washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

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

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

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

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

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

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

March 20, 2018

Ford and Markos: Slugfest or Lovefest?

The much-anticipated face-off between DLC chairman Harold Ford, Jr. and DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas on Meet the Press happened this morning. And it wasn’t quite the slugfest most people expected. Ford nicely undercut the netroots-demonizing reputation of the DLC by repeatedly praising the importance of the netroots to recent Democratic successes, and pledging to attend next year’s Netroots Nation (nee YearlyKos) gathering. And Markos abandoned his usual DLC-is-dead line by treating Ford’s organization as representing a serious faction in the Democratic Party–and indeed, by agreeing to debate Ford in the first place. Both men made a lot of billing and cooing noises, and ended the session with a handshake.
Each of them did, on the other hand, try to land a low blow.
Ford ill-advisedly (if briefly) referenced allegedly anti-semitic diaries and/or comments at DailyKos, a red herring reflecting a misunderstanding of the site’s open operating method, and misrepresenting its main content. He should not have gone there.
And Markos sought to illustrate the DLC’s alleged Republic Lite nature by tying it to “DLC Chairman” John Breaux’s role as “the architect of the Bush tax cuts.” But (1) Breaux’s DLC chairmanship ended in 1993; (2) the DLC relentlessly and totally opposed Bush’s tax cuts (viz. here), and has argued for repeal of high-income tax cuts ever since; (3) Breaux was not the “architect” of the Bush plan, but simply a senator who unfortunately traded support for the final plan in exchange for concessions that increased the payoff to low-income Americans; and (4) the DLC’s comment on Breaux’s compromise product was to compare it to putting earrings on a warthog: “Sure, it looks better, but it’s still a warthog.” I don’t have any idea why Markos tried this particular tack, but it showed some very shoddy research.
There were a couple of classic “dialogue of the deaf” moments, as when Ford touted Jon Tester and Jim Webb as centrist Democrats who won in 2006, and an incredulous Markos–who has long viewed both candidates as living refutations of the DLC–spluttering a bit. (Tester did beat a primary opponent who was long identified with the DLC, but it was hardly a netroots/DLC referendum, and best I could tell, most DLC-types in VA supported Webb from the beginning).
Over at DailyKos, the general take, unsurprisingly, is that Markos destroyed Ford, mainly because of a short moment when Markos chided the Tennessean for criticizing Harry Reid on Fox News (not being a Fox News viewer, I can’t referee that one). And I’m sure DLCers will react just as positively to Ford’s performance.
In the end, most of the real arguments between Ford and Markos were scrambled in cross-talk, or were conducted in such “code” that most viewers probably had no idea what they were talking about. The residual impression was of two people arguing about who most desparately wants Democrats to win, and who is most open to the other’s point of view–and then that handshake.

Short Straws

Yesterday’s Iowa Republican Party Staw Poll is being generally billed as a win for Mitt Romney (who finished first), a potential breakthrough moment for Mike Huckabee (who finished second), death for Tommy Thompson (who finished sixth), a big missed opportunity for Sam Brownback (who finished third despite significantly outspending Huckabee) and pretty much a wash for everybody else, including non-attendees Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
But the other story line was a sharp drop in participation (from nearly 24,000 to just over 14,000) as compared to the last competitive Straw Poll in 1999. Giuliani’s spinners will undoubtedly try to claim that his supporters depressed turnout by staying home. But in truth, Iowa Republicans have been in a deep funk since their terrible November 2006 election night (when they lost two U.S. House seats, both chambers of the state legislature, and the governorship), with attendance notably sagging at most GOP events in the state. Add in the palpable unhappiness with the 2008 presidential field, and you’ve got a party that is in trouble in what has been one of the most competitive states in the country.

