tuesday and in early voting — 1.54 million to 1.04 million — underscoring just how difficult it will be for Democrats to take the country’s second-largest state, even in what is shaping up as a strong year for the party.” But the GOP edge doesn’t mean that Dems can’t pick off a couple of House seats.

Also at nbcnews.com, David Wasserman’s “Is Texas turning purple? A look at the midterm numbers” put it this way: “With nearly all votes counted, total votes cast in the Democratic primary surged 85 percent over 2014’s tally, compared to a 14 percent increase on the GOP side. However, the Republican primary still accounted for 60 percent of all primary turnout…Democrats’ enthusiasm gains over 2014 and 2010 were especially pronounced in wealthy inner suburbs of Houston and Dallas, where Trump is uniquely unpopular. That’s good news for Democrats’ hopes of unseating GOP Reps. John Culberson and Pete Sessions, neither of whom have faced competitive races this decade. Their districts handily voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but in a surprise, Hillary Clinton narrowly carried both districts in 2016…And Democrats’ new Senate nominee, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a former punk rocker who represents El Paso, showed he still has work to do to consolidate his own party before he faces Cruz. He demonstrated far less appeal among his own party’s voters in places like Beaumont (34 percent), Laredo (42 percent) and Dallas (58 percent) than he did in liberal Austin (87 percent).”

Emily Gooden and Rachel Scott report that “National Democrats stick with aggressive primary strategy despite Texas results,” a policy that many feel hurts Democratic hopes for unity in November. Regarding the DCCC opposition to Laura Moser in the  Democratic primary for TX-7, Scott and Gooden write, “National Democrats are vowing to stick with their strategy of aggressive involvement in primary elections, even after their interference in a Texas House race seemed to boost the candidate they came out against – setting up more potential battles in advance of the May run-off…And while parties have interfered in primaries in the past to help ensure the candidate they see as the strongest to win in November becomes the nominee, the public way the DCCC stepped into the Texas race caused concern.”

NYT’s Michael Tackett reports that “Blue-Collar Trump Voters Are Shrugging at Their Tax Cuts,” and notes that “The white working-class voters in the industrial Midwest who helped put Mr. Trump in the White House are now seeing the extra cash from the tax cut, the president’s signature domestic policy achievement and the foundation for Republican election hopes in November…But the result has hardly been a windfall, economically or politically. Other workers described their increase as enough for a week’s worth of gas or a couple of gallons of milk, with an additional $40 in a paycheck every two weeks on the high side to $2 a week on the low. Few are complaining, but the working class here is not feeling flush with newfound wealth.”

In his syndicated NYT column, Nobel Prize for Economics laureate Paul Krugman weigh’s in on Trump’s trade war: “It’s true that trade deficits can be a problem when the economy is depressed and unemployment is high. That’s why I, like many other economists, wanted us to take a tougher stance on Chinese currency policy back in 2010, when we had around 9 percent unemployment. But the case for worrying about trade deficits, like the case for running budget deficits, has largely evaporated now that unemployment is back to 4 percent…So we can’t “win” a trade war…A cycle of retaliation would shrink overall world trade, making the world as a whole, America very much included, poorer. Perhaps even more important in the near term, it would be highly disruptive…..Never mind the net loss of jobs from a full-scale trade war, which would in the end probably be a relatively small number. The point instead is that the gross job losses would be huge, as millions of workers would be forced to change jobs, move to new places, and more. And many of them would suffer losses on the way that they would never get back. Oh, and companies on the losing end would lose trillions in stock value. So the idea that a trade war would be “good” and “easy to win” is surpassingly stupid.”

From Kyle Kondik’s “House 2018: 26 Ratings Changes, All in Favor of Democrats at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “In addition to that ratings change, we are making 25 other changes in the House, all in favor of Democrats…No Democratic incumbent is now rated worse than Likely Democratic, a nod to the reality that in a Democratic-leaning environment it will be difficult for Republicans to dislodge many or perhaps even any Democratic incumbents, though there are a handful of Democratic open seats that are more viable Republican targets…Despite all these changes, we still think the odds of a House flip are only about 50-50, although those odds are probably generous to Republicans at this point. But we’re also cognizant of the fact that there’s still a long way to go…the expanding battlefield also illustrates that the Democrats have the potential to not just win the House, but net a significant number of seats beyond the 24 they need if conditions worsen for the Republicans.”

