washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Paul Krugman quote

Trump Will Betray the Interests of the White Working-Class

Everything we’ve seen so far says that Mr. Trump is going to utterly betray the interests of the white working-class voters who were his most enthusiastic supporters, stripping them of health care and retirement security, and this betrayal should be highlighted.”
–Paul Krugman

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.

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

Mike Tomasky speaks

Mike Tomasky on the Meaning of Trump

I remember when I started reading history seriously when I was 17, 18 that I was astonished that people could not recognize in the moment the enormity of the events they were living. No one in the United States today has any excuse, any reason not to understand that this is a clarifying moment. Let us all act with the clarity the moment demands.

The Daily Strategist

February 20, 2017

Collins Advocacy for Sessions a Marker for the End of Republican ‘Centrists’

It’s been a long time since “moderate” Republicans had significant influence in their party, which is now an instrument for the worst policies of the right-wing ideologues who currently dominate the GOP’s inner councils.

Those who have lived long enough can remember a time when Republicans like Sens. Javitz, Weicker, and Governor Rockefeller actually played leadership roles in defending and promoting civil rights and needed social programs. But, one by one, RINOs, Gypsy Moths, Rockefeller, Ripon and other moderate Republicans have become extinct.

Those who were holding on to the fading hope that, somehow the centrist Republican would rise again as a force in the GOP, now must face the fact that the most prominent of remaining ‘moderate’ Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins, has abandoned all pretense to carry water for one of the Senate’s most relentless opponents of racial justice, Jeff Sessions. OK, Collins hasn’t been a genuine moderate for a long time. But now she is making a big show of her defection. At The Nation, John Nichols writes,

Thirty years ago, moderate Republicans upheld the basic standards to which presidential nominees must be held. But not anymore. So-called “moderate” Republican Susan Collins abandoned that standard on Tuesday and championed President Trump’s nomination of Sessions to serve as attorney general of the United States.

Because of some past breaks with party orthodoxy, particularly on social issues, Maine’s Senator Collins is still imagined by casual observers of the Senate to be a “moderate Republican.” It’s an image that Collins has fostered over the years, as she has sought to retain a Senate seat representing a New England state that regularly backs Democrats for the presidency.

This false yet lingering impression that Collins is a “moderate” made her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee one of the major moments of the first day of hearings on the Sessions nomination. Collins was portrayed in media reports as an “unlikely ally” of her fellow senator. In fact, she appeared before the committee as an ardent partisan, supporting a Republican president-elect’s most controversial Cabinet pick—and doing her best to dismiss credible criticisms of the nominee.

Nichols notes that “Collins’s offices in Portland and Bangor were packed with protesters this morning,” Maine Public Radio reported Tuesday morning. “They are calling on Collins to withdraw her support for Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator Donald Trump has nominated for U.S. Attorney General.” Nichols quotes Maine State Representative Diane Russell, who said, “Senator Collins is leading the fight to confirm the most racist, homophobic, anti-woman, anti-immigrant person we could possible imagine to be the defender of the U.S. Constitution.”

Nichols acknowledges that “Susan Collins has never been so outspoken or effective a dissenter as former Maine Republican senators such as Margaret Chase Smith and Olympia Snowe,” two of the most admired Republican moderates of the Senate’s history. But in recent times, Collins was regarded as one of the more ‘centrist’ Republicans in the distorted context of the GOP’s tea party era.

That illusion is now shattered, as Collins lends her rep to help one of the most retrogressive Attorney General nominees ever. Republicans hoping for a resurgence of moderate leadership in their party will have to look elsewhere, and the pickings are growing slimmer every day. It’s unclear whether Collins intends to run again for Senate or, perhaps Governor. If so, her support of Sessions may prove to be the decision that sank her prospects with Maine voters who are concerned about human rights.


President Obama’s Farewell Address

President Obama’s farewell address to the nation at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday (full text is available here):


McConnell’s Hypocrisy, Trump’s Cruelty Sour Inaugural Environment

Ten days out from the 2017 presidential inauguration, the president-elect still can’t find a bona fide A-list star to add a little lustre to the inaugural festivities. Meryl Streep probably narrowed his options with her speech at the Golden Globe Awards, citing Trump’s horrific mockery of a disabled reporter, which re-sparked storms of outrage using the Trump video in both traditional and social media (plus over 2 million Google citations this morning).

Trump’s inaugural committee will probably find a Hollywood Republican or two to glitz up the procedings. But, to put it generously, January 20th is not shaping up as a joyful outpouring of national unity and bipartisan goodwill like President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Kellyanne Conway and the GOP spin machine are working overtime to pin the blame for the utter lack of national unity on Democrats and the media. It’s a tough sell when your client lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots cast and the country is genuinely divided on many issues. But you would think Trump’s PR wizards would persuade him that a little grace and outreach to the opposition, or maybe selecting a moderate or two among the cabinet picks could at least open the door to the possibility of a less divisive political environment on the eve of the inauguration. You might think so. But, alas, you would be wrong.

