About 9 months into his presidency, Donald Trump has settled into a historically weak job ap- proval of 41 percent, well below his presidential vote, and with the strong disapproval over 45 percent of voters. He remains an unrepentant divider which pervades all political discourse.1
Yet the most hated politicians are the Republicans in Congress, and perhaps they ought to be more of the focus as they are on the ballot in 2018. Mitch McConnell is the least popular con- gressional leader in Democracy Corps’ polling, followed by Speaker Ryan. Voters know that the Republicans are in charge in Congress and these are the poster children. So why do the Democrats not enjoy a stronger lead in the ballot?
1 National phone survey of 1,000 registered voters conducted by Democracy Corps and Greenberg Research from September 30 – October 6, 2017. The survey was matched to voter file and 67 percent of respondents were reached by cell phones. Of these registered voters, 667 are “likely voters” in 2018. Greenberg Research maintains its own survey and weighting methods, independent of surveys released by GQRR.
The Democrats are ahead by just 8-points among registered voters, and 5-points among likely 2018 voters in Democracy Corps’ most recent national survey. That is marginally down from the 10-point and 7-point advantages (among registered and likely voters, respectively) Democrats held in our June polling on behalf of WVWVAF. (We will release new findings on behalf of WVWVAF next week.)
The focus should be more on the GOP Congress, but contributing is the Democratic Party brand, which is unimpressive in this poll. They are viewed more favorably by just net 4-points. There has been no growth in identification with the Democratic Party, as there was in going into 2016.
This dynamic is producing a situation where self-identified Democrats, generic Democratic voters and Hillary Clinton-supporters hold their preferences with great certainty, but they are no more likely to turnout for Democrats in the off-year election, according to this poll.
A remarkable 81 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Donald Trump, while just 55 per- cent of Republicans strongly approve of his job performance. Those voting for the Democrat for Congress are more certain of their choice by 62 to 38 percent, while those voting Republican are split in their certainty (52 very certain to 48 percent somewhat certain).
Yet when it comes to the measures used to gauge interest and intention to vote, Democrats and Republicans are showing equal engagement. That will not produce the landslide election Democrats are hoping to achieve.
Maybe Steve Bannon is right that stoking the flames of identify politics creates an environment where Democrats calling for big economic change don’t get heard. We saw in the polling we re- cently released with Public Citizen that Donald Trump has high approval marks when it comes to ‘keeping jobs in the US’ (+27) and ‘putting American workers before the interests of big corpo- rations’ (+7).
But two things catch our eye in this poll to suggest the election could take shape in very different ways by next year. First, watch the seniors and Baby-Boomers. With acute sensitivity to the impact of health care changes, seniors and Boomers are giving particularly high negative marks to Trump and Republicans. The Democrats even hold a 2-point lead in the generic ballot among seniors, breaking the age pattern that has shaped our recent elections.
Second, in our first poll testing a 2020 presidential contest between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren, the Senator wins by 12-points (54 to 42 percent). In coming polls, we will test other potential nominees, but that result is some measure of the real structure of the partisan balance.
Something Jeff Flake said this week sounded very familiar, so I wrote about it at New York:
I’m probably not the only one who had a sense of déjà vu when Jeff Flake deployed a certain medical term in an interview yesterday:
“After the senator from Arizona announced he was retiring because he couldn’t win a primary in President Trump’s Republican Party, Tapper asked: Why not make the case for why Trumpism is bad and let GOP voters decide?”
“’I think that this fever will break,’ Flake said. ‘I don’t know that it’ll break by next year.’”
During his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama frequently referred to the extremism and obstructionism that had gripped the Republican Party since he took office in the same terms, as on this occasion during a speech in Minneapolis:
“I believe that if we’re successful in this election, when we’re successful in this election, that the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again.”
Needless to say, that didn’t happen. After two more years of obstruction following the 2012 election, Republicans took back full control of Congress, and then wielded that power with a monomaniacal focus on seizing total power in 2016. To the extent that they did much of anything, it involved passing legislation they knew Obama would veto, to score ideological points and try to convince their “base” they’d tear up Obama’s legacy instantly if given the chance.
But the “fever” Republicans regularly fed to keep their activists, donors, and most committed voters revved up and howling at the moon got out of control. Out of the fever swamps emerged Donald Trump.
As Aaron Blake notes in a critique of Flake’s position, for all the peculiarities surrounding Trump, there’s less discontinuity with the recent past than some imagine:
“Trump has certainly taken the GOP in a wholly new direction on a few issues, especially trade. But the things that really define him and separate him from other Republicans — attacking basically any establishment politician, fighting culture wars that most Republicans steer clear of, shunning all forms of political correctness — have been in demand among the GOP base for the better part of the past decade or more.”
We’ll never know what might have happened to the Republican Party had Trump lost, as nearly everyone outside his immediate orbit (and some within it) expected. But for now, the raging debate within the GOP is not one between dissenters like Flake, McCain, and Corker (the “Last Hurrah Caucus” as Perry Bacon Jr. calls it) and Team Trump. It’s between the vast majority of Republican elected officials who have pledged fealty to Trump and those in the Republican base who believe that fealty is not passionate enough.
Symbolically, the fight echoes the one we just saw in Alabama between Luther Strange, the 1000-percent right-wing senator who could not utter a breath without singing a hymn of praise to Donald Trump, and Roy Moore, who embraced a more systematic radicalism aimed at Establishment Republicans who talked the talk but did not walk the walk of blowing up every conceivable limitation on full and immediate implementation of Trump’s agenda.
