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

August 20, 2017

Lessons From the Sixth District of Georgia

After overcoming an emotional hangover, I had this to say about the Handel/Ossoff race at New York:

As I noted as the returns were still coming in, the spin wars over the meaning of this contest will be nearly as intense as the contest itself. Here are some things we legitimately learned from GA-06:

Democrats aren’t the only voters with sufficient enthusiasm to turn out in today’s political climate. The template for a Democratic win in what is after all a congressional district Republicans have easily held since it was created was fairly simple: mobilize aroused Democrats, Democratic-leaning independents, and anti-Trump Republicans to the max and count on GOP divisions and doubts about Trump to produce a crucial turnout advantage. It looked like it might work in the special election’s first round, when several GOP rivals went after front-runner Karen Handel with hammers and tongs and Democratic turnout reached midterm levels. But Ossoff fell just short of a majority. Had Georgia followed its usual practice of a quick runoff election, he would have probably won. But with two months to work with and plenty of national GOP money on hand, Team Handel slowly but surely built an effective turnout machine for the runoff. In the end, Handel nearly erased Ossoff’s big first-round advantage in in-person early voting, and total turnout soared well above midterm levels, reaching 259,000 (as opposed to 210,000 in 2014).

With skill and luck Republicans can walk the tightrope between embracing and repudiating Donald Trump. GA-06 was the only competitive House district on this year’s menu where Trump did relatively poorly in 2016. Indeed, after last night the president retained his record as having the worst performance of any congressional or presidential candidate in GA-06 (in its current, North Atlanta incarnation) ever. So the trick for Karen Handel was to keep her distance from Trump without antagonizing his supporters. For the most part she succeeded. She may have received some inadvertent help in this respect from her opponent, who more or less abandoned his original “make Trump furious” messaging in favor of validating himself as acceptable to swing voters. As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel points out, Team Ossoff did not run a single ad tying Handel to Trump. So she was able to have it both ways. For all of the president’s crude chest-thumping and self-congratulations after the race was called, he was less of a factor in this election than probably anyone expected.

Negative ads still work. The clear and consistent focus of the GOP message in GA-06 was to remind the district’s dominant Republicans that Jon Ossoff is a Democrat, and to convince them his mild, centrist persona disguised a monstrous radical leftist who is “not one of us.” This conveniently fit in with Karen Handel’s constant emphasis on Ossoff’s non-residency in the district. The barrage of anti-Ossoff ads financed by outside GOP groups was relentless and even to my jaundiced eye unusually shrill and, well, stupid: again and again Ossoff was depicted as a puppet of Nancy Pelosi and her godless San Francisco hippie allies. Once comedian Kathy Griffin became a national pariah via her own stupid (and universally denounced) video of a beheaded Donald Trump, she began to be featured heavily in these ads on the specious grounds that she endorsed Ossoff on Twitter (she had no actual contact with the campaign in any way, shape, or form). Every anti-Ossoff ad I saw also featured anarchists shattering windows and setting fires. The very worst ad, appearing on Fox News just before the election, included images of shooting victim Representative Steve Scalise alongside the suggestion that Ossoff’s “extremist” friends had to be stopped by the voters of GA-06. It was so evil that is was actually condemned by Handel. But while this particular ad was put up by a relatively obscure right-wing PAC, most of the hate-filled cascade of anti-Ossoff ads were sponsored by the official House GOP party committee and by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s PAC. Whether or not they really made a difference, Handel won, which means we are going to see a lot more like them in 2018.

Issues don’t matter much if you don’t address them. One of the most frequent criticisms we will hear of the Ossoff campaign is that it was not really “about” any of the issues that separate candidates, mobilize supporters, and attract swing voters. Had Handel lost, she would have received exactly the same criticism. Yes, the candidates had two debates that were actually pretty wonky. But despite some skirmishing on health care, taxes, and spending — and a rare Handel gaffe when she said she did not “support a livable wage” — the campaigns were more about sending signals than crusading for or against policy proposals. Thanks to the basically conservative nature of the district and the candidates’ own calculations, messaging in this race really boiled down to the Republicans calling Ossoff an out-of-touch lefty’s lefty and Ossoff saying “I’m not!” Ossoff presumably decided specific issues would not help him with swing voters, and that his own base would turn out robustly thanks to the desire to smite Donald Trump and his campaign’s massive get-out-the-vote operation. So now Democrats are left wondering if a campaign that obsessively tried to exploit the unpopular health-care bill Handel said she would have voted for, or embraced popular progressive causes from environmental protection to education to protection of Social Security and Medicare, might have done better. We may never know.

The campaigns in GA-06 may have proven it is possible to contact voters too much. There is abundant anecdotal evidence that the “ground game” in GA-06 was so intense and relentless that by the time June 20 rolled around many voters just wanted it all to end. And in part because the money-and-volunteer-rich Ossoff campaign was engaged in this level of effort from the beginning, the Democrat may have been unequally affected by voter fatigue, as this report from Business Insider suggests:

“I have received non-stop calls, texts emails for two months solid. It’s harassment honestly,” local artist Sydney Daniel told Business Insider. “I liked Ossoff before but now I don’t want to vote at all because of how obnoxious and ruthless they have been.”

