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

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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

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The Daily Strategist

January 18, 2018

Republican Divisions

Last week Mark Ambinder of The Atlantic did a post reporting some of the findings from a big survey of Republicans done by Tony Fabrizio, including some comparisons to a similar survey ten years ago. And last night, Tom Edsell, at HuffingtonPost, supplied a link to the Fabrizio-McLaughlin power point presentation on the survey.
You can read it yourself, and try to absorb Fabrizio’s segmentation of rank-and-file Republicans into seven categories (Free Marketers, Dennis Miller Republicans, Heartland Republicans, Government Knows Best Republicans, Moralists, Fortress America, and Bush Hawks). More interesting IMHO are the survey’s conclusions about divisions in the GOP ranks, particularly given the clear 1997-2007 trend it shows towards a self-consciously conservative party (71 percent of those in the survey self-indentify as conservatives–up from 55 percent ten years ago).
The divisions cut across a broad swath of economic and social policies. While big majorities of Republicans claim to favor both balanced budgets and additional tax cuts, they’re split 52 % (tax cuts) to 44% (budget balancing) on the highest fiscal priority. Perhaps more significantly, GOPers support the proposition that “universal health coverage should be a guaranteed right for every American” by a 51%-43% margin, with interesting splits among the seven segments. 44% of Republicans appear to dislike private accounts for Social Security. They’re all over the place on global warming and federal involvement in education.
On cultural issues, the two things that stand out are: (a) while 61% of Republicans call themselves “pro-life,” and 80% appear to support significant restrictions on abortion, 53% also agree with the proposition that “the Republican Party has spent too much time focusing on moral issues like abortion and gay marriage”; and (b) a startling 49% (with 42% opposed) favor allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military.
The issues where Republicans are united are interesting, too. 74% of GOPers still think the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do; a host of surveys show large majorities of independents, and overall majorities of Americans, feel differently. And on immigration, 76% agree that enforcing the laws against illegal immigrants, even if that means deporting them, should be the main goal of national policy. Aside from illustrating why John McCain’s campaigning is tanking, this finding could mean trouble down the road for presidential candidates whose opposition to the “grand bargain” approach to immigration reform (i.e., Rudy Giuliani) is technical rather than fundamental. It could also mean trouble for the GOP generally if the immigration debate begins to focus not on “amnesty” but on “deportation.”
The survey also includes presidential candidate questions, but since the data’s about a month old, it’s interesting mainly in terms of the preferences of different segments. Giuliani runs first in all seven categories, but is (unsurprisingly) weakest among “Moralists.” Fred Thompson’s nascent bid also appears to have reasonably broad support; his weakest segment is one (‘Heartland Republicans”) that is basically a midwestern regional grouping.
All in all, Fabrizio displays a Republican Party that’s more of a coalition than is generally assumed; whose points of unity could be problematic in a general election; and where relative support for Bush’s Iraq/terrorism policies has complicated the old economic/cultural fault lines among GOPers.


Dems More in Tune With Voters on Health Care

In connectiion with the growing buzz about “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s new documentary about America’s health care system, Robin Toner has an update on the health care proposals of ’08 presidential candidates of both parties in today’s New York Times. She touches on the candidates positions on public and private sector plans, inclusiveness of coverage, financial and cost containment ideas, tax incentives and other aspects.
Toner provides capsule policy summaries for each candidate here. (See also our post here for more insight into the candidates’ policies and here for an overview of how the different states are doing ).


Democrats, “Change,” and the 1990s

A small incident on the campaign trail in Iowa yesterday, highlighted by the Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut, illustrated an important strategic choice for Democrats that is being dramatized in the competition between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Everyone agrees that Democrats must identify themselves as the “change” party in 2008. But is the “change” they stand for a revolution or a restoration? More specificially, what do Democrats say, if anything, about the Bill Clinton years, with its mix of toxic, scandal-ridden partisan politics and solid policy achievements? Here’s how the question is being raised by Obama and Clinton, according to Kornblut:

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) took aim at his main Democratic presidential rival during his July 4 campaign swing through Iowa, saying that “change can’t just be a slogan” — days after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) introduced her new slogan, “Ready for Change, Ready to Lead.”
Obama has long cast himself as part of the future of politics, in contrast with a Clinton era that he portrays as part of a divisive past.
But Obama had a ready target on Wednesday: Both Clintons were campaigning nearby in Iowa, their first swing together. Bill Clinton repeatedly introduced his wife with reminders of the 1990s. The former first lady embraced the role of virtual incumbent on their holiday-week tour, promising to restore conditions — in the economy and in the government — to the way they were during her husband’s administration.
Obama praised the former president, then quickly shifted his tone. “I think he did a lot of fine things, and I think he’s a terrific political strategist,” Obama told the Associated Press. “What we’re more interested in is looking forward, not in looking backward. I think the American people feel the same way. What they are looking for is a way to break out of the harsh partisanship and the old arguments — and to solve problems.”
Clinton, a two-term senator who also spent eight years in the White House as first lady, is trying a “change — but not too much change” approach. Her advisers believe that her candidacy, to become the first female president, inherently signals change. But they also think voters want something familiar, rather than an unknown quantity of the kind that Obama, a first-term senator and an African American, might represent.

