washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

June 25, 2017

Dems’ House Battleground Map Grows

From Jim Newell’s post, “The Class of Trump: Why Democrats feel so comfortable trying to expand the 2018 map” at slate.com:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is getting bolder. On Monday it announced 20 new districts it would target for recruitment and potential investment, raising its total target list to 79 districts. The initial round of 59 targeted districts, announced in January, took care of most of the perennial low-hanging fruit, but this new one cuts into some ambitiously red districts…The average rating of the 20 new districts, using the 2017 Cook Partisan Voting Index figures, is R+7.8. In a normal year, a host of districts like that are not worth much time, investment, or recruitment.

..Passage of the American Health Care Act opened new frontiers for Democrats. Representatives from each of the new districts voted for the AHCA, which would use nearly $1 trillion in Medicaid cuts to finance tax cuts for the wealthy. The health care bill itself is just an amuse-bouche for the party’s chief agenda item: additional tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. You don’t have to like Democrats to hate this.

Newell notes a couple of other issues that are encouraging Democrats, including a campaign funds scandal anbd involvement in the Trump-Russia mess, but cautions that “The list is aspirational. Not all of the Democratic challengers for all of these districts are going to get all of the DCCC’s money and support.” He also cites retiring Republican House members and the emergence of some promising Democratic recruits joining the 2018 fray.

At The Hill, Ben Kamisar and Lisa Hagen affirm the same key reasons for improved democratic prospects in the House:

Democrats are increasingly bullish about the prospect of a wave election in 2018 amid backlash against the passage of the House GOP’s ObamaCare replacement bill and the snowballing revelations coming out of the White House…“Anyone who thinks the House isn’t in play is kidding themselves,” a former GOP aide told The Hill…The House healthcare bill is full of landmines and the constant White House drama Republicans have to defend is destroying any ability we have to be on offense or talk about a positive message.”

Kamisar and Hagen note further,

Democrats are, on average, leading Republicans by 7 points when voters are asked which party they prefer in the upcoming elections, according to Friday’s RealClearPolitics average…That average didn’t include a recent Quinnipiac University poll that put Democrats up by 16 points when participants were asked which party should win control of the House in 2018.

The Cook Political Report moved ratings for 20 House districts in favor of Democrats following the healthcare vote in the House, while Sabato’s Crystal Ball did the same for 18 districts in the days after that.

In their Politico post “Paging Rahm: House Dems revive 2006 playbook for 2018: The party is reviving the strategy it used the last time it took the House 11 years ago, but a lot has changed since then,” Edward-Isaac Dovere and Gabriel Debenedetti write:

..Democrats see the same ugly storm forming for Republicans that delivered them the majority 11 years ago, and they’re digging out the blueprint…The party is vastly expanding the number of districts it plans to contest, recruiting veterans and business owners to compete in conservative terrain as it did back then. Three senior House Democrats are soon heading to Chicago to seek advice from Rahm Emanuel, the party’s 2006 master strategist. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been tutoring members on the party’s campaign efforts that year.

…Still, a lot has changed for Democrats since 2006, mostly for the worse, so re-adopting the campaign tactics from that year alone probably won’t cut it. For starters, Democrats need 24 seats to take back the majority vs. 17 seats to make up in 2006. The 2010 redistricting tilted the House landscape toward Republicans, putting more seats even further from Democrats’ grasp. And there’s a year-and-a-half to go in the most unpredictable environment in modern political history.

…This cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is investing early in research into Republican incumbents, diving deep into their records and histories for possible corruption and other liabilities, in hopes of promoting a narrative they then can tie to suspicions about Trump’s self-dealing…“Ethics,” said DCCC Executive Director Dan Sena, “will play a significant role.”

With nearly 18 months to go, Democratic candidates have good reasons not to get overconfident. But there are equally-good reasons for optimism — and for investing resources in promising candidates.


How Public Attitudes on Impeachment and Trump’s Collusion with Russia Inform Democratic Strategy

A poll conducted May 17-20 by the Harris Poll for the Harvard Center for American Political Studies sheds light on pubic attitudes about collusion between the Trump Administration and Russia in the 2016 election and prospects for impeachment of President Trump. Among the findings, as reported by Jonathan Easley exclusively for The Hill:

…54 percent of voters said they have not seen evidence to suggest that Trump campaign officials conspired with Moscow to influence the 2016 election….Respondents were largely split along partisan lines, with 80 percent of Republicans saying there is no evidence of collusion and 74 percent of Democrats saying there is. Only 38 percent of independents said there is evidence of collusion.

When voters were asked, irrespective of the evidence, whether they believe that Trump campaign officials had coordinated with Moscow, 52 percent said no and 48 percent said yes. A majority of independents, 54 percent, didn’t think there was any collusion.

Among Democrats, 66 percent believe Trump will be impeached, while only 36 percent of independents and 20 percent of Republicans believe the same…“Right now nearly 60 percent believe impeachment will go nowhere, though a majority of Democrats think it will and so there is great potential for … disappointment among the party base,” said Harvard-Harris Poll Co-Director Mark Penn.

In addition, “A majority, 52 percent, said it was inappropriate for the president to have divulged sensitive classified information” to the Russians, “including 56 percent of independents.”

Meanwhile Nate Silver reports at fivethirtyeight.com that “people putting money on the line are taking impeachment seriously. According to the prediction market Betfair, the chance that Trump will fail to serve out his four-year term is about 50 percent (!). There’s even a 20 to 25 percent probability (!!) that Trump doesn’t finish out 2017 in office, these bettors reckon.”

Silver proceeds with an exhaustive analysis of impeachment prospects based on what little data is available and historic experience, and he cautions “this is a thought experiment and not a mathematical model.” But Silver adds, “I do think I owe you a range, however. I’m pretty sure I’d sell Trump-leaves-office-early stock (whether because of removal from office or other reasons) at even money (50 percent), and I’m pretty sure I’d buy it at 3-to-1 against (25 percent). I could be convinced by almost any number within that range.”