Moreover, leaders of the Donkey Party are not the ones who have been tweeting rancid insults and winking at hate groups for more than a year now. Nor did Democrats create the scorched-earth, no-quarter, no-compromise, politics-as-total-war environment that characterizes American politics on the eve of the 2017 inauguration. For that, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can serve as poster boy, as well as anyone.

In his Esquire post, “Noted Grown-Up Mitch McConnell Wants Democrats to ‘Grow Up and Get Past’ Trump’s Win,” Charles P. Pierce puts the Trump and McConnell contributions to the souring mood of the U.S. in perspective. Here’s a taste:

Apparently, we must begin with the lovely and talented Ms. Meryl Streep, who took the opportunity at Sunday’s night’s Golden Globe Awards to express her disapproval of the president-elect, and the campaign he ran to become president-elect, and all his pomps and all his allures, besides. Naturally, this set off the expected Category Five tweetstorm from the president-elect, who really should have better things to do, and who also called some poor New York Times grunt in the middle of the night to lie once again about mocking a disabled reporter…

It was Charlatan Sunday on the The Sunday Showz. For an awfully long time, I thought Tom DeLay was the most mendacious, odious public servant the country ever saw, at least in the modern era, at any rate. I hereby apologize to Mr. DeLay. He was a rank amateur compared to Mitch McConnell, who isn’t even a very good liar, and apparently doesn’t care to learn how to be a better one. After several days in which everyone from the ethics offices of the various branches of government, to people who unearthed e-mails from 2009 in which McConnell argued from a point 180 degrees different from the one from which he’s arguing now, McConnell went on with John Dickerson and, right there in front of the chair once occupied by former Seleucid military correspondent Bob Schieffer, lied even more clumsily than he had previously.

“You know, what this is about, John, the Democrats are really frustrated that they lost the election. I was in Senator Schumer’s position eight years ago. I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation, that the other guys won the election. What did we do? We confirmed seven cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate. I understand that. But we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that.”

(Ed Note: “Little procedural complaints” is a nice touch.)

And, out on the veranda in Bimini, Merrick Garland hurls his mai tai through the TV screen and orders up two more from room service. God, what a perfectly formed hack McConnell is.

Even before the Trump-Streep dust-up and McConnell’s latest hypocritical outburst, Trump’s inauguration was going to be greeted by massive protest demonstrations, not only in the nation’s capitol, but in cities across the U.S. With McConnell and Trump feeding the animosity on a daily basis, it can only get worse.

The irony is that the Republicans could have gotten most, if not nearly all, of what they wanted without doubling down on the polarizing tactics and rhetoric. Trump and, yes McConnell, could have made a significant contribution to dismantling the partisan gridlock that now paralyzes congress. But they simply lack the maturity, grace and goodwill that empowers reconciliation, and Trump has surrounded himself with people who don’t even understand the concept.

The Republicans have set the stage for four years of bitter political conflict, beginning with what is shaping up to be the most divisive presidential inauguration in memory. They have only themselves to blame for the consequences.


Political Strategy Notes

It looks like neither Democrats nor the Office of Government Ethics are going to be hustled by the Team Trump/Mitch McConnell strategy of stampeding a bunch of his cabinet nominations through the confirmation process all at once without the traditional ethics review before the hearings. Now, Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, has released a statement saying that the rushed confirmation timetable is “of great concern to me” because of the attempt to skip the ethics review. Apparently, the Republicans don’t yet get that pretending they have a big popular vote mandate like Reagan 1980 is not quite the same thing as actually having one. Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan report on the controversy at the Washington Post, noting “Ethics experts from both political parties expressed dismay at the possibility that confirmation hearings would proceed before the OGE reviews are completed.” While it seems likely that nearly all of Trump’s nominees will eventualy be confirmed, Republicans are clearly concerned that many, if not most of them, have some potentially embarassing ethical issues, and they would like to minimize the damage.

Will Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was denied a federal judgeship decades ago because of his awful record on civil rights, get an easy ride through the confirmation process because he gets along well with fellow senators — despite his continued opposition to civil rights reforms? As Paul Kane notes at The Washington Post, Session’s supporters are playing the ‘collegiality’ card in hopes of distracting attention from his problematic track record. It’s up to Senate Democrats to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King writes in his column, “It was no small moment when NAACP protesters, led by their national president, Cornell W. Brooks, staged a sit-in and got arrested Tuesday at Sessions’s Mobile, Ala., office. Or when more than 1,100 professors from 170 law schools in 48 states wrote to urge the Senate to reject Sessions…Charging that Sessions can’t be trusted to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer for voting rights, Brooks said, “We have an attorney general nominee who does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud…Entrust Jeff Sessions to fairly, openly and impartially administer justice and protect the rights of all Americans? Not if his own public record is any guide.”

