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 20, 2018

The GOP’s Especially Big Base/Swing Dilemma

Looking at recent polling trends and their relationship to political news, I had a thought that I explained in some detail at New York:

For a while there in January and early February, American politics revolved around phenomena other than the volcanic personality of our president: the effect of the December 2017 GOP tax cuts; positive economic news; the fate of Dreamers; an appropriations battle in which Trump was mostly on the sidelines. Coincidentally or not, both the president and his party had some of their sunniest polling numbers in a long time last month. Trump’s approval rating moved north of 40 percent and stayed there in most assessments, and the double-digit Democratic advantages in the generic congressional ballot that grew common in December were more than halved overall. One highly publicized poll from Morning Consult in early February had Republicans actually moving ahead.

But as Eric Levitz recently observed, the Democratic “polling panic” has now subsided, with the generic ballot numbers moving back toward the robust advantages for the Donkey Party we saw in December. And now it’s becoming clear Trump’s own approval ratings are following the same pattern: In FiveThirtyEight’s averages (which adjust the numbers for established partisan “leans” and also give slightly greater weight to more accurate pollsters), he’s back below 40 percent, where he spent most of 2017.

It’s possible these trends simply reflect a reversion to the mean after a short, atypical moment. But it may be less than coincidental that the end of that moment occurred during a period when Trump was very large if not necessarily in charge.

During the last three weeks, political news has been dominated by fresh evidence of turmoil in the White House (punctuated by the Porter scandal that represented a combo platter of incompetence and insensitivity about domestic violence), new developments in the Mueller investigation, and erratic Trump behavior on Twitter and elsewhere. A particularly dangerous juncture for Trump may have been the Presidents’ Day weekend when he went on an extended Twitter rampage, mostly about the FBI and the Mueller investigation, even as media focused on the Parkland massacre. The jury’s still out on the effect of the president’s personal involvement in the post-massacre debate on gun control, though his steadily increasing investment in the loopy idea of arming teachers doesn’t bode well for him.

If this theory is right, or even half right, we should expect some more short-term deterioration in the president’s approval ratings and the GOP’s standing in the generic ballot. More importantly, it underscores a persistent dilemma for the president’s team. Without question, Trump being Trump is important to the maintenance of maximum excitement within his electoral base, and that is an asset of great importance in relatively low-turnout midterm elections. But if Republicans need the simmering anti-liberal resentments of the MAGA crowd to remain at a near-boiling-point as November approaches, the presidential behavior that most reliably keeps the heat on also appears to repel voters who might be otherwise persuaded to stick with Trump’s party on policy grounds.

How to balance base mobilization and swing-voter persuasion is a perennial puzzle for any political party. But it’s especially complicated when the base glories in the very characteristics of a leader that actually frighten others. If Republicans become convinced that revving up the base is the only thing they care about in this midterm election cycle, they won’t have to do a whole lot to encourage Trump to go absolutely wild for weeks on end.

Lamb Campaign Ads Spotlight Strategy for Dems Running in Conservative Districts

As Conor Lamb’s race to represent PA-18 enters the final two weeks, Democrats have reason to be encouraged that the template he is forging could provide the edge they need to flip majority control of the House of Representatives. A quick peek at some of the entries in the #PA-18 twitter page captures  the tone and the excitement mojo Lamb’s campaign is creating for the March 13th special election in Pittsburg’s working-class suburbs:

Damn, @ConorLambPA is killing this debate. I honestly think Dems are going to pull off a #PA18 win on March 13th. Also, Rick Saccone gives off a creepy, Roy Moore vibe.https://t.co/BNSsKP8GCY

— William LeGate (@williamlegate) February 20, 2018

From the Mt. Lebanon Democratic Committee meeting tonight: “Out with the lyin, In with the Lamb.” #PA18 pic.twitter.com/OH4vlsELni

— Conor Lamb (@ConorLambPA) February 24, 2018

An attack on any union is an attack on all unions. Rallying & marching with organized labor today because when unions are under attack, we #RiseUp, we stand together & we fight back. #PA18pic.twitter.com/REDMXKh4DN

— Conor Lamb (@ConorLambPA) February 26, 2018

A new TV ad by Patriot Majority PAC, which favors Lamb, takes no prisoners in addressing the shady record of Lamb’s Republican opponent, Rick Saccone. A transcription from the ad:

“Conor Lamb is a Marine and former prosecutor, with a proven record of putting drug dealers behind bars, who will work to create good paying jobs, make healthcare more affordable, and protect Medicare and Social Security,” said Craig Varoga, president of Patriot Majority PAC and a Pittsburgh native. “Whereas Rick Saccone has allowed lobbyists to pay for lavish meals for himself and billed Pennsylvania taxpayers $435,172 in questionable expenses, all on top of an $87,180 annual salary. Case closed.”

