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

October 18, 2017

Political Strategy Notes

Netroots Nation’s annual program begins today in Atlanta, and WaPo’s David Weigel has a good preview and backgrounder in his post, “Liberals gather in Atlanta to plan Trump resistance strategy.” As Weigel writes, “Former vice president Gore will speak about the threats to the planet from a president who dismisses climate change as a hoax hatched in Beijing. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) will ring alarm bells about domestic policy. And 14 discrete sessions will discuss the best ways to fight the White House and Republican Congress. Jon Ossoff, the Democratic star who narrowly lost Georgia’s special House election in June, will also be there…This year, the focus for nearly 3,000 attendees was back on politics: How do they channel the energy of resistance into helping progressives win elections?” Schedule overview here.

Brian Barrett’s Wired post, “You Can’t Just Riff About Nukes” does make one wonder if CEO Trump has been watching too much Game of Thrones. Trump’s warning to North Korea does sound more like it comes from a ‘Thrones’ potentate, than a thoughtful leader of a great democracy. As Barrett writes, “Trump garnered international headlines Tuesday when he declared that any further threats from North Korea would prompt “fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” His bluster followed a Washington Post report that the Hermit Kingdom had developed a nuclear weapon small enough to deploy on a missile. Lest anyone doubt the president’s intentions, he followed up Wednesday morning with a tweet calling the US nuclear arsenal “far stronger and more power than ever before” and unjustifiably crediting himself with its renovation and modernization.”

Adam Nagourney’s New York Times article, “Democratic Fight in California Is a Warning for the National Party,” explores the ramifications of a leadership struggle for the helm of the state’s Democratic Party. “What we are seeing in California is similar to what we are seeing on the national level,” said Betty T. Yee, the Democratic state controller. “If we don’t do our work to really heal our divide, we are going to miss our chance to motivate Democrats.”…The fight pits Eric C. Bauman, a longtime party leader, against Kimberly Ellis, a Bay Area activist. Mr. Bauman won the election by just over 60 votes out of 3,000 cast at the party convention in May, but Ms. Ellis has refused to concede, claiming voting improprieties, like permitting ineligible people to vote for Bauman…Nagourney notes that “the stakes appear higher in this case. For one thing, California Democrats face a critical political challenge in 2018 as they seek to capture as many as seven Republican congressional seats, most of them in Southern California, a central part of the national party’s effort to win back Congress. California is heading into a potentially turbulent governor’s race next year as Mr. Brown — a widely respected, stabilizing force in Democratic politics — steps down after two terms. The party could also be enmeshed in a Senate race if Dianne Feinstein, who is 84, does not seek re-election next year…”

Also at The Times, Shane Goldmacher reports on the tricky Democratic divisions in New York state politics. Goldmacher quotes State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, who explains, “The winds shifted on Nov. 8. The No. 1 concern I hear from my constituents on the street isn’t Donald Trump. It’s what the Senate’s going to do, and how the Democrats can win it back.”Goldmacher explains, “Democrats hold 32 of the 63 seats in the Senate, yet Republicans control the chamber. The mechanics and math of bringing Senate Democrats together are complex: [State Senate Minority Leader] Ms. Stewart-Cousins leads a group of 23 Democrats, while Mr. Klein leads the breakaway group of eight. The 32nd elected Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, caucuses with the Republicans but has left the door open to rejoining the Democrats.”

Meanwhile in West Virginia, The Mountain Party is gathering momentum — to the growing concern of the state Democratic Party. But the Mountain Party may provide an instructive template for how Democrats can benefit from strategic voting by non-Democratic progressives, when the candidate is appropriate. As Parker Richards reports in The American Prospect, “The re-energizing of the progressive movement nationally has also helped the Mountain Party. Rhule noted that many of the party’s members and supporters worked for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, with many switching their registration to campaign for the Vermont senator, though most returned to the Mountain Party thereafter. (Sanders won every county in West Virginia during the primary, taking just 26,000 fewer votes than Donald Trump’s total in the Republican primary.) That newfound energy could help the party going forward, particularly if West Virginia Democrats do not adopt many of Sanders’s policies in the future—and there has been little evidence they will.”

Not to harp on Democratic Party divisions today, but we do have to keep it real. In that spirit, Clare Foran’s article, “The Democratic Party’s Abortion Dilemma” in The Atlantic provides an overview of the problems Dems face in navigating reproductive rights leading up to the midterm elections. As Foran observes in a nut graph: “The party’s willingness to support pro-life candidates isn’t novel, and prominent Democrats, along with the Democratic National Committee, have echoed the idea that there should be no litmus test. But that message is at odds with the direction pro-choice activists believed the party had been headed: They want to build on the gains their movement made in the platform by electing a firmly pro-choice majority to the House. Some activists fear, however, that the party is now treating abortion as a negotiable issue, rather than a core priority, as it attempts to broaden its appeal and win back seats in the midterm elections next year.”

There is some good news for Democrats in at least one state, as Ed Kilgore shares in his post, “Democrat Wins Iowa State Legislative Special Election in District Trump Swept” at New York Magazine. Kilgore notes, “A deceased Democratic House member, Curt Hansen, was replaced by another Democrat, Phil Miller, a veterinarian and local school board president. But Miller’s healthy 54/44 win over Republican Travis Harris was significant…this district (in southeast Iowa) is pretty evenly divided between registered Democrats and Republicans, making it an interesting test case. It’s one of those rural/small town Midwestern areas that swung heavily to Donald Trump last year (he carried the district by a 58/37 margin; Obama won it by a narrow 50/48 margin in 2012). So there’s no sign of any fundamental partisan realignment underway, at least down ballot.'” Further, adds Kilgore, “the GOP candidate tried to use transgender bathroom access as a cudgel against his opponent.” While, “It is unclear how the transgender issue ultimately affected the race, aside from the fact that it obviously did not work for Harris.”

