washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

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

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

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

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

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

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

March 22, 2018

Will Sessions War on Pot Help Sink GOP in Midterms?

Regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to reverse President Obama’s directive preventing the federal government from enforcing its marijuana laws in pot-friendly states, it’s hard to see any benefit for Republicans in terms of winning over younger voters in the 2018 midterm elections. For one thing it’s likely that voters who like the Sessions directive were already going to vote for Republicans. There is just no value added for the GOP in the Sessions policy. In addition, recent polling shows overwhelming support for liberalization of marijuana laws. As Ryan Struyk reports at CNN Politics:

A broad 64% of Americans say they support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll in October — the highest mark in more than four decades of polling…The poll shows legalization has support from 72% of Democrats — up from 61% over the last three years — and even a slim majority, 51%, of Republicans — up from just 34% in the same time span.

Medical marijuana, for its part, has nearly universal support in the United States, according to an August poll from Quinnipiac University. An overwhelming 94% of adults — including 96% of independents, 95% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans — support it.
A broad three in four Americans, 75%, say they oppose enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use of the drug, according to the same poll. Republicans are most likely to back enforcing federal laws anyway — but that number is still just one in three…The latest numbers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that 44% of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime. A majority, 52%, of people ages 18 to 25 have used it in their lifeline, including 33% in just the last 12 months.
It’s not hard to envision a major downside for Republicans in the Sessions initiative, particularly in reefer-friendly states. As Sarah Jones writes in The New Republic,
With California poised to become the world’s largest market for legal marijuana, it seems unlikely that a government-helmed war on pot will help the GOP’s chances…It could, however, be an opportunity for Democrats. In California, the law that legalized pot drew most of its support from two factions of the party’s traditional base: Young voters and black voters. For a party whose midterm chances rest significantly on its ability to turn out voters in greater numbers than usual, pushing for legal marijuana could make a difference.

As Struyk notes, at present eight states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, permit recreational sales of marijuana,  22 other states “allow only some form of medical marijuana and 15 allow a lesser medical marijuana extract.” Given such legislative and public opinion trends, it’s likely that the Sessions initiative will provoke numerous legal challenges, and squander millions of taxpayer dollars on a doomed policy. Such litigation could go on for years, as more and more states liberalize their marijuana laws.

So why is Sessions doing this? Snopes has discredited the notion that he hopes to personally profit from his initiative. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t motivated by hopes for big contributions to Republicans from the profiteers of the prison industrial complex. Nor would I discount the possibility that he is basically an old hippie-hater working through some sort of twisted revenge fantasy. Or maybe it’s just another expression of ‘Obama derangement syndrome,’ accommodating Trump’s obsession with reversing all of Obama’s initiatives.

In any event it’s a gift to Democrats, in the form of re-branding the Republicans as fuddy-duddies, who are devoted to making life harder for young people and others who support liberalization of marijuana laws. But I doubt many mainstream Republican midterm candidates are going to enthusiastically join in the Sessions war on pot, outside of a few hard-core prudes. Tim Dickinson reports at Rolling Stone that some Republicans,  including libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, along with pot-state Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Cory Gardner, oppose the policy.

The polls on pot legalization could get even worse for Republicans as the consequencs of Sessions’s policy become clear in the months ahead. There are Democratic midterm candidates who are looking forward to the outcome in November.

Political Strategy Notes

President Trump suddenly issued an executive order dissolving the White House commission he had charged with investigating voter fraud, which was operating since May 11 of last year. “Mr. Trump did not acknowledge the commission’s inability to find evidence of fraud, but cast the closing as a result of continuing legal challenges,” report Michael Tagget and Michael Wines at The New York Times. Trump noted that “many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry.” Trump said he “asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action.” Kris Kolbach, who conceived the abandoned commission and served its ‘vice chair,’ tried to put a little lpstick on the pig in arguing that “the Department of Homeland Security is going to be able to move faster and more efficiently than a presidential advisory commission.” One major concern is that moving the voter fraud fraud to Homeland Security will streamline Republican access to immigration records to facilitate suppression of Latino and other voters who are citizens or applying for citizenship.

Then there is the latest chapter in the Trump-Bannon soap opera, in which the prez blasts his former Rasputin. As Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report at The Times, “The rupture came after Mr. Bannon was quoted in a new book disparaging the president’s children, asserting that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” in meeting with Russians and calling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Mr. Trump, described by his spokeswoman as “furious, disgusted,” fired back by saying that Mr. Bannon had “lost his mind.” It will be instructive to see if the dust-up deepens divisions between the pro-Trump and pro-Bannon factions of psuedo-populist conservatives.

Wapo’s Tony Newmyer explains why “Trump spat with Steve Bannon threatens the populist economic agenda,” and observes: “…There’s no question the Trump officials whom Bannon derided as globalists, namely Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, are ascendant in his absence. Per Axios, the two are trying to contain the president’s protectionist instincts as he confronts a slew of decisions on trade matters and tariffs.” Globalists 1, Bannon zilch. Newmyer also discusses how the split between Republican factions may affect support for Trump’s infrastructure initiative.