Obama has obviously been pursuing a “total change” message, thought generally to reflect and reinforce his particular appeal to post-baby-boom voters. And Clinton has little choice but to rely on her experience in the White House as central to her own credentials, even as she tries to avoid falling under her husband’s large shadow (a balancing act that has been evident this week as she barnstormed through Iowa with the Big He, who was careful to keep his remarks short at every stop).
The “how much change” contrast between the two candidates hasn’t gotten into policy questions yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time until it does.
What to say about the Clinton legacy has been a perennial issue for Democrats. Al Gore famously eschewed clear-cut identification with the Clinton-Gore administration during his own presidential run (at least until the home stretch), though that decision reflected fresh memories of the Lewinsky scandal and the president’s low personal ratings rather than any repudiation of Clinton policies (it’s less clear whether voters understood the distinction).
In late 2003, however, Howard Dean, then the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, delivered what was billed as a major domestic policy speech, and began to articulate the never-completely-repressed unhappiness of some Democrats with Clinton’s policy agenda. Referring to the entire Clinton presidency as an exercise in “damage control,” Dean suggested that the Republican Congresses Clinton faced made it impossible for him to pursue a truly progressive course. In his post-election book, You Have the Power, Dean elaborated on this theme, arguing that only Clinton’s unique political skills kept him from a path towards complete capitulation to Republicans–the kind of capitulation he accused Clintonian Democrats of conducting once George W. Bush was in office. This take on the Clinton legacy is one that is often echoed, with varying degrees of emphasis on Clinton’s own culpability vis-a-vis his New Democrat allies, by many netroots and/or Left observers.
I’ve gone through this quick trip down memory lane to suggest that the Obama-HRC contrast on “change” reflects, though it does not at present express, an ideological fissure among Democrats about how to contextualize the 1990s. Complicating the picture, of course, is the empirical question of how voters will respond to a “restoration” message that clouds the degree of change Democrats represent, or to a “total change” message that leaves Democrats exposed to Republican efforts to exploit doubts about their intentions.
I’ve heard some talk in New Dem circles that one way to make the “restoration” theme–whether or not it’s connected to a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign–more forward-looking and “change”-oriented is with the slogan: “Restart the Twenty-First Century.” The idea, of course, is that Bush has so thoroughlyl screwed up the last seven years that the only way to place the country on track is to go back to square one. This approach might well appeal to some progressives who aren’t terribly enamored of the Clinton legacy, but who do like the idea of ripping up the Bush legacy root and branch.
It will be most interesting to see if, how and when this question of the nature of progressive “change” plays out in the 2008 nominating process, and in the general election beyond it. And keep in mind that the Democratic presidential nominee will have to make his or her “change” pitch in the context of a Democratic Congress that will be fighting for re-election.


How Netroots Strengthens MSM

Media Matters has a zinger for NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd, noting his prediction last November that, if the Democrats won “control of Congress” and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became speaker of the House, then President Bush’s “approval rating will be over 50 percent by the Fourth of July next year.”
Well, Independence Day has come and gone, and Bush’s approval ratings have tanked way below 50 percent. More accurately, the Media Matters post, artfully flagged by MissLaura at Kos, cites a recent analysis of national polls conducted 6/11 to 28 pegging Bush’s average approval rating at 30.5 percent.
Just about every journalist who comments on politics for any length of time gets burned for making a silly prediction at some point, and that may be as true for netroots writers as well as the MSM over time. But unlike most political bloggers, the big networks, rags and mags pundits rarely own up or acknowledge their gullibility for GOP spin. Worse, they don’t give the bloggers with better track records any cred for getting it right. A little less hubris and a little more humility would serve us all well.
This incident not only shows the kind of blunders too often made by MSM pundits who have been fed GOP spin; it also shows the importance of progressive bloggers in restoring political balance. What has changed is that the MSM will be more closely monitored from now on — and that’s good for everyone.


