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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

April 29, 2017

Republicans Prepare to Fire the Scorekeepers To Save Trumpcare

The amazing dumpster fire over the new Republican health care plan had a sudden burst of deceptive heat and light as the GOP began to defend the bill against its actual consequences. I explained at New York.

There have been a lot of raised eyebrows about congressional Republicans rushing out an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill before it could be “scored” — that is, evaluated for its impact on federal spending and revenues and health-care coverage — by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Generally, CBO scoring would be a foundational step before trying to advance legislation significantly overhauling an industry that constitutes 20 percent of the national economy. One reason for the hastiness is that Republicans wanted to get something out there before its members go home for a long and potentially protest-filled Easter recess and perhaps come back gun-shy. Another is that they are on a self-imposed (and potentially self-imploding) timetable to get health care out of the way so they can deal with other legislative priorities, including a giant tax-cut bill.

But it is the third reason for not waiting on CBO that is looking most compelling right now: Republicans are terrified that CBO’s numbers will paint a disastrous picture of the American Health Care Act’s impact. The bill has problems enough without being described by Congress’s own hirelings as a bill that blows up budget deficits, throws many millions of people out of their health insurance, and, perhaps most importantly, undermines the tax cuts and defense-spending increases Republicans are itching to enact by setting a baseline that already looks bad.

Indeed, as Jennifer Haberkorn reports, there is so much Republican angst over what CBO might say that there is a sudden barrage of advance criticism of the agency, which is likely to reveal its score later this week or early next week:

“Anticipating that their plan will leave fewer Americans insured than Obamacare and potentially cost the federal government more, Republican leaders on Tuesday launched a preemptory strike against forthcoming predictions from Congress’s independent scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office.”

When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for the abolition of CBO back in January, most observers probably chuckled at the old bomb-thrower insisting that an objective assessment of GOP plans would screw everything up. Now that’s rapidly becoming the conventional wisdom. Keep in mind that Republicans, after taking control of both congressional chambers in 2014, hired CBO’s current director, George W. Bush administration veteran Keith Hall. It’s safe to say that Hall hardly resembles Gingrich’s description of CBO as a “left-wing, corrupt, bureaucratic defender of big government and liberalism.”

So what’s the solution? Republicans seem to have found an alternative source of authoritative-sounding numbers that is more ideologically reliable: the Office of Management and Budget, which is directly under the control of the president:

“Republicans are going so far as releasing their own estimates. The Office of Management and Budget, part of the Trump White House, is expected to issue its own estimates of the plan, according to several Republican senators.”

This helps explain why Trump’s OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, is suddenly being described as a “player” in the GOP’s very crowded health-care-policy arena. As budget maven Stan Collender pointed out when Gingrich proposed eliminating CBO, such a step would quite literally turn the clock back to those pre-1974 days when OMB was the only “scoring” entity, and Congress had no independent source of information. In the end Congress can use whatever numbers it chooses. But trying to boost the credibility of its agenda by cooking the books is probably not going to be a very persuasive approach.

One would normally think Mulvaney had enough on his plate — developing Trump’s first budget, for example — without having to leap into the middle of the health-care fray. That’s how panicked Republicans have become by the consequences of their shoddy work on repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s one thing to work the refs when you are in danger of losing a game. It’s another thing altogether to fire and replace the scorekeeper while the ball’s in play.


Political Strategy Notes

At In These Times, Daniel Moraff makes a tight case that socialists and others on the left should not run as third party candidates, and their best prospects for winning elections remain inside the Democratic Party. Among Moraff’s many well-argued points: “Thanks to the Sanders campaign, the case for left challenges within the Democratic Party has never been stronger…He received over 43% of the total primary vote…We all just participated in the most interesting (and certainly the biggest) socialist electoral project ever to take place in the United States…Thousands of local left-to-progressive formations are springing up or growing, from DSA to Indivisible to the Working Families Party. Many of them will, in 2018, have the ability to draft and run candidates for office…Outside of extraordinary cases, a good left third-party candidate gets 15-20% of the vote in a partisan race without a Democrat whereas they attain 3-5% in a race with one. A Democratic primary challenger can sleepwalk to 20%. Local activists need to understand this, and take a hard look at what can and cannot be done outside the primary.”

We’re already hearing concerns from policy-holders about myriad problems with the Republican “replacement” health care bill. Now “Doctors, hospitals and insurers oppose Republican health plan,” write Juliet Eilperin and Mike DeBonis in the Washington Post: “We cannot support the AHCA as drafted because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations,” James L. Madara, chief executive of the American Medical Association and a doctor, wrote in a letter to committee leaders overseeing work on the bill…Richard Pollack, CEO of the American Hospital Association, voiced similar fears, saying efforts to “restructure the Medicaid program” by shifting it from an entitlement program to one based on a per capita allocation “will have the effect of making significant reductions in a program that provides services for our most vulnerable populations and already pays providers significantly less than the cost of providing care.”…America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry’s largest trade association, sent a letter Wednesday saying that while it appreciated several of the proposed changes, the changes to Medicaid “could result in unnecessary disruptions in the coverage and care beneficiaries depend on.”

It’s ‘Trumpcare’ now, since “The White House announced that Trump is preparing to launch a “full-court press” on behalf of the bill, including stakeholder meetings, local media interviews and travel by officials in his administration,” reports Elise Viebeck at PowerPost. So much for Trump’s promise that he was going to provide leadership for a fresh approach that provides coverage for everyone, instead of just rubber-stamping whatever congressional Republicans came up with. What shall Democrats call it, “Trumpcare” or “Obamacare Lite”? Both terms make a point, but neither one seems adequate for  capturing the hardship this legislation would create for millions of Americans, if enacted.

