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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

What Democrats should keep in mind, however, is that whichever way he goes he is very likely going to betray his white working-class base — the people who put him into office — sooner or later. The “later” part is the most certain. Donald Trump does not have the power to bring back the Industrial Era economy he has so avidly embraced. He will not be able to reopen the coal mines, rebuild the manufacturing sector, or repeal the international economic trends that would exist with or without NAFTA or TPP. And for that matter, he has little ability to reverse the demographic and cultural trends most of his voters dislike.
–Ed Kilgore

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

“…The case he makes cogent and persuasive. If you’re anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re feeling pretty glum these days. Well, read this book.”
 —Michael Tomasky
E. J. Dionne Jr

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

Donald Trump cast himself as the champion of a besieged American working class and a defender of its interests. His early decisions tell us something very different: This could be the most anti-worker, anti-union crowd to run our government since the Gilded Age.
–E.J. Dionne Jr.

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

“…a powerful, provocative and persuasive case that progressives are in a better position than they realize to make our world better.”
—E.J. Dionne

The Daily Strategist

March 25, 2017

GOP’s Ethics Stumble, Walkback Opens Opportunity for Dems

Don’t put too much stock in the meme being parroted by President-elect Trump’s minons that his tweet prevented a Republican attempt to weaken the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Here’s  “What really changed the GOP’s mind,” a CNN post by Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America and author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”

Less than 24 hours after both traditional and social media lit up with outrage over House Republicans’ plans to severely weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics, House Republicans decided that maybe this wasn’t the brand image they wanted to start 2017 with. So Republicans reversed themselves: The Office of Congressional Ethics will remain independent and therefore powerful, not a silenced fiefdom of the member-controlled House Ethics Committee, as the original GOP rules package had proposed.

…Republicans who supported the seemingly obscure changes must have figured hardly anybody would notice, and even fewer people would care. Perhaps, some members concluded, given what President-elect Donald Trump has been getting away with, norms really had changed. Why should members of Congress have to suffer?

…To be sure, there may be some who give Trump’s Twitter account credit for the course correction. But though it surely had an impact on some of the members, Trump’s tweets merely rode the crest of public opinion against the changes, rather than leading it. It is a mistake to give Trump too much credit, just as it is a mistake to take his Drain the Swamp plan seriously.

At times some Democrats have been hostile to the Office of Congressional Ethics, as Drutman notes. But this time it was the House Republican’s baby, and the press coverage was very tough, which is a good thing. As Drutman puts it,

The successful fight to preserve the Office of Congressional Ethics is an encouraging development. The media was on the story quickly, organizations mobilized, the public responded and Congress heard the outrage loud and clear. This is how democratic accountability is supposed to work. Hopefully this is a sign of more good fights to come. It’s a promising sign that a sustained and well-organized call for Trump to divest from his business conflicts might have an impact, too.

It’s important to commend the media when they do a good job, and it’s encouraging that the public outcry was part of the incentive to prevent the weakening of the OCE.

It’s equally-important, however, for Democrats to seize the mantle of leadership on congressional ethics. While some Democrats have been implicated in ethics violations over the years, the record shows that Republicans in congress have a much longer, more problematic ethics rap sheet. With oil barons, billionaires and Wall Street tycoons dominating Trump’s cabinet nominees, along with Trump’s web of shady business dealings and hidden taxes, and with congressional Republicans cozying up with lobbyists,  Democrats are going to have to work overtime just to remain vigilant in monitoring Republican ethics violations.

It’s worth it. By relentlessly exposing Republican ethics violations — and every indication suggests there will be plenty more coming in the new congress and the Trump Administration — and by enhancing the Democratic Party’s capacity for self-policing on ethics, Democrats have an excellent chance to self-brand as the only party that fights for clean government and transparency. Supported by effective messaging, that’s a brand that will produce electoral gains.

