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

June 25, 2017

Zombie Trumpcare Refuses To Die, But Looks Doomed

What’s that gurgling, snarling sound in the distance? Must be Zombie Trumpcare, which as I explained at New York, refuses to die.

Despite near-universal predictions of doom — either now or later, on the House floor or in the Senate — the Trump administration is pushing House Republicans hard to schedule a vote next week on the latest version of Trumpcare, a.k.a. the American Health Care Act. The president’s claim that the the plan had “gotten really, really good … and a lot of people are liking it a lot,” appears to be pure happy talk. They don’t have the votes now to move the legislation forward, and may never have the votes to get this unfortunate legislation to Trump’s desk.

The much-bruited MacArthur Amendment to the earlier bill, with its provision for state waivers to sidestep comprehensive insurance-plan requirements and protections for people with preexisting conditions, may or may not attract some additional House Freedom Caucus votes. But it is very, very unlikely to sway those among MacArthur’s fellow moderates who refused to vote for the original bill. Yes, it would allow blue states to keep something like the original Obamacare individual-health-insurance markets in place, assuming insurers were willing to go along. But it keeps in place AHCA’s quick phaseout of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, hammering those same states.

Prospects in the Senate, where Republican moderates have much more leverage due to the GOP’s narrow two-vote majority, are much worse. On top of the substantive health care policy concerns House moderates have articulated (particularly over Medicaid), there are now three GOP senators who are not necessarily onboard for the defunding of Planned Parenthood that is part of the package. And there remain real problems with the Senate rules, since the state waiver provisions that are central to the MacArthur Amendment could easily be ruled non-germane to the budget process by the Senate parliamentarian, exposing the whole bill to a Senate filibuster.

So why the rush toward an apparent abyss? From the White House point of view, it’s apparently all about Trump’s panic over not having big accomplishments to boast of when the 100-day mark of his presidency arrives, on April 29. That factor is also reportedly driving a sudden hard line in the White House position in the appropriations negotiations aimed at avoiding a government shutdown on April 29. Since a renewed furor over health care could not possibly help the atmosphere surrounding the delicate appropriations talks, Trump is in danger of a dual disaster next week.

Perhaps the best thing about racing ahead is that it might not allow the Congressional Budget Office the time to score this new version of AHCA, a process that would undoubtedly produce a terrible number in terms of the impact on health-care coverage.

You might expect Paul Ryan to tell Trump the votes aren’t there for Zombie Trumpcare, and to ask him to call off the dogs. But Ryan is undoubtedly under pressure from some members who would prefer to get the monkey off their backs and blame the Senate or Democrats for the failure to enact health-care legislation, and others who figure a second failed vote in the House would convince everyone to give up and move on to the more congenial territory of tax legislation.

It’s a horror-show for Republicans, all right.


Trump Could Yet Provoke a Government Shutdown

In what was a relatively peaceful Easter Recess for Congress, Donald Trump’s fatal pride is again causing trouble, as I explained at New York:

While everyone enjoys (and tries to exploit) the drama of an impending government shutdown, and the events of 2013 showed shutdowns can indeed happen, the deadline itself is disposable, since it is all too easy for negotiators to agree to short-term extensions of existing appropriations while talks continue. A one- or two-week extension remains the most likely scenario for next week, given the number of issues that must be resolved and the short time available after Congress returns from its Easter recess.

But there is an additional dynamic that could upset these expectations and create a higher risk of a shutdown: Donald Trump’s ego.

Like a howling feral dog on the edge of a peaceful town, Trump’s potential for havoc has haunted any and all sensitive congressional negotiations this year. CNN noted it as the “X factor” in the funding talks:

“So far the President has not issued any major controversial ultimatums – insisting on money for certain programs or barring it from others. If that changes, it could blow up the bipartisan talks.”

The reason that might happen is simple: April 29 marks the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency, and the image-conscious POTUS rather obviously hasn’t been on a winning streak.

Sure enough, Politico suggests today that the desire to show some results for the first 100 days is driving the White House toward a “harder line” in appropriations talks.

While the funding deadline can be pushed off temporarily, the 100-day milestone and the negative media assessments of the Trump presidency’s beginnings that are sure to dominate the airwaves can’t just be postponed. Thus the president’s underlings are under pressure to get some highly visible concessions in a hurry:

“The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan.

“It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration’s spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday — the day government spending expires, and right before the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“People familiar with the negotiations say Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, are pushing congressional appropriators to include “billions” for their agenda in private conversations. The White House, one person familiar with the conversations said, has pushed for $3 billion for the border wall, and discussions have been ongoing.
Border-wall funding is one of several “poison pills” congressional Democrats have signaled might justify a Senate filibuster, gridlock, and a government shutdown. Another that involves a positive demand Democrats are making also touches on Trump’s ego: an appropriation for those Obamacare “cost sharing reduction” subsidies for insurers that the president has threatened to withhold unless Democrats help Republicans enact Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation.”

Given the amount of time Trump spends claiming that undocumented immigrants are running wild in our cities and producing a hellish crime wave, you also have to figure budget director Mick Mulvaney’s recent demand that the funding bill include a cutoff of grants to “sanctuary cities” — still more shutdown bait — may have had its origins in the Oval Office.

All in all, if negotiators reach a tentative deal next week — or more likely, decide to kick the can down the road for a week or two — they will probably be checking their phones nervously for Twitter explosions from the man just down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president is certainly capable of pretending, as he’s already done, that his first 100 days were one long triumphal march toward unprecedented accomplishments. But if he decides he needs more trophies because his evil media enemies don’t see it, look out!