Post columnist and former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson does a nice job of describing the hypocrisy of noted Republican leaders on Julian Assange. “Donald Trump’s, Sarah Palin’s and Sean Hannity’s embrace of Julian Assange — who has made a career of illegally obtaining and releasing documents damaging to U.S. interests — is not just a puzzling policy shift. It is the triumph of political tribalism over, well, every other principle or commitment…All three leaders of right-wing populism once saw the risk. Not long ago, Trump recommended the death penalty for Assange. Now he publicly sides with him against U.S. intelligence services. Palin urged the United States to go after Assange “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda.” Now, we have seen her abject pleading: “Julian, I apologize.” Hannity once called for Assange’s “arrest.” Now he provides a sympathetic platform for Assange’s (and thus Vladimir Putin’s) views…Let’s be clear about what this means. The president-elect of the United States is elevating a man whom the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., holds responsible for putting the lives of operatives in direct danger. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is bowing and scraping to the man who materially aided the Taliban. Fox News is now an outlet for the Russian version of events…It does not require Aristotle to understand that this is a child’s view of ethics. The enemy of my enemy may be my friend. Or he may be an international fugitive who effectively exposed intelligence sources and methods and gave advantages to America’s enemies.”

Why It Will Be Hard to Repeal Obamacare” by NYT’s Haeyoun Park and Troy Griggs visually dissects the provisions of the ACA, which can be eliminated by either 60 or 51 votes in the U.S. Senate.

In his salon.com post “What went wrong with the Democratic Party? Three big failures that led to the current debacle,” Sean McElwee faults the Democratic party for failing “to run viable candidates” and he presents a worrisome litany to make his point: “It’s not just one cycle. There was the trucker with no political experience who ran for governor of Mississippi in 2015, or the unemployed army vet facing obscenity charges for showing pornography to a college student who ran against Nikki Haley in South Carolina in 2010. In 2016 Jeff Stein documented some of the more egregious Democratic recruiting failures in potentially competitive House seats. Candidates included Frederick Lavergne, whose website was “filled with amazingly bizarre rants in Latin” and “a little-known county commissioner who has barely raised any money” (with a broken website). In one Texas district that Hillary Clinton carried, Democrats failed to even put forward a candidate. In a Virginia district that went narrowly for Trump, Democrats didn’t have a primary because only one candidate filed, a woman who “has run for the Newport News City Council four times and has lost each time; most recently in 2010 when she finished in fourth place, out of four candidates…As Roll Call reported last year, “More than a year from Election Day, Democrats are without top-tier recruits in five of the 11 races rated Tossups by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call.” Democrats may claim these races are “unwinnable,” but Republicans have recently won gubernatorial elections in deep blue states like Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts. Ironically, Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, a state Hillary Clinton won by 26 points, is now considered by some Democrats to be “unbeatable.”

McElwee continues with another equally troubling insight: “In a recent piece, Andrew Prokop noted that the current Democratic situation looks much like the one Republicans faced in 2008. Yet on second consideration, this is deeply troubling. For one, Republicans were coming off a historically unpopular president (Bush had a 24 percent approval rating) while Obama has an approval rating of 58 percent. In addition, Republicans had just presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, while Democrats are running on an economy with sturdy income growth and an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. Finally, while Republicans were looking at a favorable electoral map in the 2010 midterms, Democrats are looking at an abysmal map in 2018. Their best chance to pick up Senate seats was squandered in 2016, when they were hoping to gain six to eight seats and instead picked up only two…These mistakes are more obvious in retrospect and many choices, at the time, seemed reasonable. The party in power often struggles down-ballot, and Democrats typically perform worse in low-turnout non-presidential elections. Furthermore, it’s difficult to recruit strong candidates when they don’t think they can win. But these defeats were not inevitable, and Democrats have shown only some signs they understand the depths of their plight.”

In a way, McElwee’s report provides at least a partial rebuttal to the meme that President Obama is at fault for the Democratic Party’s defeats during his administration. Jonathan Cohn writes in HuffPo that “…In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” the outgoing chief executive said he recognizes that the Democratic Party has lost a lot of power during his watch, and wishes he had done more to strengthen it….“I take some responsibility on that,” Obama said…The president was responding to a question from host George Stephanopoulos about the losses Democrats have suffered in Congress, where they have relinquished majorities in both parties, and in state legislatures, where they have lost more than 900 seats. As Obama said in the interview, “We did not begin what I think needs to happen over the long haul, and that is rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level.” Obama probably could have campaigned more for Democratic Senate and House candidates, where it could have helpted. And perhaps he could have been more of a “take charge” head of the Party, raising more funds for Democratic candidates and playing a louder “cheerleader” role in general. But McElwee demonstrates that the Democratic Party’s structure, projects and institutions, as well as the party’s other leaders, were woefully unprepared for party-building — in stark contrast to the GOP.

