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

March 22, 2018

No Excuses for Trump & GOP If They Lose PA Special Election

Looking at the upcoming special congressional election in Pennsylvania, I offered these thoughts at New York.

The spin wars over the results of the special and off-year elections in the Trump era have been as intense as the races themselves. Democrats can rightly point to a regular pattern of over-performance in congressional and state legislative special elections once you look at the jurisdictions involved. At the congressional level, the playing field was heavily tilted to the GOP by the fact that most of the vacancies involved were produced by Trump lifting incumbents into his administration. So the most common GOP rationalization for obvious Democratic gains in dark-red territory was: “We won, didn’t we?”

The big regular off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia were Democratic routs by any measure, and produced new excuses for failure: Trump blamed Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie for not running a cookie-cutter campaign based on his own, and Republicans could blame the New Jersey debacle on Chris Christie’s profound unpopularity.

Now, though, a special election is approaching on March 13 in Pennsylvania that will leave no excuses for Trump or for Republicans if the GOP loses. The district itself is both strongly Republican (its Cook Political Report PVI is R+11, which means it has recently voted more Republican in presidential elections than the nation as a whole by 11 percent) and unlike, say, Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District (that district’s PVI is R+8, but Trump only won it by one point), strongly pro-Trump as well (the president carried it by 20 points).

This district is also, not to put too fine a point on it, in perhaps the most stereotypical Trump Country segment of the United States: southwest Pennsylvania, whose bars and living rooms are regularly trawled by conservative journalists like Salena Zito for validation of Trump’s appeal. And the GOP candidate to succeed disgraced GOP congressman Tim Murphy (who had no Democratic opponent in 2014 or 2016), state legislator Rick Saccone, might as well be campaigning in a Trump mask. The fiery conservative likes to boast that he was “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

Raising the profile of this race still more as a potential 2018 bellwether is that the Democratic candidate, former local prosecutor Conor Lamb, is regularly described as being “straight out of central casting” — a 33-year-old Marine veteran with deep roots in the district and a moderate issues profile and style.

Unsurprisingly, reports Politico, the national GOP and the Trump administration are taking no chances in this race. Trump himself and Vice-President Mike Pence have already appeared in the district with Saccone, and are prepared to do so again, with Cabinet members also on call to take the short trip up to Pittsburgh. Saccone is not a particularly good fundraiser, so the GOP and outside groups are already making up for that abundantly; at the moment, “Republicans [are] outspending Democrats on TV by nearly 5-1,” with more money on the way.

All this national and conservative-movement activity is occurring at a time when their huge built-in advantages in the district are potentially being strengthened by an abatement — perhaps temporary, perhaps not — in the intensity of the Democratic “wave” that was so evident at the end of 2017. The Democratic advantage in the congressional generic ballot — a regular measurement of national party strength in a midterm election — has by most accounts shrunk by more than half since its peak just before Christmas.

There’s more than a month to go before voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th District go to the polls, and a lot could happen in the interim. But it’s pretty clear this is the GOP’s race to lose.

Political Strategy Notes

Read David Daley’s salon.com article, “How the Republicans rigged Congress — new documents reveal an untold story,” for one of the best accounts of the GOP’s “years-long scheme to gerrymander America and undermine democracy.” It’s a lurid tale of Republican lust for political leverage, empowered by Democratic distraction, apathy and incompetence. In one graph, Daley deftly encapsulates the challenge Democrats face: “If there is to be a blue wave in 2018, it will need to overcome a red seawall that was exactingly designed beginning a decade ago and has proven impermeable in state after state ever since. Even in Virginia last November, Democrats won nearly a quarter of a million more votes than Republicans — and it still wasn’t enough to overcome district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage. In Alabama, where Doug Jones recently became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in decades, disgraced GOP candidate Roy Moore still carried six of the state’s seven gerrymandered congressional districts.”

From “Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, top U.S. official says” by Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin and Kevin Moynihan

So what will be the net political impact of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s 8 hour filibuster yesterday in support of the Dreamers? The knee-jerk response is it will hurt Democrats because it gives GOP propagandists fodder for portraying Democrats as obstructionist – the old ‘acuse your enemy of your worst sin’ routine. On the flip side, Pelosi’s filibuster, perhaps the longest in the House since 1909, demonstrates Democratic commitment to protect immigrants the GOP’s draconian policies toward them. This could help the Democrats gain credibility with Latino voters in key districts. Pelosi-bashing may not provide much value added for Republicans in terms of midterm votes, since most Pelosi-haters are already hard-core Repubicans.

But that won’t stop Republicans from launching a tsunami of Pelosi-bashing, as David Weigel writes in “Attack ads in Pennsylvania find a theme: Pelosi, Pelosi and more Pelosi” at PowerPost: “The Republican effort to turn House races into referendums on Nancy Pelosi will continue today, when the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, begins the fourth TV ad buy in Pennsylvania’s 18th District. As in a previous spot from CLF, a spot from the Ending Spending super PAC, and one from the National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic nominee Conor Lamb is linked with Pelosi and her warnings about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.”