At The Daily 202, James Hohman writes that “The break with Bannon is a huge win for the Republican establishment, which blames Bannon for Roy Moore becoming the GOP nominee in Alabama and the party losing what should have been an easy race in a ruby red state. This will likely neutralize him in several 2018 primaries where he could have played a huge role in boosting insurgents, from Nevada and Arizona to West Virginia and Wisconsin.” Who would be shocked, however, if they were back together in a few months, after Bannon does a suitably humiliating Ted Cruz grovel to get back into Trump’s good graces. As Hohman notes, “Bannon is already trying to make amends with Trump, suggesting that he might not stay off the reservation. On his Sirius XM radio show last night, he said that he remains a strong supporter of Trump. “The president of the United States is a great man,” he said. “You know I support him day in and day out.”

The New York Times Editorial “Florida’s 1.5 Million Missing Voters” notes that “Felon disenfranchisement is a destructive, pointless policy that hurts not only individuals barred from the ballot box, but American democracy at large. Its post-Civil War versions are explicitly racist, and its modern-day rationales are thin to nonexistent. It can make all the difference in places like Florida, which didn’t stop being competitive in 2000; the state remains a major presidential battleground, and victories for both parties in state and local elections are often narrow…That could all change if a proposed constitutional amendment gets enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in November and wins enough support. The initiative would automatically restore voting rights to the vast majority of Floridians who have completed their sentence for a felony conviction, including any term of parole or probation.”

A nugget from Theo Anderson’s post “Move Over, Corporate Democrats, A New Wave of Left Populists Is on the Rise” at In These Times: “People’s Action, a network of progressive and community organizing groups, has recently begun offering support and trainings for political candidates. As of November 2017, 70 of its members planned to run for office at all levels in 2018. People’s Action is particularly focused on increasing the progressive cohorts in 14 statehouses. Brand New Congress (BNC) and Justice Democrats (JD), both founded in the past two years and devoted to federal races, have recruited and are training and supporting dozens of candidates for the House and Senate. Like the other organizations that make up this infrastructure, JD and BNC are intentional about cultivating a diverse slate…JD and BNC are distinguished from the other groups by their exclusive focus on Congress. They envision their work in terms of building a unified bloc of progressive votes that will transform the institution in a relatively short timeframe. Both will likely endorse between 30 and 50 candidates in the 2018 cycle (many of them cross-endorsed).”

Josh Nanberg, president of Ampersand Strategies, offers a preview of this year’s elections in his article,Consultant Predictions 2018” at Campaigns & Elections: “First, Democrats will reject the idea that we need a ‘national message,’ and instead build majorities one district at a time. Candidates who fit their districts and run to represent their constituents will see successes in surprising places by being true to their values and focusing on issues that resonate locally. Those who focus their campaigns exclusively on President Trump’s tweets, the Russia investigation, or other issues that don’t address voters’ real concerns about their families, their finances and their futures will have trouble breaking through the noise…Second, our candidates are going to look different this year. They’ll have different cultural and professional backgrounds. They’ll be new to politics.”

 Paul Starr advocates “A New Strategy for Health Care” at The American Prospect: “Repairing whatever is left of the ACA, if anything is left, will be important but insufficient. Although the ACA has gained in popularity since Trump’s election, the law’s limitations have also become increasingly apparent. A new Democratic administration should focus on one or two signature health-care proposals that advance the long-term objectives of universal coverage and cost control and respond to people who have insurance but still face financial stress from medical bills. Two ideas could meet these criteria: making available a new Medicare plan for people aged 50 to 64—a program I call “Midlife Medicare”—and directly attacking America’s excessive health-care prices. Although the two ideas are independent, they’re closely related, since attacking prices also involves an extension of Medicare, in this case the extension of Medicare rates to out-of-network providers in private insurance.”

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall shares some salient “Thoughts on 2018,” including “Inevitably, people interested in politics and ideology and strategy think mostly in those terms. What’s the right strategy? What’s the right ideological posture? Who on the left side of the aisle gets the run with the ball? But a lot more of it is simply people waking up, becoming activated. Those other things matter of course. But it’s people getting energized, people who were spectators deciding they need to run for office or launch new organizations. Everything is important but ideology, strategy and the rest tends to grow out of, get refined and figured out or coalesce in response to activism and activation, not the other way around. For all these reasons I think 2018 will be a different kind of year.”

Doug Jones Will Be a Regular Democrat, Not a DINO

Reading a lot of the speculation about newly elected senator Doug Jones and the faction of the Democratic Party he might join, I decided to weigh in at New York:

[Alabama’s] unlikely new Democratic senator, Doug Jones, will finally be sworn into office on Wednesday. He didn’t arrive in time to play a role in any year-end legislative drama. But there will be considerable speculation about the role he might play in a Senate where Republicans now have a spare two-vote margin.