It seems only fair to comend state Democratic Parties in those instances when they do a good job of making room for exciting new leaders. In that regard, Brian Eason’s “Working-class mind-set fueled Duran’s historic rise to House Speaker” at The Denver Post profiles an impressive young elected official, Crisanta Duran, who at age 36 ascends to the speakership of the legislature of a pivotal swing state. The first Latina speaker of the Colorado state House, Duran, who addressed the Democratic National Convention last year, checks an array of demographic boxes, including Mexican, Indian and French ancestry and she is the daughter of a labor union leader and granddaughter of a steelworker, served as a union staff attorney herself, and enthusiastically champions a working-class agenda. She is described in the article as an “incredibly strategic,” skilled negotiator, as well as a “warrior.” Dems should more pro-actively do whatever is necessary to encourage more such young and dynamic leaders to emerge in the states.


White Working Class Trump Voters Who Hate Obamacare Will Hate Its Replacement Even More

As congressional Republicans vacillated and argued over how long to delay the effective date of an Obamacare repeal, they may not realize they have a bigger problem than how to transition into some ultimate “replacement” plan. Their own voters are going to be shocked when the see what GOP health care policy means for them. I wrote about this at New York:

[T]here is abundant evidence the white working-class voters whose sudden tilt toward the GOP in Rust Belt battleground states rewarded Donald Trump with the presidency and helped Republicans hang on to Congress really do dislike the Affordable Care Act disproportionately.

Here’s the problem, though: What these key Trump voters most dislike about life under the Affordable Care Act will get even worse under any plausible GOP replacement plan.

As the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Drew Altman reports in a New York Times op-ed, focus groups among Trump-voting Rust Belt white working-class voters who have obtained health insurance through Obamacare — i.e., those most familiar with the ACA — show a very consistent pattern:

“They spoke anxiously about rising premiums, deductibles, copays and drug costs. They were especially upset by surprise bills for services they believed were covered … When told Mr. Trump might embrace a plan that included these elements, and particularly very high deductibles, they expressed disbelief.”

Here’s what they’d rather have:

“If these Trump voters could write a health plan, it would, many said, focus on keeping their out-of-pocket costs low, control drug prices and improve access to cheaper drugs.”

The trouble is, of course, that keeping out-of-pocket costs high and letting market forces control drug prices are fundamental principles of conservative health-care policy, which have been reflected in every Republican health-care proposal for years. To conservative policy thinkers, overutilization of health services, encouraged by government subsidies and regulations (along with “defensive medicine” caused by consumer lawsuits), is the primary source of rising health-care prices and virtually every sin of the health-care system.

So when Republican policymakers talk about “personal responsibility” being critical to heath reform, that’s code for making sure Americans feel some pain every single time they access health services. The way you do that is by increasing exposure to out-of-pocket costs via premiums, deductibles, copays, and exposure to big bills if you don’t strictly obey your insurance company’s arcane rules. You can sugarcoat this a bit by offering a tax subsidy for personal savings so that you have more money for those out-of-pocket expenses; that’s the basic point of the Health Savings Account idea, a feature of every conservative health-care proposal since time immemorial, and a particular favorite of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Indeed, the goal many Republicans have long embraced is a system where everybody gets a high-deductible insurance policy covering catastrophic health conditions, with no insurance at all for routine services, which consumers would handle themselves with some help from an HSA.

But if the KFF research is correct, it’s the routine services that Trump’s white working-class base thinks they should have access to without emptying their wallets or being hassled by an insurance company. That is partly why so many of these people exhibit resentment toward Medicaid beneficiaries who don’t have the same problems in obtaining routine services. Given the chance, of course, Republican pols would introduce “personal responsibility” requirements to Medicaid as well, as GOP governors like Mike Pence have shown in the deals they’ve cut with the Obama administration to expand eligibility in exchange for generous new federal dollars. In the ideal GOP world, everyone would be paying more for routine services — even the very wealthy, who would have to shell out large premiums for concierge services to keep them from rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi in waiting rooms.

So will white working-class Trump voters realize this conflict between their views and those of their party before an Obamacare replacement plan goes into effect? Nobody knows. But it’s not like they won’t be paying attention. As Ron Brownstein notes, the savage antipathy these folks feel for Obamacare is based on an intimate familiarity with the law, because so many of them receive health insurance via the ACA:

“[I]n practice millions of blue-collar whites have gained coverage under the law, particularly in states critical to the Republican electoral map. Using census data, the Urban Institute recently calculated that from 2010 through 2015, more non-college-educated whites gained coverage than college-educated whites and minorities combined in all five of the key Rustbelt states that flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016: Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Whites without a college degree also represented a majority of those gaining coverage under the law in core Trump states like Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

“These states often saw enormous reductions in the number of uninsured working-class whites: about 40 percent in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; roughly 50 percent in Ohio, Iowa, and Michigan; and 60 percent in West Virginia and Kentucky.”

So if they lose insurance altogether or are forced into new health-insurance plans that double-down on the very features they hate about Obamacare, these key Trump voters will not be very happy. And Trump tweets about how “terrific” the post-Obamacare world of health-care policy has become won’t help.


