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

McCain’s Moment

Timothy Egan’s New York Times column “Who Will Save the Republic?” poses a question of growing concern for Americans who care about freedom and democracy.

Trump’s firing of James Comey from the helm of the F.B.I. has diminished America’s ability to investigate breaches of the nation’s most precious assett, the integrity of our elections. “It’s obvious that Trump fired James Comey because he was getting closer to the truth of what happened with Russian manipulation of the American election,” Egan writes. “His advisers say an enraged Trump screamed at the television when this story would not go away.” Egan adds,

Donald Trump is the first president in history whose campaign has come under federal investigation for collusion with a hostile foreign power. And now the person heading that investigation, the F.B.I. director, has been fired.

We’re looking for a few good men and women in Congress to understand the gravity of this debasement. We don’t need more parsing about the bad “optics” or “timing” of Trump firing the man who could have ended his presidency. We need a Republican in power to call it what it is: a bungled attempt to obstruct justice.

And the tragic part is that Trump is likely to succeed, at least in the short term. The person he chooses for F.B.I. director will never assemble a prosecutable case of treason that leads to the doorstep of this White House.

It’s a bleak scenario. But Egan sees one hopeful path: “So, we turn to a handful of people in Trump’s own party to do something courageous — to do the job they were sworn to do.” But the top leaders of the House and Senate are among the least likely to rise to the challenge.

…The Irish Undertaker, Paul Ryan, is a lost cause — and increasingly looks like a bystander to the multiple-car wreck happening before him. The Senate leader, Mitch McConnell — whose wife, don’t forget, is in Trump’s cabinet — is also sitting this one out.

Call out the names: Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, Richard Burr and Bob Corker, Ben Sasse and Lisa Murkowski. They have committees and investigators at their disposal. Their party impeached Bill Clinton for lying about sex. The least they can do is demand some accountability of a man whose entire presidency is a lie.

McCain, more than the others, has the credibility to meet the challenge. Widely-respected for his patriotism, McCain has also shown flashes of integrity and bipartisanship as a U.S. Senator. It’s possible one of the other Republican committee chairs will step up and provide the needed leadership. But none of them would have the instant media cred McCain would bring to the effort.

It may be the last chance he gets to do so much good for his country, the integrity of his party and for restoring a bipartisan spirit to the U.S. Senate.

If McCain and other Republicans choose to duck the issue of Russia’s interference in our elections, it will send a signal to Putin and other tyrants that America does not protect its greatest strength — free elections. It will encourage more efforts to undermine our democratic process.

If no Republican provides the needed leadership tp conduct a genuinely bipartisan investigation, it falls to Democrats, progressives and the media to do everything they can to hold Trump accountable and protect our democracy. Writing at Daily Kos, Joan McCarter quotes Sen. Jeff Merkley:

“I think we have to convey that it’s not business as usual…I think my caucus hopes that Republicans will join us in fighting for the integrity of the American system of government. If they won’t join us, then we’re going to have to take aggressive actions to pursue this where it needs to go, with or without them.” That’s the message Mitch McConnell and his Republicans need to hear. It’s the message Democrats need to be united in sending.

Democrats are going to have to press the case for an independent investigation and prosecutor regardless. But having to fight this battle without bipartisan support would be a tragedy for the nation. It might also prove to be an electoral disaster for the Republicans — as soon as 2016.


Possible Obstruction of Justice Makes Impeachment Talk Inevitable

As the potential implications of the Comey firing, aggravated by the wildly varying accounts of how and why it occurred, begin to sink in, so, too are the remote but tangible chances of really serious consequences, as I discussed at New York:

The timing and manner of Donald Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey raise an inevitable suspicion — not proof, but a suspicion — of presidential obstruction of justice. And the only real remedy for presidential obstruction of justice, if it is stubborn, is impeachment, or at least the threat of impeachment — as we learned during the Nixon administration. Because presidents have the power to gum up every other path to the revelation and reversal of serious patterns of administration misconduct, there’s a pretty low threshold for talk of the “I-word,” once said gumming up appears to be happening.

As Matthew Yglesias notes, the Republicans who control Congress can head off an impeachment crisis by un-gumming the path to justice via some investigative entity beyond Donald Trump’s control. But that will require a break with Trump that most of them do not want to make.

If the situation we are in right now gets worse for the White House, and the rest of 2017 unfolds under the shadow of unresolved allegations about Russian collusion, then serious impeachment talk will become unavoidable. One might assume that the talk would go nowhere, since the president’s party controls the congressional levers that would have to be used to formally begin proceedings. But what could ensue, though, is the realization that Republicans might privately crave impeachment more than Democrats.

Why? Absent normal legal proceedings and without the safety valve of impeachment, the only way for an aroused public to hold Trump accountable is by spanking his political party in the 2018 midterms, an election in which the White House party is almost certain to lose ground even in normal conditions. And after that, if Trump stubbornly resists any independent scrutiny of his past and present behavior, Republicans could have a nightmarish 2020 cycle in which efforts to retire Trump after one term collide with his hard kernel of GOP grassroots support, strongest among people who know little and care less about their hero’s compliance with legal and political traditions for presidential accountability. You could definitely envision a vicious primary fight followed by a difficult general election.

In those circumstances, how many conventional conservative Republicans would resist the temptation to fantasize about a deus ex machina procedure that could remove the troublesome Trump and replace him with the extremely well-known quantity of Mike Pence, perhaps just in time to change the dynamics of 2018 — or certainly 2020 — in the GOP’s favor? Conversely, Democrats might prefer to keep Donald Trump around as long as possible to indelibly stain the GOP with his misdeeds and his alarming demeanor.