Political Strategy Notes

Some talking points about the latest GOP Obamacare repeal proposal, from Margaret Sanger-Katz at The Upshot:” “In the days before Obamacare, applying for health insurance meant filling out dozens of pages of forms and submitting medical records. It was almost impossible to compare prices. Your premium might be set higher for a large number of reasons, including if your child was overweight. This could be the future in some states under the latest Republican proposal to overhaul the health law…The proposal, offered by leaders of libertarian and centrist groups within the House Republican caucus, would allow states to waive key insurance rules imposed by the Affordable Care Act if they believe the changes could lower premiums or advance other state goals. The proposal retains the health law’s promise that people with pre-existing health conditions can still buy insurance. But the protection would be largely technical.”

I like the way Eugene Robinson puts it in his WaPo column: “House Republicans are apparently ready for yet another attempt to snatch health insurance away from constituents who need it. Someone should remind Speaker Paul Ryan of a saying often attributed to his legendary predecessor Sam Rayburn: “There’s no education in the second kick of the mule.”…Having failed miserably to win passage of an abomination of a bill — the American Health Care Act — Ryan (R-Wis.) and his minions are back with something even worse. A draft framework being circulated this week would pretend to keep the parts of Obamacare that people like, but allow states to take these benefits away. We see what you’re doing, folks…This is getting silly. What part of “forget it” do Republicans not understand?…I’m sure the crowds at GOP town halls will be understanding. Just be sure to check attendees at the door for tar and feathers.”

Regarding recent public attitudes toward single-payer health care, Catherine Rampell, writes at The Post: “A recent survey from the Economist/YouGov found that a majority of Americans support “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American.” Similarly, a poll from Morning Consult/Politico showed that a plurality of voters support “a single payer health care system, where all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan.”Divining the longer-term trend in attitudes toward this idea is difficult, as the way survey questions on the topic are asked has changed over time. Views of a health-care system in which all Americans get their insurance from the government single payer vary a lot depending on how you frame the question. Calling it “Medicare for all,” for example, generally elicits much stronger approval, while emphasizing the word “government” tends to depress support…But at the very least, some survey questions that have remained consistent in recent years show support has been rising back up over the past few years for the broader idea that the federal government bears responsibility for making sure all Americans have health-care coverage.”

I enjoy political snarkage as much as most. But former Bush speechwriter and now Wapo columnist Michael Gerson has a couple of sentences in his op-ed worth pondering: “On the whole, people can better tolerate being shouted at than being sneered at. And the sneer of the knowledge class was clearly a motivating factor for many Trump voters. They felt condescension from the commanding heights of the culture and set out to storm its highest point. The pose of late-night television — duplicated by many on the left — is a continuing provocation…A sneering, dismissive, dehumanizing, conspiratorial, hard-left-leaning response to Trump is his fondest hope.” Ridicule can occasionally influence political attitudes (remember Tina Fey as Sarah Palin) in a favorable direction for progressives, but nowadays it’s often overdone and counter-productive from a progressive point of view (see direct insults to Trump voters on your Facebook pages).

At In These Times, Chris Maissano and Jesse Mannisto, both members of The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), dialogue on a question of interest to many progressives: “Should Democratic Socialists Be Democrats?” At one point in their discusion Mannisto comments, “Let’s frame the question carefully: Should we work within the Democratic Party? I’d say yes. Is it enough to work within the Democratic Party? Definitely not. I’m energized by the possibilities of this political moment, but I still see electoral work as one component of broader movement building. It seems our main difference is our degree of optimism…Electoral work isn’t necessarily the best way to spread our message, but it’s a way that’s proven powerful of late…I’ve felt frustrated to the point of contemplating canceling my Democratic Party registration for the second time (I signed back up to vote for Bernie), but then I reminded myself how much easier my giving up would make it for all those corporate super-delegates. They’d love it if we sat at home and let them run their primaries with no alternative vision to stir things up… we all joined DSA because we believe it’s possible for avowedly socialist ideas to resonate with the American people. For that reason, I hope we don’t exit the Democratic Party; I hope we infiltrate it…”

Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik have an update at The Crystal Ball concerning “Initial 2018 Gubernatorial Ratings: Competitive races abound as GOP plays defense in many open seats,” and the outlook is not bad. “Before we move on to the 2018 races, we want to set some expectations for 2017: Democrats need to sweep both New Jersey and Virginia in order to consider the year a success. Both states are more Democratic than the national average — the Old Dominion by a little, and the Garden State by a lot — and these are two states the party should be able to carry with a Republican in the White House who, at least for now, is not popular. Obviously, holding Virginia seems like a heavier lift for Democrats at the moment than flipping New Jersey. This year represents a golden opportunity for Democrats to make a dent, albeit a small one, in the GOP’s mighty roster of state governorships before turning the page to the packed 2018 gubernatorial calendar…Republicans will be defending nine governorships in states Clinton won — Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, and Vermont — while Democrats will be defending just one governorship in a Trump-won state (Pennsylvania)…Democrats are hoping that they can win a substantial number of governorships over the next two years, given how many open seats the GOP is defending and the general tendency for the party that does not hold the White House to make gains down the ticket in a midterm year. The president’s party has netted governorships only once (1986) in 18 postwar midterms. As of now, we favor the Democrats in two Republican-held seats — New Jersey and New Mexico. Overall, the Democrats should start 2019 with more governorships than they hold now, but the high number of Toss-ups and otherwise potentially very competitive races combined with the unsettled national environment next year creates a high degree of uncertainty.”

In bad news for A.G. Sessions, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus, Kabir Khanna and Anthony Salvanto report thatA recent CBS News poll shows support for legalizing marijuana is higher than ever. Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll. Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use…Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.”…Back in 1979, this poll found just 27 percent saying it should be legal…Those over 65 are the most opposed to legalization, but most under age 65 support it. And women are now as much in favor of legal marijuana as men are; in previous years they were less so.” What happened to the Hippies?