At The New York Times, Alexander Burns has an update on The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which was formed last year under the leadership of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. As Burns explains, Holder and his associates in the project have “settled on a strategy to contest a combination of governorships, legislative seats and more obscure state offices to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process…the group was chiefly determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature, as Republicans do in Ohio and Florida, among other critical battlegrounds…States at the top of the just-finalized target list include traditional purple states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Republicans can currently design maps without Democratic input, and others — including Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada — where Democrats have significant influence in government but must defend it in the 2018 elections.”

In his Washington Post op-ed, “Democrats should wise up to Trump’s cons,” Demoratic consultant Carter Eskew has some salient advice for Democrats: “…Try remembering that Trump is a con man, always running several cons at once. In less than a week, Trump has launched three on Democrats alone: the Nunes memo; the lawyers-telling-him-not-to-testify story; and last night’s accusation that Democrats who didn’t clap for him during the State of the Union address are traitors. All are designed to make Democrats crazy, overreact and lose the upper hand. Democrats need to remember this is what con artists do. In the words of young-adult fiction writer Leigh Bardugo, “The easiest way to steal a man’s wallet is to tell him you’re going to steal his watch.”

There’s some good news for Dems tucked in the Daily 202 post “Improving poll numbers give Republicans hope that the midterms might not be so bad.” As James Hohman notes, “Meredith Kelly, the communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said her team focuses less on the ups and downs of national surveys than fielding top-flight candidates who can defeat GOP incumbents…Equally important, if not more important, [than the generic ballot] is that our district-specific data is really bad for Republicans,” she said. “We already have several district-specific polls that show the named Republican losing to the named challenger right off the bat. There’s another category where the named incumbent is winning right now in a head-to-head, but only earns in the mid to low 40s — a weak starting off point. There are other Democrats starting well behind the Republican, but even in those races, we have a lot of time and data that shows a lot of room for growth for the Democrats, who start out much lesser known.”

NYT columnist David Leonhardt makes the case for Republicans who want to restore a little dignity and sanity to their party to vote against their party’s candidates: “I recognize that voting against Republicans is as easy for a progressive to suggest as it is hard for a conservative to execute. But here’s my case to conservatives who do believe in facts and democratic norms (and would rather that Miami stay above water): You are politically homeless right now. Your party has become a destructive force. Its victories — which you may understandably celebrate, like a lower corporate tax rate — don’t make up for the damage the party is doing. And the other party obviously remains too left-wing for you…Your best hope is a sane conservative party. And the only route to a sane conservative party is a string of losses for the current Republican Party.” Today’s GOP, writes Leonhardty, is “doing significantly more damage than good, and there is little prospect that will change until Republican radicalism brings a political price.”

Some new polling data from Ronald Brownstein’s article, “White Women in the Rustbelt Are Turning on Trump” at The Atlantic indicates regarding “white women without a college degree” in the Rustbelt:  “Trump has slipped into a much more precarious position with these women,” notes Brownstein. “No group was more central to Trump’s victory, especially in the Rustbelt states that effectively decided the election. (Trump won at least 56 percent of those women in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, according to exit polls.) However, “Gallup put his 2017 approval with them at 45 percent in Pennsylvania, 42 percent in Michigan, and 39 percent or less in Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Compared to his 2016 vote, his 2017 approval among blue-collar white women in the Rustbelt represented some of his largest declines anywhere—18 percentage points in Ohio and 19 in Wisconsin and Minnesota. That erosion, which intensified during Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, creates the opening for Democrats to contest blue-collar and non-urban House seats this fall through the Midwest and Northeast.”

Waldman: Dems Finally Play Offense

Some instructive comments from Paul Waldman’s Plum Line post, “Republicans have rigged the system for years. Democrats are finally fighting back“:

One of the most important differences between the two parties today is that Republicans never stop asking how they can change the rules to benefit themselves. Democrats, on the other hand, are almost always on the defensive, trying to stop what Republicans are doing (with mixed success), but often getting bowled over by Republicans who have thought more about how to go about rigging the system and have more resources at their disposal.

The recent history of these efforts starts a little under a decade ago, when Republicans realized that if they could win victories in the 2010 elections, they’d control redistricting after the census. Democrats weren’t paying nearly enough attention to state elections, and in that 2010 wave, the GOP took control of multiple state legislatures. With their control of redistricting, they redrew maps across the country, and as a result, in the 2012 House elections, Democratic candidates won over a million more votes than Republican candidates, but Republicans controlled the chamber by a 33-seat margin (you can read more about that here).

Yes, Democrats have gerrrymandered on occasion, as well, notes Waldman, “but they haven’t waged the kind of organized and sustained assault on institutions that Republicans have.” He quotes Carolyn Fiddler, a state politics expert at Daily Kos, who adds that “Democratic donors are definitely stepping up and investing in state-level politics this cycle in ways I’ve never seen.”

