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

August 20, 2017

Do Republicans Even Support Health Insurance?

As congressional Republicans continue to stumble around in search of a workable and politically non-toxic health care plan, it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that there’s something very old-school about their rhetoric on health insurance. I wrote up my ruminations at New York:

As Senate Republicans go through the valley of the shadow of death for their health-care plan, questions are again being raised about what they really want. Is it lower premiums for individual health insurance, particularly for the people (presumably many of them Republicans) who aren’t poor enough to qualify for Obamacare’s purchasing subsidies? Is it “entitlement reform,” focused on rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and then capping that program’s growth forever as a government-shrinking exercise? Is all the talk about health policy really just a disguise, as many liberals suspect, for an agenda of high-end tax cuts and low-end spending cuts that have little or nothing to do with Obamacare?

The answers to these questions may be as various as the micro-factions of the GOP in Congress, and a lot of the answers most definitely lack coherence. But one policy impulse shared by some conservatives is important to understand because it encourages a very destructive attitude toward the existing health-care system. Some conservatives really just don’t like the idea of health insurance as we know it.

This has again become apparent in some of the senatorial reactions to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates of how many Americans (22 million) would lose health insurance under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Here’s the classic from the number-two Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn:

He wants to celebrate the “freedom” of Americans to go without health insurance, though he surely understands most of the 22 million would not “choose” this option if affordable health insurance was available.

That’s not as exotic a belief as you might imagine.

Conservatives have long believed that “third-party” health insurance — health insurance provided by employers or the government — encourages over-utilization of health services and thus is responsible for high rates of medical inflation. And many believe the only legitimate purpose of health insurance should be to cover catastrophic costs, not the routine medical services that people used to pay out-of-pocket in the days before a combination of tax subsidies, collective bargaining, and employer competition made employer-sponsored comprehensive insurance plans common.

So, unsurprisingly, most conservatives who can be coaxed into a discussion of their actual aims propose getting rid of or expanding to individuals the tax subsidy for employer-sponsored health plans, to reduce the incentive to access care whenever you think you need it. And they envision a system in which everyone pays for routine care via a tax-preferred health savings account — basically paying the doc out-of-pocket the way Americans did back in the Good Old Days of individual responsibility — and has a relatively cheap catastrophic-care policy to cover life-threatening conditions.

Whether you find this vision frightening or invigorating, it is clearly very different not only from the Obamacare status quo, but from the status quo ante long before Obamacare. This longing for really old-school health-care policy causes all sorts of political problems for the Republicans that harbor it. For one thing, it cuts against the hatred of high out-of-pocket costs that unites most middle-class folks regardless of party or ideology. And for another, as Cornyn has learned, treating comprehensive health insurance as a socialistic vice corrosive of American values just does not accord with the actual values of actual Americans.

At the moment, Republicans clearly do not have the power or the popular support to impose an early-1950s vision of health care on the country. They nonetheless fight every feature of the health-care system that involves spreading the risk — and the cost — of poor health, which is the basic function of private as well as “government” health care.


Strong Support for Single-Payer, Medicare-for-All Shaping Health Care Debate

Strong support for “single-payer” and Medicare-for-all now drives America’s health reform debate. As Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, writes:

A majority of Americans say it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage. And a growing share now supports a “single payer” approach to health insurance, according to a new national survey by Pew Research Center.

Currently, 60% say the federal government is responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, while 39% say this is not the government’s responsibility. These views are unchanged from January, but the share saying health coverage is a government responsibility remains at its highest level in nearly a decade.

Among those who see a government responsibility to provide health coverage for all, more now say it should be provided through a single health insurance system run by the government, rather than through a mix of private companies and government programs. Overall, 33% of the public now favors such a “single payer” approach to health insurance, up 5 percentage points since January and 12 points since 2014..Just 5% of Americans say the government should not be involved at all in providing health insurance.

Kiley notes that “Democrats – especially liberal Democrats – are much more supportive of this approach than they were even at the start of this year…The share of Democrats supporting a single national program to provide health insurance has increased 9 percentage points since January and 19 points since 2014.” Also,

Nearly two-thirds of liberal Democrats (64%) now support a single-payer health insurance system, up 13 percentage points since January. Conservative and moderate Democrats remain about evenly divided: 38% prefer that health insurance continue to be provided by a mix of private insurance companies and government programs, while 42% favor a single-payer approach.

This is not the only poll which affirms that an overwhleming majority of Americans want government-run health care for all citizens. Increasing numbers of Americans are becomming aware of the benefits, savings and success of government-run health care in nearly all other developed countries, and they are raising questions about why we can’t have this and why we allow profiteers to define our national health care system to benefit their enrichment.