All of the above taken into account, Democrats don’t yet have reason enough to make impeachment of Trump their top priority. Indeed, as Jeff Alson has persuasively argued in In These Times, there are good strategic reasons for Democrats to avoid “the impreachment trap.” Better to let the Republicans take the lead on it and divide their party, while Democrats focus on building a strong midterm campaign.

Given Trump’s recklessness, however, and the mounting revelations of his administration’s collusion with the Russians to interfere in our 2016 presidential elections, at some point Democrats could be perceived as shirking their duty to protect our national security, if they don’t take impeachment action. Determining the best approach may require daily recalibration, but at least the Democrats don’t have the increasingly bad menu of choices facing the Republicans.


Political Strategy Notes

Paul Kane’s “For Democrats, special elections may be preview of 2018 campaigns” at PowerPost provides an overview of the Democratic strategies being deployed in three House elections in GA, MT and SC and sees a common thread, keeping it local. As Kane writes, “…In all three races, Democrats have made a tactical decision not to turn the contests into a referendum on Trump’s alleged scandals and instead are focusing on policy decisions by the president and congressional Republicans…Democrats say that they have learned a lesson from the 2016 elections, in which House Democratic candidates relentlessly focused their campaigns on trying to tie Republican incumbents to the personal scandals of Trump or some of his more outlandish policy statements…That strategy failed in almost spectacular fashion, providing a net gain of only six seats when, just two weeks before Election Day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was predicting gains of more than 20 seats and possibly winning the majority…The danger for Democrats is that they might be overlearning the lesson of the last war, applying the 2016 mind-set to what could be a different environment in 2018.”

Despite the ‘keeping it local’ strategy, “The Democratic Party’s chance to win back the House of Representatives next year, considered a long-shot only a short while ago, is soaring thanks to a crack recruiter: President Donald Trump,” writes  Albert R. Hunt at Bloomberg View. “Dave Wasserman, a political analyst for the Cook Report and a leading expert on House elections, now puts prospects of a Democratic takeover at between 40 percent and 50 percent. Democrats are quick to credit Trump for encouraging candidates to step forward. “If you don’t get good candidates you won’t benefit much even from a wave,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who was the architect of the party’s last midterm triumph in 2006, when he was a congressman…To date, an unusual number of Democratic women and veterans have announced bids for office. A smaller-than-usual proportion of the new candidates already hold elected office.”

In his NYT Politics article, “Outside Washington’s ‘Blazing Inferno, Democrats Seek an Agenda,” Jonathan Martin cites the difficulty Democrats have generating public interest in issues in the long media shadow of Trump’s latest debacle. But Martin, covering the Center for American Progress “ideas conference” for Democrats, also notes that health care is the top issue cited by Democratic office-holders and campaign workers: “There’s this Washington narrative, and then there’s a voter narrative,” said Anita Dunn, a longtime Democratic strategist. “Significant parts of our base are following the Washington narrative very closely, but for voters who voted for Donald Trump or voters who didn’t vote at all, I think Democratic candidates are going to have to make the election meaningful to those voters’ lives…The more effective way to do that, in the eyes of many Democrats, is to draw more attention to the repeal of the health law than to the investigation of Mr. Trump’s campaign…“The Trump story happens without us,” said Ms. Dunn, noting that the leaks will keep coming and Democrats have little control over the F.B.I. inquiry; the investigation by the newly named special counsel, Robert Mueller; or the inquiries being led by the congressional Republican majorities….“But the health care contrast, which is a very, very powerful one if you look at the polling, is where we can draw a sharp contrast…”

Martin’s article also quotes Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz, who note two other issues that worry their constituents, along with health care: “Ms. Warren, while insisting that Democrats could link the Trump campaign inquiry and his policy agenda under the rubric of accountability, acknowledged that she did not hear much from voters about Russia-related matters…“The two issues people raise the most with me are health care and student loans,” she said in an interview. “And both of them make people cry.”…Some in the party are gamely trying to break through on the policy front, as Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii demonstrated on Friday shortly after yet more developments related to Mr. Trump were reported. In an all-caps Twitter post, Mr. Schatz wrote, in part, that in the middle of the White House’s troubles, “they are still trying to take away your healthcare and ruin the internet.”

At The Nation, Robert Borosage noted that Sen. Bernie Sanders was not invited to the ‘ideas conference,” but “The first sessions of the day on the economy revealed that Bernie Sanders’s agenda is gaining ground among mainstream Democrats. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti described his success in passing a $15 minimum wage, a large infrastructure program, and tuition-free community college. Senator Jeff Merkley, the sole senator to support Sanders in 2016, indicted the trade and tax policies that give companies incentives to move jobs abroad, and called for major investments in infrastructure, renewable energy, and education. Medicare for All still appeared to be off the table, however, with most speakers focused on defending Obamacare against the Republican assault.”

Also at NYT Politics, Robert Pear provides an update on the ways that that Trump and his Administration and other Republicans sabotage Obamacare. Pear notes “The administration’s refusal to guarantee payment of subsidies to health insurance companies, the murky outlook for the Affordable Care Act in Congress and doubts about enforcement of the mandate for most people to have insurance are driving up insurance prices for 2018, insurers say in rate requests filed with state officials…The cost-sharing payments are only part of the problem. Insurers said the Trump administration was also destabilizing insurance markets by indicating that it would loosen enforcement of the mandate for people to have coverage or pay a penalty.”…“The Trump administration is paying the subsidies, but is trickling them out one month at a time,” as part of a “very cunning’’ strategy to undermine the health care law, said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut…In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold subsidy payments from insurers as a way to induce Democrats to negotiate with him on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.” Democrats clearly need some sharply-worded soundbites to hold Republicans accountable for their refusal to enforce the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats also need some better memes to brand the Republicans in a way that gets voter attention. Paul Krugman’s column, ‘What’s the Matter with Republicans” offers this insight: “It has become painfully clear, however, that Republicans have no intention of exercising any real oversight over a president who is obviously emotionally unstable, seems to have cognitive issues and is doing a very good imitation of being an agent of a hostile foreign power…There is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand…The G.O.P…is one branch of a monolithic structure, movement conservatism, with a rigid ideology — tax cuts for the rich above all else.”