Heads up, Dems. Dave Johnson warns at ourfuture.org that “People Don’t Know Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Is a Scam.” As Johnson explains, “Polls show that the public likes President Trump’s plan to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. That’s because they think he actually plans to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. He doesn’t. Not hardly…Trump knows the public wants infrastructure, so he promises it. Just like all the other things he promised and went back on after the election. Jut like all the contractors he stiffed, and the students at Trump University. It’s just another Trump con.” Johnson cites gallup and CNN/ORC polls indicating the public likes the idea of spending $1 trillion on infrastructure improvement. In reality, however, Trump has already cut spemnding for infrastructure, and his so-called plan is just a privatization scheme to benefit his wealthy supporters.

At ThinkProgress.com Ian Millhiser has put together a dossier on Republican candidate for GA-6 congressional district, former GA Secretary of State Karen Handel, entitled, “The GOP candidate in that Georgia special election is a pioneering vote suppressor.” As Millhiser writes, “Handel was one of her state’s leading champions of voter ID during her time as Georgia’s top elections official…Seven years ago, Handel was Georgia’s Secretary of State — its chief elections officer. In that role, she was a top advocate for a then-innovative method of voter suppression. She spearheaded an illegal purge of Georgia’s voting rolls. And she even tried to prevent Democratic candidates from appearing on the state’s ballots.”


Next Up: Montana’s At-Large House Seat

Montana’s at-large congressional district is actually a pretty big electoral prize. It is the most populous district in the nation with more than one million constituents, and it is second only to Alaska’s at-large district in square mileage.

The last time a Democrat held the seat was from 1993-97, when Pat Williams repped the at-large district, which is the same thing as serving the entire state. Since then Republicans have held the seat, including Ryan Zinke, who was re-elected in November, but who has now been appointed Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. A special election to fill the seat is slated for May 25th.

Democrats have nominated a candidate to fill the seat who is generating a lot of excitement, singer-songwriter Rob Quist, a single-payer, pro-choice progressive who suppported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. Quist has solid Montana bonafides, having been born and raised in a ranching family in the state, and he has traveled and worked all across Montana.

If GA-6 is emblematic of southern suburban congressional districts, Montana’s at-large seat could serve as a pretty good example of a Mountain West district Democrats can realistically hope to win back from Republicans. And like Ossoff in Georgia, Quist is an appealing candidate, perhaps even more so for progressives.

But Quist may not have the same fund-raising draw as Ossoff, even though he is going to need dough, lots of it, to take his progressive message all across Montana and compete with his software billionaire Republican opponent. Democrats and progressives who want to help Quist should check out his ActBlue web page.

Although Montana elected both Trump and Zinke in November, it does have a venerable tradition of electing Democrats, including America’s longest-serving Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who ran the U.S. Senate from 1961 to 1977, as well as the current Governor Steve Bullock and U.S. Senator Jon Tester.

In his New York Times article, “After Georgia’s Close Race, Montana Democrats Demand Party’s Attention,” Jonathan Martin writes about concerns that Democrats could blow an opportunity for a needed pick-up:

“National folks should be coming in here,” Governor Bullock said. “It is a winnable race.”

Mr. Bullock should know. His re-election last year, by four percentage points against the Republican Greg Gianforte, was the fourth consecutive gubernatorial race that Democrats have won in Big Sky country. The state has also not sent two Republican senators to Washington at the same time since the Constitution was amended to require the popular election of senators.

…He’s running against Mr. Gianforte, who was just beaten statewide. Mr. Gianforte and three Washington-based conservative organizations have spent more than $1.4 million on television and radio since February, much of it attacking Mr. Quist.

Democratic officials, contributors and activists in Montana, which Mr. Sanders carried in the presidential primary, are clearly agitated over their Washington-based party. They say the top-down leadership never misses an opportunity to play it safe…Echoing the demands that progressives made just over a decade ago when another Republican president ignited the liberal rank-and-file, Montana Democrats express irritation that they must persuade their party to contest red-tinged seats.

…Some Democrats here complain that no money has been spent focusing attention on the same issues that sank Mr. Gianforte’s run for governor last year, like his lawsuit to stop access to a river near his Bozeman home. Access to public lands is a perennial hot-button issue in vast Western states, particularly in pristine Montana.

There is also a Libertarian candidate on the ballott, which could help Quist — if Democratic strategists do what they can to drive  a wedge in between Montana’s conservative voters.

The Montana at-large congressional race may not get the media coverage of the GA-6 contest. But for Democrats, every House seat pick-up is equal when they are tallied to determine majority control and elect leaders. This is one of the best bets Democrats have for a pick-up, and it would be a shame to blow it.


Ossoff Wins 48.1 Percent in GA Jungle Primary, Heads Into Runoff Election

Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 6th congressional district Jon Ossoff received 48.1 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election, and fell just 3, 700 votes short of winning his race without a runoff. In the June 20th runoff election, Ossoff will face former Republican Secretary of State of Georgia Karen Handel, who came in 2nd and topped the GOP field with just 19.8 percent of the vote.

No matter what happens in the runoff, Ossoff has proven to be an effective candidate, who ran an impressive campaign. But the challenge ahead is to build that into a June 20th victory.

There is a lot of national interest in this race, not only because it is being spun as a referendum on Trump. In addition, it provides a test of Democratic ability to win a suburban southern House district, which is  demographically-similar to those near a dozen or more other southern cities. If Democrats are competitive in such an emblematic suburban district, the net gain of two dozen seats needed to win a House majority in 2018 doesn’t look like such a long stretch.

As Jonathan Martin and Richard Fausset report at The New York Times:

The contest here effectively represented the first performance review at the ballot box for Mr. Trump and the Republican Congress among the sort of upscale voters who were left without a political home last fall. Mr. Price’s former district is the most highly educated Republican-controlled district in the country. And while the president won here in Atlanta’s booming northern suburbs, he did so by just a single point four years after Mitt Romney romped to a 23-point victory….