Family health security is the most important issue for most people, and that gives Democrats an edge. Despite the string of narrow electoral defeats they have recently expeerienced, it’s becomming clear to the public that Democrats, unlike their adversaries, are actually fighting for health security for all. Dems have had success in branding themselves as the party of health security and they should amplify this impression in the months leading up to November, 2018. If issues matter at all, Democratic candidates who master their messaging for a Medicare-for-All system are going to have an edge in 2018.


Some Elements of a Winning ‘Rural Strategy’ for Dems

Cartney McCracken, a partner at Control Point Group, a D.C.-based Democratic consulting firm, has a post, “A Rural Strategy for Democrats,” up at Campaigns & Elections, which merits a thoughtful read. McCracken’s lede:

After a string of losses in the 2017 special House elections, it’s clear Democratic candidates are continuing to struggle reaching rural voters. That’s partly because our playbook for appealing to voters outside of urban areas remains unchanged: take a poll, repackage the DNC’s national messaging and target voters with mail and advertising. The problem is many rural voters become alienated when campaigns attempt to micro-target using messaging distilled from a national or statewide poll.

Rural America has plenty of voters who are more politically-astute than what is too often suggested by Democratic boilerplate propaganda. Reaching persuadable rural voters requires a little more thought — and respect. As McCracken observes:

Rural voters who have seen factories shuddered over the past 15 years want to talk about jobs, not economic development. Economic development is a Beltway term that they hear on the nightly news and campaign ads. These voters want to know what the candidate can do to address farm issues, cell phone signal, and broadband internet access. Rural voters want to know what a candidate can do to fix broken roads and keep the cost of gas and milk down.

…To appeal to rural voters, Democrats need to be where rural voters are — the grocery store, the gas station in a one-stop-light town, advertising on terrestrial radio and in local newspapers. Micro-targeted digital ads sound great to consultants, but they’re not nearly as effective as shoe-leather campaigning in rural areas.

…These voters do go to the grocery store, they have post office boxes where they pick up their mail, and they need to refill their gas tanks. These voters are reliable visitors to the county fairs and ramp dinners. Democratic candidates need to be at these places listening to voters’ concerns. These optics persuade rural voters better than a mail piece with the candidate wearing a barn jacket.

“If Democrats want to have any chance of taking back state legislatures, the House, or the Senate in 2018,” concludes McCracken, “we must re-engage the rural vote in person and in messaging. Meet these rural voters where they go, speak with them rather than at them, and incorporate these conversations into messaging that matters.”

Polling data and media outreach are essential tools for connecting with persuadable rural voters. But there is no substitute for showing up in person with a solid understanding of their concerns  —  to really show that a candidate cares. Let the Republicans dodge the town halls in small-town America. That’s not a luxury Dermocrats can afford, if they want to get some traction outside the cities and suburbs of the nation.


Political Strategy Notes

Medicare for all advocates will find some useful statistics in Robert H. Frank’s article at The Upshot, “Why Single-Payer Health Care Saves Money,” including: “Total costs are lower under single-payer systems for several reasons. One is that administrative costs average only about 2 percent of total expenses under a single-payer program like Medicare, less than one-sixth the corresponding percentage for many private insurers. Single-payer systems also spend virtually nothing on competitive advertising, which can account for more than 15 percent of total expenses for private insurers…The most important source of cost savings under single-payer is that large government entities are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with service providers. In 2012, for example, the average cost of coronary bypass surgery was more than $73,000 in the United States but less than $23,000 in France.”

“My view is that it’s probably going to be dead,” John McCain said of the Republican tax-bill-posing-as-health-care legislation on the CBS program Face the Nation. “Yet even McConnell cast doubt on the bill’s prospects for passage last week,” Reuters reports. “Speaking at a luncheon in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell said if Congress failed to follow through on a seven-year pledge to repeal Obamacare then it must act to shore up private health insurance markets, comments seen as providing a pathway to a bipartisan deal to fix the health system.” Sen Grassley isn’t optimistic about the bill’s prospects, either. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will try to hold a vote on the bill before the six-week recess that begins on July 29th.

