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

Political Strategy Notes

“To resist the Trump presidency effectively, Democrats have to go beyond the defensive posture of relying exclusively or even primarily on protests, demonstrations and other forms of opposition. Instead, Democrats must seek to establish an independent and strong political base from which to articulate an alternative vision for the country. One way to do this would be for the governors of the blue states — California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Connecticut and Colorado, to name some of the mightiest in numbers and weight — to form a very public council to articulate that alternative vision and publicly seek to make that vision a reality within their respective states: a vision that includes universal health care, strong support for labor unions, a humanitarian approach to immigrants and refugees, protection of the environment, among other morally necessary and compelling elements…This kind of public group stance by those representing the people who actually provided the popular vote majority for Hillary Clinton would be the assertion of a positive vision supported by a real political base to realize that vision. It would give people everywhere a sense of hope and strength from which to fight the larger national battle. And it would offer up a highly visible, positive alternative worldview to Trump’s dystopian picture of social reality that lacks any idealistic social elements.” – from “Going on the Offensive: A State-Based Strategy for the Democratic Party” at Truthout by Peter Gabel, editor-at-large of Tikkun magazine and author of Another Way of Seeing: Essays on Transforming Law, Politics, and Culture.

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn is geting some buzz with his post, “Democrats’ Best Bet to Retake the House? Follow the Sun.” Cohn explains, “Mrs. Clinton’s success in Orange County, and in well-educated and Hispanic areas elsewhere in the Sun Belt, helped her win the popular vote — though there was no payoff in the Electoral College. But it’s districts like these that will decide whether the Democrats can make a serious run at control of the House…There is no guarantee that the Democrats can put the House in play, even if Mr. Trump’s approval ratings remain as low as they are now or slip further. The Republicans have so many safe seats that they could even survive a so-called wave election like the ones that swept Democrats to power in 2006 and out of power in 2010. The Democrats need 24 seats to retake the House…But whether the Democrats can do it will come down to places like Orange County, which is more populous than Iowa. Four congressional districts that have at least some territory in the county still have Republican representatives, and all four were carried by Mrs. Clinton…It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the road to a Democratic House begins and ends at Laguna Beach.”

At The Plum Line Greg Sargent, who likes Cohn’s analysis, believes the 2018 outcome may turn on the answer to a key question: “One of the big questions in American politics right now is how deep public support really is for the agenda loosely known as “Trumpism.” Did the 2016 election represent a fluke-like confluence of factors that enabled Trump to eke out a narrow electoral college win, despite having his worldview repudiated in the popular vote? Or are we in the midst of a genuine turn in public opinion — away from the inclusive, cosmopolitan pluralism that seemed to be gaining ground and toward restrictive, America-first, wall-them-off nationalism?

In his post at The Fix, “Donald Trump is losing his war with the media,” Aaron Blake notes “A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that while people may be broadly unhappy with the mainstream media, they still think it’s more credible than Trump. The president regularly accuses the press of “fake news,” but people see more “fake news” coming out of his own mouth…The poll asked who registered voters “trust more to tell you the truth about important issues.” A majority — 52 percent — picked the media. Just 37 percent picked Trump…The poll did find that registered voters by a narrow margin think the media has treated Trump unfairly, with 50 percent saying they disapproved of the coverage of Trump and 45 percent approving. But voters are even more critical of Trump’s treatment of the media, with 61 percent disapproving and 35 percent approving…Even 23 percent of Republicans say Trump is mistreating the media, and independents disapprove 59-35.”

In his  Politico post “Poll: Support for Obamacare is rising” Steven Shepard writes “…A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows voters are now split evenly on the law. Forty-five percent of registered voters approve of the law, the poll shows, and 45 percent disapprove…Of nine separate provisions of the law tested in the poll, more poll respondents want to repeal only one — the individual mandate that Americans purchase health insurance — than want to keep it…Other provisions are resoundingly popular. Nearly two-thirds of voters, 65 percent, want to keep prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, including 59 percent of Republicans. Sixty-three percent want to keep allowing those younger than 26 years of age to stay on their parents’ plan, including 56 percent of Republicans…Voters even want to keep provisions of the law opposed by most Republicans. Only a quarter want to repeal requiring businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health insurance, while 59 percent want to keep it. Just 28 percent want to repeal requirements that insurance companies cover birth-control medication, and 55 percent want to keep it. And one-third, 33 percent, want to repeal taxes on medical devices, while slightly more, 39 percent, want to keep those taxes in place.”

Told:

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Jim Kessler, both vice presidents of the centrist think tank Third Way, write in their Washington Post op-ed, “Why demographics weren’t — and won’t be — destiny for Democrats” that “Democrats need to dig themselves out of a big hole from state legislative races on up, and it starts by treating voters as more than a check box on a census form. It will require building a big-tent coalition based on values and experiences, not just demographic groups, and rethinking the party’s pitch and policies to respond to the needs and concerns of Americans across the country, not just in cities and on coasts. Only if the Democratic Party can transform itself to meet those goals will it be ready to counter Trump and his noxious, dangerous strain of right-wing populism over the long term.”