Mr. Ossoff’s strong showing will ensure that national Democrats continue to compete here and will increase pressure on the party to contest a special House election next month in Montana that it has so far ignored. Combined with Democrats’ better-than-expected performance in a special House election in Kansas last week, the Georgia result will be an immediate boon to Democratic groups, lifting their fund-raising and bolstering candidate recruitment efforts, while sobering Republicans who are assessing whether to run in Mr. Trump’s first midterm election. Already, Republican candidates and outside groups have had to spend over $7 million against Democrats in a series of deeply conservative districts.

Although the 6th district has been reliably Republican in recent years, demographic trends favor Democrats to some extent. As Tom Baxter recently noted, “There are some interesting aspects to the 6th. Only 13 percent of its voters are black, but Latino and Asian voters comprise 21 percent of the electorate, second only to the neighboring 7th District to the east, where the combined Latino-Asian total is over 29 percent.”

Democrats should be on high alert for voter suppression shenanigans, leading up to the June 20th runoff election. Georgia’s current Secretary of State, Brian P. Kemp has been criticized for conducting “criminal investigations of voter registration drives, especially if they’re run by minority organizations.” As a former Georgia Secretary of State, Handel was also criticized for her efforts to reduce voter eligibility, as noted in her Wikipedia bio:

Soon after taking office as Georgia Secretary of State Handel, began a project to purge voter rolls.[15] By 2008, more than 50,000 registered Georgia voters had been “flagged” by state officials because of computer mismatches in personal identity information, forcing them to prove their eligibility.[15] Some eligible voters were told that they were “non-citizens” although in fact they were citizens.[15] The project raised fears about voter suppression, and was the subject of a federal lawsuit by the ACLU of Georgia and MALDEF, which accused Handel’s office of engaging in a “systematic purging procedure” expressly barred by federal law within 90 days of an elections.[15][16] In 2009, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division ordered a halt to the state’s “voter verification” effort (denying it approval under the Voting Rights Act of 1965), determining that “thousands of citizens who are in fact eligible to vote under Georgia law have been flagged” and that the “flawed” program “frequently subjects a disproportionate number of African-American, Asian and/or Hispanic voters to additional, and more importantly, erroneous burdens on the right to register to vote.”[16] The marked the first time since the 1990s that the Justice Department had denied approval to a change in Georgia election practice.[16] Handel defended her program, asserting that it was appropriate and necessary.[16]

Handel may be more vulnerable for her virulent opposition to Planned Parenthood, which remains popular with educated women, a large segment of 6th district voters. As Baxter notes, “The 6th is 64 percent white, according to the Almanac of American Politics, and its generally well-educated and affluent voters come from all over the place.”

Republicans are going to bring in bundles of corporate cash and their top spin-doctors to try and stop Ossoff. GA-6 is in for an intense ad war.

Ossoff’s campaign has to navigate a tricky course to win the runoff, deftly exploiting Handel’s extremism on a range of social issues, but emphatically not at the expense of under-selling needed economic reforms, such as infrastructure investment and creative ideas for bringing jobs to the 6th district. He will also have to parry personalized attacks against his age, money and residence, while avoiding gaffes.

Ossoff has to project an image of a dynamic, pro-active and energetic champion of economic uplift for his district. Equally-important, his campaign, message and ad-makers are going to have to bring their A-game in both early voting and June 20th turnout mobilization. It’s a formidable challenge, but Ossoff’s 48.1 showing indicates that he is in a good position to meet it.


Stoehr: How Dems Can Divide Trump Supporters with ‘Wedge’ Issues and Win Over His Persuadable White Working Class Voters

The following article by John Stoehr, Yale political science lecturer, Hearst Newspapers columnist, New Haven Register essayist and U.S. News & World Report contributing editor, is cross-posted from U.S. News & World Report:

I find Steve King to be a insightful indicator of what’s going on inside the far-right wing of the Republican Party. Not because he’s smart. Not because he’s important. But because the Iowa congressman tends to view politics in stark black and white instead of more opaque sepia tones.

King admitted in 2015 to the real reason hard-liners like himself are opposed to immigration reform: President Barack Obama, he said, “is importing millions of illegal aliens, who, when they arrive here, he thinks, and he’s right, they are undocumented Democrats. The next phase of this is to document these Democrats so they can vote. This is a raw political power move.”

Obama wasn’t importing anybody. But otherwise King was right. Naturalized immigrants, or their natural-born children, would likely over time vote Democratic. A raw political power move, maybe. This was astute political analysis underneath a layer of racism.

King was equally helpful last week. On a conservative radio show, he warned President Donald Trump that he had better deliver on the anti-immigrant platform he campaigned on or risk losing his base. King noted that Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, appears to be increasingly marginalized. The millionaire former head of Breitbart News was the visionary behind the president’s nationalist agenda.

Unfortunately, for him, Bannon picked a fight with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Blood is thicker than water to this president, so Bannon is now on the outside looking in. In his place is economist Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs CEO and, according to King, Trump’s “pro-immigrant” adviser. King told his interviewer: “People are policy. So whenever I see those kind of appointments come in place, I do get concerned about it.”

It would be easy to dismiss King’s remark as the racist drivel that it is. King has advocated for mass deportations, even of adults who were brought here as children and whose only country is the United States. But if we’re really deeply listening, racist drivel can be politically insightful – and helpful to Democratic strategy. As with King’s 2015 remark, there’s more here than meets the eye.

Who is Trump’s base? The answer is rooted in what nationalism means. Does it mean anti-immigrant or pro-white American worker? Or both? If purely anti-immigration, King has little reason to fret. Trump has had a lock on the hardcore racist vote since the day he first cast doubt on the legitimacy of the country’s first African-American president. Trump’s administration is eminently capable of executing a passel of nativist policies. Hardcore racists are going to support Trump no matter what happens to Bannon.