Viral video about Trump’s awkward and weak presence at the G-20:

Sarah Jones explains “How the Democrats’ online outreach strategy went haywire” at The New Republic, and warns that the “churn and burn” email fund-raising strategy used by Jon Ossoff  may be played out. As Jones writes, “The Ossoff emails warned of electoral doomsday. The subject lines often contradicted emails that had been sent earlier that day. As election day neared, the pace increased. The campaign bombarded its email list with increasingly desperate pleas for money—or psychological intervention, depending on your interpretation…“There’s a limited pool of Democratic small-dollar donors out there,” said Kenneth Pennington, former digital director of Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, quoted by Jones. “When the Ossoff campaign and DCCC run a churn-and-burn program like this, it sullies the pond for every other Democratic cause. When people get turned off by fundraising emails, they tune out. Not just from the bad programs, but from the good ones. Everyone from Elizabeth Warren to UNICEF is going to feel that.” Jones adds, “but there’s no denying that the churn-and-burn strategy gets results. Ossoff did raise a lot of money. His fundraising helped him remain competitive with Handel…” Jones cites the more measured email fund-raising strategy of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, which was also highly-effective, not only in rasing money, but also in generating engagement.

At Salon, Conor Lynch ruminates on “Why we need the left-wing critique of liberalism: Because liberals got us where we are today. Too many American liberals have betrayed FDR’s legacy — and the attacks from both left and right have some merit.” Lynch makes his case and offers some worthwhile insights, including “At first it may seem that conservatives and leftists are criticizing liberals for opposite reasons: Right-wingers think that liberals are far-left ideologues, while actual leftists think that liberals lack core beliefs and are practically conservative.” There are grains of truth, as well as overstatement, in both characterizations, and the souring dialogue between liberal and moderate Democrats could use some adult supervision, as is often suggested by sniping and snarkage in Facebook and other social media. The ‘big tent’ party has both purist ideologues and moderate centrists, and tension between them is inevitable and needed for developing sound Democratic policy. Despite the divisions, liberal values affirming an increased role for government helping people and expansion of human rights generally hold sway with most voters who cast ballots for Democrats. What Democrats agree on remains far more significant than their more frequently-publicized disagreements.

Nobody should be surprised by all of the Pelosi-bashing. It’s what Republicans do to progressive women who have political power. Now that Hillary Clinton holds no political office, it would be surprising if the GOP did not come after the highest-ranking Democratic woman. Reasonable Democrats can disagree about whether Pelosi or another Democrat should be the next House Speaker. What is certain, however, is that, when Paul Ryan finally surrenders the Speaker’s gavel, his accomplishments will pale in comparison to what was achieved under Pelosi’s speakership.

The New York Times editorial board addresses measures for “Combating a Real Threat to Election Integrity,” and explain “Last year, Russian hackers tried to break into voter databases in at least 39 states, aiming to alter or delete voter data, and also attempted to take overthe computers of more than 100 local election officials before Election Day. There is no evidence that they infiltrated voting machines, but they have succeeded in doing so in other countries, and it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out here. R. James Woolsey, the former C.I.A. director, wrote in an introduction to the Brennan Center report, “I am confident the Russians will be back, and that they will take what they have learned last year to attempt to inflict even more damage in future elections…The question is this: Can the system be strengthened against cyberattacks in time for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential race? The answer, encouragingly, is that there are concrete steps state and local governments can take right now to improve the security and integrity of their elections. A new study by the Brennan Center for Justice identifies two critical pieces of election infrastructure — aging voting machines and voter registration databases relying on outdated software — that present appealing targets for hackers and yet can be shored up at a reasonable cost.”

Marcus H. Johnson offers an idea for combatting voter suppression at Alternet: “Framing the issue is important because it is an effective way for voting rights advocates to expand the base of support for their fight. Twenty years ago, there wasn’t broad support for legalizing marijuana. But an effective messaging campaign turned marijuana legalization into a medical issue instead of a recreational one, leading to an increase in support and over two dozen states legalizing medical marijuana. Instead of visualizing teenagers smoking marijuana, legalization advocates got voters to think about cancer and epilepsy patients and others who use the drug to relieve pain…In the same vein, voting rights advocates can draw in a bigger base of support by framing voter suppression as an issue of political corruption. Currently, voter suppression is a problem known to the Democratic base and activists, but it isn’t covered extensively by the media and is openly dismissed by Republicans as a partisan issue. Framing voter suppression as political corruption would put Republicans on the defensive and force them to answer for stealing political influence from minority voters. It would also garner more media coverage, because corruption and theft sounds juicer and more pressing than “partisan differences.””

“A trio of new political action committees – the People’s House Project, Brand New Congressand Justice Democrats – are looking for ways to support candidates with economically progressive platforms and to challenge the party establishment, especially in rust-belt states where President Donald Trump saw much unexpected success last November,” reports Katishe Maake at mcclatchydc.com. “The People House Project says it will run candidates in every Republican-held district in 2018, with an emphasis on Midwestern and Appalachian states. A central tenant of the organization’s platform is that candidates cannot receive donations from big money donors, who Ball said have distorted the party’s messaging and intentions.”


