washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

August 20, 2017

Political Strategy Notes

At HuffPo Sam Levine reports that Republican voter suppression guru Kris Kobach finds himself in a bit of a mess over a court ruling that he be sanctioned for making “patently misleading representations” to the court about the contents of voting rights documents he was photographed holding while meeting with Donald Trump in November.” Kobach’s  excuse, Levine explains, is that “he eliminated four pages of arguments from a brief his attorney was drafting in order to get it down to the page limit as a filing deadline approached.” However, adds Levine “ACLU lawyers also urged the court not to reconsider the sanctions based on Kobach’s pleas about last-minute editing because he hadn’t made such a claim in other briefs responding to the motion to compel him to produce the documents from the Trump meeting. The lawyers said the claim was Kobach’s “latest excuse,” and “if a misunderstanding had simply arisen from editing errors, that fact would have been well known to Defendant and his co-counsel months ago.”

Trump’s nasty attacks against ‘Morning Joe’ co-host Mika Brzezinski provide a convenient distraction from more important matters, like the GOP’s latest voter suppression scam under Kobach’s leadership as vice chair of the phony “comission” on election “integrity,” which doesn’t even pretend to be bipartisan. The Mikagate uproar also eats up media space that would be better allocated to coverage of the Trumpcare horror show, at least for the millions of Americans whose health security is at stake. But Trump’s latest twitter disaster has produced one beneficial effect, as Ashley Kilough reports at CNN Politics: Rep Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has introduced “a bill to create an 11-member commission made up of mostly physicians and psychiatrists — more formally called the “Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity,” which could help to oust a mentally-unhinged President. Although few would have thought a year ago that such legislation is necessary, the sobering thought of Trump in control of the launch codes makes it a welcome development. As things stand now, one Democratic slogan for 2020 might be “Sane Leadership for Challenging Times.”

Speaking of distractions, another importat  Heather Digby Parton writes at salon.com; “As much as the president’s grotesque tweets served as a grim reminder of his true character, Trump did manage to do the one thing he has been dying to do for weeks: move the press off the Russia story. Sadly for him, it only lasted a few hours before yet another late-breaking Russia scoop hit. The Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris published a story that links former national security adviser Michael Flynn to a longtime right-wing operative named Peter W. Smith, who told Harris he had engaged with Russian hackers to obtain the so-called “missing emails” from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Smith also claimed he was in touch with Michael Flynn and possibly his son, both of whom he knew through some earlier business dealings…Another big Russia story, arguably even more significant, landed yesterday and few people seem to have noticed. Kevin G. Hall and Ben Weider of the McClatchy Washington bureau reported that Trump’s business dealings in countries of the former Soviet empire were much more substantial than he’s let on and his ties to bankers, oligarchs and politicians in the area are much more consequential…”

Much recent media coverage urges Democrats to focus on developing and projecting a more credible message, instead of relying on blasting Trump (Here is a good example) to win elections. That’s true, although it’s somewhat of a straw-man argument, considering that nearly all Democratic members of the House and Senate embrace a specific, well-thought out legislative agenda, the elements of which generally receive strong support in opinion polls. It’s just hard to condense the various priorities of the ‘big tent’ party into a soundbite, or even a digestible paragraph. In addition, well-targeted attack ads are often effective. The other problem is that Trump’s aggressive pursuit of the most extreme right-wing goals leaves Democrats no choice but to addresss his almost daily outrages — especially since the opposition to his excesses is so weak in the Republican Party.

As for White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claiming at last Thursday’s press briefing that Trump “in no way, form or fashion has ever encouraged violence, quite the contrary,” echoing Trump’s assurance that he “certainly” did not “incite violence,” she should be called on to respond to the following video clip:

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich is trying to discredit the Congressional Budget Office as part of the “Deep State” apparatus, in the wake of the CBO analysis shredding Trumpcare. But current Republican Speaker Paul Ryan sees it a little differently, as Roll Call reports: “One day after the White House criticized the Congressional Budget Office as an inaccurate arbiter, amid a heated debate over the effects of the Republicans’ plans to change the health insurance system, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is defending the nonpartisan office. “Yeah, he’s actually a Republican appointee. If I’m not mistaken, Tom Price appointed him,” Ryan said Tuesday morning when asked whether he had full confidence in CBO Director Keith Hall. Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services and a key advocate of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, was previously the House Budget Committee chairman.”

“House Majority PAC, the main Democratic super PAC involved in House races, has launched a major project studying white working-class voters ahead of the 2018 elections, looking to arrest Democratic losses with the key demographic,” notes Scott Bland at Politico. “The research is a sequel to an effort the super PAC ran in 2016, when it combined focus group interviews and a large-scale series of polls examining the views of whites without college degrees in key congressional districts…The follow-up reflects growing recognition among Democrats that their party cannot win back political power in Washington or many states without many more votes from whites without college degrees.

At The Upshot, Claire Cain Miller reports that “Family-Friendly Laws Are Being Passed, but Not by Trump’s Team,” and notes “Last week alone, state legislatures passed several major pieces of legislation that benefit families. Oregon became the first state to pass a bill guaranteeing workers predictable schedules, with two weeks’ notice and 10 hours off between shifts. Washington passed a paid leave law that gives workers 16 weeks to care for babies, family members or themselves. New Jersey voted to double its paid family leave to 12 weeks, pay workers more while they’re out and let them use it in more types of situations. Rhode Island’s House and Senate passed separate paid sick leave bills, but not yet a compromise bill.”

 


Trump Brings Back Gingrich’s Inability To Admit He’s Trying to Cut Medicaid

When Donald Trump sent out a certain tweet about Medicaid this week, it brought back some distinct memories. I wrote about it at New York.

