washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

What Democrats should keep in mind, however, is that whichever way he goes he is very likely going to betray his white working-class base — the people who put him into office — sooner or later. The “later” part is the most certain. Donald Trump does not have the power to bring back the Industrial Era economy he has so avidly embraced. He will not be able to reopen the coal mines, rebuild the manufacturing sector, or repeal the international economic trends that would exist with or without NAFTA or TPP. And for that matter, he has little ability to reverse the demographic and cultural trends most of his voters dislike.
–Ed Kilgore

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

“…The case he makes cogent and persuasive. If you’re anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re feeling pretty glum these days. Well, read this book.”
 —Michael Tomasky
E. J. Dionne Jr

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

Donald Trump cast himself as the champion of a besieged American working class and a defender of its interests. His early decisions tell us something very different: This could be the most anti-worker, anti-union crowd to run our government since the Gilded Age.
–E.J. Dionne Jr.

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

“…a powerful, provocative and persuasive case that progressives are in a better position than they realize to make our world better.”
—E.J. Dionne

The Daily Strategist

March 25, 2017

Political Strategy Notes

In his  New York Times column, “Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty,” Paul Krugman writes, “The latest big buzz is about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. It turns out that he lied during his confirmation hearings, denying that he had met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. In fact, he met twice with the Russian ambassador, who is widely reported to also be a key spymaster…But let’s not focus too much on Mr. Sessions. After all, he is joined in the cabinet by Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who lied to Congress about his use of a private email account; Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, who lied about a sweetheart deal to purchase stock in a biotechnology company at a discount; and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who falsely told Congress that his financial firm didn’t engage in “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents, seizing homes without proper consideration…At this point it’s easier to list the Trump officials who haven’t been caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident…No president, or for that matter major U.S. political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently as Donald Trump. But this isn’t just a Trump story. His ability to get away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers: almost all of his party’s elected officials, a large bloc of voters and, all too often, much of the news media.”

Jeff Sessions Is Losing Republican Support Fast,” report Tim Mak and Jackie Kucincih at The Daily Beast.

At The Upshot Neil Irwin explains why “Why the Trump Agenda Is Moving Slowly: The Republicans’ Wonk Gap.” Apparently the GOP is a little long on ideologues and short on serious policy thinkers at this political moment. “Large portions of the Republican caucus embrace a kind of policy nihilism. They criticize any piece of legislation that doesn’t completely accomplish conservative goals, but don’t build coalitions to devise complex legislation themselves…The roster of congressional Republicans includes lots of passionate ideological voices. It is lighter on the kind of wonkish, compromise-oriented technocrats who move bills.”

So how good are your senators and house representatives on on working-class issues? The AFL-CIO has Senate and House scorecards right here.

In a Democracy Now interview with Amy Goodman, Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina, provides an update on the struggle against Republican-driven voter suppression, transgender discrimination and other injustices in that state: “…We had a unanimous resolution that was passed at the state level and unanimously passed at the national board, first saying that we would remove consideration of our national convention coming to North Carolina, as has the NCAAand the ACC, the NBA, and we would call on our other human rights friends, civil rights friends and conventions to do the same thing….We would form a special task force to explore a full boycott and escalation over the next few months on these lines: Number one, we call on the Legislature to repeal, undo racially gerrymandered districts and create fair elections, that not only have we accused them of, but the courts have ruled that our Legislature has passed racial—racialized districts. Number two, we want a repeal of the entire HB 2 law, because it’s not a bathroom law. That bill is an anti-LGBTQ law against transgender people. But it’s also an anti-workers bill, because it does not allow municipalities to raise the living wage or to have minority set-asides. And it is also an anti-access to state courts for employment discrimination cases. Number three, we want a repeal of SB 4, the law that was passed last December after extremists lost, that strike down the governor’s power and don’t—no longer allows the governor to have his own appointments, and they tried to change the board of election. And lastly, we want a repeal of the law that forces us to go to the appellate court rather than the Supreme Court, once our Supreme Court became more progressive in the state.”

Democrat Jon Ossoff leads 18-candidate field in race to rep GA-6 by 7 percent in new poll. Republicans are getting nervous about the April 18 jungle primary and are now running an exceptionally lame ad against him.

Crystal Ball’s Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik explore “How Midterms Do (and Do Not) Differ From Presidential Elections: What recent history tells us about the likely size and makeup of next year’s electorate” and note a possible plus for Democrats, in that miderm voters tend to be more educated than general election voters, which may matter more substantially, since Trump did not perform as well as other Republicans with that demographic, and these voters may want to vote against his Republican supporters next year.

Many of the press corps deserve a sound thrashing for their low expectations gush about Trump’s insubstantial SOTU address, and Brian Beutler gives it to them at The New Republic in his article, “The Worst Performance of Trump’s Presidency Now Belongs to the Press Corps: The media’s reaction to his speech to Congress was shameful.” As Beutler writes, “What Trump didn’t do was reprise his assault on the press corps, which he has described as an “evil” “enemy of the people.” For that simple omission, Trump was able to deliver a tour de force of lies and insincerity, and be rewarded…All he did was demonstrate once again that his supposed antagonists in the political media have short memories, which makes them easy marks for a tired con.”