The 1996 Democratic Presidential Win Was a Lot More Complicated Than a “Move to the Center”

When former Bill/Hillary Clinton pollster and strategist Mark Penn kicked up a storm with some controversial “lessons” from a campaign many of us graphically remember, I waited for the dust to settle a bit and then weighed in at New York.

Unlike many left-of-center commentators, I do not automatically begin to froth at the mouth when the name Mark Penn comes up….

I have actually written a semi-positive review of a Mark Penn book, and don’t necessarily think he has always exuded the smell of brimstone (though his Clinton White House colleague Dick Morris most definitely did), or that he personally doomed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. But Penn’s trajectory into Fox Democrat hackery has been confirmed by a new op-ed [co-authored with Andrew Stein], principally because he’s now mischaracterizing the very 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign he helped engineer as the peak of his political career.

Here’s the Penn/Stein summation of what happened in 1996:

“After years of leftward drift by the Democrats culminated in Republican control of the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton moved the party back to the center in 1995 by supporting a balanced budget, welfare reform, a crime bill that called for providing 100,000 new police officers and a step-by-step approach to broadening health care. Mr. Clinton won a resounding re-election victory in 1996 and Democrats were back.”

That is at best a massive oversimplification of what happened in 1996. For one thing, if Clinton “moved the party back to the center,” it was in 1992, when he billed himself as a “different kind of Democrat” and won a plurality victory that indeed broke a long Democratic losing streak. His “centrist” agenda alienated a lot of more-traditional Democrats, and the Donkey Party lost a historic landslide defeat in the 1994 midterms. In 1996, the Clinton-Gore campaign, as Mark Penn knows quite well, did not just “move to the center,” but fought and benefited from the GOP extremism that the “Republican Revolution” led by Newt Gingrich represented.

The signature mantra of the Clinton-Gore ’96 campaign was nicely presented by the vice-presidential candidate in a debate with his rival, Jack Kemp:

“The plan from Senator Dole and Mr. Kemp is a risky, $550-billion tax scheme that actually raises taxes on 9 million of the hardest pressed working families. It would blow a hole in the deficit, cause much deeper cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment.”

This mantra — Medicare, Medicaid, education, environment — was so formulaic that it was reduced, literally, to a formula: M2 E2. Perhaps the welfare-reform and community-policing initiatives helped make the election revolve around M2 E2. But the idea that this was how Democrats won is really sketchy. The more plausible theory of 1996 is that Gingrich’s Republicans overreached in attacking very popular New Deal–Great Society safety-net programs, and the Clinton-Gore campaign made them pay the price. This is exactly what the Democratic “resistance” to Donald Trump plans to do in 2018 and beyond, and it is more than a little ironic that Penn and Stein are touting the 1996 campaign in attacking them for it.

Beyond that, as many Penn/Stein critics have pointed out, a lot has changed since 1996, particularly in the Democratic Party’s own base.

But again, it’s not clear Mark Penn and Andrew Stein are really all that interested in influencing Democrats. If they offer dubious advice Democrats are sure to reject, then they are mainly recommending themselves as apostates ready to bash the donkey on conservative media. That’s a very profitable line of business, and if Mark Penn pursues it, his most adamant progressive critics will be entirely vindicated.


Trump Removal Involves Tricky Strategy, Timing

Julia Azari explores the ramifications of a difficult question and a painful reality in her Five Thirty Eight post, “What Happens If the Election Was a Fraud? The Constitution Doesn’t Say.” As Azari writes:

For all the headlines about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, no hard evidence has come to light, at least publicly, showing that President Trump or his team were involved. But suppose that such evidence did come to light — what would happen if it became clear that Trump or his advisers colluded with the Russians?1 This isn’t the only type of wrongdoingthe investigations could uncover, but it’s among the most serious because it would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2016 result. So, is there a process for dealing with a finding that in essence invalidates an election?

When it comes to presidential elections, the answer is: not really. The laws and processes around national elections have grown up in a piecemeal fashion over time, with state and local laws governing the administration of presidential elections. And the Constitution itself focuses more on ensuring stability than on administering elections. As a result, there aren’t clear procedures for how to handle questions of legitimacy after the fact — especially when those questions involve the presidency.

…The lack of an established process for reviewing elections points to a larger issue: The structures established by the Constitution assumed a world in which the presidency and the Electoral College were not fully absorbed into a contentious national party system. That vision has long since been replaced by one in which presidential elections are national contests over policy agendas and ideas. The text of our Constitution has never been changed to reflect this reality. Instead, the Electoral College remains the final word on who gets to be president. When it comes to the possibility that the winning side colluded with a foreign power to influence the election outcome, the Constitution doesn’t offer much in the way of a plan.