How does Trump justify supporting GOP health plans that violate his pledge during the campaign to oppose cuts in Medicaid spending?

It seems POTUS does not understand how Medicaid funding works, and thus what constitutes a “cut.” He appears to think if any program’s funding goes up year-to-year, it hasn’t been “cut.”

This is rarely true, actually. Even with programs that are subject to annual appropriations, providing the same services from one year to the next usually costs more, thanks to inflation and population growth. Demographic changes and economic circumstances can aggravate or ameliorate the need for more funding. But you cannot point to a rise in funding and say, “That’s not a cut,” without knowing a lot more about the program, its services, and the specific population it serves.

With an entitlement program like Medicaid, moreover, in which defined categories of people receive defined benefits automatically, annual spending increases are virtually guaranteed unless the population is shrinking or the economy is really booming. As it happens, Medicaid spending under current policies is going up significantly in the immediate future thanks to at least three factors: the expansion of eligibility 31 states have elected to pursue under the Affordable Care Act; medical inflation, which generally exceeds consumer inflation; and the rapid growth in the senior population, adding to the number of Medicaid’s most expensive beneficiaries.

You can argue, as many Republicans do, that policy makers should act to curb Medicaid’s rising costs. But you can’t claim such efforts are not “a cut.” For the Medicaid expansion population at greatest risk of losing eligibility entirely under the House and Senate health-care bills, that would definitely represent “a cut.” The same is true of any Medicaid participants who may have to deal with reduced benefits or increased “cost-sharing” requirements as states adjust to a per capita cap on federal Medicaid payments.

Since we will never entirely agree on what the “normal” or “natural” funding levels for a program like Medicaid should be, the only rational way to look at Medicaid proposals is to compare how much money it would take to finance Medicaid under current law, and how much the proposals would change those costs. That is precisely what the Congressional Budget Office — who are not “Democrats,” mind you, but hires of a Republican-controlled Congress — did in describing the Better Care Reconciliation Act as “cutting” Medicaid spending by $772 billion over ten years. That does not mean reducing Medicaid spending by that much on a year-to-year basis. But it does mean that according to CBO’s best estimates BCRA will undershoot by $772 billion what it costs to provide the same Medicaid services to the people now deemed eligible. And that’s a “cut.”

Now it is entirely possible Donald Trump understands all this and is simply hoping readers of his tweets don’t. That was the calculation his friend Newt Gingrich made back in the 1990s when he perpetually insisted in a highly publicized argument with Bill Clinton that the Medicare and Medicaid cuts he was proposing weren’t cuts at all but simply “reductions in the rate of growth.” (Indeed, Gingrich is saying the same thing now, which may be where Trump got the idea.) He did not win that argument with Clinton then, and Trump is not likely to win it now, particularly since congressional Republicans, whether or not they support their party’s health-care plans, are not buying this line. When real, live people lose things they would otherwise have, they have been “cut.” Pretending otherwise represents ignorance at best and cynical demagoguery at worst.


How Dems Can and Can’t Win a House Majority in 2018

At The Daily 202 James Hohmann explains why “Even sweeping the suburbs would not be enough for Democrats to win the House majority“:

To win the House majority in the midterms, Democrats will need to make big gains with suburban voters, defend incumbents in rural districts where President Trump remains popular, topple a handful of Republicans in the Sun Belt and probably win a handful of seats that still aren’t on anyone’s radar.

That’s a formidable challenge for Democrats, almost as difficult as Trump’s upsets in rust belt states last year. What makes it even possible is Trump’s increasingly unhinged behavior that, sooner or later, will cause at least some of his supporters to conclude that, maybe it’s time to check his power, and Republicans don’t seem to be up for the job.

Hohmann goes on to note that Republicans now hold 23 House seats in districts Clinton won. “But some of the incumbents are very popular, with brands that are distinct from Trump’s, and they are unlikely to lose no matter how bad the headwinds become.” In addition, writes Hohmann, “Democrats must defend 12 seats in districts that Trump carried in 2016.”

Hohmann cites a Third Way study of 65 potential ‘swing districts’ that fell into four basic categories, including “Thriving Suburban Communities, Left Behind Areas, Diverse/Fast-Growing Regions, and Non-Conformist Districts.” The study underscored the demographic complexity of the districts and concludes that there are simply not enough suburban districts where Democrats have credible chance to win, “even if they could get every single 2016 Clinton voter who backed a Republican House candidate to turn out again in 2018 and cross over.

The study concludes, further, that Democrats simply have to convert some Trump voters, which is a challenging goal, considering other studies which indicate that most Trump voters still support him, despite mounting evidence that he is being manipulated by Putin, almost daily revelations of his lies and blundering comments that alientate U.S. allies abroad.

“There is palpable concern among moderate Democrats that the party will squander precious pick-up opportunities in the midterms,” notes Hoihmann, “and even allow Trump to get reelected in 2020, by nominating unelectable liberals.” The key to Democratic victories next year, according to Third Way is “ideological diversity to take back legislative seats that were lost during the Obama era at the federal and state level” — the exact opposite of the robust populism many progressive Democrats are advocating.

The argument about whether a populist or centrist messaging strategy is better for Democrats in the 2018 midterms is not going to be decided by Democratic Party leaders. Instead, it will be decided mostly by two basic factors, the beliefs, determination and skills of the individual Democratic candidates who run and what the voters do on election day. Campaign consultants and strategists can help candidates get elected. But the candidates themselves have to provide the passion and commitment that can inspire voters.

It will be interesting to see if the winning Democratic candidates of 2018 are more in the progressive or centrist tradition, or perhaps somewhere in between, or even sprinkled across the ideological spectrum. The morning after the election is when the debate about whether a left or centrist message is better for Democratic candidates in 2018 can be credibly evaluated.