Pretty much everyone agrees that the skyrocketing early voting numbers —just over a fourth of voters cast ballots early before the first round, while over half did so in the runoff — was in part driven by people who wanted to get themselves off campaign contact lists and stop the phone calls and knocks on the door. Add in the saturation-level and highly redundant ads, and you have a recipe for taking the fun out of voting. It is not surprising that some of the informal hindsight commentary you heard from Democrats yesterday was that the Ossoff campaign should have devoted less money to hounding the same group of “likely voters” and more to registering and mobilizing marginal voters.

The idea that it is possible to overkill in get-out-the-vote efforts is a highly heretical one that political professionals will resist. And most campaigns aren’t going to have the kind of money that makes it possible. But it’s a phenomenon worth watching.

The results in Georgia, and in other 2017 special elections, should be encouraging to Democrats — but they don’t guarantee a big midterm win. Yes, a lot of Democrats are depressed over what many had expected to be an Ossoff win, and more generally, on the failure of the Donkey Party to convert anti-Trump passion into a special election victory this year (the earlier contest in CA-34 which was dominated by Democratic candidates was never competitive, and two future special elections in heavily Republican Utah and Alabama probably won’t be, either). But as virtually every observer who was not simply spinning has pointed out, the special House elections in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina (the scene of an surprisingly strong if unsuccessful June 20 Democratic candidacy) were all on GOP turf — as one might expect since the vacancies to be filled were created by Trump’s appointment of incumbents to his Cabinet! And without question, all four Democratic candidates in these elections performed well above historic expectations (as House election wizard David Wasserman measured it, these Democrats won on average 8 percentage points more than the character of the districts they were running in would have suggested). Even more fundamentally, these results indicate that the recent pattern of Democrats struggling to turn out their voters in non-presidential elections may have come to an end, just in time for the 2018 midterms.

It is impossible to tell from these or any other special elections what will happen next year — particularly when the main variable in every midterm, the performance and popularity of the president of the United States, is so difficult to predict with any precision. But Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight probably expressed where we are right now as well as anyone could:

“The results simultaneously suggest that an impressively wide array of Republican-held seats might be competitive next year — perhaps as many as 60 to 80 — and that Democrats are outright favorites in only a fraction of these, perhaps no more than a dozen.

“In order to win a net of 24 seats next year — enough to flip the House — Democrats may therefore need to target dozens of Republican-held seats and see where the chips fall. They can variously attempt anti-Trump, anti-Republican or anti-incumbent messages depending on the district….

“[A] ‘pretty good’ year for Democrats might yield a gain of only 15 seats for the party, whereas a ‘very good’ year — if the political climate is just a few points more Democratic-leaning — could produce a 50-seat swing instead.”

So while Republicans have earned a moment of celebration for holding off a Democratic assault on their home territory, Democrats should stay focused on the big picture, and the still robust possibility of a 2018 “wave” in their favor.


Why Ossoff Lost and What He Won

It’s a little harder today than it was yesterday morning to challenge the argument that the suburban, heavilly-gerrymandered south is still ‘fool’s gold’ for Democratic House candidates. Handel’s victory provides red meat for Democratic strategists who argue that, generally, Dems shouldn’t squander resources running in southern, predominantly white House districts.

Ossoff’s loss by less than 10,000 votes cast out of more than 259,000 cast (51.87 to 48.13 percent) may dampen the enthusiasm of the “run everywhere” advocates in the Democratic Party, at least as far as House districts are concerned. But Obama’s 2008 victories in NC, FL and VA and 2012 wins in VA and FL still indicate that good Democratic presidential candidates can still do well in southern states. It’s the House races in southern, predominantly white districts that look a bit less accessible today.

Handel ran a competent campaign. She didn’t whine too much about attacks against her; She kept on attacking Ossoff relentlessly and apparently made her memes about her opponent stick. As Ed Kilgore notes in New York, “Handel’s strategy – keeping a prudent distance from Donald Trump and reminding GOP voters in endlessly rerun ads that the mild-mannered centrist candidate was linked to “extremist liberals” ranging from anarchist street protesters to Hollywood to Nancy Pelosi – was effective.”

John Cassidy writes in his New Yorker article, “Jon Ossoff’s Georgia Sixth Loss Is a Reality Check for Democrats,” that “The G.O.P. high command depicted Ossoff as a puppet of Hollywood celebrities and Nancy Pelosi, who, according to the Journal Constitution poll, has a ninety-one per cent disapproval rating among local Republicans…the Republican barrage proved effective, something Handel acknowledged in her victory speech.”

As for the argument that Ossoff “would have done better if he had adopted a more populist and overtly anti-Trump approach,”  Cassidy writes, “In a district as red as Georgia’s Sixth, the disheartening truth is that Ossoff probably wouldn’t have done better had he run to the left.” But I do have to wonder of Ossoff could have hit Handel harder with the video clip showing her opposition to a “living wage.” I’m left with a feeling that he could have attacked her more effectively, at least on that gaffe.