Tiny hands or no, Rhodes Cook writes about “Donald Trump’s Short Congressional Coattails,” also at the Crystal Ball: “Although Donald Trump is remaking the Republican Party in his image, he had among the shortest coattails of any presidential winner going back to Dwight Eisenhower. In 2016, Trump ran ahead of just 24 of 241 Republican House winners and only five of 22 Republican Senate winners…While more Republican House members are from the South than any other region, Trump’s coattails were longest in the Midwest, where he ran ahead of nine Republican House winners. Trump ran ahead of eight victorious GOP House candidates in the South, and a combined total of seven in the two Democratic bailiwicks, the Northeast and the West…with a Gallup approval rating of just 30% among independents, and barely 5% among Democrats, his role in the 2018 general election looks to be problematic…There is little doubt that the controversial Trump will be the central player of the 2018 campaign. Even while his name is not on the ballot, this year’s elections will offer a highly charged referendum on Trump and his presidency.”

“The biggest threat to Democrats in the 2018 election may be the risk of repeating their biggest mistake in the 2016 election,” Ronald Brownstein explains at The Atlantic. “That mistake was Hillary Clinton’s decision to focus almost all of her effort on convincing voters that Donald Trump did not share their values, while failing to effectively challenge his promise that he would represent their economic interests. That failure helped Trump win despite exit polls showing about three-fifths of voters doubted he had the experience or temperament to succeed as president…The comparable risk for Democrats this year is that they will be caught in an endless succession of Trump-centered battles—both cultural (guns, immigration) and personal (Russia, White House chaos)—and fail to effectively challenge the GOP claim that its tax-cut plan is benefiting average families. Republicans expect that if voters believe the party is putting more money in their pockets, even many people recoiling from Trump’s performance will still vote to maintain GOP control of Congress.

“Special election results so far this cycle are among the clearest portents of a Democratic wave in November.1 Democrats are beating their usual percentages of the vote not only in special federal elections (i.e., for the U.S. Senate and House), but also in special state legislative elections. All told, after a trio of legislative specials last Tuesday, there have now been 127 special elections in 28 states since President Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.2 In the 95 of those races to pit at least one Democrat against at least one Republican,3 Democrats have outperformed the normal partisan lean4 of their districts by an average of 13.2 percentage points…One pattern that should worry Republicans is that Democrats appear to be running farthest ahead of their presidential candidates in red states. The top nine states on the list all voted for Trump in 2016, while eight of the bottom 12 voted for Clinton. That suggests that Democrats are indeed doing better in the conservative areas where they need to make 2018 inroads.8Specifically, special election results suggest that the white-working-class-heavy Midwest — which broke heavily for Trump in 2016 — may not be lost for Democrats after all. Democrats’ 26.2-point overperformance in Iowa, for instance, may help Democrats pick off two House seats they would probably need for the House majority.” — from “The States Where Democrats Are Overperforming Most — And Least — In Special Elections” by Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight

Biden Turns It On for Conor Lamb, Shows How to Reach Rust Belt Working-Class

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for Democrat Conor Lamb in his race to represent PA-18, amped up the buzz for Biden’s possible 2020 campaign, and provided Democrats with an eloquent, heartfelt rhetorical template for appealing to white working-class voters across the Rust Belt.

Speaking at Robert Morris University Yorktown Hall in Moon Township, PA, Biden showed how Dems that there is a way to reach both blue collar workers and college students with the same appeal. As J.D. Prose writes at the Beaver County Times:

After rallying union workers at the Carpenters Training Center in Collier Township, Biden and Lamb, a Mount Lebanon resident, joined about 750 people packed into a banquet room inside Robert Morris University’s Yorktown Hall residence building on University Boulevard.

“My name is Joe Biden and I’m from Scranton, Pennsylvania … and I work for Conor Lamb,” Biden told the crowd shortly after taking the stage just past 7 p.m.

With a week to go before the March 13 special election, Biden hammered home that Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran, understands western Pennsylvania, middle-class values and would fight to protect the social safety net that Republicans have chipped away at under President Donald Trump.

Saying that Lamb reminds him of his late son Beau, Biden said it is because both served in the military and care about helping people. “It’s always been about the other guy with Conor,” Biden said.

Pointing out that Lamb’s Republican opponent was primed to cut Social Security and Medicare in line with GOP speaker Paul Ryan’s agenda, Biden said Lamb would “throw himself in front of a train before he allows that to happen.”

Calling Lamb a candidate “with real character” and a leader who brings “selfless integrity to public service,” Biden said Lamb reminded him of his late son, “He reminds me of my Beau because with Beau and with Conor, it’s about the other guy,” Biden said,” notes Daniel Uria in his report for U.P.I.  “He believes in hard work, he believes in labor. He’s not afraid to say the word ‘union.”