Fred’s Faith–and Obama’s

We all know that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has become an issue in the Republican presidential nominating contest, as has Sam Brownback’s Opus Dei-assisted conversion to Catholicism, and Rudy Giuliani’s tenuous links to Rome. But now there’s a fourth GOP candidate whose faith is in question: Fred Thompson.
It probably started with James Dobson’s infamous statement back in March about Thompson that he “didn’t think he was a Christian.” Focus on the Family later issued a weasily “clarification” suggesting that Dobson had actually meant he didn’t know one way or another about Fred’s faith.
Inquiring minds wanted to know, so (as explained in an illuminating article in The Christian Chronicle) it soon came out that Thompson was baptized in, and has occasionally been identified with, the Churches of Christ. But his second marriage, in 2002, was performed in a United Church of Christ service in Illinois.
As you may or may not know, the similar-sounding Churches of Christ and United Church of Christ are about as similar as a hound dog and a chili dog. The former is a very conservative but loosely organized quasi-denomination that split off from the mainline Disciples of Christ in the early twentieth century, mainly over opposition to the use of musical instruments in church. The latter, formed from the Congregationalist and certain German Reformed churches in the 1940s, is the most liberal of trinitarian American protestant denominations; the UCC happily ordains openly gay and lesbian clergy, and performs same-sex unions. (Indeed, its position casts an interesting light on active UCC member Barack Obama’s own position that denominations, not the state, should determine access to “marriage.”) Ironically, the denomination the UCC is closest to is the Disciples of Christ.
Having spilled a ridiculous number of words at NewDonkey.com back in October 2005 (sorry, link is not available but you can find it in the archives of that site, in case you’re interested) trying to explain Harriet Miers’ relationship to the Churches of Christ, I can tell you that the CofC’s intensely decentralized nature and hostility to creeds and theological speculation have made it difficult to divine its members’ views on much of anything other than biblical inerrancy and liturgical primitivism. Indeed, other conservative evangelicals have been known to complain the CofC’ers are laggards in the fight to ban abortion.
So where does Fred fit in? I dunno, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to have to start showing up at church somewhere. And he probably won’t be rubbing elbows with Barack Obama in the UCC.

Mobilization, Persuasion, and Partisan Contrast

[Note: the following is cross-posted from a diary at DailyKos] As someone who has devoted a big chunk of his professional life over the last few years trying to promote constructive dialogue between netrooters and New Democrat types (most recently here), I wasn’t exactly happy to see Markos use an out-of-context 2005 quote from me to exemplify the unbridgeable, eternal gap between the two perspectives on Democratic politics.
He invited me to post this diary to respond.
The quote, which appeared in a Ron Brownstein piece in The National Journal, was this:
“We are more of a coalition party than they are. If we put a gun to everybody’s head in the country and make them pick sides, we’re not likely to win.”
The context of the quote was a long conversation with Brownstein about how Democrats needed to deal with the Rovian “polarization” strategy. And all I was trying to say was that counter-polarization was an insufficent response for Democrats, given the enduring ideological tilt of the electorate, for many decades, towards the center-right. I did not say, imply or mean that Democrats needed to “move to the right” or “blur the differences between the two parties.” Au contraire. The whole point was that Democrats had to complement a mobilization strategy with a persuasion strategy designed to pull swing voters in our direction over time. “Standing up” to Bush and the GOP, and offering clear choices between the two parties, I thought then and think now, is essential, but the choices we offer have to be attractive to people who aren’t reflexively on our side.
As it happens, today, as opposed to 2005, we’d likely win the “gun to the head” test. But that’s not just because Democrats are suddenly “standing up to Bush;” it’s because his record, and his party’s complicity in that record, are abysmal, and the whole world knows it. The tangible consequences of Republican misgovernment are at least as important as the “noise” we make about it. That matters because Bush is going to leave office soon, and like it or not, if Democrats want to build an enduring progressive majority, we’ll have to seal the deal with millions of voters who will be vulnerable to Republican arguments that W., like Nixon before him, failed because of personal incompetence and imperial delusions rather than conservative ideology.
Ironically, a fair number of netroots folk seem to be buying into the same kind of triumphalism that New Democrats were sometimes guilty of during and just after the Clinton administration: we’ve found the keys to the kingdom about how Democrats can win elections now and forever, world without end. The netroots played a crucial role in the 2006 victory, just as the DLC undoubtedly played a crucial role in Clinton’s 1992 victory. But in both cases, Republican failures had as much to do with the outcome as Democratic successes, and the enduring challenge is how to not only moblize but expand the Democratic base, bringing back a natural Democratic majority that really expired way back in the 1960s.
There are a variety of sub-issues I could get into here, most notably the peculiar belief that Clintonian “triangulation” was the primary cause of the 1994 debacle, and of the stupid “change the subject” campaign strategies of congressional Democrats during the long struggle back to a majority.
But I’ll leave it here for now, resisting my old-guy tendencies to get into historical debates. If my perspective is truly the prime example of netroots/New Dem disagreements, then maybe we’re more united than you might think.