But without Bannon, there is no significant voice in the Trump administration that represents, or at least pretends to represent, the white working class, a key part of Trump’s base. All that remains are the nativists like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the billionaires like Cohn. This is a huge problem for Trump, because without an economic message, the respective factions of his administration risk affirming everything the opposition is saying about the president – either he’s a racist or his in thrall to moneyed interests. Without Bannon’s populist messaging, even if it’s populist in name only, Trump’s base risks being irreparably wedged, because white working-class voters did not support Trump due to racist appeals alone. They want something in exchange for for their support. They want good jobs and a return to prosperity.

This is the political danger of running an explicitly racist campaign. The “other” isn’t real. It’s a rhetorical device intended to inflame racial resentments. Even if Trump were to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, it would make no positive difference in the lives of his supporters, because the “other” isn’t real. Deporting immigrants is to them like deporting an abstraction. Meanwhile, life continues to suck for the white working class, and Trump is too incompetent or too weak politically to do anything about it.

Despite much fanfare, the Trump administration’s regulatory changes, especially dismantling Obama’s environmental rules, are essentially a sop to the energy industry and the Republican Party’s donor class. His rule-gutting may have some trickle-down effect, but hardly enough to mitigate the despair felt by Trump’s white working-class base. The president’s photo-ops with corporate heads are only that. Good public relations, not effective jobs policy.

About the only economic agenda Trump could pursue that would truly give the white working class what it wants is a massive and historic $1 trillion investment in the country’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. That was Bannon’s brain child from the get-go, but we have heard nary a word about it during the president’s first 100 days. Even if Bannon were not marginalized from the White House’s sanctum sanctorum, his boss would need the Democrats to make infrastructure happen. But the Democrats have little need to compromise with a president increasingly weakened by scandal, incompetence and the baked-in insanity of his own party.

How can the Democrats appeal to the white working class without surrendering the hard-fought gains among women and minorities over two decades? This is how. Trump’s base is increasingly wedged. The Democrats need to wedge it further. They don’t have to return to their former days as the working man’s party. But they do need exploit what is going to become a baneful wedge issue.

There is overlap, obviously, but there are serious differences between hardcore racists who support the president no matter what and the working-class white voters who are seeking tangible results from a candidate who promised far more than he could possible deliver. Using a combination of policy proposals, like “Medicare for all,” and messaging, like “health care is a right,” the Democrats can drive the wedge down more deeply, picking off white working-class voters here and there as they rebuild their winning coalition.

The Democrats are already on their way to this end. They have proposed an alternative infrastructure bill, one that would truly empower the working class of all races. They have the policy. Now comes the right message and, more importantly, finding the right messenger.

As I said, Steve King isn’t smart and isn’t that important. But he’s good at telling us what Republicans fear most. Time will tell if the Democrats are listening, and if the base of the party will allow it.


Pundits Offer Cautious Optimism for Ossoff in GA-6 Special Election

Regarding the much-discussed special election today for the GA-6 congressional district, Nate Silver writes at fivethirtyeight.com:

If the polls are right, then Democrat Jon Ossoff will receive by far the most votes in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which is holding a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom Price on Tuesday.1 But Ossoff will probably finish with less than 50 percent of the vote, which would trigger a runoff between him and the next-highest finisher — most likely the Republican Karen Handel, but possibly one of three other Republicans (Bob Gray, Dan Moody Judson Hill) who are closely bunched behind her in polls.

Furthermore, the combined vote for all Republican candidates will probably exceed the combined vote for Ossoff and other Democrats, although it should be close. And the district has historically been Republican-leaning, although it was much less so in the 2016 election than it had been previously. All of this makes for a fairly confusing set of circumstances and a hard-to-forecast outcome.

Silver then crunches numbers, poll averages. regressions, aggregate party margins etc. and comes up with a formula that yields the result of Ossoff winning a runoff by 4 percent. However, Silver cautions that the partisan voting index favors Republicans and his calculations include a large margin of error (“about 8 percentage points for projecting one candidate’s vote share in the runoff, or 16 percentage points (!) for projecting the margin between the candidates”).

Apply these principles to the Georgia 6 race, and you’ll conclude that Tuesday night’s first round won’t actually resolve that much — unless Ossoff hits 50 percent of the vote and averts the runoff entirely. (That’s an unlikely but hardly impossible scenario given the fairly high error margins of polls under these circumstances.) Even if Ossoff finishes in the low 40s, it will be hard to rule him out in the second round provided that he still finishes in first place by a comfortable margin…An Ossoff win would unambiguously be good news for Democrats. But a narrow loss could be anywhere from disappointing to encouraging for them, depending on the margin and whether you think 2016 represented the new normal in the district. If judged by its 2012 results, merely coming within single digits in Georgia 6 would count as a decent result for Democrats, as was the case in a special election in the Kansas’s 4th Congressional District last week.

But Democrats will like Silver’s conclusion:

As of Sunday evening, betting markets gave Ossoff about a 40 percent chanceof eventually being the next member of Congress from Georgia 6, whether by winning a majority of the vote on Tuesday or prevailing in the June runoff. While that isn’t a ridiculous assessment, it looks too pessimistic on Ossoff. If the polls are right, the outcome of a runoff is more like a true 50-50 proposition — plus, there’s an outside chance that Ossoff could win outright on Tuesday…But I generally think the conventional wisdom has been too slow to catch upwith the fact that midterm and off-year elections are often problematic for the president’s party, and especially when the president is as unpopular as Trump. What might seem like an extraordinary feat — Democrats flipping Gingrich’s old seat — is going to be more commonplace in an environment like this one.