Conservative media seem confident in projecting that Jones will be one of those “moderate Democratic” swing voters in the Senate. But in the Trump era it’s not clear what that will mean, since other Democrats from conservative states who make bipartisan noises just like Jones have regularly voted with their party on important floor actions (other than judicial confirmations). It’s worth noting that when Jones himself talks about working with Republicans, it’s on issues conservatives mostly disdain, and even then he sets conditions:

“‘Infrastructure is the perfect opportunity for both the parties to try to show to the American public that you can work together’ Mr. Jones said. But he declined to say whether he could support the sort of public-private partnerships that could be central to Mr. Trump’s plans.”

This distinguishes him from pretty much zero Senate Democrats. The same could be said of this stance from Jones:

“[S]iding with congressional Democrats, Jones made clear he wants to help devise safeguards for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, but without funding for a border wall.”

Jones’s initial staff hires have also drawn attention for providing clues to his likely positioning. His chief of staff, Dana Gresham, once had the same position with centrist Alabama congressman Artur Davis. But he followed up that stint with a position in the Obama administration, and will become the only African-American chief of staff in the Senate — which is appropriate given the central nature of African-American turnout and support levels to Jones’s win. Legislative director Mark Libell held the same job with standard-brand Democratic senator Jay Rockefeller. His deputy, Katie Campbell, was policy director for the House Blue Dogs. But what she and the other two hires have in common is that they are Alabama Democrats who know this could be their only chance to work for a Democratic senator from their state.

You’d have to figure one of his most important priorities is to fight for the right to vote for the minority voters who largely lifted him to the Senate.

All in all, it seems that Jones meant what he said about himself:

“‘I’m going to consider anything,’ said Jones, explaining that he doesn’t plan on labeling himself a progressive or a conservative Democrat but a ‘Doug Jones Democrat.'”

That should be good enough for most Democrats everywhere.

How the Midterm Elections Can Change U.S. Politics

There is already a fair amount of horse race coverage speculating on who will win which midterm elections in 2018. But those who want some insight as to how the midterm elections outcome could affect life in America should check out Andrew Prokop’s Vox post, “5 ways the 2018 midterms could change American politics: What’s really at stake in this year’s elections,” which notes,

Depending on how well Democrats do, the party could kill the Republican legislative agenda in Congress, gain new powers to investigate the Trump administration, get the ability to block Trump’s nominees from being confirmed, pass new liberal state laws in many parts of the country, and win many offices with power over the 2021 redistricting process.

Prokop discusses how the elections could help Dems or lead to further gridlock. But he also sketches a scary worst case scenario, and fleshes out each of his five points. He provides a good intro to the importance of the miderm elections, which could be used to help motivate Democratic campaign workers and voters, particularly the young ones whose hopes for a good life could be profoundly affected by the outcome of the midterms. As Prokop asks, “Do conservatives get more chances to enact their dream laws in 2019 and 2020 — laws that could have consequences for decades to come — or do they get stopped in their tracks?”

Prokop could have added a sixth point, that the very survival of American democracy may be at stake. If the Republicans somehow enhance their majorities, who is going to prevent further Russian meddling in our elections? Who is going to check the acceleration of income inequality? Who will prevent the gutting  of Social Security and Medicare, or the rape of the environment? “The stakes are high,” concludes Prokop, “and the consequences will be felt for a very long while indeed.

As Ed Kilgore has noted, Democrats are in very good shape to prevent all of this as 2018 begins, and the signs are in place for a broad ‘wave election’ favoring Dems. But the danger of political apathy and midterm voter drop-off are continuing concerns, and it’s going to take a great effort to build on the impressive electoral gains of 2017 to make it happen.

Teixeira: The Formula for a Blue Texas

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

A formula you say? There’s a formula for a blue Texas? Well, sort of. I mean this in the sense that a sober quantitative accounting of the challenge Democrats face in Texas provides a useful guide to how the blue Texas goal can actually be attained. More useful I think than the countless breathless accounts of grassroots Democratic organizing in Texas (here’s a recent example), which make little effort to explain which groups have to move and by how much to be successful.

So here’s the “formula”. In 2016, Clinton improved over Obama in Texas, reducing his 16 point deficit in the state to 9 points in 2012. How did she do this? The dataset developed at CAP for our Voter Trends in 2016 report indicates that Clinton improved over Obama among both white non-college-educated and college-educated voters. The Democrats’ deficit among Texas’s white non-college-educated voters fell from 60 points in 2012 to 55 points in 2016. The shift toward Clinton among white college graduates in the state was even larger—from a 30-68 percent deficit in 2012 to 37-57 percent in 2016, a margin improvement of 18 points. The white college-educated improvement cut Clinton’s deficit in the state by about 4.5 points and the white noncollege improvement moved things in her direction by about 1.5 points, for a total shift of 6 points toward Clinton from better performance among whites. The rest of Clinton’s gains relative to Obama were accounted for by improvements in Latino turnout and support.