Waldman cites the work of “new groups on the left such as Indivisible and Run For Something that are channeling so much activist energy are putting a large portion of their attention on state and local elections.” Further,

And in a few places, Democrats have actually gone on the offensive, passing automatic voter registration that would render some Republican vote suppression efforts moot. Voters in Florida will have a ballot measure in November to end the state’s felon disenfranchisement law, which leaves 1.5 million Floridians who have served their time without the right to vote.

However, Waldman concludes that “it’s still the case that Republicans are on the offensive while Democrats mostly play defense, trying to stop Republicans from rigging the system.”

The Republicans haven’t paid much of a price for their voter suppression, stonewalling in congress and gerrymandering projects, despite all that has been said about it in the media. It appears that they correctly calculated that voters who would be disgusted by their obstruction of democracy are already against them, while the small percentage who are swing voters don’t seem to care much about it.

Deciding the allocation of resources to be invested in defensive and offensive strategy is always a tough call. But it’s encouraging that Democrats are now investing more resources into the latter, a needed first step to becomming a more pro-active party.

Teixeira: Trump’s State Approval Ratings Provide The Key to 2018

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

There is nothing more important than the overall political environment for the magnitude of Democratic gains in 2018. The poorer that environment is for Republicans, the better the Democrats will do in any given race with any given candidate. And there is nothing more important to that environment than President Trump’s approval ratings which, as those who pay at least some attention to politics know, have generally been dismal at the national level.

But the 2018 races are run not nationally but in the individual states, so it is important to have a sense of how Trump is viewed in individual states to assess Democratic prospects. That is why the state approval ratings just released by Gallup are so useful, because they provide an approval rating for Trump in all 50 states. (The ratings are average ratings from 2017; Trump’s overall approval rating today appear to be slightly higher–a point or two–than its 2017 average, so the Gallup data cited here may be slightly underestimating his current state approval ratings).

The state ratings are particularly interesting in light of where the real battles of 2018 are likely to be fought. As Philip Bump has noted, 64 competitive House seats held by Republicans are in states where Trump’s approval rating is under 50 percent; 60 of these seats are in states where his rating is below 45 percent and 34 are in states where his rating dips below 40 percent.

One way to get a sense of just how much the political environment in a given state has shifted since Trump’s election is to compare Trump’s margin in 2016 with his net approval rating (approval minus disapproval) from the Gallup data. The results are rather striking when we look at states with key races.

The states with the largest number of competitive House seats held by Republicans are: California (8); Pennsylvania (6); New York (5); New Jersey (4); Virginia (4); Illinois (4) and Ohio (4). Trump’s average approval rating in these states is 36 percent (low of 29 percent in California and high of 45 percent in Ohio). And on average Trump’s net approval rating in these states is 12 points worse than the margin he attained in these states in the 2016 election. For example, Trump carried Ohio by 8 points in 2016; his net approval rating in 2017 was -5. Interestingly, the only state where the shift against Trump was not in double digits was California. But here his margin in 2016 was already -30, so he slipped to “only” -36 in net approval rating.

Drilling down a little bit farther, the same patterns can be found in most states with competitive Senate, governor’s and/or state legislature elections. In Arizona, where Democrats are targeting Jeff Flake’s open Senate, as well as seeking to make big gains in the state House and Senate, Trump’s net approval is now -12, a 16 point shift compared to his 2016 margin. In Florida, where the Democrats are defending a Senate seat and targeting Republican governor Rick Scott and the state Senate, Trump is also at -12, 13 points worse than his 2016 showing. In Iowa, where the Democrats are after the governorship and serious gains in the state House and Senate, Trump’s net approval is -9, 18 points worse than his victory margin in the state in 2016. In Nevada, where Democrats have good chances to flip Dean Heller’s Senate seat and the governor’s mansion, Trump is at -11, 13 points worse than 2016. Even in North Dakota and West Virginia, two states with Democratic-held Senate seats where Trump has (in relative terms) sky-high net approval ratings of 18 and 26 points, respectively, these ratings still trail Trump’s 2016 election margins by 16 points.

Most astonishingly, in Texas where the Democrats are after three House seats and have an outside shot at Ted Cruz’ Senate seat, Trump’s net approval is at -15, a stunning 24 point decline from Trump’s victory margin in 2016. But a word of caution here. Gallup’s net approval ratings are among all adults, a group that tends to be pro-Democratic relative to the likely or actual voting pool and this difference, as Harry Enten has pointed out, is particularly large in Texas. So don’t break out the champagne toasts for blue Texas quite yet.

