washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

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

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

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

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

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

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

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

The Daily Strategist

March 25, 2017

Are Rural Congressional Districts Unwinnable for Dems?

Paul Kane’s PowerPost article “Should House Democrats write off rural congressional districts?” opens up an interesting, but difficult topic for Democrats looking towards 2018 and beyond. Kane takes a look at Rep. Sean Maloney’s data-driven presentation to the Democratic policy retreat in Baltimore yesterday, and observes:

…There are House districts that Democrats have competed in, or even represented for a long time, that have moved so sharply away from Democrats that they need to reassess whether to compete there ever again. Yet there is also an emerging set of districts that have long been held by Republicans that are now bending toward Democrats faster than even the most optimistic strategists envisioned.

The ones now on the table? Longtime Republican districts that are becoming more demographically diverse. Off the table may be rural districts with little diversity, the very places where President Trump did well in 2016.

Rep. Maloney’s argument will not be popular with Democrats who believe in the 435 district, 50-state strategy, which holds that Dems should campaign everywhere. Kane explains Maloney’s analysis:

A lawyer, Maloney is a bit obsessed with data, and he said he believes there are 350 unique characteristics that can be applied to every House race that will indicate which direction it will go.

Some findings are surprising. “Did the unemployment rate matter or not?” he said. “Turns out it doesn’t matter much at all.”

Maloney also wants to abandon the longtime party metric used by operatives known as the Democratic Performance Index, a complicated formula based on presidential and congressional candidate performance in specific House districts. Instead, he said, the three biggest predictors of the partisan bent of a House district are the percentage of it that is rural, how much of its population has received college degrees and how diverse it is.

“We need to get out of the past. Our tools need to get out of the past,” Maloney said.

This means that Democrats made mistakes in places such as Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, seats that in the summer of 2016 Democrats expected to win. But both are very rural and are not diverse. Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) won reelection by nearly eight percentage points in a district that swung from twice voting for Barack Obama for president to supporting Donald Trump, and Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) won his first election despite a long career of controversial statements as a radio talk-show host.

Demographic profiles of congressional districts can change very fast, and it’s important that the party address the dynamics in its campaign resource allocations. But Maloney’s analysis is not just about which districts to write off; he is equally-vigilant about working those districts that have demographics trending in a more favorable direction for Democrats:

Two highlights for Democrats came in highly educated suburban districts: in northern New Jersey, where Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D) ousted a seven-term Republican; and outside Orlando, where Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) knocked off a 23-year incumbent.

Some of this won’t be news to [Democratic Congressional Campaign Chairman, Rep. Ben Ray] Luján and senior DCCC staff, because they have already launched a “Majority Project” in these emerging districts. In private they admit they realized too late that Trump was speeding up the shift of well-educated suburbanites toward the Democrats, leaving too many Republicans facing inferior opponents last year in potentially competitive races.

Kane points out that Democrats lost some suburban districts they should have won, based on demographic changes, because of exceptionally-strong Republican candidates and/or weak Democratic candidates. As Maloney observes, “Candidates still matter.”

Great candidates remain the wild card that can deliver victory where all logic and statistics say otherwise.  Few would disagree that one of the most glaring weaknesses of the Democratic Party is the failure to identify, recruit, train and fund enough promising candidates to be competitive in suburban, let alone rural, districts. If Dems want to be more competitive everywhere, they must invest more thought, money and action in meeting this challenge. A study that takes an in-depth look at Democratic elected officials who have beat the odds to win in districts they should have lost might yield some useful insights.


February 9: Democrats Must Resist Trump’s Authoritarian Tendencies More Quickly Than They Resisted W.’s

As unprecedented as the Trump administration seems, it is very important to look to history to see how to deal with him, as I argued this week at New York:

Efforts to put Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies into a historical context usually begin with the simultaneously troubling and reassuring precedent of Richard M. Nixon. Like Trump, Nixon was a mistrustful and self-conscious “outsider” who hated the news media and compulsively focused on “enemies.” As we fear Trump will do, Nixon harnessed government resources to harass those enemies, ordered widespread law-breaking, expanded presidential powers to the breaking point, and tried to hide his more nefarious activities from scrutiny. But despite his power and a reelection landslide victory that makes a mockery of Trump’s pretensions of popularity, Nixon was brought to heel and eventually forced to resign. A potential authoritarian threat to democracy was repulsed.

Nixon was not, however, unique in succumbing to the temptations of an imperial presidency. As Jonathan Rauch reminds us in an important new analysis of how to contain Trump if he goes off the rails, all presidents cross lines and seek to expand their powers. And in fact, the most relevant precedent may be a relatively recent one:

“For a good example, one need look back no further than the presidency of George W. Bush. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush claimed alarmingly broad presidential powers. He said he could define the entire world as a battlefield in the War on Terror, designate noncitizens and citizens alike as enemy combatants, and then seize and detain them indefinitely, without judicial interference or congressional approval or the oversight called for by the Geneva Conventions.”