Heidi Pryzybyla reports at USA Today that “Democratic lawmakers in at least 30 U.S. states are either unveiling or highlighting legislation this week aimed at President Trump’s working-class voters, in a nationwide coordinated rebuttal to the agenda the president will outline in his first joint address to Congress on Feb. 28…It’s an attempt to form the legislative spine of a state-level resistance to Trump’s policies, Nick Rathod, executive director of State Innovation Exchange Action [SiX Action], which is overseeing the initiative…The timing creates a juxtaposition between Democratic economic security prescriptions for workers, such as raising the minimum wage and paid family leave, and Trump tax reform and federal budget policies that, Democrats say, are at odds with his populist campaign oath to prioritize “forgotten” Americans from the factory floors of the Rust Belt to the sawmills of the Mountain West.”…Rathod said in an interview previewing the legislative “Week of Action” that will spotlight more than 130 bills in states from Oklahoma to Alaska….SiX Action, a nonprofit trying to help Democrats regain power at the state level, marshaled 40 different left-leaning organizations to help coordinate the effort. It includes bill introduction ceremonies to draw media attention even in states where the legislative packages face an uphill battle because Republicans control both chambers.”

The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle has a reality check for those who keep saying Democrats should not be so negative and should emphasize their vision, constructive policies and ideas. Particularly in the midterm elections, writes Cottle, that is emphatically not the way to win. “Obama-era Republicans offered a master class in the political efficacy of being “anti…Democrats busted their humps trying to make Republicans pay for their gridlocking. But, for all voters’ grousing about congressional dysfunction, they rarely bother punishing lawmakers for not playing nicely. Indeed, the quickest way for a GOP legislator to get booted under Obama was to be labeled a compromising squish…“One thing we can take from the past several elections is that political obstructionism does not have the political price many people thought it did,” observed a Democratic Senate aide…In early 2005, a freshly reelected George W. Bush was hot to overhaul Social Security. Republicans held the White House and both chambers of Congress. They had the vision. They had the numbers. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. Even thinking about messing with entitlements is politically fraught, and Pelosi decided to make Bush bleed for it. For months, she kept her troops focused on beating the bejesus out of Bush’s proposal, driving public support for it down, down, down. By spring, Bush’s plan was deader than disco—and stayed dead despite his efforts to revive it, which ran right through the 2006 midterms. That November, Democrats retook both chambers of Congress in a wave election that startled pretty much everyone…In midterm politics, as in pain relief, rule No. 1 is to destroy the other guy’s credibility. You can sort the rest out later.”

Bill Scher’s Politico post, “The Resistance Will Be … Underwritten By Corporations: A grassroots fundraising strategy isn’t enough. Democrats need the big money” will surely piss off advocates of a small donor-driven financial strategy for winning elections. But Scher does present some sobering numbers: “Consider the cost of the last midterm election in 2014. The dollar figures were staggering. Both parties (including money from party-allied independent groups) combined spent $3.77 billion in 435 U.S. House and 36 Senate campaigns. Another $2.2 billion was raised at the state level, including candidates in 36 gubernatorial and more than 6,000 state legislative races, with additional $284 million coming from outside groups. Total midterm election cost: approximately $6.25 billion, with at least $2.7 billion spent by Democrats… Among gubernatorial candidates, Republicans trounced Democrats $493.7 to $357.7 million. And Republican state legislative candidates topped their Democratic rivals $487.1 to $438.2 million. (The GOP’s state legislative edge was partly due to its larger roster of candidates: 4,845 to 4,665. But that speaks to a Democratic weakness in candidate recruitment, which is exacerbated by its comparatively weaker fundraising.)..The lower down you go on the ballot, the more major donors matter, because there is less free media available to level the playing field and attract small donors. In 2014, 82 percent of the U.S. Senate winners were the candidates that spent the most, compared to a near-perfect 94 percentof U.S. House winners…To maximize resistance to Donald Trump, Democrats need to win as many 2018 midterm election races as possible. And they can’t do it on $27 checks alone.”

A new CNN/ORC poll conducted March 1-4 found that 79 percent of U.S. adults support increased spending on infrastructure and 61 percent disapprove of taxpayers funding a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Further, “a majority of Americans, 58 percent, also oppose increasing military spending by cutting funding for the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency or other nondefense agencies.”– From “Majority supports increased infrastructure spending, opposes border wall funding” by Rebecca Savransky at The Hill.

Also at The Atlantic, Clare Foran conducts an interview with Ruy Teixeira. Here’s an excerpt from Teixeira’s comments: “In The Emerging Democratic Majority, I think we correctly diagnosed how the overall country is changing, and how some states were likely to change, but I think we didn’t pay enough attention to some of the structural obstacles that Democrats must now confront, including the concentration of Democratic-leaning voters in urban areas, and how that might interact with gerrymandering. Those dynamics have turned out to be quite important. The lesson I take from that is that the left needs to be more competitive in a lot of places and can’t just rely on changing demographics. Democrats need to get into a position where they can de-gerrymander congressional districts, and to get to that point the party will need to be more competitive in parts of the country that aren’t necessarily liberal-leaning. They cannot just cede that to the Republican Party.”

Thomas B. Edsall dissects “Donald Trump’s Political Stew” in his New York Times column and shares doubts of some political commentators and scholars about the the ability of Democrats to hold on to majorities of major electoral components. Edsall notes, “Trump won college-educated whites by four points and non-college whites by a record-setting 39 points, a larger margin than Ronald Reagan, the previous record-holder at 29 points. Put another way, insofar as Trump voters define the contemporary Republican electorate, non-college whites are the majority, 55.1 percent, with college-educated whites becoming the minority at 44.9 percent.” In another section, Edsall quotes University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato: “The key constituency, Sabato said, is the “slice of non-college-educated white blue-collar workers from cities and older suburbs” who are the “Obama-Trump voters.” In 2016, 209 of the 676 counties that cast majorities for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 backed Trump, many in the Midwest. Sabato noted that it was these voters who “put Trump over the top in Michigan and possibly Wisconsin and Pennsylvania…If Trump produces, they’ll reward him with a second term. If he doesn’t — and he needs to create lots of high-paying jobs in the face of automation and a global economy moving in other directions — then they’ll be ripe for a return to their former home, the Democratic Party — if Democrats give them an appealing nominee.”


How the Republican Plan, ‘Obamacare Lite,’ Cheats the Middle Class, Helps the Wealthy

The early reviews of ‘Obamacare lite,’ the just-released House of Represenatives Republican majority plan to replace the Affordable Care Act are rolling in, and those who were expecting the GOP proposal (aka ‘The American Health Care Act’)  would screw working people to benefit high-end health care consumers will not be surprised at the changes.