NYT columnist David Leonhardt explains why “The Democratic Base Isn’t Enough“: “Winning back the House and Senate requires doing better in heavily white, nonmetropolitan America, which tends to be conservative…Democrats would be crazy to alienate the growing voting groups, such as millennials, Latinos andAsian-Americans, that now support the party so strongly. The answer for the party is almost surely more complex than simply moving to the right. Instead, it likely revolves around an economic message that appeals to both center and left…But if Democrats want to return to power — not just in the White House, but in Congress and at the state level too — they need a strategy that appeals to more white voters.”

Well, here’s a telling moment of candor from Montana GOP Chairman Jeff Essman, as reported by Tom Lutey of The Billings Gazette: “In an email to party members, Jeff Essmann warned Republicans the mail-in election would “give the Democrats an inherent advantage in close elections due to their ability to organize large numbers of unpaid college students and members of public employee unions to gather ballots by going door to door….At issue is state Senate Bill 503, which would require a mail ballot election this spring when Montanans are likely to vote to replace U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican nominated by President Donald Trump to be Interior secretary. The Senate is expected to vote on Zinke’s confirmation next week. A special election would follow within 85 to 100 days.”


Trump’s Doomed Govern-from-the-Base Strategy Opens Up Opportunity for Dems

In his Boston Globe column, “Renewing the Democrats — and America,” Richard North Patterson’s lede shares an ominous statistic:

WHY HAVE DEMOCRATS struggled to defeat President Trump’s most objectionable cabinet nominees? Because Hillary Clinton’s 3 million popular vote margin obscures this nettlesome fact: Outside California, Massachusetts, and New York, Donald Trump won by 4 million votes.

Patterson was making the point that Trump’s popular vote totals were broadly impressive outside those three states. Indeed, this is the kind of statistic Trump supporters will use to justify their “mandate,” such as it is. But, if Clinton had won Florida and North Carolina she would be the new president. There are many such cherry-picked alternative scenarios favoring either Clinton or Trump, none of which adequately reflect the complex totality of America very well.

When you factor in the votes of third and fourth party candidates, Trump lost the popular vote by more than 10,600,000, hardly a mandate to force unwanted legislation or executive orders on the majority of voters. Not that he will ever admit it, claiming as he still does that he won a popular vote majority, which was ‘stolen’ and is not reflected in the official count.

Trump clearly hopes to dazzle the public with his mighty juggernaut that runs on hot air and outright lies, to an extent never before seen in the White House. Instead of picking a moderate cabinet, or one with both conservatives and liberals, to indicate that he respected the real popular vote and wanted to win broad sympathy for his bipartisan efforts, he thought he could bluff his way into stampeding a fearful congress, egged on no doubt, by the likes of Bannon, Flynn and other extremists in his circle.

Call it a missed opportunity. A Republican who charted a more moderate course might have been able to build popular support to the point where he could actually pass legislation and break the partisan deadlock in congress. That would have required real leadership, the kind that strives to bring people together, rather than drive them even further apart. Apparently, that was never a consideration. Trump’s governing philosophy is the polar opposite of he Lincoln/Obama strategy of reaching out to adversaries and building unity.

Trump has chosen to govern from his ever-dwindling base of resentful authoritarians, who get their jollies bashing liberals, joined by wealthy elites who benefit from right-wing economic policies. By all appearances, this is about a third of the electorate at most, and shrinking. Many of those who voted for him are abandoning ship, as it becomes increasingly clear that he has no intention of actually helping the working-class voters who enabled his electoral college majority. His “disapproval’ poll figures are already setting records early in his presidency.

In his column, Patterson does share some good ideas, urging that “a responsive Democratic party can provide education and retraining for the new economy; strengthen public schools; diminish student debt; and make college free for those in need.” Democrats have supported those policies, but somehow, have failed to get any credit for doing so. Also

Universal health care prevents illness from ruining lives and draining our collective wealth. Rebuilding infrastructure — roads, airports, internet access, energy grids — creates jobs and strengthens our economy. Tax breaks? Former Democratic National Committe chairman Howard Dean suggests they go to businesses that invest in regions left behind.

This vision of national renewal cuts across age, ethnicity and class. Further, Dean believes, Trump is repelling young people who embrace inclusiveness, reproductive choice, and combating climate change. Last year’s election showed them that disengagement breeds disaster; now the party must become their vehicle.

The voters leaving the Trump ship are not quite ready to get on board with the Democratic Party, which has yet to successfully brand itself as the credible alternative for working people, or the party of “national renewal,” to use Patterson’s term. Democrats have the right policies, but they have failed convince the public as a whole that they intend to serve first and foremost, as champions of America’s workers of all races.

The prevailing image of the Democrats is one of an umbrella party sheltering a gaggle of different interest groups, but lacking a central message of incorruptible support for working people and their families. That has to change. When it does, a new era of Democratic-driven progress can finally begin.


Mobilizing Against Trump’s Attack Against the Environment

The following post by Keith Gaby is cross-posted from the Environmental Defense Fund:

The Trump administration’s stumbling start – daily controversies, “alternative facts,” historically low approval ratings and much more – doesn’t mean the president and his allies can’t carry out plans to undermine decades of environmental progress.