Political Strategy Notes

At Vox Theda Skocpol’s “A guide to rebuilding the Democratic Party, from the ground up: Organizationally, the US right is light years ahead of the left. A leading political scientist explains what Democrats should do to change that” takes a sobering look at the Democratic Party’s structural deficiencies and how they might be fixed. Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist and director of the Scholars Strategy Network, writes that “the key priority should be strengthening the Democratic Party at state and local levels, even as liberals also build a mass movement to demand universal voter access and devise new formats for unions and other dues-based popular associations.” Skocpol makes a case that “America is actually a federated polity where electoral geography matters more than ethnic or class aggregates…Trump won because he rang up unusually high margins (although not unusually high turnouts) among voters across all social strata in suburban, small-city, and semi-rural counties, especially in the Midwest. In many of those places, Democrats are not an organized presence at all…The cross-state federated networks of the NRA, the Christian right, and the centerpiece Koch organization, Americans for Prosperity…reached into most states and localities and helped Republicans bring conservative voters home and rack up commanding suburban and rural vote margins…Democrats tend to organize across the entire country only temporarily for presidential campaigns…The Democratic Party itself has to be beefed up and redirected into a year-round organizing operation — right now. A new head of the DNC will soon be chosen, and he or she has to be a nuts-and-bolts reformer, not just a show horse or protest organizer…the key to electoral and policy victories for America’s future lies in a robust, nationwide Democratic Party built to engage citizens everywhere in election and policy campaigns year round, every year.”

Greg Sargent explains at The Plum Line why “Democrats must do everything possible to resist Trump’s excesses. Here’s what that might look like.”  Sargent focuses on Democratic opposition to Trump’s proposed ‘Muslim registry,’ and supports pro-active legislative measures to prevent any “registry that is based on religion, national origin, nationality, or other classifications.” While most Republican members of congress are expected to oppose such measures, they have the virtue of forcing them to take a clear position. “Congressional Democrats will have to roll out concrete proposals wherever possible which, while doomed, will at least stand as alternatives,” writes Sargent. “One big question is whether they’ll find allies among constitutional conservatives and libertarians who are horrified by Trumpism’s threatened excesses — and one way to test that will be with proposals such as this one.”

NPR’s Meg Anderson shares this critique of Clinton’s campaign strategy from Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Look, you can’t simply go around to wealthy people’s homes raising money and expect to win elections,” the Vermont senator, who gave Clinton a surprisingly strong run for the Democratic nomination, told NPR’s David Greene in an interview airing on Morning Edition. “You’ve got to go out and mix it up and be with ordinary people.”

We’re about to find out how much of Trump’s meddling in America’s intelligence agencies the top Republican leaders are going to accept. According to “Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top U.S. Spy Agency” by Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes of the Wall St. Journal, the President-elect’s plans to upend the U.S. intelligence superstructure, apparently to make it more Putin-friendly, are already drawing hostile reviews. As Paletta and Barnes report, quoting Sen. Lindsey Graham on Trump’s parroting comments by Julian Assange: “We have two choices: some guy living in an embassy on the run from the law…who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us…I’m going with them.”

While most Americans are aware that Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes for President than did Donald Trump, Kos shares a less well-known but even more striking statistic: “In the Senate, the 48 Democratic senators received a combined 78.4 million votes, to the 54.9 million votes earned by the 52 Republican senators. We don’t live in a real democracy, and Republicans have been able to game the system to their advantage.”

Here’s a very disturbing report at The Hill, explaining how the “GOP aims to rein in liberal cities.” As Reid Wilson explains, “After consolidating power in Washington, D.C., and state capitals under President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans are moving to prevent large cities dominated by Democrats from enacting sweeping liberal agendas…Republican state legislatures are planning so-called preemption laws, which prevent cities and counties from passing new measures governing everything from taxes to environmental regulations and social issues…The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has offered five sample preemption bills on everything from local minimum wage hikes to rules governing genetically modified food and other agriculture products.” At stake are city laws addressing soda taxes, smoking bans, gun control, broadband access and a ranges of other concerns.

At Democracy Now Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh interview NAACP President Cornell William Brooks who was just arrested in a sit-in at the offices of Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. Brooks and other NAACP members were protesting the nomination because of Sessions’s “opposition to the Voting Rights Act, support for anti-immigration legislation and history of making racist comments.” In the interview Brooks explains, “…Not only has he not stood against voter suppression in his own state, not acknowledged the reality of voter suppression as recognized by federal courts, the one instance where he has appeared in court in terms of voting rights, it was to prosecute three civil rights activists, which it took a jury less than three hours to find innocent…We stand in opposition with over a thousand law professors, with Governor Deval Patrick, with organizations not only on the progressive left, but I might also note there are any number of conservatives who take strong exception to the fact that Senator Sessions is—stands against whistleblowers. He stands against civil liberties.”

After reading Dave Weigel’s “Democrats stumble toward a Supreme Court strategy” at The Washington Post, it’s hard to avoid concluding that Democrats don’t have much of a strategy, because they don’t have any promising options. Senate Majority Leader McConnel took a gamble and got lucky with Trump’s Electoral College win, and now the Republicans hold all of the cards. Sure, Democrats and progressives can and should raise hell when Trump nominates a reactionary to complete the High Court. But the hope that Trump will suddenly send a bipartisn olive branch in the form of a moderate Supreme Court nominee appears unlikely, given the pattern of his cabinet picks. True, 2018 looks like a really bad year for Democratic Senate candidates, but Dems must put up a fierce fight for the best possible outcome.