The AHCA is a predictable mess of irrational concessions to Obamacare-bashers, designed more to mollify knee-jerk extremists than thoughtful conservatives. Those who entertained the fantasy that the Republican alternative would have a clear explanation of how the plan would be funded will be disappointed, as will those who believed the Republicans would find a way to make sure no one lost the health security the ACA provided or be forced to pay more for health care.

As  Mike DeBonis, Amy Goldstein and Kelsey Snell report in the Washington Post,”Starting in 2020, however, the GOP plan would restrict the government’s generous Medicaid payment — 90 percent of the cost of covering people in the expansion group — only to people who were in the program as of then…“Trumpcare doesn’t replace the Affordable Care Act, it forces millions of Americans to pay more for less care,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).”

In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jay Bookman elaborates,

In fact, if enacted into law, the GOP plan would strip millions and millions of our fellow Americans of their health insurance, and all the progress that we’ve made in reducing the percentage of uninsured to record low levels will be quickly reversed.

Some would be forced to drop their policies because the subsidies that have allowed them to purchase individual coverage will be slashed and slashed dramatically in many instances. Others would lose coverage as the expansion of Medicaid is rolled back by the GOP bill, and as federal funding for traditional Medicaid is cut as well.  We have no good estimate on how many millions will be affected — House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to force the plan through the committee process before the Congressional Budget Office can produce such numbers — but there is no plausible way to make cuts of the proposed magnitude without significant reductions in coverage.

On the other hand, if you’re wealthy, the House plan gives you a lot to smile about. The taxes on Americans making more than $200,000 a year that have helped to pay for Obamacare and that make it deficit-neutral at worst would be rolled back under the House plan, producing an average tax benefit of $165,000 a year for those in the top 0.1 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center.

In their New York Times article, “Millions Risk Losing Health Insurance in Republican Plan, Analysts Say,” Abby Goodnough and Reed Abelson explain:

Starting in 2020, the plan would do away with the current system of providing premium subsidies based on people’s income and the cost of insurance where they live. Instead, it would provide tax credits of $2,000 to $4,000 per year based on their age.

But the credits would not cover nearly as much of the cost of premiums as the current subsidies do, at least for the type of comprehensive coverage that the Affordable Care Act requires, analysts said. For many people, that could mean the difference between keeping coverage under the new system and having to give it up.

“The central issue is the tax credits are not going to be sufficient,” said Dr. J. Mario Molina, the chief executive of Molina Healthcare, an insurer that offers coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces in California, Florida and several other states.

Other people likely to be hurt under the new plan are those in areas where the cost of coverage is high. Subsidies are now pegged to the cost of a plan within a specific market, but the tax credits in the Republican plan are the same whether you live in Alaska or Minnesota. Coverage tends to be most expensive in parts of the country where there are few hospitals or few insurers. “When it comes to health insurance, high-cost areas tend to be rural areas,” said Cynthia Cox, a researcher at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which recently did an analysis of how the tax credits compared with the subsidies now available.

In their New York Times op-ed, “How Republicans Plan to Ration Health Care,”

The Republicans say they want to give states more flexibility. But that flexibility most likely means they could use the money for non-health-care programs, or to close state budget gaps. When given budgetary flexibility with large sums of money, this is a common state tactic.

…State flexibility is a ruse. Per-person allotments are an elaborate cost-shifting mechanism — a fancy way to reduce federal funding and transfer financial responsibility for the health care of low-income Americans to states. A 2014 assessment by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of Representative Paul Ryan’s plan, which contained elements similar to those in the current proposal, estimated that this accounting trick would increase Medicaid costs for state budgets by $169 billion by 2026. So, under the banner of flexibility, the current Republican plan would force states to make a series of Hobson’s choices.

This would be even worse than going back to the days before the Affordable Care Act. It would force states to ration care and deny some Americans lifesaving treatments or nursing home care. Cruel only begins to describe the Republican plan.

And the Times editorial, “No Wonder the Republicans Hid the Health Bill,” notes,

While working people lose health care, the rich would come out winners. The bill would eliminate the taxes on businesses and individuals (people making more than $200,000 a year) who fund Obamacare. The tax cuts would total about $600 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

As Timothy Stoltzfus Jost puts it in his WaPo op-ed “the real focus of the legislation is not on health-care reform, not even on repealing the ACA as such. What the AHCA would in fact do is massively redistribute wealth from the poorest Americans to the wealthiest.”

After 8 years of blasting Obamacare and offering no alternative, the Republicans have kludged together a  predictable disaster. “Republicans have found themselves frantically scrawling out a hopelessly inadequate solution in order to meet a self-imposed deadline driven by their overarching desire to cut taxes for the rich,” writes Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine, who preers the term “Trumpcare.” He quotes Republican health care guru Avik Roy: “Expanding subsidies for high earners, and cutting health coverage off from the working poor: it sounds like a left-wing caricature of mustache-twirling, top-hatted Republican fat cats.” And “the caricature,” writes Chait, “is true.”

But Republicans don’t have a lot of wiggle room. They can afford no more than 21 GOP House members voting against the proposals, a pretty narrow path to enactment, given the criticism of the proposals that has emerged, just on the Republican side. Indeed, many of the GOP dissenters want something even worse.

It’s the same old game of cutting federal spending to later provide tax cuts for the rich, which is the emblematic goal of the GOP. This nightmare of a health care “plan” reveals in stark relief  the moral and intellectual bankruptcy that defines the modern Republican Party like no other.


Teixeira: Why Liberals Will Prevail, Despite Trump’s Setbacks

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of “The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think,” is cross-posted from The Washington Post.

Is Donald Trump the end for the left? Is it really possible, as a baby boomer averred in an interview last month with The Washington Post, that “all the things we cared about for the past 40 years could be wiped out in the first 100 days”?

American leftists are not known for their optimism, and yet, even for them, the prevailing sentiment is that these are especially dark days. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say they are “worried or pessimistic” about the future of the country in a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll.