“Even as the White House this week firmly insists President Donald Trump is determined to seek a second term, a new analysis of polling data shows that he’s caught in a three-way political squeeze in the states that tipped the 2016 presidential race, and will likely decide the 2020 contest…On one front, Trump faces undiminished resistance from minority voters, who opposed him in preponderant numbers last year. On the second, he is confronting a consistent — and, in many states, precipitous — decline in support from white-collar white voters, who expressed much more skepticism about him last fall than GOP presidential candidates usually face. From the third direction, Trump’s support among working-class whites, while still robust, is receding from its historically elevated peak back toward a level more typical for Republican presidential candidates — especially in the pivotal Rust Belt states that sealed his victory…These are among the key conclusions from a new analysis of the state-by-state Trump approval ratings released recently by the Gallup Organization. Those results, based on interviews with 81,155 adults in Gallup nightly tracking polls from January 20 through June 30, found that Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen below 50 percent in 33 of the 50 states.” — From Ronald Brownstein’s CNN Politics post, “In decisive Rust Belt, Trump’s approval is starting to look like Romney’s.”

At Vox, Jeff Stein explains how “The Obamacare repeal battle showed the power and limits of grassroots organizing.” Stein distills “Five lessons the Obamacare repeal fight taught resistance organizers,” including “1) Resistance bandwidth is limited and must be concentrated…”Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) similarly announced that he’d answer every reporter’s question about Russia by first talking about health care. “When reporters ask me a question about Russia, I now say, ‘I’m happy to talk about it, but you’re going to have to listen to me talk about the health care challenge ahead first,’” Wyden said…“The need for relentless pressure despite mind-blowing distractions is now clear,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org. “But at the beginning of this, it wasn’t obvious at all. As the public and as activists, we weren’t used to these political explosions popping constantly from the White House. We really had to train ourselves to ignore them and keep our eye on the ball.”…In other words, activists learned that the Trump show may be flashy and impossible to ignore — but, faced with pending legislation, it’s vital to focus at the legislative mechanics.” Stein’s post should be required reading for all Democratic campaigns.

A Field Guide to Some New Pro-Democratic Organizations

In addition to longer-standing progressive oganizations which support Democrats, including The Third Way, Emily’s List, Emerge America, Democratic Socialists of America, The Center for American Progress, New Leaders Council, Working Families Party, Democracy for America, MoveOn, ActBlue and others, there are a host of newer organizations, some of which have emerged as part of the “Resistance” to the Trump Administration’s policies. These groups have helped increase the number of Democratic candidates for federal, state and local office to record levels. They include:

Indivisible began with an online handbook written by Congressional staffers with suggestions for resisting the move to the right in  the Trump administration. The goal of Indivisible, according to founder Peter Dreier, is to “save American democracy” and “resume the project of creating a humane America that is more like social democracy than corporate plutocracy.” As David Faris writes at The Week, “Activists across the spectrum should be taking their cues from the leadership of Indivisible, the group of former Hill staffers who wrote the Indivisible Guide and who have helped organize a national movement to push back against the GOP agenda. These are people who know who their true adversaries are (Hint: It’s not people sitting one standard ideological deviation to their left or to their right) and have devoted themselves and their supporters to winning important legislative fights against the GOP. Do you know whether their leadership supported Hillary or Bernie? Do you care? Because without their town halls and protests and phone calls, TrumpCare would likely be heading to the president’s desk for a signature.”

Our Revolution “is built upon the success of Bernie Sanders’ historic presidential campaign, and will continue to thrive with the support of an unprecedented level of grassroots organizers,” according to the organization’s web pages. The organization’s mission is to educate voters about issues, get people involved in the political process, and work to organize and elect progressive candidates. “Through supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness, Our Revolution will transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families…Our Revolution has three intertwined goals: to revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders and elevate the political consciousness.” Some key leaders of the group include: Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner; Former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores; Native American Leader Deborah Parker; Civil Rights Leader Ben JealousPolitical Leader, National Radio Commentator & Writer Jim Hightower; Arab American Human Rights Leader Jim Zogby; Former Chief of Staff for Senator Bernie Sanders Huck Gutman and others.

Brand New Congress is a PAC, also formed by former staffers and supporters of the Sanders presidential campaign, to elect hundreds of new, diverse progressive members of Congress. The group is expressly not partisan, but it’s policy agenda is left-progressive, including “Medicare for all,” significant investments in renewable energy and infrastructure upgrades, keeping abortion safe and legal, tuition-free education and a minimum wage increase. Most of the candidates it will be backing for 2018 will be Democrats.

New Democracy. In “Democrats launch new group aimed at Republican strongholds,” A.P.’S Bill Barrow writes that “New Democracy” will focus on “the goal of winning again in Republican-dominated middle America.” Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute and a former leader of the Democratic Leadership Council, is directing “New Democracy,’ and the group will also include CO Governor John Hickenlooper and former Secretary of Agriculture and former IA Governor Tom Vilsack, both of whom are frequently mentioned as possible 2020 presidential candidates, along with former KY Governor Steve Beshear, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other Democratic officials. “We have to expand this party, and make it a bigger tent,” says Marshall, quoted in the article. Democrats “cannot be a successful national policy by winning races only on our two coasts.” Barrow also quotes Beshear, who adds that Democrats “cannot be a successful national policy by winning races only on our two coasts.” The party “has to get back to the basics and appeal to folks all over our country.”…Marshall, said “New Democracy isn’t trying to run a shadow party or foment “sectarian battles” between moderates and liberals,” reports Barrow. Yet, “It’s not unintentional that the new effort echoes the Democratic Leadership Council, the group that then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton used to popularize his “third way” political philosophy. Calling himself a “New Democrat,” Clinton tilted the Democratic Party away from its more liberal coastal anchors and helped his party reclaim the White House in 1992 after several landslide defeats.”