From Jen Hayden at Daily Kos: “Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (TN-07) thought she’d take the temperature of her constituents regarding the Affordable Care Act and it didn’t quite go as Blackburn planned. Turns out, people like having health insurance.” Blackburn tweeted “Do you support the repeal of Obamacare? RT if you do, and share what you want to see as the replacement.” The result from almost 8,000 responses: 84 percent said “No,” and 16 percent said “Yes.”


Trump’s Narcissistic Jobs Strategy

As you may have noticed, Donald Trump was given credit this week for a decision by Ford to keep some operations in Michigan that earlier seemed headed to Mexico. This is becoming a pattern, as I noted at New York:

From time immemorial corporate executives have played a certain back-scratching if fundamentally dishonest game with politicians, usually at the state or local levels. The corporate types make an investment or employment decision that appears to benefit a particular place, maybe because it makes sense generally, maybe in response to government inducements (maybe disclosed publicly, maybe not). And then they cooperate by giving credit to a friendly politician, who gets to announce a ribbon-cutting or ground-breaking or “jobs saved” claim which is supposed to symbolize the pol’s economic development chops. Usually the economic impact of the “deal” is small potatoes, and may even be offset by the cost of inducements. And in most cases the positive development would have probably happened anyway. But it is in not in the interest of any of the players in the game to admit that it’s all a shuck.

It is increasingly apparent that one of the distinctive features of the Trump administration will be raising that particular game to the national level. The first such Trump-brokered “deal” involved the Carrier Corporation, of course. But since that was a particular company Trump bashed during the presidential campaign for its outsourcing practices, and because Trump’s own running mate Mike Pence was in a position to create inducements as governor of Indiana, it looked like it could be a unique event.

Not any more. The automaker Ford has announced Trump is responsible for a decision to make certain cars in Michigan rather than Mexico. Ford claims they didn’t get any public subsidies or concessions to make this showy about-face, from Trump or anyone else; no, it was just a “vote of confidence” in the mogul’s plans to make America a lean, mean, job-creatin’ machine. Never mind that Trump attacked Ford for its Mexican plans during the campaign, or that he threatened to slap a 35 percent tariff on the company’s Mexican-produced vehicles — that’s apparently just a coincidence.

Now, aside from the rather ludicrous suggestion that Trump’s threats were not a factor in this decision, it is important to note that it involves 1,000 jobs (or so Ford claims, anyway). Yes, there are spin-off effects, and sure, if you are an unemployed or potentially unemployed autoworker living in Flat Rock, Michigan (the site of the plant now blessed by Ford and Trump) it’s a big deal.

Having said that, these 1,000 jobs or the alleged (though disputed) 1,100 jobs saved by the Carrier deal are not the stuff of a national economic strategy. It’s more like a Tinkertoy substitute for a national economic strategy at best, and a cynical exploitation of public misapprehensions about how the economy works at worst, with Lord only knows what kind of concealed price down the road. Is the President of the United States going to bribe or browbeat enough individual companies to double GDP growth? Or is this just a display for the benefit of Rust Belt Trump voters to keep them from concluding their hero has betrayed them when he kills Obamacare or plunges us all into a trade-related recession?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do suspect that if Trump continues this narcissistic approach to job creation it will soon be apparent he’s like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise.


Galston Warns of Growing Threat of ‘Illiberal Democracy’

Many Americans are understandably concerned about the future of a democracy in which the candidate who lost the popular vote wins the presidency twice in 16 years. But what may be even more alarming than America’s weakening of the principle of majority rule, is the erosion of the values that make our diverse, pluralistic society governable.

William A. Galston’s Wall St. Journal column on “The Growing Threat of ‘Illiberal Democracy’: What happens when rule by the people conflicts with individual rights?” reports on a frightening trend of minority-bashing in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary, where the ruling regime is encouraging vicious, Nazi-like rhetoric attacking minorities, particularly Jews, but also the Roma people. In Hungary, writes Galston,

Hungary’s Order of Merit, its second highest state honor, recognizes individuals who have demonstrated excellence in service to Hungary and the promotion of “universal human values.” Last August, Mr. Orban’s government gave this award to journalist Zsolt Bayer.

Here is how Mr. Bayer has promoted these values:

Writing in 2008 about the “Jewish journalists of Budapest,” he said that “their very existence justifies anti-Semitism.” In February and March of 2016, he published an 18-part op-ed series on the origins of anti-Semitism in Hungary, asserting that it was a natural reaction to actions by Jews against non-Jews.

Writing in 2013 about the Roma, a disparate collection of ethnic minorities, Mr. Bayer said that “These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist,” adding that “this needs to be solved—immediately and by any means necessary.” At a public rally in Budapest in 2015, he described the Syrian refugee crisis as a weapon guided by a hidden conspiracy against the “white race.”