Obamacare Repeal Follies Showcase GOP’s Moral, Intellectual Bankruptcy

As the big GOP push for Obamacare repeal begins, many Republicans in congress are begining to realize that “Hot damn, we got rid of Obamacare” is probably not going to play all that well with constituents who have their health care coverage eliminated, diminished or made more expensive.

The privatization enthusiasts in the GOP, at least those who believe that the private sector can do no wrong, haven’t quite gotten it yet. For them, unleashing the ‘magic of the market’ as a sacred principle of conservatism is reason enough to trash the Affordable Care Act. Whether they get away with it or not depends on the economic demographics and ideology of their district electorates.

At New York Magazine Jonathan Chait describes the Republicans’ predicament:

After the election unexpectedly put them in full control of government, I predicted they would follow a “repeal and delay” plan, because it is the only way to keep the lie going. The closer they get to taking action, the more clear it becomes to Republicans that their own propaganda has trapped them and given them no escape. Railing against Obamacare was easy, but the responsibilities of power have taken all the fun out of denying medical care to the poor and sick.

…In a free-market system, tens of millions of Americans will not be able to afford medical care because the cost of their treatment exceeds their income, either because they’re too poor, or because they’re too sick. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million Americans under the age of 65 have preexisting conditions that would make it impossible for them to purchase health insurance in the individual market that existed before Obamacare. An insurance-industry study from 2008 found that 13 percent of people who applied for coverage in the individual market were rejected — a figure that doesn’t even count the 34 percent of people who had to buy policies that excluded coverage of treatments for their preexisting conditions, let alone those who didn’t even bother applying because they knew they couldn’t afford it.

Covering people who can’t afford to pay for their own medical care means making other people pay for it. You can do that through direct tax-and-spend transfers, or through indirect regulatory methods (like making insurance companies overcharge healthy people and undercharge sick ones). Republicans oppose these methods because they oppose redistribution in general. And yet politics requires them to promise a plan that does not deprive Americans of access to treatment. This is the reason none of their plans has advanced beyond the white-paper concept phase —either they contain too much redistribution to be acceptable to the GOP, or too little coverage to be acceptable to the public, or both.

Chait adds an important insight Repubicans don’t want to face, and one which Democrats must embrace as a central principle of health care reform: “The health-care plans people like are ones such as Medicare, or employer-sponsored insurance — plans in which all customers pay the same rates regardless of age or preexisting conditions, and which don’t put them at risk of paying out huge costs if they get sick.”

Instead, argues Chait, the Republicans are wedded to “threadbare, catastrophic coverage with enormous deductibles.” They know this is a tough sell, and the “replace” part of “repeal and replace” promises to give Republicans in competitive districts an exended migraine headache for months, if not years, to come.

Chait likens the proposed GOP strategy of peacemeal replacement bills to an episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer, faced with certain failure in a test, says “I’ve been working on a plan. During the exam, I’ll hide under some coats, and hope that somehow everything will work out.”

“Repeal-and-delay,” adds Chait “is the ultimate backhand acknowledgement that the party has no answers. Their wan hope is that by repealing the law, they can satisfy the blood lust of conservative activists. The repeal won’t take place for years. Then they can hide under some coats and hope it all works out.”

As you might imagine, health insurance companies are not eagerly looking forward to such a scenario —  yet another example of the political party that purports to be the champion of pro-business policies introducing new chaos and uncertainty into the markets.

As for emerging scenarios, Chait sees one coming into focus:

The most likely answer is that Republicans never craft a replacement. They repeal Obamacare, but delay the effective date of the repeal, and then Obamacare becomes a “cliff” that Congress votes to keep extending. There is no majority in Congress behind any one specific plan to replace Obamacare, but there is probably a majority against blowing it up immediately. That will likely become the new status quo. There’s no transition to a new plan. The transition is the plan. Or, at least, it will be…The most likely outcome is that Republicans keep extending the law until Democrats have the presidency again, at which point they’ll no longer have an incentive to prevent mass suffering, and can go back to opposing anything Democrats try to do to make the system work. Republicans just need to keep the system from collapsing on their watch.

