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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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July 17, 2018

Teixeira: Are Trump’s Approval Ratings Going Up?

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

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about Trump’s approval ratings and how they’re paradoxically going up, even as he commits one outrage after another. What’s the real story?

1. On where Trump’s current approval rating, note that today Gallup released a new week of polling and he is back down to 41 percent, after the 45 percent reading from Gallup the week before that got quite a bit of notice.

2. In the 538 average, he is now a little over 42 percent; since close to the beginning of this year he’s been in a pretty tight range between 40 and 42 percent. This range, while low, is several points higher than he was running late last year.

3. Compared to other presidents, his approval rating at this point in his term, while running about 20 points below the historical average for all Presidents, is very close to Jimmy Carter’s, a little below Ford’s and 3-7 points below Reagan, Obama and Clinton (he is way below everybody else). So true that he is not at unprecedentedly low levels but also true that he is still dead last on net approval (approval-disapproval), as he has been throughout his Presidency.

4. So how to think about this? It’s bad but to many seems not as bad as it should be, given all that things Trump has done and said since he’s been in office. But given the state of the economy and other “fundamental” factors, a reasonable case can be made that he is drastically underperforming where he should be. I believe this to be true. Going by economic performance alone, historical patterns suggest that his approval rating should be somewhere in the 50’s rather than in the low 40’s..

5. It still seems to be the case that the latest outrageous behaviors by Trump, even if they aren’t pushing his ratings up, don’t seem to be pushing his approval ratings down either and, as noted, their current range is a few points higher than their range at the end of last year. Why is this? One possibility is that keeping the political spotlight on Trump as a singular individual and leader–however reprehensible many of his statements may be–diverts attention from various unpopular policies he and his party are intimately associated with. This helps solidify his base and reduce attrition among more persuadable voters, thereby keeping his ratings in their current low but stable range.

I think that’s the context you need to think about the latest ups and downs in Trump’s approval rating.

Political Strategy Notes

Here’s a problem Democrats should address, soon.”…In a new Pew generic congressional ballot question posed to a large sample of registered voters, women under the age of 35 tilt Democratic by a 68/24 margin, while men under the age of 35 prefer Republicans by a 50/47 margin,” writes Ed Kilgore at New York Magzine. “That’s a 21-point gender gap in the Democratic percentage, and a 26-point gender gap in the Republican percentage. Meanwhile, there’s a smaller gender gap among voters aged 35–49, and barely one at all among voters over 50…These are pretty astonishing numbers, reflecting a trend that’s been under way for a while. And it suggests pretty clearly that odds of a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm rest heavily on a strong turnout from young women, who are rejecting Trump and his party by near-historic margins. Meanwhile Democrats have some missionary work to do with young men. Given the high percentage of them who are from minority groups that lean strongly Democratic (some 44 percent of millennials are from minorities), you have to figure there’s some MAGA mojo going on to lift Trump and the GOP to such a strong position.”

At The Guardian, columnist Cass Mudde writes that “it may take liberals by surprise to hear that a recent Reuters/Ipsos mega poll of 16,000 respondents, found that the Democrats are losing ground with millennials. While millennials still prefer the Democratic party over the Republicans, that support is tanking. In just two years, it dropped sharply from 55% to 46%. Meanwhile, their support for Republicans has remained roughly stable in the past two years, falling from 28% to 27%…The trend is not universal among millennials, however. Reflecting developments within the broader population, there are strong gender and racial differences. The drop in Democratic support among white millennials is roughly the same (8%), but most of the defectors in that group seem to have moved to the Republicans (6%)…Today, as many white millennials support the Democrats as the Republicans (each 39%). Just two years ago, Democrats still had a 14% lead over Republicans among white millennials. The trends are even more pronounced among white male millennials. Today, this group favors the Republicans over the Democrats by a staggering 11%. In 2016, Democrats led white male millennials by 12%.”

Mudde continues, “As far as the Democrats are relevant to the US political debate these days, they have largely focused on relatively “fringe” issues that many millennials don’t care much about. For example, millennials seem much less concernedabout Russian meddling in US elections than the rest of the Democratic party elite. Even the newest golden issue, gun control, seems much more a post-millennial than millennial issue. A recent poll found that millennials are no more liberal on gun control than previous generations…Just as the Republicans have blended their socio-economic and socio-cultural agendas, linking economic anxiety and cultural backlash, Democrats should link key concerns of millennials, especially economic inequality and cultural openness. This does not mean more, mostly symbolic “identity politics”, but integrating identity into a broader agenda of economic, environmental and social justice – staples of true progressive politics…This is perfectly in sync with the priorities of millennials, irrespective of race, who support governmental protection of the environment and for whom key economic priorities are increasing job opportunities, increasing wages and decreasing economic inequality. The way to stop support for Democrats among millennials from sinking further is to speak to those needs in a meaningful way. The longer they fail to do that, the more lethal it becomes.”

So, what could Democrats do to address the gender gap among voters who are under the age of 35? The no-brainer part of the answer has to be investing in a higher turnout of young Black men in key  ‘purple’ districts and winnable statewide races. With respect to ad strategy, Dems should launch a campaign focusing on this demographic group, featuring TV, radio, internet and cell phone ads with national and local African American leaders in politics (Obama), faith, entertainment, sports and other fields. Ditto for young Latino males. The tougher challenge is reaching persuadable young white males, with ads that show what they have to lose if Republicans hold the House, and what they have to gain if Dems win a House majority. Of course, ads are only one strategic consideration. There should also be stronger voter registration and GOTV programs that intensify in each state when early voting begins. Here’s a state-by-state guide to voter registration deadlines, and here’s a guide to early voting in the 50 states.