Democrats should press the case for a complete investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, while keeping in mind the reality that Republican suppression of pro-Democratic voters, especially African Americans and gerrymandering are likely stealing even more votes than any foreign interference. There are also indications that Republican Secretaries of State are suppressing a lot of votes by delaying registration of voters. Consider, for example this disturbing excerpt from a Democracy Now report about voter registration problems in the recent GA-6 election, featuring voter suppression expert Greg Palast and voting rights activist Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project:

GREG PALAST: Voting rights groups registered literally tens of thousands of minority voters, but, strangely, the voter forms simply vanished.

NSE UFOT: We registered over 86,419 voter registration forms.

GREG PALAST: How many again?

NSE UFOT: Eighty-six thousand four hundred nineteen. There are 46,000 of the folks that we’ve registered who have made it, and 40,000 of them are missing. And you know what they told us? “We don’t know what you’re talking about. What forms?”

GREG PALAST: You mean that 40,000 of the voters you had registered, mostly minorities, just disappeared?

NSE UFOT: They did not disappear.

GREG PALAST: Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project.

NSE UFOT: With all four of my eyes, I—we walked into county boards of elections—county boards of registrars and seen boxes of voter registration forms waiting to be processed.

GREG PALAST: And if you complain about the missing voter registrations, you could face criminal felony charges, and your group could be destroyed…

Concerns about a fraudulent election at the presidential level may not come to much, if there is a lack of compelling evidence. Even if there is adequate evidence, the Trump Administration may delay action on it for a long time. Or the Republicans might take pre-emptive action/distraction by finally stepping up to impeach the President, since he has been so distructive to their brand.

Never before in American history has there been so much buzz about impeachment so early into a President’s term. Many political observers (see here for example) have been dismissive about the idea, more because of the difficulty of rallying the needed support than concerns about whether Trump’s mess meets impeachment requirements. Other progressives have worried about impeachment on strategic grounds — that impeachment could result in the worst case scenario of President Pence for two plus terms (the Constitution limits the time a President can serve to ten years. If the Republicans want Trump impeached, they have to time it in such a way that Pence would be sworn in just less than 10 years before his second term would be completed. We may see some tricky timing maneuvers by both Democrats and Republicans before any such impeachment drama runs its course). Forcing Trump’s resignation could accomplish the same result.

But Trump’s brand of lunacy could make avoiding impeachment impossible for Democrats, as well as Republicans. Who would bet that Trump will not do anything illegal, dangerous or outlandish enough in the next couple of years to make impeachment the only palatable choice for members of congress who want to get re-elected?

Between the GOP’s twin disasters of their health care debacle and Trump’s destructive tweets, they are on track to experience a rout in 2018. When your adversary is self-destructing, the argument goes, get out of the way. Don’t introduce another draining distraction.

For now, the best strategy for Democrats is to remain vigilant, while leaving the headache about removing Trump to the Republicans. The distracting drain on time, energy, money, credibility and emotions presented by mobilizing for impeachment properly belongs to Republican office-holders and operatives. Democratic resources can be better allocated elsewhere, like recruiting strong candidates, registering voters, fighting voter suppression and crafting a better message/brand for the party. Dems may eventually have to play a leadership role in impeachment, but not yet.


Toomey Reveals a Secret: GOP Didn’t Plan For a Trump Win

As Senate Republicans battled to get to 50 votes for their Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill, a broader GOP problem suddenly appeared, as I discussed at New York:

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey offered a simple, remarkable explanation this week for why Republicans have struggled so mightily to find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“‘Look, I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win, I think most of my colleagues didn’t, so we didn’t expect to be in this situation,’the Pennsylvania Republican said Wednesday night during a meeting with voters hosted by four ABC affiliates across his state.”

According to the Washington Post’s Paul Kane, this is almost certainly why congressional Republicans agreed upon a “repeal and delay” strategy for dealing with Obamacare soon after the election: They had no real clue how to do anything else. But the lack of advance planning has also been evident in the inability of Republicans in the Executive and Legislative branches to reach any kind of agreement on how to proceed with other very basic agenda items — also achievable without Democratic votes — like “tax reform” and the federal budget. And the disarray extends beyond the legislative process:

“Perhaps nowhere did the surprise factor of Trump’s victory show its impact more than in the effort to fill top jobs inside the administration. Clinton’s campaign, fully expecting victory, was stocked with hundreds of volunteer advisers who were already angling for sub-Cabinet-level posts in key agencies including the departments of State, Justice and Defense. Many of them were current or former senior staff to congressional Democrats.

