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

June 25, 2017

Even in GA-06, Post-Obama African-American Voter Drop-off Is A Problem

In all the coverage of revived Democratic enthusiasm in 2017, Democrats are beginning to realize there is a problem in the party’s most loyal demographic group, African-Americans. I wrote about it this week at New York.

As Ron Brownstein observes after looking at now-available census- and voter-file-based evidence — which is more accurate than the initial exit polls — African-American turnout took a big hit in 2016:

“In 2012, African Americans holding at least a four-year college degree voted at a slightly higher rate than whites with advanced education, and African Americans without degrees turned out at notably higher rates than blue-collar whites. But in 2016, turnout in both categories dropped so sharply that it fell below the levels of college-educated and working-class whites…. In 2016, turnout sagged to about 73 percent among college-educated African Americans (down from nearly 80 percent in 2012) and to about 56 percent among those without degrees (down from over 63 percent in 2016). Overall, the Census data showed turnout among eligible African Americans dropped fully 7 percentage points from 2012 to 2016, the biggest drop over a single election for the group since at least 1980. In the battlegrounds that tipped the election to Trump, state-level Census data show black turnout plummeting in Wisconsin; skidding in North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio; and declining more modestly in Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

The big question is whether this drop-off in African-American voting is the “new normal” — at least until such time, if ever, that a figure as magnetic as Barack Obama is heading up a party ticket. Or was it a temporary phenomenon attributable in part to Hillary Clinton’s alleged problems in connecting to voters?

Writing at FiveThirtyEight, conservative analyst Patrick Ruffini offers some evidence that the black voter drop-off could be with us for a while, as shown by turnout patterns in the very hot special election in Georgia’s sixth district:

“[O]n April 18th in Georgia, black voters did not necessarily join their white counterparts in a surge of Democratic enthusiasm against Trump. Compared to turnout levels in the 2014 midterms — which, like this special election, was an off-year election where Democratic enthusiasm was low and Obama was not on the ballot — black Democratic turnout in Georgia’s 6th lagged around 10 points behind that of white Democrats, though black voters still turned out at a higher rate than Republicans as a whole did.”

This did not matter all that much, and may not matter in the June 20 runoff in Georgia’s sixth, because of the suburban district’s demographics: The African-American share of the vote is about the same as the Hispanic share, and barely above the Asian-American share. And as Ruffini noted, even the depressed African-American turnout in the primary was higher than that among self-identified Republicans.

Down the road, in 2018, these trends could matter a great deal, particularly in elections where Democrats are more heavily dependent on African-American voters. Perhaps Republicans will help the donkey party with this problem by aggressively pursuing the kind of voter suppression and mass-incarceration policies to which the GOP is already prone. But it won’t be automatic. Democrats will have to earn the kind of black turnout that seemed to come so easily when Barack Obama was running for president.


The Challenge for Dems: Becoming the Party of Working People — of All Races

Public relations pros talk a lot about the power of “branding,” which is really another term for clarifying identity. Since the days of FDR, the Democratic Party has provided the better candidates for advocating reforms that benefit working people, in stark contrast to their Republican adversaries. In recent decades, however, Dems have failed to get credit for it. In PR terms, the ‘brand’ has dissolved in the chaos of modern politics.

It’s a built-in problem for the ‘big tent’ party. By welcoming a broad range of demographic and cultural groups with their myriad and quite legitimate grievances and agendas, the central, unifying message often gets garbled, buried or lost, and some demographic groups are bound to feel neglected and disrespected. In the case of the Democratic Party, the largest of these alienated  constituencies is the white working-class, currently estimated to be about 45 percent of the eligible electorate, down from about 70 percent in 1980.

The Trump campaign deftly exploited white working-class discontent and narrowly flipped key Rust Belt states in the 2016 election for an Electoral College upset, despite Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s substantial popular vote plurality. Political analysts have offered a host of plausible explainations for the 2016 outcome, including voter suppression, Clinton’s ads, travel, email and  Wall St. conections and F.B.I. Director James Comey’s ‘October surprise’ and others, all of which have merit. But most observers agree that Democrats badly underperformed with white working-class voters, a constituency that has little to gain from Republican policies and priorities.

The question arises, how can Democrats repair the broken bonds with white working-class voters, while strengthening their support from working people of all races? There is no short answer, but Robert Griffin, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira open up the dialogue with their article, “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” in The American Prospect. Their article, which includes some fascinating maps and graphics, helps to kick off a series of forthcomming essays and forums presented in partnership with The Democratic Strategist, addressing “The White Working-Class and the Democrats.”