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik observes,

We’re calling GA-6 a Toss-up, a designation we applied to the race roughly two weeks ago after the National Republican Congressional Committee sounded the alarm bell and started aggressively spending money in the district. That’s in addition to the millions the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC that is close to Speaker Ryan, has also spent in the district. Since then, Ossoff’s huge fundraising has come to light, as have early voting statistics that seem to indicate heavy Democratic interest in the race (although Republicans, who have more candidate choices and thus perhaps waited longer to vote, are catching up).

So there’s a lot of uncertainty about the outcome: Polling, typically spotty in House races, generally shows Ossoff in the low 40s. If that’s all he gets in the first round of voting, and the combined Republican vote is over 50%, one would assume that Ossoff’s general election opponent would start with the upper hand: After all, the first round results are better than any poll — they are actual voting results that can be a preview of the runoff on June 20, if there is one. However, if Ossoff’s vote and the scattered votes for the four other Democratic candidates add up to a total approaching 50% (say, 45% or more), it may indicate that the runoff should be quite competitive. Obviously, a first-round win by Ossoff would be noteworthy because he would have exceeded Clinton’s 46.8% 2016 share significantly — and blown recent previous Democratic House performance in the district out of the water. Another factor: As of now, Ossoff and Democrats have not been attacking the Republicans because it’s anyone’s guess how the first round will play out, while outside GOP groups have been hammering Ossoff, hoping to drive down his numbers (and while Ossoff has been running lots of positive ads on his own behalf). Ossoff and national Democrats may be preparing to drop the hammer on whichever Republican emerges from the first round, again assuming Ossoff does not win outright on Tuesday. In other words, the dynamic changes on Tuesday in advance of a possible runoff: The GOP survivor goes from running against his or her fellow partisans to running against Ossoff, while Ossoff can shift into attack mode because he would have a clear opponent.

HuffPo poll wonks Ariel Edwards-Levy and Grace Sparks note,

HuffPost Pollster’s average puts Ossoff at just below 43 percent, with surveys from both parties this month giving him a share of the vote ranging from 39 to 45 percent. As Enten notes, even with undecided voters proportionately allocated between the candidates, that leaves him several points shy of the 50 percent needed for an outright win…

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn warns:

Republicans have dominated the district for a generation, but the leading Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, has an outside shot to win outright on Tuesday by winning more than 50 percent of the vote…It’s not clear what to expect Tuesday night, however. It’s hard to estimate how many people will vote, and the public polls are of fairly low quality. One prediction: It’s likely that the first votes counted will be misleadingly good for Mr. Ossoff…There is no reasonable way to look at the polls and conclude that Mr. Ossoff is likely to get to 50 percent. But it would not take an especially unusual polling error, at least for a special election, for him to pull it off.

Tom Baxter, one of the top political observers of Georgia politics, takes note of the 6th district’s demographic stew:

…There are some interesting aspects to the 6th. Only 13 percent of its voters are black, but Latino and Asian voters comprise 21 percent of the electorate, second only to the neighboring 7th District to the east, where the combined Latino-Asian total is over 29 percent. These are not “us” voters.

The 6th District also has the state’s highest share of residents — 21 percent — classified as “white ethnic” based on their response to Census questions. This can refer to anyone who identifies with a list of over 30 countries, very few of which are “us” countries. As a political rule of thumb it generally applies to Jews, Greeks and Italians. For a point of comparison, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s south Florida district is 27 percent white ethnic…Set aside white ethnics and you are left with only 43 percent of the district that can safely and confidently, winking at every nod, be called “us.”

I think Ossoff’s potential has been so oversold that anything shy of an outright win — which would be a stunning achievement for a Democrat in this district — will be looked on as a disappointment in some corners. But there are reasons why this could be an important election, past its short-term significance as a national bellweather.

The popular conception of what’s going on in the district is that a lot of reliably Republican voters, sort of like the ones you see in the NRCC ad, are so turned off by President Trump they are turning away from a buffet line of Republican choices to vote for a Democrat in the race to succeed Tom Price.

Some of that is going on, surely. A lot of normally Republican voters didn’t vote for Trump last November, and that’s what worries the national party most. Republican voters may also be disgusted with the Republican Congress and perhaps even Price for failing to deliver on an ObamaCare replacement. But it’s a much more difficult leap for a practiced Republican to vote for a Democrat five months after the presidential election.

 Ed Kilgore, who knows Georgia politics from the inside out, comments at New York,

If these indicators are accurate, Ossoff may have banked a majority of early votes (representing as much as a third of the total vote) and is fighting to hold off an election-day majority of Republicans. This is the same dynamic that characterized last week’s special election in Kansas, although Ossoff has resources for getting out his vote on election day that Kansas Democratic candidate Jim Thompson could have only dreamed of possessing. The other variable that separates the contests in Kansas and Georgia is that the latter does not have the former’s deep reservoirs of intensely pro-Trump rural counties. Indeed, it is the preponderance of college-educated white suburban voters who aren’t fond of Trump that made Georgia’s sixth district a Democratic target the moment Tom Price was confirmed and resigned his seat.

…Polls vary, but it appears the GOP challenger with the best chance of beating Handel is Bob Gray, a local elected official from Handel’s home base of north Fulton County (where about half the electorate resides) who is being backed by the Club for Growth and by elements of the Trump 2016 organization (Gray is going total MAGA in branding himself). If he winds up in a runoff with Ossoff, the already-high typecasting of this election as a referendum on Trump will, if possible, ascend even more.

Yes, Republicans would have nine weeks to unite before a runoff, and it’s unclear Ossoff could sustain anything like his early fundraising pace as other campaigns (such as the May 25 special election in Montana) and the soon-to-be-assembling 2018 field compete for resources. So his win-it-all-the-first-time strategy makes abundant sense…

This is likely a close race, and the large Republican field undoubtedly helps Ossoff in the first round. If Ossoff wins it all in the first round, it will be a political earthquake. The consensus is that he will at least be competitive in a runoff, and that is very good news for Democrats.