Handel also handled White House participation delicately, using Vice President Pence for fund-raising, but not for rallies and avoiding talk about Trump. “During her two debates with Ossoff, ” writes Frank Bruni in The New York Times, “she sidestepped any utterance of Trump’s name to a point where Jim Galloway, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, cracked that “the clothes have no emperor.” As Robert Costa, Paul Kane and Elsie Viebeck and put it in The Washington Post, Handel also did a good job of  “deflecting the barrage of questions about Trump’s latest tweets or his handling of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”

A former Georgia Secretary of State who knew the district from the inside out, Handel also had all the benefits of her party’s domination of state politics, along with buckets of GOP money, and she leveraged these assetts well. Ossoff should also be credited with running a good campaign. He almost won it without a run-off, and he did recruit an estimated 12,000 volunteers.

In his PowerPost analysis, “Ossoff chose civility and it didn’t work. How do Democrats beat Trump?,” Paul Kane discusses the possibility that Ossoff should have campaigned a little more like a warrior and a little less like a gentelman: “In Ossoff, Democrats hoped they had found a potential new path to defeating Republicans with a message of peace and civility. They calculated that the fiery rage, often associated with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would not win over moderate Republicans and centrists…So Ossoff chose the high priest route instead of the fierce warrior. It was civil disobedience rather than civil unrest.”

Kane notes that an Ossoff volunteer, Jeff Jacobsen, “acknowledged that there were times he wanted Ossoff to be more of a fighter. “Sometimes my wife and I are a little frustrated, but if that’s who he is, that’s who he is. He’s not getting down and dirty…” There is both a hunger for more candidate civility on the part of many voters, coexisting alongside a longing for more aggressive candidates who deploy tougher rhetoric. Tone is important in the context of different electorates and opponents. In any case, Ossoff’s toughness was more in his energetic determination than in his rhetoric. I suspect such tone choices are a usually a washout, unless taken to extremes.

Kilgore affirms that “Ossoff’s strategy was to win in the first round before local and national Republicans got their act together.” In this, he very nearly succeeded. Or, according to one insider, Dee Hunter, director of the Civil Rights Center of Washington, D.C., only voter suppression prevented him from winning in the first round. It is possible, though not likely, that another Democrat in another transitional district might have better luck with a such a first-round blitz. But it appears that Republicans have developed solid enough ground games for run-off elections.

What did Ossoff win? He forced the GOP into record-level spending in a solid red district. More importantly, as Kilgore writes, “Democrats searching for a silver lining in the Georgia race don’t have to look too far. This is the third consecutive special election (the fourth if you count South Carolina) in a historically Republican district where the Democratic percentage of the vote jumped sharply. Democrats will surely retake the House if the swing in their direction is similarly strong in 2018.”

Looking toward the future, the lessons of the GA-6 election may soon be buried in the rubble of coming political earthquakes. As Cassidy concludes, “If the White House and the Republicans go ahead and pass unpopular measures, such as tax cuts for the rich and a health-care bill that raises premiums and causes tens of millions of people to lose their insurance coverage, they could well suffer the consequences in 2018.”

So often the seeds of future victories are hidden in electoral defeats. Just as Handel has learned the useful lessons of her past political defeats, Georgia Democrats can hope that Ossoff will be back in politics again. Having learned the lessons of his defeat in the special election run-off, he now has greater name-recognition and fund-raising smarts — both of which could serve him well in the next election.


How Dems Might Motivate Liberal Non-voters

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt shares a vision of a brighter future for Democrats. It is predicated, however, on meeting a difficult challenge — increasing voter participation among liberals who haven’t been voting.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Hillary Clinton would be president. Even with Donald Trump’s working-class appeal, Clinton could have swept Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Democrats would control the Senate. Clinton or Barack Obama could then have filled the recent Supreme Court vacancy, and that justice would hold the tiebreaking vote on campaign finance, labor unions and other issues.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, the country would be doing more to address the two defining issues of our time — climate change and stagnant middle-class living standards. Instead, Trump is making both worse.

Ditto for health care, immigration and education, among other defining issues. Regarding tommorrow’s GA-6 election, Leonhardt writes, “Jon Ossoff, has a real chance to win partly because he isn’t suffering from the gap in voter passion and commitment that usually bedevils Democrats, especially in off-year races.”

As for the nation-wide implications, “It would be a big deal if Democrats could more often close their passion-and-commitment gap. Even modestly higher turnout could help them at every level of politics and hasten the policy changes that liberals dream about.”

Leonhardt rightly urges Dems: “..Don’t make the mistake of blaming everything on nefarious Republicans. Yes, Republicans have gerrymandered districts and shamefully suppressed votes (and Democrats should keep pushing for laws that make voting easier). But the turnout gap is bigger than any Republican scheme.”

He also suggests that Democrats do a better job of leveraging digital technology, and adds “I’d encourage progressives in Silicon Valley to think of voting as a giant realm ripe for disruption. Academic research by Alan Gerber, Donald Green and others has shown that peer pressure can lift turnout. Smartphones are the most efficient peer-pressure device ever invented, but no one has figured out how social media or texting can get a lot more people to the polls — yet.”

