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

December 16, 2017

Tomasky: Why Dems Need Moderates

Michael Tomasky’s latest Daily Beast article, which we highlighted yesterday, provides a succinct summation of the argument for Democrats welcoming moderate candidates, as well as progressives. Here’s an excerpt:

This is a fact, and I mean it’s an immutable, undeniable fact, which I’ve written about before. Democrats can’t get to 218 (a House majority) with liberals alone. Republicans can get to 218 with conservatives alone. Right now there are 240 Republicans in the House, only about a dozen of whom you’d call moderate, and even that’s stretching it. There are 194 Democrats, most but not all of whom you’d call liberal. And that’s about the outer limit on liberalism in House districts. So to be a majority, Democrats need moderates, and quite a lot of them.

That means they need to make efforts to appeal to voters in the kinds of districts they won back in 2006 and 2008 but have lost overwhelmingly in the Obama/Tea Party era. Look at these two maps. This one is a map of congressional control after the 2008 election, when Democrats held 257 seats. And this one is a map of the same thing after the 2016 elections, when Democrats were reduced to 192.

Look how much bluer the first map is. Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. North Carolina, Georgia, Florida. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. Real estate yielded everywhere.

n 2006 and 2008? It wasn’t coastal liberals, friends. It was the kind of candidate who could win in a place that was somewhat more conservative than your typical metropolitan/suburban blue district. And it’s those people who gave the Democrats their majority, who made Nancy Pelosi speaker, and who passed us (with some agita, but still, they did it) Obamacare. There were, as I recall, 53 Democrats in the Blue Dog coalition in 2009. There are 18 now.

The only way for the Democratic Party to grow is with more Blue Dogs. And so as they think about their post-Pelosi/Hoyer/Clyburn future, Democrats ought to think about this. Obviously, any Democratic leadership team has to be racially diverse, and has to include at least one woman. It seems to me especially important that the new triumvirate include a Latino, which would be a first.

The next leader should not, however, be from New York or Boston or Los Angeles or San Francisco. Chicago might be a little different, the city of broad shoulders and all that jazz. But they should find someone who isn’t from a deep-blue district. Look at Paul Ryan. He’s from a district that Cook Political Report rates as R+5; it leans Republican, but only leans. Pelosi’s district is D+37. Having a leader from a district like that reinforces the media trope, fair or not, that the party represents only certain cosmopolitan enclaves. The Democrats’ next leader should be from a district that’s a little closer to a 5 than a 37.

Trump’s unpopularity opens the door for a Democratic comeback. I think a bold move like this could kick that door wide open and could actually augment Pelosi’s legacy. She helped pass monumentally historic legislation, and now she can pass the torch at a time when the party needs someone with the self-awareness to lead the way.

The most moderate Democratic members of congress are far more amenable to progressive reforms than even the most moderate Republicans, who Ed Kilgore reminded us yesterday are nearly extinct. The majority party in congress gets to set the agenda and control the debate, as well as committee chairmanships. That’s too important to shrugg off in pursuit of ideological purity.


Teixeira: Will Rust Belt Voters Bail Out Trump?

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

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As Trump’s approval ratings continue to fall everywhere, his tenuous hold on the key Rustbelt states that handed him the Presidency is slipping away. Here’s the key paragraph from a new Morning Consult analysis of data from 472,000 (!) interviews conducted since Trump’s inauguration:

A majority of voters in 25 states and the District of Columbia said they disapproved of the president’s job performance in September, including those residing in Upper Midwest states with large Electoral College hauls that were critical to Trump’s victory over 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — and some of which are home to some of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats of the 2018 election cycle. Fifty-five percent of respondents in Michigan said they disapproved of Trump, as did 53 percent in Wisconsin and Iowa and 51 percent in Pennsylvania.


The Nearly Extinct Moderate Senate Republican

After reading various conservative complaints about the nefarious moderate Republicans on the Senate, I decided to do some research, and wrote it all up for New York:

The Senate’s moderate Republicans have been hunted nearly to extinction over the years. Within living memory, not only moderate but by any definition liberal Republicans were thick on the ground in the U.S. Senate. But today, “moderate” is mainly just a term of contempt for any GOP senator maverick-y enough to break ranks on something the heavily conservative party has decided it needs.

To illustrate the trend, I looked at the gold standard for measurements of congressional Republicans’ ideological fidelity since 1971, the American Conservative Union’s lifetime ratings for members of the Senate. I took a less-than-50-percent rating as a pretty noncontroversial benchmark for moderation.