The GOP’s electoral base may determine the outcome of the fight between pro-Trump Establishmentarians and pro-Trump insurgents in a series of 2018 primaries. No matter who wins, though, it’s Trump’s party and “the fever” continues to rage.
After reading a lot of back-and-forth about the trajectory of the November 7 Virginia gubernatorial election, I offered some thoughts at New York about the national implications:
For all the discussion about Donald Trump’s success among “Rust Belt” white working-class voters in 2016, another big factor in his upset win was unexpectedly low turnout among “Obama Coalition” voters (usually defined as young and minority voters), especially African-Americans. Despite Trump’s constant deployment of sub-rosa and not-so sub-rosa appeals to white racial resentments, according to census data, African-American turnout dropped from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016, the largest presidential cycle-to-cycle turnout slump for black voters in recorded history. Latino turnout was stable, a major disappointment to Democrats who thought Trump’s constant immigrant-baiting might create a large backlash. Millennial turnout was up, but not massively.
Some reasons for the African-American turnout drop-off in 2016 are reasonably obvious: It was the first presidential election since 2004 (when black turnout was very similar to 2016 levels) when the first African-American president was not on the ballot. And as Ari Berman has demonstrated, GOP-engineered voter suppression may have played an important role in reducing African-American turnout in some key states, notably Wisconsin.
Postmortems aside, the collapse of the Obama Coalition should cast a long shadow over Democratic hopes of a 2018 wave election. That’s because these voters traditionally have not participated proportionately in non-presidential elections. Unless the pattern changes — and after 2016 we now know that Donald Trump’s presence as leader of the GOP won’t likely change it without some additional encouragement — then Democrats looking to win back the House in 2018 may need a level of success with white voters beyond anything they’ve accomplished lately. In the last Democratic midterm wave election, in 2006, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote. Barring something really unimaginable, that is not going to happen in 2018 (Republicans have now won at or near 60 percent of the white vote in four consecutive presidential and midterm elections).
In 2014, Democrats were worried enough about the “midterm falloff” problem in their electoral base that the Democratic National Committee created and funded an initiative — known as the Bannock Street Project —to address it. Utilizing the digital voter-targeting and outreach methodologies pioneered in the 2012 Obama campaign, the $60 million project targeted pro-Democratic demographic groups in ten states. All ten of those states had Senate elections in 2014; Republicans won nine of them — a net gain of six Senate seats in this relatively small slice of the country.
There is some empirical evidence the Bannock Street Project actually did boost base turnout, making a 2014 debacle less severe than it otherwise might have been, but it’s tough to get around the bottom-line failure. And given the uninspiring numbers from 2016, Democrats face 2018 with this very large problem still unsolved.
That is one reason to look closely at what is happening in the competitive off-year gubernatorial election in Virginia, a state with a large African-American population and a growing Latino presence as well. Despite a pro-Democratic trend in presidential elections (Virginia has now gone Democratic in three consecutive presidential years, after going Republican ten straight times dating back to 1964), the party has suffered underwhelming election finishes in the last two non-presidential years: in 2013, Terry McAuliffe undershot the polls in dispatching ultraconservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli; and in 2014, Republican Ed Gillespie nearly upset Senator Mark Warner. So the possibility of midterm falloff among minority voters is and should be a big concern.
At least one observer, civil-rights activist Steve Phillips, is warning that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam and his campaign are ignoring African-American voters in the pursuit of white swing voters to an extent that may doom his candidacy:
“Northam has spent over $17 million as of October 1, 2017…. [T]he Northam campaign’s biggest line item—nearly $9 million—consists of funds given to an advertising firm led by an all-white board to run television ads. These campaign ads attack the Republican nominee for his ties to the oil company Enron. What is the strategic rationale of such an advertising campaign? Clearly, those ads are not supposed to motivate African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color to take time from their busy lives to come out and support the Democratic ticket.”
Phillips also deplores the scant attention and support pro-Democratic groups in Virginia have given to Northam’s African-American running mate, Justin Fairfax.
There are actually some signs in Virginia of Democratic concern for motivating base voters instead of simply competing for swing voters, including a high-profile appearance by President Obama. Swing-voter-focused ads have also been supplemented by more base-oriented efforts, including a flier that directly links Republican candidate Ed Gillespie to Donald Trump and to the infamous neo-Confederate protesters in Charlottesville. And it’s also possible Gillespie’s own racially tinged ads that demagogue about the MS-13 criminal gang or the restoration of felons’ rights will backfire (in one famous case, in Georgia in 1998, an over-the-top white racial appeal orchestrated by GOP operative Ralph Reed boosted African-American turnout in a midterm election significantly and produced a surprise Democratic statewide sweep).
It is not clear, moreover, that non-presidential election falloff among African-Americans in Virginia is as severe a problem as it is in some states. According to exit polls, the African-American percentage of the Virginia electorate was virtually the same (ranging from 20 percent to 21 percent) in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The one exception, though, shows the potentially calamitous results of poor minority turnout: In 2009 African-Americans represented just 16 percent of the Virginia electorate, and Democrat Creigh Deeds lost decisively.
So minority turnout in Virginia (and for that matter, in the less competitive contest in New Jersey) is worth watching on November 7. Heading into 2018, Democrats would be well advised to conduct a full public discussion of the Bannock Street Project and other investments in “base” turnout, while making voter mobilization just as important a factor as swing voter persuasion in all the party’s investments.