But the fact that their views are unpopular with the American people, and that there’s been a massive mobilization to fight back, does mean we have a good chance to protect much of what we’ve gained.

The attacks from the White House and Congress have been coming fast since Trump took office.

  • The House has voted to end a rule that limits methane pollution from oil and gas leaks and saves taxpayers millions of dollars every year – a hat trick by lawmakers that’s fiscally irresponsible, damages our health and accelerates climate warming.
  • The House also passed bills to hobble agencies from developing health and safety rules on clean air, worker protections and food safety.
  • As many as 118 House members co-sponsored a bill to amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit federal agencies from limiting carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – all dangerous climate pollutants. The bill would declare them not to be pollutants under the law, despite decades of scientific evidence showing they contribute to climate change.
  • Several new House bills would weaken the Clean Water Act and eliminate the latest updates to the Good Neighbor Rule, which limits air pollution that floats from one state into another. How the state on the receiving end is supposed to deal with pollution coming from outside its borders is unclear.

This week brought a new rash of assaults, some shockingly radical. One bill consists of a single sentence, “The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on Dec. 31, 2018.”

The agency of 15,000 employees who have saved the lives of countless Americans and transformed our nation into a dramatically cleaner and healthier place would simply go away.

Odds are that Congress won’t go that far, but the fact that three members of the U.S. House of Representatives have sponsored it shows just how extreme some elected officials have become.

It is true that President Trump said during the campaign he wanted to dismantle the EPA as we know it, explaining he didn’t like limits on big business. In other words, we were warned and given an explanation. But, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, we are nevertheless persisting in fighting back.

This week, Environmental Defense Fund filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act asking for documents on the Trump transition team’s advice for overhauling the EPA, including a reported “Action Plan” that called from drastic changes to the agency. It’s critical that these plans be made transparent and available for public scrutiny.

Our advocacy partner, EDF Action, has also spent more than $1 million fighting against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, the anti-EPA crusader nominated to run the agency – and on ads running across the country against overturning the methane waste rule and other health and safety protections.

We must hold members of Congress who voted for these bills accountable.

The battle, in other words, is fully engaged on both sides.

With all its flaws, our democracy still responds to public opinion. And we continue to focus on making Congress aware that Americans will not be happy if our air, water and future become less healthy.


Political Strategy Notes

From “41 Democratic Senators Can Stop Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Pick” a HuffPo article by Richard Greene: “…It is not a certainty that Republicans will, indeed, “nuke” the filibuster. They need 50 of their 52 Senate members and it is unlikely that experienced members like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski and Trump critics like Jeff Flake or Ben Sasse will go along with the destruction of historic minority rights in The Senate.  They understand that “what goes around comes around” and that, one day, they will again be in the minority.  This hard reality kept 53 Democrats from eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court Justices when they voted to reform the procedure in 2013.” Republicans have shown impressive discipline recently, but it’s hard to see much of a downside for Dems in forcing their hand, and a successful fillibuster could slow Trump’s agenda.

The Center for American Progress has an article, “States of Change: Demographic Change, Representation Gaps, and Challenges to Democracy, 1980–2060” by Rob Griffin, William H. Frey, and Ruy Teixeira, which deploys simulations to show that the best way to reduce “future representation gaps lies in equalizing registration and turnout rates across races.” In one section the authors write, “The assumption that all newly registered voters would turn out at the same rate as currently registered voters is probably very unrealistic. Those who have registered without benefit of reform are likely more motivated and attuned to politics than those who have not and, therefore, are more likely to actually cast a ballot than those who are newly registered due to a reform process…This view is supported by recent results from Oregon’s new system of “opt-out” voter registration, where those who interact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles are automatically registered and then have to actively respond to a postcard notification to opt out of being registered. If they do nothing, they remain registered. In 2016, those registered by this method in Oregon turned out at a rate that was roughly half of those registered by conventional means…So, in this scenario, we still assume that registration reform will be hugely successful at elevating and equalizing registration rates, but we also assume that these new registrants will turn out at only half the current rate for registrants in their state, race, age, and gender group…”

At salon.com Sean McElwee’s “Automatic voter registration isn’t a sexy topic — but it’s crucial to Democrats and progressives regaining power:  Data from New York, a blue state with regressive voting laws, shows how easier registration could change everything” ought to be required reading for every Democrat. From the concluding paragraph: “Evidence is still coming in on the impact of AVR, but early evidence is positive. Oregon automatically registered 225,000 people through the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 43 percent voted in the 2016 election. Other reforms, like same-day registration and looser voting registration deadlines, are shown to bolster turnout. In New York and other states where Democrats have power, progressives should push for the implementation of automatic voter registration, same-day registration and early voting, as well as other reforms to ease access. Of the six states in which Democrats  have a trifecta, meaning they control the governor’s office and both legislative chambers, four still don’t have automatic voter registration. In states where they don’t have full power, progressives should put automatic voter registration on the ballot. (Alaska, a heavily Republican state, recently passed automatic voter registration by referendum.) Automatic voter registration can ensure that all Americans are represented in the voting booth, and progressives should embrace it.”