Paul Krugman writes in his latest New York Times column,

In a way, Democrats should hope that Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal health reform. After all, they don’t have a replacement, and never will. They’ve spent seven years promising something very different from yet better than Obamacare, but keep failing to deliver, because they can’t; the logic of broad coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions, requires either an Obamacare-like system or single-payer, which Republicans like even less. That won’t change.

As a result, repeal would have devastating effects, with people who voted Trump among the biggest losers. Independent estimates suggest that Republican plans would cause 30 million Americans to lose coverage, with about half the losers coming from the Trump-supporting white working class. At least some of those Trump supporters would probably conclude that they were the victims of a political scam — which they were.

Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.

Krugman notes also that Republican Obamacare repeal mania is fueled in part by the GOP’s opposition to the higher taxes on the wealthy needed to fund the ACA and, not incidently, because the latest enrollment figures are “running ahead of their levels a year ago,” a strong indication that Obamacare is working.

So the charade continues at the taxpayers expense. The scary part is that the likely scenarios sketched by Chait and Krugman are the optimistic outcomes. If lunacy prevails over their normal economic mismanagement, and the Republicans go ‘The Full Monte’ on privatization, it could get a lot worse.

It’s regrettable that Democrats have to spend so much time defending the only major health care reform to benefit millions of Americans since the days of LBJ. But if the experience clarifies the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republicans and their equivocating candidates, Dems might get some electoral benefit as early as 2018.

Political Strategy Notes – Obamacare Repeal Edition

NYT’s Robert Pear reports on the latest GOP schemes to repeal Obamacare, or at least the latest timetable, beginning this week: “Within hours of the new Congress convening on Tuesday, the House plans to adopt a package of rules to clear the way for repealing the health care law and replacing it with as-yet-unspecified measures meant to help people obtain insurance coverage…Then, in the week of Jan. 9, according to a likely timetable sketched out by Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, the House will vote on a budget blueprint, which is expected to call for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act…Later, in the week starting Jan. 30, said Mr. Walden, incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel will act on legislation to carry out what is in the blueprint. That bill would be the vehicle for repealing major provisions of the health care law, including the expansion of Medicaid.” No one seems to know just what the particulars will be, but Pear also notes, “The law also saves hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing the growth of Medicare payments to hospitals, nursing homes, health maintenance organizations and other health care providers. Repealing the law would eliminate those savings and thus increase federal spending, the Congressional Budget Office says.”

The Guardian explains various Obamacare repeal scenarios with “How Obamacare could be dismantled by Republicans” by Jessica Glenza and Nadja Popovich. The authors provide a “how it works/how it could go” analysis (with some polling data) concerning 11 key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including: the individual and employer mandates; pre-existing conditions; the Medicare payroll tax; insurance exchanges; health plan subsidies; Medicaid Expansion; Donut Hole and 39 rule; free preventative seervices; converage for young adults; and the ban on coverage limits. There is not much here that supporters of strengthening Obamacare will find encouraging.

What seems likely as not when all of the dust settles, is that the Republicans will make a big flashy show of repealing Obamacare, keep much of it, but call it something else, screw around with funding mechanisms and leave a hideous mess for government accountants, the health care industry and millions of Americans with weakened health security to sort out, and then loudly proclaim a great victory. In her preview of the upcoming week’s repealapalooza festivities, HuffPo’s congressional reporter Laura Barron-Lopez writes “The GOP’s current plan is to move swiftly on repeal legislation and then spend up to four years developing a consensus on a new set of health care reforms ― an achievement that has otherwise eluded the party for years. But Republicans are already split over how long they’ll spend creating that replacement. Party leaders expect it to take years, but some conservatives are pushing for a replacement to be finished within one year…Democratic leaders have been defiant about Republicans’ chances of pulling off this effort. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted that Republicans would not repeal Obamacare once they realized how difficult it would be to replace…“They’re not going to repeal it,” Pelosi said earlier this month. “I don’t think they’re going to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