Partisanship and Patriotism

For political types, Independence Day is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, it’s a day for national unity. Regardless of party or ideology, Americans generally take some time on the 4th to listen to the same Sousa marches, display the same flag, eat the same grilled food, and mingle at parades and parks and sporting venues, rubbing shoulders with people we might regard, in a different context, as warmongering fascists or baby-killing moral relativists. On the other hand, it’s also always been a day for politicians to make speeches and hold rallies. On this particular Independence Day, for example, many Iowans won’t be able to go outdoors without running into a presidential candidate.
On another level, the paradox is The Point. Whatever your views on the fundamental meaning of The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, or the American Experience, the 4th is one day when we can all reflect, talk and even argue about the relevance of those events to the contemporary challenges facing this country. It’s hard today for Republicans to regard Democrats as flag-despising Francophile elitists. And it’s hard today as well for Democrats to view Republicans as plotting to repeal the Bill of Rights. All our passionate arguments are a bit constrained by the rituals of Independent Day. You don’t have to be a squishy, David-Broder-style antipartisan to enjoy that for 24 hours. Tomorrow we take up the cudgels again, reinvigorated by this reconnection with the American traditions we champion in parades, rallies and songs. I personally have little doubt Our Side is truly in synch with those traditions, but don’t mind being forced to think about it more deeply once a year, when we all wear the same colors.


Does Libby Commutation Issue Have Legs?

How broad is the outrage over President Bush’s commutation of Libby’s sentence? And is the outrage likely to last through November ’08?
No way to gauge the intensity fade factor at this juncture. But SurveyUSA has a new interactive voice response poll conducted on July 2nd, measuring how respondents feel about Libby’s free ride, and Pollster.com‘s Charles has an analysis. He reports that of 825 respondents familiar with the Libby case and presidential commutation,


Doomed Campaigns

There are a ton of stories today about the travails of John McCain’s presidential campaign. He’s sinking in the polls almost everywhere; the second quarter fundraising haul is going to look bad; he’s down to $2 million in cash; and now he’s laying off sizable numbers of staff, asking others to work for less or for nothing, and placing his fundraisers on a strict commission-pay diet.
I’m sure many readers have at some point had the experience of working or volunteering for a doomed political campaign. It’s a bit like watching the slow death of a family member, except that it’s very public. McCain’s campaign has all the classic signs of the long plunge before the final crash, including the brave official statements of eternal optmism contrasted with blind quotes from campaign sources admitting failure, and the money-driven decisions that just don’t make sense as anything other than dire damage control (e.g., McCain is said to be now concentrating on the early states, beginning with Iowa; yet he laid off half his Iowa staff yesterday). The campaign does have the option of extending the agony by accepting public matching funds (sadly, a sign of terrible weakness in this cash-drenched cycle). But as Sammy Youngman points out in The Hill, the spending restrictions that would come with that decision would make it largely self-defeating.
McCain’s downward trajectory hasn’t reached the point where craziness and desperation break out. I was involved in one campaign down in Georgia where the campaign manager, convinced one last ad buy could stop the bleeding, accepted some big checks post-dated until after election day. It didn’t work, of course, and the donors stopped payment on their checks, leaving the candidate with a large personal debt and the campaign manager out of politics.
But strange turnarounds have been known to happen. The absolute worst campaign atmosphere I’ve ever personally witnessed was during a trip to New Hampshire at the beginning of December of 2003, when I spent a weekend hanging out with friends in John Kerry’s operation. The smell of death was everywhere. Kerry was not only running far behind Howard Dean in the Granite State; the Doctor was trouncing him in polls in Massachusetts. I had lunch with some young Kerry staffers, and their supervisor, a friend of mine, had to warn me to stay upbeat. It was exactly like being told “not to upset the kids” during some family tragedy. Sure, everyone knew Kerry had thrown everything into Iowa in a last-ditch effort to jump-start the campaign there, but it seemed at the time like a desperate fantasy. Just a few weeks later, of course, Kerry won Iowa, then won New Hampshire, and was off to the nomination.
There’s nothing about John McCain’s candidacy that would lend much hope for that kind of miracle. His whole gambit of making himself acceptable and then inevitable to a hostile conservative base has been blown up by the immigration fiasco and by the campaign’s very weakness. Maybe he’ll grimly hold on, straining for oxygen as the field winnows out the Tommy Thompsons and the Sam Brownbacks, and praying for a major gaffe by Giuliani or Romney or that other Thompson. Maybe his underpaid and overworked staff will hang on as well, like gamblers so invested in the game that they don’t think twice about maxing out the credit cards and returning to the table with a sick grin.
But with speculation rampant (e.g., at The Corner) about the shape of the “post-McCain” Republican field, it can’t be much fun to be aboard the Straight Talk Express these days.