No bump, Trump. Ed Kilgore has the details on his lackluster job approval in polls following the SOTU.


Stoehr: Dems Can Win By Focusing on Trump’s Weaknesses

The Trump campaign — it’s more that than an actual functioning government — is all puffed up about some favorable feedback he got for his State of the Union speech. But it remains weak at the core, which for any Administration, rests on the twin pillars of integrity and competence.

In that regard, Yale political scientist John Stoehr, a U.S. News & World Report contributing editor who has written for a broad range of progressive newspapers and magazines, has some strategic insights for highlighting Trump’s weaknesses. As Stoehr addresses his readers at The Washington Monthly,

I really want you to understand the connection between Trump’s appearance and the trust his supporters place in him. What the Democratic opposition needs to do is undermine that trust. Part of doing that is pointing out every time Trump lies. (The Washington press corps is doing that.) But the opposition must also attack the president where it really hurts him—by appealing to logic and reason, but not only logic and reason. The opposition must wound the president by focusing on his weakness

….When confronted with the fact that he did not win a bigger electoral victory than anyone since Reagan, he immediately backed down, spluttering something about how he had been given that information so it’s not his fault. Some have implied he will never accept the truth, so don’t bother. But that’s an argument of logic and reason. What happened in that brief exchange needs to happen a million times over in order to reveal that the president is weak and that in that weakness his supporters have misplaced their trust.

So, say it with me: The president is weak. Say it again. Over and over. Then when the president really does demonstrate weakness, as he did when confronted by the reporter about his fake electoral landslide, the president will have substantiated the opposition’s charge of weakness.

That will hurt.

Trump ran on strength. Only he was strong enough to solve our problems. And people believed him. They still believe him. But if the opposition can establish an image of weakness, it will come close to breaking trust in him.

Stoehr is revealing something unique here. He advises watching Trump on television with the sound turned off to get a sense of how much he relies on projecting the visual image of strength, even while confidently spouting transparent lies and nonsense that contradicts what he said a few days before. More importantly, many of his supporters are mesmerized by his blustering boldness, longing as they do for a simplistic authoritarianism, somewhat like the ‘strict father‘ paradigm referenced by George Lakoff.

In his U.S. News & World Report column, “Trump Can’t Govern: The Democrats’ best play may be to highlight the Trump administration’s incompetence,” written just before Trump’s SOTU address, Stoehr explains further,

More than exposing Trump for his white nationalist sympathies, the best way forward may be stressing what’s emphatically evident: Trump can’t govern.

This president sold an image of himself as a billionaire businessman who knows how to get things done. He hires the best people. He has the best words. He knows the system better than anyone. He said: Vote for me and I will bring real change.

But after more than a month, it’s clear the Trump administration is broken. It’s equally clear the public is noticing. The president’s popularity has sunk to historic lows. His White House has lurched from one trumped up crisis to another. It leaks like a sieve. Aides can’t corral Trump in person, so they corral him through the media. His executive orders have been a mix of pixie dust and plagiarized text (literally) from previous administrations. Hundreds of positions remain vacant while Trump does photo-ops at Boeing before alighting to Florida for rounds of golf.

 The closest we got to non-crisis normal was last week. But by Friday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer banned some media outlets from a briefing. As Roll Call put it: “an otherwise routine Friday morning at the White House had suddenly given way – yet again – to confusion, chaos, deflecting and denials.”
The incompetence appears baked in.

Ben Carson never ran anything, much less the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he is nominated to lead. Betsy DeVos literally bought her place as head of the Department of Education. Scott Pruitt was best buds with Big Oil before taking the Environmental Protection Agency’s helm. Trump’s first pick for labor secretary was toxic and withdrew. His first replacement for Michael Flynn on the National Security Council said no thanks. Wilbur Ross, the new commerce secretary, is chair of a European bank known to launder Russian mafia money. Trump’s nominees for secretaries of the Army and Navy have taken a pass. White House aides told Axios they believe the Russia story is a useful distraction rather than a scandal threatening to take down a president. And an adviser, Sebastian Gorka, has the makings of a 100 percent grade-A con artist.

Stoehr has even more to say about the Trump Administration’s incompetence, but warns, “none of this is to say Trump’s critics are wrong. Though incompetent, this administration could still fumble blindly into fascism…But it’s important to be clear about the disease in order to cure it.”

“The Democrats are already making a play for Republican-held congressional districts that voted for Hillary Clinton,” notes Stoehr, “targeting affluent white voters who normally support Republicans but who found Trump’s overt bigotry beyond the pale.” Stoehr concludes, presciently,

Trump can bring those voters back by muting his ethno-nationalist rhetoric (we’ll see what happens at tonight’s joint session of Congress), but the Democrats know, or should know, that to affluent educated white voters, muted rhetoric is one thing. Basic competence is another.

All of which puts Trump’s SOTU speech and a key challenge facing Democratic activists and candidates in clearer perspective.