Political Strategy Notes

Alex Seitz-Wald has a sneak preview of possible Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 at nbcnews.com, including: Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Tammy Duckworth, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Murphy, Al Franken, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown and Kamala Harris; Govs. Andrew Cuomo, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Dan Malloy, and Terry McAuliffe; former Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Vice President Joe Biden; along with business leaders Sheryl Sandberg, Howard Schultz and Mark Cuban and film actors George Clooney and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. A few House Democrats, including Tim Ryan (OH-13), Elijah Cummings (MD-7) and Adam Schiff (CA-28) have recently demonstrated impressive political gravitas, party commitment and media skills that merit inclusion on such a list. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, current chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, may also be interested.

Protestors Call Out Trump for Hiding Taxes, Breaking His Promise:

Speaking of taxes, check out “New poll shows what Americans really think about taxes: the rich should pay more” by Matthew Yglesias who notes at Vox: “Americans’ top concern about the tax code is that they want corporations and wealthy individuals to pay more taxes. Even among rank-and-file Republicans, soaking the rich is at least moderately popular…That’s according to a new report out from the Pew Center that takes a deep dive into public opinion on taxes. It reveals that there is extraordinarily little public support for the main thrust of GOP tax reform efforts that aim to “simplify” the tax code and deliver lower rates for businesses and high-income households…upward of 60 percent of the public says they are very worried that some corporations and wealthy individuals aren’t paying their fair share.”

Jarvis DeBerry, a columnist for nola.com, reports that Alabama’s Republican ‘Luv Guv’ Robert Bentley’s diddling with a staffer may have screwed up his voter suppression initiative. As Deberry writes, “According to the impeachment report, Mason – nicknamed Flim Flam by the rest of the governor’s staff – was leading the governor around by the nose.  According to the impeachment report, “the Bentley-Mason relationship evolved to the point that nothing could be done in the Office without Mason’s sign-off.”  That press secretary stated that “Governor Bentley’s typical reaction to any advice given without Mason present was, ‘What does Rebekah think about it?'”…Well, apparently Rebekah thought it would be just swell for Alabama to shut down driver’s license bureaus in majority black counties after a photo ID became a necessity for voting.  Secretary of Alabama Law Enforcement Spencer Collier, who the report says “ultimately assented to the closure plan” was concerned enough about it that he told the state’s Attorney General’s office that he thought it may represent a violation of the Voting Right Acts…From AL.com: “The closures sparked a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which determined that the stoppages disproportionately affected black residents. The DOT determined that ALEA’s plans were a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” Thus, the plan was thwarted.”

The latest GOP plan to weaken America’s health security is not going to inspire much support from consumers. In his New York Times article, “G.O.P. Bill Would Make Medical Malpractice Suits Harder to Win,” Robert Pear reports, “Low-income people and older Americans would find it more difficult to win lawsuits for injuries caused by medical malpractice or defective drugs or medical devices under a bill drafted by House Republicans as part of their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act…The bill would impose new limits on lawsuits involving care covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private health insurance subsidized by the Affordable Care Act. The limits would apply to some product liability claims, as well as to medical malpractice lawsuits involving doctors, hospitals and nursing homes.”

The Washington Post editorial, “Does Trump want to be the president who broke health care?,” puts it this way: “More desperate than clever, Mr. Trump’s talk of annihilating Obamacare, for which he would be justly blamed, is unlikely to coerce Democrats into supporting anything like the House Republican repeal-and-replace plan he backed, which failed to attract enough GOP support to pass the House. The indecency of Mr. Trump taking millions of Americans’ health care hostage is compounded by his suggestion that repeal-and-replace is about freeing budgetary space for Republicans to tinker with the tax code rather than about fixing health care. Even posing his threat, meanwhile, is astonishingly reckless.”

Can Trump Take Health Care Hostage?,” asks Paul Krugman in his syndicated column. “Mr. Trump promised health care that would be “far less expensive and far better”…all he and his allies had to offer were surging premiums, higher out-of-pocket expenses and mass loss of coverage…And on Wednesday, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he openly threatened to sabotage health care for millions if the opposition party doesn’t give him what he wants…“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” he declared, referring to cost-sharing subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket expenses for low-income families, and are crucial even to higher-income families, because they help keep insurance companies in the system…Mr. Trump is trying to bully Democrats by threatening to hurt millions of innocent bystanders — ordinary American families who have gained coverage thanks to health reform…Maybe Mr. Trump believes that he could somehow shift the blame for the devastation he has threatened to wreak onto Democrats. “See, there’s the death spiral I predicted!” But that probably wouldn’t work even if he hadn’t effectively proclaimed his own guilt in advance. Voters tend to blame whoever holds the White House for bad things, and in this case they’d be right: If there is a death spiral, it will have Mr. Trump’s name on it, and deservedly so…But here’s the thing: Even if Mr. Trump wimps out, as he is doing on so many other issues, he may already have done much of the threatened damage. Insurers are deciding right now whether to participate in the 2018 Obamacare exchanges. Mr. Trump’s tough talk is creating a lot of uncertainty, which in itself may undermine coverage for many Americans.”

