washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

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

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

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

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

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

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

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

The Daily Strategist

April 26, 2017

GOP Bets Big On Negative Attack Ads

Republican campaigns are expected to set a new standard for negative attack ads in the weeks ahead, according to Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza’s Sunday WaPo article “In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal: Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats.” According to the authors,

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.
The hope is that a vigorous effort to “define” opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall.

Some ads are already running, and Cilliza and VandeHei cite examples, including an attack on a Democratic House candidate’s medical practice for suing 80 patients for non-payment of bills and Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown’s votes on border protection and illegal immigration.
How dirty will it get? Expect the worst, suggests MyDD’s Matt Stoller, who comments on the track record of RNC oppo research director Terry Nelson:

In 2002, he was deputy Chief of Staff at the RNC, where he became wrapped up in Tom Delay’s TRMPAC money laundering scandal as a key point of contact between the RNC and Delay’s Texas PAC. He also testified in the trial of convicted GOP operative James Tobin for illegal phone jamming in New Hampshire, because he was Tobin’s supervisor when Tobin illegally spammed Democratic phone banks on election day.

None of this comes as much of a surprise. But Democratic campaign strategists should prepare their candidates for the most intense negative ad campaigns ever and to respond aggressively. Reading the aforementioned articles is a good start.


New Democracy Corps Survey on Nat. Security

by Scott Winship
Democracy Corps — part of boss Stan Greenberg’s vast polling empire — released a strategy memo yesterday based on a new national security survey they conducted last month. You’ll be hearing more about this survey this fall, but for now you can check out the memo and some top-line survey findings.
The Republicans are basically in no better shape now than they were on Memorial Day. In the aggregate, Democrats hold a narrow lead when respondents are asked which of the named candidates they will vote for in Congressional elections. Over 6 in 10 likely voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, basically unchanged from recent months (the steady increase since 9/11 having plateaued). Fifty-five percent of likely voters disapprove of Bush’s performance. The number who approve — 41 percent — is smaller than the number who strongly disapprove (45 percent). In the fifty most-competitive districts, the number who strongly disapprove rose from 36 percent to 47 percent. In these districts, Democrats’ aggregate lead is growing and has reached a majority of likely voters.
The GOP has tried to use gay marriage and immigration as issues to fire up their base and flip swing voters, but “illegal immigration” comes in 7th on a list of most important issues, and “moral values” comes in 9th. Iraq and terrorism are basically tied for most important. Want to guess which of these the Administration will try to exploit this fall?
Many Democratic critiques of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policies resonate with the public, including charges of mismanagement of the war, the assertion that it has no plan moving forward, and the accusation that Iraq has taken away from the effectiveness of the war on terrorism.
But there are a few reasons for worry. Half of the Democracy Corps sample was asked whether they felt warm or cool toward “the Republican Congress” and half about “the Congress”. While just 26 percent were warm toward “the Congress”, 38 percent were warm toward “the Republican Congress”. This is the opposite of what we’d expect to see if voters were mainly fed up with the GOP. And corruption ranked dead last among ten issues when respondents were asked which were most important to their vote.
Furthermore, the number of voters indicating that terrorism was one of their top two concerns jumped 9 percentage points since the spring. And even though their advantage has declined, Republicans are still trusted more on this fundamental issue, 48 to 33 percent. The DCorps memo emphasizes that Democrats narrow these gaps after respondents are given security questions that contrast the Democratic and Republican messages, especially among Independents and in swing districts. But even then Republicans lead Democrats on terrorism and national security (nationally and among Independents) or are tied with them (in swing districts). Democrats are given the edge in terms of who would do a better job in Iraq only by a two-point margin (not statistically different from a tie).
The memo recommends an emphasis on changing the course in Iraq, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, working toward energy independence, rebuilding international ties, and demanding accountability for Republicans failure to prioritize keeping America safe.
I think that if the election were held today, I’d feel pretty good about our chances. But I do worry that the Administration can create political traps — such as the one in the making regarding the move of al Qaida leaders to Guantanamo and the Administration’s demand for military tribunals. I also worry that the real-world competition between Democratic and Republican messages is poorly captured by the poll-testing of head-to-head position statements. The Democrats’ position on Iraq matches the public, but the public doesn’t give either party the edge on future plans there, and it trusts the GOP more on terrorism. Haven’t I seen this movie before? I don’t remember that it has a happy ending. Hope the sequel is better….