Lamb also connected with Biden, hailing the former V.P. and native of Scanton, PA as “a leader that everybody likes…who “knows in his bones the struggles” of workers.”

“Biden commended Lamb for withstanding “one of the biggest barrages of negative campaign advertising,” notes Uria. “Why are they so afraid of him?,” asked Biden. “Do you think they’re spending all this money … because they’re fearful he’s going to hurt the middle class? Do you think they give a damn about that?”

Biden also noted a critically-important benefit of a Conor Lamb victory on March 13th:

He also said a win for Lamb –the first Democrat to run in the district since 2012– could cause multiple Republicans to retire….”The impact would be profound. I promise if you if he wins you’re going to see probably another half a dozen Republicans say they’re not running again.”

Republicans who hope to hold Rust Belt seats in the House and Senate have a lot to worry about when Joe Biden shows up for Democrats. The former Veep not only helps individual Democratic campaigns; he shows his party how to connect effectively with working-class voters with heartfelt appeals to their sense of fairness, as well as self-interest. Democratic candidates should pay close attention.

Political Strategy Notes

At FiveThirtyEight.com, Nathaniel Rakich has this to say about Democratic Hopes for picking up a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi as a result of the resignation of Republican Sen. Thad Cochran: “…Cochran’s seat wasn’t scheduled to be up for election until 2020, so we’re looking at another special Senate election in the Deep South. As you might recall, Democrats have had some success with those recently. Like Alabama, a Mississippi special election will be a steep uphill climb for Democrats, but like Alabama, the seat could fall into their hands under the right circumstances. Several things would need to go right for Democrats to snag Cochran’s seat — perhaps a bad Republican candidate and a bad Republican political environment — but the 2018 Senate map offers the party such slim pickings that even a reach like Mississippi opening up counts as a meaningful shift…Under Mississippi law, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint a new senator to take over for Cochran until a special election is held this November (concurrently with the regularly scheduled midterm elections). There is a catch, though: Special elections in Mississippi are nonpartisan; that is, party affiliations aren’t printed on the ballot..In a campaign without party labels (or at least where they aren’t front and center), the lead weight that is a “D” next to one’s name is partially lifted.” Democrats have two strong potential candidates for the Senate seat, Attorney General Jim Hood and Brandon Presley — Elvis’s cousin.

Harry Enten elaborates at CNN: “To start, there is a single digit spread in Trump’s approval and disapproval ratings in the state. A December Mason-Dixon poll gave Trump just a 51% approval rating to a 43% disapproval rating among voters in the state. Gallup’s polling over the course of 2017 among adults in Mississippi put Trump’s approval rating at only 48% to a disapproval rating of 46%…These spreads are far smaller than the spread between Trump and opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election…Even if we use the average generic ballot result, the fundamentals suggest Mississippi could be competitive. The CNN poll indicates it could be very competitive…Remember, Republican Roy Moore was barely ahead of Democrat Doug Jones for a US Senate seat right next door in far more Republican-leaning Alabama even before he was accused of sexual abuse. A bad candidate in Mississippi could face the same problems.”

““Should the administration opt to move forward with tariffs on steel and aluminum, American manufacturers, businesses and consumers would be forced to bear the brunt, paying more for steel and steel products,” said Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the primary authors of the tax overhaul that’s central to the GOP’s reelection effort. “Such action could very well undercut the benefits of the pro-growth tax reform we fought to get on the books…Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called Trump’s proposed tariffs a “huge job-killing tax hike.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said it will “kill American jobs.” And even Trump allies Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore argued in a Saturday CNBC op-ed that “even if tariffs save every one of the 140,000 or so steel jobs in America, it puts at risk 5 million manufacturing and related jobs in industries that use steel.” — from “GOP fears midterm backlash from Trump’s tariffs: The clash suggests that what might be good politics for Trump might not work for the entire party”  by Rachel Bade and Burgess Everett at Politico.

Good news from the keystone state: “A new Emerson College survey reports that Democrat Conor Lamb is now out in front on Republican state Sen. Rick Saccone, ahead of next week’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District. This is the first poll showing him in the lead,” reports Eric Boehlert at ShareBlue: “Lamb, a former Marine and prosecutor, leads Saccone 48 percent to 45 percent, in the closely watched contest. The poll finds that Lamb’s supporters are more enthusiastic about the election, and Lamb enjoys a higher favorable rating than his Republican opponent…All of this is rather shocking, given how deeply red the district has been in recent years. And if Lamb and the Democratic Party pull off an upset win next Tuesday, it would likely point to a political tsunami in November that could bury Trump and Republicans.”