GOP Inaction Gives Dems Wedge on National Security

Guy T Saperstein, a past president of the Sierra Club Foundation, sees a potent wedge issue for Dems opening up in the void left by Republican inaction on key safety and security concerns. Saperstein’s just-posted Alternet article “Fighting the War on Terror: Democratic Opportunity, Republican Illusion” redefines the challenge facing Democrats and rolls out a credible action agenda.
Saperstein backs his case with a generous serving of poll data underscoring the Democratic opportunity, but also warning that Dems have thus far failed to claim ownership of an issue that is almost being handed to them. Saperstein notes for example:


Coddling Criminals

In light of the president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence, I wanted to quote briefly from an AP story about the administration’s latest crime-fighting initiative, dated June 17:

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is trying to roll back a Supreme Court decision by pushing legislation that would require prison time for nearly all criminals.
The Justice Department is offering the plan as an opening salvo in a larger debate about whether sentences for crack cocaine are unfairly harsh and racially discriminatory.
Republicans are seizing the administration’s crackdown, packaged in legislation to combat violent crime, as a campaign issue for 2008.

As Republicans like to say in defense of the mindless, “tough” sentencing policies that have represented virtually their only criminal justice strategy in recent decades: “You do the crime, you do the time.” But I guess that depends on who you are.


First Mormon, First Catholic

Mitt Romney’s campaign has quite naturally created a discussion of parallels between the former governor of Massachussetts, who’s the first Mormon to run for president, and John F. Kennedy, a senator from Massachusetts who was the first Catholic to be elected president. According to the conventional wisdom, JFK’s famous Q&A session with a panel of Protestant clergymen in Houston in 1960 took religion off the table in that campaign. And Romney has often been urged to do something similar. Indeed, Mitt’s whole campaign to become the True Conservative Candidate has probably come down to a Tale of Two Kennedys: overcoming the socially liberal positions he took when running against Ted Kennedy in 1994, and seizing JFK’s mantle as a pioneer who convinced skeptics to accept his specific faith as irrelevant to his candidacy.
Polls have shown significant but declining resistance to the idea of a Mormon President, and Romney has done pretty well in gaining the support of the conservative evangelical Protestants thought to be most concerned about Mormonism. And in fact, his candidacy is providing a fascinating test of the evolution of conservative evangelical thinking. There’s quite a disconnect between the vast gap separating evangelicals and Mormons theologically, and their consanguinity on many cultural and political issues–not to mention the natural admiration of evangelicals for the Godly Commonwealth the LDS Church has built in Utah (I first thought about this when a member of my own extended family, a decades-long Southern Baptist Deacon and inveterate world traveler, came back from a visit to Salt Lake City more enthused than he’d ever seemed after a road trip. “It’s so clean!” he kept saying).
But still, there are lingering doubts among some conservative Christians about Romney and Mormonism, and via Alan Wolfe, it’s interesting to learn that at least one highly influential Christian Right figure has suggested that anti-Mormonism is a legitimate reason for rejecting Mitt.
That figure is Richard John Neuhaus, the Lutheran-turned-Catholic-priest whose periodical, First Things, has become the most intellectually respectable and ecumenical Christian Right forum. Fr. Neuhaus was the first to popularize, back in his 1984 book, The Naked Public Square, the idea that church-state separation represents a secularist assault against the religious liberties of American Christians, now a gospel truth among religious conservatives. He’s also willing to throw bombs, as in the 1996 First Things symposium wherein he roiled conservative circles with his incendiary proposition that “the current regime” in America had forfeited the legitimacy to govern, and the allegiance of its citizens, by its tolerance of legalized abortion and gay rights.
So Neuhaus’ take on Romney and JFK as religio-political pioneers is of more than passing interest.
Contra the conventional wisdom that Kennedy took a candidate’s religious affiliation permanently off the table with his Houston encounter, Neuhaus observes (correctly, if you look at the vast pro-Democratic swing among Catholic voters in 1960, which clearly outmatched any anti-Catholic backlash) that JFK’s Catholicism actually elected him president.
More importantly, Neuhaus argues that a candidate’s religion can and should still matter, and not because he or she is suspected of conflicting loyalties between church and state:

The question is not whether, as president, Mr. Romney would take orders from Salt Lake City. I doubt whether many people think he would. The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is it legitimate for those Americans to take these questions into account in voting for a presidential nominee or candidate? The answer is certainly yes.

So according to Neuhaus, it doesn’t matter if Mitt emulates Kennedy by arranging some big speech or forum where he defangs his faith or, like JFK, describes it as “an accident of birth.” If you don’t like Mormonism, and don’t want to see it grow (and it certainly is growing–by some estimates, more than any religious denomination on earth), it’s fine to vote against Mitt Romney.
It will be interesting and important to see if Neuhaus’ advice gets picked up elsewhere on the Christian Right, where Romney is in a white-knuckle competition for support with Fred Thompson and perhaps Mike Huckabee. If it does, not only is Mitt in trouble, but the common assumption that a candidate’s religious affliliation doesn’t much matter any more will take a big and dangerous hit.