“With a horde of vocal Trump supporters cheering on every inane statement, delusion, lie and bad act, the majority of the American people can be forgiven for thinking the GOP as a whole has lost its mind. The Republicans may soon lose a generation of voters through a combination of the sheer incompetence of Trump and a party rank and file with no ability to control its leader…Trump still thinks he stands in contrast to Clinton, when in reality, for voters watching the chaos unfold, he stands in contrast both to a more level-headed Vice President Pence and an unknown generic Democrat — neither of whom constantly reminds people of their incompetence. Unless Republican leaders stage an intervention, I expect them to experience a deserved electoral blood bath in November 2018.” — from arch-conservative Erick Erickson’s Washington Post op-ed, “Here Comes the GOP Bloodbath.”

“Morning Joe” Scarborough, a vocal Republican critic of Trump and his inner circle, has been trying again to rebrand Trump as a Democratic creature — a tough sell, considering that Trump was the overwhelming winner of most of the GOP primaries, has appointed only Republicans to top posts in his administration and only 13 percent of Democrats approved of Trump’s first 100 days in a WaPo/ABC News poll reported April 23rd. If Trump is still around in 2020, I wouldn’t be shocked if Scarborough himself runs in the GOP primaries and caucuses.


From Virginia, Signs That Whistling Dixie No Longer Works

Something good for Democrats is happening in, of all places, the Republican Party of Virginia: a gubernatorial candidate playing the old neo-Confederate game is not doing well, as I explained at New York:

With all the recent controversy about Confederate memorials being pulled down, you might think Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart was being shrewd by exploiting old-white-voter resentment over the issue in Civil War–drenched Virginia. But at present, it doesn’t seem to be doing much for the exurban local-government figure who’s tried to make himself into a Trump-like vehicle for protests against a GOP Establishment that is fully behind his opponent Ed Gillespie. According to a new Washington Post/George Mason poll, Stewart is trailing Gillespie by 20 points (38–18, with 15 percent going to State Senator Frank Wagner), and does not have a lot of money to catch up before the June 13 primary.

Virginia does not require receiving a majority of the primary vote to win a nomination, so Stewart can’t count on a second chance if Gillespie beats him but falls short of 50 percent.

He must be given credit for persistence, though. Stewart has pursued his argument that taking down Confederate memorials reflects the kind of p.c. culture that Trump opposes up to and beyond the gates of political prudence, as Politico noted:

“’No Robert E. Lee monument should come down. That man is a hero & an honorable man. It is shameful what they are doing with these monuments,’” he wrote in one Twitter missive, following up a few hours later: ‘After they tear down Lee & Beauregard, they are coming for Washington & Jefferson.’ He added the hashtag #HistoricalVandalism.

“When he hasn’t lamented the shoddy treatment of Southern heritage, he has compared the politicians who support removing statues to ISIS, the murderous Islamic extremists who have destroyed historic artifacts and religious sites throughout Syria. Or suggested that George Soros “needs to be tried for sedition, stripped of his citizenship or deported.” Or labeling his main opponent a “cuckservative,” the disdainful epithet of choice among the alt-right.”

His particular focus on the City of Charlottesville’s decision to remove a Lee memorial has brought Stewart into uncomfortably close proximity to white supremacists, as became apparent when Richard Spencer led a torchlit march to the memorial last weekend.

Virtually every political figure in Virginia, including Gillespie and Wagner, condemned the marchers — except for Stewart, who remained silent. He then announced a “Facebook Live event” for Monday during which, after speculation that he might be dropping out of the race, he instead attacked his enemies and rivals again:

“During the brief video stream from a tea party event in Northern Virginia, Stewart blasted “fake news,” GOP rival Ed Gillespie, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Dominion Energy and sanctuary cities. The video’s title was ‘It’s Time to Denounce.'”

That is certainly something Stewart is ever-ready to do.

But his Trump-Heavy campaign does not seem to be working at all. The WaPo/GMU poll shows him only winning 15 percent of the likely GOP primary voters who “strongly approve” of Trump’s job performance….

Assuming Gillespie wins on June 13, Stewart’s campaign may be remembered as showing the limits of race-tinged attacks on “political correctness,” even among a very conservative electorate. Racist dog whistles are one thing. Howling at the moon while defending the Lost Cause is another thing altogether.


New PRRI Study Reveals Issues That Can Help Dems Win More Support from White Working-Class

A recently-released study by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlantic magazine conducted in September and December has generated discussion about the finding that racial attitudes of white workers helped Trump win the presidency.  Although the study highlighted the significant role of racism and “cultural dislocation” in the election outcome, it also illuminated several major issues that, if emphasized in future campaigns, could give Democrats an edge, including:

German Lopez notes at Vox the study’s finding that  “about 68 percent “believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.” In comparison, 44 percent of white college-educated Americans reported a similar view. As Lopez explains, “White working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns.”

The survey also found that “about 60 percent “say because things have gotten so far off track, we need a strong leader who is willing to break the rules.” Trump projected a strong persona in the 2016 campaign. He is a rule-breaker. But it would be entirely convicing and verifiable for Democrats to project the meme that he is an extremely weak leader. In fact, “weak bully” is a term that fits him better than any other president.