Still, all in all, favorable data for Democratic prospects in the most important states in 2018. I shall have more to say in the future about the demographics of specific states and Congressional Districts and how this may play into the political trends summarized in this piece

Political Strategy Notes

In their New York Times article, “‘They Can’t Wait to Vote’: Energized Democrats Target Dominant G.O.P. in Statehouses,” Alexander Burns and Alan Blinder write: “As national Republicans dig in to defend their majorities in Congress in the midterm elections, party leaders across the country have grown anxious about losses on a different front: state legislatures…Over the last year, Democrats have snatched away Republican seats in more than a dozen special legislative elections from Seattle and Tulsa, Okla., to Atlanta and Miami, in many cases electing female and minority candidates with strong turnout on the left.” Burns and Blinder quote Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee: “What we have seen in the special elections is a significant spike in the interest, engagement, spending and energy by the liberal Democrats and progressive movement,” Mr. Walter said, adding: “The spending is real. The organizational prowess is real. And the energy is real.” However, “In many of the biggest purple states, however, Democrats must overcome huge Republican majorities and forbidding legislative maps…Though Republicans have thin majorities in a few states, like Colorado and Minnesota, the party is entrenched by gerrymandering across most of the Midwest and has long controlled Sun Belt prizes like Florida and Arizona.”

Bret Stephens nails it succinctly in his NYT article, “Devin Nunes’s Nothingburger“: “The larger inanity here is the notion that the F.B.I. tried to throw the election to Clinton, when it was the Democrats who complained bitterly at the time that the opposite was true…Trump won the election. How that represents evidence of a sinister deep-state conspiracy is a question for morons to ponder. As for Devin Nunes, he has, to adapt an old line, produced evidence of a conspiracy so small. In modern parlance we’d call it a nothingburger, but the bun is missing, too.”

As Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus sees it:

E. J. Dionne, Jr. characterizes the Nunez nothingburger thusly: “A blatant McCarthyite hit piece that breaks little new ground, it cherry-picks from troves of information to feed a dangerous narrative: Even if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III gets the goods on Trump — on Russian collusion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, or all three — the facts won’t matter because the inquiry was driven by partisanship…And its underlying premise is laughable. To imply that the FBI’s leadership is a nest of left-wing Hillary Clinton sympathizers is as absurd as declaring that a majority of Philadelphians were rooting for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.” As Dionne puts it, the Nunes memo “simply showed how petrified Trump and his backers are of a comprehensive probe.”

At The American Prospect, Paul Waldman envisions a chaotic outcome after the Muellar probe is completed: “And what will happen when Robert Mueller’s investigation nears its end? Mueller has already indicted Trump’s campaign chairman and turned two Trump advisers (George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn), who agreed to plead guilty to minor charges and tell what they know. How will Republicans in Congress and the conservative media react to the charges Mueller raises, when Trump’s entire presidency is threatened?…We know already: They’ll go positively bonkers. Yes, they’ll argue that the whole thing can be ignored, which is part of what the Nunes memo was about: discrediting anything to do with the Russia investigation so Trump’s followers will already have their fingers in their ears when Mueller finishes his work. But the more serious the charges are and the more systematic the case Mueller makes against Trump, the more they’ll lose their minds. This was just a preview.”

“I think the Mueller investigation will blow through this flimsy excuse for an argument like a train through a willow tree,” writes Charles Pierce in his Esquire post, “‘Nothingburger’ Doesn’t Do This Memo Justice.” Pierce continues, “But the damage it will do to congressional oversight of the intelligence community—a dubious proposition on its best day, which was not Friday, god knows—will be long-lasting and far-reaching…Meanwhile, everybody involved in Friday’s burlesque, from Devin Nunes to Carter Page to the president* himself, knows full well that the Russian ratfckers are gearing up for the 2018 midterms.”

Alex Seitz-Wald discusses the downside of having too many candidates in “Democrats are having a banner recruiting year — and it could cost them” at NBC News: “Across the country, Republicans are salivating and Democrats are sweating their too-much-of-a-good-thing problem as the party’s chief asset in this year’s congressional elections, a bumper crop of strong recruits, is proving to be a liability too…Nationwide, an unprecedented 156 Democratic challengers had raised at least $5,000 by the third quarter of last year, according to a tally by the Campaign Finance Institute. That number was just 47 at this point in the last election. And before the GOP wave in 2006, the party had just 97 recruits, while Democrats had only 63 challengers before their 2006 blowout.That’s great for Democrats in many ways, and competitive primaries have been shown to increase engagement and turnout in November. But crowded primaries can also waste money, sow internal divisions, push candidates to the ideological extremes, and tarnish whoever emerges from the melee.” Jungle primaries can be a problem when there is a bumper crop of candidates. But the upside is that stronger candidates are likely to rise.

Columnist Paul Krugman explains why Trump has such a poor track record when it comes to appointments and personnel: “A remarkable number of Trump appointees have been forced out over falsified credentials, unethical practices or racist remarks. And you can be sure there are many other appointees who did the same things, but haven’t yet been caught…Why is this administration hiring such people? It surely reflects both supply and demand: Competent people don’t want to work for Mr. Trump, and he and his inner circle don’t want them anyway…The Trump administration is a graveyard for reputations: Everyone who goes in comes out soiled and diminished. Only fools, or those with no reputation to lose, even want the positions on offer.”