The challenge, as the authors emphasize, is not to win a majority of the white working-class in time for the 2018 and 2020 elections — securing that majority will likely take longer — but to win a bigger portion of this large constituency. “Democrats do not need to win FDR-level support among white working-class voters,” the authors write, “but they cannot afford to lose them by margins as high as 30 to 40 points in some key states—as they have in recent elections…The party needs to rediscover its roots as a working-class party, one that was initially exclusionary of people of color but that today can and must represent the interests and values of working people of all races.”

With that, we’ll encourage TDS readers to check out the entire article and the series, and to respond with their best insights and ideas.


Political Strategy Notes

If President Trump is spiteful/dumb enough to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris Climate Agreement combating climate change, he will be providing Democrats a powerful cudgel to further damage his support among young people, who polls indicate care more about the environment than older voters. “Even among people who voted for President Trump, only 28 percent want the U.S. to leave the agreement,” Carter Roberts notes at The Hill.

The news from GA-6 is getting better, as indicated by Pema Levy’s “Nearly 8,000 New Voters Registered Ahead of Georgia Special Election: It’s enough to make the difference in a close race—and potentially put Democrat Jon Ossoff on top.” at Mother Jones.” Meanwhile the Marietta Daily Journal Reports that “Turnout Tuesday [first day of early voting] was more than four times greater than the first day of early voting for the original race on April 18, which only saw 160 Cobb voters vote in person.” But Levy cautions, “The district has more than 521,000 registered voters, so it’s unclear whether another 7,942—or about 1.5 percent of that total—will make a difference.” And there is also the problem of Republican control of the Secretary of State’s office, so Dems must remain vigilant in monitoring late GOP voter suppression efforts. In addition, Republicans are very worried about this race, because and Ossoff win will encourage Democratic challengers in similar districts across the country.  Those who want to help Ossoff can visit his ActBlue page right here.

At Politico, Edward-Isaac Dovere reports that former Veep Joe Biden has launched “a new PAC, American Possibilities, giving him a way to support Democratic political candidates while keeping his own options open for a potential 2020 presidential run…the former vice president, who has harbored presidential ambitions for decades, said he wants Americans to “dream big” again…Officially, the group will be “dedicated to electing people who believe that this country is about dreaming big, and supporting groups and causes that embody that spirit,” according to the PAC’s launch materials. “Thinking big is stamped into the DNA of the American soul,” Biden wrote… “The negativity, the pettiness, the small-mindedness of our politics today drives me crazy. It’s not who we are.”

Jeff Stein writes at Vox: “At least three House Democrats are backing a new political organization that aims to give progressive candidates in the Midwest and Appalachia a new form of support that isn’t dependent on the Democratic Party’s coastal financial elite…The People’s House Project, founded by former MSNBC host and 2010 Virginia congressional candidate Krystal Ball, has begun interviewing candidates and recruiting donors for the new political action committee. The organization, which will go public on Tuesday, will provide money, guidance, and political connections for the candidates it chooses to run under its banner…They’ll try to fundraise for the PAC’s candidates, recruit candidates that fit the bill, and give them a slogan to use to try to distinguish themselves from the national party. “It will allow them to say, ‘I’m a different kind of Democrat,’” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), one of the House Democrats backing the project, in an interview. “It’s hard to convince people around here sometimes how toxic our brand is. But, clearly the brand is damaged, and we need to see if something else can work.” A couple of Democratic officials interviewed by Stein “view the project as complementary, rather than in conflict with, the existing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Similarly, and “don’t intend for the new organization to serve as a rebuke to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi…This has to be a movement with a lot of hands rolling in the same direction,” [MI Rep. Dan] Kildee said…”

Moderate and liberal Democrats who participate in Pelosi-bashing may be getting suckered by Republicans, who have repeatedly attacked her and linked Democratic candidates to her (“the Pelosi Factor“). She was re-elected House Minority Leader by a large margin, and will likely continue to serve as speaker, should Democrats win back a House majority. And let’s not forget that she did an outstanding job of rallying the House votes needed to enact Obamacare, and later protected it from GOP “replacement” scams. Internal criticism of Democratic leaders should be made welcome, but it should also be made in a constructive spirit.  As MLK once put it, referring to internecine bickering in the Civil Rights Movement, “Our enemies will adequately deflate our accomplishments. We need not serve them as eager volunteers.”

“Republicans are getting a jump on Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign,” writes Eric Levitz at New York Magazine. “The Massachusetts Democrat is preparing to run for re-election to the Senate in 2018 and hasn’t said yet whether she’ll challenge President Donald Trump for the White House. But in-state and national Republican officials have decided to target the liberal icon anyway, saying they will try to inflict enough damage during the Senate race to harm any future presidential effort — and perhaps dissuade her from running altogether.” Republicans are going to attack any Democratic presidential candidate with everything they have. But they also fear Warren for her impressive ability to explain their economic injustice and  corruption in simple language.