Swing Left. “Swing Left was started by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, a writer and teacher, Joshua Krafchin, a marketer and entrepreneur, and Miriam Stone, a brand strategist. “Swing Left’s goal is to flip the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections and put a check on the Trump and GOP agenda. We will achieve this by organizing and supporting volunteers to have an impact Swing Districts across the country…Swing Left is an online community that connects you with your nearest Swing District. This is a district where the winner, an elected official who is now serving a two-year term in the House of Representatives, won the November 2016 election by a thin margin, or is otherwise vulnerable in 2018…Enter your email address to join a Swing District Team, and you’ll be put on a carefully-curated mailing list moderated by a local District Leader…Voters in “safe” districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions. At the same time, House midterm elections, including in Swing Districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of Swing Districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races.

Justice Democrats. “Justice Democrats is a federal political action committee…Justice Democrats together with partner Brand New Congress, are focused solely on the congressional races for 2018…Justice Democrats was created by Cenk Uygur, CEO of The Young Turks, Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk and Zack Exley and Saikat Chakrabarti. Zack and Saikat are former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers. “Electing hundreds of candidates to rebuild a broken Democratic Party is not a small task…Where we share common ground, we’ll work together on recruiting, vetting, and supporting strong progressive candidates for Congress.” Justice Democrats platform includes reforms to: establish single-payer health care; end political corruption; re-regulate Wall St.; invest in infrastructure and green energy;  “common sense gun regulation” and cut military spending. Notable elected officials joining Justice Democrats inlcude Rep. Ro Khanna (Ca-17), and at least 10 candidates for congress. Justice Democrats have reportedly raised over $1 million for 2018 thus far.

Flippable. “Our mission is to turn America blue by building a movement to flip states. To build this movement, we need to radically simplify political action. We focus on state legislature elections—races that play a huge role in national elections but are often overlooked. Information about these races is hard to find, and busy people don’t have the time to sift through it. That’s where we come in. We’ll tell you which races are more important, who’s running, and how you can support them. The group, which includes co-founder Catherine Vaughn and other veterans of the Hillary Clionton 2016 campaign, has reportedly raised over $350,000 for progressive candidates. Flippable intends “to build a grassroots movement focused on state government. Just as importantly, we needed to be rigorous and focused. Because Republicans consistently outspend Democrats, we need to use high-quality analytics to target the most “flippable” races,” according to the organization’s web page. “State legislative elections are the future of the Democratic Party,” Flippable co-founder and CEO Catherine Vaughan told VICE News. “They determine the future of policy and the future candidates for higher office.”

Run for Something is focused on “helping progressives under 35 run for office.” Alex Altman reported in Time that the group “already has 30 candidates on ballots in races ranging from seats on state legislatures to city councils, and hopes that number will grow to at least 50 by November.” According to the Run for Something web pages, “Our candidate program is structured to get as many committed people as possible in the door and provide them access to resources, money, and experts who can help them. We are not de-facto limiting our focus or our efforts by race viability, “flippability”, or whether or not we think the candidate is the “perfect person.”…Like incubators or venture capital firms in the tech world, we don’t expect all (or even a majority) of our “investments” to win the first time out. By getting on the ballot, holding opponents accountable, and getting Democrats engaged through voter contact, our candidates will be effective in building out the party at the local level.”

314 Action “is a nonprofit 501(c)4 that was founded by members of the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] community, grassroots supporters and political activists who believe in science.” Thoiugh not expressly pro-Democratic Party, ” We are committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.” The 314 Action name refers to the number Pi, which pops up nearly everywhere in science, technology, engineering and math.

The recent proliferation of pro-Democratic organizations, which have serious missions, is a healthy development. There are some potential pitfalls, including internecine bickering, which has been a problem between moderate and liberal pro-Democratic organizations in the past. As Faris notes, “Some of the intra-Dem warfare it is also a matter of manners. The “purity left” is not a nice way to refer to your natural electoral allies. The terms “Bernie bros” and “Hillbots” should be retired. People who have been on the front lines of every streetfight with the GOP since 2000 probably don’t appreciate being dismissed as “neoliberals.” Nor do left-Dems enjoy being characterized as extremist flakes.

Another concern would be an inadequate emphasis on voter registration. Although these groups are doing excellent work in recruiting and empowering new candidates, as evidenced by the tremendous increase in Democratic candidates already running compared to this point in odd-numbered past years, the Democratic electorate needs to expand as well. Better candidates will certainly help, but the 2016 turnout of pro-Democratic constituencies needs improvement, particulary for African American voters. In addition, there are signs that a growing number of seniors are becoming disenchanted with Trump’s flip-flop on Medicare and Medicaid, embarrassments and other failures, so the time may be ripe for more outreach to this high-turnout constituency.