In Stanley Greenberg’s article, “The Broad Support for Taxing the Wealthy: Why Democrats should run on rolling back the tax cut and raising taxes on the rich” at The American Prospect, he writes, “Am I really recommending that we run in 2018 on raising taxes? Yes. We will raise taxes on the rich. Count on it. Voters view that as the most important thing we can do to reverse the Republicans’ corrupt course. Three-quarters of voters want to reverse the tax cuts or raise taxes on the rich to invest in or help the middle class, according to a June survey…And critically, a candidate who makes this statement—“I want to be very clear: Their huge tax giveaway is wrong and I will vote to put back higher taxes on the richest so we can invest in education and make health care more affordable”—increases opposition to the tax cut and pushes up the Democratic vote and engagement…Does anybody remember that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ran their elections and re-elections promising to raise taxes on the rich?..For the base of progressive voters and for most swing voters, conversely, the 2017 Republican Tax Act is the ugliest and most deceptive face of trickle-down yet, a corrupt deal that will do nothing for working people who face rising costs. It threatens Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and health-care investments.”

Pulitzer Prize-winner Sonia Nazario provides a thoughtful take the immigration debate, which Democratic campaigns may find useful, in her New York Times op-ed, “There’s a Better, Cheaper Way to Handle Immigration.” Nazario writes, “The family case management program, a pilot started in January 2016, allowed families seeking asylum to be released together and monitored by caseworkers while their immigration court cases proceeded. Case managers provided asylum seekers with referrals for education, legal services and housing. They also helped sort out confusing orders about when to show up for immigration court and ICE check-ins. And they emphasized the importance of showing up to all court hearings, which can stretch over two or three years…The pilot was implemented with around 700 families in five metropolitan areas, including New York and Los Angeles, and it was a huge success. About 99 percent of immigrants showed up for their hearings…It also did something Republicans love: It cut government spending. The program cost $36 per day per family, compared with the more than $900 a day it costs to lock up an immigrant parent with two children, said Katharina Obser, a policy adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission.”

Alexia Fernandez Campbell agrees in her Vox post, “Trump doesn’t need to put families in detention centers to enforce his immigration policy. There are better options: Community supervision and electronic monitoring are two alternatives that the government has used instead.” Campbell explains: “One alternative is to release immigrants under community supervision, in which a non-profit group or government contractor provides families with social workers, who help them find housing and transportation, and who make sure they attend court hearings and comply with the law…Another alternative is to release immigrants with electronic monitoring, which generally involves placing GPS ankle monitors on the parents and assigning them case workers…Up until recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was running two such programs at the national level: the Intensive Supervision Alternative Program (ISAP), which involves electronic monitoring, and the less restrictive Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which relied on community monitoring. The methods used in these programs are available to DHS, and are much cheaper than traditional detention — but the Trump administration is choosing to keep families behind bars instead.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. has another keeper column that illuminates the damge Republicans are doing to vulnerable Americans. Among Dionne’s insights: “In principle, reorganizing the federal government and finding ways to make it more efficient are actually reasonable objectives. There are good arguments for rethinking a structure built by accretion over decades. But as is its way, the Trump administration poisoned this effort from the start. It failed to engage in serious conversation with stakeholders (or the opposition party), and it put its ideological goals first…The family-separation policy dramatized in an especially egregious way the routine cruelty of this administration. It highlighted an approach that targets those who have the fewest resources to defend their interests and their rights. The fight against callousness must be extended across a much broader front.”

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson’s “We’re going to lose this trade war” sees Trump’s trade policy as a disaster in the making. As Samuelson explains, “If we are to have a “trade war” with China, it would be best to win it. We should be better off after the fighting. Unfortunately, the chances of this happening seem slim to none, because President Trump’s plan of attack suggests that everyone — us and them — will lose…Frustrated by U.S. technological restrictions, China could turn to other advanced countries — Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea, France — for similar technologies. We do not hold a monopoly on advanced technologies. To be effective, we need a global coalition that will cooperate in curbing abuses. (Most routine technologies, it’s worth noting, should be available on normal commercial terms.)..The trouble is that Trump’s bombastic assaults against our traditional trading partners — and military allies — virtually guarantee that the essential cooperation will be difficult, if not impossible, to attain. “Trump’s focus on the trade deficit is causing specific harms to American national security, including the distortion of U.S. [foreign] alliance relationships and loss of leverage against China,” wrote Derek Scissors of the conservative American Enterprise Institute…Trump’s bombastic assaults against our traditional trading partners — and military allies — virtually guarantee that the essential cooperation will be difficult, if not impossible, to attain. “Trump’s focus on the trade deficit is causing specific harms to American national security, including the distortion of U.S. [foreign] alliance relationships and loss of leverage against China,” wrote Derek Scissors of the conservative American Enterprise Institute…But whatever Congress and Trump do won’t be effective unless it’s matched by other major trading countries. Trump either doesn’t realize this or doesn’t care. He’s infuriating the very countries whose support he desperately needs. His policies are more than misguided; they’re backward.”

Bloomberg Puts Some Big Money Into Campaign For a Democratic House

A lot of money gets thrown around in nationally critical elections these days. But some infusions of cash are bigger and more strategic than others, as I discussed at New York:

Democrats gained a major asset today in the form of a big new bag of campaign money, as the New York Times reports:

“Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, has decided to throw his political clout and personal fortune behind the Democratic campaign to take control of the House of Representatives this year, directing aides to spend tens of millions of dollars in an effort to expel Republicans from power.

“Mr. Bloomberg — a political independent who has championed left-of-center policies on gun control, immigration and the environment — has approved a plan to pour at least $80 million into the 2018 election.”

Even in today’s environment, $80 million is a lot of money:

And the impact of Bloomberg’s money may be enhanced if it is concentrated, as appears to be the plan, on competitive House districts in the kind of suburban districts where Bloomberg’s name isn’t mud:

“[Bloomberg will bankroll] advertising on television, online and in the mail for Democratic candidates in a dozen or more congressional districts, chiefly in moderate suburban areas where Mr. Trump is unpopular. Democrats need to gain 23 congressional seats to win a majority.”