This suggests that the correct formula for a blue Texas is not to rely on demographic change and better mobilization of existing pro-Democratic constituencies, which often appears to be the default strategy. That is not likely to be enough to cut the additional 9 points off of Democrats’s statewide deficit anytime soon. Instead, while demographic change will continue to provide a boost to Democratic prospects and mobilization efforts should continue, the key question is how to keep the trends evident in 2016 going. Rough calculations indicate that if Democrats can cut their white noncollege deficit to 45 points and their white college deficit to 10 points, while continuing positive, if unspectacular, Latino trends (getting Latino turnout of eligibles to around 40 percent, while improving Latino vote margin to around +30D), that should be enough to flip the state or come very close.

Note: I’m not saying this would be easy to do! But I do believe the formula would work and builds plausibly on current trends.

Political Strategy Notes

In his Houston Chronicle article, “Beto O’Rourke carries Texas Democrats’ hopes in 2018 run against Ted Cruz,” Kevin Diaz takes the measure of Rep. O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate campaign and observes, “Cruz’s evident ambition – seen in his first trip to Iowa, within months of being sworn in as a senator – will be central to O’Rourke’s case as he crisscrosses Texas trying to rally long-marginalized Democrats, independents, first-time voters, Latinos, the anti-Trump “resistance,” and anyone else who might have grown weary of post-Trump Republicanism…Strategists on both sides know that the backdrop for the U.S. Senate race in Texas – possibly one of the marquee races of the 2018 midterm elections – will be the push or pull of Trump, who bested Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 percentage points…For O’Rourke, a Spanish nicknamed, fourth-generation Irish-American from El Paso, that is a source of hope. But first, the 45-year-old ex-punk-rocker with the toothy, Kennedyesque smile will have to prove it can be done – even as he eschews polls, Beltway consultants and, most importantly, political action committee money…O’Rourke could boast of 7,000 more individual donors than Cruz through the end of September, when their last financial reports were filed. But from a modern campaign perspective he will be fighting with one hand behind his back: Though he’s accepted campaign contributions from political action committees in the past, O’Rourke has sworn off PAC money in the race against Cruz.” Democrats can contribute to O’Rourke’s campaign at his ActBlue page right here.

This could be a good issue for Democratic candidates running in Appalachia: “The working class still carries the burden for American wars,” writes Jacob Stump at the Bristol Herald. “Michael Zweig, professor of economics and director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, conducted a study of the nearly 1,800 combat deaths in Afghanistan from 2001-2010. Zweig shows that while 62 percent of Americans are working class, 78 percent of the war casualties have come from working-class families. Overwhelmingly, those who fought and died in Afghanistan were working-class Americans…The main reason that working class youth from Appalachia and the South are over-represented in war fatalities has to do with economics. Poor and working class young men and women flee economically depressed areas and dead-end jobs in what critics like Joe Bageant call “economic conscription.” With no real prospects, a modest $1,300 per month salary, along with free room and board, skills and training, and the prospects of money for college make the U.S. military seem like a better future than one at home…The men and woman of Congress who authorize war are much-less likely to have served in the military and are much-more likely to come from upper-income families…The issue of working-class Appalachians and Americans carrying the burden of U.S. war-making is an important matter to consider, especially in light of the saber rattling with North Korea.”

It looks increasingly like the tax bill gives Democratic candidates from New York and New Jersey some added leverage in the upcomming elections for seats in the House of Reps. As Nicole Guadiano writes at USA Today, “If there’s going to be a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm elections, look for it to wash ashore in New York and New Jersey. House Democrats have targeted all but one Republican — Rep. Chris Smith in New Jersey’s reliably conservative fourth district — in the two states, where former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton beat President Trump in 2016. They need a strong showing there and in other states, such as California, to win back the House majority – a prospect that, while difficult, increasingly looks possible…Based on 2017’s election results, the question for New York and New Jersey will be whether Democrats see a surge in turnout and defections among higher-educated, white-collar Republicans, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Another factor could be the recently passed GOP tax bill, which could hurt high-tax states like New York and New Jersey by limiting deductions for state and local taxes.”

At Blue Virginia lowkell notes that, “A sure applause line for Virginia Democrats is to rail against gerrymandering, blame it for most/all of our problems in the Virginia House Delegates, and vow to do something about it. Yet for years, I’ve argued that a FAR bigger problem than gerrymandering is that Democratic voter “dropoff” from presidential years to “odd-year” Virginia elections is far, far greater than Republican voter “dropoff.”…The two key takeaways here are: 1) Democratic “voter retention” went from a pathetic 57.82% in 2013 to a MUCH more impressive 72.59% in 2017 — an increase of 15 percentage points, corresponding to a huge increase in the number of Democratic voters (~1.4 million in 2017 vs. ~1.1 million in 2013); 2) Republican “voter retention” actually increased a bit between 2013 and 2017, but only a bit, from 64.51% in 2013 to 68.63% in 2017; 3) the massive increase in Democratic voters in 2017 vs. 2013 completely overwhelmed the much smaller increase in GOP turnout, both at the statewide level and also in the House of Delegates districts.”