Teixeira, Judis Dialogue on Prospects for Progressive Change

The following interview of Ruy Teixeira by John Judis, co-authors of The Emerging Democratic Majority and other books, is cross-posted from Talking Points Memo:

Ruy Teixeira (pronounced Tush-aira) and I have been friends since the early 1970s when we were members of a socialist group, the New American Movement, that was supposed to perpetuate the saner parts of the new left. (It merged later with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to form the Democratic Socialists of America.) I didn’t see him for 15 years or so until we both turned up in Washington, D.C. In 2001, we co-authored “The Emerging Democratic Majority.”  Radio and television producers would sometimes call me to do interviews because, one TV person explained, they wanted someone who could speak English clearly. In fact, Ruy, the son of a Portuguese diplomat, was born and raised in Silver Spring. Ruy has worked with various think tanks in Washington and most recently has been a fellow at the Center for American Progress. His new book is titled “The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century will be Better Than You Think.” It’s a potentially tough subject, but Ruy writes clearly and persuasively, and it’s surprisingly easy to read. As readers will note from this interview, I don’t quite share Ruy’s optimism, but I certainly hope that he is right.

Judis:  In your book, you explain at several points that you are no longer a socialist and instead support a reformed capitalism. When we met many years ago, we were in a socialist organization. When did this transformation occur?

 Teixeira:  What happened is that I began to think a lot about how economies actually work. When I was a socialist, I didn’t think very carefully and long about what actually a socialist economy would look like. I had this general idea that the capitalist system was inefficient and prone to crisis and that one should somehow tamp down the profit motive and limit the freedom of action of capitalists. But the more I thought about how economies worked, it was hard to gainsay that the market was absolutely essential for the efficient delivery of goods and services. And  the more I read, the more I realized my viewpoint was closer to social democrats than to socialists. Capitalism needs to be regulated, it needs to be pointed in the right direction, you need to have a big safety net, but you can’t replace it.

Political Strategy Notes

William A. Galston notes at Brookings, “..A report released today by the Pew Research Center shows that for the first time ever, Millennial and Gen X voters outnumbered Boomers and older voters, 69.6 million to 67.9 million. This gap will only widen in future elections…In the long run, this is worrisome news for Republicans. As of last November, fully 55 percent of Millennials identified either as Democrats or as Independents who lean Democratic. Given their liberal attitudes on social issues and experience-based openness to immigrants from other cultures, the first six months of the Trump administration are unlikely to have shifted their preference toward the GOP. Within the next decade, as their numbers and participation rates swell, Millennials will be the single largest cohort in the electorate. And if history is any guide, their early voting patterns will likely persist into their mature years.”

In his Washington Post column, “There’s no such thing as a Trump Democrat,” Dana Milbank writes, “It has become an article of faith that an unusually large number of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 switched sides and voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. It follows that Democrats, to win in the future, need to get these lost partisans to come home…But new data, and an analysis by AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer that he shared with me, puts all this into question. The number of Obama-to-Trump voters turns out to be smaller than thought. And those Obama voters who did switch to Trump were largely Republican voters to start with. The aberration wasn’t their votes for Trump but their votes for Obama. It follows for Democrats that most of these Obama-Trump voters aren’t going to be persuaded to vote Democratic in future; the party would do better to go after disaffected Democrats who didn’t vote in 2016 or who voted for third parties…Democrats don’t have to contort themselves to appeal to the mythical Trump Democrats by toughening their position on immigration, or weakening their support for universal health care, or embracing small government and low taxes. What Democrats have to do is be Democrats.”

Paul Krugman’s column “What’s Next for Progressives?” should crank up buzz among Democrats who are getting focused on the nuts and bolts of health care policy reforms. Krugman considers the British, Australian and Dutch health care systems, and suggests: “the Dutch have what we might call Obamacare done right: individuals are required to buy coverage from regulated private insurers, with subsidies to help them afford the premiums…And the Dutch system works, which suggests that a lot could be accomplished via incremental improvements in the A.C.A., rather than radical change…I’d enhance the A.C.A., not replace it, although I would strongly support reintroducing some form of public option — a way for people to buy into public insurance — that could eventually lead to single-payer.” Krugman also argues “So if it were up to me, I’d talk about improving the A.C.A., not ripping it up and starting over, while opening up a new progressive front on child care.”

At The Fix, David Weigel muses over the failure of Democrats to respond effectively to questions about Nancy Pelosi: “…Democrats running in swing districts — including districts Hillary Clinton won last year — can rarely bring themselves to say whether they want Pelosi to be speaker again…I keep wondering why Democrats can’t find the escape hatch. Republicans have had similar problems with messaging very recently, and to a great extent, they’ve figured them out…In a word: They pivot. They start with the shared notion that the media’s questions are meant to hurt them, and they find ways to spin the question around…It baffles me that no 2018 Democrat can do something similar. Pelosi is unpopular; they can acknowledge right away that they disagree with her. But they never pivot to say that their opponents back Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), whose favorable numbers have tumbled to Pelosian levels, or Donald Trump, who’s tumbled even further. Seriously, I’ve never heard a Democrat do this — they’ve just internalized that Pelosi is unpopular, so they curl up as if hiding from a hungry bear.”

Weigel also provides some amusing insights, sitting in for James Hohman at the Daily 202: Noting that the Democratic Socialists of America voted to reject an exodus from the Democratic Party, Weigel writes, “The resolution failed — easily so. While the judgment of 697 delegates to a socialist convention might not seen like a major Democratic Party development, it was telling of something that frequently gets lost. Democrats, for whom self-flagellation starts at birth and continues after death, have been moving as steadily left as Republicans moved right in 2009, when they last lost power…The Better Deal, predictably denounced as thin, actually reflected how regulatory godmother Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and $15-or-fight godfather Sanders now steer the party.” As for the possible downside of Democrats moving left, Weigel concludes, “Would any of this backfire on Democrats?…Democrats lost in 2010, 2014 and 2016 to a Republican Party that had been through waves of purity battles; one that had, in 2016, appeared to be breaking apart. The ongoing Democratic argument, over the long run, is moving it left without doing notable political damage.”