Here’s how the ad rolls:

 Republican ads attacking Lamb have tried to portray him as just another Democrat who would do the bidding of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who seems to be the GOP’s boogeywoman for 2018. This is a very tough sell because “Lamb has pledged not to support the 77-year-old former speaker for another term as her party’s House leader and casts Saccone as the real lackey in the race, certain to cut Social Security and Medicare,” reports AP’s Bill Barrow.

But the Lamb campaign has some catching up to do in order to remain competitive with their opponent, according to David Weigel, writing at PowerPost:

…When outside groups are added to the mix, the count shows 743 more ads for the Republican than for Lamb. Ending Spending Action Fund, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee have all spent seven figures on the race, totaling more than $7 million for Saccone; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $224,000 on TV ads but has been off the air since last week.

Lamb has also repeatedly outed Saccone as a toady for Republican Speaker Paul Ryan. “Not only does he support Paul Ryan,” notes Lamb, “his entire campaign is being funded by him, and all of his ideas come out of Paul Ryan’s book.”

Lamb is clearly building momentum, and recent polling indicates that the race is in toss-up territory, according to the Cook Political Report — an impressive achievement in a district that Trump won by 20 points.

Lamb Campaign in PA-18 Special Election Tests Democratic Rust Belt Strategy

In her vox.com article “A Democrat getting outspent 17-1 is now neck and neck in deep-red Pennsylvania: “It’s enthusiasm I haven’t seen for a Democratic candidate for a long time” Ella Nilsen provides an update on Conor Lamb’s campaign. As Nilsen explains,

For the first time in nearly 15 years, Republicans in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District are starting to get nervous…On its face, the March 13 special congressional election in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania should be a breeze for the GOP. The Cook Political Report rates the district R+11 (due in part to partisan gerrymandering that the state Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional).

…Focused on recapturing blue-collar workers, Lamb’s campaign represents one school of thought — going back to labor-liberal economic values and working with unions to retake territory in Midwest and Rust Belt states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Others say the party must look to its future: voters of color and young people who represent its energized base, like it did to pull out a win for Doug Jones in Alabama’s December special election for US Senate.

Yet, “Republican and Democratic operatives in Pennsylvania agree on two things,” writes Nilsen. “Lamb is still very much the underdog in this race, but by getting support from unions that used to back Murphy and capitalizing on national Democratic enthusiasm, he has a fighting chance.” Also,

A recent Monmouth poll shows the Republican with a slight lead, hovering around 49 percent to 46 percent (models with lower turnout give Saccone a slightly larger lead). Given the steep odds, these numbers are extremely good for Lamb,” who is getting high marks for generating voter enthusiasm, while worried Republicans afre pouring money into defeating Lamb.

As for Lamb’s focus on key issues, Nilsen writes that Lamb’s platform addresses “jobs, protecting entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, organized labor, and helping end the heroin crisis currently ravaging the state…A practicing Catholic, he says that while he personally opposes abortion, he supports Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. As a veteran, he is also pro-Second Amendment.”

If Lamb has an edge going forward, it is likely from his strong support from labor unions. PA-18 includes 87,000 union members, including “energy workers,” building trades and teachers. Also, “Steelworkers are active, and although the district’s last coal mine recently closed down, tens of thousands of retired union coal workers and their spouses remain in the area.” According estimates, they could make up 20 to 30 percent of the electorate.

Lamb’s campaign is doing well in fund-raising. But so far Republicans have spent an estimated $4.7 on TV and radio ads, compared to the Lamb campaign’s $300K. Those who want to help the Democrat level the playing field can contribute to his campaign here.

Political Strategy Notes

In her  CNN Money article, “More than a dozen businesses ran away from the NRA. How it went down,” Jackie Wattles names some of the companies who have bailed out of the NRA’s programs as a result of public disgust with the Association’s opposition to gun safety reforms in the wake of the Douglas High  School massacre in Lakeland. The companies include: The First National Bank of Omaha; Enterprise Rent-A-Car; Alamo Rent a Car; National Car Rental; Avis; Budget Rent-a-car; Hertz; Symantec; Metlife; SimpliSafe; Allied; North American; True Car; Delta Airlines; United Airlines; Paramount RX ; and Starkey. Sometimes economic withdrawall by companies and individuals can get significant results for progressives faster than politicians.