Conor Lynch’s Salon post, “Republicans are waging class war: It’s time for the left to fight back” lays down the challenge for Democrats in 2018: “Under the leadership of Trump, the Republican Party is no longer even attempting to hide the fact that it is waging a class war on behalf of the 1 percent. Republican leaders either believe that American voters are too stupid and uninformed to realize whats going on in Washington, or too deeply immersed in the culture wars to care about economic issues (which has often been the case over the past few decades)…It will ultimately be up to the left to make sure that class and the economy are at the front and center of the debate in 2018 and 2020, and to highlight the Republican assault on poor and middle-class families. For decades, Republicans have employed a populist-toned rhetoric that focuses almost exclusively on cultural and social issues, while enacting a pro-corporate agenda behind closed doors. Over this same period, Democrats more or less abandoned class politics and embraced a moderate form of neoliberalism themselves (especially during the Bill Clinton years). This turn away from class politics on the left enabled Republicans to portray themselves as populists — a trend that culminated with the election of Trump…According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, only 24 percent of Americans support lowering corporate tax rates (as the Republican tax bill does), while 52 percent support raising them…The new tax bill is a gift to the richest of Americans, but it is also an opportunity for the left to start playing offense in the class war that is currently being waged by the richest and most powerful people in our society.”

Elizabeth Kolbert New Yorker ‘splains “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds: New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason,” and shares this insight: “Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions…People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people…“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.”

Among the reasons for Democratic optimism cited by Fenit Nirappil in “Democrats eye state legislatures in 2018 after stunning gains in Virginia”  at The Post: “Democrats say their gains in the Virginia House were all the more impressive given that Republicans drew the playing field more specifically, they drew the legislative map in the last round of redistricting, in 2011…“We beat a gerrymandered map,” said Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party’s main organ for state legislative races. “Everything is on the table.”…Post said the DLCC thinks that it can flip as many as 10 legislative chambers — including in Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Arizona and Iowa.”

Dem prospects are also looking better in the great swing state of North Carolina, as AP’s Gary D. Robertson reports: “Eager to reassert their longtime influence on North Carolina politics, the Democrats already have already fielded an unusually large pool of candidates for 100 seats in the 170-member bicameral legislature…With the GOP holding a 75-45 majority in the North Carolina House and 35-15 Senate advantage, Democrats would need to flip 16 House seats and 11 Senate seats in November to take back the General Assembly. Ending veto-proof majorities, which would force Republicans to negotiate with Cooper and some Democrats on some issues, would require only four House seats or six Senate seats. All legislators serve two-year terms…Rep. Graig Meyer of Orange County said the party is well on its way to fielding candidates for all 120 House seats. “Recruitments definitely got easier after Virginia,” said Meyer, who is helping to recruit candidates like LeGrand through the state party’s new “Pipeline Project.” Meyer and others have highlighted new female and LGBT candidates.

At The Atlantic, Clare Foran previews the next big House of Reps election: “The next closely-watched special election is set to take place in a conservative Pennsylvania House district that will test the Democratic Party’s appeal with white, working-class voters who now reliably vote Republican…Democrat Conor Lamb will face off against Republican state Representative Rick Saccone on March 13 in a race to replace former Republican Representative Tim Murphy, a pro-life congressman who resigned earlier this year after reports surfaced that he had allegedly asked a woman with whom he had an affair to get an abortion…Democrats have not yet shown they can win congressional seats in the Rust Belt and industrial midwest states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which flipped from blue to red in the last presidential election…“This gives Democrats an opportunity to go to the blue-collar, white voters that Trump won in 2016 and say, ‘Trump betrayed you. He said he was going to be a populist president, and fight for you, but all he’s done so far is favors for corporate America,’” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist and president of Bannon Communications Research, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm.”

Political Strategy Notes

In sore loser/sour grapes news, “Roy Moore files lawsuit to block Alabama Senate result,” reports AP’s Kim Chandler. “Moore’s attorney wrote in the complaint filed late Wednesday that he believed there were irregularities during the election and said there should be a fraud investigation and eventually a new election.”…Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told The Associated Press Wednesday evening that he has no intention of delaying the canvassing board meeting…“It is not going to delay certification and Doug Jones will be certified (Thursday) at 1 p.m. and he will be sworn in by Vice President Pence on the third of January,” Merrill said.” It’s not hard to envision Alabama Democrats and Republican moderates hoisting their tankards on New Year’s Eve to the bitter end of this once powerful politican, but now ineffectual loser.

In Trump’s latest betrayal of a former highly-praised associate news, WaPo’s Carol Leonnig reports that “Trump legal team readies attack on Flynn’s credibility. “President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy…The approach would mark a sharp break from Trump’s previously sympathetic posture toward Flynn, whom he called a “wonderful man” when Flynn was ousted from the White House in February. Earlier this month, the president did not rule out a possible pardon for Flynn, who is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

In unintentional consequences news, Robert Pear outs a delicious irony befalling Republican political strategy in his NYT article, “Years of Attack Leave Obamacare a More Government-Focused Health Law.” As Pear notes, “The Affordable Care Act was conceived as a mix of publicly funded health care and privately purchased insurance, but Republican attacks, culminating this month in the death of a mandate that most Americans have insurance, are shifting the balance, giving the government a larger role than Democrats ever anticipated…And while President Trump insisted again on Tuesday that the health law was “essentially” being repealed, what remains of it appears relatively stable and increasingly government-funded.”