The DNC and state Democratic parties should develop a template app, with localized voter registratiion deadline alerts, poll location info and maps, a celebrity GOTV pitch and a progressive slate up and running for every federal, state and local election in the U.S.

In terms of the quality of messaging needed to increase liberal turnout, Leonhardt urges “a passionate message of fairness,”  — “providing jobs, lifting wages, protecting rights and fighting Trump’s plutocracy” However, “it should not resemble a complete progressive wish list, which could turn off swing voters without even raising turnout.” He believes that many liberals who don’t vote “are not doctrinaire…They are looking to be inspired.”

Sometimes the best way to project a message of fairness is to offer diverse candidates. Democrats urgently need more women, African American, Asian American and Latino candidates to run in every district and jurisdiction.

As Leonhardt concludes, “The country’s real silent majority prefers Democrats, if only that majority could be stirred to vote.”

Good points, all. But let’s not forget that many citizens don’t vote because of problems associated with voter registration requirements and voting convenience. Democrats must make Saturday voting, early voting, on-line and mail voting  and universal automatic registration top priorities. And Dems are going to need better monitoring of voter suppression practices like “caging” and other methods used to obstruct voters of color and younger voters.

Leonhardt is surely right that Democrats can and must do a better job of engaging liberal non-voters. It’s a tough, but do-able challenge and it’s one Dems can’t shirk — if they want to be competitive in the upcoming election cycles.


Political Strategy Notes

Gabriel Debenedetti’s Politico post “Democrats sweat the details in Georgia special election: Party officials fear the potentially demoralizing effect of a defeat” may be overstating the psychological effects of a possible Ossoff defeat in the GA-6 election this Tuesday. The party pros are not going to fold up in the fetal position if their candidate doesn’t win. They will be focused on the next important race within hours. And savvy observers know that Ossoff has already won in two important ways: First, getting to “toss-up” status in the polls one day out is a major accomplishment in a suburban, white majority southern district. And second, given Georgia’s track record with respect to voter suppression, it is quite likely that Ossoff would have won the district without a run-off, had there been no voter suppression. Ossoff, a smart, but not particularly charismatic candidate, has already demonstrated the application of Goethe’s insight, “Boldness has genius and magic in it” — especially for Democratic candidates.

On the other hand “If Ossoff can pull off this victory in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, it will deliver a much-needed positive jolt to the party apparatus,” writes Paul Kane at PowerPost…”An Ossoff win, just a week after Northam’s convincing primary victory, would signal that the Democratic establishment is still alive and kicking…An Ossoff victory — far from a sure thing — would also signal that the GOP, despite controlling all of Washington, remains more beset by ideological divisions and personality disputes than the Democratic Party. Neither party appears particularly unified, but Democrats have been bracing for anti-establishment candidates’ knocking off party veterans in the same manner that Republicans have endured in recent years.”

So now there’s a TV ad that tries to link Ossoff to Kathy Griffin’s sense of political humor and the Scalise shooting, as Julia Manchester reports at The Hill. “The unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting Republicans,” the ad’s narrator says…“When will it stop? It won’t if Jon Ossoff wins on Tuesday,” the narrator continues.” Of course the Handel campaign was all crocodile tears in denouncing the ad. My hunch is that any voters dumb enough to fall for this one were a lost cause anyway. But it’s probably too much to hope that it will actualy help Ossoff with the very few remaining ‘swing voters.’

There have been more than 150 mass shotings this year already, with only one by a guy who claimed to be a progressive and who  expressed hatred for Republicans. Guess which incident got the most coverage. In addition to President Trump’s encouragement of violence during his campaign, the displays of hypocrisy, demonization and political amnesia among haters of Democrats have been off the charts. One conservative radio host, Jesse Lee Peterson has chartacterized Democrats as “children of Satan.”

Fenit Nirappil reports at The Washington Post that Virginia Democrats are unifying behind Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial campaign to defeat Republican Ed Gillespie, founder of the Repubican ‘Freedom Caucus,’ which has done so much damage to the tone of American politics.

Some encouraging stats from the VA governors elections, reported by Holly Stouffer of WHSV-TV: “Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam secured his spot with 303,429 votes in the Democratic primary. Ed Gillespie had 160,039 votes in the Republican primary…If you take a look at the overall totals for the governor’s race, there’s nearly a 200,000 vote difference between the Democrats and Republicans across the state…More than 540,000 people voted for the two Democrats and the Republican side had around 360,000 voting for the three candidates on the ballot.”

And Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley note at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “Solid African-American turnout is also a Northam priority, and his apparently robust performance with that bloc of voters is helpful. His new running mate might help in that regard, too. Attorney Justin Fairfax (D), an African-American lawyer, won the lieutenant gubernatorial primary after he narrowly lost a 2013 primary for attorney general. There’s some evidence that having a black candidate on the statewide ticket can help with black turnout. Rounding out the Democratic statewide ticket is Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who deferred to Northam in the gubernatorial race and is seeking reelection to an office he only won by a minuscule margin in 2013.”