Historian Jeremi Suri, writing in the Atlantic, assessed that “with his barrage of executive orders, Trump is taking America back to the historical nightmares of the world before December 1941: closed borders, limited trade, intolerance to diversity, arms races, and a go-it-alone national race to the bottom.” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) spoke out against Trump’s attorney general pick, saying, “If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man.” Climate scientists offer a similarly bleak view, fearing that Trump will quickly unravel President Barack Obama’s legacy and that “the world, then, may have no way to avoid the most devastating consequences of global warming, including rising sea levels, extreme droughts and food shortages, and more powerful floods and storms,” as the New York Times put it.

But fears that Trump will set back the left’s agenda dangerously and irreparably are not well founded. Core advances can’t be undone. Although Trump could do some real temporary damage, he and his movement will fade, and the values and priorities of the left will eventually triumph.

Consider social equality and tolerance, where some of today’s greatest fears are concentrated. It is true that Trump has said many egregious things, like associating Mexican immigrants with criminal behavior, and has tried (though so far failed) to implement a ban on immigration from some Muslim countries. But people should not lose sight of the massive progress in the past half-century, led by the left. This includes the destruction of formal and many normative barriers to racial equality, the rise of the black middle class, the advancement of women in higher education and the professions, the dominance of anti-sexist views in public opinion, and the acceptance of gays, including the institution of same-sex marriage. We still have far to go in the attainment of full social equality, but it is also true that we have gone far.

Public-opinion data is quite clear that the United States has become more, not less, liberal in all these areas over time and that these trends are continuing. Take the standard question about whether immigration levels should increase, decrease or stay the same. The 38 percent of people who say “decrease” is about as low as it ever has been since Gallup started tracking the question in the 1960s. The current number represents a massive drop, of about 30 points, since the early 1990s, when Pat Buchanan first raised his pitchfork high at the Republican National Convention. There has also been a considerable change in views about whether immigration is a good or bad thing for America — and it’s positive, not negative, change, even if one confines the data to white Americans. According to Gallup, the “good thing” response by whites was as low as 51 percent in the early 2000s but has been around 70 percent in the past two years.

Nor has there been any kind of spike in negative racial attitudes in recent years — in fact, according to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey , such attitudes were far more prevalent in the early 1990s than they are today, including among white Democrats and Republicans. This is true even as perceptions of the quality of race relations have been dimming, thanks primarily to conflict around police shootings and to a tiny minority of genuine haters whose rhetoric and actions have been widely covered. But the underlying trend toward racial liberalism continues.

So the idea that Trump will somehow successfully relitigate the role of immigrants, minorities, gays and women in American society is scary but absurd. He may continue the Republican campaign to restrict voting rights. He may seek to overturn Roe v. Wade (supported by 70 percent of the American public). He may promote prejudice against Muslim Americans. Such actions may in fact be cheered on by his hard-core supporters. But he will ultimately fail, because what he wishes to do is both massively unpopular and runs against the grain of legal precedent and institutional norms.

And he can’t hold back the one true inevitability in demographic change: the replacement of older generations by newer ones. Underappreciated in November’s election was the continuing leftward lean of young voters, once again supporting the Democratic candidate by around 20 points — and with younger millennials, including both college-educated and noncollege whites, even more pro-Democratic than older ones. That is huge. And don’t expect these voters to shift right as they age. Political science research shows that early voting patterns tend to stick.

Another locus of disquiet, if not hysteria, on the left is the environment. But consider this: In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire; in 1979, when Obama was attending college in Los Angeles and remembers constant smog, there were 234 days when the city exceeded federal ozone standards. Our water and air are now orders of magnitude cleaner than they were back then.

Trump will not be able to suddenly wipe out all these gains. Sure, he says he will severely cut environmental regulations, especially ones put in place by Obama; hollow out the EPA; somehow bring back the coal industry; and much more. But saying and doing are two different things. Getting rid of Obama-era rules such as the Clean Power Plan would take years and be challenged by litigation. Reversing the decline of the coal industry is economically impossible. Abolishing the EPA and gutting the clean air and water acts is politically impossible. When the George W. Bush administration tried to eliminate one Clinton-era rule on levels of arsenic in drinking water, it ran into a political buzzsaw and had to retreat.

The left’s priority of a clean environment with clean air and water is immensely popular, with deeply entrenched programs and practices that sustain it. Trump will be able to slow down environmental advances, by chipping away at relatively obscure regulations and reducing enforcement, but he cannot reverse them.

Nor will Trump be able to derail the remarkable progress on another cherished goal of the left: a green economy that can stave off global warming. The key here is abundant, cheap, clean energy, and work toward that goal has been going forward at a breakneck pace. World investments in clean energy, chiefly wind and solar, have reached levels that are doublethose for fossil fuel. Renewables now provide half of all new electric capacity around the world. The cost of solar has fallen to 1/150th of its 1970s level, and the amount of installed solar capacity has increased a staggering 115,000 times. Indeed, it is increasingly common for clean energy in some areas to be fully cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Trump will not and cannot stop this trend.

Or take living standards and the middle class, where progress has admittedly been slow (though not absent) in the recent past. Capitalism is certainly capable of performing much better — but Trump is not the man to make that happen. All he’s going to succeed in doing is blowing up one of the main roadblocks to better economic performance: the conservative Republican anti-government, quasi-libertarian consensus around economic policy. A protectionist president who proposes to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, criticizes corporate decisions on job location, and swears to oppose any and all Social Security and Medicare cuts is miles away from that consensus, even if he does support slashing taxes for the rich and undermining unions. He is on a collision course with his own Congress that will result in incoherent economic policy with little or no benefit to the working-class voters who elected him.

Finally, consider the tremendous progressive achievements of the Obama era, from a stimulus bill that saved the economy and poured money into clean-energy investments to the Dodd-Frank act regulating the financial sector to the Affordable Care Act and much more. These were remarkable gains for the left, attained despite severe headwinds in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Of course, Trump and the Republican Congress have declared their intention to roll back these advances and then some. The president has already signed executive orders that seek to weaken Dodd-Frank and undermine the ACA. But can Trump and his GOP allies really get rid of these programs, as opposed to nibbling at their edges? It will not be as easy as they expect and as many on the left fear.