Fifty-three percent of those surveyed supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and 58 percent said the rich should pay more in taxes. (Those figures are similar to the results for the general population.) Almost no prominent Republican leaders support such a proposed hike in the minimum wage,

“Asked how well they felt Trump understood their communities’ problems, a majority of the white working class — 51 percent — answered “not too well” or “not well at all,” notes Max Ehrenfruend at WaPo’s Wonkblog. “Those figures suggest Trump might not have long to deliver.”

One surprising revelation was that “More than seven in 10 (71 percent) white working-class Americans and about three-quarters (74 percent) of the public overall agree a person who has been convicted of a felony should be allowed to vote after he has served his sentence,” notes Steven Rosenfeld at Alternet, via salon.com. Democrats have been much stronger critics of felon disenfranchisement.

Rosenfeld also flags the finding that “twelve percent of white working-class Americans report a family member has struggled with alcoholism, while a similar number (8 percent) say the same of drug addiction. Among white college-educated Americans, fewer say someone in their household has struggled with either alcoholism (9 percent) or drug addiction (3 percent).” With Attorney General Sessions going on the warpath against pot smokers and virtually all Republican leaders wanting to cut funding for rehabilitation, Democrats may be able to win some working-class support by emphasizing their track record as supporters of rehab programs.

German notes further,

The research also shows it’s possible to reach out to Trump voters — even those who are racist or sexist today — in an empathetic way without condoning their prejudice. The evidence suggests, in fact, that the best way to weaken people’s racial or other biases is through frank, empathetic dialogue. (Much more on that in my in-depth piece on the research.) Given that, the strongest approach to really combating racism and sexism may be empathy.

One study, for example, found that canvassing people’s homes and having a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation about transgender rights — in which people’s lived experiences were relayed so they could understand how prejudice feels personally — managed to reduce voters’ anti-transgender attitudes for at least three months. Perhaps a similar model could be adapted to reach out to people with racist, sexist, or other deplorable views, although this possibility needs more study.

In one sense, politics is the art and science of figuring out which policies to emphasize at the right time and place. Most voters harbor a range of both conservative and liberal opinions, and this may be particularly true of the white working-class. Democrats are uniquely positioned by virtue of both track record and proposed reforms to benefit from the attitudes of white workers on these issues and others. Democratic candidates of 2018 should take note and appropriate action to leverage what they already have.


Miller to Write, Trump To Deliver, Speech Lecturing Saudis on Islam

There was so much going on in Washington this week that it was missed by many observers that Donald Trump’s impending overseas trip will include a “major speech” on Islam in–wait for it–Saudi Arabia. And the news just kept getting worse, as I noted at New York:

Trump will be making a speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia, before an audience of representatives of more than 50 Muslim countries.

Yes, that’s right: The president, a man who has espoused openly Islamophobic views and is known for his less-than-subtle thinking and speaking, will go to the birthplace of the religion, as a guest of a regime whose entire legitimacy derives from its role as the guardian of Islam’s Holy Places, and presume to lecture Muslims on their obligation to fight “radical Islam.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Before answering, one should be aware of another fact about this speech: It is reportedly being written by Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, who has a record of Muslim-baiting as long as your arm. He is the close White House ally of former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon and former Breitbart writer Julia Hahn, two people who appear to believe Muslim refugees are an existential threat to America. Miller did not let his lack of legal training get in the way of drafting the Trump travel-ban order that caused horrific chaos before being stopped by the courts. His own casual words identifying the travel ban with Trump’s call for an unconstitutional “Muslim ban” during the campaign became a central part of the rationale for said judicial intervention.

Perhaps there are wiser advisers looking over Miller’s shoulder and keeping him constantly aware of the extreme sensitivity of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Muslims toward pronouncements on Islam by infidels, even the most well-intentioned, and tutoring him on the intricacies of intra-Muslim affairs, and the constant risk of blundering into deadly insults that would take decades to erase. Maybe Trump will stay close to a cautious shift, and avoid setting back U.S.-Middle Eastern relations decisively. But this is the Trump White House we are talking about, where even the most basic guidelines are often ignored for reasons ranging from understaffing to byzantine rivalries to paranoia.

Trump is already, according to Politico, in danger of blundering into what it calls a “Saudi Game of Thrones” between two princely aspirants to the succession of aging King Salman. Tossing pronouncements on religion into that tinderbox could be a very bad idea.

Isn’t there a domestic-policy issue (supposedly his specialty) Miller should be attending to? Or perhaps a pro-Trump rally where he could be shouting and cavorting and whipping up the crowds like he did during the campaign? Trump should stay a thousand miles away from pontificating on Islam, and Miller a thousand miles beyond that.


Political Strategy Notes

According to the New York Times editorial board, Democrats and progressives should be encouraged by the appointment of Robert Mueller III as special counsel charged with investigating Russian interference in U.S. elexctoral politics. The editorial calls Mueller “one of the few people with the experience, stature and reputation to see the job through. Mr. Mueller led the F.B.I. for 12 years under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In 2004, he and Mr. Comey, then deputy attorney general, threatened to resign if President Bush allowed a domestic-surveillance program to continue without Justice Department approval.” However, notes the editorial “This appointment does not lift the burden on Congress to conduct its own, bipartisan inquiry, nor does it end the need for an independent commission. But under Justice Department regulations, Mr. Mueller will have significant latitude, including to pursue criminal prosecutions, if necessary — although Mr. Rosenstein has the power to overrule him…”

In his Washington Post column, “Trump Has Caused a Catastrophe’ Let’s End It Quickly,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “There is really only one issue in American politics at this moment: Will we accelerate our way to the end of the Trump story, or will our government remain mired in scandal, misdirection and paralysis for many more months — or even years? There is a large irony in the politics behind this question. The Democrats’ narrow interest lies in having President Trump hang around as close to the 2018 midterm elections as possible. Yet they are urging steps that could get this resolved sooner rather than later. Republicans would likely be better off if Trump were pushed off the stage. Yet up to now, they have been dragging their feet…Nothing could be worse than slow-walking the Trump inquiries.” It’s about striking the optimum balance between taking the time needed to adequately address key concerns, while moving forward to complete the investigation and then act end the chaos. It’s going to take a while, but Democrats should do what they can to move the process along briskly — for the overriding good of the nation.