Do people in small town, exurban and rural America really have anything to complain about or are they just lashing out because of the rise of diversity? A fascinating column by Ron Brownstein covers the diverging fate of these places and the faster growing cores of metropolitan areas. It would appear that folks in these areas really do have something to complain about and that they really are, in fact, being left behind.
In metro areas from Seattle to Chicago to Washington, DC, new data show that per capita incomes, education levels and the young adult share of the population are rising rapidly in downtown urban centers that were left for dead 30 and 40 years ago. Simultaneously…incomes, education levels and the age structure is failing to keep pace, or even deteriorating, in the small town and exurban communities at the metropolitan area’s periphery.
This widening geographic separation between town and country — reinforced by a strong urban tilt in such key measures as venture capital investment and new business formation — helps explain President Donald Trump’s overwhelming support in the smaller, mostly white communities that largely feel excluded from the economic recovery since 2009….. per capita incomes since 1990 have increased just three percent in communities 30 miles out, while rising fully 45% at the city center.
Like a river cutting through rock, these shifting economic currents are helping to carve the nation’s stark new political alignment. Along with unease about demographic and cultural changes, the sense of falling behind economically helps explain Trump’s dominance of mid-sized and small town America: he carried more than 2,600 counties last fall, more than any candidate in either party since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Conversely, the thriving economies, and increasingly youthful and well-educated profiles of the largest urban centers, help explain how Hillary Clinton carried 87 of the 100 largest counties by a combined margin of nearly 14.7 million votes, according to calculations by Pew Research Center senior writer Drew DeSilver (including Washington, DC, pushes the margin to nearly 15 million votes). Although few Democrats recognize it in their rhetoric or agenda, they are increasingly the party of the places in America that are succeeding the most in the globalized, post-industrial economy.
The moral of the story: if Democrats want to succeed with the voters they’ve been losing, they will have to make a very serious effort to spread economic opportunity more widely.
Here’s hoping the usually-on-target Nate Cohn proves wrong in his Upshot post claiming that “Democrats Lack Strong Challengers for Some Vulnerable G.O.P. House Seats,” despite the record number of Democratic candidates already in motion. As Cohn notes, “Over all, there are 11 districts (out of the 50 districts that ought to be most competitive, by our estimates) where the Democrats don’t have a candidate who raised $100,000.’ Cohn’s argument comes down to the fact that too many current Democratic candidates are running in “well-educated areas” (read upper-middle-class), and too few in working-class, potentially swing districts. Further, “The enthusiasm among well-educated Democrats and the relative lack of success recruiting established politicians in working-class areas has occasionally led to an odd mismatch: affluent, liberal types running in working-class districts…The Democrats’ path to a House majority is much more challenging than it was in 2006, or than it was for the Republicans in 2010. They can’t afford to leave many districts like New York’s 24th or California’s 21st off the board.”
At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore warns against Dems getting overconfident about Republican troubles translating into a Democratic victory in next year’s midterm elections: “…Look closely at what is happening in the competitive off-year gubernatorial election in Virginia, a state with a large African-American population and a growing Latino presence as well. Despite a pro-Democratic trend in presidential elections (Virginia has now gone Democratic in three consecutive presidential years, after going Republican ten straight times dating back to 1964), the party has suffered underwhelming election finishes in the last two non-presidential years…The potential Democratic vote in midterms probably isn’t going to show up at the polls just because the Donkey Party points at Donald Trump and says Boo!”
The Atlantic’s ace Ronald Brownstein explores some of the reasons “Why the Virginia Governor’s Race Could Echo Across the Country.” Among Brownstein’s insights: “The Virginia gubernatorial contest has unexpectedly become a test case of the explosive politics of race in the Donald Trump era. The outcome could tug the Republican Party much further toward Trump-style racial provocation and polarization next year. Or it could warn the GOP that such positioning carries too high a political price among white swing voters and minorities…If minorities in Virginia fail to vote in higher numbers than usual, even after Gillespie’s racial provocations, more Republicans will undoubtedly feel emboldened to follow him down that road. Already, in New Jersey, GOP gubernatorial nominee Kim Guadagno, who’s been trailing Democrat Phil Murphy badly, is closing her campaign by unleashing her own attacks on sanctuary cities and warning of “illegal aliens” committing violent crimes. “The stakes are very high,” Torres said. “If they win in Virginia, it’s going to be very scary all around the nation.”
James Hohman of the Daily 202 says the GOP’s growing internal divisions ain’t all about Trump, despite Sens. Corker’s and Flake’s recent comments. “In fact, there are profound ideological differences within the Republican coalition that have become much more pronounced in the Trump era. Flake’s decision to not seek another term was as much about his refusal to abandon his core principles as his concern over Trump’s fitness for office.” Hohman cites a pew Reseach poll that identifies seven different issues that divide Republicans: taxes; health care, immigration; role of government; America’s role in the world; climate change; and same-sex marriage.”
“If the Republican Party under Donald Trump has no room for independent-minded conservatives, and if, in the coming years, senators like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are replaced by fringe conservatives handpicked because of their blind loyalty to this president,” writes Democratic Sen. Chris Coons in a New York Times op-ed, “it will be too late for responsible conservatives to salvage the party they’ve built over generations…As for Democrats, there should be no sense of satisfaction in what is happening to the Republican Party. The balance of two functioning political parties has been essential to our country’s success. In fact, we should take this moment to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask: How much do our own party’s internal battles resemble the fight happening within the Republican Party? As Democrats call for independence and pragmatism from Republicans, we should be asking ourselves how tolerant we are of dissent within our own party and how much we are really willing to reach across the aisle.”