At New York Magazine Ed Kilgore explains “The Latest ‘Repeal and Delay’ Idea for Obamacare: Grandfathering!,” noting that “Now comes the American Enterprise Institute’s conservative health wonk James Capretta with an idea that cuts to the chase: Why not just “grandfather” all the people currently receiving benefits via the ACA and make whatever the new “replacement” system turns out to be prospective for new people seeking assistance?” Kilgore acknowledges that “the idea has the advantage of being relatively simple and predictable,” but adds “Until the GOP can pass something that garners bipartisan support and solves the Obamacare problems it has identified, it should do nothing. That’s the ultimate “grandfathering” — leave the system in place. That is the only real solution politically or policy-wise that doesn’t create a raft of victims. The sooner the GOP figures this out, the better.”

Sean Williams reports at Fox Business, no less, that “In an Ironic Twist, Obamacare Enrollment Hits an All-Time High.” Williams writes, “Yet in spite of its perceived demise, Obamacare enrollment is currently proceeding at a record pace, at least according to the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the HHS, roughly 6.4 million people had enrolled via HealthCare.gov, the federally run website that runs the online marketplace exchange for more than three dozen states, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19. This represents an increase of nearly 7% year over year, or about 400,000 enrollees…The data midway through 2016 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the uninsured rate had fallen to 8.9% from 16% in the quarter immediately preceding Obamacare’s implementation on the individual market. If the early enrollment data is any indication, the uninsured rate could fall even further in 2017.”

Vox will be running an live-streamed interview with President Obama on Friday, January 6th on the topic of Obamacare repeal prospects, with an audience of Obamacare enrollees who are also members of the Vox Facebook community. Meanwhile Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein write at Vox that “the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces have struggled to attract health insurers who want to sell coverage” and “about half of Obamacare enrollees say that they’re unsatisfied with the high costs of premiums and deductibles… That’s what we want to talk to the president about: the lessons he has learned from six years of implementing the biggest health coverage expansion in decades, his thoughts on its political vulnerability now, and the challenges Republicans may confront as they embark on a similar task.” Kliff and Klein note that “Economists, however, are skeptical that Republican plans will cover as many people as Obamacare currently does. Estimates predict that the plans the GOP has offered so far will lead to anywhere from 3 to 21 million Americans losing health coverage, depending on which plan Republicans pick.”

At Forbes, Duke University/American Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Conover mulls over “How The Patient CARE Act Would Repeal And Replace Obamacare” and observes that “this plan would result in very modest reductions in coverage, accompanied by massive federal tax savings (to the tune of more than one half trillion over ten years!).” I’m guessing that Conover’s health security will not be adversely affected by the “modest reductions in coverage” he envisions for others.

However, at Vox Sarah Kliff explains some of the effects of The Patient CARE Act in less than glowing terms: “There are two economic analyses of CARE Act available at this point. One, from the RAND Corporation, estimates that it would cause 9 million Americans to lose coverage by 2026. Another, from Parente’s Center for Health Economy, estimates that 4 million would lose insurance the same year… In addition, the Patient Care Act suffers from the same major flaw as all of the republican proposals,” making insurance cheaper for young people and more expensive for old people.” Further, “Eibner has done economic modeling of the CARE Act (although not Better Way yet) and is able to show who benefits and who loses under the proposal…She finds that under the CARE Act, only 85 percent of 21-year-olds would see their premiums either stay the same or decline compared with Obamacare. But 100 percent of 50- and 60-year-old enrollees would see their premiums increase under CARE Act.” Thus many seniors who are surviving on Social Security can expect a health care premium hike under this plan.