It’s initially hard to think of the sometimes-comical and often self-deprecating W. as resembling the volatile narcissist in the White House today; when Bush call himself “the decider,” more people laughed than cowered. But whatever the 43rd president lacked in bully-boy arrogance the people around him — most notably his vice-president — supplied abundantly. And there is no getting around the fact that the Bush team deliberately exploited the national emergency of 9/11 to do all sorts of things it had no real popular mandate to do, most notably the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and to intimidate opponents with the charge of anti-Americanism. It is very easy to imagine Team Trump doing the same thing. The president’s charge that he would hold “the court system” responsible for any future terrorist attacks is a credible threat that like Bush he might convert a national-security failure into a warrant for near-total power.

As Rauch notes, however, Bush was, like Nixon, eventually brought to heel as well, without the trauma of a threatened impeachment and a resignation. He quotes one-time Bush administration Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith as describing a “giant distributed networks of lawyers, investigators, and auditors, both inside and outside the executive branch” that reined in a potentially authoritarian regime….

Eventually Congress and the courts joined this effort, and in 2006, so did the American electorate, in a midterm buffeting of the president’s party that ruined Karl Rove’s painstaking efforts to build a durable GOP majority based on a combination of national-security fearmongering and carefully targeted domestic initiatives. But it was a near thing.

The good news is that many of the same forces that helped rein in Bush are at hand today, and Trump’s open contempt for norms has put them on high alert. But as Trump’s election showed, the old norms don’t have the power they had in the past — even the most recent past.

It should be relatively apparent that the first step toward making sure the Trump administration doesn’t lurch down the path to authoritarian abuse of power via a national-security “emergency” is to deny it the sort of government-of-national-salvation status Bush and his team enjoyed in the wake of 9/11. If that means Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans (the few who are left, anyway) have to run the risk of being attacked for insufficient patriotism, so be it. It is their patriotic duty to do so. And as the example of George W. Bush shows, the sooner the president is denied imperial powers, the sooner his imperial pretensions can be exposed as mere power-grabs.

With luck, there will not be an incident like 9/11 — or the Iraq War — during the Trump presidency. But if there is, does anyone doubt he will exploit it to the hilt? That’s the authoritarian emergency for which we must all prepare.


Democrats Must Resist Trump’s Authoritarian Tendencies More Quickly Than They Resisted W.’s

As unprecedented as the Trump administration seems, it is very important to look to history to see how to deal with him, as I argued this week at New York:

Efforts to put Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies into a historical context usually begin with the simultaneously troubling and reassuring precedent of Richard M. Nixon. Like Trump, Nixon was a mistrustful and self-conscious “outsider” who hated the news media and compulsively focused on “enemies.” As we fear Trump will do, Nixon harnessed government resources to harass those enemies, ordered widespread law-breaking, expanded presidential powers to the breaking point, and tried to hide his more nefarious activities from scrutiny. But despite his power and a reelection landslide victory that makes a mockery of Trump’s pretensions of popularity, Nixon was brought to heel and eventually forced to resign. A potential authoritarian threat to democracy was repulsed.

Nixon was not, however, unique in succumbing to the temptations of an imperial presidency. As Jonathan Rauch reminds us in an important new analysis of how to contain Trump if he goes off the rails, all presidents cross lines and seek to expand their powers. And in fact, the most relevant precedent may be a relatively recent one:

“For a good example, one need look back no further than the presidency of George W. Bush. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush claimed alarmingly broad presidential powers. He said he could define the entire world as a battlefield in the War on Terror, designate noncitizens and citizens alike as enemy combatants, and then seize and detain them indefinitely, without judicial interference or congressional approval or the oversight called for by the Geneva Conventions.”

It’s initially hard to think of the sometimes-comical and often self-deprecating W. as resembling the volatile narcissist in the White House today; when Bush call himself “the decider,” more people laughed than cowered. But whatever the 43rd president lacked in bully-boy arrogance the people around him — most notably his vice-president — supplied abundantly. And there is no getting around the fact that the Bush team deliberately exploited the national emergency of 9/11 to do all sorts of things it had no real popular mandate to do, most notably the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and to intimidate opponents with the charge of anti-Americanism. It is very easy to imagine Team Trump doing the same thing. The president’s charge that he would hold “the court system” responsible for any future terrorist attacks is a credible threat that like Bush he might convert a national-security failure into a warrant for near-total power.

As Rauch notes, however, Bush was, like Nixon, eventually brought to heel as well, without the trauma of a threatened impeachment and a resignation. He quotes one-time Bush administration Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith as describing a “giant distributed networks of lawyers, investigators, and auditors, both inside and outside the executive branch” that reined in a potentially authoritarian regime….

Eventually Congress and the courts joined this effort, and in 2006, so did the American electorate, in a midterm buffeting of the president’s party that ruined Karl Rove’s painstaking efforts to build a durable GOP majority based on a combination of national-security fearmongering and carefully targeted domestic initiatives. But it was a near thing.

The good news is that many of the same forces that helped rein in Bush are at hand today, and Trump’s open contempt for norms has put them on high alert. But as Trump’s election showed, the old norms don’t have the power they had in the past — even the most recent past.