I’m liking the opening graphs of “Texas kicks off crowded Democratic primary with enthusiasm and meddling” by David Weigel and Sean Sullivan in the Washington Post: “The congressional primary season kicks off Tuesday with the Democratic Party facing an unexpected question: Do they have too much of a good thing?..Emboldened by widespread anger with President Trump and wins in gubernatorial and Senate races last year, record numbers of Democrats are running for Congress. While this cascade of candidates reflects the high level of enthusiasm in the party out of power, it has deepened divisions, stoked fresh rivalries and prompted meddling by Democratic officials that has fueled controversy.” Sullivan and Weigel add a little later, ““The good news is that energy is not a problem,” said former congressman Steve Israel of New York, who chaired the House Democratic campaign arm. “The bad news is you’re trying to manage the energy of a nuclear weapon — there’s so much of it.”” In other words, there is overflowing positive energy for change pouring out of the Donkey Party and it’s record number of midterm candidates at this political moment, in stark contrast to the constipated bickering in the GOP about whether or not they should allow the NRA, an  out-of-control chief executive and Russian meddling in U.S. politics to tank their congressional majorities. For Dems, it sounds more like a recipe for a blue wave than a problem.

Paul Waldman addresses the point in his post, “Stop wringing your hands about the battles among Democrats” at The Plum Line: “A number of incumbent Democrats are being targeted with primaries from the left. And this development is being widely seen through the prism of the Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton primary fight, with some wringing their hands about how the left is becoming the new tea party and about how destructive this will be to the Democrats’ chances…The GOP has now locked itself into a version of angry white identity politics that may have prevailed in 2016 but will be increasingly unhelpful with each passing year…In other words, the tea party struggled to find the right balance between ideology and practicality, because it convinced itself that maximalism was always the best strategy. At the moment it looks like Democrats are steering a more pragmatic course. It might leave them with a few more moderates in their caucus next year, which could make opposing Trump more complicated. But it could also help them win the House — which would make it all worth it.”

Not to get too giddy about Democratic prospects in Texas — it is Texas, after all. But do check out “What to watch for in Tuesday’s Texas primaries” at cbsnews.com, which notes that,  Dems have strong candidates running for the Democratic nomination in three congressional districts, TX-7, 23 and 32 — in addition to the rising excitement Rep. Beto O’Rourke U.S. Senate candidacy is generating. Regardless of the outcome, starting tomorrow Dems will have four attractive candidates running in Texas, and much more  vitality than was the case in the previous midterm election.

If you think the gun safety movement is fading away as an issue that can give Dems an edge in the midterm elections, better think again. As Ed O’Keefe notes at PowerPost, quoting Sen. Chris Murphy’s comments at a meeting he organized to shape Democratic strategy for reducing gun violence: “Not every Democrat will run on banning assault weapons, but every Democrat should be running on background checks,” Murphy said. “Background checks is popular in every state and every congressional district. It’s a loser for Republicans everywhere. This is a universal political issue for Democrats — background checks is.: O’Keefe adds, “A congressional aide who attended the meeting said that Democrats believe that “we’re in a new period in the fight against gun violence, and this meeting was to recognize that the movement must approach elections with one voice. In order to beat the gun lobby, we need to be well funded, energized and united.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal adds, ““Never before has there been this kind of conversation so soon after a mass shooting — in a sense, it marks the emerging power of these grass-roots groups…We’re looking to them for their networks and organization.” And if Democratic candidates can tap into the emotional power represented in this cartoon in their comments and soundbites, the gun safety movement could get some significant traction come November.

At The New York Times, Farah Stockman has an excellent report on “How College Campuses Are Trying to Tap Students’ Voting Power,” which explains “It’s exciting that colleges are starting to wake up to the role that they should play to teaching people how to be citizens of democracy,” said Robert J. Donahue, associate director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Northwestern University. “Hopefully we’ll live up to the charge and start turning out more active citizens and not just scholars.”..The new emphasis on voting — among a population that tends to vote Democrat — comes as the nation gears up for a high-stakes midterm election. It is unclear whether the efforts to increase student turnout will impact the nation’s political map. Among the students who vote, many cast absentee ballots for districts where they grew up…But about three dozen House races considered competitive this year were won in 2016 by margins smaller than the number of college students living in the district…Young people who do vote tend to favor Democrats. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 58 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds either identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party…Efforts to bolster student turnout have been aided by a new national study that analyzes voting behavior on campuses across the country…For the first time, schools can get detailed data on how many of their students cast a ballot, either locally or absentee, thanks to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, put out by researchers at Tufts University…Two college athletic conferences have begun giving out trophies to the schools with the highest voter turnout and the most improved turnout, based on the data generated by the Tufts study. A new initiative called the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge offers awards to schools that stand out in civic engagement. And this year, for the first time, Washington Monthly magazine intends to include voter turnout rates in its college rankings.”