Democratic Unity Aided By GOP’s Lack of a Political Strategy

Watching the continuing struggle of congressional Republicans to enact a health care bill that is increasingly unpopular with the public led me to wonder aloud at New York about their motivations:

One of the much-predicted things in politics that has not actually happened this year (so far, at least) is the defection of congressional Democrats from districts or places carried by Donald Trump. There are 12 Democratic House members who fit that description, and all of them, obviously, will face voters in 2018. And there are famously ten Democratic senators up for reelection next year who represent states carried by Trump.

While some of those senators supported Trump on Cabinet confirmations more than their blue-state counterparts (particularly when the result was not in doubt), on big votes there was more unity. Only four Democrats failed to join the filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, even though everyone knew that would trigger the “nuclear option” which would eliminate judicial filibusters, maybe forever. A smattering of House Democrats voted for resolutions repealing late Obama regulations — mostly on guns and abortion — but such actions were rare in the Senate (except for one regulation involving coal, which attracted four coal-state Democrats).

But on the big measures that are preventing all the other GOP-sponsored big measures to proceed, Democrats are holding fast. The fiscal year 2017 budget resolution that made this year’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation possible passed both Houses without any Democratic votes. No House Democrats voted for the American Health Care Act. No Senate Democrats have breathed a word suggesting they might support the Better Care Reconciliation Act, however it is amended.

For those whose memories only date back to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, this opposition-party unanimity might seem normal. But it is actually very unusual by historic standards. Last time Republicans had control of the White House and Congress, during the George W. Bush administration, a significant number of Democrats regularly crossed the aisle to support GOP priorities, from No Child Left Behind to the Medicare prescription-drug benefit to comprehensive immigration reform — not to mention the authorizations and appropriations for military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What’s the difference now? In part, it could be the simple result of polarization and the example set by congressional Republicans when Barack Obama was president. And in part, some credit for Democratic unity is owed to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, not to mention the millions of progressive activists who have urged Democrats to hold the line against Trump and the GOP.

But there’s something else going on as well. During the W. years, Republican initiatives were built around Karl Rove’s swing-voter strategy for building a permanent GOP majority. Most Bush domestic initiatives were aimed at converting a segment of Democratic-leaning voters, from the seniors who were the targets of the Medicare prescription-benefit legislation to the Latinos favoring immigration reform. And the swing-voter strategy was enfolded in a more systemic (and successful) effort to mobilize Republican voters — especially conservative Evangelicals.

What’s remarkable about the very similar House and Senate health-care bills that Republicans are struggling to get to Donald Trump’s desk is that they don’t seem to be based on any particular strategy, beyond checking off the box of “repealing Obamacare,” which many conservatives don’t even believe the legislation will do. Indeed, these bills have virtually no curb appeal for swing voters, and also heavily and overtly wreak havoc on the lives of the very swing voters — particularly white working-class voters — that elected Trump and have been trending Republican for years. Here’s how Ron Brownstein puts it:

“Drafted without any Democratic input, the House and Senate legislation presents an unusually explicit statement of priorities. Tax cuts emerge clearly atop that list: The Congressional Budget Office calculates that through 2026 the House bill reduces federal revenues by an annual average of $100 billion, and the Senate bill by an average of $70 billion. In each chamber, the biggest cut is the repeal of ACA taxes on income and investment profits that apply only to individuals earning at least $200,000 or families earning at least $250,000 …

“On the other side, the cuts’ corresponding benefit reductions would hit lower-income and older workers hardest, particularly in the last years before retirement. Those are cornerstone Republican voters: Nationwide, over two-thirds of all adults ages 45 to 64 are white and Trump dominated among them.
So these bills manage to offend a sizable majority of the electorate at a time when Republicans ought to be thinking about defending their congressional majorities in 2018 and helping Trump consolidate his support for 2020.”

There’s no pressure on Democrats to cross lines and help get these bills enacted because they make no sense politically — not even for Republicans, much less for Democrats.


Political Strategy Notes

The editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas are running a symposium on “The Missing Progressive Infrastructure.” It features a dozen contributions from top progressive thinkers and political analysts, including: Heather Booth; Donna Brazile; Hahre Hahn; Ilyse Hogue; Sally Kohn; Maria Teresa Kumar; Scott Nielson; Faiz Shakir and Sarah Miller; Jonathan Soros; Zephyr Teachout; Michael Tomasky; and Vanessa Williamson. A sampling of the topics covered includes “Get Millennials to Run for Office,” “Culturally Competent Messaging, ” “Reaching White Women” and “A Group to Defend Government.”

Heather Booth writes in “State of the States” that “State infrastructure—especially grassroots organizing—is the weakest link of the progressive movement…To turn this around, we need to invest in grassroots networks around the country—both a 50-state strategy and a focus on building in key states where we can have an impact on redistricting in 2020…To do this we need to hire, train, and supervise organizers whose job it will be to find those who will vote for progressives. We need to be organizing both those we need to mobilize and those we need to persuade. We need to fund candidates for down-ballot races, to build our farm team and impact local politics. The Koch Brothers are doing this for every position from sheriff to school board. We need the political funding, not only restricted non-partisan money, to do the same—the amount of money is important, but so is the kind of funding to do advocacy and politics.”

Michael Tomasky writes in his contribution to the symposium, “My idea is for an organization that will defend government. On its face, that may sound so simple and fundamental as to be unnecessary…But think about it. We’ve seen 35 years of unrelenting assaults on the government, with millions of Americans persuaded that the federal government is their enemy; and yet, over all that time, no group has made its mark by defending the existence and functions of this federal government. Specific interest groups guard their turf—environmental groups defend green programs, anti-poverty groups argue for programs for the poor. But no one simply defends government.”