WaPo’s Laurie McGinley and Scott Clement report “Most Americans hold an unfavorable view of the House-passed health-care bill and want the Senate to change it substantially or block it entirely, according to the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll…A 55 percent majority of Americans view the Republican-backed American Health Care Act negatively, the same proportion who want the Senate to make major changes to the legislation or reject it, the survey finds. Only 8 percent want the legislation, which would repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, approved as it now stands…Almost half of the public, 49 percent, holds favorable views of the ACA, while 42 percent have negative views, which are among the law’s most positive ratings tracked in polls by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation in the years since the law’s passage.”

From Geoffrey Skelley’s “Just How Many Obama 2012-Trump 2016 Voters Were There? Using different surveys to try to answer an oft-asked question” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “…Estimates of the raw number of such Obama-Trump voters range from about 6.7 million to 9.2 million. That’s a wide range, and considering the caveats regarding voter recall of past votes, it is important to be clear about the relative uncertainty of these figures….Nonetheless, these surveys offer additional evidence about a critical part of the 2016 equation: the millions of voters who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. Given the extremely close margins in some states, particularly the Rust Belt trio of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, these voters played a crucial role in handing over the White House to the GOP.”

Thomas B. Edsall explores a question on the minds of many in his NYT column, “Has the Democratic Party Gotten Too Rich for Its Own Good?,” and notes: “As the Democratic elite and the Democratic electorate as a whole become increasingly well educated and affluent, the party faces a crucial question. Can it maintain its crucial role as the representative of the least powerful, the marginalized, the most oppressed, many of whom belong to disadvantaged racial and ethnic minority groups — those on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder?…This will be no easy task. In 2016, for the first time in the party’s history, a majority of voters (54.2 percent) who cast Democratic ballots for president had college degrees. Clinton won all 15 of the states with the highest percentage of college graduates.” Even today, however, Democratic office-holders, coast to coast, are far more supportive of economic reforms benefitting working people than are their Republican adversaries. The perception problem has more to do with the way many Democrats raise money and cozy up to Wall St.


Cohn: Why Battleground State Polls Underestimated Trump’s Support in 2016

Nate Cohn’s “A 2016 Review: Why Key State Polls Were Wrong About Trump” considers three theories to explain why Trump did exceeded polling projections in the Rust Belt, NC and FL. As Cohn explains:

At least three key types of error have emerged as likely contributors to the pro-Clinton bias in pre-election surveys. Undecided voters broke for Mr. Trump in the final days of the race, or in the voting booth. Turnout among Mr. Trump’s supporters was somewhat higher than expected. And state polls, in particular, understated Mr. Trump’s support in the decisive Rust Belt region, in part because those surveys did not adjust for the educational composition of the electorate — a key to the 2016 race.

“Some of these errors will be easier to fix than others,” writes Cohn. “But all of them are good news for pollsters and others who depend on political surveys.”

Further, Cohn adds, “At the annual conference of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), as well as at a number of other meetings held earlier this year, evidence pointed toward an explanation in one of these categories:”

A postelection survey by Pew Research, and another by Global Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, re-contacted people who had taken their polls before the election. They found that undecided and minor-party voters broke for Mr. Trump by a considerable margin — far more than usual. Similarly, the exit polls found that late-deciding voters supported Mr. Trump by a considerable margin in several critical states. These three results imply that late movement boosted Mr. Trump by a modest margin, perhaps around two points.

Cohn cautions, however, that there is a “tendency for respondents to over-report voting for the winner.” Cohn also note “the so-called “shy Trump” effect,” the notion that “Trump supporters took telephone surveys but were embarrassed to divulge their support for an unpopular candidate. If true, the “undecided” voters were really Trump voters all along; they just didn’t want to admit it to pollsters until after their candidate won.”

Cohn also discusses the arument that “likely-voter screens may have tilted polls in Clinton’s direction,evidence in inconclusive. He also notes that an Upshot/Siennna survey found that “Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were likelier than Mr. Trump’s supporters to stay home after indicating their intention to vote.”

In addition, many of the polls failed to adequately ‘weight’ polls to reflect educational levels in keeping with demographic realities. It appears that less educated voters, were somewhat underrepresented in key state polls.