An eye-opening statistic from “Tracking the fortunes of the white working-class” at The Economist: “…The gap in wage levels between all workers and WWCM [white working-class males] has widened from an average of 3.7% in 1990-92 to 6.9% over the past two years.”

Katie Zezima has an interesting report, “‘California is a nation, not a state’: A fringe movement wants a break from the U.S.” at The Washington Post. California pulling out of the U.S. would be like Scotland becoming independent of the U.K. in that it would provide a green light for an extreme right takeover of   the rest of the country. The movement is not likely to prevail, but it provides another reminder that Trump may be the most divisive president in U.S. history.

Here’s a question that is surely on the minds of millions.

In his NYT column, “How Can We Get Rid of Trump?,” Nicholas Kristoff observes, “One poll from Public Policy Polling found that as many Americans — 46 percent — favor impeachment of President Trump as oppose it. Ladbrokes, the betting website, offers even odds that Trump will resign or leave office through impeachment before his term ends…Sky Bet, another site, is taking wagers on whether Trump will be out of office by July.” Kristoff says, “My take is that unless things get much worse, removal may be a liberal fantasy…If I were betting, I’d say we’re stuck with Trump for four years.” However, Kristoff adds, “And what does it say about a presidency that, just one month into it, we’re already discussing whether it can be ended early?”

A quote from Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) in “Democrats Aim to Reclaim the Working-Class Vote” by Mori Rothman and Yasmeen Qureshi at npr.org: ” I really believe our party is at its best when we’re the Robert Kennedy coalition, that we are the party of blue collar workers, of all races, of all backgrounds, that we are the party of those who were left out and deeply believe in the American dream and want to achieve it. That is who the Democratic Party is in our soul, that is the best to win elections, but it’s also the best to govern. If we’re going to achieve progress in these areas, we need to it needs to be everyone and that includes white working class voters.”

Do acquaint yourself with a couple of groups working to elect Democrats at the state and local legislative levels and click around on their website links to see what works for you. “The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is the permanent authority and central headquarters for Democratic state legislative leaders and races nationwide. The DLCC is the only Democratic organization led by progressive champions in state legislatures around the country. Our board and partners are all legislators on the front lines of fighting back against the Trump agenda.” The second group is “Flipable,” described by Mashable’s Jason Abbruzzese as “an organization focused on identifying local political positions that could turn from Republican to Democratic, and figuring out how to provide the resources to flip them.”


Trump Kills the Traditional Presidential Presser

Like most political observers, I watched Donald Trump’s Thursday press conference–if that’s what you want to call it–with a mixture of fascination and horror. On reflection, I wrote these observations for New York:

Donald Trump’s impromptu 80-minute press conference today was by all accounts an unprecedented event. To journalists accustomed to the traditional presidential press conference, it was an interminable violation of all the rules — not just of presidential-media relations, but of grammar, logic, decorum, and even political common sense. Trump brought up, unbidden, his own past mistakes in order to fulminate about how they were covered months ago. He changed subjects constantly and unpredictably, beginning with the fact that the whole thing began as an announcement of his new Labor Secretary nominee, Alexander Acosta, but soon went far, far afield and never returned. He insulted members of the working press before, during, and after their questions; he suggested one African-American reporter set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus because he assumed they were probably “your friends.” And just when one outrage concluded, another began, world without end.

Here was Politico’s take:

“It was an extraordinary scene in the White House, which Trump essentially turned into a venue for a campaign rally, trashed the country’s most influential news outlets, cited approval polls and spread misinformation. It came two days before Trump will hit the road for a campaign rally in Florida, where he said the crowds would be ‘massive.'”

What seems plain in retrospect is that Trump has no intention, at least at present, to use presidential press conferences the way his predecessors have employed them: to convey information to the American people via the media, sometimes despite the media’s efforts to impose an uncongenial interpretation on the intended “message.” Presidents have varied in their skill at this game; some, most famously Richard Nixon, descended into an openly antagonistic relationship with journalists; virtually all the others have on occasion played favorites or “punished” disfavored reporters or outlets by denying access. But nobody until now has used a press conference to send one basic message over and over: With a few exceptions the people in this room are all lying scoundrels and you should not believe a word they say. Because that was Trump’s message: Every grievance he could dredge up, dating back to the ups and downs of the campaign trail, found its way into his tongue-lashing of the media today.

And that is why he by no means came across as the fearful Nixonian pol grudgingly giving his media enemies as little time as possible for questioning after his opening remarks, and then getting out of the room with as little damage as possible. As Trump said, he was enjoying the whole spectacle, and extended it again and again. And why not? If his goal was to convince his supporters that the media is their, as well as his, sworn enemy, then the longer he baited reporters and the longer they responded with obvious chagrin and efforts to pin him down, the more he succeeded. Had it gone on all day, it would have just reinforced the vast gap between his world and that of the people his senior counsel Stephen Bannon calls “the opposition party.”

“Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it….”