This is not to say that political considerations will determine the course of events more than the facts that eventually emerge; if it turns out there is no evidence of collusion in the Russia-Trump investigation, then the president is not going to be hounded out of office for acting as though there was.

But the fact remains that the politics of impeachment or a coerced resignation are hard to predict and impossible to dismiss. In all the talk since Comey’s firing of the parallels with Nixon’s 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” it has been largely forgotten that Nixon’s brash action was preceded just ten days earlier by the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, as part of a plea deal over bribery charges. Agnew, in some ways a precursor of Trump in his “politically incorrect” rhetoric, had been what Nixon not-so-jokingly called his “insurance policy” against impeachment. His replacement by the ever-genial Gerald Ford had a definite if hard-to-measure impact on the willingness of Democrats and Republicans alike to send the Tricky One packing.

All in all, Mike Pence resembles Gerald Ford more than Spiro Agnew. Just sayin.’


Political Strategy Notes – Comey Firing Edition

Most people who have been payhing attention are going to answer, “Oh Hell yes!” But David A. Graham explores the question “Was Russia the Real Reason Trump Fired James Comey?” at The Atlantic, and notes, “These may be good reasons to question Comey’s leadership and even to remove him, but it is all but impossible to believe that Trump believes them, because Trump has criticized Comey for dealing with Clinton too lightly all along. The day that Comey announced he was not recommending charges against her, Trump tweeted: “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! .” However, adds Graham, “Comey’s lengthy dissection of Clinton’s errors in that news conference offered Trump lots of ammunition to attack her.” In other words, Trump saw an opportunity to cloud  his firing of Comey with a phony reason and he seized it.

As Ed Kilgore pointed out yesterday, at New York Magazine, via TDS, comparisons of Trump’s firing Comey to Nixon’s ‘Saturday night massacre’ are badly flawed, in part because Democrats had majority control of the relevant congressional committees back then and the special/independent prosecutor law quietly expired in 1999, giving Trump a better chance of surviving his latest self-imposed crisis. Among Republicans, thus far only Sen. John McCain, among influential GOP leaders, has stepped up and directly called for “a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.” Whether or not that actually happens depends on the persistence of both the media and protestors.

Also at New York Magazine, Frank Rich takes a more optimistic view of the likely outcome in his post, “The Comey Firing May Be the Beginning of the End of the Trump Administration,” arguing that “the new [F.B.I.] director’s attempts to further derail the ongoing investigation will be met with revolt by the career professionals within the organization — an unwinding that may already be happening. There will be chaos. There will be leaks. There will be resignations. There will be synergy, clandestine or otherwise, with the Senate and House investigations into Trump and Russia. There will be blood. After the news of the firing broke last night, McCain called the scandal “a centipede” and made an unassailable prediction: “I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it. There’s just too much information that we don’t have that will be coming out.”

It appears that Attorney-General Jeff Sessions is calling the shots in Trump’s strategy now. “The drama was fresh evidence of Sessions’ role as a critical political player in the Trump cabinet,” writes Eliana Johnson about the Comey firing at Politico. “He has exhibited all the qualities of loyalty Trump most prizes: He was the first senator to endorse him, one of the only members of the upper chamber to embrace him enthusiastically during the presidential campaign, and, as his involvement in the Comey controversy demonstrates, has proved that he is willing to thrust himself into the breach and take political hits to advance the president’s interests…When Trump temporarily soured on his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and it looked like ideological moderates were on the ascent in the West Wing, National Review’s Rich Lowry referred to Sessions – the ideological patron of immigration hawks and trade skeptics – as Trump’s “indispensable man.”

The Reuters take on the Comey firing, “Delay seen, again, on Trump growth agenda after Comey sacking” puts the episode in context of the whole Trump project. Investors were all juiced up about Trump’s potential ability to implement deregulation and other pro-corporate ‘reforms’ to benefit the market. But this latest distraction gives them one more indication that C.E.O. Trump is incapable of focusing on the economic agenda. He doesn’t get his head in the economic game the way they hoped. “At the least, financial market participants viewed President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of Comey as an unwelcome distraction, while some fretted it could tie Washington in knots for months, potentially postponing already-delayed reforms…The takeaway for the stock markets: don’t bet on any quick legislation around trade, the budget, health care, or infrastructure…”There is nothing good out of this for markets,” said Michael Purves, chief global strategist at Weeden & Co. “It will weigh on Trump’s ability to cut deals with Congress. It costs him negotiating leverage.””

Some Vulnerable Republicans Begin To Question Timing Of Comey’s Firing,” reports Jessica Taylor at npr.org: “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted late Tuesday night. Flake is up for re-election in 2018 and is one of the few Senate targets Democrats have in a map where they’re largely playing defense…Several of the most endangered House Republicans — including Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, New York Rep. John Katko and Texas Rep. Will Hurd — also expressed concern about the timing of Trump’s decision. All sit in districts that the president lost last November and are atop Democratic target lists in next year’s midterm elections.

Kate Glueck writes at McClatchey: ‘In interviews with current and former top RNC members on Wednesday, veteran Republicans called the timing politically problematic, with some warning of potentially serious consequences for the 2018 midterms…“It worries me for the midterm elections,” said a Republican national committeewoman who called the optics “bad” and the timing “odd” and “inconsistent.” “It looks like we’re shooting from the hip all the time with no real rhyme or reason. If people can’t figure out the logic about what we’re doing, how can they support it?” Agreed a former top RNC member: “If he wears the base down where eventually they say, ‘Maybe I can’t defend this so much anymore,’ and all of the enthusiasm is on the Democratic side in 2018—I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it could be a wipeout kind of year for us. I think we need to be more careful about that.”…Of course, it’s far too early to say how Comey’s firing will affect races more than a year away. Trump’s base remains committed to him, and here in San Diego, many RNC attendees–who are generally supportive of the president’s record so far–applauded the decision to fire Comey, timing aside…One Republican strategist working on 2018 races said that while the White House would like the questions about Russia to go away, firing Comey ensures that the issue remains front and center for the GOP. That could have a chilling effect on Republicans considering a run for office next year—and a galvanizing one for Democrats doing the same, the source said…This development comes as Republicans continue to search for challengers in what should be marquee 2018 races.”