In a slate.com forum, “Can This Donkey Be Saved?,” Jamelle Bouie observes, “What Donald Trump did was match Clinton on the left on economic policy, at least rhetorically. So, if she proposed a $600 billion infrastructure program, Trump proposed a $1 trillion one. She said she would improve the health care system. Trump said he would, too. He also talked a lot about jobs and factories and vocally activated identities and showed signals of this is someone who cares about my economic standing. Here was a candidate offering both. And that I think was effective for Trump. The question is whether it would be effective in 2020, and I’m not sure because by then, Trump will be defending a standard-issue Republican economic program. So that knocks out one element of his appeal.”

Jonathan Chait writes at New York Magazine that “From a pure political standpoint, the Democrats have a win-win choice. They’ll gain if Trumpcare fails in Congress, and they’ll gain even more if it is signed into law. The only way they won’t score political points off the issue is if they join with Republicans to patch up the system. And yet many and perhaps most Democrats are probably willing to make this sacrifice for the same reason they took the risk of voting for Obamacare in the first place: They care a lot about health-care policy outcomes, and are willing to sacrifice seats to pursue them.”

Democrats, including former President Obama, have long been open to bipartisan amendments to Obamacare. Thus far, the only GOP leaders who are genuinely open to bipartisan twesking of Obamacare are some Republican governors. As Alexander Burns reports at The New York Times, “A once-quiet effort by governors to block the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act reached its climax in Washington on Tuesday, as state executives from both parties — who have conspired privately for months — mounted an all-out attack on the Senate’s embattled health care legislation hours before Republicans postponed a vote...More than half a dozen Republican governors, including several from states with Republican senators, expressed either grave reservations or outright opposition to the bill…”

Writing at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein sheds light on a facet of the Republican health care bills that could cost them substantial support from, senior voters: “…As the Kaiser Family Foundation shows in a powerful new interactive map, premiums under the Senate bill would soar almost everywhere for working-class 60-year-old adults. That’s partly because the Senate bill allows insurers to charge older consumers five times as much as younger ones—the ACA set a maximum three-to-one disparity—and also because the proposal provides less generous tax credits for coverage…The cumulative effect is overwhelming. For 60-year-olds earning $30,000, Kaiser calculated, premiums would rise relative to the ACA in every county across the nation except for two in Ohio. (Those exceptions reflect a statistical quirk related to current pricing, Kaiser said.) Premiums would likewise increase for 60-year-olds earning $40,000 in every county except for one of those in Ohio. Even for 40-year-olds earning $30,000, premiums would rise in over four-fifths of counties, Kaiser found…For 60-year-olds, the biggest rate increases would fall on many of the blue-collar, predominantly white counties that powered Trump’s victory…”

But, “Don’t be fooled: the Senate’s Obamacare repeal effort remains very alive,” warns Sarah Kliff at vox.com. “McConnell and his fellow Republican senators view this delayed vote as a temporary obstacle, not a death knell for Obamacare repeal. Senate leadership has reportedly set a Friday deadline for a new draft of the bill. The Congressional Budget Office could score it next week, setting up a mid-July vote..”

Some nuggets from “It’s Time for Medicare for All” by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich: “Some background: American spending on healthcare per person is more than twice the average in the world’s thirty-five advanced economies. Yet Americans are sicker, our lives are shorter, and we have more chronic illnesses than in any other advanced nation…Why is healthcare so much cheaper in other nations? Partly because their governments negotiate lower rates with health providers. In France, the average cost of a magnetic resonance imagining exam is $363. In the United States, it’s $1,121. There, an appendectomy costs $4,463. Here, $13,851. They can get lower rates because they cover everyone – which gives them lots of bargaining power.Other nations also don’t have to pay the costs of private insurers shelling out billions of dollars a year on advertising and marketing – much of it intended to attract healthier and younger people and avoid the sicker and older…ccording to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare’s administrative costs are only about 2 percent of its operating expenses. That’s less than one-sixth the administrative costs of America’s private insurers…”


Lux: Three Keys to a Winning Strategy for Democrats

The following article by Democraic strategist Mike Lux, author of “The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be,” is cross-posted from HuffPo:

The Democratic talking points after losing two more House special elections, including one in Georgia that many people thought they would win, were partly right. All four of these congressional races were in deeply red districts, and we did considerably better than past Democratic candidates in those districts had done. If we over-perform based on past numbers in the competitive districts on the map in 2018, we’ll have a good year.

But with Trump’s numbers in the toilet, lots of Republicans with mixed feelings about the Donald, and Democratic outrage unleashing a flood of money, volunteers, and voter turnout, we had four special elections with legit opportunities to win… and we blew them all. We need to do a serious re-evaluation of our strategy as a party, and we need to do it right damn now.

I say this with a hyper-awareness that we are entering the week where the Republicans will try to not only repeal the Affordable Care Act, but will in the same bill be repealing Medicaid itself, one of the landmark achievements of the 20th century progressive movement. You heard that right, and this isn’t getting nearly enough attention: we’re not just talking deep cuts in Medicaid funding, we’re talking about ending the guarantee of health and nursing home care for the people dependent on Medicaid.

The money instead will be shifted into block grants, where the states — which for the most part aren’t exactly bastions of compassion — can do whatever they want with the far smaller amount of money they will be given. And understand this: Medicaid is not just for a small number of the poorest people in America. Twenty percent of Americans get their health coverage from Medicaid. Two thirds of the people in nursing homes have those bills paid for by Medicaid. And if you have disabilities and need medical care, odds are that those bills are paid by Medicaid as well. This is a BFD of maximum proportions.

You know what else I am hyper-aware of? That Donald Trump is turning America into a banana republic. He is a dangerous corrupt man giving largesse to his cronies and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. If Democrats don’t start winning elections in this election, in big numbers, our democracy will be in peril, as will the achievements of the last century in terms of civil rights, workers’ rights, the environment, health care, education. So much that is decent and good about our country will be blown to dust.