It should be relatively apparent that the first step toward making sure the Trump administration doesn’t lurch down the path to authoritarian abuse of power via a national-security “emergency” is to deny it the sort of government-of-national-salvation status Bush and his team enjoyed in the wake of 9/11. If that means Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans (the few who are left, anyway) have to run the risk of being attacked for insufficient patriotism, so be it. It is their patriotic duty to do so. And as the example of George W. Bush shows, the sooner the president is denied imperial powers, the sooner his imperial pretensions can be exposed as mere power-grabs.

With luck, there will not be an incident like 9/11 — or the Iraq War — during the Trump presidency. But if there is, does anyone doubt he will exploit it to the hilt? That’s the authoritarian emergency for which we must all prepare.


Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic Megan Garber writes “‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ and the Age of the Weaponized Meme: Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren in the Senate chamber. That only made her voice louder.” Even though Sessions was confirmed, Mitch has clearly stepped in it, branding himself as America’s free speech suppressor-in-chief, as well as the new poster boy for men who think they can make women shut up. He probably multiplied the number of people who read Mrs. King’s testimony against Sessions exponentially and gave Warren’s rep as the Senate’s toughest-talking Democrat a big boost. As Garber explains, “it hit something else, too: all the notes that allow shared words to swell into shared emotion. You couldn’t have designed better fodder for a meme had you tried. “Nevertheless, she persisted” has, on the one hand, the impish irony of a powerful person’s words being used against him. It has, on the other, words that are elegant in their brevity, making them especially fit for tweets and slogans and mugs. And it has, too, words that are particularly poetic, rendered in near-iambic pentameter, with the key verb of their accusation—“persisted”—neatly rhyming with that other key verb: “resisted.” The whole thing was, for Warren, a perfect storm. It was, for McConnell, a decidedly imperfect one.”

But it would be unfair to blame the entire disaster on Mitch the Muzzler. As Pema Levy notes at Mother Jones, “Republicans, who control the chamber, provided 49 votes to rule her out of order, and Warren was forbidden to speak for the rest of the debate.”

While the media was yammering about the latest Trump/Bannon/Conway/McConnell outrages, “House Republicans Just Voted to Eliminate the Only Federal Agency That Makes Sure Voting Machines Can’t Be Hacked: Republicans would make it easier to steal an election by killing the Election Assistance Commission,” reports Ari Berman at The Nation. Berman writes, “Thirty-eight pro-democracy groups, including the NAACP and Common Cause, denounced the vote. “The EAC is the only federal agency which has as its central mission the improvement of election administration, and it undertakes essential activities that no other institution is equipped to address,” says the Brennan Center for Justice.”

In Heather Caygle’s Politico post, “House Democrats seize on anti-Trump strategy,” she writes: “House Democrats’ strategy is basically this: They’ll publicly goad Trump on subjects he’s clearly sensitive about, like insinuating he’s being blackmailed by Russian President Vladimir Putin; and on other issues, like Obamacare and tax reform, they’ll get out of the way and let Trump and House Republicans fall on their face…House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Linda Sánchez of California on Wednesday summed up the strategy this way: “kicking a little ass for the working class.” All well and good, but Dems also need a strategy to improve their image.

At Roll Call Simone Pathe’s “NRCC Goes After Blue-Collar Districts in 2018” identifies the 36 House districts where the GOP will be allocating most of its resources.

The New York Times has a ‘Room for Debate’ feature, entitled “When Do Consumer Boycotts Work?‘ The discussion suffers from having just two pro-corporate presenters for a topic that merits a much more intensive and diverse exploration, particularly at a time when many progressives are looking for new forms of activism that are beyond the reach of politicians.  One of the more interesting insights in the feature comes from Judith Samuelson’s comment, “The power and speed of social media has allowed campaigns to evolve from focusing on the consequences of a product — like the legendary Nestlé infant formula boycott in the 1970s — to labor-related issues that are within the control of the corporation. From there, they have spread to include more complex global concerns like child labor and climate change. Boycotts over an issue like deforestation could require a radical kind of agency from a company if it had to disrupt its entire supply chain to make real progress.” Might social media improve prospects for boycotts of companies like AT&T,  ExxonMobile or State Farm, which are active Board Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that specializes in providing ‘template bills’ for state laws favoring voter suppression, deregulation, protecting polluting companies and weakening unions?

Apparently it wasn’t enough that President Obama saved the world economy, oversaw the longest stretch of private sector job growth in U.S. history, passed the first major health care reforms since LBJ and provided a matchless example of dignity and scandal-free government. Now come the finger-pointers to fault him for Democratic seat losses in the House, Senate, Governorships and state legislatures during his Administration, as if it was all his fault. With benefit of hindsight, sure he could have stumped more for Democratic candidates, raised more dough for Democrats and paid more attention to party-building projects. But let’s not blame him for the glaring weaknesses of the Democratic Party, which were present  long before his political career began. Gabriel Debenedetti’s Politico post “Obama’s party-building legacy splits Democrats” explores the issue and possible future contributions from President Obama, whose example continues to brighten in stark comparison to the current White House occupant.