Ding Ding Ding…End of Round 1

by Scott Winship
With TDS editor Ruy Teixeira’s entry, the first round of our middle-class roundtable is complete. Look for a response from the authors of the original discussion piece in the next few days, as well as some additional reaction here and from around the web.


Clear ‘Identity’ Key to Dems’ Success

Gadflyer Paul Waldman has an op-ed in the Boston GlobeElections aren’t about issues,” arguing the primacy of identity as the key to future Democratic victories. As Waldman explains in the nut graph:

If there’s one thing Republicans have understood and Democrats haven’t, it is that politics is not about issues. Politics is about identity. The candidates and parties that win are not those aligning their positions most precisely with a majority of the electorate. The winners are those who form a positive image in the public mind of who they are (and a negative image of who their opponents are). Issues are a vehicle to create that identity, one that combines with symbolism and narrative to shape what the public thinks about when they think about Democrats and Republicans.

Waldman, author of Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success, makes a compelling case in clear, blunt language and his insights about strengthening Democratic campaigns deserve more attention.


Ideology, Foreign Policy, and Yellow Submarines

by Scott Winship
Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to….review a paper by one Paul T. McCartney. (Hey Jude, I never claimed to be the Daily Humorist.)
For real though. Let’s talk about a paper presented at last weekend’s annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Not just any ol’ paper, but Sir Paul’s “Partisan Worldviews and Foreign Policy in Post-Cold War Era.” The paper tackles the question of whether there really is such a thing as an ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. That is, can it be said in the post-Cold War period that Democrats and Republicans consistently prioritize different values that lead them to embrace different foreign policies? Is there something about the Administration’s foreign policy that is “conservative”, or does it simply reflect the particular views of the Administration itself? Is Democratic electoral weakness on foreign policy due to framing or past decisions by Democratic leaders, or is it a consequence of the Party’s basic ideology in foreign affairs? Different answers to these questions imply different political strategies.
McCartney’s review of the more general “culture war” literature and literatures oriented toward national security positions leads him to identify two worldviews that govern foreign policy preferences. The Inclusive Pluralist worldview is analogous to George Lakoff’s Nuturant Parent worldview; both emphasize cooperation and empathy and reject blind authoritarianism and moral absolutism. Lakoff’s Strict Father worldview mirrors McCartney’s Nationalist-Darwinist worldview. In both cases, the emphasis is on strength, competition, self-interest, submission to authority, and respect for tradition.
McCartney took all of the Key Votes related to foreign policy — as chosen by Congressional Quarterly editors — between 1989 and 2004 and coded them to indicate which position was Inclusive Pluralist and which was Nationalist-Darwinist. He then examined how the votes mapped onto legislators’ parties. Each year, between 60 and 92 percent of Democrats voted the IP position, while just 8 to 64 percent of Republicans did. The gap between Democratic and Republican legislators ranged from 9 to 64 percentage points, with the average across years being 37 points.
There was one exception to these results — in 2001 Republicans were actually more likely than Democrats to vote the IP position. That’s because in the wake of 9/11, most Democrats voted for N-D policies (i.e., related to the Patriot Act) while Republicans were more likely to vote the IP position on Fast-Track Trade Authority (i.e., pro-free trade). McCartney classifies the pro-free trade position as IP because it indicates support for a cooperative arrangement that benefits poor countries. In this case, the domestic Nurturant Parent/Strict Father worldviews conflict with and win out over the foreign policy IP/N-D worldviews. The same is true for one immigration vote in 1998.
I would go a step further than McCartney and argue that there are three fundamental value dimensions underlying the domestic and foreign policy worldviews (and therefore all policy preferences): altruism vs. self-interest (How much do I care about others versus myself?), idealism vs. realism (How practical is it for me to pursue these priorities?), and classical liberalism vs. traditionalism (Is it legitimate for me to pursue these priorities?). Inclusive Pluralism and economic liberalism at home combine altruism and idealism, while cultural liberalism rests on classical liberalism. The foreign policy preferences of establishment Republicans as well as economic conservatism can be seen as reflecting self-interest and realism. Nationalist conservatives like Pat Buchanan add a dose of traditionalism. Cultural conservatives value traditionalism above all. Domestic neoconservatives of the ’60s and ’70s can be viewed as altruistic realists who wanted to believe in social programs but could not. They eventually also embraced traditionalism. Finally, the foreign policy neoconservatives of recent decades blend self-interest and idealism.
Analyses like McCartney’s help explain why Democrats have electoral problems related to their cultural liberalism and their national security views. Fairly or not, the Party is perceived to put too much of a priority on the rights and interests of other nations rather than advocating a strong self-interested foreign policy. And their stance on key “values issues” challenges the traditionalism of many voters. Because of the basic values underlying each party’s worldview and the policies the parties have supported over time, voters have become sorted into two camps, one of which embodies both traditionalism and self-interest and one of which values classical liberalism and altruism.
One final thought — like cultural polarization, foreign-policy polarization is a recent phenomenon. The ’60s marked the arrival of the culturally-loaded controversies that would reshape the parties in subsequent decades as well as the breakdown of Cold War liberalism as a unifying foreign policy doctrine. Vietnam activated the altruistism, idealism, and anti-authoritarianism of young liberals and changed American politics. It is interesting to ponder what might have been if early war protestors had been more traditional or if anti-authoritarian youth had entered politics without the backdrop of the war. Perhaps we’d be looking at a gap in only one policy area rather than two.