So when I say Democrats need a new strategy, that we need to start winning elections right away, I’m not just talking about how it’d be a little nicer to have more Democrats win. We are at the edge of the abyss, folks, and we desperately need to try something new when it comes to elections.

Here’s what we need to do:

1. Compete everywhere, districts that are more blue collar and rural included. Too many Democratic Party leaders have decided that we can’t compete very well among the “white working class.” That is one reason why the Kansas and South Carolina races were virtually ignored by the national party, and why national Democratic groups got out-spent almost ten to one in the Montana race, while a higher income suburban district in Georgia that was just as Republican as the other three got the lion’s share of money and attention from national Dems. In this political environment — where Trump and the Republicans are deeply unpopular, and where Democrats have far more enthusiasm about voting, volunteering, and giving money online — we should be competing everywhere and paying attention to the kinds of races we normally don’t.

Just because a lot of working class voters supported Trump last year doesn’t mean they will never vote for Democrats, a lot of those same voters voted for Dems in 2012. And news flash: white working class voters aren’t the only working class voters around. When you talk about issues that matter to blue collar voters — health care, Social Security, raising taxes on the wealthy, getting tough on Wall Street abuse of power, creating jobs and increasing wages, paid family and medical leave, child care — you are also reaching African-American working class folks, Latino working class folks, unmarried women, and young people who are working class folks.

2. Stop thinking of populism as some crazy lefty Bernie thing that can’t win in tough districts, that the message needed is safe and cautious “centrism” (whatever that means). Jon Ossoff ran a campaign very similar in targeting, message, and overall strategy to Hillary’s campaign — target upper-income suburban Republicans with an overwhelming amount of TV ads and mail with a safely centrist message mostly devoid of issue specifics and a ton of attacks on the opponent. But neither Hillary nor Ossoff won very many of those voters in spite of the millions spent on trying to do so.

Now, I will be the first to say that a candidate and their message need to fit the district, and GA-6 is a mostly suburban and upper-income district. I get how Ossoff was trying not to scare people that he was a crazy lefty, but there are plenty of older voters in GA-6. The Republican health care plan is unpopular everywhere, including GA-6, and he could have attacked it using quotes from popular groups like AARP and hospital CEOs. Social Security and Medicare are popular everywhere, and he could have talked more about the critical threats they face.

Running safe, mushy campaigns doesn’t win over very many Republicans; doesn’t usually work in getting swing voters on board; and doesn’t help turn out Democratic voters either.

At the same time, national Democrats didn’t think the more populist candidates in the more blue collar districts would appeal in the other three districts and made only very small investments in those districts while Ossoff was raising money hand over fist — more than $40 million was spent between the two candidates, making it the most expensive House race ever. Yet, we came closer in the South Carolina district totally ignored by Democrats, and we came very nearly as close in Kansas and Montana. If we had invested a fraction of the money spent in Georgia — 10% would have been $4 million — in those other three races, we might have picked up a couple of those seats. Populism sounds different from different candidates; different issues resonate in different districts, but in general, populism plays well in blue-collar districts.

Too many party strategists seem to believe that bland mushy messages win elections, but Republicans keep electing boldly conservative tea partiers and people like Trump. Democrats need to take populism back.

3. Less TV, more Facebook. Hillary vastly outspent Trump on TV in 2016. Multiple Democratic Senate candidates in swing races out-spent their opponents on TV and lost. Ossoff vastly out-spent Handel on TV and lost. Notice a pattern here? Republicans from Trump on down consistently spent more than we did on Facebook.

The reasons Democrats should be paying far more attention to Facebook and far less to TV are many. Fewer and fewer people are watching traditional TV, and when they are, they are figuring out plenty of ways to avoid watching commercials. And more and more people are spending more and more time on Facebook. TV commercials are the least trusted source of political information while content from your Facebook friends is among the most trusted sources of information. Most importantly, you can target individual voters on Facebook and learn from their reactions to ads and organic content. Democrats have many weaknesses in their electoral strategy, but if the only thing they did was shift 50% of their TV spending to Facebook (both in terms of turning out the vote and persuasion), they would start winning far more elections.

In order for our democracy and our decency as a country to survive, Democrats need to start winning elections again. But we won’t get there without a new strategy that actually reaches out to working class voters of all races and ages, and fights for issues that matter to their every day lives. Our strategy must shift from TV into the age of Facebook, and it needs to happen now.


Political Strategy Notes

“Many of the party’s existing economic priorities play well in both spheres of underdevelopment, the urban and the rural, and among groups found in both places, such as millennials. Reducing costs or eliminating tuition at public colleges and universities is popular everywhere. The public’s level of support for Medicaid, which congressional Republicans’ proposed ACA repeal seeks to slash, is overwhelming: A Quinnipiac Poll from March found just 22 percent of Americans favored cuts to Medicaid while 74 percent opposed them; among white working-class respondents, 29 percent favored the cuts and 66 percent didn’t. The declining incomes of white workers and the rising eligibility thresholds of the ACA have combined to increase the number of Medicaid recipients within the white working class—a development that Paul Ryan and his ilk failed to anticipate…unless and until the Democrats devise compelling programs for these Americans—programs that not only help revive their economy but make clear that they are as much a part of the Democrats’ vision of America as any other group—Democrats’ electoral prospects in district after district and state after state will remain dim. And the Democrats’ ability to deliver for their base will continue to be thwarted by basic electoral arithmetic.” — from Harold Meyerson’s “Place Matters” in the Roundable on The White Working Class and the Democrats in The American Prospect.