Is this what illiberal democracy portends—state-endorsed hostility toward historically persecuted minorities, endorsed by the state? Are we facing a future in which national majorities may act without restraint, whatever the human costs?

It’s not just Hungary. Galston also notes that cotempt for liberal democracy seems to be spreading to Poland:

Mr. Orban’s approach is gaining ground. As early as 2011, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s then-minority Law and Justice party, said that he would “bring Budapest to Warsaw.” Today, a majority government led by his party is doing what he promised, starting with an attack on Poland’s constitutional court before moving to restraints on the public media, public prosecutor, and freedom of assembly.

Political observers have also noted the worrisome rise of intolerance of minorities in political movements gaining ground in Austria and France. In the U.S., rising intolerance also threatens foundational democratic values protecting minorities, as Galston notes,

There are signs of impatience with liberal democratic restraints even in the U.S., where constitutionalism and the rule of law are more deeply entrenched than in the newer European democracies. A June 2016 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found 49% of voters agreed that “because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” This figure included 57% of Republicans, 60% of white working-class voters, 72% of Trump supporters, and—tellingly—59% of those who felt that the American way of life needs protection from foreign influences.

Even more worrying than the attack on liberal democratic institutions is the relegitimation of long-suppressed antipathies to ethnic and religious minorities.
When Donald Trump whipped up hostility to Muslims and Mexicans in the U.S., he not only encouraged  intolerance and bigotry; he also undermined the values of liberal democracy that have undergirded  America’s freedom. If further drift toward ‘illiberal democracy’ can be stopped, it’s clear that Democrats have to provide the leadership.

GOP’s Ethics Stumble, Walkback Opens Opportunity for Dems

Don’t put too much stock in the meme being parroted by President-elect Trump’s minons that his tweet prevented a Republican attempt to weaken the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Here’s  “What really changed the GOP’s mind,” a CNN post by Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America and author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”

Less than 24 hours after both traditional and social media lit up with outrage over House Republicans’ plans to severely weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics, House Republicans decided that maybe this wasn’t the brand image they wanted to start 2017 with. So Republicans reversed themselves: The Office of Congressional Ethics will remain independent and therefore powerful, not a silenced fiefdom of the member-controlled House Ethics Committee, as the original GOP rules package had proposed.

…Republicans who supported the seemingly obscure changes must have figured hardly anybody would notice, and even fewer people would care. Perhaps, some members concluded, given what President-elect Donald Trump has been getting away with, norms really had changed. Why should members of Congress have to suffer?

…To be sure, there may be some who give Trump’s Twitter account credit for the course correction. But though it surely had an impact on some of the members, Trump’s tweets merely rode the crest of public opinion against the changes, rather than leading it. It is a mistake to give Trump too much credit, just as it is a mistake to take his Drain the Swamp plan seriously.

At times some Democrats have been hostile to the Office of Congressional Ethics, as Drutman notes. But this time it was the House Republican’s baby, and the press coverage was very tough, which is a good thing. As Drutman puts it,

The successful fight to preserve the Office of Congressional Ethics is an encouraging development. The media was on the story quickly, organizations mobilized, the public responded and Congress heard the outrage loud and clear. This is how democratic accountability is supposed to work. Hopefully this is a sign of more good fights to come. It’s a promising sign that a sustained and well-organized call for Trump to divest from his business conflicts might have an impact, too.

It’s important to commend the media when they do a good job, and it’s encouraging that the public outcry was part of the incentive to prevent the weakening of the OCE.

It’s equally-important, however, for Democrats to seize the mantle of leadership on congressional ethics. While some Democrats have been implicated in ethics violations over the years, the record shows that Republicans in congress have a much longer, more problematic ethics rap sheet. With oil barons, billionaires and Wall Street tycoons dominating Trump’s cabinet nominees, along with Trump’s web of shady business dealings and hidden taxes, and with congressional Republicans cozying up with lobbyists,  Democrats are going to have to work overtime just to remain vigilant in monitoring Republican ethics violations.

It’s worth it. By relentlessly exposing Republican ethics violations — and every indication suggests there will be plenty more coming in the new congress and the Trump Administration — and by enhancing the Democratic Party’s capacity for self-policing on ethics, Democrats have an excellent chance to self-brand as the only party that fights for clean government and transparency. Supported by effective messaging, that’s a brand that will produce electoral gains.


Obamacare Repeal Follies Showcase GOP’s Moral, Intellectual Bankruptcy

As the big GOP push for Obamacare repeal begins, many Republicans in congress are begining to realize that “Hot damn, we got rid of Obamacare” is probably not going to play all that well with constituents who have their health care coverage eliminated, diminished or made more expensive.

The privatization enthusiasts in the GOP, at least those who believe that the private sector can do no wrong, haven’t quite gotten it yet. For them, unleashing the ‘magic of the market’ as a sacred principle of conservatism is reason enough to trash the Affordable Care Act. Whether they get away with it or not depends on the economic demographics and ideology of their district electorates.