While Bloomberg has been Democratic-leaning of late, and endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, this is the first time he’s really committed himself to the donkey team. Yes, he may still back a few Republicans in state and local races, but will “spend little or nothing on Republicans at the federal level, his advisers said.” And his chief adviser for the 2018 effort, by the way, will be longtime Democratic operative Howard Wolfson, who definitely knows the landscape.

When the key competitive House races come into sharp relief in the early autumn, Bloomberg’s money could become pivotal.

Political Strategy Notes – Trump’s Immigration Meltdown

“The speed of America’s moral descent under Donald Trump is breathtaking. In a matter of months we’ve gone from a nation that stood for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a nation that tears children from their parents and puts them in cages…What’s almost equally remarkable about this plunge into barbarism is that it’s not a response to any actual problem. The mass influx of murderers and rapists that Trump talks about, the wave of crime committed by immigrants here (and, in his mind, refugees in Germany), are things that simply aren’t happening. They’re just sick fantasies being used to justify real atrocities…And you know what this reminds me of? The history of anti-Semitism, a tale of prejudice fueled by myths and hoaxes that ended in genocide.” — from Paul Krugman’s New York Times column, “Return of the Blood Libel.”

Strong words from top GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, as reported by Dan Balz in his article, “A GOP strategist abandons his party and calls for the election of Democrats” at The Washington Post: “Trump’s election did not spell doom for the Republican Party,” Schmidt said by telephone Wednesday while traveling. “There’s a crisis of cowardice in the Republican Party that is profoundly un-American and, in my reading, unprecedented,” he said… “No one is prepared to lay down their political career to do what’s right to oppose the corruption, the assault on institutions, the nonstop lying, the assault on objective truth.”The reality is that our Founders always predicted that one day there would be a president like Trump, and that’s why they designed the system of government the way they designed it. What they never imagined is the utter abdication of a co-equal branch of government, which we’re seeing now.”

Balz writes further that Schmidt “cited Trump’s praise for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, attacks on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the horrific images of immigrant children separated from their parents on the U.S.-Mexico border,” which “finally tipped him over the edge.” Schmidt continues, “The definition of conservatism now is the requirement of complete and utter obedience to the leader.” Balz adds, “He said he came to see the Republican Party as living in fear of the president and, as such, “a threat to the American republic and to liberal democracy.” The party, he said, “is irredeemable…He called the party “utterly corrupted,” a force for “incendiary politics and crackpottery and a real threat to small ‘L’ liberalism in the U.S.-led liberal global order…The Democratic Party is called to be the sentinel of American democracy and liberty…It is beyond bone-chilling to consider what happens if that party fails in that task, in that duty.” Schmidt’s statement should prove useful to Democrats in their midterm campaigns.

Ronald Browstein notes at the Atlantic, “With several polls this week showing that roughly two-thirds of Americans oppose Trump’s family separation policy and images of distraught children dominating television, many congressional Republicans were openly seeking a way out. But, by any reasonable standard, Capitol Hill Republicans marched themselves into this quagmire by either actively endorsing, or failing to effectively resist, almost every earlier step Trump has taken to redefine the party around his insular nationalism.”

“Activists are organizing a nationwide effort on June 30 to protest the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the US-Mexico border,’ reports Jen Kirby at Vox. Also, “A #FamiliesBelong Together march is planned for Washington, DC, in Lafayette Square at 11 am on Saturday, June 30, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said Monday on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes. Sister marches are expected in dozens of cities across the country.” The protest is “being sponsored by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and MoveOn, and more than a dozen other groups.”

Separating Families At The Border Is Really Unpopular,” wrties Dhrumil Mehta at FiveThirtyeight. “We finally have a decent number of polls testing support for the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents from their children at the border. As of early Tuesday, four pollsters — CBS News, CNN, Quinnipiacand IPSOS — had released surveys; they found that about two-thirds of the American public oppose the policy, on average.” According to a FiveThirtyEight chart, “Respondents’ views on separating families crossing the border and holding children and parents in different facilities while they await trial”:

CBS News June 14-17 17% 67% 16%
CNN June 14-17 28 67 5
Quinnipiac June 14-17 27 66 8
IPSOS June 14-15 27 55 17
Average 25 64 12

The “Quinnipiac poll is among registered voters; CBS, CNN and IPSOS polls are among all adults. “Other” includes responses such as “don’t know,” “not sure,” “neither agree nor disagree” and “no answer.”

At Vox.com, Dylan Scott presents the case that “The tough Senate map for Democrats is looking a little less tough: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are moving in the Democrats’ direction.” As Scott observes, “Retaking the Senate in 2018 was always a tough climb for Democrats because they are defending 10 seats in states that Donald Trump won in 2016. But that difficult terrain is looking a little less daunting these days, as new polling has led some election forecasters to believe several of those states are actually quite safely in Democratic hands…Over the past few weeks, Democrats seem to have shored up their positions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has a double-digit polling lead on his Republican opponent; Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was always the favorite but now appears absolutely safe; and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) — maybe the most vulnerable of the bunch and up for her first reelection in a state Republicans had been dominating — also seems to be on solid ground.” In one of the Senate races most likely to be affected by Trump’s incarceration of Hispanic children, Democrat Beto O’Rourke is down an average 9.0 percent in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average in his quest to defeat Sen. Ted Cruz — but the average does not reflect the attitudinal climate in the wake of Trump’s immigration meltdown.