Working journalists are, of course, left wondering how to deal with the role Trump has assigned them as cartoon villains who deploy “facts” and “logic” to try to trip up the man who is just too wily to play their malicious game. It is hard to change the behavior of a politician who craves media criticism —the more the better — the way a wino craves cheap muscatel. The fact that he acts genuinely aggrieved at such criticism even as he courts it — and for all we know, his alleged pain may even be genuine — makes it all the harder to treat him normally.

Perhaps the most important thing to happen at today’s press conference is that respectable Republicans in Washington and elsewhere had to be at least disturbed a bit by the spectacle, which no one could imagine any prior Republican president since Nixon, and probably not even the Tricky One, producing. At some point they will have to ask themselves exactly how much damage to traditional politics and government they are willing to accept in exchange for cutting taxes, criminalizing abortion, or giving the people who own most of the country relief from regulations.


Drum: Behind Harward’s Decline of Trump’s NSA Offer

President Trump settled on a widely-respected national security expert to replace Michael Flynn as  National Security Advisor, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward. Unfortunately, Harward turned Trump’s offer down. Kevin Drum’s Mother Jones post “K.T. McFarland Is Too Much to Swallow, So Robert Harward Turns Down NSA Position” cuts through the fog and explains why Trump bungled it:

After Michael Flynn resigned/was fired as National Security Advisor, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the top prospect to replace him turned out to be Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward. He’s well respected by both Democrats and Republicans and would have brought some needed experience and sobriety to the White House.

Unfortunately, Harward turned down the job. It all hinged on whether he would be allowed to choose his own team. Here is CBS News:

“Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward demanded his own team, and the White House resisted. Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.”

McFarland hasn’t held a government position for over 30 years, but she has appeared regularly on Fox News as a standard-issue hardline pundit for the past decade. In Trump’s eyes, this qualifies her to be the #2 person on the National Security Council. Apparently Harward didn’t agree…

It sounds a lot like Harward didn’t want to put up with lightweight ideologues meddling about the all-important business of the National Security Council. As Drum puts it,

Basically, Harward is a serious guy who wanted the National Security Council to be staffed with national security experts, not Fox News hacks and political operators. That was a bridge too far for the Trump team, so Harward pulled out…That’s all bad enough, but it raises another question: now that this is all public knowledge, will anyone serious be willing to take this position? How could they?

That’s a very tough question, and it’s a shame that America has been denied the leadership of a top expert with Harward’s impressive credentials — yet another indication that the President is getting some very bad advice, and worse, taking it.


Political Strategy Notes

At TPM’s Edblog Josh Marshall makes the case “Flynn Doesn’t Matter. This Is About Trump,” and notes, “Through the course of the campaign, transition and presidency, three top Trump advisors and staffers have had to resign because of issues tied to Russia. Paul Manafort, Carter Page and now Michael Flynn. Page might arguably be termed a secondary figure. Manafort ran Trump’s campaign and Flynn was his top foreign policy advisor for a year. The one common denominator between all these events, all these men is one person: Donald Trump…Is it even remotely credible that with everything that led up to it, Michael Flynn initiated and conducted this back channel on his own? Hardly.” Adele M. Stan also has some interesting observations in her post “What Does Flynn Know About Trump?” at The American Prospect.

The Flynn debacle will likely dominate today’s news, but Democrats can be forgiven quick high-fives for forcing, along with a handfull of Republicans, the poorly-vetted Andrew F. Puzder’s withdrawall from consideration as Secretary of Labor. it’s a small consolation prize for the hair’s breadth confirmation of Betsy DeVos at Education and the failure to rally enough votes to stop Tom Price from running Health and Human Services. But no one should expect Trump to now nominate a moderate for the Department of Labor. Still, anything that slows Trump’s extremist agenda is a welcome victory. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said, quoted in Alan Rappeport’s New York Times report, “I think when you have to put all this energy into an unreasonable nominations process, it takes away the energy that could better be used for other things.” ‘Unreasonable’ — That’s Republican for anything more rigorous than a rubber stamp. But Blunt is right about wasted Republican energy, and that’s a good thing.

Rappeport notes also that “Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is facing a revolt by E.P.A. employees scrambling to block him. Ms. Collins declared her opposition to him Wednesday.” In addition, “The Senate must still vote on the nomination of Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to be Mr. Trump’s budget director, over the loud objection of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who took to the Senate floor again Wednesday to accuse Mr. Mulvaney, a hard-line conservative, of being anti-military.” That vote could come today.

Rachel Maddow brings up a little matter that requires some explanation on the part of the DCCC.  “Democrats, you are not moving forward right now. You are losing ground,” says Maddow. Before he was confirmed HHS Secretary Tom Price repped this large, increasingly-diverse, suburban Atlanta district, which Trump won by just 1.5 percent in November. To cede it to Republicans would be political malpractice. Here’s the candidates line-up to date.

But Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine, “The biggest problem is that Democratic turnout in Georgia special elections — and really any sort of runoff — has been abysmal. That’s likely why local political analysts do not seem remotely as bullish as their national counterparts on the donkey’s odds of swiping the 6th…Having said that, if the Trump administration’s next two months are anything like its first, the prospect of an early “referendum on Trump” to smite the 45th president could generate enough money and other resources to break the mold, and enough attention to get Democrats to the polls who would otherwise never show up. But for right now, it’s the GOP’s race to lose.”