Forty years ago, in 1977, there were 14 Senate Republicans with a less-than-50-percent lifetime rating from ACU: Ted Stevens, Lowell Weicker, Charles Percy, James Pearson, Charles Mathias, Edward Brooke, Clifford Case, Jacob Javits, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Richard Schweiker, John Chafee, and Robert Stafford.

Thirty years ago, in 1987, the number of “moderate” Republicans in the Senate had dropped to nine: Lowell Weicker, David Durenberger, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, Robert Stafford, and Dan Evans.

Twenty years ago, in 1997, the Senate’s moderate GOP tribe had shrunk to five: Susan Collins, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, and Jim Jeffords.

Ten years ago, in 2007, there were two moderate Republican senators left according to the ACU standard: Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter.

And now, there’s just one: Susan Collins (who temporarily lifted herself to a 50-plus ACU lifetime rating before lapsing back into heresy).

Collins is now thinking about leaving Washington for the cozier confines of Augusta, Maine, by running for governor. Not everyone left is a hard-core conservative; Lisa Murkowski will still be around with her 60 percent lifetime ACU rating. But it’s not like there is a bench of moderate Republicans out there moving inexorably toward the U.S. Senate. So in a very real sense, Collins could be the last of the breed. It’s been a long sharp downward road to nowhere.


Do Dems Need Younger, More Moderate Leaders?

In his article at The Daily Beast, “The Democrats Need a New Generation of Stars,” Michael Tomasky comments on the lack of younger national leaders in the Democratic party:

Look, Nancy Pelosi has been a great legislative leader. Not good. Great. She really knows what she’s doing; has that LBJ gene. The cat-herding she did to get the Affordable Care Act passed was truly impressive…But she’s 77. And the Democrats’ number two, Steny Hoyer, is 78. And their number three, Jim Clyburn, is 77. That just doesn’t project a future orientation. Paul Ryan is 47. Kevin McCarthy, his deputy, is 52.

Age isn’t everything, and I’m not saying that she or the other two can’t do their jobs. But it’s a legitimate thing. There comes a moment when it’s just time to give some other people a chance. Tip O’Neill hung it up when he was 74. And now you’ve got Dianne Feinstein announcing at 84 that she’s going to seek re-election, and two men, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who are looking to run for president in 2020 who will be 79 and 77, respectively, on Election Day 2020. And they’re applying for eight-year jobs, not two years, like a House member.

So what I think Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn should do is hold a joint press conference and say: We, the three of us, are going to serve one more term in leadership, and that’s it. We’re going to leave before getting past 80, no matter what. If the voters give us the House majority in 2018, great, we’ll all serve one more term as a kind of victory lap, and we’ll investigate this administration and subpoena the britches off them and all the rest.

Tomasky concedes that his recommendation isn’t going to happen. “I know, I know. They’ll never do it.” However, he adds “It would give Democrats a jolt of energy, something to buzz about, and give all their candidates a fresh future to imagine and describe to voters.”

Writing in the Georgia Political Review, Alex Soderstrom notes notes a “drastic age disadvantage” for younger Democratic leaders. “This inequity is most apparent in the House of Representatives, where the average age of Democratic leadership is 71, while Republican leadership averages a more youthful 49. Further,

In the Senate, the difference amongst the leaders of the two parties is less dramatic, as both Republican and Democratic leaders are, on average, in their 60s. But some of the most visible Republican voices in the chamber, such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have yet to break 50. Contrast this with key Senate Democrats, such as 67-year-old Elizabeth Warren and 75-year-old Bernie Sanders, and the future becomes murkier for Senate Democrats.

Election and polling data show that senior voters, as a whole, more frequently favor conservative candidates. Conversely, Sen. Bernie Sanders tremendous success with younger voters indicates that candidate age is not a primary consideration for them either…yet.

Some may say that calling for younger leadership is a form of ageism. But isn’t the same true for denying younger leaders a chance to enter the leadership ranks? At the very least, Democrats should explore new ways to give their younger elected officials more visibility. There are plenty of impressive younger Democrats serving in the House (here’s a few), and as mayors of major cities, and they could use more exposure.

Tomasky also argues for Democrats attracting more moderate candidates:

Democrats can’t get to 218 (a House majority) with liberals alone. Republicans can get to 218 with conservatives alone. Right now there are 240 Republicans in the House, only about a dozen of whom you’d call moderate, and even that’s stretching it. There are 194 Democrats, most but not all of whom you’d call liberal. And that’s about the outer limit on liberalism in House districts. So to be a majority, Democrats need moderates, and quite a lot of them.