Asked “Do Democrats need a vision for 2018 and 2020? Or can they win just by running against Trump? (With the latest James-Comey-firing imbroglio, for example, there seems like plenty of material for Democrats to run on)” in a FiveThirtyEight chat, Nate Silver responds “For 2018, an anti-Trump/anti-GOP message should suffice. For 2020, they’ll need that plus something more affirmative…You might need an affirmative message if you were running against a super-popular Dwight D. Eisenhower-type of president and trying to make the case for why he needed some constraints on his power anyway. But the Democrats are running against Donald Trump. And Republicans already control both branches of Congress, in addition to the presidency. It’s not a hard argument to make.”

Noting that “Democratic candidates in upcoming special elections to replace GOP House members joined their party’s chorus. Jon Ossoff in Georgia and Archie Parnell in South Carolina both called for a special prosecutor to lead the Russia investigation,” Bridget Bowman writes at rollcall.com that “Some Democrats said the Comey firing may be another piece of ammunition against Republicans as they look to win back the House. “From the health care bill, with virtually no public support, to these outright outrageous actions by the president around Russian interference, … I think all of this puts us in a better position in 2018,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., told reporters on a Wednesday press call with liberal groups…Rep. Ruben Gallego, who was also on the call, agreed with Pocan…“I think it’s going to have a lot of impact,” the Arizona Democrat said. “If you have a party that is essentially siding with Russians and the obstruction of justice, … they will end up paying the consequences.”


Trump Fires Comey to Curb Russia Investigation As GOP Stands By

As pols began to choose up sides after Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, I made this initial assessment of the partisan politics for New York.

The morning after the president’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey, an account of what was really going on is beginning to emerge in which the official explanation of steadily mounting, retroactive bipartisan dismay with Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case is but a flimsy pretext. Politico boils down the background story succinctly:

“[Trump] had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.”

And so he decided to drop the hammer on Comey at the first convenient opportunity. A screwup in Comey’s description of the emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that were the subject of the FBI director’s famous October surprise provided the immediate excuse. It seems clear that Team Trump believed Democrats would be thrown into disarray by the clever use of the Clinton emails as the rationale for a firing that was really about something else.

That calculation was clearly wrong, but the fact remains that if Trump’s move was intended to curb the Russia investigation, his enemies have limited means of stopping him.

Yes, the FBI can and probably will formally continue the investigation, but the odds are pretty good that whoever Trump chooses as Comey’s immediate successor will treat it as a very low priority.

The Justice Department can — and given the recusal of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on matters related to the Russia-Trump connection, almost certainly should — appoint a special counsel to take over the investigation and clear the air. But why would a White House determined to shut it all down accept that course of action? It’s implausible unless the administration winds up with no other good options.

Congress could create a special committee, or even a congressionally constituted commission, to delve into the various issues involving the Russians. The latter course is what conservative House gadfly Justin Amash talked about doing in the immediate wake of the Comey firing.

But a lot of Republicans would have to go along with that approach, and most significantly in the wall of noise that rose across Washington after the firing was announced, the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees — Representative Bob Goodlatte and Senator Chuck Grassley — seemed to be buying the White House/DOJ explanation of the matter. If their posture is that Comey had to go for cumulative sins in the Clinton email case, why would they want to waste taxpayer money on some special investigation of that Russian thingy Democrats insist on talking about? You could see any drive for a congressionally authorized investigation running into some real obstacles. For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is arguing against any new investigation of Trump and Russia at all, suggesting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiries are sufficient.

Once upon a time, there might have been a wellspring of support for the appointment of an independent prosecutor that would not report to Congress or to the administration. But the law authorizing that institution was allowed quietly to expire in 1999 after its generally conceded abuse in seven separate investigations of the Clinton administration.

As veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield points out, the disarray of Congress is the single most important problem with treating this situation as analogous to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” despite the obvious parallels of an angry president trying to dispose of an underling who might be getting too close to securing dangerous information. Nixon was dealing with a Democratic Congress and a much smaller and more uniformly hostile news media; he was quickly forced to replace the fired special counsel Archibald Cox instead of shutting down the Watergate investigation altogether. The 37th president was also laboring under the ultimately fatal existence of massive evidence of wrongdoing documented by his own White House recording system; Cox was fired for trying to secure some of the relevant tapes. If the Trump White House is harboring a “smoking gun” in the Russia case, we don’t know of it at present.

The bottom line is that Trump has a much better chance of getting through this “crisis” than Nixon did when he “massacred” a special counsel and the Justice Department officials defending him. The key thing to watch is whether congressional Republicans decide in large numbers that Trump’s stonewalling over Russia and his generally imperious habits are endangering their grip on the Legislative branch in 2018.


Comey Firing Amps Up Calls for Special Prosecutor, Independent Commission to Investigate Trump’s Russia Ties

Democratic and progressive leaders are responding to President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, with a growing chorus calling for a special prosecutor and an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections and  complicity of the Trump campaign. From The Washington Post:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “We know the FBI has been looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?…If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein does not appoint an independent prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up.”

Al Franken: “I am also deeply troubled by the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who pledged to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his own Russia connections, involved himself in Director Comey’s firing. This is a complete betrayal of his commitment to the public that he wouldn’t be involved in the investigation…“We cannot trust an investigation led by this administration. And it’s now clearer than ever that we need an independent investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.”