But NYT’s  Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns report that “Democratic Leaders Try to Slow Calls to Impeach Trump,” and write “The barrage of reports about Mr. Trump’s chaotic and controversial administration has helped revive Democrats, raising their hopes that they can ride a Trumpian backlash to great success in next year’s elections…Party strategists fear that Democrats might sacrifice the moral and political high ground by appearing too eager, and some leaders worry that an impeachment drumbeat would drown out Democrats’ message to voters on kitchen-table issues like health care and taxes…The fear, Democratic officials say, is that they will invite the sort of backlash from their base that Republicans got for overpromising about what was possible while President Barack Obama was in office. They argue that methodically building a case — obtaining and revealing any memos or White House recordings, for example — is the soundest approach if they are to bring Republicans along.”

Democrats would be guilty of  political malpractice, however, if they failed to leverage Trump’s troubles in order to fight his regressive agenda, issue by issue. Josh Keller and Adam Pearce of The New York Times provide a handy, continually-updated widget  “Tracking Trump’s Agenda, Step by Step,” Dems can use to quickly check the status of 14 of Trump’s most frequently-cited policy goals.

“Russian strategic doctrine suggests that it sees hacking as a very specific kind of warfare,” writes Zack Beauchamp in his Vox post, “Vladimir Putin took time at a press conference to gloat about Trump.” Beauchamp further illuminates Putin’s grand strategy: “In an influential 2013 article, Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery V. Gerasimov argued that “non-military means,” including “new information technologies,” have eclipsed traditional weaponry in their strategic importance…The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”…The goal of Gerasimov-style interventions isn’t solely to elect leaders who will pursue Kremlin-friendly policies. It’s also to exacerbate internal divisions in hostile countries — to distract them with paralyzing infighting that makes it difficult for them to counter Russian strategic moves internationally.”

It’s one thing, when a Democrat accuses top GOP leaders of being paid off. But it’s quite another when it comes from the Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy:

In Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson has an update on Democrat Rob Quist’s campaign to take Montana’s sole House seat away from Republicans in the May 25th special election. It appears Quist is a genuine ‘outsider’ candidate in the sense that he isn’t getting much help from the national Democratic Party. “The Montana special election has laid bare a strategic disconnect between the Democratic Party’s base and the DCCC,” writes Dickinson. “And it underscores just how much work remains to rebuild a robust and effective DNC – the Democrats’ top committee, responsible for keeping all parts of the party working in concert…Montana has demonstrated, on one hand, the free-spending, go-for-broke ethos of the Democratic grassroots – activists eager to charge, uphill, into any battle against the Trump administration…Victory in a red state would make Republicans in swing districts fear for their political lives in the 2018 midterms – driving a wedge between GOP moderates and a president pressing to advance his extreme agenda…On the other hand, a cautious DCCC understands its mission as finding the path of least political resistance to rebuild a House majority for Democrats. Eager to keep its powder dry in advance of the crucial 2018 midterms – where the committee has identified dozens of winnable races in traditional swing districts – the DCCC is reticent to follow party activists into expensive red-district fights, where it does not see a clear path to victory. “We want to maximize gains,” a DCCC spokesman says, “competing in districts where we have a really good shot to win.” On May 3, the DCCC gave Quist’s campaign $400,000, and now he is just single digits behind his Republican opponent in recent polling. Those who want to help Quist can find his ActBlue donations page right here.

If ever there was an issue that will excite the Democratic base, particularly younger voters, it is net neutrality. Tony Romm reports at Recode that “Democrats are readying an all-out war to stop the FCC from killing net neutrality rules: Their hope: Generate enough backlash that Republicans cave.” As Romm explain s, “In many ways, net neutrality is the internet’s longest war: So far, it has spanned two decades, four presidents, scores of court challenges and multiple, wonky rulemaking proceedings at the nation’s telecom regulator, the FCC. It has pitted the country’s cable and broadband giants, which abhor regulation, against the likes of Facebook, Google, Netflix, Twitter and a host of startups that firmly believe net neutrality rules are critical to their existence….Huddling with reporters in the basement of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz put it plainly: “I just don’t think [Republicans] understand the ferocity of the resistance that they’re about to encounter…Part of our approach right now is to educate the public about the need to weigh in…I think the aperture for legislating in this moment is vanishingly narrow.” The danger is that the conflict will get lost in the media shadow of Trump’s debacle du jour.

Rachael Bade and Kyle Cheny report at Politico that “More than 10 centrist Republicans over the past 48 hours have criticized Trump for reportedly sharing classified information with Russian officials or allegedly trying to quash an FBI investigation. Many joined Democrats in calling for a special prosecutor to take the reins of the Justice Department investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. (The DOJ named a special counsel on Wednesday.) Others want a select congressional committee to be appointed…The break from Trump among centrist Republicans is especially notable because some of them had stuck by the president through the brutal fight over Obamacare repeal legislation two weeks ago, backing an unpopular bill despite great political risk at home…“Any member of Congress who represents a marginal or swing district better develop their own brand very quickly,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who leads the moderate Tuesday Group. “It wouldn’t be too hard to figure out what the opposition’s attacks on them will be: They’re going to call everybody a rubber stamp” for Trump.”