Thomas B. Edsall brings some statistical clarity to the present political moment in his NYT column, “The Party of Lincoln is Now the Party of Trump,” noting, “Trump’s grip on his party remains firm. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll asked Republican voters: “Do you consider yourself to be more of a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?” The answer: Trump 58, the Republican Party 38…Trump’s overall favorability ratings may be terrible (39 percent positive to 56 negative), according to a RealClearPolitics average of the eight most recent surveys, but the generic Democratic advantage is a relatively modest 9.2 percentage points. In an October 15-16 Economist/YouGov survey, Democratic voters said they planned to vote for Democratic House candidates 88-3 and Republicans said they would vote for Republican House candidates 86-3. Independents favored Republican candidates 27-22. These are not the kind of numbers Democrats need to win control of the House or Senate.”
A voter turnout tip from reporter Bill Bradley, writing at Next City: “…It’s about canvassing and knocking down the right doors. Campaigns, cities and organizations like Make the Road have to work to target everyone — particularly those without a voice. And apparently it’s about about geting the right people to knock on those right doors: “It’s less about mass canvassing and more about neighborhood-by-neighborhood efforts,” writes Bradley. “We specialize in engaging people in immigrant and Latino communities,” [Daniel] Altschuler [managing director of Make the Road Action, an organization that works with working-class Latino communities] says. “And I think where we’ve been most effective is that the folks that are knocking on people’s doors are members from those communities who speak the language of those communities and are able to engage in culturally competent ways.”…Altschuler says the approach has proven effective in getting out the vote. And it’s something he has found, through his work at Make the Road, can be replicated in communities across the country.”
CNN Politics analyst Gregory Krieg focuses on the action in “9 Democratic primaries to watch in 2018.” Kreig spotlights some interesting challengers who could help revitalize the Democratic Party. The races he notes include: Feinstein’s senate seat; the Illinois, Oklahoma, New York, Maryland and Iowa governorships; Illinois 3rd congressional district; the Rhode Island Lieutenant Governorship; and Florida’s 7th congressional district.
My old colleague Doug Schoen from the Clinton White House days has an op-ed out in the New York Times that is remarkable for its audacity. In “Why Democrats Need Wall Street,” he argued that Democrats have not been winning many elections lately because the party philosophy has become more Bernie Sanders and less Bill Clinton. According to Schoen, “moving the party away from a reflexive anti-Wall Street posture” was a key factor in the success of one Clinton presidency and the defeat of another.
Let’s start with the basic premise, that getting closer to Wall Street helps in winning elections. Any serious look back on Clinton’s 1996 campaign would have to note that the most important moment by far was the 1995 government shutdown fight with Newt Gingrich and the eventual Republican nominee, Bob Dole. Before that fight, Bill Clinton was about 10 points down in the national polls against Dole. After the smoke cleared, Clinton was about 10 points ahead, and the race never again got close.
Schoen and his partner, Mark Penn, argued against having that fight with Newt and Dole, saying Clinton would look more moderate by just splitting the difference and coming to a quick compromise more on their terms. But when Clinton rejected that advice, and instead announced he would fight to the end on preserving money for Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment, the polling turned bad for the Republicans. We won decisively.
Oddly enough, President Clinton’s campaign stump speeches that year never did mention his desire to deregulate Wall Street. Fast forward to 2010, which was a terrible year for Democrats. Voters were outraged by the Wall Street bailouts, the fat bonuses that went to the same executives that crashed the economy, and the utter failure to prosecute any bankers that were responsible. Exit polls noted that 24 percent of the public thought the top blame for the bad economy was due to Bush, 29 percent said Obama, and 44 percent said Wall Street. Of those who blamed Wall Street first, Democrats got beat almost 2-1. Pollster Stan Greenberg argues compellingly that these soft-on-Wall Street factors hurt Hillary’s 2016 campaign badly and are still haunting Democrats today.
Even though the economy remained weak and Obama was vulnerable, Democrats got lucky in 2012 when the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney of Bain Capital. Obama won in great part due to bashing Romney for his financial industry track record of stripping jobs from communities for the sake of big profits for his company.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren was the only challenger in the country who beat an incumbent senator, a well-liked moderate one at that. Sherrod Brown had more money spent against him than any senator in the country, yet never trailed in the ultimate swing state of Ohio, winning by more than Obama. Tammy Baldwin upset a popular ex-governor to win an open Senate seat. All three based their campaigns in large part on running against Wall Street.
Two years later, the 2014 elections were a debacle for Democrats nationwide, but especially for more centrist Democrats. Strong advocates of Wall Street accountability like Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Al Franken of Minnesota, and Gary Peters of Michigan all won races that were supposed to be challenging rather easily.
In 2016, while Secretary Clinton certainly took some progressive stands on economic issues, she rarely waved the populist flag or made tough attacks on Wall Street. In fact, Clinton was badly damaged by taking six-figure speaking fees for speeches to Goldman Sachs. She never fully embraced Elizabeth Warren’s Wall Street reform agenda, and instead of picking a populist VP candidate such as Warren or Sherrod Brown, she chose the single candidate who was widely seen as closest to Wall Street.
Meanwhile, Trump attacked Wall Street, hedge funds, and firms like Goldman Sachs in speech after speech, as well as TV ads. He even endorsed Warren’s idea of reinstating Glass-Steagall and breaking up the biggest banks.
Schoen says Democrats need Wall Street’s money, but Warren in her Senate race and Sanders in his presidential campaign proved small online contributors could make a strong populist campaign financially competitive with a Wall Street-funded campaign. Schoen argues that there are more people who self-identify as moderates than liberals, ignoring the fact that most moderate swing voters hate Wall Street.