That means they need to appeal to voters in the kinds of districts they won back in 2006 and 2008 but have lost overwhelmingly in the Obama/Tea Party era. Look at these two maps. This one is a map of congressional control after the 2008 election, when Democrats held 257 seats. And this one is a map of the same thing after the 2016 elections, when Democrats were reduced to 192…Look how much bluer the first map is. Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. North Carolina, Georgia, Florida. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. Real estate yielded everywhere.

Tomasky adds, “There were, as I recall, 53 Democrats in the Blue Dog coalition in 2009. There are 18 now…The only way for the Democratic Party to grow is with more Blue Dogs.” Other Democrats believe that investing more in base turnout can enable Democratic victories, without courting more Blue Dogs. Perhaps a compromise — more Blue Dogs, coupled with a larger commitment to turning out of African-American voters in purple districts.

To be a genuine ‘big tent’ party that looks like one, Dems should cultivate diverse leadership from all constituencies, including every age group and across the liberal-moderate spectrum. Diverse Democratic leaders who are focused and well-prepared will look sober and ready to govern, compared to the adversary’s dwindling party of angry ideologues and culture warriors.


Political Strategy Notes

Gregory S. Schneider’s Washington Post article, “‘Malevolent neglect’: Are Virginia Democrats letting rural areas slip away?” provides a worrisome critique of Democratic strategy in the Old Dominion, focusing on the November 7th gubernatorial election. Despite Democratic candidate for Governor Ralph Northam’s lead in recent polling, Schneider writes, “Some in rural districts across Virginia complain that the state Democratic machinery continues to be more interested in populous urban areas that are reliably blue on Election Day than rebuilding relationships in the countryside. One county chairman briefly resigned two weeks ago, accusing the state party of “malevolent neglect…“We didn’t lose rural voters overnight, and we know we’re not going to win them back overnight, but I think it’s very important that we show up and compete everywhere,” [state Democratic party Chairwoman Susan] Swecker said.” Schneider notes that “Republicans have a comfortable 66-to-34 majority in the House of Delegates,” but in Virginia, as in many otyher states, “Democrats pumped up by anti-Trump fervor have fielded a historic number of candidates to try to slice into that GOP advantage.” Hower, “when it comes to active campaigning, Northam is more often found in Northern Virginia, Richmond or Hampton Roads…“The plain fact is that for Democrats the votes are in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Tidewater, Virginia Beach — and it’s probably enough to win an election if a Democrat racks up very large margins in the urban corridor,”…said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.”

At The Daily Beast, David Daley explains “How the GOP Made Your Vote Useless,” and notes that Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, Ed Gilespie “masterminded the devastating 2010 GOP strategy to retake Washington by winning crucial state and local elections that brought the power to redistrict the U.S. House…His plan, aptly dubbed REDMAP, worked so well that Republicans captured almost 700 state legislature seats in an epic rebuke of Barack Obama and Democrats nationwide. The true spoils of that victory came the following year. New GOP majorities in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania reinvented the gerrymander as a blunt-force partisan weapon…Democrats have realized that the future of their party will be determined down-ballot. Gillespie, the godfather of the GOP gerrymander and the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, is their most crucial target…A Gillespie win, combined with well-cemented Republican majorities in the state assembly and senate, would lock in GOP control when new legislative districts for statewide and congressional races are drawn in 2021…A victory by Democratic lieutenant governor Ralph Northam, meanwhile, would give Democrats a seat at the table when the new lines are drawn—something the party lacked in those blue and purple states nationwide in 2011, thanks to REDMAP.” For Dems, Daley writes, “Any comeback must begin in Virginia, then pivot to governor’s races in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. This will not be easy. Republicans have a deeper bench (another gerrymandered advantage) and may begin as the favorites everywhere.”

“Entrenched Democratic groups are facing growing questions about the return on the hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent over the years,” writes Kenneth P. Vogel in “The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics” in The New York Times. “Groups affiliated with Mrs. Clinton “spent so much money based on a bad strategy in this last cycle that they should step aside and let others lead in this moment,” said Quentin James, a founder of a political committee called the Collective PAC that supports African-American candidates…Mr. James’s committee is among more than three dozen outfits that have started or reconfigured themselves since the election to try to harness the surge in anti-Trump activism. In addition to political committees, grass-roots mobilization nonprofits and legal watchdog groups, there are for-profit companies providing technological help to the new groups — essentially forming a new liberal ecosystem outside the confines of the Democratic Party.” Vogel also notes, “The tug of war — more than the lingering squabbles between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — foreshadows a once-in-a-generation reorganization of the American left that could dictate the tactics and ideology of the Democratic Party for years to come.”