At The Daily 202, James Hohman discusses the growing doubts about the wisdom of Obamacare repeal  shared by Republican leaders, as well as their constituents, and notes, “Many Republican politicians are speaking pretty openly about the political danger of scaling back coverage. Lawmakers are getting  nervous about facing the kind of contentious town halls that their Democratic counterparts faced in 2009. Several members have already faced  big crowds of angry activists back home. “I’m not sure you’re going to have anyone in Washington with the courage to repeal the ACA,” Maine Gov. Paul LePage said at a town hall meeting last week.”

Here’s an interesting idea for government workers who can’t in good conscience enforce Trump’s executive orders. Call it ‘The Bartelby Strategy,” as does Judith Levine in The Boston Review. Levine quotes from a Facebook post by Chapo Trap House podcast cohost Will Menaker: “Every one of these objectively monstrous, cowardly and evil executive orders issued this week depend on the acquiescence of thousands of federal employees and bureaucrats to carry them out. They, and all of us, must get used to monkey wrenching all of this. If the Democratic leadership wanted to really be “The Resistance” they would hold a press conference and encourage all federal employees to passively resist or openly sabotage their new bosses.” That or a slow-down.


GOP Could Be Moving Quickly To End Medicaid As We Know It

Some alarming news is seeping out of Republican circles about designs on a program only Democrats seem to care about anymore, Medicaid. I promptly sounded an alarm at New York.

One of the peculiar aspects of the debate over Republican aspirations to “repeal and replace” Obamacare is how little of it revolves around the provision that has accounted for the majority of uninsured Americans obtaining coverage under the Affordable Care Act: the state option to expand Medicaid eligibility. Instead, most of the talk has been about the private insurance exchanges, and the subsidies that help pay for individual policies, and the purchasing mandates designed to encourage younger and healthier Americans to participate, and the mandated benefit packages, and the regulations against preexisting-condition exclusions and overcharging old folks. That’s understandable due to the incredible complexity of the exchanges and the high visibility of premium increases and insurers pulling out of the exchanges altogether.

But any “repeal and replace” scheme absolutely has to deal with Medicaid. And left to their own devices, Republicans would almost certainly pursue an idea that’s been nestled in various Ryan budgets and was embraced by Donald Trump on the campaign trail: a Medicaid “block grant” that would to a greater or lesser degree shift responsibility for indigent health care to the states, in the process saving the feds a big chuck of change and getting rid of all those headachy policy decisions related to a troublesome, Democratic-leaning constituency.

Unfortunately for the GOP, 31 states — including 16 governed by Republicans — accepted the ACA Medicaid expansion, going in exactly the opposite direction conservatives nationally have supported. Some —including the current vice-president of the United States (who was then governor of Indiana) — rationalized accepting the filthy federal lucre (a much higher federal match rate covering new enrollees) for an expansion because the Obama administration let them conduct conservative-sounding policy experiments, mostly involving the kind of premiums and co-pays Medicaid beneficiaries normally don’t have to deal with.

So the political and substantive complexity of squaring a Medicaid block grant with Medicaid expansion on the ground has helped place Medicaid on the back burner for the Trump administration and congressional Republicans, as something that would probably be handled in a second budget bill later in 2017, or perhaps even in freestanding legislation….

[But] [n]ow Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn reports that the transformation of Medicaid could be in the very first budget-reconciliation bill aimed at “repealing” Obamacare — the bill already authorized by a budget resolution that was whipped through Congress last month. But the above-mentioned dilemmas have not gone away:

“Medicaid is proving to be the most complex piece of a replace plan in the repeal bill. Republicans want to dramatically overhaul the program by imposing spending caps tied to the number of enrollees in a state. But they are running into problems sorting out such details as whether funding should be allocated based on state enrollment before Obamacare or after.”

My guess is that they will come up with a Solomon-style solution, picking some arbitrary enrollment figure halfway between states that expanded Medicaid and states that did not — recognizing that there were major state variations even before Obamacare. But the key thing to understand is that putting a Medicaid block grant into the “repeal” bill means it can be enacted without Democratic votes. And more generally, doing so successfully would mean Republicans had succeeded in all but abolishing a key Great Society federal-safety-net program by making it “about” Obamacare. For the many millions of Americans who would ultimately be affected — including the majority of Republican voters who have no idea Obamacare repeal will affect Medicaid — it would represent a classic bait and switch.

It would be a very good time for Democrats and others who care about guaranteeing that the poorest and sickest Americans have access to lifesaving health care to stop playing the GOP game of getting down into the weeds of Obamacare’s private-insurance provisions and beginning pointing and shouting about what Republicans may be about to do to Medicaid.


What Democats Won in Fighting Against the DeVos Nomination

Many Democrats are discouraged today, owing to Vice President Pence’s tie-breaking vote, which yesterday secured the confirmation of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. It was a tough defeat to accept, with Dems just one vote away from preventing Devos from running the Department of Education.