When I first saw the Melania Trump jacket photos, I thought, “Don’t fall for it. This smells like a fake photoshop set-up.” But yikes, Snopes confirms that it is indeed real, and amazingly enough, Trump himself confirmed it with gusto in his latest tweet. I didn’t think FLOTUS would stoop quite that low. But it was a deliberate message, she is indeed totally supportive of her husband’s most inhumane policies, and she deserves the outrage she is reaping. Is the Trump p.r. team really so clueless that they think she can still get good press for her trip to Texas, while at the same time sending a “who cares” message to the xenophobic and racist parts of his base, wink, wink? Apparently yes. The Hill’s Morgan Gstalter notes that “CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers blasted Melania Trump as the “Marie Antoinette” of the Trump administration late Thursday amid speculation over the first lady’s sartorial choice earlier in the day.” But that’s unfair to Antoinette, since there is no evidence that she actually said ‘Let them eat cake.’

The last words of this edition of Political Strategy Notes come from syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr., who explains, “Civic and religious groups who have dedicated themselves to immigrant rights are unsung heroes of our moment. It’s encouraging that their work finally gained traction with the larger public. Politicians who spoke up quickly and forcefully — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) was one of the earliest elected officials to move this issue to the fore — deserve credit…Journalists documented the administration’s systematic cruelty and dishonesty. Pictures and audio of suffering kids still have the power to awaken consciences. But this triumph will be short-lived if its lessons and the obstacles ahead are ignored…It should shame the GOP that polls released this week by both CNN and Quinnipiac found that, while two-thirds of all Americans opposed Trump’s family separation policy, Republicans supported it (by 58 percent to 34 percent in the CNN survey, and by 55 percent to 35 percent in Quinnipiac’s)…Trump’s power is enhanced, paradoxically, by the shrinking of the Republican Party. This was underscored in a recent paper by B. Pablo Montagnes, Zachary Peskowitz and Joshua McCrain of Emory University…An analysis of Gallup numbers for me by Peskowitz showed a decline in the proportion of Americans who call themselves Republican, from 32.7 percent before the 2016 election to 28.6 percent in its surveys from late May to mid-June…It’s tempting to see this episode as the first act in the unraveling of the Trump presidency. But the fact that it took such an extraordinary set of circumstances to bring this disgraceful moment to an end tells us how difficult the remaining struggle will be.”

Trump Crosses a Big Line In Talking About Immigrants

Here at TDS we try occasionally to police extremist language. It’s hard to keep up with Trump’s crude and violent rhetoric, but sometimes he crosses the most obvious lines, as I noted at New York:

[Trump’s rhetoric] is really, really getting out of hand, as a tweet today illustrated:

Josh Marshall makes the unavoidable historical connection:

“The use of the word ‘infest’ to talk about people is literally out of the Nazi/anti-Semites’ playbook for talking about the Jewish threat. It was also a standard for talking about Chinese in the western United States and it remains part of the vocabulary for talking about Romani (Gypsies) in parts of Europe. This is the most hard-boiled kind of racist demagogic language, the kind that in other parts of the world has often preceded and signaled the onset of exterminationist violence. The verb ‘to infest’ is one generally used to describe insects or vermin (rats), creatures which are literally exterminated when they become present in a house or building or neighborhood.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has seemed to use dehumanizing language about immigrants. In May there was a brouhaha over his reference to deported immigrants — including members of gangs like MS-13 — as “animals.” His supporters claimed the reference was only to MS-13 members, and Trump’s rambling form of discourse made that limited interpretation possible. In today’s tweet, there’s also a reference to MS-13, but the subject of the sentence is clearly “illegal immigrants” with the gang members just being an example.

But however you want to explain the meaning of his words or their intent, this is a rhetorical line that should never be crossed, regardless of its precise application. As Marshall notes, this is standard racist rhetoric with a deep and disreputable history (and not just in Europe: Rwanda’s genocidaires routinely called their victims “cockroaches”). And if the president’s Ivy League education did not equip him with an understanding of this very important aspect of 20th-century history, he needs some remedial education. He certainly seems willing to violate some similar norms about conditions in Europe today, as a tweet yesterday illustrated:

Lecturing Germans on how to maintain their cultural purity is not a good look for anyone. MAGA people really need to look at the kind of things the man says that are redolent of some of the worst moments of human history, and instead of sniggering at the outrage he arouses show an understanding that sometimes being “politically incorrect” is just being dangerously wrong.

Teixeira: Dems Can Leverage Wedge Between Trump’s Base and the Rest of GOP

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

Stan Greenberg has an important new article out in the New York Times online. His core argument, backed up by considerable data, is that there is a significant divide in attitudes between Trump’s base and the rest of the GOP–a group that is quite large and whose flagging enthusiasm and potential openness to Democratic appeals could loom large in the coming election.

Greenberg draws the picture as follows:

“President Trump surprised nearly all political analysts with his decision to govern as a militant Tea Party and evangelical conservative and to make this the heart of his strategy for the midterm elections. Each provocation and each dog whistle — if we can even call them that anymore — make Democrats even more determined to vote and to register their rejection of Mr. Trump’s remade Republican Party. In our polling of registered voters nationally and in the Senate battleground states, a remarkable 79 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Mr. Trump, a number that rose to 87 percent in a survey completed last week. Mr. Trump is making Democratic base voters even angrier than you might expect.

But each provocation also produces a reaction in the non-Trump remnant of the Republican Party, and that is the political reaction most observers are missing. Moderate Republicans are much more likely than the rest of the party to be college graduates, to favor abortion rights, to be relaxed about gay marriage and Planned Parenthood, and to believe that climate change is a human-created problem. They were feeling homeless in the Republican Party even before Mr. Trump’s triumph.

The Catholic and nonreligious conservatives base may not be as animated as Mr. Trump’s base is by attacks on the Republican establishment, free trade and Nafta. They are less worried about the Affordable Care Act and would amend rather than overturn it. And they are more like Republicans in the past who accepted the welfare state and the social safety net that earlier generations had bequeathed to them.