“As a communications professional, I understand that the meaning of a message resides more in what’s received than what’s transmitted. Yes, Democrats need better messaging of our values…Democrats aren’t skilled at fitting our ideas onto the front of a cap…But we have metric tons of Republican misinformation, extreme gerrymandering and Trumpitude to battle, so messaging isn’t easy. I’ll keep shouting our platform with my increasingly hoarse voice and keep hoping the party’s bigwigs are working on strategies to connect with enough voters to win Congress in 2018 and the Electoral College (not just the popular vote) in 2020…As much as I resist Trump and his enablers with my full patriotic spirit, that’s not the only reason I’m a Democrat who works for Democratic causes and candidates. Our party has a better vision for the country than the regression, corporatism, corruption, incivility and oligarchy that Trump and the Republican Party offer.” — from John Sheirer’s latest column at The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

WaPo syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson urges Dems to think a little bigger than ‘A Beter Deal’: “I’m still waiting to hear the “bold solutions” that Democrats promise. I can think of one possibility: Why not propose some version of truly universal single-payer health care?…Yes, that would be risky. But it might generate real excitement among the Democratic base — and also grab the attention of some of the GOP’s working-class supporters. Incrementalism is not the answer. Democrats need to go big or go home.”

Focusing on the issue of afformative action, The Upshot’s Nate Cohn chews on the reasons why “polls can mislead,” including the difficulties in measuring enthusiasm, focusing on “the public” instead of swing constituencies, the effects of messaging and the reality that “elections aren’t simply about policy.” Cohn concluders, “Issue polling has its place. A government in a democracy should be aware of the views of the public. But if you’re strictly interested in electoral consequences, you’re probably a lot better off focusing on the president’s approval rating than the popularity of the president’s policy agenda.”

Since the Trump Administration has so many associations and flirtations with racist and’alt-right’ groups and leaders, Dems should be on high alert for ‘dog-whistles’ that try to gin up animosity toward pro-Democratic constituencies.Media Matters’ Cristina López explains how the White House uses dog whistles to appeal to the “alt-right,” and observes:  “it’s very hard to know what was going through the mind, and that’s why dog whistles are so insidious, because they can be used innocuously and they kind of give an out to whoever is using them to be able to say that’s not what I meant. The thing is that they are not meant for the general population — you’re throwing red meat for the well-attuned ear that has the context — the larger context where you want it to land. So dog whistles in that sense allow you to appeal to a certain part of the population that it wouldn’t be OK to appeal in a general speech, like the White House press briefing. But these groups are attune and they are listening. And, Stephen Miller is right now being celebrated in the corners of the alt-right, white nationalistic internet as a hero — as a hero for keeping the purity of the population of America by kind of trying to curtail immigration.”

A Huge 2020 Presidential Field Might Not Be Ideal For Democrats

It’s awfully early to be thinking about the 2020 election, but potential candidates are already seeing the next president of the United States in their bathroom mirrors, so observers must take notice, as I did at New York:

[T]here’s nothing unusual about speculation surrounding two fairly obscure Democratic House members, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio. Compadres in an unsuccessful revolt against Speaker Nancy Pelosi last November (Ryan was the alternative candidate, Moulton a vocal supporter), they are both already being mentioned in connection with 2020…. They will join another colleague who has attracted some national attention, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, as featured speakers at September’s Polk County Steak Fry, in Des Moines. This event is an effort to revive the annual Steak Fry event former senator Tom Harkin used to host in his home town of Indianola, which was a big-time magnet for future Democratic presidential candidates.

Everybody should get used to the idea of a putative 2020 Democratic field the size of an Iowa cornfield. There are three potential candidates who would each become front-runners in the 2020 race if they decide to run: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren. There are questions as to whether any or all of them are too old, particularly for a party looking to show it’s shed the barnacles exposed by the 2016 Clinton campaign. Sanders will be 78 when the 2020 Iowa Caucuses are held; Biden will be 77, and Warren will be 71 (for that matter, Donald Trump will be 73). But none of them has any particular reason to diminish their influence by declining interest in 2020. Their long shadows will make it harder for little-known alternatives to emerge. But the possibility of retirement or illness among the Big Three keeps open the gate to dark-horse fantasies.

If Sanders, Biden, and Warren do fall by the wayside, Democrats may suddenly find themselves with a presidential field that resembles the mob that ran for the GOP nomination in 2016. And as National Review’s Jim Geraghty reminds us, that did not work out to well for those Republicans who kept expecting someone to emerge to knock off Donald Trump, right up to the moment he was nominated:

“One chunk of the field convinced itself there was an ‘establishment lane,’ leaving Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie all elbowing each other for the same base of support that proved insufficiently influential. On the other side, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker tried to occupy the ‘conservative lane.’ Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina competed with Trump for an ‘outsider lane.’ But in the end, it turned out there were no real lanes, just a traffic jam. Every non-Trump candidate’s determination to be the last one standing against Trump was the strategic miscalculation of the cycle.”

There is no Donald Trump analogue gearing up for a presidential run on the Democratic side in 2020, so far as we know. But if one emerges, she or he will be helped enormously if there is a large field against which to pose as Gulliver among the Lilliputians. Geraghty counts 18 possible candidates right now, and while some will certainly not run, others may come out of the woodwork if the Big Three give the race a pass. Indeed, the Trump precedent has made the narcissism of long shots seem a lot more reasonable.