The chaos surrounding Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act illustrates just how difficult this rollback would be. The idea of repealing the ACA first and coming up with a replacement later died quickly, forcing Republicans to confront the fact that they cannot agree on what the new plan should be. Some want to keep the Medicaid expansion, some balk at requiring higher deductibles, some worry about reducing subsidies, and many fear political damage from throwing millions of people off health insurance. The disunity of the repeal forces is so palpable that former House Speaker John Boehner, who once led the charge to repeal the ACA, now admits that repeal is “not going to happen” and that “most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act” will remain in place.

Trump and the Republican Congress fail to understand, and the left would do well to remember, one of the most enduring features of American public opinion. The dominant ideology in the United States is one that combines “symbolic conservatism” (honoring tradition, distrusting novelty, embracing the conservative label) with “operational liberalism” (wanting government to take more action in a wide variety of areas). As political scientists Christopher Ellis and James Stimson, the leading academic analysts of American ideology, note: “Most Americans like most government programs. Most of the time, on average, we want government to do more and spend more. It is no accident that we have created the programs of the welfare state. They were created — and are sustained — by massive public support.”

That’s why, now that the ACA has delivered concrete benefits for many people, it is so very hard to get rid of. As a constituent of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) put it: “I’m on Obamacare. If it wasn’t for Obamacare, we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance. With all due respect, Sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re going to create one great big death panel in this country if people can’t afford to get insurance.” In the long run, it is far more likely that the ACA will be built upon and improved, so that it extends coverage and tamps down rising medical costs even further (that will be the “something terrific” Trump has talked about), than truly be eliminated.

The Trump administration could still do some real damage. There will be lax enforcement of financial and environmental regulations. There will probably be tax cuts for the rich and underfunding of important social programs. There will be more harassment of immigrants and no progress on comprehensive immigration reform. But its ability to remake America in the libertarian image (privatize Social Security! voucherize Medicare!) envisioned by Paul Ryan is distinctly limited — even assuming that Trump backs such moves wholeheartedly, which he very well might not, given his public pronouncements on these programs.

In the end, the Trumpian populism of the 2010s will probably have no more staying power than the agrarian populism of the 1880s and 1890s, which was also driven by demographic groups on the decline and was similarly undercut by structural change and the transition to a new economic era. That earlier populist era was followed by an era of strong social advancement in the early 20th century — the Progressive Era.

What will have staying power in the 21st century is the values and priorities of the left. They will not win every battle, but they will win the war.


Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics Tom Lobianco and Davis Siegal explore why “Democrats say long-term success starts with 2018 governors’ races,” and notes “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi huddled privately with the leaders of the Democratic Governors Association last weekend and looked over maps of top targets. The group has 14 states in its sights and believes it would be impossible to lose more states to Republicans, especially if President Donald Trump continues to struggle…The organization has picked out nine states that Hillary Clinton won and another five that went to President Barack Obama. Some of the targets are clear — true blue bastions like Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, where Republicans upset Democratic favorites in 2014. But others are likely to be a slog reminiscent of the drubbing Clinton took in the Rust Belt, like fights in Wisconsin and Ohio…The bright spot for Democrats is that they are only defending 11 out of 38 seats over the next two years. But Democratic strategists who have been in the trenches of the states are leery that national Democrats, and Obama’s own redistricting group, are ready to support them after years of ignoring them.” 2017 tests set for this year include New jersey and Virginia.

Regarding Trump’s latest distraction: “He signaled his lack of evidence first by reportedly pushing his White House staff to ransack sensitive intelligence information to find support for his claim. Then on Sunday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump wanted Congress to look into the matter and that the administration would offer no further comment. Trump has a problem either way. If he was not wiretapped, he invented a spectacularly false charge. And if a court ordered some sort of surveillance of him, on what grounds did it do so?” — from “Trump has gone completely through the looking glass” by E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his syndicated Washington Post column.

“About two-thirds of Americans say a special prosecutor should investigate contacts between Russians and Trump campaign associates” in a new CNN/ORC poll, reports Jennfer Agiesta at CNN Politics. However, “At the same time, Trump’s approval rating for handling the economy has increased to 55%, up from 49% a few weeks into his tenure…The economy, which 26% of Americans call the most important issue facing the country, remains his strongest issue..the only issue tested where Trump earns clearly positive reviews.”

WaPo’s Philip Bump highlights the idiocy of Trump’s false equivalence of Sessions’s secretive meeting with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak with a photograph of Sen Schumer and the Ambassador “noshing on doughnuts and gas station coffee” in full public view.

James Hohmann and Breanne Deppisch describe the Sessions mess succinctly at The Daily 202: “The country’s chief law enforcement officer made a false statement to Congress, while under oath, about his contacts with one of this nation’s biggest adversaries. (Legal experts, including Republicans, note that others have been prosecuted for less.) When he got busted, the attorney general initially claimed through a spokeswoman that he couldn’t recall specifics of what had been said during his undisclosed sit-down with the Russian ambassador, except that it wasn’t political in nature. Then, with his job on the line, he miraculously remembered supposedly exculpatory details…Last Thursday, Sessions said at his press conference that he would write the Judiciary Committee “today or tomorrow” to clarify his misleading testimony. It’s now been four days, and he has yet to formally clean things up. A spokesman said he’ll submit amended testimony later today. We’ll see. Either way, a delay this long only happens when one is trying to get one’s ducks in a row.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders continues with his impressive one-man, 50-state strategy. In his PowerPost article, “Bernie Sanders backs unionization campaign in Mississippi as Democrats draft populist agenda,” David Weigel quotres from a Sanders speech at a Nissan plant Canton, Mississippi: “…the facts are very clear, that workers in America who are members of unions earn substantially more, 27 percent more, than workers not in unions,” Sanders (I-Vt.) said in an interview before the speech. “They get pensions and better working conditions. I find it very remarkable that Nissan is allowing unions to form at its plants all over the world. Well, if they can be organized everywhere else, they can be organized in Mississippi…Some of the poorest states in this country, where large numbers of people have no health insurance and have experienced stagnating wages, have not had the support from progressives that they need,” Sanders said. “It’s time we change that. It means standing up for working men and women…These workers are incredibly courageous,” Sanders said. “One thing we already know is that workers who have stood up for their rights are being harassed, are being discriminated against and are being lectured about the so-called perils of trade unionism. There’s a massive anti-union effort going on, and these guys are standing out their own. They deserve our support.”