Mr. Trump’s ever more aggressive vision pushes his “strong” job approval to an impressive 71 percent with the Tea Party and to 62 percent with evangelicals, but that does not quite match the enthusiastic, anti-Trump reaction among all types of Democrat.

Mr. Trump’s red meat strategy gets a decidedly less enthusiastic response with Catholic and nonreligious conservatives: Less than half of them strongly approve of Mr. Trump’s performance. The enthusiasm gap between the Tea Party and moderate Republicans stands at a stunning 40 points: 71 percent of Tea Party supporters strongly approve of Mr. Trump, compared with 31 percent of moderates.

As of now, those muted reactions to Mr. Trump among these other Republicans are translating into reduced interest in the elections and a potentially lower turnout in November…..

Mr. Trump’s base strategy has allowed him to take over the Republican Party and to marginalize and defeat those who will not get with the program, but it has also unified Democrats around their values and created an opportunity for anti-Trump Americans to engage with these Republican voters, even (and especially) if Mr. Trump will not.

It may be as straightforward as reminding them why the Trumpified Republican Party needs to be repudiated in November. They may be looking for a genuinely conservative party. But these voters may also be open to voting for Democrats.”

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Trump Losing Ground in Key 2016 Heartland States

Any time new state-by-state data about Trump’s popularity comes out, I am very focused on those once-blue “Heartland” states that shocked the world in 2016 and lifted him to the presidency. So I wrote about some new Morning Consult findings at New York:

The president’s ratings among registered voters are underwater (more negative than positive) in the very heartland states he flipped from a past heritage of Democratic voting in 2016: Wisconsin (-12), Michigan (-9), Iowa (-7), Ohio (-4), and Pennsylvania (-4). In the short term, that matters because all these states other than Iowa have Senate races in November, and there are a total of 12 highly competitive House races among them (according to the Cook Political Report).

There are some other Trump ’16 states where his high standing has eroded significantly, including six that are holding Senate races this year: Arizona (+2), Montana (+3), Florida (+5), Missouri (+5), Texas (+5), North Dakota (+6), and Indiana (+8). There are other 2018 Senate battlegrounds, however, where POTUS is still very popular, such as Tennessee (+20), Mississippi (+23), and West Virginia (+27).

It may be argued that Trump did, after all, win in 2016 despite poor favorability ratings. But presidential elections are comparative, and Trump was fortunate to face a Democratic opponent with pretty bad favorability ratings as well. Since midterms are typically more of a straight-up referendum on the president (and are likely to be so even more with a president who dominates the news like this one has), lack of presidential popularity should be a much bigger deal. Yes, Trump’s national approval ratings have drifted upward in 2018, but are still well south of 50 percent. And there’s one bit of historical data from Gallup that ought to especially worry Republicans: the parties of presidents facing midterms with job approval ratings below 50 percent have on average lost 36 House seats.

Of course, 2020 is a different matter, and what happens then will depend on a thousand variables, including the identity of Trump’s Democratic opponent (assuming he’s running for reelection). But let’s don’t forget he won in the first place by executing what amounts to an inside straight based on extremely narrow wins in heartland states in the context of a national popular-vote defeat. And that’s why we might pay especially close attention to how his party does this November in those very states.

Democrats Gradually Improving November Prospects

The defeat of Mark Sanford got most of the headlines on the evening of the June 12 round of primaries. But the broader impact on the general election battlegrounds should be noted, as I observed at New York:

In several places primary voters set up intriguing battles.

Virginia: Here comes the 2018 wave of Democratic women

According to the Cook Political Report, there are four Republican-held House seats in the Old Dominion that are vulnerable to a Democratic takeover. And Democrats have nominated four impressive women to take on this critical challenge.

The most vulnerable seat of all probably belongs to Barbara Comstock, whose suburban/exurban Tenth District in Northern Virginia, which Hillary Clinton carried by nearly ten points in 2016. Last night the national party favorite to take on Comstock, state legislator Jennifer Wexton, won over a large and well-qualified field.

In the central Virginia Seventh District, represented by hard-right representative Dave Brat (famous for upsetting then–Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary), another woman with strong national and elected-official backing, former CIA operative Abigail Spanberger, routed Marine veteran Daniel Ward in what was expected to be a close race. In the Tidewater Second District, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thinks it has the right challenger to former Navy SEAL and freshmen representative Scott Taylor (a frequent Trump critic who had no trouble in his own primary) in Navy vet and small-business owner Elaine Luria, who easily defeated self-proclaimed progressive Karen Mallard in the primary.

In the west-central Virginia Fifth District, which leans Republicans (Trump carried it easily) but has pockets of Democratic strength, a fourth woman, former journalist and author Leslie Cockburn, had no primary opponent, but is awaiting a local GOP selection process trigged by incumbent representative Thomas Garrett’s sudden announcement two weeks ago that he was struggling with alcoholism and would not run for another term. Cockburn has been a fundraising dynamo.

All four of these Democratic candidates benefited from the early support of EMILY’s List, which is having a really good cycle so far. If 2018 does turn out to be the Year of the Democratic Woman, it could begin in Virginia.

One Virginia Democrat who is breathing much easier today is U.S. senator Tim Kaine, whose GOP opponent will be neo-Confederate Trumpite Corey Stewart. The fiery Stewart, who nearly upset Ed Gillespie in the 2017 gubernatorial primary, had a surprisingly tough time dispatching state legislator Nick Freitas in his primary, but narrowly survived.