The Fix’s Amber Phillips interviews Carolyn Fiddler, former Democratic statehouse operative and current political editor for Daily Kos, who comments on Democrats flipping eight statehouse seats across the U.S. since President Trump got elected — all in districts Trump won last fall. Fiddler explains, “Those eight Democratic pickups are a significant percentage of the 27 total state and congressional special elections held in Republican seats this cycle — almost 30 percent, actually. If Democrats were to flip 30 percent of Republican-held congressional seats in 2018, the House GOP caucus would lose 72 of its members. Republicans haven’t picked up a single seat in a contested Democrat-vs.-Republican special election this year…Yet even in the seats Democrats aren’t picking up, there’s good news for team blue. Analysis of these special elections reveals that Democrats are consistently outperforming the presidential elections results from both 2016 and 2012. Democrats have beaten Hillary Clinton’s numbers in 30 of the 39 contested special elections this cycle, and they improved on Obama’s 2012 numbers in 27 of them. Compared to Clinton’s numbers, Democrats are performing an average of 12 percent better, and they’re even performing 9 percent better than Obama did in these same seats…Democratic voters are energized and Republican voters seem to be unenthused. Also, recruitment for these seats — like in Virginia’s races this fall and even at the congressional level for 2018 — is going incredibly well for Democrats, producing strong candidates who are well-positioned to take advantage of voter enthusiasm.”

In “Shifting attitudes among Democrats have big implications for 2020” Dan Balz observes, also at The Washington Post, “The pressure to embrace single-payer plans grows out of shifts in attitudes among Democrats. The Pew Research Center found in June that 52 percent of self-identified Democrats now support a government-run health-care system. That is up nine points since the beginning of the year and 19 points since 2014. Among liberal Democrats, 64 percent support such a plan (up 13 points just this year) and among younger Democrats, 66 percent say they support it…Health care isn’t the only area in which Democratic attitudes are shifting significantly. Others include such issues as the role of government and the social safety net; the role of race and racial discrimination in society; and immigration and the value of diversity.” Citing a recent Pew Center poll, Balz addds”Three in 4 Democrats say that “poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently,” up a dozen points in the past few years…Eight in 10 Democrats say the country needs to continue to make changes to give blacks equal rights with whites, up 18 points since 2014. And more than 6 in 10 say “racial discrimination is the main reason many black people can’t get ahead these days,” up from 4 in 10 three years ago.”

In his Daily Kos post, “Progressive activists must reach out to everyone—including Trump voters who seem to be a lost cause,” Egberto Willies writes, “Many respected Democrats and progressives put all Trump voters in one basket. They suggest that we give up on the white working class, saying they are permanent Republicans who are nativists, racists, anti-immigrant, and much worse. And that is true for many—but not all…Others say that it is time to recognize that the Democratic Party is the party of people of color, and there is no need to keep trying to win over the white working-class voter. That is just as dangerous a statement as the instantiation of the Republican Party as a white party…The Democratic Party must be the inclusive party, one where absolutely everyone feels welcome. It is true that for too long the Democratic Party suffered from the same racial animosities people of color have long faced, but with a facade of progressivism. Democrats would do well to clean up their own house before being too self-righteous…Let’s not allow Trump or anyone else to play us against each other. When we allow that, both sides are left holding the bag while they, those running the plutocracy, eat the caviar.”

Sue Sturgis, who writes facing South’s ‘Institute Index,’ has some data reflecting “The NRA’s death grip on Southern politics,” including: “The unprecedented amount of outside spending the NRA invested in the 2016 election: $52 millionOf that total, percent that went to support just six Republican Senate candidates and Donald Trump: 96Amount the NRA spent on re-electing North Carolina’s incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr: $6.2 millionRank of that investment among the largest the NRA has ever made in a down-ballot race: 1Percentage points by which Burr won: about 6…Amount the NRA invested in supporting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the group’s second-biggest congressional recipient: $3.2 million…”

NYT columnist Charles M. Blow describes one facet of Trump’s politics of distraction thusly: “…Trump is abusing his power by trying to squash dissent through defamation of individual journalists, individual shows and individual networks or newspapers….This battle that Trump insists on maintaining also serves a wider goal for him: distraction. As long as we focus on the latest outrage he publishes on Twitter attacking one person or another, the less time we have to focus on the fact that his presidency thus far is a colossal legislative failure, his cabinet is an unending game of cloak and daggers meets musical chairs, his Justice Department is systematically and unrelentingly expressing its hostilities to equal rights, and Trump’s reckless, emotionally triggered language and actions are making us less safe by denigrating diplomacy and advocating military aggression.” A friend describes Trump’s media strategy this way in a recent email: “(1) take some initiative that appears to promise to deliver on his campaign promises (e.g. abrogate the Iran deal, destroy Obamacare) (2) back off from fully following through with the initiative which would have drastic negative consequences (3) obscure the failure with a flurry of red-meat tweets blaming others for the  apparent setback (4) make a vague overture to Democrats, generating a news cycle or two of simpering MSM approval (5) obscure this overture with a flamboyant attack on some group (Blacks, Latinos etc.) that easily inflames his base. Rinse, cycle, repeat.” The question arises, can he continue to get away with this routine indefinitely? Rachel Maddow, alone among television media, has stated that her show will focus on what Trump does, rather than what he says. That may be the best way for serious reporters to avoid getting suckered by white house media maipulation.