“Democrats are just about as likely as Republicans to say they plan to vote in this year’s congressional elections, a break from the two previous midterm elections, in which Republicans were significantly more inclined to vote, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in January,” reports Scott Clement at The Fix…”Just over half of Democratic-leaning registered voters, 51 percent, say it is “more important to vote” this year than in previous elections, compared with 34 percent of Republican-leaning voters who say the same.” However, “Two Democratic-leaning groups that have turned out at lower rates in past years also express tepid interest in voting this year. Fewer than half of registered voters ages 18-39, 46 percent, say they are certain to vote, compared with 68 percent of voters ages 40-64 and 77 percent of seniors. And nonwhite voters are nine points less likely than white to say they plan to vote (56 percent to 65 percent).”

Ryan Discovers Job Training As a Way To Cut Safety Net Benefits

For anyone concerned about safety net programs, Ayn Rand disciple Paul Ryan bears close watching. I noted a fresh example of his bad and deceptive intentions at New York last week:

House Speaker Paul Ryan is a very frustrated man. His great passion in public life seems to be the destruction of the federal safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society. But political reality keeps getting in the way. His long-standing support for partial privatization of Social Security is a nonstarter since George W. Bush got burned for broaching it back in 2005. His plans to voucherize Medicare benefits have been rubber-stamped by GOP members of Congress when they were in no position to actually implement them; they’ve gone nowhere after Republicans took over the entire federal government last year.

Ryan’s best shot yet at “entitlement reform” went down in flames with the failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare — and permanently cap Medicaid spending. And when he raised the trial balloon late last year of coming at entitlements under the rubric of “welfare reform,” that hardy race-inflected favorite of conservatives everywhere, Mitch McConnell shut him down almost instantly.

But ever ingenious, at the GOP congressional retreat this week, Ryan tried one more gambit, as Politico reported:

“[T]he Wisconsin Republican is back at it again, repackaging his proposals in hopes of gaining traction on welfare reform.

“During a GOP retreat here in Appalachia, Ryan urged congressional Republicans to tackle ‘workforce development.’ He messaged the somewhat amorphous phrase as a matter of ‘helping people’— not a budget-cutting excursive.”

What Ryan is deploying is a massive bait and switch: Get people talking about beefing up job-training resources for the able-bodied but unemployed or underemployed poor, and then drop the hammer on the entitlement benefits they currently receive. Phase one of that hammer dropping, of course, would be work requirements:

“[A]t least a half-dozen Republicans told POLITICO that Ryan’s proposal could include work requirements for welfare beneficiaries, which could repel senators. Indeed, at least two Senate Republicans said Thursday that they liked the idea in theory — but weren’t sure the upper chamber would ever take it up.”

Ryan is likely counting on support from the White House, given the administration’s cautious moves toward letting states impose work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries. But more generally pushing people out of entitlement benefits and into jobs that may or may not exist requires more cover. And that’s where Ryan’s sudden enthusiasm for upgrading the workforce’s skills comes in.

“He emphasized the ‘jobs’ piece of the equation, pointing out that there are 6.6 million people on unemployment and more than 5.8 million open jobs. That skills gap, he said, could be filled by the unemployed population if the government provided the facilities to link the two.”

Here’s the trouble, though: Lawmakers from both parties and at every level of government have struggled for decades to come up with a successful system for job training. The Manpower Training and Development Act of 1962, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973, the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, have all, according to nearly every assessment, largely failed to address the enormous problems for workers caused by automation and globalization.

If Ryan has some brilliant ideas for overhauling this system, we’d all like to hear them. But if talk about job training is just a pretext for cutting benefits, then it’s just the same old same old from the inveterate enemy of the welfare state.

Judis: Why Dems Must Tread Carefully on Immigration Policy

At The American Prospect Long Form, John Judis has an article, “The Two Sides of Immigration Policy: We need to legalize the undocumented already here, but open borders will mean lower wages for American workers,” which merits a thoughtful read by Democrats.  Judis, author of The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, writes:

Democrats and liberals have rightly rejected Trump’s words and deeds. And they have reasserted the need to find an eventual path to citizenship for the 12 million [undocumented immigranrs]. But in responding to Trump’s xenophobia, many have gone to the opposite extreme and denied, in effect, that a problem really exists. They have consistently downplayed or denied that there is any urgent need to stanch the flow of unauthorized immigration. The party’s 2016 platform plank on immigration gave short shrift to the problem of illegal immigration, merely calling for law enforcement that is “humane and consistent with our values.”

…Democrats believe, of course, that in downplaying illegal immigration and insisting that immigration benefits everyone, they are standing up for their own constituents. They think that working-class Americans who backed Trump on this issue failed to understand their own interests. But Democrats are wrong in this case. While many American businesses and the well-to-do have clearly benefited from the massive influx of unskilled immigrants, many middle- and working-class Americans, including such key Democratic constituents as African Americans, have not.