What is so frustratingly childish about all of the Republican Obamacare repeal talk, is that they all know that none of the health care reforms they now claim to support would ever have gotten a fair hearing, much less enacted, without Obamacare. The GOP has always been content to let health insurers and ritzy physician groups gouge and impoverish consumers who face major illnesses. With the exception the Medicare prescription drug benefit Bush II signed, the Republican Party has never provided leadership for broadening health care security for Americans. Instead they have resisted significant reforms, from Medicare and Medicaid on down to the Affordable Care Act. When you take a look at the most recent polling on Obamacare, you find more respondents saying they “disapprove” than “approve” of the ACA. But when the question is framed in terms of should it be repealed or expanded, the most recent Pew Research poll, conducted Oct. 20-25, found that 53 percent of respondents say “expand it” or “leave it as it is.” No matter what happens to Obamacare, President Obama can always be proud that his leadership has saved countless lives and improved the health securitry of millions of Americans. Thanks to him, the Republicans can no longer hide from public demand for affordable health care.

Hey Trump, is that all there is?

It can be argued that in 2008, President-elect Obama’s victory included a significant element of luck, including the timing of the economic meltdown and John McCain’s disastrous veep pick. So too, it can be argued that Trump’s Electoral College win/popular vote loss in 2016 threaded a lucky path through the rust belt.

President Obama did a good job of making the most of his short-lived congressional majorities and produced one historic reform, the Affordable Care Act, which provided health security for additional millions of Americans, and he was able to enact a few other well-received legislative accomplishments, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Looking forward to Trump’s presidency and his congressional majorities, it’s hard to see any positive reforms on the horizon. So far all of the Republican talk, and all of Trump’s appointments, have been about undoing Obama’s legislative accomplishments, as if that alone was somehow a great achievement.

Despite Trump’s bloated reputation as a “builder,” no one expects him to actually build much, since he is now waffling on the infrastructure upgrades. No one in GOP Land can identify any concrete plans to better prepare Americans for a new era of prosperity. There are no job-training measures in the Republican legislative hopper, for example, no projects or proposals for innovation that anyone can get excited about.

Instead, it’s all about, “boy, we can’t wait to undo Obama’s reforms.” Trump and the Republicans can only milk that tired cow for so long, before their voters start wondering, like Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” At that point, Trump and his fellow Republicans become an awfully inviting target for disgruntled voters who expected something…more.

At slate.com Jamelle Bouie points out that Trump and the GOP are not really in good shape to weather such growing doubts, despite all of the pundit crowing about Republican strength in the House and state houses. As Bouie writes,

…Neither Trump nor congressional Republicans are as strong as they appear. Both enter the field with severe disadvantages, and both risk overplaying the hands that they have. Democrats are on the defensive, but the conditions are there for pushback and resurgence.

Consider Trump’s favorability rating. On Election Day, just 38 percent of Americans had a positive view of Trump, against 60 percent with a negative view. Now, with the glow of victory, his average favorable rating stands at 43 percent, while 49 percent view him unfavorably. For comparison’s sake, Barack Obama entered office in 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating versus 21 percent unfavorable, while George W. Bush—the victor in a contentious election decided by the Electoral College—entered office with a 50 percent favorable rating. Trump is historically unpopular for an incoming president and shows no signs of improving. This, coupled with his substantial loss in the national popular vote, is a potent vulnerability. Democrats can credibly say that Trump lacks the “will of the people.” They can rebuff charges of obstructionism, and they can say, with little exaggeration, that the public is on their side.

To Trump’s personal unpopularity, you have to add the unpopularity of the Republican policy agenda. Citing Trump’s win as a victory for conservative governance, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican majority are prepping a sweeping small-government agenda, including tax cuts and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But there’s a problem. The 2016 election wasn’t fought over policy; it was a battle over values and priorities (it’s likely Hillary Clinton made a fatal strategic mistake in not making this a fight over policy). And throughout, Trump showed little interest in conservative policymaking or conservative ideas. He promised help for his supporters and “better deals” for the country, not a Ryan-esque agenda of lower spending and upper-income tax cuts. That agenda is hugely unpopular: Substantial majorities support greater taxes on high-earners, while a smaller majority backs a more active government role in reducing income inequality. And although Americans still disagree about the Affordable Care Act, most of them still reject repeal.