A “polling nugget” from FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten: “CNN viewers are similar to MSNBC’s — MSNBC has ridden Trump bashing to all-time record ratings. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, however, CNN (which cultivates a down-the-middle image) and MSNBC (generally considered more liberal) have similar audiences in terms of ideological makeup. They have a similar percentage of viewers who identify as liberal Democrats — 26 percent at CNN and 30 percent at MSNBC — and conservative Republicans — 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively. The Fox News audience, meanwhile, may as well represent a different planet: Just 10 percent of Fox viewers call themselves liberal Democrats, while 43 percent call themselves conservative Republicans.”


Trump Blunders Into the Virginia Governor’s Race

We’re now about a month out from Virginia’s gubernatorial election, one of the two being held this year. I looked at the latest developments at New York:

Yesterday morning the Washington Post released a new poll of the Virginia gubernatorial contest showing Democrat Ralph Northam blowing out to a 13-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie among likely voters, by far the biggest lead he’s managed in a general election survey.

Early last evening Donald Trump took to Twitter with this nasty-gram:

Perhaps it was a coincidence, given the president’s spotty consumption of news and other information that is not about his own self. But it’s likely some alarms went off in the White House about an impending Gillespie loss being treated (as off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey often are after a change of administration in Washington) as a referendum on the Trump presidency. That would have gotten POTUS’s attention for sure. And the tweet itself, directly accusing the lieutenant governor of Virginia of “fighting for” a violent criminal gang, is not subtle.

We don’t know at this point whether the Gillespie campaign invited, or even had advance knowledge of, Trump’s intervention. The MS-13 smear Trump deployed does track Gillespie’s own borderline racist ads attacking Northam for breaking a tie in the State Senate against a bill that would preemptively outlaw “sanctuary cities” (Virginia has none now), which has little to do with MS-13, but whatever.

Gillespie has for the most part given his party’s president a wide berth in this race. That makes sense. Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton by more than five points last year. According to Gallup, his job-approval ratio in Virginia over the first six months of his presidency averaged 39/56. The new Post poll showed Trump currently at 34/60 among the Old Dominion’s registered voters, with half of voters disapproving strongly of his job performance. In addition, Virginia has a history of rejecting gubernatorial candidates from the party that controls the White House: In the last ten gubernatorial elections, the White House party has lost nine (the only exception is actually the current, term-limited Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe).

So you wouldn’t figure that Trump leaping into the Virginia race would do much to help Gillespie, who has been in striking distance of Northam in most polls prior to the WaPo bombshell (in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, Northam’s lead is a modest 5.4 percent).

Still, the White House may be reinforcing a decision by Team Gillespie to go big on making this a “culture war” campaign. Not only are Virginia Republicans pounding the Democrat on his alleged sympathy for Hispanic criminals; they’re also trying to exploit the relatively positive feelings Virginians have toward Confederate monuments, the issue that blew up in Charlottesville this summer. This doesn’t necessarily reflect rampant racism: Virginia is saturated with Civil War monuments of all kinds (when I lived in the state, I passed through three Civil War battlegrounds on my daily commute to work). Gillespie’s primary opponent Corey Stewart, at one point Trump’s 2016 campaign manager in Virginia, made protecting Confederate monuments a signature issue and nearly upset the front-runner. Perhaps Gillespie now thinks such issues can work magic for him, too, along with fear of immigrants.

The bottom line is that, a month out, Northam has history and the polls on his side, along with a significant financial advantage. Making the race more explicitly a referendum on Trump will probably help him as well.


Will Bannon’s Primary Challengers Help Dems?

In his  Politico post, “Democrats look to wreak havoc in GOP primaries,” Gabriel Debenedetti reports that deepening divisions within the Republican Party are leading to primary challenges that endanger their mid-term candidates and may help Democrats. Citing Roy Moore’s recent win in the Alabama race for the Republican nomination for Senate, Debenedetti notes that Alt-Right strategist Steve Bannon, who supported Moore, is also evaluating similar challenges to the GOP establshment in Mississippi and Tennessee.