About 45 percent of respondents in a typical national poll of adults will have a bachelor’s degree or higher, even though the census says that only 28 percent of adults have a degree. Similarly, a bit more than 50 percent of respondents who say they’re likely to vote have a degree, compared with 40 percent of voters in newly released 2016 census voting data…Most national polls were weighted by education, even as most state polls were not.

The good news for pollsters, adds Cohn, is that the more accurate “performance of national surveys has been one of the better reasons to assume that last year’s misfire wasn’t a broad indictment of public opinion polls.” However, Cohn cites a need for better demographic data in state polls including more accurate samples of education levels by race. That would help pinpoint correct percentages weighting for whites with no college education in state surveys. Cohn notes,

But many lower-quality state pollsters did not even ask about education at all, suggesting that it wasn’t on their radar as a potential issue in 2016. That’s surprising. The potential for bias should have been fairly obvious, given the media coverage of Mr. Trump’s strength among less educated voters and the well-established difference in response rates along educational lines.

Weighting errors, ‘shy’ Trump voters and late-deciding voters all taken together may explain most of the state-wide polling failure to predict Trump’s success in the Rust belt and other battleground states. Then there is the thorny problem of low-level civic engagement, “the best-known response bias in polling,” which is a more difficult fix to implement. “It’s certainly possible that Mr. Trump’s white working-class supporters were less likely to respond to telephone surveys,” writes Cohn. “But the data, at least in the public realm, is not very clear.”

Looking toward the future, Cohn is not optimistic that state polls are going to get better, in part because newspaper budgets for polling are shrinking. Also, “The failure of many state pollsters to even ask respondents about education does not inspire much confidence in their ability to stave off less predictable sources of bias.”

It’s not clear how much an be done to correct for ‘shy’ voters and late deciders. But whether media-linked polls get their act together in state and local polls or not, it is incumbent on Democratic pollsters to at least address the weighting issue, if Democratic strategy is going to reflect demographic reality. Democrats, in particular, can’t afford to cut corners on their inside polls — if they want a reality-based strategy.


Feingold: How to Fight Voter Suppression

From former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold’s Vox post, “Voting rights are under assault nationwide. Here’s how to protect them.“:

Our democratic legitimacy will be determined by how we respond, as a country, to the growing assault on voting rights. The successful suppression of a single vote is an assault on the citizenry as a whole; it’s an attempt to shift power away from the people and to a specific elite class. We cannot stand back and rely only on our courts to challenge every new voter suppression law. This could be our generation’s civil rights moment, our 1965, and we must rise to meet it. We need a 21st century Voting Rights Act. The onus is on us to demand one, and on Congress to pass it.

…We need a new formula. And the only one that can ensure that no voter is suppressed in America is one that covers all 50 states. Any change to voting regulations in any state should have to be reviewed and precleared. There would be no targeting of specific states and counties, in the way Shelby County invalidated, nor any benchmark in history that can become outdated. The right to vote must be sacrosanct, and that means leaving no room for voter suppression anywhere.

To make a 50-state rule effective, Congress must provide the means to enforce it. It can do so by establishing an independent Office of Voting Rights. The Trump administration makes clear why independence is so essential. In just a few months, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his DOJ have shifted to a much weaker stance towards voting rights than that taken by the Obama administration. Sessions’s DOJ, for example, reversed its position on Texas’s voter ID law, going so far as to seek dismissal of the department’s previous claim that the law was intentionally discriminatory.

…We need an office with the resources and independence to handle a 50-state caseload, regardless of the party in power. The Office of Voting Rights would exist solely to review and approve or disapprove of any proposed changes to voting rights regulations, state by state.

Feingold, who has  formed a new organization,  LegitAction, an organization focused on restoring legitimacy to our democracy, notes further:

There rightfully exists a high threshold for any law that subjects states to the oversight of Washington. Jim Crow met that threshold, the Supreme Court decided in the 1960s. The onslaught of voter suppression in the past four years should also be recognized as the emergency that it is — especially as the state-level efforts have been coupled with an executive branch intent on doubling down on such suppression. This extraordinary set of circumstances meets the criteria justifying oversight. Protecting voting rights — the vehicle through which the power of the people is exercised — must take precedent over the convenience and sovereignty of the states.

Feingold’s 50-state strategy sounds like a fresh approach to a critical problem facing the nation, and Democrats in particular. “Trump’s commission on “election integrity” may be just the first step in a White House-led assault on our most fundamental democratic right,” Feingold concludes. “At this precarious moment, the United States needs a 21st century Voting Rights Act. Every candidate for national office should be required to make public her or her position on this vital piece of legislation.”