There’s a lot for progressives to argue with in conservative Democrat Joel Kotkin’s Los Angeles Daily News article “How the Democrats can rebuild.” But Kotkin is on target in writing that “Sanders’ key plank — a single-payer, Canadian-like health care system — also could appeal to many small businesses, consultants and the expanding precariat of contract workers dependent on the now imperiled Obamacare. Critically, both health care and economic mobility priorities cross the color line, which is crucial to spreading social democracy here.” The rest of Kotkin’s critique reflects the way many  less extreme Trump voters see the Democratic Party.

Sen. Rand Paul calls Republican’s bill providing repeal/replace of the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare Lite,” reports Tami Luhby, also at at CNN Politcs.

Congratulations to Rachel Maddow. “Rachel Maddow Has a Top 10 Show on All of TV,” reports Chris Ariens of TV Newser. “In an interview with The Wrap, Maddow says the secret to her coverage–which almost exclusively covers politics–is pretty simple: “I stopped covering [Trump’s] Twitter feed and we started covering only what they do rather than what they say.” She has to be one of the most fearless reporters ever.


So Much For Sessions’ Integrity

When the revelation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador broke, I did this instant reaction for New York. Nothing that’s happened subsequently changed my opinion:

The revelation that then-Senator Jeff Sessions did not disclose two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States when asked about such contacts during his confirmation hearings may or may not expose him to a perjury charge. Perjury is a rarely prosecuted crime, and it is unclear who would be in a position to prosecute the man who now heads up the federal government’s machinery of justice.

But there’s the rub: Should anyone willing to lie under oath — or even play shyster word games with the truth in a unquestionably mendacious effort to hide contacts with a foreign government suspected of tampering with a presidential election — continue as chief law enforcement officer of the United States? That is the question that will be asked many times in the days just ahead.

And in the specific case of Jeff Sessions, the damage to his reputation from this disclosure could be even worse. He is, after all, a self-styled Mr. Law-and-Order, whose supposed respect for the rule of law is so unshakable that it leads him to turn a cold shoulder to those who would lighten the sentences of low-level drug offenders or provide a path to citizenship for people who entered the country illegally. During his confirmation hearings and the debate in the Senate, Sessions’s friends again and again cited his “integrity” as so unquestionable that those alleging impure motives on his part during his days as a federal prosector were guilty of slander and even character assassination. The notion that Sessions’s reputation for integrity was the crown jewel of his career was also the basis for Mitch McConnell’s extraordinary action in silencing Elizabeth Warren for trying to read a letter from the late Coretta Scott King challenging his self-characterization as an evenhanded enforcer of civil-rights laws.

McConnell himself went to great lengths to reinforce the argument that whatever one thought of Sessions’s politics and policy positions, his straight-arrow awe for the law made it all good.

“It’s been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in recent weeks. This is a well-qualified colleague with a deep reverence for the law.”

Well, maybe not so much in the equal application of the law to himself.

Under pressure from Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress, Sessions has agreed to recuse himself from any investigation of possibly inappropriate discussions between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or agents. But even if nothing more comes out about his contacts with the Russian embassy or what went through his mind when he chose not to forthrightly answer questions about such contacts, Sessions is now seriously damaged goods after all the endless and interminable and redundant assurances he and his friends have made about his spotless honesty and love for the majesty of the law. He should have told the whole truth during his confirmation hearings. That’s the simple proposition that all the finger-pointing and blame-shifting his allies try to utilize to get him out of this self-imposed jam cannot obscure.

Whether or not he keeps his job, Sessions’ reputation for probity is gone for good.


Political Strategy Notes

In his  New York Times column, “Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty,” Paul Krugman writes, “The latest big buzz is about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. It turns out that he lied during his confirmation hearings, denying that he had met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. In fact, he met twice with the Russian ambassador, who is widely reported to also be a key spymaster…But let’s not focus too much on Mr. Sessions. After all, he is joined in the cabinet by Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who lied to Congress about his use of a private email account; Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, who lied about a sweetheart deal to purchase stock in a biotechnology company at a discount; and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who falsely told Congress that his financial firm didn’t engage in “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents, seizing homes without proper consideration…At this point it’s easier to list the Trump officials who haven’t been caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident…No president, or for that matter major U.S. political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently as Donald Trump. But this isn’t just a Trump story. His ability to get away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers: almost all of his party’s elected officials, a large bloc of voters and, all too often, much of the news media.”

Jeff Sessions Is Losing Republican Support Fast,” report Tim Mak and Jackie Kucincih at The Daily Beast.

At The Upshot Neil Irwin explains why “Why the Trump Agenda Is Moving Slowly: The Republicans’ Wonk Gap.” Apparently the GOP is a little long on ideologues and short on serious policy thinkers at this political moment. “Large portions of the Republican caucus embrace a kind of policy nihilism. They criticize any piece of legislation that doesn’t completely accomplish conservative goals, but don’t build coalitions to devise complex legislation themselves…The roster of congressional Republicans includes lots of passionate ideological voices. It is lighter on the kind of wonkish, compromise-oriented technocrats who move bills.”

So how good are your senators and house representatives on on working-class issues? The AFL-CIO has Senate and House scorecards right here.