“But with Republicans, those connections were rare because few believed them to be worth the effort.”

It is hard to overstate the difference for Republicans between the “Trump wins” and “Clinton wins” scenarios. After all, the GOP had been rehearsing the politics of obstruction and enjoying the innocent pleasures of passing consequences-free legislation for six long years after Republicans retook the House in 2010 (and then the Senate in 2014). The transition from gesturing to governing was especially tough for the anti-government party, and it did not help that the new GOP president was so unorthodox, unpredictable, and inexperienced a figure. Republicans did not, as Toomey said, “expect to be in this situation,” so they did not go through the difficult process of airing their differences and putting together pre-vetted consensus plans. On issue after issue, they are doing that now, on the fly, using — as Toomey puts it— “live ammo.”

It’s not going very well.


Political Strategy Notes

As a group, veterans don’t seem to vote to any significant exent according to candidate positions on issues like veterans benefits. It may be that the best way for Democrats to court veterans is to encourage more of them to run as Democrats. In her New York Times article, “Democrats Court Military Veterans in Effort to Reclaim House,” Emmarie Huettman writes that “Most of the veterans serving in Congress are Republicans; of the 13 veterans in this year’s House freshman class, 10 are Republicans.” Now, however “about 20 military veterans who have announced that they will run as Democrats for the House of Representatives next year. Democratic Party leaders are aggressively seeking former members of the military in hopes of increasing their appeal among the sort of frustrated voters who elected President Trump — and winning back the 24 seats they need to regain the Republican-controlled House.”

At The Hill, Mike Lillis probes deeper into a much discussed topic in his post, “Dems divided on Trump attack strategy for 2018.” While nearly all Democrats advocate honing a better message, most of the disagreement over strategy seems to be about who to attack and how. There is lots of disagreement about how much to attack Trump and Republican candidates. But Lillis provides one quote that suggests a new approach that merits more discussion in Democratic strategy circles: “I don’t want to run against Trump,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “My recommendation is to run against the Republican Party, and I think our party has made a mistake by emphasizing too much Mr. Trump.” Dems should try a series of hard-hitting ads that focus more directly on branding the Republican Party, instead of just its candidates. At the very least, the idea should be tested in focus groups.

Ron Klain provides some salient insights about how Democrats might flip the meme about which party is really condescending to working people, and put it where it belongs, in his Washington Post article “To win the working class, Democrats need to start talking straight.” As Klein writes, “Trump’s economic message has been a kind flim-flammery where the carnival barker lavishes compliments on his audience while whispering to his sidekicks, “Can you believe they are buying this?” He extolled the virtues of “Buy American” while building his own projects with imported Chinese steel. He made immigrants the scapegoats for a wide array of economic problems, while applying for special visas to import foreign workers for jobs at Mar-a-Lago…It was Trump’s campaign that reeked of condescension when he told working-class voters that he alone could make sure that jobs shipped overseas come back. Trump’s presidency is erected on faux populism, as he claims to look out for “forgotten people ” while saying that only rich people are qualified to formulate economic policy and using the presidency to promote his family’s businesses. Appealing to working-class voters on false promises and flawed premises is not showing them respect: It is a condescending belief that with enough bluster and showmanship, you can get away with anything.”

Sarah Jaffe reports at Truthout on the activities of a new progressive political action group in Indiana: “We have been building this thing now for three months. We have got a small but growing base of dues-paying members. We have teams around operations and administration and around fundraising and around politics. We have been running a test canvas program to gear up for our first big canvas, which we will start on July 8 and go for three weeks. We did a daylong boot camp training for organizers in Indiana. People from all over the southern half of the state came. We did one action on Donnelly’s office around Medicaid cuts and infrastructure. We have been collecting Medicaid stories, getting videos of them, first person accounts that people, mostly mothers in the region, have written and trying to get them placed in national press outlets…A lot of this organizing is based on having long one-on-one discussions with people, what their lives are like, what they are interested in, what they are concerned about, what they are afraid of, what they are angry about, what they are hopeful for and growing relationships that way. That is both on the doors and ideally in follow-ups after people get knocked or called.”

At Daily Kos, Joan McCarter explains why “Tom Price’s Health and Human Services Dept. forced to admit Obamacare is doing pretty well,” and notes “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, part of Tom Price’s Department of Health and Human Services, is out with its report on the health of the insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act for 2016, and it’s pretty good…If not for the out-and-out sabotage by the Trump administration and the uncertainty created by its dithering over payments to insurers (not to mention the chaos Congress has created), the market would be going into the 2018 plan year very strong. As it is, it finished out 2016 in very good shape, and the Trump administration just admitted it.”