Making the defeat harder to accept was the fact that DeVos has to be one of the least-qualified of Trump’s cabinet nominees, both in terms of experience and values. This was one of Trump’s most spiteful, ‘in-your-face-Democrats’ nominations. She may be the least qualified Secretary of Education in history. But Democrats did gain something significant from their near-victory. Jim Newell explains it well at slate.com:

Shortly before DeVos’ vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office sent out a list of stats measuring the effort to block DeVos. The number of hours for which Democrats had held the floor consistently to protest (“29 and counting”), the number of contacts to Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey’s office in opposition to DeVos (“Over 100,000”), the total number of calls to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s office, out of 3,000, that were supportive of DeVos (12), and so on.

But did Schumer ever think there was really a chance to bag that 51st no vote—and to what end did all this activism serve?

“I thought we had some chance,” Schumer said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We realized even if we didn’t, to make the point that Secretary DeVos is so anti–public education was an important point to make. … And we have an obligation, obviously, to try and overturn some of these nominees who are among the worst Cabinet I have ever seen nominated.”

Some people who took time out of their day to call, write, or protest, or who pledged money to a comical effort to buy senators’ votes, will be disappointed that their efforts didn’t make any difference in the final tally. Schumer’s argument is that the great drama surrounding DeVos’ nomination, and the spectacle of the vice president having to cast the tie-breaking vote on a Cabinet appointee for the first time in history, effectively serves to put DeVos on notice.

“Once we set the table—that Secretary-nominee DeVos is against public education—it will serve to put a magnifying glass on her when she makes a decision,” he said. “So that’s important, too.”

Newell predicts that the rest of Trump’s nominees will all be confirmed. The Republicans have a disciplined, if small, majority. They only had two of their Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska join with Democrats on the DeVos vote. Nonetheless, adds Newell,

But there’s a reason to fight President Trump’s nominations even if they can’t be derailed. More dissent means more critical stories in the press, means sharper-elbowed hearings, means defensive guarantees made to mollify wobbly senators, means a brighter spotlight on the secretaries once they’re in office. The resistance to Trump is in part about boxing in the people charged with enacting his will. The less latitude the Cabinet can enjoy, the weaker the Trump administration is.

Eventually, most of Trump’s cabinet choices are going to take unpopular actions, which will anger voters, including some Trump supporters  That’s when Democrats who have strongly opposed DeVos and others will be able to point to their records and make a case to defeat Republicans who rubber-stamped what Schumer called, with good reason “the worst cabinet I have ever seen.”

Democrats put up a good, strong fight against the nomination of an extraordinarilly unqualified ideologue to head the government’s most influential educational institution. Four years from now, if not two, many swing voters are going to be looking to see which party truly stands for educational opportunities for their kids, and the record — including the DeVos vote — will speak quite clearly for the Democrats.


Skocpol: Helping Protests Become a Movement with Political Clout

At Democracy: a Journal of Ideas editor Michael Tomasky interviews Theda Skocpol, co-author with Vanessa Williamson of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism and many other works on social policy. Some excerpts from Skocpol’s comments on the best focus and organizational strategy to empower Democrats to win elections going forward:

…I think these women’s marches were a promising start but people have to realize that this is a marathon not a sprint, and they really do need to organize where they are. And I’ve been thinking a lot—people wrote to me after I published my piece in Vox about the Democratic Party and they said well, what can I do, I live in a blue state, I live in a blue district. And there, I think there needs to be some creativity. People need to sit themselves down and think: Well, who do I know who lives somewhere else? We all do—we have relatives, we have friends, we have coworkers—and establish an ongoing dialogue with them in which you’re providing them some kind of perspective on what may be unfolding on health care, or do you know people in your community with green cards who are frightened?

Get the stories out lots of places and maybe encourage and help people you know elsewhere to do their thing with their representatives, their local community. And the other thing is I think liberal cities, instead of forming a tie to some place in Latin America, should form a partnership, if you’ve got a local Democratic Party committee, form a partnership with a Democratic Party committee somewhere else. Have a partnership, get to know them, help them with resources, listen to what they say about the issues playing out in their area, because I think there is a liberal bubble and I am very worried, I am quite certain that Steve Bannon knows this and he’s going to try to get the left to go crazy…In other words, Cambridge, Mass’s Democratic Committee should be working with one in Iowa or one in Georgia. Or, for that matter, in western Massachusetts. You know, in a lot of these states like Pennsylvania, the Trump people are all over the place.

…The meetings were usually organized around some speaker that came in to talk. There wasn’t as much kind of honest discussion as you’re going to see in any center-left setting. Just because of the nature of the people, etc. But they kind of tried to familiarize themselves with certain kinds of issues and then they disseminated to their networks very specific and very powerful information about whose on what committees, when you would want to contact people in your state legislature or in Congress.