Middle Class Roundtable Continues

…with responses from Strategist editor William Galston and political scientist Jacob Hacker. Give it a look.


Immigration Still Huge Issue in Many Districts

Democrats should not be lulled into anything less than full attention to the issue of immigration in mid-term campaigns by reports that Congress will not be addressing the issue before the election. So says Carl Hulse in his New York Times piece “In Bellwether District, G.O.P. Runs on Immigration.” Hulse spotlights CO-7, encompassing Aurora, Colorado, where the immigration issue is particularly hot, but says:

And while Congress is unlikely to enact major immigration legislation before November, inaction does not make the issue any less potent in campaigning. In fact, many Republicans, on the defensive here and around the country over the war in Iraq, say they are finding that a hard-line immigration stance resonates not just with conservatives, who have been disheartened on other fronts this year, but also with a wide swath of voters in districts where control of the House could be decided.

Hulse provides no opinion polling data to indicate constituent sentiment in the district or nation-wide. However, the most recent polls by Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics and the L.A. Times/Bloomberg give the Democrats a slight edge in public confidence on immigration. Yet Hulse sees many GOP candidates emphasizing a hard line, in contrast to the Administration’s position:

“Immigration is an issue that is really popping, “ said Dan Allen, a Republican strategist. “It is an issue that independents are paying attention to as well. It gets us talking about security and law and order.”
Leading Republicans, leery of a compromise on immigration, are encouraging their candidates to keep the focus on border control, as in legislation passed by the House, rather than accept a broader bill that would also clear a path for many illegal immigrants to gain legal status. The latter approach, approved by the Senate with overwhelming Democratic support and backed by the White House, makes illegal immigration one of the issues on which Republicans face a tough choice of standing by President Bush or taking their own path.
“The American people want a good illegal-immigration-reform bill,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, “not a watered-down, pro-amnesty bill.”

None of which is to say that Dems can’t gain advantage with Hispanic voters in particular, or even voters in general, by taking a more conciliatory position. We can be sure only, that the issue will be raised by GOP candidates going forward to November 7.