Political Strategy Notes

As we commemorate Memorial Day, Samantha Layne’s “9 Ways Republicans Could Have Helped Veterans…But Decided Not To” at reverbpress.com provides good talking points. A couple of her examples: “H.R. 466, which was the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act was a bill designed to provide job security for vets receiving medical treatment for injuries sustained while serving our country. Employers would be forbidden from firing veteran employees who miss work due to treatment related to a service-related disability. The bill had 24 co-sponsors, 23 of which were Democrats. Sounds great, right? Blocked by the GOP…Then there was H.R. 1168, the Veterans Retraining Act. This bill was designed to provide financial assistance to unemployed vets while they retrain for the current job market. But, unfortunately, Republicans decided to not pass it. Sorry, vets, but be sure to stop by for a photo op where they can shake your hand and thank you for your service!”

At The Nation, John Nichols reportsChristine Pellegrino did not just declare victory after a remarkable special-election win that saw her flip a historically Republican New York State Assembly seat to the Democratic column on Tuesday. The elementary-school teacher turned candidate announced that Long Island was sending a message that will resonate far beyond a legislative district that backed Donald Trump last fall but that has now will be represented by a bold progressive activist…New York’s 9th Assembly District is one of 710 state legislative districts nationwide that have been identified by the Ballotpedia website as including all or part of so-called “Pivot Counties,” which “voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016.” As of April 2017, the website explains, “477 state house districts and 233 state senate districts intersected with these Pivot Counties. This includes districts that intersected with only small portions of a county as well as districts that overlapped with multiple counties. These 710 state legislative districts account for approximately 10 percent of all state legislative districts in the country.”

How Mr. “Art of the Deal” got played…again :

For Further evidence that the GOP brand is tanking precipitously, check out Philip Bump’s “The more a poll mentions Republicans, the less popular the party’s health-care bill” at  the Washington Post. Bump notes that the mere mention of the word “Republican” in recent polls evokes dramatically lower levels of support from respondents for their health care bill. “For Republicans worried about the political effects of the American Health Care Act,” writes Bump, “it’s a big old warning flag. People who hear repeatedly that the bill is a Republican one are much less likely to support it.”

From Paul Kane’s article, “The lesson of Montana for Democrats: They need serious candidates — and a policy agenda,” at PowerPost: “…After receiving just 44 percent of the vote, Quist may demonstrate the limitations of quirky, first-time candidates…What Montana showed was the need to field candidates with backgrounds that appeal to voters who have tended to back Republicans in congressional races. It’s not necessarily an ideological requirement to be a centrist — serious candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders ­(I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), can reside at the edge of the ideological spectrum. But they nearly always need more gravitas than Quist brought from a decades-long career as a guitar player in a popular bluegrass band in the Mountain West…Democrats might pull off the win in Price’s seat, but if they are going to ride a wave all the way to the majority, they probably need more experienced candidates than Ossoff and Quist — and with a sharper message than Ossoff’s introductory ad a few months ago.” That said, it should be noted that Quist’s opponent, Gianforte was not exactly Mr. Gravitas.

Kyle Kondik notes in his post “What to Make of Montana” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “PredictWise conducted a snap poll Thursday afternoon and found that Gianforte’s lead had dipped to five points from 12 points in polling it had done a week ago (see more here from PredictWise’s David Rothschild). So perhaps this did shave a few points off Gianforte’s margin of victory, but it’s impossible to know with much certainty without robust exit polling, which was not conducted in Montana.” Regarding 2018, Kondik writes, “…Gianforte still has a misdemeanor assault charge hanging over his head, and perhaps an opportunistic Democrat may smell blood in the water looking ahead to next year. Then again, Gianforte’s body slam may eventually blow over and not do him any lasting harm, and Democrats may very well be looking at many other districts next year.”

GA-6 early voting starts tomorrow and continues through June 16th. Volunteers, including those who would like to participate in telephone canvassing, no matter where you live, can sign up here.

The Plum Line’s Paul Waldman makes a salient point about the power of “a new clarity” on policy benefitting Democrats:  “For instance, The Affordable Care Act is an uncharismatic policy that is meant to solve an intricate, interlocking series of problems in the American health-care system. But you know what is a charismatic policy? Single-payer health care. It’s easy to understand, and it promises terrific benefits. And right now, there’s an argument brewing between leftists who want the party to stand firmly for single-payer, and liberals who support it in principle but worry about the political and practical difficulties of getting there. To those liberals, the leftists respond: “We need to aim high, speak in broad strokes and not get bogged down by self-imposed constraints about the possible…What we can say is that there will almost certainly be other issues on which Democrats will discard their previous “It’s complicated” position for ones that take a firm, clear stance and leave the compromises and complications until after the election.”