In a Democracy Now interview with Amy Goodman, Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina, provides an update on the struggle against Republican-driven voter suppression, transgender discrimination and other injustices in that state: “…We had a unanimous resolution that was passed at the state level and unanimously passed at the national board, first saying that we would remove consideration of our national convention coming to North Carolina, as has the NCAAand the ACC, the NBA, and we would call on our other human rights friends, civil rights friends and conventions to do the same thing….We would form a special task force to explore a full boycott and escalation over the next few months on these lines: Number one, we call on the Legislature to repeal, undo racially gerrymandered districts and create fair elections, that not only have we accused them of, but the courts have ruled that our Legislature has passed racial—racialized districts. Number two, we want a repeal of the entire HB 2 law, because it’s not a bathroom law. That bill is an anti-LGBTQ law against transgender people. But it’s also an anti-workers bill, because it does not allow municipalities to raise the living wage or to have minority set-asides. And it is also an anti-access to state courts for employment discrimination cases. Number three, we want a repeal of SB 4, the law that was passed last December after extremists lost, that strike down the governor’s power and don’t—no longer allows the governor to have his own appointments, and they tried to change the board of election. And lastly, we want a repeal of the law that forces us to go to the appellate court rather than the Supreme Court, once our Supreme Court became more progressive in the state.”

Democrat Jon Ossoff leads 18-candidate field in race to rep GA-6 by 7 percent in new poll. Republicans are getting nervous about the April 18 jungle primary and are now running an exceptionally lame ad against him.

Crystal Ball’s Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik explore “How Midterms Do (and Do Not) Differ From Presidential Elections: What recent history tells us about the likely size and makeup of next year’s electorate” and note a possible plus for Democrats, in that miderm voters tend to be more educated than general election voters, which may matter more substantially, since Trump did not perform as well as other Republicans with that demographic, and these voters may want to vote against his Republican supporters next year.

Many of the press corps deserve a sound thrashing for their low expectations gush about Trump’s insubstantial SOTU address, and Brian Beutler gives it to them at The New Republic in his article, “The Worst Performance of Trump’s Presidency Now Belongs to the Press Corps: The media’s reaction to his speech to Congress was shameful.” As Beutler writes, “What Trump didn’t do was reprise his assault on the press corps, which he has described as an “evil” “enemy of the people.” For that simple omission, Trump was able to deliver a tour de force of lies and insincerity, and be rewarded…All he did was demonstrate once again that his supposed antagonists in the political media have short memories, which makes them easy marks for a tired con.”

No bump, Trump. Ed Kilgore has the details on his lackluster job approval in polls following the SOTU.


Stoehr: Dems Can Win By Focusing on Trump’s Weaknesses

The Trump campaign — it’s more that than an actual functioning government — is all puffed up about some favorable feedback he got for his State of the Union speech. But it remains weak at the core, which for any Administration, rests on the twin pillars of integrity and competence.

In that regard, Yale political scientist John Stoehr, a U.S. News & World Report contributing editor who has written for a broad range of progressive newspapers and magazines, has some strategic insights for highlighting Trump’s weaknesses. As Stoehr addresses his readers at The Washington Monthly,

I really want you to understand the connection between Trump’s appearance and the trust his supporters place in him. What the Democratic opposition needs to do is undermine that trust. Part of doing that is pointing out every time Trump lies. (The Washington press corps is doing that.) But the opposition must also attack the president where it really hurts him—by appealing to logic and reason, but not only logic and reason. The opposition must wound the president by focusing on his weakness

….When confronted with the fact that he did not win a bigger electoral victory than anyone since Reagan, he immediately backed down, spluttering something about how he had been given that information so it’s not his fault. Some have implied he will never accept the truth, so don’t bother. But that’s an argument of logic and reason. What happened in that brief exchange needs to happen a million times over in order to reveal that the president is weak and that in that weakness his supporters have misplaced their trust.

So, say it with me: The president is weak. Say it again. Over and over. Then when the president really does demonstrate weakness, as he did when confronted by the reporter about his fake electoral landslide, the president will have substantiated the opposition’s charge of weakness.

That will hurt.

Trump ran on strength. Only he was strong enough to solve our problems. And people believed him. They still believe him. But if the opposition can establish an image of weakness, it will come close to breaking trust in him.

Stoehr is revealing something unique here. He advises watching Trump on television with the sound turned off to get a sense of how much he relies on projecting the visual image of strength, even while confidently spouting transparent lies and nonsense that contradicts what he said a few days before. More importantly, many of his supporters are mesmerized by his blustering boldness, longing as they do for a simplistic authoritarianism, somewhat like the ‘strict father‘ paradigm referenced by George Lakoff.

In his U.S. News & World Report column, “Trump Can’t Govern: The Democrats’ best play may be to highlight the Trump administration’s incompetence,” written just before Trump’s SOTU address, Stoehr explains further,

More than exposing Trump for his white nationalist sympathies, the best way forward may be stressing what’s emphatically evident: Trump can’t govern.

This president sold an image of himself as a billionaire businessman who knows how to get things done. He hires the best people. He has the best words. He knows the system better than anyone. He said: Vote for me and I will bring real change.

But after more than a month, it’s clear the Trump administration is broken. It’s equally clear the public is noticing. The president’s popularity has sunk to historic lows. His White House has lurched from one trumped up crisis to another. It leaks like a sieve. Aides can’t corral Trump in person, so they corral him through the media. His executive orders have been a mix of pixie dust and plagiarized text (literally) from previous administrations. Hundreds of positions remain vacant while Trump does photo-ops at Boeing before alighting to Florida for rounds of golf.

 The closest we got to non-crisis normal was last week. But by Friday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer banned some media outlets from a briefing. As Roll Call put it: “an otherwise routine Friday morning at the White House had suddenly given way – yet again – to confusion, chaos, deflecting and denials.”
The incompetence appears baked in.

Ben Carson never ran anything, much less the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he is nominated to lead. Betsy DeVos literally bought her place as head of the Department of Education. Scott Pruitt was best buds with Big Oil before taking the Environmental Protection Agency’s helm. Trump’s first pick for labor secretary was toxic and withdrew. His first replacement for Michael Flynn on the National Security Council said no thanks. Wilbur Ross, the new commerce secretary, is chair of a European bank known to launder Russian mafia money. Trump’s nominees for secretaries of the Army and Navy have taken a pass. White House aides told Axios they believe the Russia story is a useful distraction rather than a scandal threatening to take down a president. And an adviser, Sebastian Gorka, has the makings of a 100 percent grade-A con artist.

Stoehr has even more to say about the Trump Administration’s incompetence, but warns, “none of this is to say Trump’s critics are wrong. Though incompetent, this administration could still fumble blindly into fascism…But it’s important to be clear about the disease in order to cure it.”