Finally, Schoen says Democrats need to be a pro-small business/pro-entrepreneur party. On this I heartily agree with him. The problem is that being pro-Wall Street is not the same thing. The too-big-to-fail banks rarely lend to small businesses and start-ups. They work mostly with the biggest businesses when they are lending, and use much of their money for financial speculation in the markets.
And what Schoen views as policy successes – Clinton’s deregulation of media and banking that has led to the consolidation of those industries into oligopolies – inherently crushes the little guy. Truly being pro-small business entails using anti-trust law to free markets from monopolies; making sure community banks can lend money to local businesses; and making sure potential customers of those local businesses make enough money to be able to buy things from those local businesses.
Schoen’s op-ed fails at policy and fails at politics. Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because of her wild, raging, left-wing populism ― she lost because working-class voters who haven’t gotten a raise in years don’t think Democrats are willing to fight for them.
Donald Trump remains deeply unpopular with the American people, and his recent actions to undermine health care and pursuit of trickle-down tax cuts will surely make matters worse.
But the round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations that occurred last week in Washington reminds us that there is an area where Trump’s job performance is relatively strong. According to Democracy Corps’ most recent poll, 46 percent of registered voters approve of his “handling of trade agreements with other countries,” 51 percent, how he is “putting American workers ahead of the interests of big corporations” and 60 percent, “keeping jobs in the United States.”
That is made possible, in part by the relative silence of Democrats on these issues (and in spite of committed progressive trade advocates among America’s unions and consumer and environmental organizations.)
Indeed, Hillary Clinton and national Democrats’ failure to vociferously express their doubts about NAFTA and opposition to President Obama’s signature trade policy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), contributed mightily to Trump’s victory in many of the swing Midwestern states.
What Trump knows and all Democrats must understand is this: for the voters, this is not about trade agreements like NAFTA and TPP per se. It is about the outsourcing of good paying American jobs that these agreements facilitate.
Only 11 percent of voters view “outsourcing” favorably in our most recent poll. That was vividly expressed by voters from the Rustbelt to Seattle in focus groups conducted this summer. Just hearing the word ‘outsourcing’ would get them fuming, and they say those are “middle income jobs” and companies that outsource jobs are “traitors” and “should be financially penalized.”
While the country is evenly divided on whether NAFTA has been good for the economy, they are pretty sure it has meant fewer American jobs. That is why Trump has made trade agreements so central to his agenda – it makes him relevant to Americans’ consuming struggle with jobs and wages.
NAFTA renegotiations are putting trade front-and-center again, and this time Democrats must not remain invisible. That is not just because it makes Donald Trump relevant on the issue of jobs and wages and fuels one of his only remaining areas of approval.
What is more important is the opportunity to secure changes to NAFTA for which many progressives have been fighting for so long. That includes taking on the lack of enforceable labor and environmental standards and the special protections for corporations (like Investor State Dispute Settlement) that push so many corporations to outsource good paying American jobs.
Our focus groups and polling for Public Citizen has revealed just how much both Clinton voters and Trump voters, including his white working class base, dislike features of NAFTA. That includes some elements that progressive trade reformers have been fighting for years and that the current U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, proposed to address in the recent NAFTA talks.
At the top of that list is a significant rollback of the corporate investor protections and ISDS regime that make it less risky and expensive for corporations to outsource jobs to Mexico. Also proposed was an end to NAFTA’s open-ended waiver of Buy American and other local preferences in government procurement that outsource our tax dollars rather than reinvesting them to create jobs here.
Trump’s has reneged on too many trade-related campaign promises that enjoy progressive support like confronting currency manipulation and making negotiations more transparent for Democrats to be silent now.
Voters are also concerned by problems with NAFTA that the administration has shown no interest in addressing. The most convincing argument for major changes to NAFTA is one that says “the U.S. worker is the big loser” because NAFTA lacks enforceable “labor and environmental standards so companies can move U.S. jobs to Mexico to pay workers poverty wages” and dump pollutants and “then import those products back to the U.S. for sale.” Over 80 percent of Trump voters and over 60 percent of Clinton voters found that a compelling argument against the current NAFTA. But new terms to remedy this do not appear to be at the top of the Trump trade agenda.
If saving American jobs and better wages is not enough for Democrats to take a visible stand on trade, then consider this: after a simulated debate over NAFTA, nearly 60 percent of voters came to believe NAFTA was bad for the economy and meant fewer American jobs. For Democrats, there is no upside to being on the sidelines – or worse, the wrong side – of this debate.
Democrats owe it to their voters and the country to lead the fight for a better NAFTA.
Reporting from the DNC meeting in Las Vegas, PowerPost’s David Weigel and Ed O’Keefe have an update on the Virginia governor’s race, focusing on Democratic nail-biting about the possibility of a bad outcome, in part because of statewide polls failing to predict Trump’s November upset in key rust belt states. The Virginia election will be a pretty good test about the reliability of various polls in the contest, most of which show the Democratic nominee with a lead of a few points. But the most accurate polls tend to be in the final two or three days of the campaign. In any event, it’s good to know that Democratic leaders aren’t basking in either overconfidence or hand-wringing. O’Keefe and Weigel quote DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who rebukes Democrats “who believe Virginia is now solidly, safely, permanently blue after years of population growth in the diverse suburbs of Washington.” As Perez put it, “I hear ‘demographics is destiny’ and it’s nails on a chalkboard to me…Demographics is not destiny. Organizing is destiny.” In a close election, it’s all about GOTV. In this case, the GOP mobilizing turnout of Virginia’s suburbs and rural areas vs. the Democratic focus on major urban areas and northeastern Virginia, especially the suburbs around Washington, D.C. The authors point out that the RNC has 80 staff members on the ground in the state, twice as many as the DNC, and substantially more money. Those who want to help reduce the Republican’s financial edge can support the campaign of Democratic nominee Ralph Northam right here.