Alice Ollstein reports at Talking Points Memo that “Florida GOPer Helped Russian Hacker Disseminate Dems’ Voter Turnout Data.”  As Ollstein writes, “A Republican political operative in Florida asked the alleged Russian hacker who broke into Democratic Party organizations’ servers at the height of the 2016 campaign to pass him stolen documents, according to a report Thursday by the Wall Street Journal…In return, that operative received valuable Democratic voter-turnout analyses, which the newspaper found at least one GOP campaign consultant took advantage of the information. The hacker went on to flag that same data to Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of Donald Trump’s who briefly advised his presidential campaign, and who is currently under federal investigation for potential collusion with Russia…The Wall Street Journal’s report presents the clearest allegations to date of collusion between people connected to Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.” Seems like this should be more of a BFD.


GOP Win of MT House Seat Tainted with Assault Charge

In his victory statement on winning the special election for Montana’s House seat by 6+ points, Republican Greg Gianforte, facing assault charges for allegedly attacking a reporter who’d asked him about the recently released CBO scoring of the GOP’s health-care bill, offered a vaguely-stated apology. As David Weigel and Elise Viebeck report at The Washington Post, Gianforte told his victory rally, “I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way,” he told supporters at his rally here…Some in the crowd laughed at the mention of the incident. “I made a mistake,” said Gianforte.” Further, note the authors,

In interviews at Quist’s final rally, at a Missoula microbrewery, voters were skeptical that the attack could change the race. Gianforte entered the contest with high negative ratings and an image as a hard-charging bully who had joked about outnumbering a reporter at a town hall meeting and sued to keep people from fishing on public land near his home.

“Greg thinks he’s Donald Trump,” said Brent Morrow, 60. “He thinks he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”

Gianforte and the allied super PACs had deflected attention from his low approval numbers with ads attacking Quist over unpaid taxes and gaffes about gun rights and military spending. To the extent the assault charge hurt — a GOP-aligned poll found 93 percent of voters aware of it — Republicans thought it denied them another day of attention on Quist.

In his Esquire column, “The Ben Jacobs ‘Body Slam’ Was Not an Isolated Incident,” columnist Charles P. Pierce noted,

These attacks on individual reporters should be no surprise. In the wider political world, people like [Gianforte campaign spokesman] Shane Scanlon and Greg Gianforte operate secure in the knowledge of precisely who their audiences hate and why they hate them. They know that those audiences cheered when reporters covering the Ferguson protests got roughed up and busted by the cops, and when that guy got arrested in West Virginia for questioning HHS Secretary Tom Price, and when that reporter got put into a wall while asking questions at an FCC event, and, ultimately, when the 2016 Republican candidate for president spent a good portion of every campaign rally coming right up to the edge of setting a mob loose on the penned-up press at the back of the hall.

A proper history of Republican thuggery in the 21st century should probably include the notorious “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000, when the GOP flew in goons to intimidate the presidential vote recount in Miami. Wikipedia notes that Roger Stone, who has served as an advisor to both Trump and Nixon, is listed among the Brooks Brothers Riot participants.

As for the after-effects of Gianforte’s win, in his post, “Greg Gianforte’s assault charge puts Republicans in a lose-lose situation in Montana,” CNN Editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote:

Now, consider what happens if Gianforte wins. Some time between now and June 7, he will have to appear in court to face the assault charge. And based on the audio provided by Jacobs as well as the eyewitness reports from a Fox News crew, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t get convicted. (Nota bene: I am not a lawyer.)
What do Republicans do then? Every member of leadership will be asked, daily, whether seating Gianforte represents a willingness to look the other way. And for a party already struggling with branding issues, that’s not the sort of story House Republicans need bouncing around Washington. If they don’t seat Gianforte, then what? Can they force him to resign? And would that mean — as I suspect it would — another special election where the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist, would almost certainly run and might well start as the front-runner due to the controversy surrounding Gianforte?
Gianforte losing is a bad story for national Republicans. Gianforte winning might well be a worse one.

Today is an especially-sad day for those who are old enough to remember a time when Montana voters repeatedly elected one of the classiest, most dignified and widely-respected political leaders of any era, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.


Political Strategy Notes — Gianforte Meltdown Edition

So the big question this morning is which candidate will be helped in today’s special election by an incident in which the Republican candidate for Montana’s sole House seat, Greg Gianforte allegedly body-slammed and punched a reporter for The Guardian, Ben Jacobs (described as “a liberal journalist” in Gianforte’s media statement). Jacobs was asking the candidate if he had read the Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. According to Fred Barbash’s Washington Post account of the incident, Gianforte was cited by the Gallatin County sheriff for misdemeanor assault and Montana’s three major newspapers withdrew their previous endorsements of the Republican. Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who witnessed the incident, wrote that “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”…Acuna and her crew “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’” While the incident is expected to energize the base supporters of both Gianforte and his opponent, Democratic candidate Rob Quist, it is unclear at this point how it will influence potential swing voters in Montana today.