The DNC chair race is getting most of the buzz, but, for clues about Democratic strategy to win back a House majority next year, check out Simone Pathe’s “DCCC Announces 2018 Leadership Team: Expanded team includes returning members and some fresh faces” at Roll Call.

The 2018 Senate races are far more problematic for Dems. As Kyle Kondik explains at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Because independent Sens. Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT) caucus with the Democrats, they are effectively defending 25 seats next year, while Republicans are only defending nine…There are conflicting forces at play in 2018. On one hand, the party that does not hold the White House often benefits from the midterm environment. History suggests that the Republicans’ dream of netting eight seats next year, thus creating a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, is unlikely, even though they have many credible targets. On the other hand, the Senate map is so daunting for Democrats that just not losing any seats will require an enormous amount of effort and luck.”

Democrats can draw some encouragement from Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times article, “G.O.P.’s Grand Visions for Congress Now Look Like a Mirage,” which reviews the toll taken by Democratic resistance to Trump’s agenda and growing disenchantment with it among Republicans. In stark contrast, notes Steinhauer, “At this point in Barack Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled Washington, Congress had passed a stimulus bill totaling nearly $1 trillion to address the financial crisis, approved a measure preventing pay discrimination, expanded a children’s health insurance program, and begun laying the groundwork for major health care and financial regulation bills.”

In his Washington Post op-ed, “Just resisting Trump won’t do enough for Democrats,” Democracy Alliance founder Rob Stein makes some notable a points, including “Republicans and their allies — most notably the network of wealthy donors organized by the Koch brothers — have created formidable political operations that execute these functions with great skill and precision in more than 30 states. Democrats have permanent, well-managed and well-financed electoral capacity in less than a handful of states…This dire political imbalance contributed to the Trump victory last year. He did not need his own “ground game” in 2016. He rode to power on the voter mobilization coattails of the Republican right’s multistate political juggernaut, which maximized Republican voter turnout in every key battleground state.”


GOP Struggling To Escape Self-Imposed Trap on Obamacare

The agony of congressional Republicans as they try to figure out how to keep various promises on repealing and replacing Obamacare is becoming fascinating to watch. I tried to explain their plight this week at New York:

[T]he GOP congressional leadership seem[s] to be coalescing around a strategy sometimes called “repeal-plus”— using the pending budget-reconciliation bill they authorized last month to repeal the non-regulatory portions of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time enact those elements of a replacement plan on which most Republicans can agree.

But the strategy must somehow thread the needle between the desire of the public (reinforced by Donald Trump’s promises) for maintaining Obamacare levels of health coverage, and conservative pressure to get rid of as much of the socialist abomination as is possible. This latter pressure point is gaining strength as House conservatives threaten to vote against anything that’s not a straight repeal of Obamacare, while the venerable tea party group FreedomWorks plans to mobilize grassroots support for the least Obamacare-like alternative out there, Rand Paul’s let-’em-eat-markets approach.

As Politico reports, as many as 50 House Republicans are prepared to demand a vote on the “dry run” Obamacare repeal legislation Congress sent to Barack Obama for a certain veto early last year. It was a straight repeal without replacement provisions, and, for dessert, also included defunding Planned Parenthood. This is the same bill, it should be remembered, that the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated would cost 18 million Americans their health coverage almost immediately (and 32 million within ten years), while boosting individual insurance-policy premiums by more than 20 percent.

The odds of such legislation getting through the Senate are vanishingly small, even though (a) no Democratic votes would be necessary and (b) all non-freshman Senate Republicans voted for it last year, when of course they knew it would not become law. This latter factor means that Mitch McConnell would use all his leverage with Paul Ryan to avoid such a bill coming over from the House and showing up GOP senators as having something less than the courage of their alleged convictions.

Everybody understands these dynamics, so it’s likely the real purpose of the House conservative gambit in pushing a politically disastrous repeal-without-replace plan — aside from signaling impatience about inaction — is to keep GOP leaders from going too far in the direction of continuing the very Obamacare policies the public (and presumably fearful Republican senators) would like them to continue. Provisions that might lead to a full-scale conservative revolt range from maintenance of the taxes that financed Obamacare coverage (and that would be supremely useful in paying for a GOP replacement), to too-generous subsidies for private insurance purchases, to excessive generosity to states that accepted the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, to inadequate “freedom” for insurers to discriminate against the old and the sick.

That could leave Republicans with not much more in the way of “replacement” items as such hardy GOP perennials as subsidies for Health Savings Accounts, authorization of interstate insurance sales, and sharp reductions in mandatory benefits for those receiving subsidies. As Ron Brownstein pointed out recently, all these ancient conservative health-policy ideas would erode coverage for the older Americans who happen to be most likely to vote Republican, while boosting out-of-pocket costs for the white-working-class voters who think costs are too high under Obamacare.