Campaign ’06 Wrap-Ups Everywhere

Labor Day has morphed into more of an occasion for publishing wrap-ups about mid-term congressional campaigns than assessing the prospects for American workers. In this spirit, The Grey Lady leads with “G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House” by Robin Toner and Kate Zernike. The authors provide a host of insightful quotes from both parties, proving that the arts of spin and denial are still in practice. But Dems will be encouraged by this admission:

“It’s the most difficult off-year cycle for the Republicans since 1982,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and former chief of staff to the Republican National Committee. “Environmentally, it’s about as good from the Democratic perspective as they could hope to have.”

The Sunday WaPo featured a long article by Dan Balz and David Broder with the happy (for Dems) title “More GOP Districts Counted as Vulnerable: Number Doubled Over the Summer.” Broder and Balz also present spin from both sides, but offer their assessment that “everything points today to Democratic gains across the board on Nov. 7.”
Republicans won’t find much encouragement in Janet Hook’s long L.A. Times article “GOP’s Hold on House Shakier,” either. Subtitled “As Labor Day gets the campaign in full swing, Democrats are counting on voters unhappy with one-party rule and Bush’s leadership,” Hook gives fair vent to leaders of both parties, but points out that:

But many analysts predict any throw-the-bums-out tide will take a greater toll on Republicans. Tim Storey, election analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, sees warning signs for the GOP in the results of 53 special elections for state legislative seats. In 13 cases, incumbents were dumped; all but two were Republicans.

And Slate‘s new feature “Election Scorecard: Where the midterm elections stand today,” written by polling experts Mark Blumenthal (Mystery Pollster) and Charles Franklin (PolitcalArithmetik), offers this cautious assessment for Senate races:

In recent weeks, Democratic candidates have gained slightly in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, while Republicans have picked up a few points in Missouri and New Jersey. Most of the states we are tracking, however, have no meaningful change. Since the net shifts at the state level have been largely offsetting our overall momentum shift, all of the races begin in the “no advantage” position, with no visible national trend helping either party.

With respect to House of Reps races, Democrats have done well in recent “generic ballot” polls. But Blumenthal and Franklin point out that:

While the generic House ballot has been a reasonable indicator of which party is faring better, it is a very imperfect predictor of both the total national congressional vote and, perhaps more importantly, how that vote translates into seats.

Franklin and Blumenthal are collaborating on a new website Pollster.com, which will be a regular stop for poll-watchers of all stripes.
On a more optimistic note, Reuters’ John Whitesides provides the following quote in his Sunday wrap-up “Democrats on a roll in battle for U.S. Congress“:

“I don’t think the question any longer is can Democrats win control of Congress, it’s can Republicans do anything to stop it?” said Amy Walter, House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report newsletter. “All the factors and issues are pushing so strongly against Republicans.”

Mid-term mania notwithstanding, it is Labor Day, so check in with The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuval, whose “Lessons for Labor Day” provides incisive commentary on the disconnect between the aspirations of working people and the poltiicians who purport to represent them.


NYT Article Peeks at GOP Nov. 7 Strategy

The Sunday New York Times has a good one for the oppo research file, “Rove’s Word Is No Longer G.O.P. Gospel” by Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg. The authors claim of Karl Rove’s diminished influence in his party is of less interest than the clues they provide in dilineating the GOP’s strategy for the weeks ahead. As Rutenberg and Nagourney explain:

Mr. Rove — with Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, and Ms. [White House political director Sarah]Taylor, both of whom have assumed a higher profile than in past years — has settled on a narrow strategy to try to minimize Congressional losses while tending to Mr. Bush’s political strength. The White House will reprise the two T’s of its successful campaign strategy since 2002: terrorism and turnout.
They have determined that control of Congress is likely to be settled in as few as six states and have decided to focus most of the party’s resources there, said Republican officials who did not want to be identified discussing internal deliberations. Those states will likely include Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, though officials said the battle lines could shift in coming weeks…Mr. Mehlman, whom Mr. Rove assigned to master get-out-the-vote techniques years ago, has handed custom compact discs with lists of voters, along with information on their voting and consumer habits, to every state Republican chairman.