Edwards Ahead in Race for Union Endorsements

In the wake of the AFL-CIO’s decision not to endorse any Democratic presidential candidates before the primaries, Open Left‘s Chris Bowers takes a shot at predicting the breakdown of endorsements by individual unions.
Bowers sees Edwards with the strongest chances to win the endorsements of the Steelworkers, Firefighters, Carpenters, Transport Workers Union, Machinists, Boilermakers and UNITE-HERE. In the comments on Bowers’ article, ‘Peter from WI’ says Edwards is in position to get the the endorsements of two giant unions, the Teamsters and SEIU, as well, but he also believes that most national unions won’t endorse anyone before the primaries. Tasini at Daily Kos gives Edwards the inside track to win endorsements from the Laborers and UFCW. Bowers doesn’t say anything about the UAW specifically, but he says Edwards “also seems to be competitive among every other union in the country, with the exception of the American Federation of Teachers.” Edwards recruitment of former Rep. David Bonoir, a trusted supporter of the UAW, as his national campaign manager, however, may give Edwards the cred to get the UAW’s embrace.
The AFT endorsement will likely go to Clinton, according to Bowers, and he also gives her a chance to get the nod from the Firefighters, Teamsters and AFSCME (The New York Times reports AFSCME is “leaning” toward Clinton). Obama is “in the running” for endorsements from AFSCME, SEIU and the Teamsters.
Apparently none of the “second tier” candidates are given much of a chance to get major union endorsements, despite all of them having generally pro-labor records (with some significant disagreements about trade). Some state and local union affiliates free to make separate endorsements, however, may spread their support more broadly over the Democratic field.
Edwards, the son of two union organizers, has campaigned energetically for union support, as part of his strategy to win the votes of one of the largest swing constituencies, the white working class. (For more on this, see Fortune Magazine Washington bureau chief Nina Easton’s CNN article, “John Edwards: Union Man“). Although most workers are not union members, the unions provide money, muscle and credibility for their endorsees, and many unorganized workers take favorable note of the AFL-CIO endorsement in the general election.
Happily for all the Democratic candidates, whoever wins the Democratic nomination will get the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, and it is certain to be labor’s strongest effort ever.

The First Domino Falls

It’s been apparent for a good while that the Florida legislature’s decision earlier this year to move its 2008 primary date to January 29 would likely set off a domino-effect series of changes in the nominating calendar. Well, the first domino will fall today, according to The Washington Post, which is reporting that the South Carolina Republican Party will announce it has moved its primary to January 19.
Under New Hampshire state law, its Secretary of State is not only authorized but required to ensure that the Granite State’s primary is at least a week before any others. And Iowa state law requires that its caucuses be held at least eight days prior to the first primary.
Assuming NH wants to stick to its ancient tradition of voting on a Tuesday, the SC decision basically forces NH to move to January 8 at the latest. Count back eight days from that, and you have Iowa caucusing on December 31, 2007, which isn’t terribly likely. So the best guess is that Iowa would move to a date prior to Christmas. (On the other hand, as David Yepsen, Iowa’s top political reporter, notes today, there’s some legal precedent for the parties being able to preempt state law and hold the caucuses less than eight days prior to NH, avoiding the December scenario. But the decision will be fraught with controversy, and could also produce different caucus dates for the two parties.)
What does all this mean in terms of the 2008 presidential election? It will almost certainly create the longest general election campaign in living memory (unless, as a few observers think, the heavy concentration of early primaries creates the first contested convention since 1976). Beyond that, the consequences really depend on whether you believe the current calendar magnifies or reduces the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire. Either way, expect the calendar craziness to lead to a lot of talk about comprehensively reforming the nominating process prior to 2012.

Limits of States as ‘Labs’ for Health Care Reform

One of the more comforting notions being bandied about the print pundocracy is that the states can play a leadership role as “policy labs” in pioneering health care reforms. Massachusetts is the most-frequently-cited poster boy for this meme, and it seems likely that Mitt Romney, now leading the Republican field in early-primary states, will make emulating the Massachusetts system a cornerstone of his campaign, should he win the GOP presidential nomination.
Climbing on this particular bandwagon may not be such a great strategy for Dems, if Ezra Klein is right. Klein’s Washington Monthly article “Over Stated: Why the ‘laboratories of democracy’ can’t achieve universal health care” pinpoints some serious flaws in the “letting the states take the lead” strategy of health care refom. As Klein explains:

The idea of giving universal health care a little more time in the laboratories of democracy may sound tempting to certain cautious, bipartisanship-loving Beltway observers. But letting states continue to take the lead would be disastrous, for one very simple reason: providing health care for all citizens is one of those tasks, like national defense, that the states are simply unequipped to manage on their own. The history of state health reform initiatives (and there’s quite a history) is a tale of false hopes and great disappointments. The deck is stacked from the start, and the house—in this case the insurers, the providers, and other agents of the status quo—always wins. The new raft of reforms may prove different, but they probably won’t. Universal care advocates must be realistic about that, and think hard about how to convert the energy in the states into a national solution before the current crop of novel experiments fail—because fail they almost certainly will.