At The Monkey Cage, Sarah Binder and Mark Spindel, co-authors of The Myth of Independence: How Congress Governs the Federal Reserve, share “5 lessons from a Republican year of governing dangerously,” which include ‘1. Congress veered to the right; 2. A strong economy cannot heal partisan divisions; 3. Internal divisions narrowed the GOP agenda; 4. Republicans bent and broke rules where needed; and 5. GOP played a strong game of kick the can.’ In their conclusion, Binder and Spindel note, “Congress may find moderate solutions to fund children’s health care and protect the Dreamers. Bipartisan efforts could roll back some banking regulations and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. Accomplishing these would require Trump and Republicans to set aside internal disagreements and tack to the center, engaging Democrats under the Senate’s normal, supermajority rules…But can Republicans manage that to convince voters they can govern — without further demotivating their partisan base — before the midterm elections next fall? Republicans’ year-end gift to taxpayers should give the economy one more boost before lawmakers face the voters, but it will be hard to run on a signature legislative achievement that is so disliked.”

A couple of juicy nuggets from columnist Robert Samuelson’s “The top 10 stats of 2017” at The Washington Post: ‘7. Americans make up 4.4 percent of the world’s population — and own 42 percent of the guns. 8. Ninety-one percent of Trump’s nominees to federal courts are white, and 81 percent are male, according to an Associated Press analysis.’

Single-payer advocates may want to take a gander at “The Leap to Single-Payer: What Taiwan Can Teach: How one nation transformed a health care system. Can America do big things anymore?” by public health experts Aaron E. Carroll and Austin Frakt, who explain, “Less than 25 years ago, Taiwan had a patchwork system that included insurance provided for those who worked privately or for the government, or for trade associations involving farmers or fishermen. Out-of-pocket payments were high, and physicians practiced independently. In March 1995, all that changed…Taiwan chose to adopt a single-payer system like that found in Medicare or in Canada, not a government-run system like Britain’s…The health insurance Taiwan provides is comprehensive. Both inpatient and outpatient care are covered, as well as dental care, over-the-counter drugs and traditional Chinese medicine. It’s much more thorough than Medicare is in the United States…Access is also quite impressive. Patients can choose from pretty much any provider or therapy. Wait times are short, and patients can go straight to specialty care without a referral…Premiums are paid for by the government, employers and employees. The share paid by each depends on income, with the poor paying a much smaller percentage than the wealthy.” There were pitfalls and problems aplenty on Taiwan’s road to successs, but “Taiwan’s ambition showed what’s possible. It took five years of planning and two years of legislative efforts to accomplish its transformation. That’s less time than the United States has spent fighting over the Affordable Care Act, with much less to show for it.”

Instead of Counting on Scandals to Flip Trump Supporters, Dems Should Listen Better

Yesterday J. P. Green noted that sometimes an outsider perspective can help illuminate our politics. Venezuelan Economist Andres Miguel Rondon takes a crack at it in today’s Washington Post, and makes a compelling argument that, rather than hoping Trump will be undone by scandals, “To beat President Trump, you have to learn to think like his supporters.” As Rondon writes,

If you’re among the majority of Americans who oppose Trump, you can’t understand why. And it’s making you furious. I saw the same thing happen in my native Venezuela with the late Hugo Chávez, who ruled as precisely the sort of faux-populist strongman that Trump now loves to praise. Chávez’s political career (which only ended with his untimely death) seemed not only immune to scandal, but indeed to profit directly from it. Why? Because scandal is no threat to populism. Scandal sustains populism.

…I know how you feel. You are outraged. What did you ever do to these people to deserve their hate? What can possibly be going on? How can they, for example, make sense of so many former Goldman Sachs men in the Trump Cabinet? Weren’t the bankers supposed to be the enemy? Not to mention Russia? All your senses (and your Facebook friends) tell you that, with all this hypocrisy, justice demands that Trump be impeached, indeed it should have happened long ago. For your sake and for his supporters’ sake, too. Instead, it continues, and each day that goes by, it makes less sense to you. As Venezuelans used to tell one another: Chávez te tiene loco. Trump is making you crazy. Making you scramble for ways to make this end.

Rondon reviews the  litany of Trump’s scandals, from the Access Holywood tape to the recent Mueller indictments and concedes that Trump’s approval ratings have been driven down. Yet, noted Rondon, “in one November poll, only 7 percent of his supporters from last year said they’d vote differently.” Scandals may influence public opinion, but don’t expect much change among his supporters. Further, “If you want to fight Trump effectively, you have to learn to think like they do and give up altogether the prospect that scandal will one day undo him.”

Rondon argues, “his supporters are convinced that you are to blame. Until you can convince them otherwise, they will cheer him on. The name of the game is polarization, and the rookie mistake is to forget you are the enemy.” Trump’s supporters have been whittled down to hard-core ideologues and those who are willing to cut off their noses to spite your face.