However, warn Eric Lipton and Alexander Burns at The New York Times, “The organization’s political action committee over the last decade has not made a single direct contribution to any current member of the Florida House or Senate, according to campaign finance records…In Florida and other states across the country, as well as on Capitol Hill, the N.R.A. derives its political influence instead from a muscular electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls…The N.R.A., through its various legal entities, raises money for its political and lobbying efforts and other activities from two primary sources: member dues and contributions from outside supporters, including gun makers like Smith & Wesson and political groups like Freedom Partners, the Koch family-backed organization.”

At PostEverything, Bradley University Poly Sci assistant professor  Edward Burmila writes, “…Surveys show that some basic gun-control measures are overwhelmingly popular. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday, 77 percent of respondents said President Trump and Congress aren’t doing enough to stop mass shootings. A Quinnipiac University pollreleased Tuesday found that 66 percent of voters “support stricter gun laws,” 67 percent support “a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons,” 83 percent support a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases, and an overwhelming 97 percent want universal background checks…Gun-control proponents are already starting from behind. But their odds of changing the political calculus on this issue will improve if they can sustain the intensity of the last several days over the next several weeks, months and years. Their planned March rally has to be big. They have to increase voter registration and turnout. They have to call legislators’ offices — all with the message that in upcoming elections there will be more voters for whom guns are a dealbreaker.”

At The Hill, Jonathan Easley also notes, “A strong majority of voters support banning the kind of semi-automatic rifle that was used earlier this month in a massacre at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead…According to the latest Harvard CAPS-Harris survey, 61 percent say that the AR-15 should be banned from purchase, compared to 39 percent who say that adults who pass background checks should be able to purchase them.”

And Madison Pauley writes at Mother Jones that “A New Poll Shows a Dramatic Change in How Americans View Gun Control: The Parkland shooting appears to have shifted public opinion in a big way.” Among the revealings stats: “63 percent of voters believe AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons should be banned…61 percent believe tightening gun laws and background checks would prevent more mass shootings…76 percent believe people who have received treatment for a mental illness should be banned from owning guns.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. laments the death of genuine conservatism in the GOP: “Encouraging responsibility in the sale and use of firearms would seem to be a thoroughly conservative cause, an effort to maintain order and protect the innocent from violence. But the National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful forces within the Republican Party and the conservative movement. It uses paranoid rhetoric and incendiary attacks on its foes to justify riotously permissive firearms policies that no other democratic republic would dream of adopting…Shamefully, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s top gun who is increasingly becoming America’s extremist in chief, showed few signs of being moved by the slaughter of high school students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. On the contrary, he had the impudence to say that those who think it’s time for some modest reforms in our weapons statutes were “saboteurs” and “socialists” using the deaths of young people to forward a dangerous agenda.”

“Democrats once again hold a wide advantage in a generic congressional matchup, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, backed by a base of supporters who are more enthusiastic than Republican partisans and more motivated by core issues,” reports Jennifer Agiesta at CNN Politics. “The poll finds 54% of registered voters say they back a Democrat in their congressional district, 38% say they back a Republican. That’s a shift in favor of the Democrats since January, bringing their advantage in a hypothetical generic matchup to about the same level as early 2006, a year in which the party won control of both the House and the Senate…Health care and gun policy are deemed deeply important by about half of voters (53% and 49%, respectively, call them extremely important), while about four in 10 say they are as motivated by the economy (43%) and immigration (38%). Sexual harassment is a sharp motivator for 36% of voters. Taxes, an issue Republicans have said will move voters as they realize the benefits of the tax changes passed last year, is extremely important for 35%. The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election rounds out the list, with just about a quarter (26%) calling that extremely important to their vote.”

A new poll, conducted by Greenberg Research for the nonprofit RespectAbility, “reveals that more than half of registered voters identify as being a part of the disability community, whether they have a disability themselves, or they have family or close friends with disabilities. And signs point to this sizable population’s support shifting to the Democrats…People with disabilities have on average a more negative opinion of President Donald Trump, and by a 16-point margin favor the Democratic candidate in a generic 2018 congressional ballot. “The biggest negative feelings toward the Republican Congress is among people with disabilities,” said pollster Stan Greenberg during a teleconference briefing on Tuesday. This hasn’t always been the case—in 2014, they broke for the Republicans by 11 points, and were split in 2016. “Something is happening that’s affecting the kind of even split, the swing-voter status of people with disabilities,” Greenberg added.” – from The Overlooked Electoral Power of Voters with Disabilities at Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog, by Amanda Teuscher.