The Times also has a devastating editorial calling out “Mr. Trump’s 10-Second Convictions” as he “caters to the oligarchs who surround him, builds his personal fortune and stirs the darker passions of his base. Why else would he break his promise to release his taxes or relinquish control of his business? Mr. Trump now surrounds himself with the bankers he once lambasted; he’s lagged behind on promises of infrastructure jobs, manufacturing revival and health care, while opening up bidding on the wall. He’s decried Syria’s gas attack on “beautiful babies” but continues to bar Syria’s children from America…To attribute the president’s pirouettes to personal growth would also require ignoring what’s actually staring us in the face — that there is no foundation to this presidency. With his all-important ratings tanking, the reality-TV maestro is rewriting the script, enthusiastically swapping out any position in pursuit of a “deal.” He is revealing himself to be a tactical, transactional president, with no guiding convictions or principles beyond “winning.” Not winning for everyone, as he so famously promised. Winning for Mr. Trump…Democrats or House Freedom Caucus members, NATO members or Middle East dictators, potential allies or adversaries — all must be deeply unsettled by the one clear pattern emerging here, a pattern that is consistent with Mr. Trump’s treatment of others in private life, from his stiffing of his creditors to his swindling of students at Trump University: betrayal.,,And where does that leave the working-class voters who pinned their hopes on this man? They can live with what Mr. Trump calls successes, and hope that his interests align enough with theirs to achieve some peripheral benefit. Or they can press their legislators, and demand from Mr. Trump himself, that he stop spinning and start delivering.”

Tuesday’s jungle primary in GA-6 is drawing wide interest, primarilly because Democrat Jon Ossoff is doing exceptionally-well in the polls, and has demonstrated impressive prowess in fund-raising that is driving Republicans to distraction. The Washington Post opinion staff is running a little contest, “Guess the result of the Georgia special election (and win a prize).” So far, The Post has the following guestimates from four pundits: David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, Jon Ossoff’s first round vote share: 48 percent, Runoff: Karen Handel 51 percent, Ossoff 49 percent. Hanna Hope, chief of staff at the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, Ossoff’s first round vote share: 44 percent, Runoff: Bob Gray 58 percent, Ossoff 42 percent; Matthew Towery, managing partner of Opinion Savvy, Ossoff’s first round vote share: 47 percent, Runoff: Ossoff 52 percent, Handel 48 percent; Tom Davis, former representative (R-Va.), now director of federal government affairs for Deloitte, Ossoff’s first round vote share: 43 percent, Runoff: Handel 54 percent, Ossoff 46 percent.” Beat the pundits and “Submit your own guesstimates for this question below. (If the form is not displaying, click here.) The reader with the best guesstimate will receive a free “Democracy Dies in Darkness” T-shirt.


Paul LePage’s Threat to the Senate

In those wonderful days before Donald Trump ran for president, the most ridiculously entertaining Republican pol in the country was often Maine governor Paul LePage. He was back in the news this week with a frightening threat, as I discussed at New York.

Per the Boston Globe:

“Maine’s Republican governor says he’s strongly considering running for the U.S. Senate, but also feels he ‘wouldn’t make a very good legislator.’’’

“Gov. Paul LePage made the comments on a radio appearance on WGAN-AM on Thursday morning. The two-term governor is termed out of his current job in 2018 and he has been the source of speculation about his next move.”

Most of said speculation has revolved around a 2018 LePage challenge to Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He’s considering it, even though he doubts he would be good at the job and is concerned committee meetings “would be boring.”

Since he’s not that jazzed about the gig, perhaps LePage should make a Senate run conditional on someone talking Eliot Cutler into running as well — Cutler’s two independent candidacies for governor aided LePage’s election in 2010 and reelection in 2014 by pluralities.

There is possibly a different, easier route for LePage to get from Augusta to Washington: Senator Susan Collins has been openly talking about returning to Maine next year and running to succeed LePage. If she won, under current state law LePage would get to appoint someone to finish the last two years of Collins’s Senate term. He might find the most qualified candidate to be the belligerent man staring back at him from the mirror.

Yikes.


Trump’s Obamacare Squeeze Play on Democrats Backfires Spectacularly

Donald Trump probably thought he was pulling a trick out of The Art of the Deal when he tried to pressure Democrats into helping him salvage his healthcare disaster. But he tricked himself, as I explained at New York:

A heavy-handed effort by the president to take hostage insurer subsidies critical to the proper functioning of Obamacare — with the demand that Democrats cooperate to salvage Trump’s own failed health-care initiative — seems to be backfiring loudly. Soon after Trump made it clear (first via a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, and then in his own words, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal) that he was indeed threatening to stop payment of the so-called Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies (amounting to $7 billion in 2017 and an estimated $10 billion in 2018), congressional Democrats quickly struck back, reports The Hill:

“Congressional Democrats are demanding that key Obamacare payments be included in the next spending bill, raising the possibility of a government shutdown if they are not.”

The “spending bill” in question is the omnibus appropriations measure needed to keep the lights on in the federal government beyond April 28, the expiration date of the funding bill enacted last December. It has been the subject of extended negotiations involving the White House and both parties in Congress, aimed at removing “poison pills” that might produce a deadlock, a Senate Democratic filibuster, and a government shutdown.

Providing an appropriation for CSR payments would permanently take this particular weapon out of Trump’s hands — no matter how an underlying lawsuit, over the constitutionality of the Obama administration making the payments without such an appropriation, turns out….

Far from forcing Democrats to the table to help him pass the Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation he cannot get with Republican votes alone, he has emboldened them to fight back. Given significant Republican support (even among House Freedom Caucus members) for keeping the CSR payments flowing to avoid an individual-insurance-market meltdown, Trump may have gone into battle with his own flanks exposed. And he has now managed to add a new complication to the already-sensitive discussions aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, for which he would inevitably bear the major responsibility.

He will likely have to back down pretty quickly. Besides the low odds of success — and the terrible optics of risking health coverage for millions of Americans because he can’t get his own party in line — there’s yet another problem: If Trump goes to the mats on this issue, he’ll have to answer to all the other powerful interests who are deferring their own demands to keep the federal government open. Is this complicated gambit on health care really more important to Trump than defunding Planned Parenthood or getting money for a border wall? That’s one of the problems with hostage-taking: All your friends will want their demands included on the ransom note.