Many of Trump’s supporters do harbor an intense hatred of liberals, who they perceive as elitist snobs. Indeed, some may be more driven by this animosity than diferences on policy. But it’s doubtful that they add up to 40+ percent of the electorate.

Although political illiteracy is not exclusive to Trump voters, there are a large number of low-information voters in Trump’s hard-core base. As political researchers Richard Fordling and Sanford Shram note in their Monkey Cage article, “‘Low information voters’ are a crucial part of Trump’s support“:

Our research finds that Trump has attracted a disproportionate (and unprecedented) number of “low-information voters” to his campaign. Furthermore, these voters are more likely to respond to emotional appeals — whether about the economy, immigration, Muslims, racial relations, sexism, and even hostility to the first African American U.S. president, Barack Obama. They are the ideal constituency for a candidate like Trump.

We define low-information voters as those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. Those with a low need for cognition, on the other hand, find little reward in the collection and evaluation of new information when it comes to problem solving and the consideration of competing issue positions. They are more likely to rely on cognitive shortcuts, such as “experts” or other opinion leaders, for cues.

Fording and Schram conclude that “a core part of his base is made up of low-information voters who appear more susceptible to Trump’s appeals based on race and religion and less prepared to challenge his misstatements and untruths.” It’s hard to credibly quantify this segment, and even harder to ennumerate another group of Trump’s base, who are high-information, low-compassion voters focused more on their portfolios than what may be good for America.

But the most relevant segment for Democrats is the percentage of Trump voters who are now open to voting for Democratic candidates. Some statistical indicators, including recent generic ballot trends, suggest that readiness to vote Democratic is making a dent, however small, among Trump’s suporters. Harry Enten reports that “the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent.with an 18-point advantage among registered voters in the generic congressional ballot question.” And It only takes a small change to make a big difference.

But it does no good to point out to persuadable Trump supporters that they are low-info or morally-challenged. Rondon advises, “before you try to persuade them that they are being racist, or worse, ignorant by believing in Trump, you should ask yourself: Will this help convince them that I am not their enemy? Because what can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show them you care. Only then will they believe what you say.”

Democrats just might get an edge with ‘persuadable’ Trump voters by ascertaining their fears, hopes and policy priorities. To do this credibly will require some targeted polling, followed by a real commitment to reach out to them with empathy, instead of the anger and condescension of facebook rants.

“So as the second year of Trump’s administration approaches, stop,” concludes  Rondon. “Take a deep breath. Let all the hatred circle from afar. Don’t let it into your echo chamber.”

Rondon may be overstating the uselessness of scandals in changing political opinion. Certainly, there is a distinction to be made between sex scandals and the smell of massive corruption and election-rigging emanating from the Trump Administration’s dealings with Putin and Russian oligarchs. But Dems would be wise to focus their criticism on Trump and Repubican leaders — not on their supporters.

Political Strategy Notes

J. Oliver Conroy profiles “Mark Lilla: the liberal who counts more enemies on the left than the right” at The Guardian. Lilla, a former neo-conservative, now self-styled progressive rooted in the white working-class, has emerged as a oft-cited commentator in the debate about identity politics vs. a more class-based progressivism. As Conroy quotes Lilla: “American liberalism,” he wrote, “has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” Conroy notes further, “Working-class white voters are “doing a kind of expressive voting”, Lilla said. “It’s all about symbols, and an assertion of what they are in the face of what they deem to be a hostile culture … People who don’t make it in this country are going to feel bad about themselves, and when they feel bad they get defensive…When people are in that kind of psychological position, you need to talk them down from the ledge and show them where their real interests lie.”

Sometimes observers from other countries illuminate American culture and politics in a fresh, revealing way. At The Nation, contributing editor Jon Weiner interviews Gary Younge, a black and British columnist, who has written eloquent articles for the The Guardian, as well as The Nation. Younge is touring the U.S., focusing on exploring the attitudes of America’s white working-class. At one point, Younge notes the views of a white worker who voted for both Obama and Trump: “There’s a guy who’d voted for Obama. He had liked Obama’s jingle. He said, “I voted for hope. And then the jobs didn’t come. And then Trump said he’s going to make America great again. And I voted for that.” I said, “Okay. They see.” It’s the Democrats’ failure to deliver that to a large extent can explain some of these people switching sides. And why even more of them just stayed at home—they felt “there’s nothing out there for me.” Younge also notes, “I did say to this one guy, Jeff, “Trump looks like the guy that closed your factory—not the guy that was in the picket line with you.” And he said, “Yeah, but he looks like maybe he’d be the guy who might start another factory up.” It’s important to remember in all of this that Trump’s base was the white and wealthy and they will be the primary beneficiaries of his tenure. The white working class was a decisive but junior partner in the electoral coalition. The question is what was in it for them. I think in the absence of an appealing alternative, they thought, “Screw it. I’ll give this guy a go.” For those who bothered to vote, it was, “Let’s try this.”