Klein expounds on the initially-promising, but ultimately-disappointing history of health care reforms adopted by Washington, Hawaii, Tennessee and Oregon. He notes that Massachusetts is not a representative state for a ‘lab’ because, unlike many states, it had a small base of uninsured to begin with and plenty of money. He also discusses serious problems with current statewide health care reforms pending in California and Illinois.
Klein has identified important limitations of systemic health care reform in the states, and he makes a convincing argument that the states really can’t lead the way to universal coverage. This is not the same thing as saying the states have no role to play in pioneering piecemeal reforms on the road to universal health care. A round-up of interesting incremental reforms at the state level would provide a welcome addition to the debate.

Republican Round-Up

For obvious reasons, I”ve been blogging about Democrats lately, so it might be a good time to take a quick look at what’s happening on The Other Side.
This coming Saturday will feature the first semi-real Event in the Republican nomination contest, with the Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll in Ames. Giuliani and McCain have already written off the event (to the great annoyance of Iowa Republicans who count on it as a fundraiser for the operation of next year’s Caucuses), so it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Mitt Romney will win. But that means second place in the straw poll is a heaven-sent opportunity for lower-tier candidates to emerge from the pack and get themselves viable.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post blog “The Fix” has a nice write-up of the stakes this weekend for the perennial insider Dark Horse favorite Mike Huckabee, using data from WaPo’s new Iowa poll that shows the Arkansan tied with John McCain for fourth place. WaPo also has an article explaining the history and character of the Straw Poll, including the basic fact that campaigns pay for most of the attendees to attend, and the fascinating historical note that Iowa Republicans felt it necessary in 1999 to require Iowa residence for the event because campaigns were busing in supporters from other states (a tactic Ron Paul has often employed for less momentous Iowa events).
And the Des Moines Register has a piece up today on Sam Brownback’s prospects in the Straw Poll. He’s the other GOPer with a reasonable chance to finish second in Ames and get known by America.
One of the things that has happened in the runup to the Straw Poll has been some questionable phone calls on the religious views of various candidates. Michelle Cottle at The New Republic has the details, which involve Mitt’s Mormonism, Brownback’s conversion from Methodism to Catholicism, and the much-debated question of whether Fred Thompson is a member of the Church of Christ or the United Church of Christ (who differ on religio-cultural issues nearly as much as Jews and Jews-for-Jesus). Cottle suggests that the beneficiary of this sort of religious kulturkampf may be Rudy Giuliani, whose own religious and cultural non-credentials place him outside the pale, irrelevant to the effort to identify a True Believer alternative to Hizzoner.
And that may be the ultimate meaning of the Iowa Straw Poll: will Mitt Romney, Mormon and former pro-choice and pro-gay rights governor of the godless state of Massachusetts, be the only alternative to Rudy? Or will a true Son of Right-teousness, in the eyes of the GOP’s conservative base, soon emerge?
As the latest WaPo poll showed, Republicans are far less satisfied with their presidential field than Democrats. So expect more fireworks on that side of the aisle, maybe beginning this weekend.

Impeachment Politics Getting Tricky

Todd Gitlin’s TPM Cafe post “Impeachment Pit” adds some common sense to the debate about the wisdom of impeaching Bush and Cheney. Gitlin concedes the strong legal case for impeachment based on the puppet’s and his master’s reckless commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, then adds “But impeachment is one those apparently golden ideas that tarnish in the bright light of day.”
Gitlin quotes from Michael Tomasky’s insightful WaPo op-ed, “The Dumbest Move the Dems Could Make,” arguing,