Here’s an ad being tweaked for use in the campaigns to defeat Republicans Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Ted Cruz (Tex.), and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R):

There is such a thing as “good guilt,” at least in the political sense, and Javier Panzar’s L.A. Times post, “These Democrats feel guilty for sitting out the 2016 elections, and they aren’t waiting to register voters for the midterms” shows how it can work.


The AHCA Isn’t Just Unpopular Nationally–It’s Unpopular Everywhere

Watching Senate Republicans struggle in the darkness with their health care bill this week, I began to realize how difficult a task they have brought upon themslves. I outlined their main problem at New York:

[A]t a meeting with Republican senators, [the president] reportedly called the House-passed American Health Care Act “mean” and a “son of a bitch.” Assuming he did not mean these words as complimentary, they were definitely embarrassing, given his stout support for and intensive lobbying on behalf of the self-same “mean son of a bitch” bill in the House.

But there is another possible explanation: Maybe the president has just been indulging his taste for polls. As two political scientists writing for the New York Times explain, the AHCA is not just unpopular nationally: It’s unpopular everywhere:

“We found that Republicans have produced a rare unity among red and blue states: opposition to the A.H.C.A.

“For example, even in the most supportive state, deep-red Oklahoma, we estimate that only about 38 percent of voters appear to support the law versus 45 percent who oppose. (Another 17 percent of Oklahomans say they have no opinion.) Across all the states that voted for President Trump last year, we estimate that support for the A.H.C.A. is rarely over 35 percent. A majority of Republican senators currently represent states where less than a third of the public supports the A.H.C.A.”

Might this matter in 2018? The GOP senator thought to be most vulnerable, Dean Heller of Nevada, is from a state where the approval ratio for AHCA is a really dismal 28/53. Perhaps the second-most-vulnerable Republican senator, Jeff Flake, is a bit luckier: Arizonans only disapprove of AHCA by a net margin of 14 points. Given the evidence that support for Obamacare had a negative effect on Democrats running in 2010, some warning signs should be flashing for congressional Republicans generally.

And that brings us back to Trump’s comments and the really difficult political maneuver the GOP is trying to pull off in the Senate. Senators very much need their bill to be perceived as much less damaging to the American health-care system than the House bill. But at the same time, it needs to be close enough in reality to the House bill that the ultimate House-Senate conference product can still get through the lower chamber.

Presumably Trump is focused on the first task of suggesting — or pretending — there’s a world of difference between the two pieces of legislation. So maybe the leak of his derisive comments was intentional. But someone in the White House needs to be calling up key House Republicans to explain that this is all for show.


Political Strategy Notes

At Democracy Now, Greg Palast explains “How Racist Voter Suppression Could Cost Jon Ossoff the Georgia Election.” Voting rights groups have registeted over 86,000 new voters, but 40,000 of those applications are “missing,” according to Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project. “To be very clear, Jon Ossoff would be the congressional member right now,” says Dee Hunter, director of the Civil Rights Center of Washington, D.C., quoted in the article. “He really would have won the previous special election but for a combination of systemic voter suppression tactics and techniques.”

Senate likely to miss its Obamacare repeal deadline: The prospects of Republicans meeting their deadline of a Senate health care vote before the end of the month are bleak — and growing more so by the day,” reports Jennifer Haberkoprn at Politico. “…The Senate could still rush to get the bill passed in two weeks…But it’s unlikely they’ll make it. Even if they resolve their biggest disagreements, they still have to write the rest of the bill, send the full text to the Congressional Budget Office, await the agency’s score and keep 50 Republicans together through a lengthy series of procedural votes on legislation that would reshape one-sixth of the American economy — all with Democrats trying to slow them down every step of the way.”

At The Atlantic Russell Berman explores “How Democrats Would Fix Obamacare,” and notes, “The Democratic ideas fall roughly into two categories: proposals that might attract support from Republicans as part of a short-term fix if the repeal effort fails, and those that will only be viable if the party can retake one or both chambers of Congress in 2018. Murray’s renewed call for a public insurance option— which would compete with private insurance in the marketplace—almost certainly falls in the latter bucket. Democrats fell a few votes shy of including a public option in the 2010 law, but the idea faces staunch opposition from Republicans and insurance companies who see it as a slippery slope to a completely government-run health-care system.”

Robert L. Borosage writes at The Nation that  “Infighting Is Good for the Democratic Party: Given recent failures, isn’t it time to debate ideas and strategy?” As Borosage explains, “…This isn’t about a consensus politics, in which the only question is which team—the red shirts or blue shirts—wins the game. The challenge is how to forge a broad majority for fundamental change in a country desperately in need of it…Democrats need a big debate about what can be done—and there is no better time to have it then when the party is out of power. The populist revolt that is roiling politics here and abroad isn’t going away. The Sanders-Warren wing of the party has energy and passion. They are armed with a narrative of what went wrong, a bold agenda for change, and a growing grassroots organizing and funding capacity. The debate within the party isn’t a diversion or a liability. It is a necessary step to recovery.”