Democratic candidates and campaigns should make themselves familiar with the latest innovative reforms regarding campaign finance, and one of the best ways to do it is to read “Public Funding for Electoral Campaigns: How 27 states, Counties and Municipalities Empower Small Donors and Curb the Power of Big Money in Politics” by Juhem Navarro-Rivera and Emmanuel Caicedo at Demos. The authors observe that “Public campaign funding programs have been successful in diversifying the donor base of candidates in terms of class and race. In some places, these programs have also succeeded in diversifying the gender, racial, and class makeup of candidate pools. Among the other benefits they cite are more quality time with constituents and more women running for office. They credit the reforms with “reducing participating candidates’ reliance on large individual, corporate, and out-of jurisdiction donors, while providing incentives to reach out to constituents for small contributions.”

Generic Ballot Model Gives Democrats Early Advantage in Battle for Control of House, reports Alan I. Abramowitz at Sabato’s Crytal Ball. Abramowitz concludes that “On average, based on calculations from FiveThirtyEight, Democrats hold an adjusted lead of close to seven points on the generic ballot, mirroring that of the RealClearPolitics average. A lead of that magnitude would result in a predicted Democratic gain of close to 30 House seats, more than enough to regain control of the chamber. Given the model’s standard error of 11.6 seats, that forecast would give Democrats about a two-thirds chance of regaining control of the House…So keep an eye on the generic ballot polling for 2018. If Democrats maintain a lead in the high single digits, that probably indicates they will have a decent chance to win the House or at least significantly cut into the Republicans’ majority. A bigger Democratic lead, into the double digits, would make a takeover more likely, while a smaller Democratic lead — or a GOP advantage — would put Republicans in a clearer position to preserve their majority.”

Peter Beinart argues at the Atlantic that Democratic leaders must present an assertive challenge to Trump’s Korea policy. As Beinart writes, “Republicans tend to think Ronald Reagan proved that the way to deal with adversaries is through ideological denunciations, economic sanctions, and military threats. By contrast, Democrats—at least in the Obama era—emphasized diplomacy and international cooperation. Instead of seeking the capitulation of hostile regimes, they sought deals that involved compromise by both sides. They supported pressure only when it helped to bring such deals about…Not anymore. When I asked the veteran arms-control expert Joe Cirincione what today’s Democrats believe about North Korea, he answered: “A Bud Light version of the hawkish neocon view…What makes this so tragic is that the path Trump is on—with bipartisan support—is doomed to fail. Were Democrats willing to risk a political fight, they could offer a better way…The lesson of the Iraq War is that progressives must challenge the GOP’s hawkish maximalism regardless of the political cost. The lesson of the Bernie Sanders campaign is that grassroots Democrats hunger for authenticity, independence and courage. If there are dangers for Democrats who challenge the current hawkish discourse on North Korea, there are opportunities too.”

Enroute to making his point at cnbc.com that “Liberal firebrands may not be best hope for divided Democrats in the Trump era,” John Harwood notes of the electorate that “in 2000, they embraced George W. Bush’s vow to restore “honor and dignity” to a White House tarnished by Bill Clinton’s scandal.” But, ahem, let’s not forget that Bush lost the popular vote. We nonetheless hope that a majority of voters in the next couple of election cycles still want to “restore ‘honor and dignity’ to a White House,” because the options for those two qualities should be quite clear by then.


It’s Time for Dems to Tend Their Pivotal Base Constituency

Democratic strategists and candidates should take the time to read — and think about — Lauren Victoria Burke’s “As Democrats Keep Chasing Trump Voter Waterfalls, Will They Ever Listen to Their Actual Base: Black People?” at theroot.com. Burke sheds some much-needed light on a Democratic blind spot:

…Does it really take a genius to figure out that if a group votes for you 90 percent of the time you should do what it takes to make sure that group is at the polling place on election day?

…The hard fact is that the Democratic party has no history of taking the strategic advice of African-American elected officials, leaders or consultants and applying substantial financial backing to black voter outreach. Will new DNC Deputy Chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) be listened to? Who knows.

If past is prologue, everyone knows what happens next: Senior black officials asking the party for field help will be ignored and, instead, Democrats will stage a few visits to black churches two Sundays before Election Day, followed by that crash panic of activity days before Election Day.