Democrats field a glut of House candidates in 2018 but remain divided on how to win,” report Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel at The Washington Post. “The largest number of Democratic congressional candidates in decades is putting into play dozens of House districts across the country, raising the possibility of a bitterly contested midterm election cycle next year as the party and its activists try to take advantage of President Trump’s unpopularity to win a majority in the House.” Despite differences across a liberal-moderater political spectrum, “Democrats can exceed their past performance in at least 70 House districts across the country controlled by Republicans, primarily because more Democrats registered to vote, said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a memo to his colleagues last week…“In recent cycles, candidate recruitment meant dialing the phone and asking people to run. This cycle, it’s about answering the calls when they come in,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks congressional races.”

“To win again,’ writes Franklin Foer in The Atlantic, “the Democrats don’t need to adopt an alien agenda or back away from policies aimed at racial justice. But their leaders would be well advised to change their rhetorical priorities and more directly address the country’s bastions of gloom. The party has been crushed—not just in the recent presidential election, but in countless down-ballot elections—by its failure to develop a message that can resonate with people beyond the core members of the Obama coalition, and by its unwillingness to blare its hostility to crony capitalism. Polling by the group Priorities USA Action shows that a stunning percentage of the voters who switched their allegiance from Obama to Trump believe that Democratic economic policies favor the rich—42 percent, nearly twice the number who consider that to be true of Trump’s agenda…The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map. Doing that does not require the abandonment of any moral principles…”

In his Washington Post article, “Beyond opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message,” DanBalz writes, “Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites…Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.”

If you had to pick a state that had the most to lose under Trumpcare, it shouldn’t take long to settle on West Virginia. Michael Tomasky explains why in his Daily Beast post, “If She Votes for Trumpcare, Her Home State Gets Mauled: No senator who has yet to come out for or against the health care bill faces a more open-and-shut case than Shelley Moore Capito.” As Tomasky elaborates, “…It’s estimated that about 150,000 West Virginians, maybe more, gained coverage under the ACA (see page 9 of this Urban Institute report). That study is a little bit old. It may now be 170,000. That’s in a state with a population of about 1.8 million; so, nearly 10 percent…A policy brief to be released this week by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policynotes that the health care industry accounts for more than 10 percent of the state’s GDP and estimates that 10,000 West Virginians could lose their jobs, and the state could lose $1 billion in GDP. Health care jobs have been one of the few growth sectors in the state. A lot more than coal…Medicaid pays for 72 percent of nursing-home care for the state’s seniors, provides $20 million in school-based services for young people, and brings in $110 million for drug treatment. All that would be gone…with Rand Paul voting no on one side and Nevada’s Dean Heller doing the same on the other, it might come down to Capito. Of all of them, she represents the state that would most clearly just get mauled by this GOP bill.”

Conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt explains why “Replacing Obamacare is a make-or-break moment for Republicans,” and notes ‘If the GOP defaults on its core promise, it is doomed as a party to minority status, probably as early as 2018 and certainly in 2020…It will forfeit every other Republican goal because failing to deliver on the central promise of eight years of debates and campaigns will shatter the credibility every Republican, not just those who block the bill. The party as a whole will be gravely wounded, perhaps beyond healing for a generation or more.”

“The most glaring weakness in the modern Democratic coalition is the decline of white working-class support that once provided a major pillar of the Democratic Party,” Andrew Levison writes in “Winning (Some) Middle-of-the-Road Working-Class Whites” in the Roundtable on The White Working Class and the Democrats at The American Prospect. “In 2008, even in the midst of a massive and terrifying economic crisis and an unprecedented military fiasco, Barack Obama still received only 40 percent of the white working-class vote. In 2012, Obama’s share declined to 36 percent and in this year’s election, Hillary Clinton suffered an unprecedented 8 percent additional drop to an abysmal 28 percent of white working-class support, according exit polls…For 40 years, polls have repeatedly shown that majorities of white working people support quite a substantial range of basically progressive economic policies but, oddly, never vote for the Democratic politicians who promise to enact them…Even in predominantly white working-class communities, where a larger segment of the common-sense, middle-of-the-road white workers might be open to Democratic candidates, the simultaneous emergence of grassroots independent candidates would in many cases still be a net benefit to Democrats. Such candidates would tend to draw more support from Republicans than Democrats, helping the latter…Because it would split the GOP vote, a three-way race that included an independent candidate would still provide a greater opportunity for the Democrat to win a plurality than a two-way race against a Republican would provide the opportunity for winning an outright Democratic majority.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr. spotlights “The Senate’s three big lies about health care“: They are “Lie One: Democrats and progressives are unwilling to work with Republicans and conservatives on this issue…In fact, Democrats, including President Barack Obama when he was in office, have said repeatedly that they would like to work with Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act. Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer’s office put out a list of such offers, including a June 15 letter from Schumer to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a cross-party meeting to “find a way to make health care more affordable and accessible.”Lie Two: This bill is primarily about improving health care for American families. No, this effort is primarily about cutting taxes…Lie Three: The Senate bill is a “compromise.” Really? Between whom? The House wants to destroy Obamacare quickly, the Senate a bit more slowly while also cutting Medicaid more steeply over time. This is only a “compromise” between two very right-wing policies.”

At The Guardian, Lauren Gambino details the scope of Medicaid, which would be subjecgted to “deep cuts” under Trumpcare: “Medicaid is the nation’s largest public insurance program, providing health benefits to nearly 74 million Americans including low-income adults and children, seniors and people with disabilities. It has unparalleled reach: about half of all babies are born on Medicaid and four in 10 children are covered by Medicaid or its sister benefit, the Children’s Health Insurance Program…Those programs also cover roughly three in 10 people suffering from opioid addiction. Medicaid has also become a critical benefit for elderly Americans whose medical needs are not covered by Medicare, including six in 10 residents in nursing homes.,,The Senate healthcare plan, like the House bill that narrowly passed last month, would phase out Medicaid expansion under the ACA, under which 31 states and the District of Columbia added more than 11 million low-income adults to the program.”