There are some things about the Donkey Party’s procedures that might help mitigate the risk of an accidental nominee. Most importantly, Democrats award delegates on a strictly proportional basis, making the occasional sweeps that helped Trump win in 2016 impossible. The Democratic practice of awarding nonelected “superdelegates”— if they preserve it — is also a hedge against a hostile-candidate takeover of the party.

But even if they have no reason to fear the fate that befell the GOP in 2016, Democrats should begin to think through the practical consequences of a very large presidential field. If nothing else, the two-tier debates Republicans were forced to undertake would be very controversial in a party where last year’s debate scheduling and formatting were a huge bone of contention. And an undifferentiated glut of candidates might be good for party unity but not so hot for voter interest.

Maybe one or two of the Big Three (it’s hard to envision all of them running) will enter the 2020 race and either lock up the nomination early or at least cull the field of electoral weaklings. If not, then just two short years from now, at the Iowa State Fair, the candidates may be so thick on the ground that you won’t be able to stir ’em with a stick.

GQR Swing District Poll: Strong Opposition To Firing Mueller, Pardons

The following article by Jeremy Rosner and Anna Greenberg is cross-posted from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Memo:

A new Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll of the top 99 battleground congressional districts for 2018 shows voters in these swing districts strongly oppose any move by President Donald Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and even stronger majorities oppose the idea of the President pardoning either himself or his top aides and family members.

These findings are especially notable since the survey is based only on voters in battleground House districts – with 79 of the 99 districts now represented by Republican House members. That means the sample, and the results, lean more Republican than a full nationwide survey.

By a two-to-one margin, 60-29%, respondents say they would disapprove if President Trump and his team fire Special Counsel Mueller in the coming weeks; this includes 44% who strongly disapprove. Even in the 79 districts that are now Republican-held, the margin is essentially the same, 59-30%. Disapproval is even stronger among Independents, 66-23%.

A 64-33% majority already favors creating an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate issues linked to Russia and the 2016 election, and to report to the public. If the President were to fire Mueller, support for such a commission rises even higher, to a 72-22% majority. Again, the figure is essentially the same, 73-22%, among respondents in the 79 Republican-held districts. If Trump were to fire Mueller, a 67-26% majority across the full sample would also support having Congress establish a Special Prosecutor that President Trump could not fire.

An overwhelming 86-10% majority says Trump should not be allowed to pardon himself from criminal prosecution – a possibility the President and his team reportedly examined. Even among self-identified Republicans, an overwhelming 74-19% majority objects to the idea of the President pardoning himself. Respondents also oppose the President pardoning his aides and family members by a strong 69-27% margin.

Even with the Russia investigation in its early days and the election more than a year off, there is already a notable enthusiasm edge among Democrats in these battleground districts. Across all these districts, 61% of self-identified Democratic voters say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting for Congress in 2018 (10, on a 0-10 scale), compared to only 48% of self-identified Republicans.

These results are based on a survey of 1,000 telephone interviews with likely 2018 voters in the country’s 99 most competitive congressional battleground districts (79 currently Republican held; 20 Democratic held), conducted July 27 to August 1, 2017. Half of the interviews were conducted by landline, and half by cell phone. The results are subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. The survey was designed and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and funded by a coalition including: American Bridge; End Citizens United; MoveOn; and Stand Up America.

Teixeira: Why Rural Areas Really Are Different

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of  The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think and other works of political analysis, is cross posted from his blog, “The Optimistic Leftist”:

I don’t think you can understand the resolute Trump support in much of rural America without taking into account the absolutely appalling economic and social trends in these areas. Janet Adamy at the Wall Street Journal has been doing some great work exploring these trends, both generally and in particular rural places (here and here). In the first of these articles, Adamy notes:

Starting in the 1980s, the nation’s basket cases were its urban areas—where a toxic stew of crime, drugs and suburban flight conspired to make large cities the slowest-growing and most troubled places.
Today, however, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows that by many key measures of socioeconomic well-being, those charts have flipped. In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs and medium or small metro areas).
In fact, the total rural population—accounting for births, deaths and migration—has declined for five straight years.

Is it any wonder these folks aren’t in a good mood and are inclined to lash out? They are particularly sour on the situation with jobs and job opportunities where they live. A recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll allows for direct comparisons of the views of rural, suburban and urban residents.

  • 21 percent of rural residents say jobs/unemployment is the biggest problem facing their community, compared to 7 percent of suburban residents and 6 percent of urban residents.
  • 34 percent in rural areas describe the job situation in their community as “poor” compared to 18 percent in suburbs and 14 percent in cities.
  • 31 percent of rural residents say the availability of jobs in their area is worse than it was 10 years ago, compared to 22 percent of suburban residents and 17 percent of urban residents.
  • 59 percent in rural areas would encourage young people to leave their community for more opportunity elsewhere, compared to 47 percent in suburbs and 41 percent in cities.
  • 53 percent of rural residents say their area has lost manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years; 38 percent say farming jobs have been lost; and 31 percent say natural resources jobs like coal or lumber have been lost.
  • 56 percent of those who report these job losses say their community has not yet recovered from these job losses.
Interestingly, by far the most effective policy fix for the job situation in rural areas, according to rural residents, would be for the federal government to invest in infrastructure projects like fixing roads, bridges and schools. This easily beats out better trade deals, cracking down on illegal immigrants and decreasing regulations on business.