“About 61% of us think Trump tried to obstruct or impede the Russia inquiry, a survey from the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found.” — From Josh Hafner’s USA Today article, “Most Americans think Trump committed a felony, poll shows.”

In his New York Times column, Thomas B. Edsall addresses a topic of paramount interest to ‘big tent’ Democrats, “Where Democrats Can Find New Voters.” Among his insights: “Democrats, however, know that they need to get more votes from workers without college degrees, and that their best opportunity to do so is among service workers…More than half of low-paying service jobs are held by women, many of them minorities, who are much more sympathetic to the Democratic Party than men generally and white men in particular…Union officials estimate that there are 64 million workers across the country who make less than $15 an hour. “Only half are registered, and only half of them voted. 48 million of them did not vote in 2016,” one union leader, who asked not to be identified so that he could be forthright, told me.” Edsall quotes politcal pollster and Democratic strategist Stan Greenberg: “I think there really is potential for Democrats to gain here. This is a real insight into what is possible.”

Reid Wilson writes at The Hill that “Democrats have, in effect, built themselves into a geographic box, one that hinders their ability to reclaim control of the U.S. House of Representatives and makes it difficult to win the Electoral College and the White House…While clustering may be good economics, it doesn’t make a winning political coalition. Democratic voters are overwhelmingly likely to live in deep-blue congressional districts and less likely to live in swing states critical to both parties’ paths to winning the Electoral College…Only five of the nation’s 50 largest cities delivered margins for Clinton large enough to swing entire states her way: Denver, Portland, Ore., Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., which has three electoral votes.”

The Plum Line’s Paul Waldman hones in on current Democratic strategy and identifies three critical goals: “Find a way to defeat the GOP health-care bill..Maximize the chances of winning the House in 2018 (the Senate is theoretically possible but much tougher)” and “To paraphrase Mitch McConnell, make Donald Trump a one-term president…the primary power available to congressional Democrats in all these battles is their ability to raise a stink — to ask tough questions in hearings, to give interviews, to go on television and rail at the administration’s misdeeds and the villainy of the other side’s policy proposals. Which it sure looks as though they’re doing, even if they’ll surely make some mistakes along the way.”

In their Monkey Cage post, “More states are registering voters automatically. Here’s how that affects voting,” Robert Griffin, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and Paul Gronke, director of the Early Voting Information Center write“…We analyzed Oregon’s automatic voter registration system — a result of the 2015 law known as Oregon Motor Voter (OMV). We found that in less than a year, OMV registered over 270,000 new voters, and more than 98,000 of them voted in the 2016 election. Compared to citizens already registered, these automatic registrants were significantly younger and lived in places that had lower incomes, lower levels of education, more racially diverse populations and lower population densities. And while programs that register more voters are usually thought to benefit Democrats, we found that wasn’t entirely the case…We don’t know yet whether Oregon’s results represent automatic voter registration systems everywhere. If they are, then we can expect increased voter registration, resulting in an electorate that better represents U.S. citizens as a whole.”


We Need a Universal Condemnation of Political Violence

My immediate reaction to the Alexandria shootings was to propose a universal condemnation of political violence, as articulated at New York:

In the wake of the horrifying mass shooting of five people at a Republican congressional baseball practice today, we will hear a lot of understandable but not necessarily meaningful talk about overcoming partisan differences. There will also be some opportunistic efforts to use the incident as a weapon to paint legitimate criticism of the president or his party in the lurid colors of this abominable act.

It will be helpful if the former impulses outweigh the latter, and we can only hope the president’s initial remarks on the shootings, and the gestures of unity in the Capitol, are signs of a more careful tone.

What the moment really calls for is something more specific and meaningful: a mutual denunciation of political violence and the potential incitement of political violence by Democrats and Republicans, the right and the left. What happened in Alexandria this morning was not an exercise in “Trump-hatred” or progressive political protest, but an act that violates the most basic norms of a constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law. Left-of-center people — a group that includes myself — need to examine their consciences and their words to ensure that we in no way give even the slightest sense that violence against political opponents might ever be justified. We cannot leave the impression that we think the Alexandria shooter took legitimate grievances just a bit too far.

Instead of pointing fingers at the political factions or parties or ideologies to which the alleged shooter belonged, right-of-center people need to examine their own consciences and words, particularly given the temperature of their own discourse today on social media. A good starting point for conservatives would be renunciation, once and for all, of rationales for the Second Amendment that suggest the population needs to arm itself in order to shoot police officers and members of the military in case a government they consider “tyrannical” appears.

Redrawing the essential line between violent and nonviolent political activity will not always be easy. But if the civil-rights movement, led by women and men suffering from much greater injustices than today’s keyboard warriors of political conflict will ever experience, was able to find and hew to the right side of that line, so can we.


Why Impeaching Trump is a Weak Message for Democrats

At The Boston Globe, Victoria McGrane and Astead W. Herndon explain why “Trump impeachment is wrong 2018 election message, Democrats say.” As McGrane and Herndon write,

Given how unlikely it is that the House Republican majority would approve articles of impeachment (no American president ever has been impeached when his own party controlled the House), the real political prize for Democrats is winning the House in 2018.