Jonathan Rausch and Benjamin Wittes explain at The Atlantic why conservatives should “Boycott the Republican Party” to save it: “The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to…vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former)…We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period. In other words, under certain peculiar and deeply regrettable circumstances, sophisticated, independent-minded voters need to act as if they were dumb-ass partisans.”

Drew: Why Dems May Not Need a Message

In her New Republic article, “Do Democrats Really Need a Message?, Elizabeth Drew explains “How a fixation on messaging could harm Democrats as they head into the 2018 midterms.”

“The lamentations on the part of numerous political observers that the Democrats lack “a message” are becoming more frequent with the advent of the midterm elections,” Drew writes. “But they don’t comport with reality, even though many Democrats also express the same worry.”

Drew argues that “message discipline isn’t particularly characteristic of the Democrats, as opposed to the Republicans, who are more homogeneous and hierarchical.” She cites the “ideological and regional differences within the Democratic Party, ranging from the very liberal left to centrists” and the recent example of the “split among the Senate Democrats over immigration strategy.” Further, adds Drew,

It’s a lot easier to convey party cohesion in a presidential election year, when there exist an actual head of the party and a platform. (An exception to this general point is Newt Gingrich’s poll-tested “Contract with America,” which served as a party doctrine for the House Republicans in 1994.) But even when the Democrats have a presidential candidate there are limits to their cohesion. Ours isn’t a parliamentary system where voting is largely done along party lines, as is the voting of the members once they’re elected. Our elections are more based on the individual candidates than on their party identity. Indeed a candidate’s biography could well be his or her platform—the message. It could be some kind of an outstanding record: heroic military service or athletic achievement or a famous prosecutorial career, and this can matter a lot more than party identity.

Drew argues that “one positive effect of the lack of a “message” is that it allows a candidate to define his or her own race and to come off as authentic rather than as a party tool,” which is a gift to Republicans, who “specialize in portraying  Democratic candidates as instruments of a party leader who can be stereotyped.”

Drew quotes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), “one of the more authentic figures on Capitol Hill,” who says,

Messaging has become a crutch; it’s like a narcotic. You can bring in your pollster, you can strategize until you’re blue in the face; and you’re inauthentic. You’re placating the public rather than leading. I think the people know the difference…Once you get addicted to the drug, you put your polling ahead of your performance.

“He believes,” Drew writes, “that too often Democrats have walked away from a fight for fear of upsetting some important figure, or don’t want to take on a battle unless they’re sure that they’ll win it. Whitehouse believes that the message comes from taking action, from fighting the good fight, rather than sitting through hours of meetings, studying charts and graphs about the public’s views.”

Drew’s observations about authenticity of individual candidates being more important than some sort of group message makes sense for Democrats, who can leverage their greater message flexibility to win more elections, if they do so boldly and authentically, without straining to conform to a nonexistant group mind. Let the Republicans parrot their meme du jour, which has its advantages in steering media coverage of politics. But if Democratic candidates come off as less regimented than their adversaries and more ‘real,’ that could be an advantage in many races, particularly with voters who distrust rigid ideologues.

The Democratic party does have to “stand for something.” But that’s not the same thing as everyone being in synch on a particular message. Dems should coalesce around the idea that they are the party of working people of all races and give each of their candidates the latitude they need to affirm that image. When that is accomplished, Republican message discipline won’t make much difference.

Partisan Gerrymandering Is Under Fire

After sorting through the various controversies over partisan gerrymandering, I wrote an analysis of how redistricting reform is changing for New York.

The recent decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn and redraw a congressional map it deemed an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by the GOP-controlled legislature illustrates a big and important trend in efforts to provide fair redistricting, just before a new decennial cycle begins.

Public (and sometimes judicial) opinion has long been scandalized by the common practice of partisan gerrymandering (particularly when it comes to state legislators drawing their own districts). But until quite recently, the focus of redistricting reform was on who drew the maps and what they looked like to the untrained eye. It’s not surprising that the most prominent national redistricting reform initiative has long been legislation developed by former Tennessee congressman John Tanner (reintroduced regularly after his 2010 retirement by Tennessee colleagues).