Judis goes on to present evidence that, while Latino voters favor Democrats, their views on illegal immigration reform are not far different from American voters in general. He notes,

…pluralities or majorities of Hispanics are leery of illegal immigration, and want it restricted. They look with disfavor on the massive immigration of unskilled workers. In a 2013 Gallup poll, 74 percent of Hispanics favor and only 24 percent oppose “tightening security at U.S. borders,” and 65 percent favor and only 34 percent oppose “requiring business owners to check the immigration status of workers they hire.”

Reviewing some recent polling data, Judis concludes “In sum, the Democratic stance on these issues is not only unpopular with most voters, but with many Hispanics as well. Except as a response to Trump’s xenophobia, the Democrats’ response makes no political sense, and is not benefiting their own working-class constituents.”

In his NYT op-ed, “Trump Has Got Democrats Right Where He Wants Them,” Thomas B. Edsall writes, “For a Democratic Party whose electoral strength depends on Hispanic support (64 percent of Latinos identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party in 2016) preventing the deportation of the Dreamers and providing them with legal status has become a matter of political necessity.” Edsall also notes, however, that “The greatest unknown is how immigration reform will influence the voting behavior of the white working class.”

Noting the Democratic belief that “large-scale immigration of unskilled workers will help the Democrats politically and hurt the Republicans,” Judis argues that “Hispanics may not prove to be a dependable Democratic constituency,” as they “move up the economic ladders.” Further, “Republican candidates for governor in Texas and the Senate in North Carolina have almost broken even among Hispanic voters.”

Judis argues that “the continual surge of low-skilled immigrants into the United States will contribute to an impoverished underclass that holds down wages and creates welfare costs for small towns and states.” He notes that  “The existence of that underclass has helped fuel bitter cultural-economic conflicts that have riven America over the last 30 years. It undercuts any promise of an American social democracy or extension of New Deal liberalism…”

Democrats have to tread a policy that rejects both nativism and open borders, while protecting the Dreamers and demonstrating genuine concern for secure borders and decent wages for all workers. As Judis concludes,

What, then, can the Democratic Party do? On the one hand, it is reasonable to push for a path to citizenship, and especially to prevent the cruel deportation of immigrants who were brought here illegally as children and often literally have no home country to return to. It’s also important to defend the labor rights of all residents of the United States, even those without papers, and to resist wholesale raids. But Democrats make both a policy mistake and a political one when they become cheerleaders for illegal immigration and for expanded immigration in general, while denying the plain fact that in many cases immigrants do indeed lower the wages of local workers. Building a wall is bad policy, but so is ignoring the plain realities.

It’s a narrow path, which will require nuanced policies to insure fairness for both immigrants and American workers. Republicans will miss no opportunity to distort Democratic immigration policies as extravagant indulgences that hurt American workers. To win in 2018, as well as 2020, Democrats will have to demonstrate that their party provides the best hope for American workers, as well as immigrants.

Is the GOP’s Era of Small Government Already Over?

After watching the State of the Union Address, and reading many assessments, I made this observation about what Trump did not discuss in a take for New York.

[T]he president’s 2018 State of the Union Address was a big hit on the right. It’s probably true that some of them were mostly relieved that he performed competently in a venue that does not play to his extemporaneous strengths.

But the praise was somewhat less fulsome from those who take the substance of conservative policy seriously — because it was almost entirely absent from the speech. Here’s National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru:

“[T]here was almost nothing of substance about 2018. The great exception is immigration, where he laid out a relatively detailed proposal in a way that will strike people without strong views on the subject as fair and sensible. Long stretches of the speech were, however, simply vacuous, as when Trump endorsed higher infrastructure investment and lower opioid addiction rates without saying a word about how these goods would be achieved. These were goals, not policies.

“One reason the speech was so heavy on shout-outs to heroes and victims in the audience was that the policy cupboard is pretty bare”

Ponnuru’s colleague Jonah Goldberg was even more pointed in what the speech omitted:

“[E]xcept for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn’t a hint of fiscal conservatism to it. Trump wants a huge increase in infrastructure spending and an end to the sequester for military spending, but he never mentioned the debt or deficit. Well, there was one mention of the word ‘deficit’ — the ‘infrastructure deficit.’ And he endorsed a new entitlement — paid family leave — while failing to mention any effort to reform the existing entitlements.”

Indeed, if there was any lingering possibility that Paul Ryan’s dreams of an assault on entitlements this year would be realized, this speech eliminated them once and for all. Given Trump’s equally conspicuous refusal to mention additional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare (a major emphasis in his proto-SOTU address to a joint session of Congress a year ago), it may well be that the White House is going along with Mitch McConnell’s inclination to rule out any use of the congressional budget process at all this year.