Political Strategy Notes

AP’s Erica Werner makes a case that “McConnell stakes it all on health care bill” and writes thaT “The shrewd Kentuckian has made himself practically the sole arbiter of the bill and will be largely responsible for the outcome, whether it’s a win, a loss, or a win that turns into a loss over time as unpopular consequences of the legislation take hold…he has almost no margin for error. McConnell will be able to lose only two senators from his 52-member conference and still pass the bill, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Democrats are unanimously opposed….He doesn’t always prevail. McConnell is not a fan of unnecessary conversation and plays his cards close to his chest, which can create the impression that he has a secret plan up his sleeve when that’s not the case.” My guess is he has a plan, and like LBJ in the 1960s, he knows where the bodies are buried and he doesn’t like to lose. Dems should plan for the worst.

From an NBC/Wall St. Journal poll released yesterday and flagged at The Daily 202: “Only 16 percent of Americans believe that the House health care bill is good, down from 23 percent last month. Even among Republicans, just one in three view the measure positively. But the public is basically split down the middle over Obamacare, with 41 percent saying the 2010 law is a good idea and 38 percent saying it’s a bad idea. Asked if Congress and the president should continue their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the split is similar: 38 percent say yes, 39 percent say no, and 20 percent have no opinion. But here’s the rub: 71 percent of Republicans want Congress to continue its effort to repeal the ACA, and only 12 percent of GOP voters want to move on. Independents also slightly favor forging ahead with repeal, 38 percent to 32 percent.”

The Trumpcare bill has already drawn condemnation from some powerful organizations, including AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Association of American Medical Colleges, report Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan. “We are extremely disappointed by the Senate bill released today,” the medical school association wrote. “Despite promises to the contrary, it will leave millions of people without health coverage, and others with only bare-bones plans that will be insufficient to properly address their needs.”

Kaplan and Pear also noter President Obama’s reaction to the GOP bill: “The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill,” Mr. Obama wrote on his Facebook page. “It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else…In a message to his supporters, Mr. Obama urged people to demand compromise from their lawmakers before senators vote on the Republican bill next week.”

As inhumane as is the Trumpcare bill is, the best hope for defeating it may come from four senators who think it’s too liberal. “Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah said in a joint statement they’re “not ready to vote for this bill,” report Miranda Green, Phil Mattingly and Ashley Killough, at CNNPolitics. “Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” the senators said. “There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.” Of course the four senators know perectly well that they are going to have to vote for some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act later on in any replacement bill. But for now they must make a big show of saying they stood firm for Obamacare repeal. Reading between the lines of their statement, don’t be shocked if they cave and vote for it as soon as some piddly token is tossed their way. The four are more about limelight theatrics than anything else.

As James Hohmann reports in The Daily 202: “THE BIG IDEA: Much of the concern that Republican senators expressed yesterday about the draft health-care bill felt more like political posturing than genuine threats to torpedo the effort. There are not currently the 50 votes necessary to advance the legislation that Mitch McConnell unveiled Thursday. There will need to be concessions and compromises, and there are several ways the push could still fall apart in the coming days. But pretty much every Republican, including the current holdouts, wants to pass something. And no GOP senator wants to bear the brunt of the blame from the base for inaction. That factor must not be discounted…Cruz issued a joint statement with three other conservatives — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah — saying that they cannot support the legislation as it stands. Parse their words carefully, and it’s notable how many outs they gave themselves.

As for the concerns of what nowadays passes for Republican “moderates,” Hohmann adds , “There are some obvious “gives” that could get a few of the wavering moderates on board: “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters Thursday that she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would try to amend the Planned Parenthood restrictions during next week’s ‘vote-a-rama,’ a period when senators can offer unlimited amendments to the health-care measure,” Kane reports. “GOP insiders expect Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who oppose the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid, to be mollified by more cash to combat the opioid epidemic.” That might leave Rand Paul as the biggest hurdle, but McConnell could afford to lose the junior senator from his state. (We’re keeping a running whip count here.)”

At Campaigns & Elections, Tim Lim explains why “Democrats Need a New Advertising Strategy for 2018.” As Lim notes, “While every scenario is different, and you still need to take an audience first approach, we recommend at least 20 percent of the persuasion media spend to be spent on digital and layered with other mediums to be able to make an impact. That doesn’t including resources for the other pieces of a campaign around fundraising, mobilization or other direct response efforts…The centerpiece of the advertising program for most campaigns is the minute-long TV ad. The same ad that is put on broadcast television is the same ad that you see on YouTube and Facebook. This trend is not creating engaging content for voters. Before the TV shoot even happens, there needs to be consideration for different ad formats, which aren’t centered on the TV ad. For instance, online videos should have the main message be shown in the first 6 seconds and there should be plenty of space infographics and rich media.”


Democrats’ 2017 Losing Streak Likely To End in November

After the agony of Election Night for GA-06 on January 20, I thought it might be a good idea to offer Democrats some immediate hope. So I wrote up the electoral prospects for the rest of 2017 at New York:

[M]any Democrats are undoubtedly wondering when the impressive anti-Trump passions of 2017 will produce a win in a nationally significant and competitive contest. The two remaining scheduled special elections this year are not very promising for the Donkey Party. The first, in November (assuming a battle over control of the special election between the governor and legislature is resolved) is in dark-red Utah, in the district of Representative Jason Chaffetz (who is resigning at the end of this month), the 16th-most Republican House district in the country according to the Cook Political Report. There are 15 Republicans, as compared to four Democrats, who are running for the Chaffetz seat at this point.