These cross-pressures to avoid anything that looks like Obamacare Lite but at the same time to avoid disruption of existing coverage are why Republicans are in such disarray on the subject to begin with. Just punting tough decisions down the road with a repeal-and-delay strategy that maintains Obamacare for years no longer seems like a viable option; conservatives hate it and it creates too much uncertainty in markets. But doing a mini-replacement (which is where “repeal-plus” seems headed) in the current budget-reconciliation vehicle means that any further replacement elements will require 60 Senate votes, meaning at least eight Democrats would have to go along.

As budget expert Stan Collender notes, that brilliant GOP plan for a legislative blitzkrieg this year that would repeal and replace Obamacare, slash taxes, and “reform” the welfare state, all through budget vehicles that made Democrats irrelevant, is looking mighty iffy now. Congressional Republicans cannot put off decisions about Obamacare much longer without imperiling the timetable for everything else they need to do. And there is always the possibility they will be caught by some random Trump tweet and forced to change direction. You have to figure Republican discussions on the legislative agenda, which were supposed to be resolved at a GOP retreat nearly three weeks ago, are in danger of descending into sweaty white-knuckled madness.

It would almost be fun to watch, if it did not affect health coverage for tens of millions of Americans.


Dems Call for Follow-Up Action on ‘Flynnghazi’

Following Michael Flynn’s resignation as the Trump Administration’s National Security Advisor, Democratic leaders are calling for further congressional action to address unanswered questions surrounding Flynn’s contact with Russian leaders.

In his CQPolitics Roll Call post “Democrats Want Probe of ‘Unfit’ Flynn’s Russia Ties,” John T. Bennett reports that “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an “bipartisan, independent, outside commission” to investigate President Donald Trump’s and his administration’s connections with Russia.”

Bennett notes also that the top-ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Adam Schiff (CA) said Flynn “was always a poor choice” for national security adviser, suggesting the former general lacked the needed skills as a “consensus builder” and did not “possess sobriety and steady judgment.” Further, notes Bennett

“It is certainly no role for someone who plays fast and loose with the truth,” Schiff said. “But Flynn’s departure does not end questions over his contacts with the Russians. … These alleged contacts and any others the Trump campaign may have had with the Kremlin are the subject of the House Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation.”

Schiff also questioned whether Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials, which could have violated a law pertaining to private citizens negotiating on behalf of the federal government, came at the behest of Trump.

Bennett adds that other Democrats are calling for more investigation and information:

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a joint statement urging Justice Department and FBI officials to come to Capitol Hill this week with answers about Flynn’s Russia ties.

“The reality is Gen. Flynn was unfit to be the National Security Advisor, and should have been dismissed three weeks ago,” Cummings and Conyers said. “Now, we in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them, and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks. We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security.”

The two lawmakers said they will ask FBI and Justice officials to brief members this week, before both chambers adjourn for a week-long Presidents’ Day recess.

And Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Foreign Affairs ranking member said in a statement that “far too many questions remain unanswered about this Administration’s ties to Russia.” He called for a “thorough, bipartisan investigation to get the complete picture of Russia’s interference in our election.”

House leaders are thus far opposing any further investigations. As Tara Golshan reports at Vox, “House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz said his committee will not investigate Flynn’s contact with the Russian government, or the extent of his communications with White House officials”:

“It’s taking care of itself,” Chaffetz told reporters Tuesday, according to Politico’s Kyle Cheney, adding that further investigation would be up to the House Intelligence Committee.

But Republican House Intelligence Committee Chair David Nunes said Tuesday that his committee won’t look into conversations between Trump and Flynn, according to CNN’s Manu Raju. Nunes cited executive privilege — a privilege typically claimed by the president for withholding information in the public interest.

If Republican leaders continue to stonewall against further investigaton, it’s only a matter of time before reporters who believe in doing their job force Trump to explain, on camera, in his own words, what Flynn did wrong. This is too big a story to just whither away without the most important questions being answered. The politics of distraction aren’t going to help much with this one.

All of which recalls Flynn’s speech to the GOP convention, in which he parroted the “Lock her up!” chant targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, citing “her careless use of a private email server.” He may not be the last member of Trump’s inner circle to ‘resign’ under a cloud of concern about compromised national security, but he is the first one.


Lux: Dems, Don’t Get Suckered by ‘Base vs. Working-Class’ False Choice

The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of  The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, is cross-posted fromHuffPo:

When a political party loses a big election (especially an election they clearly should have won), and finds itself out of power at every level of government, a debate needs to be had about the future of that party. The Democratic party is having such a debate, but when the frame of the debate is as twisted up as it currently is, we aren’t going to make much headway in terms of finding the best answers.

Debate framing, bad definitions, and false questions are popular in Washington, DC. For years, I have been bemused by the inside the beltway definition of “centrism”, which consists mostly of being pro-trade deals that benefit big business, pro-cutting Social Security and Medicare, and in favor of helping the big banks on Wall Street soften the few regulations that hold them back. None of these positions have any popularity with the actual centrist swing voters that helped decide this election- or any in the last couple of decades- but in DC circles, this kind of “centrism” has for years been all the rage.