Trump Says He Really Wants To Leave Hundreds of Key Federal Positions Empty

The day before giving his address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump said something astonishing in a Fox News interview that should have freaked out conservatives as well as liberals. I tried to draw attention to it at New York:

Here’s what [Trump] said to Fox News this morning:

“A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint someone because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump said. “In government, we have too many people.”

Keep in mind the jobs we are talking about here include the top sub-Cabinet positions that set policies and provide the day-to-day operations for vast government departments. Just yesterday, the conservative Washington Examiner explained that these are precisely the positions someone like Trump needs to fill if he is serious about “draining the swamp” in Washington:

“Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University, said the quality of political appointees below the Cabinet level can have a dramatic effect on how administration policies are ultimately executed.

“‘Do they affect the operation of government? The short answer is very much,” Reeher said. ‘These are the folks who actually attempt to implement the policy changes that the administration is trying to push down from above.’

“Reeher said the relationships between politically appointed officials in top positions and the career bureaucrats who make up the rest of the federal government are ‘critical’ for ensuring policies get put in place smoothly.

So using these top positions to achieve reductions in the size of the bureaucracy, as Trump seems to suggest is his rationale, is a pretty classic unforced error. It’s like trying to reduce overcrowding in schools by firing most of the teachers.

One might be tempted to think the president misspoke out of a desire to avoid admitting his team hasn’t gotten its act together just yet. Earlier he tried to blame the slow pace of appointments on Senate Democrats obstructing confirmations, before it was pointed out how few nominations had been made in the first place.

But Trump seems serious about this claim that he wants empty offices all across the top tier of his administration. So we can only hope his Cabinet secretaries don’t mind working nights and weekends, to make up for the lack of help — or significantly scaling back their plans.

Yep, that’s some “fine-tuned machine” Donald Trump is running.


Trump’s Divisive SOTU Needs More Resistance

There’s not much a political party out of the White House and lacking majorities in the Senate and House can do to challenge the President’s State of the Union Address in real time. But, stewing in silence should not be an option, while the president serves up a rancid mash of nasty stereotypes, gross exaggerations, lies and hypocritcal pieties.

Granted, the optics of the SOTU address are rigged from the get-go, favoring the President, particularly one who has majorities in both houses of congress. And the Republicans have to be credited with making the most of it, putting on a sparkly, glitch-free show for the TV audience. Riddled though his speech was with toxic ingredients, Trump’s delivery was sharp and uncharacteristically disciplined.

Not that the substantive elements of Trump’s presentation were all that impressive. As Ed Kilgore notes in his New York Magazine coverage of the SOTU, Trump “failed to give Americans the details that separate bogus and magical promises from an actual, realizable agenda” and “And there was nothing at all about how to pay for whatever comes next after Obamacare.”

Kilgore’s colleague at New York, Jonathan Chait focuses on Trump’s insincere pleas for bipartisanship, and concludes:

On the whole, Trump’s agenda shows a president who has not departed from the plutocratic agenda that has dominated his party for a quarter-century, but only added grotesque, cruel, racist, and deeply stupid selling points. He has nothing to offer a party not enamored of the opportunity to carry out a massive and historic upward redistribution of wealth.

At The Nation, John Nichols notes a worrisome uptick in Trump’s enthusiasm for increasing the already bloated military budget at the expense of jobs and other human needs:

The rhetoric was, by the standards of this presidency, disciplined. But the specifics were few. Only toward the end did the president get specific, saying, “I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the Defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

Trump was not at all specific about paying for that increase—aside from mentioning the fact that he had “placed a hiring freeze on non-military and non-essential Federal workers.” But his administration has been clear about its hope that the money will come from deep cuts to domestic programs.

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky observed,

But the big clash point of this speech was Obamacare. You noticed that the Democrats sat still in their seats for that. Trump said he had some six-point plan, blah blah blah; most of those six points were Paul Ryan talking points, and I felt Ryan applauded more wholeheartedly during that section of the speech than any other.

All the Republicans applauded, it seemed, but remember that polls are coming out right now showing that their position on this is now the minority position. I think Mitch McConnell knows this in his bones. I’m not sure that the positions Trump stated tonight on health care are positions that can win 60 votes in the Senate, and I’d wager that McConnell isn’t sure they can, either.

 This speech will get very positive reviews. But remember—government isn’t a speech. Today, before this speech, with little fanfare, Trump signed into law an NRA-backed bill that will allow more mentally ill people to buy guns. And remember, there is still Russia. That is not going and cannot go away.

Trump showed tonight that he can sound like a president. That’s not nothing. It’s something he’s never done before. But can he be a president we can respect, even if we disagree? Each day tells us he can’t, and this speech doesn’t change that at all.

Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear delivered a solid critique in the official Democratic response:

Unless the audio in the chamber was dialed down during the response to Trump’s more divisive remarks, it sounded to me like the Democrats were grumbling at moments which begged for booing, or at least a loud “No!” or two. Yes, civility is usually the order of the hour at the SOTU, and the party out of power doesn’t want to look too undignified. But Trump is no ordinary president, and his low regard for civility and decency merits a proportional response on occasion. It’s not like the Dems have a lot to lose with a tougher response at this political moment.