In December (after primaries in August and party runoffs in September), Alabama will hold a special election to formally choose a successor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Republican Luther Strange at least temporarily holds the seat he was appointed to by disgraced former governor Robert Bentley, who resigned shortly after filling the seat). There is a lot of intrigue around the crowded GOP primary for this seat, and potentially some divisive intra-Republican activity, but no one at this point is giving any Democrat a chance. Perhaps that could change if the infamous “Ten Commandments judge,” Roy Moore, wins the GOP nomination. But Moore has won statewide as recently as 2012, which is something no Alabama Democrat can say. Democrats haven’t held a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in 20 years, since Howell Heflin was replaced by Jeff Sessions.

So more than likely Democrats looking for a boost going into the midterm-election year of 2018 will rely on their solid prospects in the two states holding regular gubernatorial elections in November, New Jersey and Virginia.

The Garden State contest looks like a very solid bet to break the Democratic losing streak. This remains a fundamentally Democratic state; Hillary Clinton handily defeated Donald Trump 55–41 there in 2016, and the state legislature has been under Democratic control since 2004. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy (a former ambassador to Germany and one of the remarkably large cast of former Goldman Sachs officials in politics these days) has money to burn and is fresh from an easy June 6 primary win over a large field. Republican Kim Guadagno won her primary pretty easily as well, but as lieutenant governor she is laboring in the large and dark shadow of Chris Christie.

According to a post-primary Quinnipiac poll, Christie’s job-approval rating has dropped to an astounding 15 percent, the worst Quinnipiac has found in any state for any governor in the last 20 years. (Not that he cares.) Unsurprisingly, the same poll showed Murphy leading Guadagno by better than a two-to-one margin (55 percent to 26). The best news for the Republican is that half of voters don’t know enough about her to have an opinion of her — though it is unclear where Guadagno will get the money or the credibility to convince them she’s what the state needs.

In Virginia, the Gillespie/Northam campaign has just begun, but a new Quinnipiac poll shows Northam leading 47 percent to 39. Aside from a united party and the support of reasonably popular incumbent governor, Terry McAuliffe, Northam has history on his side: Nine of the last ten Virginia gubernatorial races were lost by the candidate from the party controlling the White House (McAuliffe, in fact, was the one exception). Things could change, but Donald Trump does not seem like the kind of president who will help his party buck that trend in a state he lost last year.

So Democrats who are wondering why they cannot have good things may only have to wait for a little less than five months for some validation.


What Ossoff Did Right

You may have already had your fill of post-mortems of the GA-6 election. Just about everybody has had their say about what Jon Ossoff did wrong, or what went wrong in the Atlanta ‘burbs special election, save the candidate himself. His reflections will be of considerable interest when he shares them.

Among the critiques of Ossoff’s campaign messaging and strategy, several resonated with me. Ed Kilgore’s observation that “Negative ads still work” was certainly verified by Handel’s relentless ads, arguably the overarching component of her strategy.  Ossoff’s “attack” ads were comparatively tame and polite, and he really didn’t give Handel’s gaffe about opposing a “living wage” an energetic workout.

The GA-6 election and other special elections of 2017 suggest that Democratic candidates could toughen up a bit. I agree some with Cenk Uygur’s argument that Democrats have to start calling out their Republican opponents as “corrupt”, whenever it applies, which is a lot. Ossoff could have done more to characterize his adversary as a toady for her wealthy contributors, even in a district where the median income is quite high.

Reluctantly, I have to agree with Republican ‘Morning Joe’ Scarborough that Democrats may be wasting too much political energy on demonstrations relative to front-porch canvassing or registering voters. Yes, the anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ demonstrations have helped to rally public opinion against him and the Republican agenda. But at least some of that time, energy and expense could be more productively invested in voter registration and GOTV.

The ‘Morning Joe’ program also featured one of the lamer blanket observations about the GA-6 election I have heard, Mark Halperin’s characterization of the vote as “an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats.” As a friend put it in an email, “I’m confused: 2016 — GOP wins deep red district by 23 points. 2017 – GOP wins deep red district by 4 points. Conclusion: unambiguous Democratic disaster?”

We shouldn’t move on, however, without a nod to what candidate Ossoff did right, because those lessons may be useful.

First, Ossoff had the metttle to step up and run in a district that most political wonks would call a lost cause for Democrats, and he damn near won it in the first round. Democrats are always yakking about how we need fresh faces, and we do. But it takes courage and personal sacrifice for a relatively unknown someone to take the risk and actually join the fray and make a go of it. He gets Aces for raw determination.

Democrats need more such gutsy newcomers, especially women and candidates of color. The obstacles, especially the financial hurdles, are so formidable, that when someone rises to the challenge from nowhere and does well, it’s a national news story. That leads to another of Ossoff’s impressive accomplishments — fund-raising. He raised more dough than any congressional candidate ever, which is quite amazing for a previously no-name Democrat. If nothing else, Democrats ought to study the hell out of his fund-raising strategy, and the DNC and state Democratic parties would be smart to hire him as a consultant.

Ossoff’s campaign turned an R+23 district into an R-3.7 district. He also recruited an estimated 2,000 volunteers, which may also be close to a record. I don’t buy the argument that a more “charismatic” candidate would have done better. The political world has plenty of charismatic individuals who don’t know squat about fund-raising, or lack the work ethic and grit to put up a good fight, or the skill-set to hold their own in a debate with a more experienced candidate.

I hope that Ossoff will run again for elective office, and leverage the lessons of his campaign. No doubt some potential candidates may be discouraged by Ossoff’s loss in the GA-6 race.  Nonetheless, today Democratic newcomers all across America are thinking more seriously about running for office, thanks to Jon Ossoff’s campaign. That alone makes him a rising star in my book.