The same pundits who define centrism in this manner are now trying to frame the debate over the future of the Democratic party as a debate over whether the party should become more progressive or whether we should reach out to swing voters. The problem with this frame is that the message and issues that have the best chance of appealing to the working class swing voters Democrats lost in 2016 (and 3 of the last 4 elections) is the same one that fires up the Democratic base of young people, people of color, and unmarried women: the economic populism of Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, and Keith Ellison. Those kinds of progressive populist politicians, the Democratic base, and swing working class voters all believe that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy and big business special interests; they all believe Social Security should be expanded and Medicare should be preserved and strengthened; they all believe in trade and other economic policies that will bring back good paying manufacturing jobs to this country; they all believe in spending a lot more money on infrastructure, creating jobs building and rebuilding roads, bridges, schools, airports, electric grids, as well as adding new jobs in solar and wind energy; they all believe in getting tougher on Wall St, including prosecuting those in the financial industry who commit crimes and breaking up the Too Big To Fail banks; they all believe in taxing the wealthiest Americans and reining in CEO power; they all believe in a higher minimum wage and more rights for workers.

And you know what else (speaking of a false debate): progressive leaders and our fired up Democratic base are all pro-business, too. According to the Washington Post and other traditional media sources, the Democrats are at war with progressives on one side and the “business-friendly” wing of the party on the other. But here’s the deal: progressives strongly support all kinds of business-friendly policies. We want for small business and start-ups to be able to compete with corporate conglomerates trying to corner the market, and so we favor vigorous enforcement of anti-trust law; we encourage people to sign up for community based banks and credit unions; we have pushed hard to develop solar, wind, and other energy sources that do not contribute to climate change; we worked with retailers to fight Wall St on swipe fees, and are working with them now on attacking this crazy Border Adjustment Tax idea in the Ryan budget because it is essentially a sales tax that mostly working class and poor people will pay; we are fighting to defend hospitals, especially rural hospitals, from the Medicaid cuts Republicans are trying to do in repealing the ACA; we are working alongside the taxi and hotel industries to keep Uber and Airbnb from destroying millions of jobs, creating major problems in housing markets in big cities, and violating people’s ADA and civil rights; and we are standing with family farmers and ranchers as they fight the big food and pipeline companies that are trying to take away their ability to make a good living.

Just because progressives oppose big business from getting sweetheart deals and tax loopholes from government, just because we want to stop overheating the planet with climate change, just because we want highly profitable businesses to pay their fair share of taxes and pay their workers decent wages and benefits, just because we want to safeguard the main street economy from irresponsible speculation by Too Big To Fail banks: none of that makes progressive Democrats “anti-business”. Quite the opposite: we are for promoting businesses that are good members of their community, and want to do everything in our power to help them.

Here’s another example of a false debate: having to choose betweenwhite working class voters in rural and small town America and the urban Democratic base. For starters, note the issues I mentioned in the 3rd paragraph above: as I said, the base and rural voters have very similar views on most of those issues. While there are enough differences and disagreements on some issues to keep Democrats from getting a majority of rural votes anytime soon, there’s a big difference between losing them 62-38 as the ultimate urbanite Barack Obama did in 2012 and losing them 71-29 as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Those Democrats who are arguing we should walk away from rural voters and rural districts because we haven’t done well there the last couple of cycles are essentially dooming us to permanent minority status given how rural voters and states are favored disproportionately in terms of their relative power in the House, Senate, and electoral college. And we have plenty of issues we can make a stand on in rural America, including saving rural hospitals from an ACA repeal, saving rural schools from Betsy DeVos’ obsession with urban charter and voucher schools, stopping the Border Adjustment Tax which will be a heavier tax on people in rural areas than in urban areas, and making sure roads and highways and schools are built in rural America as well as urban America.

It is worth noting, by the way, that the stereotype of rural areas being all white and conservative is wrong: there are a ton of Democratic base voters and people of color living in rural America. Bernie Sanders did very well in rural America, winning most of the small states outside of the South. Native American reservations are 100% in rural areas. And throughout the Midwest and Southwest are rapidly growing numbers of Latinos in rural America. One example: my home state of Nebraska is now over 10% Latino, with small towns like Scottsbluff, Grand Island, and Lexington being over 25-50% Latino. The percentage of these rural Latinos and Native Americans who did not vote in 2016 was astronomical compared to most other demographic groups, as the Democratic party and Clinton campaign did not spend much money targeting them. I am a big advocate of Democrats doing more to reach out to working class rural swing voters on a populist economic platform, but if all we did was focus on turning out our base voters in rural America, we could cut the margins we lost there dramatically.

Democrats need to stop listening to the beltway pundits telling them they need to make false choices. We don’t have to decide between base voters and working class voters: in fact, most of our base are working class people who have been as hard hit by this economy’s heavy tilt to the top 1% as anyone, and populist economic messages work for both base and swing voters. We don’t have to choose between being populists and being pro-business: progressive populism is very much aligned with the small businesses, start-ups, green energy companies, and good neighbor companies that we ought to be helping. We don’t have to choose between rural and urban America, as progressive policies on energy, health care, Wall St, farming, anti-trust, education, the minimum wage, and health care are major assets in both big cities and small towns. Democrats need to stop playing either/or politics and stop having debates between ourselves that don’t make any sense.