Impeachment: The Downside for Democrats

Jeff Alson ruminates on the possible reverberations of impeaching Trump in his article “The Impeachment Trap: Be Careful What You Wish For: Trump is odious, but impeachment is dangerous—both for the Democrats and the progressive movement” at In These Times. Alson, “an engineer from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who grew up in Trump country,” offers some sobering insights, including:

…Outrage aside, we must keep one thing in mind: how progressives and Democrats approach impeachment could shape our democracy and the domestic political landscape for a generation. We must focus on what is best for the American people, not on what is worst for our so-called president. I believe it would be a major strategic blunder for the Democratic Party to fall for what I call the Impeachment Trap—the powerful temptation to lead the charge for impeachment without considering the strategic implications.

…The simple majority necessary to impeach in the House of Representatives, as well as the two-thirds majority that is required to convict in the Senate, can be achieved with the support of most or all Democrats and a minority of Republicans. Unfortunately, this scenario would offer enormous political benefits to the Republicans.

If Trump were impeached and convicted, Vice President Mike Pence, a right-wing, evangelical ideologue, would be a much more reliable and competent rubber stamp for the conservative policy agenda. Trump, for all his failings, cannot be counted on to support conservative Republican orthodoxy. While his cabinet picks and early policy proposals have largely catered to right-wing ideology, his policy flip-flops and incompetence make him a very unreliable partner for congressional Republicans. In particular, his positions on Russia, trade, entitlements, and deficits are antithetical to Republican dogma, and recently Trump even applauded Australia’s single payer health care system. And thus far, most of his attacks on immigrants and Muslim refugees have been turned aside by a wall of public outrage and judicial rulings, although we will need to remain extraordinarily vigilant about an emboldened ICE. Pence, on the other hand, who was given a 99 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, would be much more likely to cut Social Security, push National Right to Work, and try to restrict gay marriage, and would probably treat immigrants and refugees just as badly, in order to court the Trump base.

Alson could also have noted Pence’s track record of voter suppression. As recently as October 4th, Pence, as Governor of Indiana, ordered state police to raid and shut the state’s largest citizen-run voter registration program because it was registering a lot of African American voters. As Ari Berman noted in his article, “Trump’s Commission on ‘Election Integrity’ Will Lead to Massive Voter Suppression: It will be led by Mike Pence and Kris Kobach, who have a very long history of making it harder to vote.” in The Nation:

Two days after firing FBI director James Comey and creating a full-blown constitutional crisis, Donald Trump signed an executive order today creating a presidential commission on “election integrity,” based on his debunked claims that millions voted illegally in 2016.

Vice President Mike Pence will be the chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will be the vice chair—two men with very long histories of making it harder to vote, especially Kobach. Given the lack of evidence of voter fraud, the commission seems designed for one purpose: to perpetuate the myth of fraud in order to lay the groundwork for enacting policies that suppress the vote.

If you want to know what such voter intimidation looks like, take a look at Pence’s home state of Indiana, where state police in October 2016 raided the offices of a group working to register African-American and low-income voters. They seized thousands of voter-registration applications, even though only 10 were suspected to be fraudulent and no one has been charged.

Think about it. Using state police to suppress African American voter turnout. Few governors in recent years have gone quite that far.

Many progressives, Democrats, and even moderates, are eager to impeach Trump, as much for his obnoxious personality, as for his politics. Increasing numbers of people are feeling ‘Trump fatigue,’ and are tiring of his arrogance and the daily embarrassment he provides. At least Pence comports himself more like an actual grown-up. It’s understandible, but that doesn’t make it a good strategy for Democrats. As Alson brings brings it into focus:

Impeachment would also help restore the damaged Republican brand. Trump lost the popular vote by the largest margin of any incoming president in history. His administration is mired in incompetence, chaos, and suspicion, and has already sparked a massive public resistance. His public approval rating hovers around 40 percent, by far a record low for a new president. If these trends continue, his presidency will be a massive albatross around the GOP’s neck in future elections.

By contrast, the robot-like Pence—despite his extreme right-wing views—would be packaged as a comforting return to normalcy. The relief at no longer having an egotistical lunatic at the helm could provide Pence with a long and generous public opinion honeymoon. Republicans could claim that Trump was “never one of theirs,” and approach the 2020 campaign with the benefit of incumbency and without Trump’s liabilities.

Alson also worries that “Democratic ownership of impeachment would also cement the loyalty of working-class Trump voters to the Republican Party. Republican incumbents in swing districts could spin impeachment as a partisan witch hunt. Trump would become a martyr, and his voters would blame Democrats.” This seems a tad overstated. Yes, the hard core Trump supporters would likely feel this way. But it’s just as likely that many of Trump’s working-class supporters are tiring of Trump’s act. In any event, Democrats shouldn’t worry too much about what they can’t change.

Alson argues more persuasively:

Most important to progressives, Democratic ownership of impeachment would sacrifice the historic opportunity to integrate the massive anti-Trump resistance into a revitalized progressive movement and Democratic Party. A short-term focus on impeachment would divert the focus of many activists away from less glamorous, but more important, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and policy advocacy, and decrease the likelihood of mass grassroots mobilizations on critical issues such as health care, immigration, Planned Parenthood, electoral reform, climate change, and so many others.

Alson believes that Democrats would benefit more if Republicans actually lead the impeachment effort because it would further divide the GOP as we approach the 2018 midterm elections. So far Republican leaders have not indicated much interest in leading the charge. But the nut graph of Alson’s article describes a more plausible scenario:

Paradoxical as it may seem, however, the best scenario for Democrats is one in which they resist the impeachment trap, the Republicans stand by their president, and Trump, odious as he may be, remains in office. Admittedly, this would extract a major toll on the national psyche and require an active resistance to thwart Trump’s attacks on marginalized groups, but the country would (probably!) survive. From a policy perspective, a paralyzed Trump administration would be far better than a more competent and reliably right-wing Pence presidency. Politically, Trump would become a black eye for the GOP, and the Democratic opposition would remain energized, all of which would favor the Democrats in both 2018 and 2020. An especially delicious scenario is one in which an unpopular Trump insists upon running in 2020, and the Republican Party is torn apart by a war between Trump supporters and the Wall Street, evangelical and libertarian factions that each want to reclaim “their” party.