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Forecast Model Suggests Democratic Gains Likely in 2018 Gubernatorial Contests” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, political analyst Alan I. Abramowitz deploys a “A forecasting model that has produced accurate predictions of the results of midterm U.S. House elections” to assess prospects for Democratic candidates for governor in 36 states. Among his observations: “The president’s party typically loses gubernatorial seats in midterm elections — this has been true in 14 of 18 midterm elections since World War II. The average loss for the president’s party has been just over three seats. However, these elections have produced a wide range of outcomes for the president’s party, from a gain of eight seats in 1986 to a loss of 11 seats in 1970. Noting that “Republicans will be defending 26 of the 36 seats that are up for election in 2018,” Abaramowitz crunches the data in his forecasting model along with “FiveThirtyEight weighted average of recent polling results,” and envisions “a net Democratic gain of around nine governorships with a two-thirds probability that the gain would be between six and 12 seats.”

At The Fix, “Want to know if Democrats can take back the House? Keep an eye on this Orange County race” By Amber Phillips spotlights a Republican-held district (CA-39), “a typical, affluent suburban Republican district that went for Clinton over President Trump by nearly nine points.” that has drawn a number of impressive Democratic challengers, and notes “If House Democrats are going to ride an anti-Trump wave to power, California could be where it starts. Across the nation, there are 23 House Republicans sitting in districts that Hillary Clinton won. Seven are in California…House Democrats’ campaign arm has set up a team in Irvine, its first headquarters in the state since 2000, to try to knock out at least nine California Republicans in their efforts to take back the House…“There are Republicans who represent the Orange County that existed 20 years ago,” said Drew Godinich, the Western press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Godinich spoke to The Fix fresh off the plane from Washington to move to California. “The area has diversified, gotten younger and has gotten more socially progressive, and these Republicans don’t represent Orange County.”

Writing at CNN Politics, Ronald Brownstein exposes Trump’s strategy to distract the press and public with cultural controversies from his already broken promises to defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Citing Trump’s “gamble” that “that cultural affinity can trump economic self-interest for the older and blue-collar white voters central to the coalition that elected him,” Brownstein observes, “The key economic signal that Trump offered last week was his unreserved embrace of the stalled Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite abundant evidence those older and working-class white voters would be among the biggest losers in all of the Republican replacement plans. That decision underscored Trump’s conversion to the long-standing drive by the Congressional GOP — especially House Republicans allied with Speaker Paul Ryan — to systematically retrench the social safety net, despite Trump’s conspicuous campaign promises to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid…One day before the vote, the administration issued a flurry of decisions rolling back transgender and gay rights. Speaking just hours after the vote, Trump braided a blistering attack on undocumented immigrant gang members (who he repeatedly labeled “animals”) with a plea for unshackling law enforcement from what he called “pathetic” big city mayors…Those twin initiatives marked an escalation of cultural conservatism aimed directly at many of those same older and blue-collar whites’ fears that they are being eclipsed by the hurtling demographic and social changes remaking American society.”

PowerPost’s David Weigel reports on the new Democratic initiative to reclaim fair trade as a major component of the party’s agenda: “Trade is at the core of our economic agenda,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, ahead of a planned 11:30 a.m. launch of the trade policies. “We’re going to propose a better deal for American workers — one that puts their well-being at the center of our trade laws, not just the bottom line of huge corporations. Our trade laws have shortchanged American workers for far too long, and we Democrats are aiming to change that.” The initiative includes an “independent trade prosecutor,” an “American Jobs Council,” pean;ties for ourtsourcing and preferential federal funding for American companies and jobs.

“Extreme candidates for the House of Representatives do worse than moderates because they mobilize the opposing party to turn out to vote, according to new research from Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson of Stanford University.mPolitical scientists and campaign experts have been divided for decades about whether candidates are successful when they win over swing voters — those who aren’t loyal to any party — or when they encourage members of their own party to show up at the polls. The research suggests that when it comes to ideologically extreme candidates, the deciding factor might be the other party’s turnout…The researchers considered elections for the House from 2006 to 2014 in which an extreme candidate and a moderate faced off in the primary. But, because districts where extreme candidates win handily are probably very different from districts where moderates win with ease, they examined only close races (in which the winner had less than a 10 percent margin of victory). They found that when the more extreme candidate won the primary, the party did far worse in the general election: Its share of votes fell by between 7 and 15 percentage points…In addition, a greater proportion of the people who turned out to vote were members of the opposite party.” — from Sahil Chony’s “Extreme candidates lose because they boost the other party’s turnout, research finds” at The Fix.

Mark Schmitt offers this cogent insight at Vox: “How did Medicaid prove to be so important in the debate over repeal? The story is more complex than just public opinion, since the key constituency was governors, not Medicaid recipients themselves. For governors, Medicaid is the single largest stream of federal funding into their budgets, which most are required to balance. While the legislation promised flexibility with federal Medicaid funds, flexibility is no substitute for predictable, adequate funding…Still, plenty of Republican governors passed up these funds between 2011 and 2017, and there was no reason to expect that governors would suddenly care. But the constituency is now large enough to matter, the opioid crisis has made the need for Medicaid funding particularly acute, and just a few key governors were enough to swing the handful of senators necessary to kill the bill.”