And making impeachment the major theme of 2018 elections is not a winning formula, at least not yet, in the view of party strategists.

Electing Democrats and flipping the House to Democratic control is the only way to provide a real check on Trump’s reckless ways, they argue. And the way to do that is by maintaining a focus on pocketbook issues, criticizing the Republican policy agenda, and, in swing districts, winning over some who voted for Trump in 2016 and may be turned off by strident talk of impeachment.

That emphasis makes sense for several reasons. If Democrats took the bait and made impeachment their central priority, they would look pretty ineffectual if it didn’t happen, which remains at least a strong possibility. They would also become the new ‘Party of No,’ which is also risky, since voters are growing tired of do-nothing government which investigates more than it legislates.

That is not to say that Dems should avoid getting involved in moving impeachment of Trump forward. It’s really about not making it the Democratic party brand. Democrats can’t dodge their responsibility to defend America’s national security, which Trump has grotesquely compromised. They should be eager participants in the impeachment process when the time is ripe. But Democrats who make impeaching Trump the focal point of their identity as a 2018 candidate risk courting defeat.

Another strategic argument against Democratic candidates leading the campaign for impeachment is that Republicans really ought to be held more accountable for their Frankenstein. They created the climate that nurtured the Trump disaster, and they should be forced to spend their time, energy and resources on getting rid of him. Trump’s impeachable offenses are also a wedge that can further divide the Republican Party, thereby helping Democratic candidates to chart a path to victory.

There is also an argument that Pence could be even worse for Democrats, since he doesn’t have Trump’s immaturity and arrogance, and might end up looking like a significant improvement to scandal-weary voters. In the worst case scenario, Pence could legally serve as President for 10 years or longer. Dems should not rush to give him that opportunity.

“…At this early stage,” report Herndon and McGrane, “many party leaders contend, putting impeachment front and center in House races across the country would be a mistake. Most elected Democrats are proceeding with extreme caution, avoiding the word impeachment and in most cases refusing to straight-out accuse Trump of committing crimes.” Further,

Strategists say Democrats are right to tread a careful line. Focusing 2018 messaging on impeachment — at least at this early stage — runs the risk of getting ahead of public sentiment. Democrats are better served, they say, by talking up the Republican effort to replace the Affordable Care Act. Polls show the House-passed GOP bill, which would cause an estimated 23 million people to lose insurance, is highly unpopular with voters of all political stripes.

“Impeachment is so high-stakes that you have to be very careful moving forward with that,” said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “The waters are so muddy now, with Comey and Mueller, and the committees looking into that. I’d certainly focus on health care, where Republicans look very vulnerable.”

Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC, in a recent memo offering guidance on political messaging, cautioned Democrats against losing focus on health care. Trump’s ongoing crisis does not necessarily rub off on House Republicans, it said.

As the chorus for impeachment grows, Democrats will likely face increasing pressure to get out in front of the effort to rid America of Trump. But Democrats should keep focused on the essential task — creating a message that brands Democrats as the only political party that fights for working people of all races and their families. Give Trump and the GOP the room they need to self-destruct, while Democratic candidates show American voters what serious leadership looks like.


New Study Illuminates How Attitudes Toward Social Issues Helped Trump Win

In his article, “How attitudes about immigration, race and religion contributed to Trump victory,” Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz discusses four reports just released by Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. Balz reports that “The findings are based on online surveys, including one after the election with a sample of 8,000 people who had participated in other such surveys in 2011, 2012 and mid-2016. The surveys were conducted by the firm YouGov” and address “the appeal of candidate Trump, the multifaceted coalition that came to support him, political divisions that continue between and within the parties, and how certain issues came to prominence in 2016.”

Much of the study covers some familiar ground. Balz shares the views of George Washington University political scientist John Sides, who notes that,

“…Attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people and feelings toward Muslims became more strongly related to voter decision-making in 2016 compared to 2012.”…Sides argues that, even before 2016, there was “an increasing alignment between race and partisanship” and among whites there was “an increasing division based on education,” with non-college-educated whites moving away from the Democratic Party, especially after the election of Obama in 2008.

“The shifts among white people overall and white people without a college degree occurred mostly among white people with less favorable attitudes toward black people,” he writes. “No other factor predicted changes in white partisanship during Obama’s presidency as powerfully and as consistently as racial attitudes.” But he also notes that there also were clear divisions between white Democrats and white Republicans in their evaluations of Muslims and their attitudes toward immigration…What did change between 2012 and 2016 was the increased significance in voters’ minds of issues about immigration and attitudes toward blacks and Muslims, among whites both with and without college degrees.

The study apparently did not provide metrics indicating how much of any such attitude change was amplified by Trump’s immigrant-bashing and xenophobic rants, nor to what extent real attitude changes were a function of growing economic insecurity experienced by the survey respondents. Trump’s Electoral College win — let’s not forget that he lost the national popular vote — may well have been a one-time souffle of fears and resentments that he was able to serve up in the rust belt, NC and FL at a particular moment.