President Obama stumps for Democratic nominee Ralph Northam:
But it’s not only the Governorship that is important in Virginia’s November 7th election. In his graph-rich post, “Underneath It All: Elections for the Virginia House of Delegates: The General Assembly’s lower chamber is also up for election on Nov. 7,” Geoffrey Skelley explains at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “While November’s political spotlight will shine brightest on the gubernatorial contest at the top of the Virginia ticket between former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), there will also be many interesting races down-ballot in the Old Dominion on Election Day. Not only will there be elections for the commonwealth’s two other statewide offices — lieutenant governor and attorney general — but all 100 House of Delegates seats will also be up for grabs. The General Assembly’s lower house will probably look a little different after Nov. 7, but the question is, how different?..As things stand, the Republicans hold a 66-34 edge over the Democrats in the House of Delegates, meaning that the Democrats must win 17 net seats to retake it. Not shockingly, the Crystal Ball can confidently say that the GOP will maintain control of the chamber. In fact, Northam admitted just as much at a dinner recently where he said he looked forward to current House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R) becoming speaker of the House (current Speaker Bill Howell is retiring and Cox is the presumptive replacement). Still, the partisan makeup of the House could change quite a bit…A Northam win by two points or so might mean only two-to-four seats for Democrats, whereas a Northam win by five points could mean more GOP-held seats fall to the Democrats. On the other hand, a nail-biter or Gillespie win could trim the Democratic gains even further. There may be many races decided by just a few hundred votes. These are the kinds of contests that should remind people that every vote really does count.”
Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal-Star reports on recent remarks by Thomas Frank, author of the much-buzzed about “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” As Walton writes, Frank “places the blame for the election of President Donald Trump squarely on the back of the Democratic Party and its abandonment of working-class Americans…They love it when unions work hard for them and give them campaign funds,” Frank said in a telephone interview. But they aren’t deeply concerned with the problems faced by working-class people,” he said. “They need to stop taking those people for granted…Frank has described the change as a shift of political attention from the working class to professionals, “the highly credentialed and creative class…In the process, he said during an earlier address at the Kansas City Public Library promoting his book, “Listen, Liberal,” the Democratic Party became “a party of New Economy winners.” Democrats, adds Frank, “certainly can beat Donald Trump” in 2020, he said. However, they cannot do it by “going down the road they’ve been going,” he said, and they will need to choose a nominee “who is good on working-class issues.”
At The Daily 202, James Hohman notes a scary Morning Consult poll indicating that Trump’s attacks on the press are getting some traction in the court of public opinion. As Hohman explains, “The president touted a Politico–Morning Consult poll published last week that found 46 percent of registered voters believe major news organizations fabricate stories about him. Just 37 percent of Americans think the mainstream media does not invent stories, while the rest are undecided. More than 3 in 4 Republicans believe reporters make up stories about Trump…The same Politico-Morning Consult poll that Trump tweeted about yesterday found that 28 percent of Americans think the federal government should have the power to revoke the broadcast licenses of major news organizations if it says they are fabricating news stories about the president or the administration. Only 51 percent think the government should not be able to do that. A plurality of Republicans, 46 percent, thinks the government should have the power to revoke licenses if it says stories are false. As a thought exercise, imagine how much these same people would have freaked out if Barack Obama had called for revoking Fox News’s license to broadcast. Hohman cites other polls, including “An annual survey published last month by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 37 percent of Americans cannot name even one of the five rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. About half of those surveyed got freedom of speech but couldn’t get any of the others…Only 26 percent of respondents could name the three branches of government, down from 38 percent in 2011…Even more worrisome, 39 percent of Americans support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval.There was less opposition to prior restraint (49 percent) this year than in 2016 (55 percent).”
At The Tacoma News Tribune Matt Driscoll reports on a new study, ““The Other White America: White Working-Class Views on Belonging, Change, Identity, and Immigration,” by Harris Beider, Stacy Anne Hardwood and Kusminder Chahal, and observes, “Among other things, the study argues that as a group the white working class is far more diverse in its views than the stereotype that so often defines it. At the same time, the report is blunt in assessing the challenges of building coalitions across racial lines.,,The report, which was funded by the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs, included 415 conversations in five cities across the country between August 2016 and March 2017. Along with Tacoma, researchers spent time in New York City; Dayton, Ohio; Phoenix; and Birmingham, Alabama…Researchers organized workshops and held discussions with people who identified themselves as white working class. Scholars then analyzed and detailed what they said. The hope was to use the data to help pave a productive path forward…In reality, the researchers found a much more fragmented, nuanced and diverse section of society. While a general sense of economic insecurity — living paycheck to paycheck — along with a shared set of values based on work ethic, family, and self-sufficiency were all prevalent, educational attainment, political views, occupations and income levels varied widely.”