We were just bowled over, we said this in the Tea Party book, about how much these people knew, not about the content of politics—they were watching Fox News, and they had completely false ideas about what government was doing, etc. But they had really rich and specific information about the local Republican Party rules and how you could go and change that or which committees their state representatives as well as their Congress people were on and when you needed to contact them. They knew the nuts and bolts of local and state politics, as well as congressional politics. They were not simply focused on sending messages to presidents or presidential candidates, which is what Democrats tend to be. Democrats are obsessed with Washington, D.C. and presidential politics

…The Women’s March was very hopeful, and it was hopeful precisely because it was spread out. I have some faith that women, probably not just Democrats or progressives, self-stylized, but women just who are upset at various things are going to be good at networking and forming some kind of oppositional groups and, you know, some of the things that are happening…There are certain issues that I think need to be front and center. Understanding exactly the implications of the huge transformations in health insurance that these people are proposing is a great one because it cuts across many kinds of districts and will involve many kinds of people. The immigration one is good in the sense that you can tell stories about affected families everywhere given the bungling focus. And I think that’s where the focus should be; the focus should be on telling the stories of actual people. Women may be good at that…

I don’t want to hear anything more about electoral college reform, getting money out of politics. All these procedural fixes that the wealthy on the left are fixated on…The horse has left the barn; it’s too late. Unless there’s electoral turn-around starting in 2017 and ’18, in which Democrats are winning, this thing could lock in.

So the number one thing has to be signing up people to vote and getting them out to vote. Assuming that the courts are going to fix the voting system: Forget it. I mean they’re not, not on the timescale that’s needed…I’m talking to wealthy progressives and trying to convince them to stop giving all their money to this or that procedural fix…I was disappointed that Barack Obama framed it as gerrymandering reform. I hope you’re aware that the best studies show that only half of the problem of the mismatch between Democratic numbers and Democratic legislative results would be solved by gerrymandering reform if it happened universally and perfectly. Half of the problem is the concentration of Democratic constituencies in big cities.

There’s quite a lot for Democrats to debate about here. But Skocpol is surely right that what Democrats must immediately agree to act on is mobilizing voter registration and turnout.

For some new data which shows which states excelled in voter turnout in 2016 and which ones failed, click here.


Political Strategy Notes

For an indication of the power of Facebook in building opposition to the nomination of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education, read “Social Media Playing Important Role in Democrats’ Strategy” by Natalie Andrews at The Wall St. Journal: “After Ms. DeVos’s confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, Senate Democrats posted short clips online of some of the comments she made under questioning. Two clips posted on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Facebook page picked up more than 34 million views…Liberal groups started targeting two Republican senators who they believed might be swayed to oppose Ms. DeVos, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Memes spread on Facebook with their phone numbers…A petition on progressive group CREDO’s site picked up more than 1.4 million signatures, besting the record set by a petition opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline…Ms. Murkowski said she’d heard from thousands of Alaskans about the Gorsuch nomination.”

In this short NPR interview Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chair of the Senate Democrats Campaign Committee,  puts needed emphasis on the anti-worker track record of Trump Supreme Court nominee  Neil Gorsuch. “I can tell you my early investigation leads to some troubling conclusions about him siding with corporate interests over working people and consumers,” says Van Hollen, regarded as a potential 2020 presidential candidate. Asked by interviewer Scott Simon if he anticipates strong opposition to Gorsuch in the hearings, Van Hollen replied, “Well, it’s not going to be moved along if people determine that this judge is outside the mainstream and is effectively going to harm working people at the expense of – and support big corporate interests. Look, I think, Scott, the American public understands that Senate Democrats are the last line of defense between the Donald Trump administration and a lot of bad things happening, including the effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, including the effort to turn the keys of the economy back over to Wall Street.”

At The New Yorker John Cassidy asks “Have the Democrats Got the Right Supreme Court Strategy” and reports that key Democrats are focusing on Gorsuch’s rulings to disempower workers, as well as his problematice record omn womens rights and the environment: “While Merkley concentrated on the larger picture, his frequent ally Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, took Gorsuch and his record to task. “As a judge, he has twisted himself into a pretzel to make sure the rules favor giant companies over workers and individual Americans,” Warren said in a statement.“He has sided with employers who deny wages, improperly fire workers, or retaliate against whistleblowers for misconduct. He has ruled against workers in all manner of discrimination cases…As Schumer and Warren indicated, he has frequently ruled in favor of businesses.”

While nearly all Democrats are expected to vote against the Gorsuch nomination, Dems have some divisions about whether to allow hearings or filibuster and obstruct the nomination at every juncture of the process. Most of the nine Senate Dems in 2016 red states tend to favor the hearings, while those with ‘safer’ seats want to give Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a taste of his obstructionist medicine. Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan report at Politico on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s efforts to juggle the concerns of the two camps and mount the most effective opposition to Gorsuch. They note one key strategic concern: Democrats are worried, multiple aides said, about Republicans having an excuse to kill the filibuster on the Supreme Court now, and later use it to ram through an even more conservative nominee if there is another vacancy during Trump’s presidency…Senate Democrats are “creating a totally unnecessary rift with the base and inviting primary challenges for many members who don’t deserve them,” said one leader of a progressive group, worried over Democrats’ being perceived as centrists for considering Trump’s nominee.”