Maine: Ranked-choice voting has arrived

Maine has a competitive House race in its rural-dominated Second Congressional District (carried by Trump in 2016 and held by GOP representative Bruce Poliquin), and a governor’s race that could determine whether term-limited wild man Paul LePage’s reactionary policies (including a fight against a voter-mandated Medicaid expansion) continue or end. In both contests the state’s embattled experiment with ranked-choice (a.k.a. “instant runoff”) voting is coming into play. Driven in part by LePage’s two plurality (thanks to independent candidacies) gubernatorial wins, Maine voters mandated adoption of ranked-choice voting (which asks voters to rank all candidates on the ballot and then reallocates last-place votes by secondary preference until someone achieves a majority) in a 2017 ballot initiative. A subsequent court decision limited rank-choiced voting to federal elections and state primaries, but it was fully deployed on June 12.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary heavily funded front-runner Shawn Moody won a clear majority and will avoid any ranked-choice follow-up. In the Democratic primary, though, longtime front-runner and Attorney General Janet Mills only received a third of the vote, and will have to wait for ranked-choice tabulations (which could take as long as a week) to determine if she can hold off second-place finisher Adam Cote (or theoretically, even another candidate, should one of them pile up a huge number of second-choice preferences). The same is true in the Second District Democratic congressional race, where with votes still being counted state legislator Jared Golden has slipped just below a majority, which means second-preference ballots from third-place finisher Craig Olson will determine whether Golden or Burt’s Bees scion and environmentalist Lucas St. Clair will get the nod.

In a separate vote, a “people’s veto” referendum overruled legislation passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature to revoke ranked-choice voting in the future, so it will be available at least for congressional races in November barring future judicial interventions.

Nevada: A huge Senate race ahead

Democrats’ slim but very real hopes of winning back control of the U.S. Senate in November depend heavily on U.S. Representative Jacky Rosen, a freshman congresswoman from southern Nevada and a close ally of former Senator Harry Reid. Rosen easily defeated five opponents in the June 12 primary and will now take on the most vulnerable Republican Senate incumbent who hasn’t decided to retire, Dean Heller, in what should be a close race in closely divided state. Heller tried to carve out an identity as relatively independent of Donald Trump and the Senate GOP leadership early in the Trump administration, but when that began to upset conservatives in Washington and back home, he quickly turned himself around. He ultimately benefited from a Trump intervention to talk conservative gadfly Danny Tarkanian out of a primary challenge, and now has to figure out how to survive a general election.

While Trump’s action was good news for Dean Heller, it could wind up costing Republicans a rare shot at a Democratic-held House seat, Rosen’s Third District. Tarkanian (son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian) has lost a string of five straight elections for public office dating back to 2004, the most recent being a loss to Rosen in 2016. Trump’s sort-of endorsement and the fundraising machine he had put together for a Senate run made Tark an instant front-runner, and he won 44 percent against former TV reporter Michelle Mortensen and state legislator Scott Hammond. If history is any indication, Tarkanian may have an uphill fight against Third District Democratic nominee Susie Lee, a philanthropist with her own fundraising chops and strong support from both Rosen and Reid.

How Dems Can Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time

The following posts, “Democrats Should Be Able to Walk Down the Street and Chew Gum at the Same Time” and “More on How Democrats Can Walk Down the Street and Chew Gum at the Same Time” by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, are cross-posted from his blog:

[Part 1]

The New York Times Sunday Review treated us to an article by two history professors averring that, for Democrats, “Turning Affluent Suburbs Blue Isn’t Worth the Cost“. They posit a sort of zero-sum game between reaching these voters and reaching poorer and nonwhite voters. Sigh.

Fortunately, David Atkins at the Washington Monthly has an excellent takedown of this ridiculous–and politically harmful–contention:

“In order to clamber out of the political wilderness, Democrats must….win over some Trump voters using economic arguments that many would like to dismiss as impossible, as well as continue to gain ground in many increasingly blue, well-educated suburbs that cause queasiness to many economic progressives. And they must do so simultaneously, while maintaining and increasing commitments to both social and economic justice through sentencing reform, jobs guarantees and much else.

How is this possible? It’s fairly simple, actually. The answer lies in the fact that most voters–and particularly most persuadable voters—are not pure partisans. They are often what political scientists call “cross-pressured,” which means they hold multiple strong views that don’t fit neatly within one political party or another and force them to choose what they might consider the lesser of two evils in a two-party system.

It is self-evident that Trump voters by definition didn’t see a problem with voting for a racist, sexist buffoon. But many Trump voters also proved remarkably indifferent to Republican economic orthodoxy, and many want high taxes on Wall Street, robust jobs programs and investment in domestic industry, and libertarian social policy on many issues like drugs. Neither party will give them everything they want, but a committed progressive economic agenda that rejects the muddled market-directed pabulum of education and retraining as a solution to all ills can be successful in winning many of them over, even though the progressive commitment to racial and gender equality might rankle them as just so much social-justice-warrior political correctness. This isn’t idle speculation: a very large number of registered Democrats are already just so cross-pressured. Appallingly, a full third of Democrats have a negative opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a quarter of Democrats think millions voted illegally in the 2016 election. If they register as Democrats anyway, it’s a fair bet that economics are their top priority. It stands to reason their number could be increased to regain some of the voters who chose Barack Obama twice, and then flipped over to Trump.

So, too, can cross-pressured affluent suburban Democrats be won over by a stridently economically progressive Democratic Party in spite of their potential reservations about their tax bracket, mutual fund returns, McMansion values and budget deficits. Sure, these voters might not like the idea of transaction taxes on Wall Street impacting their dividends or affordable housing being built near their bungalows, but their commitments to social equality and their desire not to have jingoists running the country’s trade and foreign policy mean that they will generally choose the party of both Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders over that of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Republicans have understood this for decades. The three legs of their electoral stool (social, economic and foreign policy) don’t particularly like one another or mesh well together, but they have largely held together due to combined mutual interest.

A Democratic Party that takes seriously commitments to both social and economic justice can do likewise, even though some of the former may not be palatable to part of the white working class, and some of the latter may not be desirable among the well-heeled. It must do so if it wants to regain power.”

Yup, that’s why they call ’em coalitions! Time to move forward past pointless either-or debates.