 It was white women who gave 53 percent support to Donald Trump. It was Hispanic voters who gave Trump 29 percent of their support. African Americans voted for Hillary at 93 percent. You’d think lots of energy to get that group out would be common sense after black women were number one in turnout percentage of any voting group…Black turnout dove to 2004 levels in 2016 after Democrats decided that the record numbers seen in 2008 and 2012 would magically persist without President Obama on the ticket.
Then Burke gets down to a very recent case:
There were over 130,000 African Americans in South Carolina’s 5th congressional district. Did the Democratic Party attempt to make a vigorous effort to turn them out? No. African American voters vote for the Democratic Party over 90 percent. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) asked for $200,000 to get out that vote. The answer was no.
It’s entirely possible Democrats could have picked up that seat with a small fraction of what was spent on the Ossoff campaign. It’s not like they weren’t informed about it. Compounding the mistake, Democrats ignored the good advice of one of their most loyal and experienced African American congressmen. As Burke notes,
On June 22, The Root asked Clyburn if he could remember a time when the Democratic Party has listened to blacks on strategy.

“I haven’t really thought about that,” said Clyburn, with a smile in a ornate lobby off of the House floor. “But they didn’t this time,” he added.

Clyburn will turn 77 next month and has been in Congress since 1993. If Democrats in charge of strategic decisions aren’t listing to him when it comes to black voter outreach, who are they listening to? Speaking with several other senior black Democrats reveals the same scenario.

Further, asks Burke, “Where’s the DNC’s anti-suppression campaign? Where’s the get out the vote effort target to black voters? Where’s the census strategy?”

Damn good questions.

Democratic leaders should certainly make an effort to get more votes from the white working-class. But even if they succeeed in gettting a larger share of that constituency, it won’t mean much if they underperform with African American voters. It’s time to take a sobering look at how they allocate GOTV resources to insure that the only constituency that votes Democratic 9-1 receives the attention it merits. This they should do, not only because it makes practical sense, but also because it is the right thing to do.

“Democrats are proving cycle after cycle that you can have all the money in the world,” concludes Burke, “but if you’re a loser on messaging and vote targeting it’s a waste.”

Choosing between pouring resources into white working-class GOTV and African American voter turnout is essentially a false choice. Neglecting either constituency is a ticket to defeat. Democrats have got to do both — if they really want to win.


Two Weeks Later, Reasons for Ossoff Defeat Come Into Focus

Two weeks after the GA-6 special election run-off, seasoned political columnist Albert R. Hunt of Bloomberg View offers some perceptive observations about Jon Ossoff’s defeat in that marquee contest:

Some disappointed Democrats have argued that they failed because their candidate wasn’t tough enough on Trump, and didn’t take strongly progressive positions that would energize their most loyal voters.

That theory doesn’t hold up to an analysis of voter-turnout data by John Anzalone, the pollster for the Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.

Anzalone’s breakdown shows that Democrats turned out to vote in impressive numbers. There were 125,000 votes for Ossoff, more than Democratic congressional candidates had gotten in the district before and more than Barack Obama received in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.

“We did excite the Democratic base,” Anzalone said. “Trump was the accelerant that brought out Democrats who would not normally vote in a midterm or special election.”

The problem for the Democrats was that there was a larger-than-expected Republican turnout too, enabling the GOP candidate, Karen Handel, to win by 10,000 votes. Some Democrats had hoped that Trump’s unpopularity would dampen turnout for the Republican House candidate; it didn’t happen.

Hunt also sees a foreign policy impact benefitting Handel, as “supporters of Handel hammered Ossoff in the closing weeks of the campaign for inflating his national-security resume and for working with the Qatari-based media network Al Jazeicalera,” and notes that “Trump’s favorable poll ratings in the district rose only once, when he ordered the bombing of Syria in April.” But that’s an argument that would be more applicable to a U.S. Senate race than a House contest. It would be hard to cite a GA House race that clearly turned on foreign policy concerns in the last decade.

Hunt notes the Handel campaign’s extensive Pelosi-bashing as a possible factor. Ads can amplify an albatross strategy to a modest extent. But most Pelosi-haters would likely have voted against Ossoff anyway, regardless of any such attack ads. Value added by such ideological linkage would likely be minimal.

Ossoff’s defeat notwithstanding, Hunt points out that, “in every special House race and statewide contest this year, they [Democratic candidates] have significantly outperformed their showing in recent elections even in defeat.” Picking up two dozen House seats  doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, especially given the President’s tanking approval ratings and the lengthening do-nothing track record of GOP House members.

Other possible reasons for Handel’s win might include suppression of African American and Latino voters, Ossoff’s inadequate  outreach to working-class voters and Handel’s better-than-expected and lavishly-funded ground game. But Hunt is surely right that Democratic candidates have done a lot better thsn before in GA-6 and other 2017 special elections in Repubican-held districts. Looking toward the 2018 midterm elections, Dems have every reason for cautious optimism — and energetic voter mobilization in competitive House districts.