Eric Bradner’s CNN Politics post, “Is anti-Trump furor papering over Democrats’ working-class woes?” includes this warning against spending too much time worrying about the white working-class: “Those working-class white voters aren’t the future of the party,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the liberal blog DailyKos.com, which has already raised $400,000 for a Democratic candidate in the expected runoff for the US House seat in Georgia soon to be vacated by Tom Price, Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary…They’re lost. It’s a waste of time to try and win them back when there are so many core-Democratic-base who didn’t register or vote last cycle. Almost half the country didn’t vote, and the bulk of the non-voters were liberal-leaning people many of them now marching in the streets…So instead of trying to chase people trapped by Breitbart and its cohorts in conservative media, give them a reason to get excited about rallying around Democrats”…Moulitsas said red-state Democrats should forget using those votes to try to prove themselves as moderates…”The best chance they have to win in their tough states will be by riding this incredible wave of energy. It may not be enough, but pissing off the base certainly isn’t the better bet. You either ride in with the people who brought you, or go down fighting honorably,” Moulitsas said. “Pretending to be a ‘Republican, but a little less bad’ has never inspired a dramatic re-election victory.”

In his salon.com post, “As Democrats turn their attention to 2018, getting “marginal voters” to turn out will be crucial,” Sean McElwee takes an in-depth look at a critical constiuency for Democrats, “people who voted in the 2012 presidential election, but failed to turn out to vote in 2014,” and argues, “How can Democrats maximize their chances? First, they need to get the basics right. They should target widely because it’s impossible to know where the floor is for Trump. They don’t want to be in a situation where new terrain opens up and they’re unprepared. They need to start winning back state-level and county-level positions that feed into higher office. They’ll need money and an aggressive recruitment strategy to get good candidates to run. But, ultimately, the 2018 election, like all others, will be determined by who shows up. The Democratic Party must make a concerted effort to target the voters who have voted in presidential elections but stay home during the midterms…In the end, 76 percent of registered Democrats voted in the 2014 election, compared to 84 percent of registered Republicans. If Democrats want to seize on Trump’s unpopularity, they need to find a way to get these presidential voters to turn out in the off-cycle election. Donald Trump will probably help.”

Amber Phillips notes at The Fix, “Progressive ballot initiatives have had fantastic success over the years, even in Republican states. Over the past two decades, initiatives to raise the minimum wage has rarely lost when put to the voter. This past November was no exception; minimum wage ballot measures in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington passed by a larger margin than the winning presidential candidate, according to The Fairness Project, which advocates for higher minimum wage laws…Voters in eight of nine states voted to ease restrictions on marijuana and three of four states voted to put in place gun restrictions.”

“Democrats need to stop the bleeding with working-class whites. But that’s only a small piece of the equation. To confront demagoguery and “populist” conservatism, Democrats should create a coalition that combines a diverse electorate with increased margins among college-educated voters. This approach could solve the party’s geographic problems and lead to victory in future elections…Running up the score with college-educated voters could help Democrats win Rust Belt states that were pivotal in 2016…Let’s compare two counties in the Detroit suburbs: Macomb, where only 23% of the population has a bachelor’s degree, and Oakland, where 44% of the population does. Hillary Clinton maintained Barack Obama’s 8% margin in Oakland County, a historically Republican suburb, while Macomb went from a 4% edge for Obama to a 12% advantage for Trump. Post-mortems of the presidential campaign focused on the drift away from Democrats in Macomb. But about a decade ago, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg pointed out that the future for Democrats lies in Oakland. Because the county is far more populous than Macomb, a mere 2% increase in Clinton’s margin there would have erased her 10,704 statewide deficit, and put Michigan in her column.” — from “The best way forward for Democrats: Target well-educated voters” by Matthew Rey, a partner at Red Horse Strategies in the Los Angeles Times.

This may not be the most dignified protest demonstration designed to urge Trump to release his tax forms like all other modern era presidents have done. But credit the organizers with a creative idea for a photo-op and a catchy slogan.


Trump Revives Call For Tax-Subsidized Politicking From the Pulpit

Since church-state relations are such a complicated and often-misunderstood topic, I decided to take on one of them at New York that Donald Trump has revived in a big and nasty manner:

It is beginning to look like a big week for the Christian right in Washington. On Tuesday night President Trump gave them the SCOTUS nominee most of them wanted, in Neil Gorsuch. Then word got out that the administration had drafted a sweeping executive order on “religious liberty” that could have been drafted by Jerry Falwell Jr. And then on Thursday morning, at the National Prayer Breakfast (itself an annual ritual of presidential deference to conservative Christians), Trump repeated a campaign promise to repeal the so-called Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law preventing open electioneering by tax-exempt nonprofit organizations. Actually, the term he used was not “repeal,” but “totally destroy.” Very presidential of him.

What this would mean in practice is that people employed by religious bodies (and other kinds of nonprofit organizations), most especially ministers of the Christian Gospel, could endorse and exhort support for special candidates and other matters decided at the ballot box right there in the pulpit — or perhaps more importantly, through utilization of church resources (signs, flyers, phone and email lists, and presumably even paid ads). It would save the time and trouble involved in the winking and nodding that often goes on with clerical politicking. But less innocently, the proposed new policy might also pave the way to coerced electioneering statements imposed on individual ministers and congregations by denominational leaders. It would definitely politicize the Sabbath in a big way.