In her account at Fox News Politics, Acuna also wrote, “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”

As Ben Kamisar writes at The Hill, “Montana is a tricky state to predict. Pre-election polling is notoriously unreliable both because of the state’s size and the independent nature of its electorate…Last year’s presidential election is proof of the state’s purple leanings. While Republican Donald Trump blew Democrat Hillary Clinton out in the state by a 22-point margin, Gianforte lost his gubernatorial bid to Democrat Steve Bullock by 4 points…Republicans are leaning on President Trump’s popularity in the state to win votes for Gianforte. Vice President Pence and Donald Trump Jr. both campaigned for him, while Trump and Pence appeared in robocalls days before the election.”

As for possible late voter decisions resulting from the incident, Montana is one of 15 states that allow same-day voter registration, which could help the candidate who has the best GOTV operation.

In their New York Times coverage of the Quist-Gianforte race, Jonathan Martin and Nate Cohn note that “Within hours, newspapers in Missoula, Billings and Helena had rescinded their endorsements of Mr. Gianforte, House Democrats released a digital ad featuring the audio recording, and Republicans were in a state of paralysis about what to do with a candidate who suddenly had a court date next month…At a final rally for Mr. Quist in a brewpub in Helena, activists were electrified by the news, and some of them said they intended to play the tape for those yet to vote when canvassing for Mr. Quist…Washington-based Republicans were already grumbling about having to spend millions of dollars on behalf of Mr. Gianforte, who is a multimillionaire. Montana still occasionally elects Democrats statewide, but it leans Republican and has not sent a Democrat to the House for over two decades…officials in both parties believe that more than half of the total ballots that will be cast in the election had been submitted before Thursday…Republicans outspent Democrats more than two-to-one on television and radio, according to media buyers in both parties.”

Gianforte was undoubtedly feeling additional media pressure as a result of the Congressional Budget Office’s devastating report on the American Health Care Act, which he strongly supported. Clare Foran notes at The Atlantic: “The outcome of the Montana election could also complicate Republican plans to push a conservative policy agenda through Congress. Republican leaders cobbled together the votes to pass the American Health Care Act in the House earlier this month, but a GOP health-care bill has yet to come together in the Senate. One Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the AHCA would result in 23 million Americans being uninsured by 2026, compared to the law as is. ” That Gianforte responded to a tough but fair question about the CBO report and his support of the GOP bill with the temperament of an immature jr. high school student won’t help with Montana moderate voters. Ed Kilgore and Margaret Hartmann noted in New York magazine that “Last month, Jacobs reported that Gianforte, a tech millionaire, owns about $250,000 in shares of two index funds that are invested in the Russian economy and have holdings in companies under U.S. sanctions.”

Some observers are wondering if Gianforte’s behavior should be considered light of the climate created by Trump’s unprecedented media-bashing. In her Washington Examiner post, “Joe Scarborough: Greg Gianforte’s bodyslam not a surprise in the ‘age of Trump’,” Melissa Quinn  writes, “”Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said Republican candidate Greg Gianforte’s assault on a reporter Wednesday night isn’t surprising “in the age of Trump,” and warned President Trump’s “words have consequences.”…All three papers overnight took their endorsements away from this Republican guy,” Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, said Thursday of the press reaction in Montana. “It’s that incredible. A guy assaults a reporter, which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising in the age of Trump where he calls the press ‘enemy of the people.’ There reckless words have consequences.”

Business Insider’s Brian Logan pulled together the comments from the three major newspapers who rescinded their endorsements:: “The editorial board at the Billings Gazette said: “We previously supported Gianforte because he said he was ready to listen, to compromise, to take the tough questions. Everything he said was obliterated by his surprising actions that were recorded and witnessed Wednesday. We simply cannot trust him. Because trust — not agreement — is essential in the role of representative, we cannot stand by him…An article from the Independent Record offered this rebuke: “Democracy cannot exist without a free press, and both concepts are under attack by Republican US House Candidate Greg Gianforte … These are not things we can continue to brush off.”…The Missoulian’s editorial board wrote: “Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the US House of Representatives.”

Here’s one eyewitness account via CNN:


Trump Base Not Enough For GOP in 2018

With all the insane twists of the news cycle in the Trump Era, it is often hard to keep perspective. I tried to look ahead to the shape of the electorate in 2018 in a post this week at New York.