TNR’s Clio Chang has a tough question for Dems: “Where Are the Single-Payer Wonks? The political momentum on the left for Medicare-for-All is gaining steam. But the policy is lagging behind.” Chang writes “Among Democrats, support for single-payer has increased by 19 percentage points over the past three years. And for the first time in history, a majority of Democrats in the House have signed on as co-sponsors to Representative John Conyers’s Medicare-for-All bill…But it’s hard to deny that single-payer is an area where progressive politics has outstripped policy. Conyers’s bill is largely seen as a symbolic piece of legislation, and not only because Democrats would first have to win back Congress and the White House to even begin passing it. As Joshua Holland wrote on Wednesday in The Nation, the momentum for single-payer is “tempered by the fact that the activist left, which has a ton of energy at the moment, has for the most part failed to grapple with the difficulties of transitioning to a single-payer system…As Harold Pollack, a health policy researcher at the University of Chicago, told Holland, “There has not yet been a detailed, single-payer bill that’s laid out the transitional issues about how to get from here to there…”

Ann Jones probes a related question at The Nation, “Is State-Level Single Payer Within Reach? Scandinavian-style health care is part of at least one candidate’s platform for 2018.” Jones argues that “applying Medicare for All at the state level should be easier. And of all the states, only eight have a population greater than that of Scandinavia’s biggest country, Sweden (9 million), while 30 states have fewer residents, most far fewer, than either Denmark (5.5 million) or Norway (5.3 million). In short, the most popular argument against single-payer health care for the nation—the contention that we’re way too big for such a system—simply vanishes if you start at the state level.” Despite formidabe obstacles, “a single program launched by a single state is better than none. And it just might work. If it does, states can look to the Scandinavian toolbox for other projects. What’s more, a good idea in one state may prove contagious…”

“Democrats should make fighting monopolies the central organizing principle of their economic agenda,” Martin Longman writes in is post, “How to Win Rural Voters Without Losing Liberal Values” at The Washington Monthly. “This approach holds the promise of bringing together groups that seem inherently at odds: nativists and cosmopolitans, fundamentalists and secularists, urbanites and rural dwellers…The strongest reason to think this could work is, quite simply, that it has worked before. A century ago, agrarian populists and big-city progressives united around a common opposition to monopoly, forming a movement that dominated American politics for decades and helped deliver a broadly shared prosperity. Because the economic landscape today is strikingly similar to what it was a hundred years ago, there’s every reason to believe that the conditions are right for a similar alliance to arise again.”

“Trust Women” Is the Only Principle Democrats Need on Abortion Policy

One strategic conflict that Democrats can’t seem to shake involves abortion policy. I addressed this controversy at some length at New York:

Earlier this week Ben Ray Luján, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the fundraising wing of the House Democratic Caucus) touched a chronically sore point with the vast majority of Democrats who are pro-choice:

“Democrats will not withhold financial support for candidates who oppose abortion rights, the chairman of the party’s campaign arm in the House said in an interview with The Hill

“‘There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,’ said Luján, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. ‘As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.'”

Luján’s initial mistake, I would argue, was in framing the question as a matter of “litmus tests.” Unlike their counterparts in many other countries, America’s major political parties don’t have formal membership protocols, much less binding “tests” of what is or isn’t a common position on controversial topics. When it comes to candidates, the national party — and for that matter, state parties, in most cases — has no control over who calls her- or himself a “Democrat”; that’s the job of party primary voters.

The DCCC does make decisions every day about how to use its financial resources to maximize the number of House Democrats, and would probably cheerfully funnel money to a Koch brother if it added a vote to Nancy Pelosi’s column in the next House balloting for Speaker. Confusing that hammer-headed perspective with some sort of official pronouncement on the relative importance — or nonimportance — of reproductive rights is a bad idea from the get-go.

But as some of Luján’s critics immediately noted, it is not a good thing that a commitment to reproductive rights is often so high on the list of progressive principles Democratic officials seem willing to throw over the side in the pursuit of electoral victory — or as Luján put it, creating a “big family in order to win the House back.” Would anyone go out of their way to suggest, for example, that Democrats are happy to find and back candidates who oppose progressive taxation or want to radically reduce immigration? How about opponents of Social Security or of civil rights? Why is the right to choose so disposable?

It’s not a matter of intra-party democracy. According to the most recent Pew survey of how Americans feel on the basic matter of whether abortion should be mostly legal or mostly illegal, self-identified Democrats are pro-choice by a 79/18 margin. Pew also finds that Democrats oppose overturning a constitutional right to choose by an even larger 84/14 margin — an opposition that has been in every Democratic national platform since 1976, just as overturning Roe v. Wade has been a staple in Republican national platforms since the same year. No one is stopping individual Democrats, including candidates, from dissenting from that long-established consensus position. But the implicit encouragement of heterodoxy on abortion policy that Luján (like other party leaders) offers cannot help to be maddening to the many millions of Democratic women for whom this is a question of basic personal rights, not some policy preference. That this suggestion came from a man makes it even worse.

Political parties inevitably encompass multiple views on multiple things. But some are more fundamental than others, touching on values and mutual respect…. The conviction that women should have control of their reproductive health is clearly a value; protecting it is also clearly a policy goal. Exactly how to do that is another matter, and I don’t think any pro-choice Democrats are insisting on uniformity as to the details of abortion policy.

If Democrats continue, as they probably will, to argue about this topic, there is another level of self-discipline that Democratic men should exercise. The most appropriate slogan for progressive men is the one the late Dr. George Tiller adhered to, right up until the time he was murdered during Sunday services at his own church: “Trust women.” And if you can’t bring yourself to trust them with decisions over their own bodies, Democratic men, at least respect them enough to keep your own counsel about it.

Dem House Candidate’s Ad Rocks KY Politics

The following ad for Democratic House of Reps. (KY-6) candidate Lt. Colonel Amy McGrath, created by Mark Putnam, who also helped develop ads for President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, is generating considerable buzz in Kentucky politcs — and the nation:

Great ad that it is, Mcgrath faces a tough challenge in a heavily-red district. Those who want to help Mcgrath can contribute at her ActBlue page.