“The Democrats are already making a play for Republican-held congressional districts that voted for Hillary Clinton,” notes Stoehr, “targeting affluent white voters who normally support Republicans but who found Trump’s overt bigotry beyond the pale.” Stoehr concludes, presciently,

Trump can bring those voters back by muting his ethno-nationalist rhetoric (we’ll see what happens at tonight’s joint session of Congress), but the Democrats know, or should know, that to affluent educated white voters, muted rhetoric is one thing. Basic competence is another.

All of which puts Trump’s SOTU speech and a key challenge facing Democratic activists and candidates in clearer perspective.


Trump Says He Really Wants To Leave Hundreds of Key Federal Positions Empty

The day before giving his address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump said something astonishing in a Fox News interview that should have freaked out conservatives as well as liberals. I tried to draw attention to it at New York:

Here’s what [Trump] said to Fox News this morning:

“A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint someone because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump said. “In government, we have too many people.”

Keep in mind the jobs we are talking about here include the top sub-Cabinet positions that set policies and provide the day-to-day operations for vast government departments. Just yesterday, the conservative Washington Examiner explained that these are precisely the positions someone like Trump needs to fill if he is serious about “draining the swamp” in Washington:

“Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University, said the quality of political appointees below the Cabinet level can have a dramatic effect on how administration policies are ultimately executed.

“‘Do they affect the operation of government? The short answer is very much,” Reeher said. ‘These are the folks who actually attempt to implement the policy changes that the administration is trying to push down from above.’

“Reeher said the relationships between politically appointed officials in top positions and the career bureaucrats who make up the rest of the federal government are ‘critical’ for ensuring policies get put in place smoothly.

So using these top positions to achieve reductions in the size of the bureaucracy, as Trump seems to suggest is his rationale, is a pretty classic unforced error. It’s like trying to reduce overcrowding in schools by firing most of the teachers.

One might be tempted to think the president misspoke out of a desire to avoid admitting his team hasn’t gotten its act together just yet. Earlier he tried to blame the slow pace of appointments on Senate Democrats obstructing confirmations, before it was pointed out how few nominations had been made in the first place.

But Trump seems serious about this claim that he wants empty offices all across the top tier of his administration. So we can only hope his Cabinet secretaries don’t mind working nights and weekends, to make up for the lack of help — or significantly scaling back their plans.

Yep, that’s some “fine-tuned machine” Donald Trump is running.


Trump’s Divisive SOTU Needs More Resistance

There’s not much a political party out of the White House and lacking majorities in the Senate and House can do to challenge the President’s State of the Union Address in real time. But, stewing in silence should not be an option, while the president serves up a rancid mash of nasty stereotypes, gross exaggerations, lies and hypocritcal pieties.

Granted, the optics of the SOTU address are rigged from the get-go, favoring the President, particularly one who has majorities in both houses of congress. And the Republicans have to be credited with making the most of it, putting on a sparkly, glitch-free show for the TV audience. Riddled though his speech was with toxic ingredients, Trump’s delivery was sharp and uncharacteristically disciplined.

Not that the substantive elements of Trump’s presentation were all that impressive. As Ed Kilgore notes in his New York Magazine coverage of the SOTU, Trump “failed to give Americans the details that separate bogus and magical promises from an actual, realizable agenda” and “And there was nothing at all about how to pay for whatever comes next after Obamacare.”

Kilgore’s colleague at New York, Jonathan Chait focuses on Trump’s insincere pleas for bipartisanship, and concludes:

On the whole, Trump’s agenda shows a president who has not departed from the plutocratic agenda that has dominated his party for a quarter-century, but only added grotesque, cruel, racist, and deeply stupid selling points. He has nothing to offer a party not enamored of the opportunity to carry out a massive and historic upward redistribution of wealth.

At The Nation, John Nichols notes a worrisome uptick in Trump’s enthusiasm for increasing the already bloated military budget at the expense of jobs and other human needs:

The rhetoric was, by the standards of this presidency, disciplined. But the specifics were few. Only toward the end did the president get specific, saying, “I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the Defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

Trump was not at all specific about paying for that increase—aside from mentioning the fact that he had “placed a hiring freeze on non-military and non-essential Federal workers.” But his administration has been clear about its hope that the money will come from deep cuts to domestic programs.

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky observed,

But the big clash point of this speech was Obamacare. You noticed that the Democrats sat still in their seats for that. Trump said he had some six-point plan, blah blah blah; most of those six points were Paul Ryan talking points, and I felt Ryan applauded more wholeheartedly during that section of the speech than any other.

All the Republicans applauded, it seemed, but remember that polls are coming out right now showing that their position on this is now the minority position. I think Mitch McConnell knows this in his bones. I’m not sure that the positions Trump stated tonight on health care are positions that can win 60 votes in the Senate, and I’d wager that McConnell isn’t sure they can, either.

 This speech will get very positive reviews. But remember—government isn’t a speech. Today, before this speech, with little fanfare, Trump signed into law an NRA-backed bill that will allow more mentally ill people to buy guns. And remember, there is still Russia. That is not going and cannot go away.

Trump showed tonight that he can sound like a president. That’s not nothing. It’s something he’s never done before. But can he be a president we can respect, even if we disagree? Each day tells us he can’t, and this speech doesn’t change that at all.

Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear delivered a solid critique in the official Democratic response:

Unless the audio in the chamber was dialed down during the response to Trump’s more divisive remarks, it sounded to me like the Democrats were grumbling at moments which begged for booing, or at least a loud “No!” or two. Yes, civility is usually the order of the hour at the SOTU, and the party out of power doesn’t want to look too undignified. But Trump is no ordinary president, and his low regard for civility and decency merits a proportional response on occasion. It’s not like the Dems have a lot to lose with a tougher response at this political moment.

If you have to be a captive audience, it doesn’t mean that you can’t protest boldly against the speaker’s worst distortions and mean-spirited attacks. Trump won the presidency by working the hell out of his base. The one thing Democratic factions are unified about now is the need for a more vigorous response to Trump’s worst policies and comments. It’s time to amp it up.