The Tanner bill would require that redistricting decisions be made by independent commissions whose members are appointed by the legislatures with formal responsibility for drawing maps. It also requires that the commissions to respect wherever possible what are generally called “traditional redistricting principles” such as compact and contiguous districts. This latter guideline was meant to avoid the unsightly lashed-together districts that gave “gerrymandering” (identified with early 19th-century Massachusetts pol Elbridge Gerry, who was complicit in drawing a district that looked like a salamander) its very name.

Despite the perennial popularity in good government circles of Tanner-style redistricting reform, its limitations have also become obvious. Thirteen states currently deploy some kind of independent redistricting body with responsibility for redistricting (though six of them do not handle congressional maps). But to the extent that members are appointed by partisan pols, their “independence” is perpetually suspect.

It’s also increasingly clear that the finely grained data available to map-drawers, which they can manipulate via sophisticated software, has made “traditional redistricting principles” less effective in combating gerrymanders. The Pennsylvania case in the news right now provides a great illustration: After the state Supreme Court told the legislature to come up with a new congressional map that was less partisan and also less disruptive of traditional redistricting principles, the solons promptly came up with a map that looked a lot neater and nicer but was just as partisan as the original.

So the Pennsylvania court emulated a federal district court in Wisconsin in looking beyond the usual considerations and challenging partisan gerrymanders not for how they were devised but for their partisan impact. And like that Wisconsin federal court, the Pennsylvania state court relied on new measurements of partisanship — notably a social science tool called “efficiency gap” — to measure the effect of partisan gerrymandering and determine an appropriate standard.

That’s why the timing of the Pennsylvania court intervention is so interesting. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Wisconsin case — and on an alleged Democratic partisan gerrymander in Maryland, which a district court in that state refused to overturn — before the current term’s end in June. And the decision is expected to turn, as is so often the case, on the views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who in the last big gerrymandering case (Vieth v. Jubelirer) back in 2004, fretted over the lack of a workable standard for partisan bias.

“Kennedy was also looking for a “limited and precise rationale … to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases.” He didn’t find one in that case, ruling against Democrats challenging a Republican gerrymander in the state. But he signaled he would be open to striking down extreme partisan gerrymanders if the court could agree on a standard to do so, like in racial gerrymandering cases where it’s possible to prove a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“Voting rights advocates are hoping that time has come.”

Whatever SCOTUS is or is not planning, the Pennsylvania decision is probably a done deal, and could serve as an inspiration to state courts elsewhere with similar state constitutional provisions guaranteeing equal protection of the laws and equal voting rights. Yes, Republicans are trying to get the decision thrown out on grounds that the Pennsylvania judges are usurping the legislature’s U.S. Constitutionally established power over redistricting. But SCOTUS has already rejected an emergency appeal on that basis, and one voting rights expert called the GOP legal effort “the mother of all Hail Marys in terms of its likelihood to succeed.”

And if SCOTUS does rule in favor of the gerrymandering challengers, it could have a large impact on the next round of redistricting due to begin in 2021, whether or not it has the kind of effect on 2018 House races that Democrats hailing the Pennsylvania decision hope for.

Political Strategy Notes

The heat is on in Florida, where informed and articulate high school students are leading protests that have Republican politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott squirming in the headlights as they parrot the NRA party line. As Julie Turkewitz and Alexander Burns report at The New York Times, “In addition to the students amassing in Tallahassee, Democrats in Florida have vowed to make gun control a central campaign issue in 2018, and a national gun-control group is already targeting Mr. Scott with television ads that say he neglected public safety…The developing clash over firearms has the potential to define Florida politics in a critical election year, thrusting the state into the center of a stalemated national debate around gun violence and the Second Amendment. In a politically divided state where the National Rifle Association has held broad influence for decades — every governor for 20 years has been an ally of the group — even fierce supporters of gun rights now believe Republicans cannot afford to seem passive in response to gruesome scenes of violence.”

N.Y. Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney may have just nuked her prospects for re-election with her lame comment that “so many” mass murderers “end up being Democrats.” As Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, ” wrote on Twitter that she “owes America a sincere and abject apology.” And her expected Democratic challenger this year, State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, said in his own Twitter post that her “toxic rhetoric” was “a new low” and that “inserting politics into a national tragedy is beyond the pale & disgusting.” The NY-22 district was already considered a solid pick-up possibility for Democrats. Independents, moderates and Dems who are disgusted by Tenney can contribute to Brindisi’s campaign right here.