Intoxicated and emboldened by their near-miraculous victory, Republicans are rushing into the new year with a divisive and unpopular agenda, led by a divisive and unpopular president. Indeed, with no apparent plans for increasing manufacturing jobs or improving veterans’ health care, Trump shows few signs of delivering on his substantive promises. In all likelihood, he’ll offer rhetoric and scapegoats and stunts, while delivering little in the way of tangible gains. And all of this will exist against a backdrop of corruption and influence-peddling, as Trump refuses to disentangle himself or his children from their opaque and sprawling web of business interests.

Ultimately, good government has to be about something more than shrinking itself. Ronald Reagan was as eloquent a messenger for tax and budget cuts as the Republicans have ever had. Trump does not have his skill-set, and can only offer a much cruder politics of distraction that is not likely to play well for very long. He can’t count on his November luck hanging around.

The thing about smaller government, budget cuts and austerity is that they are not very inspiring. There is no stirring vision, no uplifting challenge you can hang on shrunken government. FDR, JFK and Obama, were able to generate excitement because they could talk about mobilizing American resources, human and economic, in service to a new era of broadly-shared progress. That message option is not available to Trump, Ryan and McConnell. But I can hear Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and maybe a half-dozen other Democrats working it well enough.

In 2016, Democrats lacked the message discipline needed to hold the white house and make substantial gains in congress and the states. By the end of 2017, it should be crystal clear which party has no vision whatsoever for moving America forward.

Lessons For Republicans From W.’s Administration

As Paul Starr reminds us, Republicans are about to enjoy only their third “trifecta”–control of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government–in 74 years. The most recent example should be of interest to those who want to avoid disaster, as I discussed this week at New York:

[T]he George W. Bush administration offers all sorts of recent evidence about how to profit from and squander a trifecta.

An incoming administration with this kind of power can go two different ways: using it to the hilt to achieve enduring ideological goals at the risk of losing popularity, or using it judiciously to expand the party’s base.

W.’s administration, despite the incredibly controversial nature of its claim on the White House, did not begin with much humility or ideological moderation. Its first policy thrust was to fight for a huge upper-income-targeted tax cut. While that cut was enacted after some adjustments to win Democratic Senate votes, the prevailing atmosphere of ideological warfare cost Republicans control of the Senate almost immediately as Jim Jeffords switched parties. It looked at the time like the newly ascendent conservative Republicans had been taken down a peg. Then came 9/11, and an enormous accretion of popularity for Bush, which he largely used to pursue the ideologically tinged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that eventually did so much to erode Republican power.

On the domestic front, however, Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, directed a highly strategic effort to expand the GOP base via targeted policies aimed at seniors (the Medicare prescription-drug benefit), women with kids (the No Child Left Behind education initiative), and Latinos (comprehensive immigration reform). The whole mix was enough to get Bush narrowly reelected in the first presidential year after 9/11. But he went for ideological gold again with a proposal to partially privatize Social Security that backfired spectacularly. The rest of his second term was dominated by growing pubic dissatisfaction with the Iraq War, a sluggish economy drifting toward catastrophe, and big management/public relations mistakes like the handling of Hurricane Katrina. In the background, moreover, Rove’s outreach agenda produced a growing backlash from conservatives, who did not appreciate the political attractiveness of “amnesty,” a “new health care entitlement” or “federal interference with local control of schools.”

By the time Bush left office, about the only policy legacy conservatives took special pride in was the tax cuts. And the conservative backlash to his heresies eventually manifested itself in the rise of the Tea Party Movement and a general radicalization of a frustrated right-wing-dominated GOP.