At New York Magazine Jonathan Chait describes the Republicans’ predicament:

After the election unexpectedly put them in full control of government, I predicted they would follow a “repeal and delay” plan, because it is the only way to keep the lie going. The closer they get to taking action, the more clear it becomes to Republicans that their own propaganda has trapped them and given them no escape. Railing against Obamacare was easy, but the responsibilities of power have taken all the fun out of denying medical care to the poor and sick.

…In a free-market system, tens of millions of Americans will not be able to afford medical care because the cost of their treatment exceeds their income, either because they’re too poor, or because they’re too sick. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million Americans under the age of 65 have preexisting conditions that would make it impossible for them to purchase health insurance in the individual market that existed before Obamacare. An insurance-industry study from 2008 found that 13 percent of people who applied for coverage in the individual market were rejected — a figure that doesn’t even count the 34 percent of people who had to buy policies that excluded coverage of treatments for their preexisting conditions, let alone those who didn’t even bother applying because they knew they couldn’t afford it.

Covering people who can’t afford to pay for their own medical care means making other people pay for it. You can do that through direct tax-and-spend transfers, or through indirect regulatory methods (like making insurance companies overcharge healthy people and undercharge sick ones). Republicans oppose these methods because they oppose redistribution in general. And yet politics requires them to promise a plan that does not deprive Americans of access to treatment. This is the reason none of their plans has advanced beyond the white-paper concept phase —either they contain too much redistribution to be acceptable to the GOP, or too little coverage to be acceptable to the public, or both.

Chait adds an important insight Repubicans don’t want to face, and one which Democrats must embrace as a central principle of health care reform: “The health-care plans people like are ones such as Medicare, or employer-sponsored insurance — plans in which all customers pay the same rates regardless of age or preexisting conditions, and which don’t put them at risk of paying out huge costs if they get sick.”

Instead, argues Chait, the Republicans are wedded to “threadbare, catastrophic coverage with enormous deductibles.” They know this is a tough sell, and the “replace” part of “repeal and replace” promises to give Republicans in competitive districts an exended migraine headache for months, if not years, to come.

Chait likens the proposed GOP strategy of peacemeal replacement bills to an episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer, faced with certain failure in a test, says “I’ve been working on a plan. During the exam, I’ll hide under some coats, and hope that somehow everything will work out.”

“Repeal-and-delay,” adds Chait “is the ultimate backhand acknowledgement that the party has no answers. Their wan hope is that by repealing the law, they can satisfy the blood lust of conservative activists. The repeal won’t take place for years. Then they can hide under some coats and hope it all works out.”

As you might imagine, health insurance companies are not eagerly looking forward to such a scenario —  yet another example of the political party that purports to be the champion of pro-business policies introducing new chaos and uncertainty into the markets.

As for emerging scenarios, Chait sees one coming into focus:

The most likely answer is that Republicans never craft a replacement. They repeal Obamacare, but delay the effective date of the repeal, and then Obamacare becomes a “cliff” that Congress votes to keep extending. There is no majority in Congress behind any one specific plan to replace Obamacare, but there is probably a majority against blowing it up immediately. That will likely become the new status quo. There’s no transition to a new plan. The transition is the plan. Or, at least, it will be…The most likely outcome is that Republicans keep extending the law until Democrats have the presidency again, at which point they’ll no longer have an incentive to prevent mass suffering, and can go back to opposing anything Democrats try to do to make the system work. Republicans just need to keep the system from collapsing on their watch.

Paul Krugman writes in his latest New York Times column,

In a way, Democrats should hope that Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal health reform. After all, they don’t have a replacement, and never will. They’ve spent seven years promising something very different from yet better than Obamacare, but keep failing to deliver, because they can’t; the logic of broad coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions, requires either an Obamacare-like system or single-payer, which Republicans like even less. That won’t change.

As a result, repeal would have devastating effects, with people who voted Trump among the biggest losers. Independent estimates suggest that Republican plans would cause 30 million Americans to lose coverage, with about half the losers coming from the Trump-supporting white working class. At least some of those Trump supporters would probably conclude that they were the victims of a political scam — which they were.

Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.

Krugman notes also that Republican Obamacare repeal mania is fueled in part by the GOP’s opposition to the higher taxes on the wealthy needed to fund the ACA and, not incidently, because the latest enrollment figures are “running ahead of their levels a year ago,” a strong indication that Obamacare is working.

So the charade continues at the taxpayers expense. The scary part is that the likely scenarios sketched by Chait and Krugman are the optimistic outcomes. If lunacy prevails over their normal economic mismanagement, and the Republicans go ‘The Full Monte’ on privatization, it could get a lot worse.

It’s regrettable that Democrats have to spend so much time defending the only major health care reform to benefit millions of Americans since the days of LBJ. But if the experience clarifies the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republicans and their equivocating candidates, Dems might get some electoral benefit as early as 2018.