Here’s a Brindisi ad for the NY-22 race:

In his PowerPost article “For some Democrats running for Congress, a strategic navigation of gun issues,” Paul Kane notes that a number of Democrats running for House seats this year, including Connor Lamb, Paul Davis, Jeff Van Drew and Jason Crow, are taking cautious stands on gun violence prevention. Kane also quotes Adam Jentleson, a strategist at Democracy Forward, a liberal research group, who says “A tectonic shift is underway on guns. Democrats have tried making nice with the NRA and been burned again and again…More and more Democrats are coming around to seeing that there’s no upside to courting the NRA — they’re going to spend millions casting you as a gun-grabber regardless of your actual position, so what’s the point?”

Conservative apologists for Russian meddling in our elections are all bent out of shape because Twitter is putting an end to giving Russian bots free reign. As Jessica Guynn explains at USA Today, “Fake accounts on Twitter have been traced to a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” accused of inflaming political divisions on hot-button national issues such as gun control after last week’s Florida school shooting. According to researchers at the University of Southern California, conservatives retweeted Russian trolls about 31 times more than liberals and produced 36 times more tweets…An organization that tracks Kremlin-backed Twitter accounts — the Alliance for Securing Democracy — says such influence operations have remained active since the election, serving to amplify disputes bubbling on the Web. On Wednesday, #twitterlockout and #twitterpurge were the top and trending hashtags used by the accounts linked to Russian influence operations tracked by the Alliance’s Hamilton 68 project.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich’s post “The 18 (!) Governorships Democrats Could Pick Up This Year,” includes this observation: “If the much-ballyhooed “blue wave” does materialize this fall, it could be Republican governors who suffer the most losses…The other day, we ran down the seven governorships held by Democrats or independents that could fall to the GOP in November. Today’s list of vulnerable Republican seats is more than twice as long. According to qualitative assessments by nonpartisan handicappers — The Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections,1 — only eight GOP-held governorships are completely safe in 2018.2 That leaves 18 Republican-held governorships in some degree of danger…”

Reasonable people can disagree about whether Rev. Billy Graham was truly nonpartisan, even though he was perceived that way by many, and certainly the mass media. His influence waned substantially in recent years, as he faded from the scene and his politically-strident son, Franklin Graham, became more of a right-wing public figure. But Billy Graham’s death does add a bit of a punctuation mark to the end of the era when most prominent evangelical leaders proclaimed their nonpartisanship and valued a semblance of moral rectitude in the political candidates they supported.

WaPo conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin takes a look at the political moment, and offers this take: “One can look at guns and dreamers as discrete issues, but they can also be seen as issues on which Democrats want to change the status quo, while Republicans would prefer a logjam. The GOP is a prisoner to its anti-immigrant base and to the NRA, both of which would love for nothing to be done on their respective issues. Democrats not only have substantive support for legalizing dreamers and toughening gun laws, but they can make the case that the GOP is thwarting the will of the people and is beholden to special interests. That is a dangerous position for Trump — who promised to shake things up — and his party to be in. By contrast, Democrats need to impress upon voters that they are the problem-solvers and have responsible, concrete solutions. In a midterm election, when the party out of office can capitalize on the White House’s failure to live up to expectations, Democrats have reason to be encouraged.”

Aaron Blake has an amusing peek at Trump’s “empathy deficit” at The Fix. Blake’s article features a photo of Trump’s enumerated notes for his “listening session” with high school students. As Blake notes, “Yep, right there at No. 5 is a talking point about telling those present that he was actually listening to them. After what appear to be four questions he planned to ask those assembled, No. 5 is an apparent reminder for Trump to tell people, “I hear you.”…Even No. 1 is basically a reminder that Trump should empathize. “What would you most want me to know about your experience?” the card reads. So two-fifths of this card is dedicated to making sure the president of the United States assured those assembled that he was interested in what they had to say and their vantage points.”

How Much of Dem Focus Should Be on Russia Probe?

In her pbs.org post,  “Would focusing on Russia probe help or hurt Democrats in the midterms?,” Jessica Yarvin writes:

…Some liberal groups see a danger in Democrats focusing too much of their 2018 messaging on the Russia probe, its ties to the Trump campaign, and issues like corruption in politics.

Priorities USA, another prominent left-leaning group, put out a memo last week arguing that Democrats should stick to an economic and health care-centric message in the months heading into the midterms…“When voters hear the Democratic argument on health care or on taxes and then hear the Republican side, they side with Democrats,” Priorities USA Communications Director Josh Schwerin said.

The group wrote in its memo that its internal polling shows Trump’s approval rating climbed four points since November, from 40 percent to 44 percent. However, specific policies, like the tax law Trump signed late last year, and the GOP’s repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, remain unpopular, the polling shows.