At The New York Times, Ross Douthat proposes an alternative to impeachment, “The 25th Amendment Solution to Remove Trump,” which charts an equally complex and tortuous route to Trump-removal. It would require approval of a majority of his cabinet officers and a two-thirds vote of congress. But don’t bet the ranch on his cabinet minions risking the ire of their wingnut supporters by dumping Trump.

“If the Trump presidency continues to unravel and a constitutional case for impeachment can be made,” adds Alson, “Democrats can force Republicans into a perilous Catch-22 over whether to own it. If Republicans refuse, they will likely fail to achieve much of their policy agenda, risk permanent damage to their party brand, and weaken their future electoral chances. If they do own impeachment, they blow up the tenuous Republican-Trump coalition.”

Call it political akido, allowing Republicans to drain their chi and what is left of their political capital on deepening their internal divisions. “Either way,” argues Alson “Democrats can focus their energies on mass resistance and rebuilding an electoral majority.” Further,

…It would be a major strategic mistake for us to focus on impeachment as a top strategic goal, thereby siphoning energy from the progressive movement. As deplorable as Trump is, we must focus our efforts in the next four years on blocking bad public policy and mobilizing for the future, and those goals are better served with Trump than with Pence.  If the Republicans figure this out, let them be the ones to expend their energy getting rid of Trump.

It won’t be easy to resist the temptation to humiliate the worst president in modern history, but Democrats must muster the discipline to resist the Impeachment Trap, insist that Republicans be the ones to take responsibility for their shameful president, and mobilize to build real grassroots democratic power for 2018, 2020 and beyond.

It is an appealing scenario, even if it is rooted in wishful thinking. “Republicans are in a political straitjacket,” concludes Alson, “—unless Democrats commit political suicide by falling for the impeachment trap.” No doubt, an equally compelling counter-argument for strong Democratic leadership for impeachment can be made.

Either way, timing is all-important, and there is every reason for Democrats to milk Trump’s damage to the G.O.P. brand for as long as possible, culminating in a rout favoring Dems in 2018.


Cohen: How Trump’s Latest Debacle Endangers National Security

At this point, nobody has explained it better than Eliot A. Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and author of “The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.” An excerpt from his article, “The Terrible Cost of Trump’s Disclosures“at The Atlantic:

If The Washington Post is right, President Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a jovial meeting in the Oval Office. Here is why this is appalling, beyond even this president’s usual standard.

There are multiple flavors of intelligence classification, from “Confidential” (which is often in the public record already, just not acknowledged), to “Secret” (usually, though not always available if you know where to look—or are willing to wait a few days), to “Top Secret” which is beginning to be serious. The codewords, which security officials began using in World War II to protect signal intercepts (e.g. ULTRA), tell you whence the information was derived—so Top Secret/codeword material really has to be protected. Any of us who have had those kinds of clearances have gone through repeated trainings about how to safeguard such material (cover sheets, multiple envelopes, proper paragraph marking, etc.). And if you hope to keep your job and stay out of jail, you take it seriously. You do not have access to any and all compartments if you have a top-secret clearance. This, apparently, is some of the information that Trump blew.

Cohen adds, further, that “In the normal course of events, Donald Trump would never have been given a high-level security clearance because of his psychological profile and personal record, including his susceptibility to blackmail.” After you wrap your head around that, note Cohen’s warning, “But it will be even worse if his behavior convinces others, including those who work for him, that classification is meaningless.”

“If Trump has indeed compromised a source of information,” writes Cohen, “it is not merely a betrayal of an ally’s trust: It is an act that will jeopardize a whole range of relationships…The Director of Central Intelligence cannot very well say, “Don’t worry, we won’t share that with the president.” So now everybody—even our closest allies like the United Kingdom—would be well-advised to be careful with what they share with us. That is a potential intelligence debacle for us, but the danger goes beyond that. If any foreign government harbored lingering illusions about the administration’s ability to protect any information, including sensitive but non-intelligence matters like future foreign-policy initiatives or military deployments, they no longer do.”

The incident “shows, yet again, how easy this man is to play, particularly by veteran manipulators like his two experienced, talented, and thuggish guests.”

Despite assurances from Trump appointees that security precautions were honored at the meeting, Cohen notes, “it seems likely that the Russians captured all of the conversation—they were allowed to bring their electronics into the room, including the only video cameras, the American press having been excluded—they undoubtedly got all of it. And you bet that their analysts are even now chuckling as they figure out what the sources were.”

Nor is Cohen comforted by Secetary of State Tillerson’s assurance on Meet the Press that ““I have to earn his confidence every day.” further,

…One does not earn Donald Trump’s confidence by calmly conveying to him some unpleasant but essential truths. Rather, one earns his confidence by truckling to him, and by lying to everyone else. Now, what Tillerson, Powell, and McMaster said are not quite lies, but they are the kind of parsed half truths that are as bad, and in some cases worse. This is how one’s reputation for veracity is infected by the virulent moral bacteria that cover Donald Trump. Friends will watch, pained and incredulous, as they realize that one simply cannot assume that anything these senior subordinates of the president say is the truth. And having stretched, manipulated, or artfully misrepresented the truth once, these officials will do it again and again. They will be particularly surprised when they learn that most people assume that as trusted subordinates of the president, they lie not as colorfully as he does, but just as routinely.

Cohen concludes with a sobering obseervation:

…the only possibly redemptive part of this wretched tale, is if it motivates some Republican legislators to take a stand against their own party and for the law and the Constitution. If Trump nominates any kind of Republican political figure, no matter what their previous record, as FBI director, they must oppose it. They should denounce his misconduct for what it is. And all of us should begin contemplating the conditions under which—not now, maybe not even a year from now—the constitutional remedies for dealing with a president utterly incapable of fulfilling his duties with elementary probity and competence will have to be implemented.