Kirsten Gillibrand: “No more excuses: We need an independent special prosecutor to investigate the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia.”

Maggie Hassan: “This episode reinforces the need for both a special prosecutor as well as a thorough Congressional investigation to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference and any connection to President Trump’s campaign in order to ensure complete confidence in our democratic institutions.”

Sen. Kamala Harris: “we must have a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI’s Russia investigation. This cannot wait.”

Ed O’Keefe reports, also at The Washingon Post,

“The President’s sudden and brazen firing of the FBI Director raises the ghosts of some of the worst Executive Branch abuses,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday night…She added in her statement, “The interests of justice demand Congress act immediately to create an independent, bipartisan commission to pursue the Trump-Russia investigation free from the Administration’s attempts to silence it.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) expressed a similar view. “Now more than ever, we need an independent investigation into Russian ties to ensure American people can have full confidence in findings,” he said Tuesday. The phrase “now more than ever” appeared in many other statements issued by Democrats on Tuesday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “We need an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.”

…On Sunday night at a fundraising dinner for Iowa Democrats in Des Moines, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) earned cheers and a partial standing ovation when the emcee reminded the crowd that the senator was one of the first Democrats to call for an independent probe. Later, Klobuchar mentioned her support for an independent investigation during her speech and earned another round of hearty applause.

…“Democrats and Republicans who still have dignity should grind government to a halt until a special prosecutor is named,” tweeted Jon Favreau, a speechwriter for President Barack Obama who now co-hosts a podcast popular with progressives.

Trump has blundered his Administration into a constitutional crisis, inviting comparisons to Nixon’s ‘Saturday night massacre.’ Even some Republicans are beginning to embrace the need for a special prosecutor and an indepenent commission as the only way to sort out Trump’s latest disaster. That may take some time, but at least Democrats are unified in pressing the case. If any party benefits from the reverberations of this latest mess in the 2018 midterms, it will likely be the Democrats.


Greenberg and Rosner: Polling Still Reliable, Given Key Safeguards

The political polling industry took some sharp criticism when Donald Trump won slim majorities in battleground states that enabled him to win an electoral college majority and become President. But Democratic candidates and campaigns should now take note of a Washington Post article by Anna Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner (also available at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research’s website), which affirms the impressive accuracy of carefully conducted polls regarding the 2016 election, the Brexit referendum and the election in France and takes a deeper look at what is really going on with modern polling practices. As Greenberg and Rosner write:

…Polling in recent years has had to grapple with major challenges, from low response rates to non-response bias , in which some groups choose not to participate (there is evidence of this to some extent among Donald Trump voters). But none of these problems means that the basic science behind survey research has failed or that we can no longer produce high-quality, accurate data. The problem is that too many people are misusing and abusing polls — in three ways in particular.

First, many people treat polls as predictions instead of snapshots in time based on a set of assumptions about who will turn out to vote. Ron Fournier, the publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business, for instance, has argued that Nate Silver got the election wrong because he awarded Trump only a 34 percent chance of winning. Pollsters make judgments about the composition of the electorate based on historical experience and levels of interest in the current election to pull a list of voters to interview. But if those assumptions are wrong, then the polls will be wrong on Election Day. The polls in the Midwest that predicted a Clinton victory generally did not anticipate that, in key industrial states, more rural and exurban white working-class voters would vote than in past presidential contests.

The tendency of elites to underestimate working-class anger is a real and global problem. The United States and most other major democracies are grappling with intense and historic levels of public grievance related to slow growth; income inequality; and resentments over trade, technology and immigration. That has made voter turnout among specific blocs less predictable worldwide. But that’s not a problem with survey research methodology. Rather, it puts a bigger premium on listening to voters and picking up on who is particularly angry or energized.

Second, the rising cost of collecting high-quality data — because of declining response rates and the increased use of cellphones — has led many researchers to cut corners. Rather than spend more to address such problems, some organizations skimp on practices such as call-backs (to people who didn’t answer) or cluster sampling (to make sure small geographic areas are represented proportionately). They may also use cheap and sometimes unreliable data-collection methods such as opt-in online panels or push-button polling (interactive voice recognition) that systematically exclude respondents who primarily use mobile devices.

Indeed, according to “Shattered,” the new book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the Clinton campaign relied heavily on “analytics” surveys rather than “old school polling” to track the candidate’s standing because the former were cheaper. Analytics surveys are used to gather data for building voter targeting models. They tend to have large sample sizes but skimp on common practices that make traditional polls more accurate. The book quotes a Clinton pollster acknowledging as much on election night: “Our analytics models were just really off. Time to go back to traditional polling.”

Third, good polling requires good listening. Powerful new techniques in big data modeling make it possible to segment and target voters in ways that were undreamed-of a decade ago. Yet voting is an inherently human activity that defies being completely reduced to formulas. The best polling has always been accompanied by directly listening to people, face to face, in their own words.

Many campaigns and media organizations miss opportunities or succumb to polling errors because they do not invest in simply listening to voters. Focus groups are invaluable, as are other ways of listening, such as conducting in-depth interviews, reading online discussion boards or even systematically monitoring conversations on social media.

Open-ended listening can reveal the need to reword survey questions; for example, our recent focus groups suggest that “globalization” is all but meaningless to many voters. Open listening can cast doubt on things that may have become conventional wisdom in a campaign; for instance, we have worked on many races where the “front-runner” was actually quite weak, but that was more evident in focus groups than in standard survey measures of favorability or job performance. Direct listening can also show that not all polling numbers are created equal: While we did not poll for last year’s Clinton campaign, we conducted many focus groups across the country in which it was clear that voters were willing to overlook or tolerate concerns about Trump, while they could not do the same with Clinton (e.g., “I just don’t trust her”). Direct listening revealed that low favorability ratings meant different things for the two candidates. These are qualitative tactics that many media polls and campaigns skip or skimp on, partly because of the cost.