However, writes Yarvin, “In a report released last week, the influential liberal Center for American Progress group outlined several potential ways that Democrats could use the investigation and alleged collusion to their advantage this fall.” Further,

The CAP report cited several instances in which Russian money may have flowed to the Trump Organization through Trump’s business associates, including the real estate developer Felix Sater. Highlighting those connections could help build the case with voters that Trump can’t disentangle his work as president from his global business empire — an issue critics argue raises questions about corruption and conflicts of interest.

There is “a sense of out-of-control sprawling corruption that goes across a wide number of issues,” Jesse Lee, a senior advisor at the Center for American Progress, said in an interview.

The report describes “the fluidity with which Sater has shifted from real estate to geopolitics” and makes the case that “business relationships can be repurposed as pathways to foreign influence.”

There is ample polling data which indicate that corruption is a potent issue for assembling electoral majorities. This was true even before Trump, and it now looks like a huge gift staring Democrats in the face. Democrats also have a range of reforms to address corruption, including:

The report pointed to the DISCLOSE Act, which would ban campaign contributions from American corporations that have at least 20 percent foreign ownership. The bill was first introduced in the House by then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. in 2010. Since then., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has repeatedly introduced the legislation, most recently last July.

Trump’s particular corruption issues, along with the fact that McConnell, Ryan and other GOP leaders  have produced zero reforms to address corruption, remain a glaring political reality. Their inability to enact any anti-corruption legislation whatsoever, despite the GOP’s “trifecta” majority, amplifies the case against Republican-driven corruption.

The Russia probe escalates the Democratic edge on the corruption issue even further. To fail to leverage this advantage would be gross political malpractice, though it should be thoughtfully balanced with other specific campaign issues and tweaked for each electorate.

Teixeira: Yes Trump’s Approval Rating Is Up, No That Doesn’t Mean the Democrats Won’t Succeed in November

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

Trump’s approval rating has clearly gone up in the last month, from a little under 40 percent to a little under 42 percent, according to the 538 composite. That’s not nothing and, all else equal, good for the Republicans. But it doesn’t change much about expectations for the upcoming election, which are still quite poor for the GOP.

Models, of course, disagree on how grim the forecast is for the Republicans, so any given model should not be taken as the last word. But Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction cites a midterm model that illustrates how difficult the situation is for them. The model is a simple one that relies on just Presidential approval and growth in real per capita disposable income (RDI). What it says is this:

[The model] predicts Democrats will pick up 45 to 50 House seats this fall, and take over 15 to 20 state legislative chambers. A loss of just 24 House seats would flip House control to the Democrats….

Most years, this model works fairly well. It predicted Democrats losing 46 House seats in 2010 (they lost 63), and it predicted Republicans losing 40 House seats in 2006 (they lost 31).

You can see in the chart above how this works, with Trump’s approval running a little over 40 percent and RDI growth around 1 percent in the last year. It’s apparent that moving Trump’s approval rating around a little bit at a given level of economic growth does not change the forecast much. Plus Trump’s approval rating have been bouncing around between 37 and 42 percent since early last April  so it’s hard to see the kind of mega-spike that might really change things.

A huge increase in RDI growth seems unlikely also though, of course, anything is possible. But as Masket observes:

Even if RDI growth jumped to 3 percent…the model would still predict Republicans to lose 37 House seats, more than enough to lose control of the chamber, and 14 state legislative chambers.

So the fundamentals don’t look good for Team Red. But it’s just one model so should be treated with caution. After all, there are lots of other factors like the various structural advantages Republicans take into an election like this. But even those have been declining as Nate Cohn has pointed out, knocking a couple of points off of the GOP’s “thumb on the scales”. This includes the effects of anti-gerrymandering court decisions, Democratic fundraising and candidate recruitment and Republican retirements.

It’s a long time ’til election day. But the basic story continues to be a positive one for Democrats, as these data and the results of recent special elections suggest.

Political Strategy Notes

A impressive Democratic candidate for Governor comes forward in Florida:

“Analyses by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence show that, with few exceptions, states with the strictest gun-control measures, including California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, have the lowest rates of gun deaths, while those with the most lax laws like Alabama, Alaska and Louisiana, have the highest…Avery W. Gardiner, a president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that generally, blue states are, not surprisingly, more likely to regulate guns and require background checks and licensing. Conservative red states either lack gun-safety laws or fail to enforce the ones they have.” Ironically, however, the manufacturer of AR-15 rifles is headquartered in Connecticut.  — From “In Wake of Florida Massacre, Gun Control Advocates Look to Connecticut” by New York Times reporters Lisa W. Foderaro and Kristin Hussey.