[Part 2]

David Jarman at Daily Kos Elections (don’t read the site?; you should!) provides a comprehensive rebuttal to the loony argument that Democrats trying to turn affluent suburbs blue are biting into the poison apple.

Jarman’s piece begins:

“Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a baffling and potentially harmful opinion piece by two history professors, Lily Geismer and Michael Lessner, titled “Turning Affluent Suburbs Blue Isn’t Worth the Cost.” In short, they argue that affluent suburban districts, if they elect Democrats, are likely to elect centrists who won’t pass the kind of progressive legislation that will adequately address economic and racial inequality. The short-term benefits of winning races in those districts, they say, will eventually be outweighed by the long-term harm created from a Democratic congressional caucus that’s too heavy on economic elites and not enough “real Americans.”

I’m going to propose a counterargument that may blow some minds with how off-the-wall it is: Maybe Democrats should contest as many races as possible, and try to win elections in as many places as possible, regardless of income, education, or race. There are different aspects to the Democratic agenda that can appeal to different types of people, and historically, electoral success for one party or the other has generally relied on putting up a big tent that can house a broad coalition capable of earning and sustaining a majority.

Moreover, this isn’t the right time to be writing off any seats or any capable Democratic candidates because they’re too hot or too cold. Given the existential threats to American democracy currently posed by those in charge of Washington, DC, I can’t even imagine the level of detached privilege that would lead one to say that we shouldn’t try to target some of the seats that are likeliest right now to fall into our grasp, and instead focus on the groundwork for a purer and more perfect party at some point in the future.”

He also notes:

There’s been a lot of recent research showing that college-educated whites (presumably, the authors’ vision of who lives in these affluent suburbs) are now somewhat more liberal in their policy preferences than non-college-educated whites. This is a reversal from, say, the mid-to-late 20th century. You can see this if you look at the changes in county-level election results over the decades, broken out by education level. You can also see it if you look at long-term studies that track the electorate’s views over time.

Researcher Sean McElwee has been one of the main proponents of this line of thought; he’s used data from the American National Election Studies (a long-term polling project conducted by political scientists that asks a battery of demographic and policy questions) to show that college-educated whites are now more liberal on questions about progressive economic policies than non-college whites are.

For instance, college-educated whites answer “yes” at a higher rate to questions like “Favor millionaires’ tax,” “Government should reduce inequality,” and “More regulation of banks.” Similarly, Democratic primary voters have become significantly less racist in the last decade: The number of Democrats who “strongly disagree” with the proposition that “If black people would try harder, they could be just as well off as whites” shot up between 2008 and 2016.”

After a very informative analysis of who currently represents these affluent suburban districts and who is now running in these districts, he concludes:

“Are people who’ve won the housing lottery via either privilege or simply by virtue of having gotten there first, but who are generally progressive in their values and policy preferences—who, at the national level, want a more equitable tax system, who want a higher minimum wage, who want more government involvement in providing health care to everyone, and above all, who want a non-embarrassing, non-threatening president, but who are NIMBYish in their beliefs about their own neighborhood—to be welcomed into the big tent, even though they’re imperfect? Or are they to be cast aside in pursuit of a Democratic Party unicorn that looks more like the one of old—when, it should be pointed out, they repeatedly lost presidential elections, under the banner of fellows like Adlai Stevenson, Walter Mondale, and George McGovern? I know which one I’d prefer.”

Me too. And so should you.

Political Strategy Notes

A FiveThirtyEight.com chat session responds to the question, “Will Voters Give Trump Credit For North Korea?” Among the possibilities, as Perry Bacon, Jr. sees it: “I don’t think the agreement reached this week means a ton. If there are no North Korean nuke tests between now and Election Day 2018 but also no big deal between Trump and Kim, then North Korea is not a real Election Day factor. It recedes from the news. I don’t think this summit itself changes the midterm dynamics that much….The media will move on from this issue back to Mueller/Pruitt/Trump scandals/tweets, etc. People just don’t think about foreign policy that much in general.” Micah Cohen adds, “How’s this for a starting point: Voters will view Trump’s North Korea policy through their normal partisan lens … unless (i) it very clearly goes south and a substantial portion of elected Republicans begin to criticize it, or (ii) it very clearly goes well and even the commenters in the media are praising it?…But the 90 percent confidence interval of likely outcomes probably fails to break partisan biases….And you can see those biases in the pre-summit polling:” Clare Malone suggests, “I agree about the midterms. It could affect 2020 more, or at least play a part.”

I’m a fan of both Robert DeNiro and Samantha Bee. But Frank Bruni makes a good point in his ‘open letter’ column, “How to Lose the Midterms and Re-elect Trump” at The New York Times: “I get that you’re angry. I’m angry, too. But anger isn’t a strategy. Sometimes it’s a trap. When you find yourself spewing four-letter words, you’ve fallen into it. You’ve chosen cheap theatrics over the long game, catharsis over cunning….Many voters don’t hear your arguments or the facts, which are on your side. They just wince at the din…It’s about maturity, pragmatism and plain old smarts — and the necessity of all three when the stakes are this high…“When they go low, we go high,” said another first lady, Michelle Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. It’s a fine set of marching orders, disobeyed ever since.” Of course actors and entertainers should have their say, like everyone else. But Bruni’s column should be a keeper for all public figures who want their comments to be strategically-sound.

Vox’s Dylan Scott says polls indicate “Democrats have a good shot at turning Ohio blue again in 2018,” and notes that, “Brown, a popular two-term incumbent, should already be viewed as the favorite, but both polls showed him running far ahead of Renacci:…Quinnipiac: Brown leads Renacci, 51 percent to 34 percent…Suffolk: Brown is again way ahead of Renacci, 53 percent to 36 percent…DeWine had been considered the slight favorite in a state that has been trending red, with no statewide elected Democrats except Brown, and where Donald Trump won by 8 points in 2016. But both surveys actually found Cordray ahead:…Quinnipiac: Cordray narrowly led DeWine 42 percent to 40 percent…Suffolk: Cordray had a bigger lead over DeWine, 43 percent to 36 percent…But the findings were striking enough that after their release, the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball said it was shifting the Ohio governor’s race from Lean Republican to Toss-Up and the Senate race from Lean Democrat to Likely Democrat.”