That is certainly the safest route for a majority party facing an adverse midterm-election-year climate. And perhaps the massive deficit-expanding GOP tax bill is too fresh a memory for Republicans to risk derisive guffaws by pretending to care about fiscal probity.

But it’s bound to bother conservatives who do care about Big Government that so little of their concerns animate this president who is so ferocious toward criminal immigrants and disrespectful foreigners and athletes who don’t stand for the national anthem. If Trump won’t treat fiscal hawks as a constituency worth pandering to in a speech this long, the odds are pretty good that he figures feeding them cultural red meat and sheer partisanship is enough to keep them on the reservation. And if so, he’s almost certainly right.

Political Strategy Notes

It looks like 2018 will be the year that the debate about revitalizing America’s infrastructure intensifies. For openers, read economist Jared Bernstein’s “Yes, this nation needs a real infrastructure plan. No, that’s not what President Trump offered tonight” at PostEverything. Bernstein, now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of ‘The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity,” writes “How can you tell when an infrastructure plan is not real? Here’s a three-part test: 1) does it provide a meaningful boost in our stock of public goods, 2) does its funding design shift the historical federal responsibility for public investment to states and private investors, and 3) when it includes “pay-fors,” are they budget cuts taken from programs that support low-income families?…We got almost no details in tonight’s State of the Union address, but based on what we do know, President Trump’s infrastructure plan handily fails this test…Ever since Trump took office, he has ignored the working-class voters who helped put him there and outsourced policy decisions to a Republican Party whose goal is to shrink government and return the proceeds to their wealthy donors. Though Trump’s sales job tonight tried to obfuscate this reality, his infrastructure plan perfectly fits this mode.”

See also “Trump’s $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Is Light on Federal Funds, and Details” by NYT reporters Jim Tankersly and Julie Hirschfield Davis, who note “The increased infrastructure spending would be offset by unspecified budget cuts. Officials would not detail where those cuts would come from, or how the proposal would effectively leverage at least $6.50 in additional infrastructure spending for every dollar spent by the federal government, a ratio many infrastructure experts consider far-fetched. The officials said Mr. Trump would leave it up to Congress — where there is little consensus about how to pay for such a plan — to figure out the details, giving lawmakers wide latitude in creating what would need to be a bipartisan bill against the backdrop of the midterm elections.”…“That’s not a plan. That’s a hope,” said Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which has lobbied for a large infrastructure bill. “It’s sort of pathetic.” Further, “The idea that a $200 billion federal investment would drive $1.5 trillion in total spending is “the great hocus-pocus,” said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. “There’s absolutely no evidence for that.”

In his FiveThirtyEight post “Five Blue States Could Determine Who Controls The House In 2018,” Harry Enten writes, “…whether Democrats manage to win the House in 2018 could come down to how many seats they pick up in the five most populous states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia…while California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia account for only a small percentage of Republican-held seats overall, they are home to a disproportionate share of vulnerable Republicans. According to the Cook Political Report, these five states are home to 38 percent of all the Republican-held seats that are truly in play in 2018... If you add them all up, a total of 25 Republican seats in these five populous Clinton states could flip to the Democrats. That’s one more seat than Democrats need to gain a majority. In other words, they could take back the House without flipping a single seat in a state that Trump came close to winning in 2016.

In his post  at The Upshot, “A ‘Blue’ Florida? There Are No Quick Demographic Fixes for Democrats,” Nate Cohn writes, “As many as 300,000 people have fled to Florida from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And a ballot initiative this November could return the vote to the state’s estimated 1.5 million discharged felons. At first glance, either tally of these two Democratic-leaning groups would seem to dwarf Donald J. Trump’s 113,000-vote margin of victory in the state in 2016…But the reality for Democrats is that neither development is likely to fundamentally alter Florida’s political character heading into the 2020 election…The main reason? The electoral effect dwindles after accounting for the relatively low turnout rates among these groups. More generally, even big demographic shifts that seem to favor Democrats could easily be swamped by other demographic shifts that do the opposite.”

“The network of organizations founded by the conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch is going “all in” to defend GOP majorities in Washington and around the country in 2018, planning an early investment in paid media to work against what they concede is a daunting political environment for their allies in government,” reports Mike Memoli at NBC News. “Top officials from Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch network’s chief political arm, made a half-hour presentation Monday to more than 500 donors at their semiannual “seminar,” outlining their $400 million strategy to protect like-minded incumbents while targeting vulnerable Democrats in key Senate races…Key to the strategy is going on the offensive now, particularly in Senate races with television ads to try and define the narrative early against Democratic targets…AFP has affiliates in 36 of 50 states — a list that doesn’t include deeply blue states where officials say their efforts have failed to move the needle in the past. In Florida alone they have 13 field offices, 33 paid staff members and more than 200,000 volunteer activists.”