“Slowly but surely, the considerable structural advantages — like incumbency, geography and gerrymandering — that give the Republicans a chance to survive a so-called wave election are fading, giving Democrats a clearer path to a House majority in November,” notes Nate Cohn at The Upshot. “The Republican advantage has probably dropped by about two percentage points since 2014, when Republicans won the party’s largest House majority since 1929…Since then, four court rulings have softened or even torn up Republican gerrymanders in four big states: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and most recently Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court struck down the congressional map last month…The decisions in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia have already cost the Republicans a net of three House seats while generally eroding their position elsewhere in those states, giving Democrats better opportunities in 2018…Upshot estimates indicate that Democrats would need to win the popular vote by 7.4 points — albeit with a healthy margin of error of plus or minus more than four points — to take the House. Today, most estimates put the generic congressional ballot very near that number. So far from the election, the fight for control remains a tossup.”

In his New York Times column, “Attacking the ‘Woke’ Black Vote,” Charles M. Blow writes of the special counsel’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies for interfering in the 2016 elections, that,  “Referencing actual voter suppression, it says that “in or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate…Just before the election, a senior Trump campaign official told Bloomberg Businessweek, “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” in which Hillary Clinton’s “1996 suggestion that some African-American males are ‘super predators’ is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls — particularly in Florida.” This suppression may well have worked better against black people than other targets.”

In his article, “The kids are all Democrats,” David Faris provides a history lesson about the youth vote in presidential elections since the late 1960s: “…Despite the unpopular war in Vietnam and the swirling cultural revolution, Richard Nixon won under-30 voters in 1972. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter split young voters evenly in 1980, while Reagan and George H.W. Bush crushed it with the young in ’84 and ’88. Bill Clinton carried the youth vote in 1992 and 1996, but then George W. Bush tied Al Gore in 2000 with 18- to 24-year-olds and only barely lost the 25-29 bracket…Something remarkable began happening in 2004, though. That’s the year John Kerry carried the under-30 vote by 9 points. And the next three presidential elections saw Democrats demolishing their opponents with young people by 34, 23, and 19 points…But the data gets worse for Republicans the deeper you dig into it. In 2016 exit polling, for instance, 18- to 24-year-olds went more heavily for Hillary Clinton than their older millennial counterparts, suggesting that, if anything, the Republican position is falling apart with the tail end of the millennial generation.”

Eleanor Clift warns at The Daily Beast, “The Constitution requires that every person—not citizen—living in the United States must be counted every 10 years. Now, a Justice Department request to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census has put the once-in-a-decade count of the American people into the crosshairs of partisan politics…Questions normally undergo years of testing, but common sense says that adding one about citizenship status would have a chilling effect on participation that would lead to an undercount of immigrants and minorities, hurting blue states and urban areas—setting the stage for Republicans to re-draw still more favorable congressional districts…A poorly run census that significantly undercounted immigrants and minorities would be the ultimate in gerrymandering.”

Greg Sargent shares a salient insight at The Plum Line: “If you read through the coverage of the battle over the “dreamers,” you’ll come away with the impression that we are locked in a conventional Washington standoff, in which two opposing sides are each demanding concessions in exchange for making concessions of their own. If a compromise is to be reached, each side hopes to tug it as far in their direction as possible; if not, well, they just couldn’t find a way to meet in the middle, and in true Washington fashion, both sides will then play the “blame game.”…But treating this situation as a normal negotiation fundamentally obscures its profound asymmetry. One side is putting forth genuine good-faith compromise offers that would require concessions by both sides. The other just isn’t doing this at all — instead, they are demanding that they must be given everything they want, while spinning their demands as reasonable in a manner that is absolutely saturated with bad faith from top to bottom…The idea that the tradeoff Republicans want represents the middle-ground, mainstream position in this debate is absurd on its face: a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that only 17 percent of Americans favor cuts to legal immigration, while 81 percent favor legalizing the dreamers. “

“A number of surveys show that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are popular among the general public,” argues Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog. “A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that 68 percent of adults favor banning assault weapons, and 65 percent support a ban on high-capacity magazines…More strikingly, substantial numbers of gun owners supported the measures as well: 48 percent of gun owners in that poll said they would support a ban on assault style weapons, and 44 percent said they favored a ban on high-capacity magazines. A Quinnipiac poll conducted later in the year showed similar numbers.”