The article suggests that Rove is less focused on the GOP House campaigns, which are being directed by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York. And there is less national coordination of the GOP gubernatorial campaigns, say the authors:

The White House is largely turning away from the 36 governors’ races, although Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush will continue to help Republican candidates for governor raise money, party officials said. The decision has broad significance because building a foundation of Republican governors had been a main part of Mr. Rove’s goal of creating a long-lasting Republican majority.

But the article warns that Democrats should anticipate an even larger GOP turnout effort:

The Republican National Committee expects to spend over $60 million, which would be a record, for the midterm elections. Officials say half of that would pay for get-out-the-vote operations in the targeted states….In states where Mr. Bush’s presence could be problematic, like Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the turnout operations give Mr. Rove a way to provide below-the-radar help.

Indications are the GOP “Terrorism and Turnout” strategy will face significant obstacles, including the Republican rank-and-file’s growing disenchantment with the Administration’s Iraq quagmire, as well as better-funded and organized Democratic campaigns than were the case in the last mid-terms. And if Dems can match or better the GOP’s turnout effort, November 7 should be a very good day for the donkey.


Wall St. Journal: Dems Gaining on National Security

The Wall St. Journal caps a particularly bad week for Republicans with a page one article in today’s issue by Jackie Calmes, “Republican Advantage on Issue Of National Security Erodes.” It’s a fairly thorough wrap-up of recent developments on the topic, with very little that offers comfort to the GOP. Calmes sets the stage thusly:

The public’s patience has frayed as the Iraq war grows bloodier in its fourth year, eroding confidence in Mr. Bush’s stewardship of national security. Mismanagement of the response to Hurricane Katrina contributed. Democrats, having ceded the security issue to Republicans in the past, now are on the offensive. They’re attacking the administration’s competence at home and abroad and fielding candidates with military experience.
Democrats are also pressing an argument opposite to the president’s: that Iraq isn’t central to the broader war on terror but distracts from it, and breeds more terrorists. How voters ultimately decide on that issue is “one of the most important dynamics of this election,” says Republican pollster David Winston.

Calmes cites recent polls giving the Dems a three-point advantage on which party can most effectively deal with Iraq, a 27-point gain for Dems in less than two years, as well as a nine-point lead in handling foreign affairs. Calmes notes that the Republicans still have a 24 point advantage on “insuring a strong national defense,” but that too is way down.
The article points out that Republicans have more money, as usual, but they are “spending millions to defend seats they thought would be safe, leaving them strapped for helping their challengers running against Democratic incumbents.” In addiiton to Iraq, other issues driving the trend favoring Democrats include corruption, economic insecurity, soaring gas prices, record federal spending and an “anti-incumbent mood.”
The GOP has identified several specific national security issues, which they believe still give them an advantage, according to Calmes. In the nine weeks remaining before the election, Republican strategists will seek congressional debate and votes on strengthening federal surveillance and prosecutory powers, detainment of suspected terrorists and electronic eavesdropping without warrants. But it will be difficult for Republicans to gain ground in light of current trends, as Calmes explains:

Most simply put, time has worn the public’s patience on Iraq — and with it the Republicans’ edge on security issues. With Democrats noting that the war soon will exceed the length of U.S. involvement in World War II, and with Iraq on the verge of sectarian civil war, the unpopularity of the war has become the year’s central issue. Not since March 2004 has a Journal/NBC poll shown that a majority believed the Iraq invasion was worth the cost and casualties. Now polls consistently show a majority thinking the war was a mistake. Majorities favor troop reductions, though not immediate withdrawal. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of foreign policy, and of Iraq specifically.

Even the GOP “cut and run” critique has been undermined by a growing chorus of Republicans withdrawing their support of the Administration’s Iraq policies and Calmes quotes key conservatives expressing doubts about continuing US occupation of Iraq.
Despite the Democrats internal disagreements on national security issues, it appears that Dems may well have the edge on on this all-important issue on November 7. And when the nation’s leading conservative newspaper acknowledges this trend, that is good news indeed.