Ed Kilgore notes further at New York Magazine,

Regular readers of Breitbart News were aware that Judge Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy in Alabama had become a major priority of the fiery site over the last couple of weeks. And its chairman, Stephen Bannon, became very personally involved, as reflected by his leading role in Judge Roy’s final rally on Election Eve…When Roy Moore got to the podium (and before he brandished a gun), the famous Ayatollah of Alabama gave Bannon a shout-out as “an outstanding man” who had done more than anyone else to encourage the judge in his campaign.

So once the returns came in and Moore handily dispatched the appointed incumbent Luther Strange, Breitbart News was not at all bashful about taking credit and threatening more primary challenges. “MOORE WIN MAKES STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS TAKE CENTER STAGE” shouted the headline above a half-gloating, half-menacing story from Breitbart’s senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak.

Bannon may also be eyeballing divisive senate primaries in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio, Arizona and Nevada. As Debenedetti adds, “Democrats are considering ways to step in and wreak some havoc. The idea: Elevate the GOP’s most extreme option in each race, easing Democrats’ path to victory in a range of states tilted against them.” Also, notes Debenedetti, “At the Democrats’ Senate campaign headquarters in Washington and their local offices in the states, operatives have started compiling files of the GOP hopefuls’ more outrageous statements and positions, while combing through the daily news clips for hints of further themes to pursue against them.”

Debenedetti sees echoes of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s strategy of skillfully exploiting division in the Missouri GOP Senate primary five years ago:

At its most aggressive, the tactic could be a sequel to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s 2012 campaign against then-GOP Rep. Akin in Missouri. She actively intevened in the Republican primary with ads designed to boost the conservative Akin to the front of the pack. Once he became the nominee, a series of gaffes — led by his “legitimate rape” comment — and hard-line positions unraveled his campaign.

…“What happened [with Akin] has been multiplied [in Alabama], by both the character of this candidate and the positions he’s taken, but also by the fractures in the Republican Party — which are being fought much more publicly — and the extraordinary unpopularity of Mitch McConnell,” said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, referring to the Senate majority leader who became a central punching bag in Moore’s primary bid.

…Republicans are in an increasingly public, multi-front civil war, and Trump’s base is openly fed up with its own party’s congressional leadership. With support for McConnell as Republicans’ Senate leader emerging as a primary issue, Greenberg called his unpopularity figures among Republican voters “way beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

There may well be a bumper crop of opportunities in 2018 for Democratic candidates for office at the state and local level to actively exploit Republican divisions. It might even be a good idea for state Democratic parties to have projects and task forces developing variations on the ‘Akin strategy.’ But the emphasis for Democratic campaigns everywhere must be on recruiting, training and funding strong candidates for every state legislative seat, state-wide office and congressional district. With that commitment, Democrats will do well against all opponents.


No, Polarization Isn’t Just a Washington Thing

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in a new Pew Research report on parties and polarization. I wrote up some key findings for New York:

[T]here is an abiding belief among some academics and professional centrists that the warring tribes of Washington are fundamentally misrepresenting Americans who pretty much agree on the important things and wonder why we can’t just all get along.

The Pew Research Center now offers some fresh and abundant data illustrating the extent, nature, and implications of polarization among regular Americans. Pew’s central finding is that Americans are indeed much more polarized than they were in 1994, when they began asking the same questions to some of the same kinds of people.

“The divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values – on government, race, immigration, national security, environmental protection and other areas – reached record levels during Barack Obama’s presidency. In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger.

“And the magnitude of these differences dwarfs other divisions in society, along such lines as gender, race and ethnicity, religious observance or education.”

Much of the Pew data reinforces the hypothesis that we are experiencing the tail end of what one influential analyst called “The Partisan Sort,” the drift of liberals toward the Democratic Party and conservatives toward the Republican Party, severing ancient partisan ties based on ethnic loyalties and events as remote as the Great Depression or even the U.S. Civil War. Here’s one particularly rich finding:

“[I]n 1994 there was substantially more overlap between the two partisan groups than there is today: Just 64% of Republicans were to the right of the median Democrat, while 70% of Democrats were to the left of the median Republican. Put differently, in 1994 23% of Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat; while 17% of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican. Today, those numbers are just 1% and 3%, respectively.”

In other words, rank-and-file voters are separating into their “natural” parties just as much as are their representatives in Congress.

The murkier question about polarization is whether voters are becoming more extreme in their ideological leanings, not just following them into one party or the other. But Pew suggests our more consistently conservative and liberal party groupings are also becoming more liberal and conservative as they sort.