If you have to be a captive audience, it doesn’t mean that you can’t protest boldly against the speaker’s worst distortions and mean-spirited attacks. Trump won the presidency by working the hell out of his base. The one thing Democratic factions are unified about now is the need for a more vigorous response to Trump’s worst policies and comments. It’s time to amp it up.


Will Trump’s abysmal polling numbers sink his administration?

The following post is by Keith Gaby from the EDF Action.

The Trump administration is in the midst of one of the most chaotic presidential launches in American history. Intelligence agencies are reportedly withholding information from the White House for fear of it being passed to Moscow, a senior general has publicly fretted about the stability of the government, and the president creates daily distractions with tweets and false information.

By historical standards, the president is deeply unpopular. A recent CNN poll showed that just 44% of the American people believe he is doing a good job – in what should be his “honeymoon” period. By contrast, a majority of Americans approved of the job performance of the last nine newly elected presidents in their first months in office, averaging a positive rating of 61%.

There were almost as many people (43%) who had “strongly” negative feelings as approved of him at all. How does that compare to former presidents? At this point in their first terms, strong disapproval was Reagan 9%, Clinton 16%, Bush 9%, and Obama 18%. In other words, intense feelings against Trump are more than triple the average of four of his immediate predecessors.  Since intensity drives activism and voting in mid-term elections, this is a dangerous sign for the president and his allies in Congress.

The administration’s early moves on environmental policy will not likely be met with favor. During the campaign, Trump said he would dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminate 70% of governemnt rules and safeguards. The leader of his EPA transition suggested cutting the agency’s staff by two-thirds and the president nominated a famous opponent of clean air and water rules, Scott Pruitt, to lead EPA. But polling suggests moves like these will not sit well, even with those who voted for Trump. A Morning Consult poll revealed that 78% of Trump voters want the same or stronger federal limits on air pollution.

Trump has also said he is not a “big believer” in climate change and wants to end the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon pollution. But the same poll showed that 61% of his voters want to “require US companies to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change.”

The public at large, of course, is even less disposed to giving industry whatever it wants. A Quinnipiac Poll found that just 39% of voters want the administration to “remove regulations on businesses and corporations” and only 29% want to end rules “designed to limit climate change”.

Until the next presidential election, the most important impact of the president’s unpopularity will be the effect it has on members of Congress. With his party in control of both houses, and 10 Democratic senators from Trump states up for re-election in 2018, a popular president should be able to push through his agenda. But Congress is watching the spectacle at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue warily. Aligning themselves with a failing president is a dangerous thing.

However, they are not ready to abandon him yet. Because a primary challenge is often the greatest threat to their political careers, most members of the House and Senate focus on views within their own party. At the moment, nearly 90% of Republican voters are sticking with Trump. But even in a highly partisan atmosphere, the missteps of the administration will eventually begin to drag on voters who are now giving Trump the benefit of the doubt as a fellow-Republican. (The polling cited above was taken before the resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor and the accompanying revelations about Russia. In a Gallup survey taken after the Flynn events, Trump’s job approval had sunk, at least for the moment, to 38%.) And only one-third of Independent voters approve of Mr. Trump.

Despite all that’s happened and historically low approval ratings, the Trump administration still threatens our most important environmental protections. With just executive powers, he could sharply curtail enforcement and strip away important safeguards. But the president’s initial unpopularity, and the incompetence of his White House staff provide progressives with a unique opportunity to limit the damage.


Political Strategy Notes

DNC race in rear view, Bernie Sanders heads to Kansas to rip Republican policies” — Love this headline and the story by Dave Weigel at PowerPost. As Sanders says in the article, “One of my goals as outreach chair of the Senate Democrats is to do everything I can to make the Democratic Party competitive in red states…I think the Democratic Party has been embarrassingly bad at that recently, and we need to expand our reach.” Wouldn’t it be great if a team of top Democrats began visiting states controlled by Republicans and called attention to metrics of their failures? If they can’t visit, then have the national Democratic leaders hammer away at the state GOP establishments on twitter and Facebook. Sow the seeds of a real 50-state strategy with some message discipline displayed by national leaders, as well as local Democrats.

Another encouraging story about a successful Democratic uprising: Paul Blumenthal’s “Buoyed By Anti-Trump Activism, Democrat Wins Delaware Special Election:An army of volunteers, many from out of state, flooded the state Senate district for Stephanie Hansen” at HuffPo. As Blumenthal reports, “The last time her opponent, John Marino, ran in this district, in 2014, he lost by just 2 points. [Stephanie] Hansen’s 58-42 percent victory over Marino on Saturday ensured that Democrats will maintain control of the state Senate. It also notched a big Donald Trump-era win for a new generation of Democratic activists shocked into action by the November election.”