Trump, of course, tries to make this sound like a simple matter of freedom, daring to cite as an authority the predecessor for whom separation of church and state was a first principle:

“Jefferson asked, ‘”Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution — I will do that.”

Put aside for a moment the fact that religious groups violating the Johnson Amendment practically have to hit the IRS over the head with their views to attract the rare investigation or enforcement action. Even if it were regularly enforced, nothing in the Johnson Amendment keeps anyone from worshiping as they wish; “representatives of faith” could have devoted every 2016 sermon to demanding votes for Donald Trump or excoriating the baby-killing devil-woman Hillary Clinton if they wanted. They just cannot at the same time accept taxpayer subsidies.

That is the real misunderstanding here. Groups demanding the freedom to say and do whatever they want, and/or to violate anti-discrimination laws in the name of God, seem to view tax-exempt status as quite literally a matter of divine entitlement. But it’s a very secular thing conveying crass, material benefits in great abundance. Not only does church property (and some forms of church employee compensation) escape taxation: The dollars placed in the collection plate convey a tax benefit to the contributors. All told, the value of the tax exemptions for churches has been estimated in one recent study as amounting to $71 billion annually. That’s certainly enough to justify a bit of self-control in playing with electoral politics.

Since the Johnson Amendment is a matter of statutory law (enacted, as it happens, by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by a Republican president), not executive-branch policy, Trump cannot “get rid of and totally destroy it” by fiat. But because it involves the tax code, congressional Republicans can almost certainly nestle a Johnson Amendment repeal into one of the two “budget reconciliation” bills on tap this year — perhaps the first one, mainly aimed at whatever the GOP decides to do with Obamacare, which will supposedly be unveiled this month or next.

One way or another Trump will try to redeem this campaign pledge to the Christian Right. And it’s hard to imagine Republicans standing in his way, whatever their private misgivings.

Democrats need to expose this exercise in clerical welfare before it happens.


Conservative “Base” Voters Only Have Eyes For Trump

After looking at some public opinion polling about conservative feelings towards Donald Trump, I came to a pretty interesting conclusion and decided to write it up at New York.

The announcement of Neil Gorsuch as SCOTUS nominee represented a new high point in Donald Trump’s relationship with the conservative movement and the GOP. It was a full-on love-fest — and beyond the immediate and overwhelmingly positive response among right-of-center folk, the nomination has established significantly more trust for Trump among serious conservatives.

But before mainstream Republicans get too comfortable with the 45th president, they should consider the bad news: That he is stealing their voter base away from them, even as they cheer him on for nominating Gorsuch.

That is the most obvious lesson to derive from some new large-sample data from Morning Consult (via The Upshot):

“54 percent of registered voters in districts represented by Republicans viewed Mr. Trump favorably compared with only 42 percent who view him unfavorably. More important, people who identify with the party overwhelmingly view him favorably. In districts represented by Republicans, fully 87 percent of registered Republicans view Mr. Trump favorably.

“Support for Mr. Trump in G.O.P. districts is even higher among registered Republicans who are extremely interested in politics (94 percent favorable), identify as strong Republicans (92 percent favorable) or say they are very conservative (94 percent favorable). These groups are especially likely to vote in primaries and are key constituencies in nomination contests for higher office. As a result, they wield disproportionate influence on legislator behavior.”

To put it simply, while Republicans may have assumed their most conservative “base” supporters would help them bend Donald Trump to their will when push came to shove, the opposite may prove true: the GOP base increasingly looks like it may become a whip with which Trump lashes establishment conservative elected officials and opinion-leaders to keep them in line.

It’s been true for quite some time that most Republicans in Congress feared primary challenges from their right more than anything Democrats could throw at them. What has changed is that the voters most likely to participate in Republican challenges seem to have fallen in love with Donald Trump, and could keep elected officials who previously thought themselves safe on their toes and ready to defend Trump even when long-cherished ideological tenets would otherwise have them supporting different policies. The alternative would be to likely face a primary challenge by a more robustly Trumpian politician, with the knowledge that the base would probably be with the populist.

While it’s premature to predict the potentially wild course of events just ahead, friction between Trump and his party could be relatively manageable — and a visible schism might never open up between the president and the party mainstream. We could see an implicit deal where Trump gives the older forces in the GOP most of what they want on economic and fiscal policy so long as they go along with Trump on trade, immigration, crime, and maybe some token “populist” gestures like jobs initiatives or protecting Social Security and Medicare.They can probably reach rough agreement on most national security matters so long as defense spending goes up and the administration doesn’t completely abandon Europe to Putin.

But if there is a rupture that threatens the smooth-functioning machine Republicans need to enact an agenda with little or no Democratic support, don’t assume Trump will have to come hat in hand to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, or beg for support from conservative think-tanks or opinion outlets.

In that context, it’s less surprising, if no less scandalous, that the GOP has surrendered to Trump so quickly.