As the authors conclude, the future of credible polling “will depend less on math and more on old-fashioned matters of hard listening, wise budgeting and human judgment” — a good checklist for political campaigns, as well as for pollsters.


Political Strategy Notes

What can Democrats learn from Emmanuel Macron’s impressive victory in France? Given the enormous differences in the political systems and cultures of France and the U.S., it would be silly to suggest that what worked there would also work here. But if any of the lessons are useful they might include that a young semi-outsider candidate can overcome the politics of fear. Oh, that’s right, we learned that already in 2008. Trump was rooting for Le Pen, who shared his xenophopic worldview. But he did, gasp, somewhat graciously congratulate Macron, who is more in the mold of Blair and Clinton. It’s hard to say what the economic reverberations will be, other than a short-term boost for the EU, which could help stabilize the world economy — at least for a while. Much depends on France’s MP elections next month. Le Pen got a third of the votes cast, so he will have to address some of the FN’s concerns to forge a working majority. “Even if the globalists have won today, it doesn’t mean that the populists won’t win tomorrow,” said Daniele Antonucci, an economist at Morgan Stanley. But there’s no escaping the conclusion of the New York Times editorial: “French voters were not seduced by nativist illusions and instead chose a youthful and optimistic president who believes that France must remain open, progressive, tolerant and European.”

In their New York Times article, “‘No District Is Off the Table’: Health Vote Could Put House in Play,” Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns update the bad news for Republcians: Democrats are recruiting challengers aggressively, even in conservative-leaning districts, importuning an eclectic group of could-be candidates that includes a Minnesota gelato baron, a former candidate for governor of Kansas and the mayor of Syracuse….“No district is off the table,” said Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the House Democratic campaign chairman, who vowed that Democrats would cast the widest possible net…The Democrats need 24 seats to recapture the House majority, and they believe the most straightforward path back to power is through the 23 Republican districts won by Hillary Clinton in November, as well as the dozens more where President Trump remains deeply unliked…All told, 80 House Republicans from districts Mr. Trump carried by 55 percent or less voted for the health law’s repeal. “Any Republican member of Congress in a seat that the president won by less than 10 points who isn’t concerned needs to be concerned,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster…Democrats are seizing the moment to seek out promising challengers, from blood-red Kansas to the blue-tinged suburbs of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and enticing them with the prospect of a political wave…Reflecting the emboldened mood, formidable candidates have already indicated they are likely to run — even in districts that Republican incumbents have had little trouble holding.”

Julian Zelizer of CNN has a warning for Democrats regarding the May 5th unemployment rate report — a decline to 4.4 percent: “With the economy having reached full employment, the best conditions in more than 10 years, many voters will be in good spirits about the status quo. Notwithstanding all the talk about the impact of the health care legislation, the bottom line to Americans’ pocketbooks will matter a great deal come the midterm campaigns…If conditions don’t change significantly, Republicans will benefit. President Trump and the GOP, whether they deserve it or not, will be able to claim credit for the recovery. (Presidents usually get the blame or credit for economic conditions, even if they don’t have a big impact on them.)” Zelizer is right that an improving economy can help the party in political power. But, if “full employment” means a job at a decent wage for everyone who wants one, the U.S. has a ways to go before we can trruthfully say our economy has achieved that standard.

At Common Dreams, John Atcheson also has a sobering thought for Democrats: “Here’s the timeline for leveling the playing field. Democrats would have to launch an effective attack on Republican legislators at the state level in 2018 and 2020, then wait for the census results and draw reasonable districts that actually represent the people. As a result, the first time Democrats could face Republicans without their Gerrymandered advantage will be 2022, again, assuming Democrats get their act together…Even more frightening is the fact that Republicans are just 2 states shy of being able to convene a Constitutional Convention and the Koch Brothers – funders of the Coup – are pumping money into an effort to put them over the top.”

Charles D. Ellison, Philadelphia Tribune Washington Correspondent notes a devious method Republicans use to suppress minority votes: “One such scheme, the Interstate Crosscheck System, worries observers like Dr. G.S. Potter of the Strategic Institute of Intersectional Policy. The anti-voter fraud system first created by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Koback in 2005, has grown substantially in size and scope – from its one-state origin to now 30 states. “It was designed and implemented by Kris Kobach, a well-known white nationalist,” observes Potter. “And [it’s] used to identify millions of black and brown voters specifically to deprive them of their Constitutional right to vote…As of 2016 the ICS has already worked rather meticulously, already identifying over 7 million voters for purging, more than 1 million of which were completely eliminated from voter rolls….Center for American Progress researchers highlight that “[b]ecause nonwhite communities share surnames more commonly than white communities—in fact, 50 percent of Communities of Color share a common surname, while only 30 percent of white people do—this leads to a greater number of flagged potential double voters, and thus a significant over-representation of minority voters on the Crosscheck list.”

Nate Cohn explains why “There’s Reason to Be Skeptical of a Comey Effect” in the 2016 election at The Upshot. Cohn cites the final Upshot/Siena College poll in Florida, completed the night before the Comey letter, which had Trump leading Hillary Clinton in the state, 46 percent to 42 percent. “At the time,” writes Cohn, “the poll looked like a bust. There wasn’t much reason to think the result was even in the ballpark. Mrs. Clinton was ahead by six points in national polls and ahead by a similar margin in states worth 270 electoral votes, suggesting Mrs. Clinton was probably up by a few points in Florida…it’s now clear that Mrs. Clinton was weaker heading into Oct. 28 than was understood at the time. Several other polls were conducted over the same period that showed Mr. Trump gaining quickly on Mrs. Clinton in the days ahead of the Comey letter. And the timing of these polls — particularly the gap between when they were taken and when they were released — has probably helped to exaggerate the effect of Mr. Comey’s letter on the presidential race.” Certainly, swing voters would have reason to be skeptical about an October 28th ‘surprise.” However, concedes Cohn, “It’s hard to rule out the possibility that Mr. Comey was decisive in such a close election. Mr. Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by less than a percentage point.” And it doesn’t do anything to erase concerns about Comey’s motivation in releasing the letter.