Kate Arnoff of the Intercept argues that “Democrats Are letting the Climate Crisis Go to Waste,” and observes “What should be a sparkling opportunity to push forward an ambitious agenda on climate—to condemn Republicans for not just ignoring but fueling a crisis with increasingly human and economic consequences—is going quite literally up in smoke. Even the most dogged climate champions in Congress are doing something Republicans would never dream of: Letting a crisis go to waste…Republicans are doing everything in their power to rip up the regulations and policies that could help mitigate the United States’ contribution to our ongoing climate crisis, most recently in taking their first official step to dismantle the Clean Power Plan…There’s been no unified policy response from congressional Democrats to Republicans’ attack on the Clean Power Plan or recent extreme weather events. Instead, the country’s most progressive Democrats have taken the GOP’s advice of not politicizing the events of the last few months. “We have a lot of time to make that point,” climate hawk Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D.-R.I., told Politico when asked about seeing the storms as a chance to talk about rising temperatures.”
Of course it’s way early, but David Weigel notes at PowerPost that “An early poll of the 2020 Democratic primaries, which kick off in roughly 820 days, finds Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at the front of a crowded field — in a race that would bear little resemblance to 2016’s two-candidate marathon…The first 2020 Granite State poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s survey center, finds that 31 percent of the state’s Democrats would back Sanders if the first presidential primary were held today. Twenty-four percent would back former vice president Joe Biden, while 13 percent would back Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). No other contender, not even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, cracks double digits.”
But Ed Kilgore makes a case that “Democrats Should Not Consider a Presidential Nominee Who’s Older Than Trump,” noting that “…While no one in the running for 2020 suffers from the exact vulnerabilities created by the massive, decades-long attacks on Hillary Clinton, there is one clear and present danger that needs to be confronted directly and honestly. It’s that Democrats could choose a challenger so old that the prospect of infirmity or mortality — or worse yet, actual infirmity or mortality during the general-election campaign — could give Trump just the kind of advantage he needs…On election day in 2020, Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old, and Joe Biden will be a couple of weeks from turning 78. These happen to be the early front-runners for the Democratic nomination, according to initial polls…Biden 2020 or Sanders 2020 is a really bad idea, for reasons that go beyond the anomaly that either would make the oldest man ever elected president the youth candidate in his reelection bid…If nothing else, this is a subject that demands discussion among political activists and the news media. Perhaps an aging country has all but abandoned the idea that you can be too old to run for president. If not, we need to know that now instead of in the heat of a campaign.”
The following article is cross-posted from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research e-blast:
A new poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner shows a 55- 45% majority of registered voters trust Democrats in Congress more than Donald Trump to handle America’s national security. This represents a huge 18-point swing toward Democrats since March, when a 54-46% majority said they trusted Trump more.
The declining trust of Americans toward Trump on national security comes at a time when the country and Trump administration face a host of foreign challenges, from growing tensions with North Korea, to Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran deal, to a consensus that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election.
GQR partner Jeremy Rosner, who served on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton said: “The American public is rapidly losing faith that Donald Trump can keep them safe. The more they watch him handling foreign challenges, from North Korea to Iran to Russia, the less confidence they have in him.”
The American public particularly lacks faith in Trump’s ability to deal with North Korea – arguably the most dangerous of his immediate national security challenges. The public trusts Democrats in Congress more than they trust Trump to deal with North Korea, by a 57-42% margin. This 15 point Democratic edge is up 5 points just since this August, when Trump first threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” – a sign that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric is undermining his own public support, rather than enhancing it.
Trump’s mishandling of national security is starting to erode the Republican brand on these issues. In March, voters trusted “Republicans in Congress” on national security more than “Democrats in Congress,” by a large 20 point, 60-40% margin. But nine months of Trump’s tenure as Commander in Chief has cut that margin to just a 5-point, 52-47% advantage. Indeed, the GQR poll shows that on the central threat of North Korea, the public already trusts Democrats in Congress more than their Republican counterparts, by a 53-47% margin.
The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey fielded online, October 3-10, among 2,000 registered voters.
After reading an awful lot of articles about Steve Bannon and Donald Trump jousting over 2018 Senate primaries, I expressed some skepticism at New York about this alleged clash of the titans:
While it hasn’t been formally confirmed by the White House just yet, Politico is reporting that President Trump called up three Republican senators who are up for reelection and promised to help them fend off any primary challengers that might emerge. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three – John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been the subject of dark imprecations and thinly veiled threats from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, that great defender of Trumpism even if that involves opposing Trump.
The three senators receiving an offer of help from Trump are a goodly portion of the incumbents under fire from Bannon. There are only eight GOP senators up next year. Bannon isn’t messing with Ted Cruz. Bob Corker is retiring. Another, Orrin Hatch may retire, too; he hasn’t announced his intentions. There are two senators that Bannon and like-minded “populists” might target but that Trump probably won’t back no matter what Mitch McConnell does: sworn presidential enemy Jeff Flake of Arizona and the less-abrasive but still unreliable Dean Heller of Nevada. That leaves the very three Trump apparently called this week.
Two potential right-wing challengers are looking at Barrasso with bad intent: gazillionaire Foster Friess, the man who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Blackwater founder (and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince. Bannon has talked to former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn, who lost badly to Ben Sasse in a 2014 Senate primary, about taking on Fischer. And Chris McDaniel, who blew a primary runoff against Thad Cochran in 2014, is eager to run against Wicker, who had the temerity to suggest that Mississippi might want to consider ending its ancient and evil love affair with the Confederacy.
The big question is exactly what either Trump or Bannon will add to any of these three races. Trump obviously has clout and ultimate visibility as the president of the United States, and for all the #NeverTrump movement conservatives (Flake and Sasse now being their increasingly isolated representatives) who initially withheld affection for their party’s ravisher, he’s now loved by the right-wing rank-and-file as though he were the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater.