Greg Sargent gets down to raw specifics in his Plum Line post “Trump will likely sell out his working-class white base. Here’s how.” In one section, Sargent writes, “…Trump strongly signaled to working-class white voters that, while he’d repeal the Affordable Care Act, he isn’t like those other mean old Republicans when it comes to government’s role in expanding health care to the poor and sick. He and his advisers recently insisted that under the GOP replacement, no one will lose coverage. But they’ve already backed off that promise, instead signaling that they may embrace the block-granting of Medicaid, which would probably lead to cuts over time. The bottom line: The Trump/GOP replacement is likely to end Obamacare’s effort to create a universal coverage guarantee.”

For those who believe that Democrats can regain lost ground by focusing more on economic issues, Alexander Burns has a New York Times article of interest, “Angling for a Comeback, Democratic Governors Sharpen Focus on Jobs.” As Burns explains, “Gov. Gina M. Raimondo of Rhode Island, a Democrat who is in her first term, said her party had too often failed to put jobs and economic opportunity at the forefront of its agenda. Democrats had erred, she said, by treating jobs merely as one issue in a “check list” of positions…“My own view is, we have to say: The whole game is job growth,” Ms. Raimondo said. “People feel left behind because they are left behind. People feel the playing field isn’t level because it’s not level. So let’s level it.”…Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State, the vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said Democrats had to make job growth their organizing theme on all subjects, including immigration and the Affordable Care Act. The most effective attacks on Mr. Trump, he said, would cast the president’s policies as harmful to the economy. “We as a party have to wrap all of our messages and all of our issues in a central jobs and economic message…”

Tip of the hat to both Rep. Keith Ellison and former Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the latter just elected head of the DNC, for the classy way they handled their rivalry, despite some acrimony among their respective followers. As NYT’s Jonathan Martin reports, “Taking the microphone from Mr. Perez, Mr. Ellison pleaded with his fervent backers: “We don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided…Directly appealing to his disappointed supporters, Mr. Ellison said, “If they trust me, they need to come on and trust Tom Perez as well.” Perez, who also called for unity, is expected to leverage some of Ellison’s interesting ideas for maximizing voter turnout.

In his column, “Bannon’s dangerous ‘deconstruction’,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. provides a crisp description of Bannon’s use of the expression “deconstruction of the administrative state” and what it means on the ground: “In practice, this is a war on a century’s worth of work to keep our air and water clean; our food, drugs and workplaces safe; the rights of employees protected; and the marketplace fair and unrigged. It’s one thing to make regulations more efficient and no more intrusive than necessary. It’s another to say that all the structures of democratic government designed to protect our citizens from the abuses of concentrated private power should be swept away…Trump and Bannon are happy to expand the reach of the state when it comes to policing, immigration enforcement, executive-branch meddling in the work of investigative agencies, and the browbeating of individual companies that offend the president in one way or another. The parts of government they want to dismantle are those that stand on the side of citizens against powerful interests.”

In bad news for Betsy Devos, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll finds that a healthy majority, “58 percent of Iowans oppose taking public school funds to help parents pay for non-public schools, while only 35 percent support it,” reports Mackenzie Ryan in the Register. It’s “just” Iowa, conservatives will say. But ‘just Iowa’ was a heartland Trump state, and a 23 percent gap (+/- 3.5 m.o.e.) is pretty significant, especially because Iowa’s popular Republican governor Terry Branstad and a host of state Republican leaders supported it. Secretary of Education Devos has been an ardent advocate of  public school privatization schemes.

John Schuppe of NBC news shares a revealing quote by Speaker John Boehner at a recent health care forum: “In the 25 years I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time, agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like. Not once.” When the ‘repeal and replace’ follies are all played out, the only thing certain is that some major provisions of Obamacare will endure because they are higly popular, but they will call the package something else. Whether the ‘replacement’ will actually function remains much in doubt.

CNN’s Jake Tapper sticks it to Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, who had the hypocrisy to blast the New York Times for not noting his birthplace accurately: “I imagine it must be really annoying when someone puts out false info about where you were born,” tweets Tapper. “Must really bother you!!”


Trump Offers Conservatives the World If They Give Him Their Souls

After watching and pondering Donald Trump’s speech to a large roomful of conservatives at CPAC, I no longer had any doubt about the 45th president’s relationship with the GOP and its long-dominant faction. I wrote up my conclusions for New York:

Amazingly, Trump spoke for an extended period to an exclusively conservative audience and never used the terms liberty or limited government or free enterprise. He used the word freedom exactly twice. Once was in a reference to the TPP agreement being a threat to “our economic freedom,” a characterization that — until recently — few mainstream conservatives would support. The other was in boasting about his election win:

“The victory and the win were something that really was dedicated to a country and people that believe in freedom, security and the rule of law. Our victory…(APPLAUSE)… was a victory and the win for conservative values.”

That was also the speech’s only clear reference, explicitly or implicitly, to the brand of conservative values that have dominated the discourse at CPAC for decades.

Trump did offer a lot of crowd-pleasing lines, roughly divided equally between attacks on common enemies like the non-conservative elements of the news media, and promises to pursue specific policies most conservatives like, from defense spending increases to tax cuts to deregulation to aggressive exploitation of fossil fuels.