In other endless, post-mortem news, we have “Why did Trump win? More whites — and fewer blacks — actually voted,” by Bernard L. Fraga, Sean McElwee, Jesse Rhodes and Brian Schaffner at The Monkey Cage. “Using data from the voter file vendor Catalist and information from the U.S. Census Bureau, we examine the change in turnout rates for different racial/ethnic groups between 2012 and 2016. Black turnout declined dramatically; white turnout increased noticeably; and Latino and Asian American turnout went up even more. In the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, those shifts were especially strong. How strong? Without those shifts in turnout from various racial and ethnic groups, these pivotal states might have gone not to Trump but to Clinton — giving Clinton an electoral college victory…Black turnout fell by 4.3 percentage points in non-battleground states in 2016 compared to 2012. But it fell by 5.3 percentage points in states where the election was decided by a margin of less than 10 points…But in Michigan and Wisconsin — two key Midwestern states where, to analysts’ surprise, Trump won — black turnout fell by more than 12 points…In the critical battleground state of Florida, white voter turnout jumped by 4 points — and black turnout fell by 4 points. Trump won Florida by a margin of just 1.2 points.”

It’s not just Jon Ossoff’s run for congress in GA-6 that has Democrats optimistic about regaining a foothold in Georgia. Greg Bluestein reports that “Democrats circle Atlanta statehouse seats where Trump struggled.” As Bluestein explains, “We told you earlier that a May 16 runoff for the state Senate District 32 seat vacated by Judson Hill of Marietta, a Republican, could become a test vote for the larger Sixth District contest on June 20: But other districts in Atlanta’s suburbs may make for easier Democratic pickings. And it could start with two soon-to-be-opened state Senate seats…David Shafer of Duluth and Hunter Hill of Smyrna both represent Senate districts that Hillary Clinton won in November. And both are vacating their seats to run for higher office…Fran Millar of Dunwoody is the third Republican in the Senate representing Clinton turf…In the House, the landscape is even friendlier to Democrats. Only two Democrats represent districts taken by Donald Trump…But 14 Republicans hold Clinton turf…State Rep. Rich Golick of Smyrna represents the “bluest seat of the bunch” – Clinton carried his district 55 to 41 percent. Three other GOPers are in territories that Clinton carried by double-digit margins.”

Democrats have had their share of fun ridiculing Trump’s tweets. But not so fast, argues Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), as Susan B. Glasser notes in her Politico post, “Do Democrats Need to Tweet More Like Trump? Chris Murphy looks—and tweets—like a man running for president.” Glasser reports that Murphy has “turned out to have a skill that the older, more experienced Democrats in the Senate do not: Twitter-trolling a president whose own genius for 140-character media manipulation has entirely transformed the idea of the presidential bully pulpit.” Glasser adds, “Murphy says he and others need to channel the “authenticity” that Hillary Clinton lacked on the campaign trail—and acknowledge the “fairly revolutionary mood” that brought Trump to power. Murphy’s tweets “are just me typing out legitimate, real, emotional frustration with what this president is doing and saying,” he tells me, “and I think as a general matter, more Democrats should do.”” Murphy is interested in leveraging the emotional power of twitter soundbites “Whoever the Democratic nominee is in 2020,” writes Glasser,”Murphy says, he or she “absolutely should learn from the Trump campaign that wherever you decide to fall with respect to ideology, you have to have a couple of big, easy-to-understand ideas if you want to become president.”


Political Strategy Notes

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore has a succinct description of how the Republicans got their Obamacare replacement/Trumpcare bill passed in the House “by an eyelash.” As Kilgore writes, “House Republicans managed to pass a revised version of the American Health Care Act today by the narrowest of margins: 217–213, with two members absent (and three vacancies). Twenty Republicans voted against the bill. All Democrats did so as well.” Kilgore explains how the GOP got their skeptical members to cave: “The drive to enact this bill — an earlier version was pulled from a scheduled floor vote in March with defeat certain — looked to have stalled earlier this week. But then one announced “no” voter, Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, came up with an amendment adding a small but symbolic sum of $8 billion to the funds available to states to deal with people that have preexisting health conditions. When the president and congressional GOP leaders avidly agreed, Upton (accompanied by another prior “no” voter, Bill Long) quickly flipped to “yes.” The momentum crucially shifted based on the claim that the House GOP had “addressed” the preexisting conditions issue.” The token sum gave the remaining Republicans just enough cover to cave to Trump, Ryan and the ‘Freedom Caucus.’

But the Republican bill severely weakens pre-existing conditions protection for health care consumers, particularly with respect to pregnancy and child birth. As Danielle Paquette notes at Wonkblog, “Under the GOP’s proposal, states are given the option of dumping an Obamacare rule that requires insurers to provide maternity coverage to all women and safeguards them from fee increases in the event of a pregnancy. In other words, maternity coverage, as dictated by the federal government, would no longer have to be an “essential benefit…Under the GOP plan, a person who loses their employer-provided insurance could face a premium spike if they try to regain coverage in the state or private markets…The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, estimated that a woman seeking maternity care under the GOP’s current plan could face surcharges up to $17,000.”