An awful lot of what the Trump administration and most congressional Republicans seem preoccupied with doing this year revolves around keeping the president’s “base” happy. And it’s worked pretty well, as multiple polls showing Trump voters generally satisfied would tend to indicate. But although paying attention to one’s own past voters is typically a good idea, it’s not enough to guarantee a winning Republican performance in 2018. As Harry Enten demonstrates via some standard history and arithmetic, the Trump base is too small to overwhelm the majority of Americans who are not happy with his performance unless turnout patterns are very strange. Here’s his key argument:

“The president’s party has lost at least 83 percent of voters who disapprove of the president’s job in every midterm since 1994. In none did the president’s party win more than 87 percent of those who approved of the president’s job. These statistics are not good news for Republicans if Trump’s current approval rating (40 percent among voters) and current disapproval rating (55 percent) holds through the midterm. Even if Trump’s Republican Party wins the recent high water mark of 87 percent of those who approve of the job the president is doing and loses only 83 percent of those who disapprove, Republicans would still lose the House popular vote by 7 percentage points. That could be enough for them to lose the House.”

Now there are some qualifiers for that analysis. At Enten himself notes, House Republicans did marginally better than Trump in 2016, so they might do marginally better than a breakdown of voters who do and don’t approve of Trump’s job performance would suggest. Just as importantly, we have no idea yet whether the apparent “enthusiasm gap” benefiting Democrats right now will offset the traditionally poor midterm turnout patterns of demographic groups currently leaning Democratic. Similarly, most polls measuring early assessments of Trump’s job performance do not include screening for likelihood to vote; many do not even screen for voter registration. So they may understate Trump’s popularity among the people who are actually going to show up at the polls next year.

Having said all that….Presidential job approval is highly correlated with midterm elections results; the only two times since World War II when the White House party has gained House seats in a midterm (the back-to-back elections of 1998 and 2002), the president had very high job approval ratings. It’s a lead-pipe cinch Republicans will lose seats next year, and the only question is how many. So they’d best find a way to make nice with voters who have not and will never wear those red MAGA hats.


Brownstein: How Trump’s Budget Would Betray His Rust Belt Suporters

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains how Trump’s full budget would bring new hardships to the very the working families of the Rust Belt who provided his margin of victory in the Electoral College:

In the key Rustbelt states that tipped the 2016 election to President Trump, blue-collar white voters at the core of his constituency represent a majority of those receiving benefits from the federal income-support programs he has targeted for large cutbacks in his budget, according a new analysis conducted for The Atlantic.

Whites without a four-year college degree constitute most of those receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, and Social Security’s disability program in each of the five Rustbelt states that flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016: Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They also represent a majority of the programs’ beneficiaries in other heavily working-class interior states—from Arkansas and Kentucky through Missouri and Montana—that are central to GOP fortunes in upcoming elections.

Although Trump’s budget is designed to minimize hardships on white seniors, who turn  out at the polls in grater percentages than other constituencies, “the reductions still inevitably reach many of the lower-income and less-educated whites that have emerged as the cornerstone of the modern Republican coalition.” Brownstein notes, further,

As William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center who formerly worked as a top Senate Republican budget aide, told The New York Times: “The politics of this make no sense to me whatsoever, in the sense that the population that brought them to the dance are the populists out there in the Midwest and South who rely on these programs that he’s talking about reducing.

…”The tilt toward blue-collar whites is, if anything, even more pronounced in the programs Trump’s budget targets than in the health-care law. Consider the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. The analysis examined households that have received income from the program over the previous year and separated them according to the education level of the household member with the most schooling.

White households whose most educated member held less than a four-year college degree represented the highest share of all households receiving SNAP benefits in Trump’s key states: 69 percent in Iowa, 57 percent in Ohio, 55 percent in Wisconsin, 52 percent in Michigan, and 50 percent in Pennsylvania. The numbers were comparable in heavily white and blue-collar states like West Virginia (85 percent), Maine (82 percent), Kentucky (74 percent), Montana (68 percent), Indiana (61 percent), Missouri (59 percent), Tennessee (56 percent), and Arkansas (55 percent).

Brownstein also presents other statistics that reveal the extent of Trump’s betrayals of the beneficiaries of the Social Security Disability program, “a lopsided tilt toward whites without a college degree” in key Rust Belt states.

During the next year the effects described by Bronwstein will be increasingly felt in the Rust Belt, as well as the rest of the country. If Democrats have successfully rebranded their party as the real champion of America’s working-class by Fall of 2018, a wave election that will put an end to Republican domination will become a reality.