Russo: Have Ohio Democrats Learned Anything About the Working Class?

The following article by John Russo, visiting researcher at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, co-author of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown, and co-editor with Sherry Linkon of the blog Working-Class Perspectives, is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

In presidential elections, Ohio has long been a swing state. Its voters supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, then swung right in 2016 to support Donald Trump. On the state level, however, Republicans have dominated for the past two decades. Only partly due to gerrymandering, they have a 12-to-4 advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Democrats hold only nine of the 33 seats in the Ohio Senate and only a third of the 99 seats in the Ohio House. Republicans have also held the governorship for all but four years since 1990. Progressive U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, now seeking his third term, remains the only Democratic candidate to consistently win statewide elections.

Why has the Democratic Party lost so much ground in Ohio? To a large extent, it’s because they have lost the support of white working-class voters.

As in other Rust Belt states, a majority of Ohio voters are white people without college degrees. Fully 55 percent of the state’s voters belong to this demographic, while only 31 percent are white and college educated. In the polling booth, the gap between those with and without higher education has steadily increased, according to pollster Ruy Texiera. To win in Ohio, he argues, Democrats must “find a way to reach hearts and minds among white non-college voters.”

After two decades of losses, you might think that the Ohio Democratic Party would have figured that out. But for the most part, it has not. Instead, the current crop of Democratic candidates has focused on critiques of Trump, Kasich, and the Ohio legislature. They’ve raised concerns about gerrymandering and voter suppression, the opioid crisis, Ohio’s pitiful record on women’s issues, and the almost uniformly bad performance of for-profit charter schools. Valid concerns all, but the Democrats running for office in 2018 have offered almost nothing in the way of concrete economic platforms.


Looks Like Trump Imposed Tariffs To Make Himself Feel Better On a Bad Day

No matter how you feel about the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that the president imposed this week, the way the decision was made and announced has to be concerning to everyone. I wrote about that at New York.

Taking the kind of action the president took this week in imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is a perilous endeavor for multiple reasons. It may impose more economic damage on Americans than it prevents. It arguably violates world trading rules. It invites retaliation. It can be very destabilizing for markets and investors.

And if you happen to be a Republican president, imposing tariffs can upset much of your party’s free-market opinion leaders, business constituencies, and campaign donors.

While Trump’s action should not have surprised anyone who listened to him rant and rave on the campaign trail about Uncle Sucker getting kicked around by trading partners, it’s still unsettling how he made it. As Eric Levitz noted, it seems to have been an “impulsive action” that was made at a time when the elaborate advisory mechanisms set up to guide him on international economic issues were in chaos.

The more we learn about it, the picture gets even worse.

It’s important to understand that under the process laid out under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the domestic legal authority for these new tariffs, Trump had until April 11 to act on the Commerce Department’s recommendations on steel imports, and until April 19 to act on aluminum. He jumped the gun in a big way, trashing the usual procedures for explaining the action to the public, other countries, and various economic players. Why was that? According to NBC News, Trump was freaked out over other, entirely unrelated problems, and basically launched a trade war to make himself feel better. Seriously.

“On Wednesday evening, the president became “unglued,” in the words of one official familiar with the president’s state of mind.

“A trifecta of events had set him off in a way that two officials said they had not seen before: Hope Hicks’ testimony to lawmakers investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, conduct by his embattled attorney general and the treatment of his son-in-law by his chief of staff.

“Trump, the two officials said, was angry and gunning for a fight, and he chose a trade war, spurred on by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, the White House director for trade.”

This culminated in a seat-of-the-pants decision announced at a White House meeting that was advertised as a discussion:

“The Thursday morning meeting did not originally appear on the president’s public schedule. Shortly after it began, reporters were told that Ross had convened a ‘listening’ session at the White House with 15 executives from the steel and aluminum industry.

“Then, an hour later, in an another unexpected move, reporters were invited to the Cabinet room. Without warning, Trump announced on the spot that he was imposing new strict tariffs on imports.

“By Thursday afternoon, the U.S. stock market had fallen and Trump, surrounded by his senior advisers in the Oval Office, was said to be furious.”

And that’s the constant in this whole situation: The president is furious, and someone has to pay.