“Bill Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings Institution, who served as a policy adviser to former President Clinton during his administration, said Democrats will use the bill to argue that Trump is not putting into place the populist policies he promised. One vulnerability for the president is that the bill does little to change the favorable tax treatment for wealthy investment managers…“No doubt Democrats will be combing the bill for little nuggets, particular provisions that do embody highly targeted policies that will look like giveaways,” he said. “And if Democrats want to make an issue of the president, they can use it to weaken any populist credentials he may have…“They just have to find effective ways of saying what the majority of the public already believes,” he said.” — From “Dems see tax bill as giving them midterm advantage” by Amy Parnes at The Hill.

In his FiveThirtyeight article, “The Democrats’ Wave Could Turn Into A Flood,” Harry Enten writes, “A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data)…And while the CNN poll is a bit of an outlier, the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent. That average, like the CNN poll, also shows Republicans in worse shape right now than any other majority party at this point in the midterm cycle1 since at least the 1938 election…When the generic ballot is showing this large of a lead for one party, the playing field of competitive races also tends to be correspondingly huge.”

At The Hill, Ben Kamisar spotlights “Seven primary races to watch in 2018,” featuring updates for “closely-contested” races for both Republicans and Democrats in: IL-3, KY-6, NC-9, TX-7, MN-1, VA-10 and FL-27. Meanwhile Margaret Kadifa explains why “Democrats’ Hopes of Taking Back the House Could Hinge on Two Districts—in Texas” at mother Jones, and notes that “Thanks to the state’s infamously gerrymandered districts, Democrats have few places where they can realistically pick off incumbent Republicans, even with the kind of increased African American turnout that propelled Doug Jones to his surprise Senate win in Alabama. That’s why Texas Democrats are focusing on two solidly Republican districts that Hillary Clinton flipped in 2016: Rep. John Culberson’s District 7, near Houston, and Rep. Pete Sessions’ District 32, around Dallas…“Trump will represent a millstone around both Culberson and Sessions’ necks,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “The lower his approval rating, the worse Culberson and Sessions will do.”

For a sobering read, I suggest “How Citizens United Changed Politics and Shaped the Tax Bill” by Lawrence Norden, Shyamala Ramakrishna, Sidni Frederick at The Brennan Center for Justice. Among insights shared by the authors: “Perhaps even more striking is the brazenness with which donors themselves are admitting they have threatened members of Congress. Conservative donor Doug Deason of Texas explicitly said the “Dallas piggy bank” was closed until tax and health bills were passed. “Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed…You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up,” Deason told Republican leaders…Deason refused to host fundraisers for Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “I said, ‘No I’m not going to because we’re closing the checkbook until you get some things done.”…The real impact of an unregulated campaign finance is on policy, and the proof is in this year’s tax bill.”

Lawrence P. Glickman says it well in  his article “Forgotten Men: The Long Road from FDR to Trump” at The Boston Review: “Trump’s forgotten men and women are the descendants of Lowndes and other conservatives, who used this class to frame a compelling political narrative. In their vision, the welfare state and social movements to expand it were not efforts designed to help the less fortunate but rather a multi-pronged assault on the pocketbooks and dignity of white, middle-class Americans. Theirs was a language that mythologized white people living above the poverty line as a group that paid more than their fair share—that “seldom goes to extremes about anything,” in Upton’s words—and yet were being pushed into protest by the combination of economic exploitation and humiliation that they faced. Such a discourse, emergent as Donald Trump inherited his first millions, gave children of privilege sanction to understand themselves as victims…The conservative forgotten-man rhetoric fundamentally shaped Trump’s worldview and politics. He won the support of a cross-class coalition of whites who, whatever their position in society, felt ignored, exploited, and disrespected. Moreover, it allowed Trump and his followers, a group that has benefited disproportionately from a racialized welfare state, to weaponize resentment toward the less fortunate, to express cruelty toward racial others at home and abroad, and to view diversity as weakness.”

Jennifer Berkshire interviews Joan Williams, author of “The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” at Alternet on the “limits of college for all.” Williams observes, “…There are a lot of very concrete reasons why working-class kids, by which I mean the true middle class, might not want to go to college. It’s  economically very risky to go to college right now. It’s very expensive and a lot of people end up starting college and not finishing. They end up paying many thousands of dollars in debt while they’re earning the wages of a high school graduate. Middle and working-class kids are very well aware of that. It’s also literally harder for them to get into college with the same credentials than it is for kids of professional classes…What we really need is a new education to employment system where local community colleges or companies identify the specific skills that employers are going to need as we transition to an economy where 60 percent of jobs will require interaction with robots. People are going to need technical skills not necessarily a four year degree.”

“…If the resistance energy engendered by Trump and the Republicans continues to fuel efforts at democracy reform, and the results of the 2018 elections are as the tea leaves of 2017 suggest, then regardless of the outcome of the Gill case, the possibilities for reform will jump dramatically in 2019, and the district-drawing of 2021 could look a whole lot different and more promising than 2011. At the very least, progressives and people who care about our democracy should not assume that redistricting reform is a hopeless cause, and should get to work at organizing for real reforms, and working on legislative elections, as a major part of a pro-democracy strategy.” — from “Prospects Brightening for Redistricting Reform” by Miles Rapoport at The American Prospect.