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait flags “4 New Trump Corruption Stories From the Last Day Alone.” The stories include: Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control after revelations of her stock purchases after she took office; reports that “Health and Human Services Secretary Ben Carson’s son, Ben Carson Jr., participated in his father’s work in ways that may have benefited his son’s businesses”; “A report yesterday found that Trump’s infrastructure council is filled with business owners who stand to benefit from the policies Trump is advancing.”; and “reports that Trump Realty is expanding its operations in southern Florida. The ongoing business by Trump’s business empire is a massive corruption risk, as Trump and his family can benefit from the publicity conferred by his public office, and stand to benefit by anybody who wants to curry favor throwing business their way.” CHait ads, “These stories are merely the news of the last 24 hours, a day in the life of self-dealing in the Trump administration…But from a political standpoint, his greatest liability may be more ordinary. Trump is a rich man whose policies have benefited himself and other rich people. He promised to raise his own taxes and shake up the status quo, but he has done the opposite. Does he have any greater vulnerability than that?”

Democrats will be glad to note the announced retirement of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), one of the nastier critics of Hillary Clinton. Elise Viebeck and David Weigel report at PowerPost that, so far, “More than 40 House Republicans have decided to step down this cycle. Some received jobs in the Trump administration; others are leaving to seek higher office or because they were accused of sexual misconduct or harassment. Still others faced tough reelection campaigns or blamed the divisive political climate.” His district, however, is solidly Republican, and unlikjely to be seen as a potential pick-up for Democrats. Also Gowdy’s statement, expressing his yearning for a return to practicing law, may indicate that he is in line for an Appeals Court apointment, as one of Trump’s favored apple-polishers. “It was unclear what role Gowdy might seek in the justice system,” noter Viebeck and Weigel. “One of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit took “senior status” Tuesday, creating a vacancy on the bench.”

Some revealing statistics from “The Working Class and the Federal Government’s Social Safety Net,” a study by the American Enterprise Institute, Oportunity America and Brookings Working Group on the Working Class, as reported by AEI’s Angela Rachidi:  “Approximately one-third of working-class people in America (defined by income between the 20th and 50th percentile with no college degree) receive government safety-net benefits…Since 1998, an increasing share of working-class people have received government safety-net benefits. In 1998, one in five received assistance; in 2014 it was almost one in three…This increase was driven almost entirely by Medicaid, food assistance, and disability assistance…Unsurprisingly, the share of working-class people who receive benefits falls below that of lower-income people and above that of higher-income people, but the increase since 1998 is unique to the working class.”

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, has an update on “The Districts That Will Determine the Next House Majority.” Kondik writes that “as of this moment, the race for House control is about a coin flip. Democrats should gain seats, but on the face of the seats currently available to flip, we’re unsure if they can net the 24 seats they need to win control.” Kondik takes a look at dozens of specific races and concludes, “It seems highly likely that there will be at least one more, and perhaps several more, key retirements from swing seats that move ratings in the Democrats’ favor. Again, we just had two more over the last week: Republicans Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) and Meehan (PA-7). The more retirements there are, the fewer incumbent-held seats listed above are required to flip the House, and the better the Democrats’ chances become.”

Sen. Sanders Brings the SOTU Critique

While Rep. Joe Kennedy brought the vision, Sen. Sanders brought the critique following Trump’s State of the Union address. The text follows (via In These Times):

Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

Tonight, I want to take a few minutes of your time to respond to President Trump’s State of the Union speech. But I want to do more than just that. I want to talk to you about the major crises facing our country that, regrettably, President Trump chose not to discuss. I want to talk to you about the lies that he told during his campaign and the promises he made to working people which he did not keep.

Finally, I want to offer a vision of where we should go as a nation which is far different than the divisiveness, dishonesty, and racism coming from the Trump Administration over the past year.

President Trump talked tonight about the strength of our economy. Well, he’s right. Official unemployment today is 4.1 percent which is the lowest it has been in years and the stock market in recent months has soared. That’s the good news.

But what President Trump failed to mention is that his first year in office marked the lowest level of job creation since 2010. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 254,000 fewer jobs were created in Trump’s first 11 months in office than were created in the 11 months before he entered office.

Further, when we talk about the economy, what’s most important is to understand what is happening to the average worker. And here’s the story that Trump failed to mention tonight.

Over the last year, after adjusting for inflation, the average worker in America saw a wage increase of, are you ready for this, 4 cents an hour, or 0.17%. Or, to put it in a different way, that worker received a raise of a little more than $1.60 a week. And, as is often the case, that tiny wage increase disappeared as a result of soaring health care costs.

Meanwhile, at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the rich continue to get much richer while millions of American workers are working two or three jobs just to keep their heads above water. Since March of last year, the three richest people in America saw their wealth increase by more than $68 billion. Three people. A $68 billion increase in wealth. Meanwhile, the average worker saw an increase of 4 cents an hour.

Tonight, Donald Trump touted the bonuses he claims workers received because of his so-called “tax reform” bill. What he forgot to mention is that only 2% of Americans report receiving a raise or a bonus because of this tax bill.