Many would say we have already reached that turning point. The window of opportunity for Republicans who want to save their party from midterm disaster is closing very fast. History will not be kind to those Republicans who dither away their party’s remaining  credibility, such as it is.


Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Magazine post “Is That a Democratic Tsunami Taking Shape for 2018?,” Ed Kilgore notes, “A new poll shows the kind of numbers that if they become common could definitely portend not just a “wave” but a veritable tsunami. Quinnipiac’s latest national poll mainly drew attention for showing some really terrible assessments of Donald Trump. But its congressional generic ballot was a shocker: By a 54 – 38 percent margin, American voters want the Democratic Party to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the widest margin ever measured for this question in a Quinnipiac University poll, exceeding a 5 percentage point margin for Republicans in 2013. Indeed, I could not find any polls showing that kind of margin for either party during the 2014 or 2016 cycles (there was one Rasmussen poll in late 2013 — when Republicans were getting blamed for a government shutdown — that showed Democrats up by 11 points, but no other double-digit leads were evident going into either the 2014 or 2016 elections).”

From The Atlantic/PRRI study, “Why the White, Working Class Voted for Trump” (see also here):

Alexander Burns reports at the New York Times that “Young Black Democrats, Eager to Lead From the Left, Eye Runs in 2018“: “In states from Massachusetts to Florida, a phalanx of young black leaders in the Democratic Party is striding into some of the biggest elections of 2018, staking early claims on governorships and channeling the outcry of rank-and-file Democrats who favor all-out battle with Mr. Trump and increasingly question his legitimacy as president…By moving swiftly into the most contentious midterm races, these candidates aim to cement their party in forceful opposition to Mr. Trump and to align it unswervingly with minority communities and young people. Rather than muting their differences with the Republican Party in order to compete in states Mr. Trump won, like Georgia and Florida, they aim to make those distinctions starker.” The states where African American political figures are planning a run for statewide office inlcude FL; GA; IL; MA; MD; OH and VA.

At NBC News, Mark Murray reports “By a 2-to-1 ratio, Americans say the health care legislation that was recently passed by the House and supported by President Donald Trump is a bad idea instead of a good idea, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll…Forty-eight percent say it’s a bad idea, including 43 percent of respondents who “strongly” believe that…By contrast, just 23 percent call the legislation a good idea, including 18 percent who “strongly” say that…According to the new NBC/WSJ poll, 52 percent of Republican respondents say the GOP health-care legislation is a good idea, versus 77 percent of Democrats who believe it’s a bad idea. Among independents, it’s 44 percent bad idea, 18 percent good idea.”

“The new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday shows that only 29% of all respondents approved of Comey’s firing while over 50% percent of those who said they knew “a lot” about how those events unfolded said they disapprove of the president’s behavior,” reports Jon Queally at Common Dreams.

The real “fake news” — both McConnell and Fox News know that a distinguished jurist of Merrick Garland’s character would never be suckered by such a lame idea. As David Weigel explains at The Fix: “The reasons to object were quickly explained by reporters and by liberal court analysts like Dahlia Lithwick. “Garland probably won’t want to give up his lifetime tenure as the chief judge of the second-most important court in the land,” Lithwick wrote, “and surely the most significant bulwark against Trump administration overreach, in exchange for a 12-minute gig on The Apprentice before he uses the wrong color highlighter and gets fired by a crazy person.” Among most court-watchers, the scheme was pretty obvious: Lee would give Republicans a chance to tweak a Garland-less court, changing a 7-to-4 liberal majority to a 6-to-5 majority. And in his tweet, Lee was explicit: If Garland went to the J. Edgar Hoover Building, Democrats wouldn’t need a President Trump/Russia special prosecutor.”

Adam Liptak reports at The New York Times that the U.S. Supreme Court may be preparing to establish “a workable standard” to decide when the political gerrymandering has crossed a constitutional line….In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will consider an appeal from a decision in Wisconsin that may have found that holy grail. The case, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, arrives at the court in the wake of a wave of Republican victories in state legislatures that allowed lawmakers to draw election maps favoring their party…In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but captured 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats. In 2014, 52 percent of the vote yielded 63 seats…Congress requires the Supreme Court to hear appeals in some areas of election law, and Wisconsin officials have filed such an appeal. That means the Supreme Court is very likely to weigh in on the fate of political gerrymandering, probably during the court’s next term, which starts in October.”

Ari Berman explains why “Trump’s Commission on ‘Election Integrity’ Will Lead to Massive Voter Suppression” at The Nation, noting that “Vice President Mike Pence will be the chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will be the vice chair—two men with very long histories of making it harder to vote, especially Kobach. Given the lack of evidence of voter fraud, the commission seems designed for one purpose: to perpetuate the myth of fraud in order to lay the groundwork for enacting policies that suppress the vote…If you want to know what such voter intimidation looks like, take a look at Pence’s home state of Indiana, where state police in October 2016 raided the offices of a group working to register African-American and low-income voters. They seized thousands of voter-registration applications, even though only 10 were suspected to be fraudulent and no one has been charged….In Kansas, Kobach has been the driving force within the GOP behind policies that erect new barriers to the ballot box and the most fervent evangelist of unproven voter-fraud claims.”

For those who were wondering why Republicans hate automatic voter registration so much, Sean McElwee explains at salon.com: “As David Shor of Civis Analytics notes, turnout among people of color in Oregon increased by 89 percent between 2012 and 2016, after the state implemented automatic voter registration (a reform that automatically registers qualified voters when interacting with some state agencies). Other research suggests that automatic voter registration bolstered turnout among young people and people of color in Oregon.”