“[A]lthough many Americans continue to hold a mix of liberal and conservative views across different issue areas, that share has declined over time.”

It’s increasingly clear that the great object of traditional political persuasion, the “median voter” who holds positions equidistant from partisans and ideologues, is becoming a much less dominant element of the electorate.

There are obviously multiple ways to look at these phenomena. The most common is to wring hands and deplore both partisan and ideological polarization as preventing things from “getting done,” and as thwarting the natural goodness and reasonableness of Americans.

Another approach is to applaud polarization as creating political parties that consistently stand for important principles, and that aren’t just devoted to deal-cutting and constituency-tending. There was plenty of bipartisanship in the decades prior to the 1960s, much of it devoted to maintaining or turning a blind eye to Jim Crow, and supporting the kind of consensus foreign policy that led to the Vietnam War.

Still another approach is to examine the structural impediments to “getting things done” that don’t depend on a return to a lost, bipartisan “paradise,” whether it’s the filibuster, the creaky procedures for enacting legislation, or the dependence of the federal government on states and localities to implement national policies. Perhaps Democrats are presently rejoicing at the trouble Republicans are having in implementing a party agenda while controlling Congress and the presidency, but this ongoing fiasco also illustrates that “polarization” is not the only problem bedeviling democracy.

Love it or hate it, though, polarization is real, it isn’t a purely Washington phenomenon, and there’s no reason to think it’s going away any time soon.


Political Strategy Notes

“In general we have to be careful not to whipsaw our policy agenda back and forth based on the details of the last mass shooting. That’s why I think it’s important to constantly be talking about the one policy change that would save the most lives: background checks,” said [U.S. Senator Chris] Murphy.” However, notes Alexander Bolton at The Hill, “Some gun control activists say now is the time to strike on banning semi-automatic rifles with military stylings, such as pistol grips and barrel shrouds, as well as high-capacity magazines that allow sustained bullet sprays…“I would bring the assault weapons ban up. I don’t think background checks is the way to go in Congress,” said Ladd Everitt, director of 1Pulse4America, a gun-violence prevention group created after last year’s Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting that left 49 people dead…“I would get a vote in Congress on the assault weapons right now. This guy inflicted 600 casualties. This is nuts…”

But Alex Seitz-Wald reports at NBC news that “Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said her legislation would bar the sale, manufacture and possession of so-called bump stocks and other devices — all currently legal — that drastically increase a firearm’s rate of fire…Some Republicans have publicly expressed openness to banning bump stocks. Feinstein said she and Democratic leaders decided to pursue a narrow bill on bump stocks because it has a better chance of success in the GOP-controlled Congress than the more sweeping gun measures they would prefer.”

The top 10 recipients of N.R.A. contributions and “spending to benefit the candidate” in both the House and Senate are Republicans, report David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Stuart A. Thompson at The New York Times. “Among the top 100 House recipients, 95 are Republican.”

From an interview with NC activist Rev. William Barber by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez at Democracy Now: “We had 26 presidential election debates on both sides of the political aisle. Not one hour on voter suppression. Not one. Not one hour on, excuse me, restoring the voting rights…if you put up a map, every state that has had deep voter suppression also has denied Medicaid expansion, also has denied living wages, also has some of the worst rules in relationship to Latino and immigrant brothers and sisters, also has some of the worst attacks on the LGBT community. So if you know a state is suppressing the vote, you can almost say that state is also against living wages…We talk about Trump winning in Wisconsin by 20,000 or 30,000 votes. There were 250,000 votes suppressed in Wisconsin. In North Carolina, we had over 150 fewer sites doing early voting…So it is amazing to me that we’re having a conversation about Russian hacking, but we’re not having a conversation about racialized voter suppression, which is systemic racism, which is a tool of white nationalism, which is a direct threat to our democracy.”

Here’s how felon voter suppression works in Alabama, according to Connor Sheets, writing in The Guardian: “In 1964, the 24th amendment abolished the poll tax, but to this day in Alabama, money keeps thousands of people away from the ballot box. According to the Sentencing Project, a Washington DC-based criminal justice reform non-profit, there are 286,266 disenfranchised felons in Alabama, or 7.62% of the state’s voting-age population…More than half of those disenfranchised felons are black, despite the fact that African Americans made up only 26.8% of the state’s population as of July 2016, according to a US census estimate…A new state law has cleared the way for people convicted of certain felonies to eventually regain the right to vote. But before that can happen, anyone who has lost the franchise in Alabama for any reason must first fulfill any financial obligations to the state and to their victims, according to the Alabama secretary of state, John Merrill…Researchers with the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard and Yale universities crunched reams of Alabama court records and data from the past two decades for a study published in June in the Journal of Legal Studies.  The research paper states that “a majority of all ex-felons in Alabama – white, black, or otherwise – cannot vote because of a debt they owe to the state.”