Disappointing as the House vote was, at least we can credit House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Dems with impressive leadership in rallying every House Democrat to vote against the Trumpcare bill. James Hohman touches on her efforts at The Daily  202: “Pelosi has relentlessly stuck to four talking points that polling and focus groups show are most effective: The GOP plan would raise out-of-pocket costs, hurt people between the ages of 40 and 65, mess up Medicare and strip away coverage from some of the 24 million who got it under the ACA…“When you tell people, ‘This is what you’re going to get,’ that’s harder than saying, ‘This is what you’re going to lose.’”

Irwin Redlener, M.D., president and founder of Children’s Health Fund and professor of pediatrics and Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, turns the spotlight at The Daily Beast on what Trumpcare would do to children: “If it passes the Senate and is signed into law by the president, it will be an unprecedented setback, fundamentally threatening the stability of guaranteed access to quality health care of some 35 million children who benefit from the current array of safety net programs that poor—and working poor—families depend upon…The most concerning element of this bill is the provision to transform Medicaid into either a “block grant” or “per-capita cap” system. Either approach would result in drastic cuts to Medicaid and diminished health benefits for nearly half of all American children. Some estimate that Medicaid will sustain as much as $800 billion in cuts over 10 years if this bill is enacted. Given that children make up the largest proportion of Medicaid enrollees, it’s a virtual certainty that they will bear the brunt of these cuts…The GOP’s bill may already be more unpopular than Obamacare ever was.”

So what are the political consequences for House members who voted for Trumpcare? Aaron Blake offers this assessment at The Fix: “…there are clearly some Republicans who may have jeopardized themselves Thursday. According to Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections, 24 House Republicans who voted for the bill come from districts where President Trump didn’t get a majority of the vote, and 14 come from districts that went for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Those are two-dozen districts where this vote can quickly be thrown in the GOP members’ faces. And, again, Democrats need 25 seats.” No doubt many House Republicans. who voted for the bill are secretly hoping it doesn’t pass. “Republicans opened themselves up to all these lines of attack on Thursday,” writes Blake, “and you can bet Democrats will use them. But it’s likely that the backlash won’t be quite as big if the GOP ultimately fails to turn this bill into law…”

Want to take immediate revenge on House Republicans who voted to destroy health care? Here’s how,” writes David Nor at Daily Kos. Nir provides a list of 24 Republican House members made even more vulnerable by their votes for Trumpcare, and explains a really cool project of ActBlue, which merits the support of every progressive: “The fantastic folks at ActBlue have created something called “nominee funds” that you can donate to immediately. These funds are organized on a district-by-district basis: You contribute now, and all money is held in escrow until after each state’s primary. At that point, the cash is transferred in one fell swoop to the Democratic nominee, who can then start using the money for his or her general election campaign pronto…A big surge in donations now would have huge salutary effects right away: It would both terrify Republicans and boost Democratic efforts to recruit good candidates. Of course, it would also help us defeat these Republicans next year. And as it happens, 24 is exactly the number of seats we need to take back the House….So make them pay: Donate $1 right now to each of the Democratic nominee funds targeting vulnerable House Republicans who voted to destroy access to health care.

Defeat of the Trumpcare replacement bill in the U.S. Senate comes down to whether or not three Republicans needed to defeat the measure will vote against it. Early speculation is focusing on Sens. Rob Portman (OH), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins, report AP’s Alan Fram and Richard Lardner, with more conservatives Sens. Lindsay Graham (SC), Ted Cruz (TX) and Ramd Paul (KY) also expressing significant concerns.

In his Monkey Cage post, “Want to change Congress? Change who votes in ‘safe’ Republican or Democratic primaries,” Seth J. Hill, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, discusses the possibilities for strategic crossover voting. Hill notes, “The idea here is to provide a rough estimate of how feasible it would be for citizens who don’t normally vote in Republican primaries to participate in those primaries to create incentives for GOP candidates to take more centrist positions.” Hill cites the 2014 open primary for Republican  Sen. Thad Cochran’s seat in Mississippi. “Cochran did not win the most votes in the first primary election,” notes Hill. “But in a runoff, his campaign was able to bring out new voters, including from Democratic portions of the state. The number of votes cast increased by nearly 20 percent, and Cochran won. This suggests that at least in some cases, entrepreneurial candidates can mobilize new voters in primary elections, altering the dynamics of the contest.”

At The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein addresses a question of crityical importance for Dems, “Can the Democrats Convince Millennials to Vote in 2018?,” and notes, “The challenge is especially urgent for Democrats because Trump divides younger and older Americans so sharply. Though Trump showed strength among blue-collar white Millennials, he carried just 36 percent of young people overall last November. Polls show he’s lost ground since. Both the CNN/ORC and NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys released last week found his approval rating among adults ages 18 to 34—almost exactly the Millennial generation’s boundaries—falling below 30 percent. That’s much lower than his ratings among older adults, especially those 50 or older…Polls have also found that over three-fourths of Millennials oppose both Trump’s Mexico border wall and his push to repeal Obama’s climate-change agenda. Eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, cutting taxes for top earners, barring Syrian refugees—each Trump priorities—all face preponderant Millennial opposition in surveys…Millennials said they preferred Democrats for Congress by crushing margins of nearly 30 percentage points in both the NBC/Wall Street Journal and CNN/ORC surveys. That’s more than double the party’s advantage among younger voters in NBC/Wall Street Journal polls from 2010 and 2014.”


Trumpcare Will Also Do Damage In Blue States That Don’t Seek Exemptions From Obamacare Requirements

After today’s narrow House passage of the American Health Care Act, it really began to bug me that so any people were focused to the exclusion of everything else on the effect of the bill in conservative states that seek waivers from Obamacare regulations. That was, in fact, the key issue that seemed to separate House Republicans. But as I explained at New York, damage from the bill would be severe in blue states, too.