But invariably Trump framed his policies not with the traditional memes of movement conservatism, but as expressions of his one clear guiding principle: nationalism. Or, as he put it: “The core conviction of our movement is that we are a nation that will put its own citizens first.”

While patriotism, of course, is a common touchstone for American conservatives (and for liberals, though conservatives often have trouble acknowledging it), nationalism disassociated from the idea that America distinctively stands for universal values — e.g., freedom or “liberty” or limited government — is not a value Republicans have traditionally embraced. Presumably many of the same people who cheered Trump at CPAC also cheered George W. Bush when he used to talk about freedom and democracy being America’s gift to the world, a gift worth fighting to defend and extend — rhetoric Ronald Reagan also used throughout his career (otherwise his favorite rhetorical reference to America as “a shining city on a hill” is nonsensical).

The idea that Trump isn’t asking conservatives to change that much simply is not true. He’s asking them to acknowledge that discarding their most cherished positions in order to vanquish their foes and achieve their immediate goals is absolutely necessary, with his electoral victory after the defeat of more conventional leaders like McCain and Romney being the proof. And thus he represents the eternal temptation of right-bent political thinkers and actors everywhere and at every time to overcome their scruples and embrace “populist” demagogues.

As Trump ended his speech and the room was filled with his odd campaign anthem, the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” for the first time I saw the song as entirely appropriate. Conservatives cannot elect a president who talks only or mostly of freedom and capitalism or of those Western values that transcend the nation-state. But they can win with Trump, so they’ll get what they need, at the mere expense of their principles, if not their souls.

It’s a deal with the devil most of them seem more than willing to take.


‘Big Tent’ vs. ‘The Base’ Strategies:” Either/Or or Both/And?

Here we go again with yet another article about Dems having to chose between a ‘big tent’ vs. ‘turnout the base’ strategy. Clare Foran has some interesting observations on the topic in her article in The Atlantic, “Can the Democratic Party Win Back Voters It Lost to Trump? Liberals may need to decide whether to focus on energizing their base or expanding their coalition.”

As the Democratic Party contemplates what’s next in the wake of its defeat in the presidential election, liberals may have to decide what matters more: Building a big tent party where far-left voters and moderate centrists can co-exist even if they occasionally disagree on policy and strategy, or focusing on the demands of the party’s progressive base, potentially creating a more like-minded and ideologically rigid coalition in the process.

In an effort to persuade Democrats to embrace a big-tent strategy, Third Way, a center-left think tank, argues in a new report that voters aren’t necessarily rigidly attached to a particular party, and might be won over as a result. The report, titled “Why Demography Does Not Equal Destiny,” concludes that demographic change in the United States won’t deliver Democrats a winning electoral coalition by default, but that there are still opportunities for the party to convince Americans to vote for Democratic candidates even if they haven’t always done so in the past

….[Third Way V.P.] Erickson Hatalsky argues that voting trends suggest that some voters swing back and forth between the two parties rather than remain consistently loyal to one party or the other. For example, hundreds of counties across the United States flipped from voting for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election to voting for Trump in 2016. Some congressional districts also delivered victory for Trump while at the same time reelecting Democratic members of Congress, like Cheri Bustos in Illinois and Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania.

Foran has Alan Abramowitz present the counter-argument, that investing more in turning out the Democratic base is a more promising strategy:

Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, is skeptical that Democrats can significantly grow their base by converting large numbers of either Republicans or Trump voters. He believes Democrats would be more effective if they focused on increasing turnout of core Democratic constituencies, such as African American, Hispanic, and younger voters.

“There’s a reason why campaigns are devoting more and more resources trying to energize the base rather than trying to persuade people. It’s because trying to persuade people is extremely difficult in this day and age,” Abramowitz said in an interview. “That’s not to say there won’t ever be any movement back and forth between parties,” he added, “but I just don’t see there being any large number of movable voters.”

Abramowitz notes that looking back at the voting behavior of independents spanning the past several decades may fail to adequately recognize that party loyalties are much stronger today than in the 1970s and 80s. Instead, he points to increasing ideological division among voters in recent years and what he calls “negative partisanship”—a phenomenon whereby animosity toward the opposing party becomes a driving factor behind how a person decides to vote—to argue that there likely isn’t a significant number of voters up for grabs.

But few Democratic strategists are saying that it must be all about one or the other option. It’s more a matter of allocating resources optimaly between turning out the base and targeting persuadable voters, including those who have voted for Republicans.

There is a third category, however, which doesn’t fit neatly into either the ‘persuadable’ or ‘base’ voter pidgeon holes, non-voters who are waking up to the reality that their lives are indeed affected by politics, thanks in large part to Trump’s scary extremism. Review the articles about the women’s marches across America leading up to Trump’s inauguration, and you will find numerous quotes from women and some men saying they have not been politically-involved, but now they are worried.

This is a new constituency for Democrats. It’s not that they are ‘persuadables’. It’s more that they are now available. Nobody knows how large is this segment of new likely voters. But Democrats could use some creative ideas for reaching them.