Nashville and Chicago

I promised to offer a few ruminations comparing and contrasting the DLC National Conversation in Nashville and the YearlyKos conference in Chicago, as one of a very few people who attended both events (though the National Education Association was a co-sponsor of both conferences).
Both events were well-attended, with probably 700 people in Nashville and 1500 (swelling to perhaps 2000 for the presidential candidate forum) in Chicago. They were pitched to very different audiences, with the DLC focusing on state and local elected officials (about 350 of whom showed up, from 45 states) and YKos billing itself as a bit of a netroots family reunion. Both events were very wonky on one level, with lots of workshops on a variety of policy and political topics. And in both Nashville and Chicago, there was plenty of Republican- and Bush-bashing; a sense of disdain for the horse-race/money-race coverage of the presidential campaign by the MSM; and a lot of optimism about Democratic prospects next year.
In terms of presidential preferences, there were no straw polls, but I’d guess that in Nashville the bulk of participants would lean towards Obama or Clinton (not sure which would actually lead), with Richardson, Edwards and Biden enjoying pockets of support. In Chicago, Obama and Edwards had the most visible support, but Clinton got a warmer welcome that most expected, and Richardson and Dodd clearly had support as well.
Neither event developed any sort of formal policy pronouncements or political manifestos. But in the workshop sessions, both dwelled on issues like global climate change, universal health coverage, and economic insecurity and inequality. The Nashville event, focused as it was on state and local electeds, didn’t have workshops on Iraq or national security issues (though there was one on homeland security), but during the public session, there was some talk of what might be described as a post-Iraq national security strategy. There was plenty of talk about Iraq in Chicago. But on the issues dividing Democrats (residual troop commitments and a funding cutoff strategy), the presidential forum was notably muted.
The major “tone” difference between the two conferences–aside from the natural excitement in Chicago over the presidential forum, and the frank disappointment in Nashville that the presidentials didn’t show up–was really about the nature of the fears underlying the general optimism going into 2008. In Nashville, the oft-expressed concern was about Democratic overconfidence, particularly in terms of the party’s credibility on national security, leading to an insufficient focus on swing voters and yet another close election. (This fear was articulated quite clearly today in a Washington Post op-ed by DLC Chairman Harold Ford, Jr., and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who spoke in Nashville). And in Chicago, the big fear (often linked to the FISA reauthorization which occurred, with significant Democratic support, the night before the presidential forum) was about Democratic temerity in the face of Republican efforts to once again play the “fear” card in 2008.
A subset of this difference in basic outlook towards the party’s problems is reflected in the general assumption made at each event about long-term Democratic strategy. In Nashville, the feeling was that Democrats needed to win big in 2008 and then “solve problems across party lines” in order to build a durable progressive majority. In Chicago, long-term Democratic prospects were most often linked to movement-building efforts, ranging from new media sophistication to mobilization of potential constituencies.
A final point of comparison, inevitably, is the extent to which these two Democratic gatherings fired bullets at each other.
In Nashville, there was plenty of grumbling about the presidentials tripping over each other to get to Chicago, balanced with observations that it actually made sense for them to do so, given the netroots’ importance in the nominating process. But the only “named” villain at the event (he was even rebutted by Bill Clinton) was, ironically, the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber, whose thank-you-now-go-away assessment of the DLC appeared in The New York Times the very day the conference began. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the featured speakers was Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has been something of a netroots favorite for years.
In Chicago, I’m sure there was some DLC- and centrist-bashing going on in the various workshops, but it wasn’t terribly visible, and the general tenor was that the netroots represented all of the party, united in partisanship and a commitment to grassroots activism if not in ideology. New Dem types (e.g., Andrei Cherny, Ken Baer, Rob Shapiro, Austan Goolsbee, Gene Sperling) were sprinkled amongst the official speakers. There appeared to be a semi-conscious collective effort to ensure that Hillary Clinton got a respectful hearing at the presidential forum. Interestingly, forum co-moderator Joan McCarter did a post today listing some of the prepared questions that didn’t get asked, and one was to HRC about her feelings towards the DLC. But by the same token, Dennis Kucinich got booed for uttering one of the ancient Left intra-party arguments that “voters don’t think there’s much difference between the two parties.”
In the end, I came away from my Nashville-Chicago swing impressed more than ever by what unites Democrats against Republicans even among these two particularly different groups, and frustrated by the Dialogue of the Deaf that so often supplants healthy intra-party debate over real issues.
Self-conscious New Democrats need to understand that the netroots can no longer be dismissed as marginal, or unserious, or simply as a small group of people with a big internet megaphone. And they should also realize that there’s as much diversity of opinion in the netroots as in any other element of the party.
By the same token, netrooters should not let preconceptions about the DLC and its fellow-travelers blind them to what they are actually saying and doing. The spirit of partisanship in Nashville was very intense (viz. their extremely positive reaction to Drew Westen, the one speaker equally popular at both events). These are people who want Democrats to win very badly, and as Bill Clinton said there, the challenges the DLC helped him meet in 1992 are not irrelevant today. And though Markos Moulitsas did a post today mocking the “350 or so members” of the DLC, it’s worth remembering that these are elected officials who represent a lot of other Democrats and swing voters as well, and who have been largely ignored for many years by a DC-Centric national party.
In the end, if you eliminated the factional emblems in Nashville and Chicago and paid attention to the bottom line, there’s a lot of unity apparent on the surface and even underneath it. And attending both events gave me a better overall view of the current state of the debate among Democrats, and a renewed hope that it can be refocused on differences that actually matter instead of those that really don’t.