But Trump’s clumsy and narcissistic embrace of Luther Strange in Alabama should give pause to any future endorsee. A postelection study showed Trump did little or nothing to boost his candidate’s standing, even in a state where Republicans adore him. It’s possible his appeal, such as it is, simply isn’t transferrable, and it’s also possible his fans believe in doing what Trump does rather than doing what Trump says. Candidates adept at bone-charring rhetoric and provocation of the hated liberals may be irresistible to Trump’s base, no matter whom he backs.
On the other hand, Bannon’s insurgent wizardry is a bit suspect as well. The idea that he deserves much credit for Roy Moore’s primary win in Alabama is laughable: Moore was a massive celebrity in his home state (and among Christian-right folk nationally) back when Bannon’s main theater of operations was in sinful Hollywood. And Luther Strange, bless his little heart, was a great big hot-air balloon losing altitude from practically the moment he accepted appointment to the Senate from a disgraced governor he had been protecting from impeachment. It is at this point not at all certain he can go rolling into a state like Wyoming with Mercer money and screaming Breitbart headlines and take down an incumbent senator, particularly if his candidate is a sketchy character like Prince, who probably knows more about sandy plains of Iraq than about the windy plateaus of the Equality State.
It could well turn out that neither Trump nor his former sidekick and ideological shaman is going to have that dramatic an effect on GOP Senate primaries in 2018.
After sorting through the Alabama results and comparing them to other 2017 special elections, I figured it was time to look ahead, so I did just that at New York.
[T]he [Alabama] results were entirely consistent with the pro-Democratic trend that has persisted throughout 2017’s special and off-year elections. That would have been the case even if Roy Moore had eked out a narrow win. Republicans can, as Donald Trump has done, rationalize this or that 2017 defeat as being an anomaly. But it is impossible to take an honest look at the overall pattern of 2017 contests without hearing the not-so-distant rumbling of a likely 2018 wave for Democrats.
Harry Enten conducted a comprehensive analysis of 2017 special elections — all 70 of them — taking into account the established partisan “lean” of the jurisdiction being contested.
“The Democratic margin has been 12 percentage points better, on average, than the partisan lean in each race. Sometimes this has resulted in a seat flipping from Republican to Democratic (e.g. in the Alabama Senate face-off on Tuesday or Oklahoma’s 37th state Senate District contest last month). Sometimes it has meant the Democrat barely lost a race you wouldn’t think a Democrat would be competitive in (e.g. in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District in June). Sometimes it’s merely been the case that the Democrat won a district by an even wider margin than you’d expect (e.g. in Pennsylvania’s 133 House District last week).
“The point is that Democrats are doing better in all types of districts with all types of candidates. You don’t see this type of consistent outperformance unless there’s an overriding pro-Democratic national factor.”
The best elections to examine in order to figure out whether Democrats can win back the U.S. House in 2018 are the seven congressional special elections of 2017. Republicans won five and Democrats two (a winning percentage that’s not surprising since all but one of these elections were triggered by members of Congress joining the Trump administration). But as Enten notes, the average vote-percentage swing to Democrats from prior established partisan levels was 16 points. In a polarized electorate, that’s a large swing indeed.
In thinking about this pattern, keep in mind that the demographic groups most likely to vote Democratic typically don’t proportionately turn out for non-presidential elections, and particularly for special elections. There is a powerful trend under way.
While any single special congressional election is not necessarily predictive of future election results, in larger batches they are highly correlated to the next election coming down the pike. Enten looks at special elections prior to the last six midterms and finds that on average the partisan swing in the former is within three percentage points of the partisan swing in the latter. That would suggest a double-digit Democratic swing (or something close to it) in 2018.
If that seems extravagant, look at the congressional generic ballot (a simple polling question about which party the respondents would like to control the U.S. House), itself highly correlated with the national House popular vote. According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Democrats currently have an 11-point advantage, the highest they’ve enjoyed since last year’s elections.
The question of exactly how big a margin in the national House popular vote Democrats would need to gain the 24 net seats required for control of the House is a difficult one. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz has just published an analysis of House elections dating back to 1946, which also takes into account the impact of GOP-controlled redistricting after 2010, and concludes that a Democratic win as small as four points could do the trick. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report thinks a seven- or eight-point win would be necessary.
Despite the clear trends, there remain a lot of unknown variables as we head toward the midterms, most notably presidential approval ratings and retirements. But the current occupant of the White House has a highly polarizing approach to politics that almost certainly caps his approval ratings (which have never been above 46 percent in any event). And Republican retirements are definitely outpacing those of Democrats; 26 House Republicans are either calling it a day or running for other offices. There’s no telling where the much-rumored investigations of sexual misconduct by large numbers of congressmen will lead. But as Jonathan Chait points out, there are 219 Republican men in Congress as opposed to just 132 Democratic men, so the odds of net damage to the GOP (and to a GOP-controlled institution) are high.
There is more at stake next year, obviously, than control of the U.S. House. Thirty-six states will hold gubernatorial elections, and all but a few will hold state legislative elections. Partisan performance at the state level could have a crucial effect not just on the public policies of the jurisdictions involved, but on positioning for the next redistricting cycle, which will begin between 2020 and 2022. And even in Washington, Democrats now see an opportunity to win back the U.S. Senate, which would have seemed laughably impossible a year ago.
All in all, we will probably look back a year from now and see 2017 as a harbinger of a strong Democratic performance in the midterms. Its precise strength will determine whether Donald Trump enters the second half of his presidential term merely embattled or fully caged and cornered.