Balz adds that “Economic stress also was a factor, with those who expressed negative views about the economy in 2012 “more likely to express key negative cultural attitudes in 2016,” according to a news release summarizing the findings.” However, writes Balz, Sides also found that there was “no statistically significant relationship between trade attitudes and vote choice in either election [2012 or 2016]. Nor was the widely discussed issue of economic anxiety more important in 2016 than in 2012.”

Balz shares a “typology of the Trump Coalition” presented by Emily Ekins of the Cato Institute. As Balz writes:

She labels his core constituency as “American Preservationists” who comprise about a fifth of his supporters, and are less loyal Republicans than are other Trump voters. They lean economically progressive, think the political systems are rigged and have “nativist immigration views and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of American identity.”

About 1 in 3 Trump supporters are “Staunch Conservatives.” Ekins writes that they are “steadfast fiscal conservatives, embrace moral traditionalism and have a moderately nativist conception of American identity and approach to immigration.”…“Free Marketers,” a quarter of Trump supporters, hold more moderate-to-liberal views on race and immigration and supported Trump primarily because of their dislike for Clinton. “Anti-Elites,” about a fifth of the Trump coalition, are motivated by a belief that the political systems are rigged but take a more moderate position on immigration, race and national identity. She labeled a small fraction of his supporters as “The Disengaged” and said they feel unable to influence political and economic institutions.

The typology seems excessively rigid, however, since most voters hold overlapping constellations of priorities and concerns that change from day to day. In addition, the scandals and failures of the Trump Administration since election day have whittled his supporters down to the hard core, as his tanking approval ratings suggest.

As for relevance to the 2018 midterm elections, the erosion of Trump’s credibility since last year raises furhter doubts about how many of his former supporters are going to vote for his fellow Republicans in 2018. It remains equally unclear how many are going to even show up at the polls.


Increasing Voter Turnout Requires Both Technical Fixes and Attitude Change

In her New York Times op-ed, “Increasing Voter Turnout for 2018 and Beyond,” Tina Rosenberg does an excellent job of distilling current issues associated with voter turnout and reforms needed to improve turnout. An excerpt:

One way for campaigns to get their voters to the polls is to recruit a good candidate who can inspire voters and run a competitive race…Then there’s painstaking fieldwork. All campaigns do it, but Donald P. Green, a professor at Columbia, said that many do it wrong. With Alan S. Gerber, Green wrote “Get Out the Vote,” which collected evidence from randomized controlled trials about what gets candidates’ supporters to the polls. “There’s a strong consensus that one of the few things that actually does increase turnout is contact, preferably in person,” said Green. “Shoe leather really works.” Especially when it’s a neighbor doing the door knocking.

…Even in 2018, pro-turnout factors will be undercut by numerous structural barriers — long-term obstacles intended to preserve the dominance of rich, white, older people by suppressing the votes of poorer, younger minorities.

Nevertheless, in the last few years, many states and cities have begun institutional reforms that make voting easier.

Denver is a leader. Coloradans have long been among the nation’s most enthusiastic voters, and last November, Denver set a personal best: 72 percent of those registered voted — much more than in most major cities. (The percentage was 67 in 2008, and 63 in 2012.)

“For us, this is a customer service issue,” said Amber McReynolds, Denver’s director of elections. “Whatever we can do to better serve our voters, we’re going to do.”…Denver mailed a ballot to every registered voter. Voters could fill it out at home and then mail it in or bring it to a drop box. Mailed ballots could be tracked with bar codes…Voting at home was popular; 92 percent of voters chose to do it. Those who did go to a polling place could do so anywhere in the city — near home or near work…There were other modernizations: People could register and vote on the same day. Those who moved had their voter registration changed automatically when they updated their driver’s license.

…The Illinois legislature, for example, just adopted automatic registration, by unanimous votes in both houses. If the governor signs it, then citizens who have contact with state agencies, including the motor vehicles department, will be automatically registered unless they decline.

Oregon was the first state to institute automatic registration, but now there are eight, as well as Washington, D.C. They include red states: Alaska, Georgia and West Virginia. Momentum is growing; so far this year, 32 states have introduced proposals to institute or expand it.

Rosenberg discusses a range of other remedies for low voter turnout, and she also calls attention to the problem of voter suppression. Also read reports by The Nation’s Ari Berman and others who cover the problem of voter suppression — the very deliberate practice of rigging and twisting election laws and otherwise interfering to prevent people of color and young voters from casting ballots.

The technical fixes to confront voter suppression are much-needed. But it’s also important that the Republican Party do some soul-searching about their commitment to prevent citizens from voting, based mostly on their race. The way it is now, with GOP control of all three branches of government, they see little need to change their commitment to voter suppression. Not one conservative pundit has even ventured a comment on this issue.

Gone are the Republican patriots of an early era who understood that their party should try to win the votes of all races, if they truly believed in democracy. Now it’s wink, wink, ‘voter fraud is the real problem,’ — a meme that no Republican leaders actually believe is the truth.

The only way to compel Republicans to take an honest look at how essentially unAmerican and morally compromised their party has become on the issue of free and fair elections is a resounding defeat at the polls. That should be the top priority for Democrats, certainly — but also for voters who want to restore balance and integrity to American government.