Trumpcare, at least in its current form, will allow states to decide whether to carry on with something resembling the systems in place under Obamacare, or to opt out of various key requirements under current law — including the one protecting people with preexisting conditions. It seems safe to assume that most blue states will not even consider applying for waivers to screw over their own most vulnerable citizens. But at the same time, there are many provisions in the revised American Health Care Act that will affect people everywhere, often not in a good way.

States like New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — states with Democratic governors and/or legislatures — are not going to seek exemptions from Obamacare requirements affecting the essential benefits health plans must offer, or prohibiting discrimination on the basis of health conditions. And there may be other states that don’t accept the poisoned chalice of health-policy autonomy. One of the House Republicans who seems to be coming around to a vote for Trumpcare, Carlos Curbelo, offered that excuse, even for his own red state of Florida:

“I would highly doubt that any governor, especially the governor of a large state like Florida, would seek a waiver. I just don’t think that any state would want to carry the burden of managing health care more than they already do, through Medicaid.”

Actually, it’s not clear that most of the people priced out of the individual health-care market by preexisting conditions would qualify for Medicaid, particularly in non-expansion states like Florida. But it is true that applying for the waivers that the House Freedom Caucus demanded will at least be controversial in the states that consider it.

For many of Trumpcare’s provisions, however, there’s not really much state flexibility at all. Indeed, blue states — most of which took advantage of Obamacare’s optional expansion of Medicaid — will be most affected by the bill’s abrupt termination of enhanced federal funds for the expanded population. Indeed, of the 24 million Americans the Congressional Budget Office estimated would lose health coverage under the original Trumpcare bill, 14 million would lose Medicaid coverage.

Some of the Obamacare regulations Trumpcare seeks to revoke and/or replace also are not optional, including the expansion of allowable price discrimination based on age and the elimination of the individual purchasing mandate (to be replaced by a surcharge on people who wait to buy insurance until they are sick).

Trumpcare also gets rid of the tax subsidies set up by Obamacare, and creates its own tax-credit system, with arguably very insufficient credit amounts, especially for low-income and older people. None of this can be waived for any states.

And the cost-sharing-reduction subsidies that have been critical in keeping insurers offering coverage under the Obamacare exchanges — the subsidies the administration has been threatening off and on to withhold — would be formally killed as well.

Finally, there are all sorts of little-recognized side effects of Trumpcare — such as the unraveling of benefit requirements for employer-sponsored health insurance — that do not discriminate by geography. And there is one big national provision that could do vast damage to women’s health care, especially in rural areas: the prohibition on any federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

It is worth watching closely the special provisions cooked into this legislation that affect certain states exclusively. The original AHCA (and hence its successors) included a deal to secure votes from upstate New York GOP House members that shifted Medicaid costs from county to state taxpayers. More of that sort of home cooking could be tucked into the legislation later.

We have no way of knowing what the Senate will do to the “state flexibility” provisions that have been so important to Trumpcare’s struggle towards House passage. On the one hand, there may be some “moderate” GOP resistance to how far conservative states will be allowed and encouraged to go in messing with poorer and sicker people who have benefited from Obamacare. On the other hand, some Republican senators—notably Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins—want to go much further in allowing states to go their own way, to the point of letting blue states keep most of Obamacare in place.

For blue-state progressives, this may be a tempting approach insofar as it insulates them from much of the damage wrought by an Obamacare replacement. But they need to ask themselves if they are willing to sell vulnerable red-state people down the river and accept a sort of health-policy apartheid. Republicans may not actually give them a lot of choice, but it’s important for everyone to understand the trade-offs involved in getting this unwieldy beast of a health-care bill to Donald Trump’s desk.


Republican Congressman Says Sick People Whose States Kill Coverage Should Move

The latest in many a revealing quote from GOP Members of Congress on health care policy came from North Carolina’s Rep. Robert Pittenger. I wrote about it at New York with some real anger.

It is not quite down there in the hall of shame with his Alabama colleague Mo Brooks’s suggestion that sick people often don’t deserve health coverage because they’ve brought it all down on themselves with bad habits. But North Carolina Republican representative Robert Pittenger was similarly cavalier about people with preexisting conditions who might lose affordable coverage if their state chose to waive protections for them under the terms of the revised American Health Care Act that the White House and Republican congressional leaders are trying to get through the House this week.

Quoth Pittenger: “People can go to the state that they want to live in. States have all kinds of different policies and there are disparities among states for many things: driving restrictions, alcohol, whatever,” he continued. “We’re putting choices back in the hands of the states. That’s what Jeffersonian democracy provides for.”

Seems Pittenger thinks the sick should vote with their feet, or their other afflicted parts, to live in a place that doesn’t view their health as a disposable asset.

I do believe we had a civil war over the proposition that states can do any damn thing they want with people, and the proponents of the states’-rights version of “Jeffersonian democracy” lost. It’s true that the victims back then did not always have the option to move elsewhere (there was this thing called the Fugitive Slave Act), but it should be beyond argument now that some rights and privileges of citizenship ought to be national in scope. Maybe health insurance is one of them, and maybe it’s not, but Pittenger’s glib assertion that the theoretical option of flight for poor, sick people makes it okay to discriminate against them is morally and politically obtuse.

This is not Pittenger’s first or worst comment of this nature. Last year, after protests broke out in Charlotte (a city partially represented by Pittenger) when an African-American man (Keith Lamont Scott) was fatally shot by police, here’s what he had to say:

“The grievance in their minds — the animus, the anger — they hate white people, because white people are successful and they’re not,” Pittenger told BBC Newsnight when he was asked about what is driving heated protests in Charlotte.

He later apologized for the nasty racist slur, but perhaps he should have moved to a different state.