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn explains, “So far, four Republicans have announced they will not seek re-election in highly competitive districts (with a Cook Partisan Voter Index of Republican+5 or more Democratic; the Cook P.V.I. measures district partisanship based on its vote in recent presidential elections)…But without a string of retirements, the Democratic path to control of the House is challenging. Incumbents are just that hard to beat…Democrats often look at the districts carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election as top-tier targets. But it won’t be so easy. Based on recent elections, Democrats would do well to defeat even half of the incumbents running for re-election in those districts…Over the last decade or so, incumbents have run about seven percentage points ahead of non-incumbents from the same party in similar districts. That’s more than enough to let incumbents in competitive districts survive…Without a surge of Republican retirements, a Democratic House takeover would probably require the party to do even better at defeating Republican incumbents than it did in 2006 or the Republicans did in 2010. If Democrats merely matched those results, they would probably fall a bit short of the 24 seats they need.”

Gregory S. Schneider and Scott Clement of The Washington Post have an update on what is likely to be the most consequential state-wide race of 2017: “A relatively unified party base gives Democrat Ralph Northam a clear lead over Republican Ed Gillespie heading into the final month of the Virginia governor’s race, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll…Northam leads Gillespie by 53 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, with 4 percent supporting Libertarian Cliff Hyra…Northam is the sitting lieutenant governor and a pediatric neurologist. Gillespie is a longtime GOP operative who led the Republican National Committee and nearly unseated U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) in 2014… The advantage is similar to a Post-Schar School poll this spring but larger than in other public polls of likely voters released over the past month, most of which found Northam up by single digits…But the race is still fluid, with a sizable number of likely voters — one in four — saying they could change their mind before Nov. 7…Confederate monuments and illegal immigration have played prominently during the campaign, but voters say they care more about health care, the economy and education…”

Antonio Flores explains “How the U.S. Hispanic population is changing” at the Pew Research Center web pages, and notes: “The Latino population in the United States has reached nearly 58 million in 2016 and has been the principal driver of U.S. demographic growth, accounting for half of national population growth since 2000…In 2016, Hispanics accounted for 18% of the nation’s population and were the second-largest racial or ethnic group behind whites. (All racial groups are single race non-Hispanic.)..Hispanics of Mexican origin account for 63.3% (36 million) of the nation’s Hispanic population in 2015…California continues to have the largest Latino population among states, but Texas is seeing a faster growth rate. In 2015, 15.2 million Hispanics lived in California, a 39% increase from 10.9 million in 2000. Yet Texas has had even faster growth, with its Hispanic population increasing 60% over the same period, from 6.7 million in 2000 to 10.7 million in 2015. Meanwhile, Georgia’s Hispanic population has more than doubled since 2000, the fastest growth among the 10 states with the largest Hispanic populations.”


Teixeira: Democratic Wave Building?

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

Special elections provide important clues on political momentum. One under-analyzed area of special elections is state legislative seats. There are many more of these than there are of the heavily-publicized Congressional specials. Brian Stryker and Zac McCrary of ALG Research provide a detailed analysis of the legislative specials and detect very considerable Democratic momentum. Bottom line: the patterns are so strong that if they continue they could be enough to shift dominance of state legislature from Republicans to Democrats in 2018. That would be huge.

Caveats apply of course and Stryker/McCrary provide some at the end of their article. And Republican advantages from incumbency are considerable. Still, their results are rather striking and in an area where Democrats pay far too little attention.

Note this also about where Democrats should compete:

Additionally, many Beltway pundits continue to debate whether Democrats should target so-called blue-collar Obama-Trump type districts or more white-collar, suburban Romney-Clinton districts. The answer so far on the legislative level, is “Yes”; Democrats need not acquiesce to that false choice. Just like FiveThirtyEight, we find that Obama’s 2012 performance and Clinton’s 2016 performance in a district are equally predictive of 2017 results….

Because both 2012 and 2016 have been equally important predictors, a lean Obama district that swung heavily to Trump is just as ripe an opportunity as a strongly Romney district that shifted to Clinton. Republican legislators who hold either of those types of districts — as well as a much broader swath of GOP districts — should be very worried by what has occurred at the legislative level over the past several months. Likewise, Democrats do not necessarily need to choose between targeting state houses in places like Iowa where Trump did well in 2016 or states like Arizona or Virginia, where Trump is generally weaker than other recent Republicans.