At The Upshot, Neil Irwin addresses a question of enormous consequence that doesn’t get enough coverage, “If the Robots Come for Our Jobs, What Should the Government Do?” Trump’s antagonistic trade policies are a distraction from more immediate, real-world causes of job loss. It’s less about the role of tariffs than automation and U.S. industry’s investing too much in other countries. Regarding automation, Irwin writes that “Some of the potential answers are big, bold ideas that have gained traction in particular ideological circles. A universal basic income — the idea that the government simply give each citizen enough money every month to support basic needs — has fans among both free-market libertarians and socialists….But other ideas starting to percolate in economic policy circles may have advantages in terms of cost and political viability.” Irwin flags several other ideas emerging from think tanks, including shorter terms for patents and trademarks, shorter work-weeks (work-sharing), expanding subsidized re-training and “life-long learning accounts,” greater ‘portability’ of benefits, and expanding the earned-income tax-credit. It would be good to see more Democrats developing proposals that include some of these measures and addressing the rvages of automation more directly.

Robert Atkinson argues in “The Pro-Growth Minimum Wage” at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, however, that automation is a desireable consequence of raising the minimum wage, in part because somebody has to make and service the new machines. But mostly Atkinson is concerned with better progressive messaging in support of the minimum wage. “If progressives want to break through this frustrating stalemate and get a higher minimum wage over the finish line—at least in more states, if not in Congress—it’s time for them to make the case for a higher minimum wage on the grounds of growth first, and fairness second. In other words, not only should progressives stop ceding ground to opponents when it comes to jobs and GDP growth, they should rightly assert that a higher minimum wage would actually improve both. In other words: If we want to grow the U.S. economy, not just redistribute more of its fruits to low-income workers, we need to raise the minimum wage. This argument is much more likely to prevail…what’s truly important is how many jobs there are in the U.S. economy after raising the minimum wage…There are too many low-wage, low-skill jobs, too little investment by companies in new machinery and high-performance work organizations, and too little support by government for those organizations, including skills development. Getting out of this trap will require a wide range of policies, including better programs to boost worker skills. But no policy change is more vital here than a higher minimum wage. And, as such, progressives will need to champion such a move, by highlighting the essential role it will play in creating a robust economy and growth for all.”

Democrats have been gifted ample material for a powerful ‘weathervane’ ad in the Trump Administration’s decision to gut the highly-popular pre-existing health care provision of the Affordable Care Act. WaPo’s Fact Checkers Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly document the history of Trump’s comments supporting pre-existing condistion coverage on at least ten occasions — in stark contrast to his recently authorizing the gutting of the measure. As the authors conclude, “With no explanation or warning, the president now supports an effort to nullify the provisions that make it possible for millions of people to purchase affordable insurance. Thus this new position, directly contradicting his repeated stance as a candidate and as president, qualifies as a flip-flop.”

Some insights from Meredith Ferguson’s “Cracking the Code of Young Voter Turnout” at Campaigns & Elections: “Consider who young people are today, and for whom they’re being asked to vote. They’re the most racially and culturally diverse generation in American history. Forty-six percent identify as a race or ethnicity other than white. Yet, women and minorities each make up less than 20 percent of lawmakers in the 115th Congress. According to the CDC, eight percent of high schoolers identify as LGBTQ, while only one percent of Congress does. The average member is 57 years old — that’s among the highest average in recent history…Young people also refuse to be bound by the traditional ideological boxes. The plurality — 46 percent — of our survey respondents said they identify as independent or unaffiliated and 50 percent view themselves as moderates. While young people may be considered liberal on many social issues, those positions reflect more of a societal shift than a political philosophy…For example, even a majority of our respondents who identify as conservative support universal background checks for gun purchases and believe that the government has a responsibility to ensure health coverage for all.”

In his Washington Post column, “Trump’s America goes full Charles Dickens,” Dana Milbank spotlights the glaring contradiction between GOP elected officials mouthing of cliched concern for opiate addicts and migrant children and their failure to support anything resembling substantial legislation to address the  crises. “This is why the show of compassion rings hollow: Republican lawmakers aren’t willing to stand up to the source of their Dickensian dilemma. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) spoke out against Trump — and lost his primary Tuesday. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) once expressed concern about Trump — and was forced into a runoff. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is retiring, complains his GOP colleagues won’t defend their own trade principles because they don’t want to “poke the bear…Republicans may be afraid voters will see them as heartless — but they are more afraid of crossing Trump.”

“The problem with this administration is that everything it does is a distraction from everything else it does,” writes Eric Alterman at The Nation. “Trade? Immigration? Economic equality? Education? Environmental protection? Workers’ rights? Women’s rights? Diplomacy? Whatever it is, to borrow from Groucho Marx, they’re against it. And they will also lie about it. And they will complain about being asked about it…Trump’s genius for distraction, self-pity, and entertaining idiocy succeeds not only in normalizing his psychopathic behavior and malevolent prejudices but also in hiding the fact that institutions that protect our freedom and democratic rights are teetering beneath a ferocious assault…Trump supporters and their media apologists complain that news coverage of this administration is overwhelmingly negative. In fact, it’s nowhere near negative enough. That’s because it is piecemeal and professional, and cannot help itself from trying to be fair to “both sides,” bending over backward to treat Trump as somehow normal.” Well put. Now Dems could use some fresh ideas for addressing the media coverage problems associated with Trump’s distractions and false equivalency journalism.