Trump Bending Conservatism To His Will

Going into this week’s annual CPAC conference, I thought it would be a good idea to examine the power dynamics between the new regime and the conservative movement that once kept its difference from Trump. I did so at New York earlier this week:

The chief celebrant [at CPAC] will, of course, be the president of the United States, Donald Trump, who welcomes every chance to display his political success and bask in the adulation of people who very likely viewed him as a sideshow act during his previous appearances at CPAC in 2011, 2013, and 2015. This year’s CPAC caps the remarkable process whereby this heretic not only became acceptable to conservatives during the course of the 2016 campaign, but is rapidly placing his stamp on conservatism as we know it —in the past a durable ideology that transcended constant arguments over strategy and tactics. It is safe to say that a lot, perhaps a majority, of those who will hear Trump speak Friday morning could not have imagined the scene just two years ago. So the question that will come up again and again at CPAC is whether Trump is adjusting himself to conservatism now that he leads America’s conservative party, or whether conservatism is fundamentally changing to accommodate his power and voter appeal.

Luckily for Trump, CPAC is occurring before any major rifts have opened up between his nascent administration and the Republican leadership of Congress. So the mood is likely to be upbeat, with various factions on the right all seeing what they want to see in the road just ahead. Don’t let the brouhaha over Milo Yiannopoulos’s scheduled and then canceled appearance fool you, though: The furor he aroused among conservatives was more about issues relating to his provocative treatment of his own gay sexuality (very recently CPAC was roiled by arguments as to whether pro-gay-rights conservative groups were even welcome as paying sponsors of the event) than about his role as a legitimizer of the seedier side of the alt-right. Yes, an ACU board member is scheduled to assail the alt-right in a speech Thursday morning. But that may be part of a process to limn the limits within which Trumpian nationalism will be fully embraced.

And embraced it most definitely will be. The Washington Post’s veteran conservative watchers Robert Costa and David Weigel had this assessment:

“This year’s CPAC schedule represents a marked shift toward Trump’s politics and penchant for showmanship. Nigel Farage, the pro-Brexit politician from Britain who spoke to an emptying room in 2015, will speak the same morning as Trump. Reality TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter will appear with a super PAC trying to draft Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a regular Trump supporter on the cable news circuit, into Wisconsin’s 2018 Senate race.

“’There used to be Pat Buchanan’s people, the populist ­revolt-types and the establishment of the anti-establishment, who’d get a third of the vote in the primaries and we’d beat them back,’” said Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican consultant who led a super PAC that supported former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. ‘Now they’ve hijacked the Republican Party.’”

Murphy is the rare bitter-end #NeverTrump conservative who is still speaking out against the new regime. The vast majority of former Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich supporters who are going along with Trump, with or without private misgivings, are probably more likely to think CPAC is seducing Trump rather than succumbing to his sinister blandishments. But it is hard to deny the different tone of this particular CPAC. I count eight separate appearances by Brietbart writers on the agenda. The very first speaker when the full event begins tomorrow is Kellyanne Conway. Later that day Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus will appear together. As Costa and Weigel explain, the symbolism of that appearance is not lost on anyone:

By sitting with Priebus, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Bannon aims to showcase how the party guard and formerly obscure players on the right are in power and working together to enact a new kind of conservative agenda, the official said, one that is directed at reaching working-class voters who are disillusioned with the global economy and elites.
The new crowd at CPAC will displace certain once-prominent members of the old crowd. From 2007 through 2015, the CPAC presidential straw poll was won four times by Mitt Romney, twice by Ron Paul, and three times by Rand Paul. Romney and the Pauls will be nowhere in sight at this CPAC. That may help answer the underlying question of (to borrow Aretha Franklin’s phrase) who’s zooming who in the relationship between conservatism and Team Trump.


Political Strategy Notes

“To resist the Trump presidency effectively, Democrats have to go beyond the defensive posture of relying exclusively or even primarily on protests, demonstrations and other forms of opposition. Instead, Democrats must seek to establish an independent and strong political base from which to articulate an alternative vision for the country. One way to do this would be for the governors of the blue states — California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Connecticut and Colorado, to name some of the mightiest in numbers and weight — to form a very public council to articulate that alternative vision and publicly seek to make that vision a reality within their respective states: a vision that includes universal health care, strong support for labor unions, a humanitarian approach to immigrants and refugees, protection of the environment, among other morally necessary and compelling elements…This kind of public group stance by those representing the people who actually provided the popular vote majority for Hillary Clinton would be the assertion of a positive vision supported by a real political base to realize that vision. It would give people everywhere a sense of hope and strength from which to fight the larger national battle. And it would offer up a highly visible, positive alternative worldview to Trump’s dystopian picture of social reality that lacks any idealistic social elements.” – from “Going on the Offensive: A State-Based Strategy for the Democratic Party” at Truthout by Peter Gabel, editor-at-large of Tikkun magazine and author of Another Way of Seeing: Essays on Transforming Law, Politics, and Culture.

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn is geting some buzz with his post, “Democrats’ Best Bet to Retake the House? Follow the Sun.” Cohn explains, “Mrs. Clinton’s success in Orange County, and in well-educated and Hispanic areas elsewhere in the Sun Belt, helped her win the popular vote — though there was no payoff in the Electoral College. But it’s districts like these that will decide whether the Democrats can make a serious run at control of the House…There is no guarantee that the Democrats can put the House in play, even if Mr. Trump’s approval ratings remain as low as they are now or slip further. The Republicans have so many safe seats that they could even survive a so-called wave election like the ones that swept Democrats to power in 2006 and out of power in 2010. The Democrats need 24 seats to retake the House…But whether the Democrats can do it will come down to places like Orange County, which is more populous than Iowa. Four congressional districts that have at least some territory in the county still have Republican representatives, and all four were carried by Mrs. Clinton…It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the road to a Democratic House begins and ends at Laguna Beach.”

At The Plum Line Greg Sargent, who likes Cohn’s analysis, believes the 2018 outcome may turn on the answer to a key question: “One of the big questions in American politics right now is how deep public support really is for the agenda loosely known as “Trumpism.” Did the 2016 election represent a fluke-like confluence of factors that enabled Trump to eke out a narrow electoral college win, despite having his worldview repudiated in the popular vote? Or are we in the midst of a genuine turn in public opinion — away from the inclusive, cosmopolitan pluralism that seemed to be gaining ground and toward restrictive, America-first, wall-them-off nationalism?

In his post at The Fix, “Donald Trump is losing his war with the media,” Aaron Blake notes “A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that while people may be broadly unhappy with the mainstream media, they still think it’s more credible than Trump. The president regularly accuses the press of “fake news,” but people see more “fake news” coming out of his own mouth…The poll asked who registered voters “trust more to tell you the truth about important issues.” A majority — 52 percent — picked the media. Just 37 percent picked Trump…The poll did find that registered voters by a narrow margin think the media has treated Trump unfairly, with 50 percent saying they disapproved of the coverage of Trump and 45 percent approving. But voters are even more critical of Trump’s treatment of the media, with 61 percent disapproving and 35 percent approving…Even 23 percent of Republicans say Trump is mistreating the media, and independents disapprove 59-35.”

In his  Politico post “Poll: Support for Obamacare is rising” Steven Shepard writes “…A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows voters are now split evenly on the law. Forty-five percent of registered voters approve of the law, the poll shows, and 45 percent disapprove…Of nine separate provisions of the law tested in the poll, more poll respondents want to repeal only one — the individual mandate that Americans purchase health insurance — than want to keep it…Other provisions are resoundingly popular. Nearly two-thirds of voters, 65 percent, want to keep prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, including 59 percent of Republicans. Sixty-three percent want to keep allowing those younger than 26 years of age to stay on their parents’ plan, including 56 percent of Republicans…Voters even want to keep provisions of the law opposed by most Republicans. Only a quarter want to repeal requiring businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health insurance, while 59 percent want to keep it. Just 28 percent want to repeal requirements that insurance companies cover birth-control medication, and 55 percent want to keep it. And one-third, 33 percent, want to repeal taxes on medical devices, while slightly more, 39 percent, want to keep those taxes in place.”

Told:

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Jim Kessler, both vice presidents of the centrist think tank Third Way, write in their Washington Post op-ed, “Why demographics weren’t — and won’t be — destiny for Democrats” that “Democrats need to dig themselves out of a big hole from state legislative races on up, and it starts by treating voters as more than a check box on a census form. It will require building a big-tent coalition based on values and experiences, not just demographic groups, and rethinking the party’s pitch and policies to respond to the needs and concerns of Americans across the country, not just in cities and on coasts. Only if the Democratic Party can transform itself to meet those goals will it be ready to counter Trump and his noxious, dangerous strain of right-wing populism over the long term.”

NYT columnist David Leonhardt explains why “The Democratic Base Isn’t Enough“: “Winning back the House and Senate requires doing better in heavily white, nonmetropolitan America, which tends to be conservative…Democrats would be crazy to alienate the growing voting groups, such as millennials, Latinos andAsian-Americans, that now support the party so strongly. The answer for the party is almost surely more complex than simply moving to the right. Instead, it likely revolves around an economic message that appeals to both center and left…But if Democrats want to return to power — not just in the White House, but in Congress and at the state level too — they need a strategy that appeals to more white voters.”

Well, here’s a telling moment of candor from Montana GOP Chairman Jeff Essman, as reported by Tom Lutey of The Billings Gazette: “In an email to party members, Jeff Essmann warned Republicans the mail-in election would “give the Democrats an inherent advantage in close elections due to their ability to organize large numbers of unpaid college students and members of public employee unions to gather ballots by going door to door….At issue is state Senate Bill 503, which would require a mail ballot election this spring when Montanans are likely to vote to replace U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican nominated by President Donald Trump to be Interior secretary. The Senate is expected to vote on Zinke’s confirmation next week. A special election would follow within 85 to 100 days.”