What are the lessons for today’s GOP as it looks forward to using or abusing its trifecta? Probably that party unity is critical, ideological overreach is dangerous, and foreign-policy hubris can be deadly — nearly as deadly as ignoring signs of a housing bubble and an impending financial collapse. But the problem Republicans face now isn’t congressional RINOs like Jeffords or a too-clever-by-half “Mayberry Machiavelli” like Rove. It’s the figure supposedly at the wheel, the incoming president of the United States.

Trump and his closest associates have sometimes exhibited a deep interest in achieving big — or to use his language, “huge” — ideological goals. But it is not clear the ideology in question is conventional conservatism. They’ve also eagerly shown they want to use their power to build political support for the GOP. But that may be at the cost of deposing the Republican “Establishment” and turning the GOP into a cult of personality revolving around the Boss. As for the foreign adventures and economic malfeasance that brought down George W. Bush and wasted his trifecta, it is absolutely anybody’s guess what might happen in the next four years.

What should make the whole situation alarming to Republicans is that for all their chest-beating about their party being stronger than it has been since the Coolidge administration, they know they are one really bad midterm away from the situation they were in during the last two years of the second Bush administration. They should remember that not long before he became a figure of ridicule, W. was being hailed as the Liberator of Iraq, the savior of the conservative movement, and a world-historical figure standing astride a supine world like a colossus. Are they really sure Donald J. Trump will succeed where Bush failed, and for that matter, will not stab them in the back and leave them behind? If so, they truly are the Party of Faith.

Political Strategy Notes

“If Mr. Trump’s strategy to keep jobs in America relies on busting unions, keeping wages down, deregulating everything in sight and cutting taxes for the wealthy, he’ll certainly fail…If President-elect Trump is serious about building a high-productivity, high-wage economy, he needs to put a moratorium on flawed trade agreements and crack down on unfair trade practices, and he must work to end all tax subsidies for offshoring and put those and other revenues toward funding quality education, skills and infrastructure investment….” – from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s NYT op-ed, “Don’t Let Trump Speak for Workers.”

At The Atlantic, Alana Semuels argues “It’s Not About the Economy: In an increasingly polarized country, even economic progress can’t get voters to abandon their partisan allegiance.” As Semuels observes, “…in an increasingly polarized country, an improving economy is not enough to get Republicans to vote for Democrats, in part because they don’t give Democrats any credit for fixing the economy. Gallup, for instance, found that while just 16 percent of Republicans said they thought the economy was getting better in the week leading up to the election, 49 percent said they thought it was getting better in the week after the election…These biases are only increasing as the country becomes increasingly polarized. As people become increasingly loyal to their parties, they are unlikely to give leaders from the other party credit for much of anything positive. Both sides are instead more likely to believe narratives that suggest that the other party has only made things worse.”

At The Observer’s opinion page, Robert Lehrman, a former speechwriter for Al Gore and author of The Political Speechwriter’s Companion, writes “Democrats, let’s not be shy about admitting the truth: we want a one-term President. Denying we feel that way is as believable as the way we pretended shock at McConnell’s candor six years ago. Democrats will almost certainly lose Senate seats in 2018. But done right, a steady, unyielding McConnell-like campaign, leavened with compromise as they did, can win back voters we should have captured this time…Let them call us obstructionists. We don’t have to agree with Mitch McConnell’s views. We just have to learn from his example.”

Emma Green explains why “Democrats Have a Religion Problem” in her interview at The Atlantic with Michael Wear, a former Obama White House staffer, on the topic of “the party’s illiteracy on and hostility toward faith.” Charlie Cook also addresses the subject in his interview with ‘Meet the Press Daily,’ noting, “Democrats don’t know how to talk to a lot of these people that go to church, people of value. The Democratic party has become a secular party.”

At New York Magazine Ed Kilgore explains “Here’s How Obama Could Go Nuclear on Trump and the GOP Before Leaving Office” by making ‘recess appointments of scores of federal judges up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by deceased Justice Scalia. There are reasons why it is unlikely to happen, including Obama’s temperament. But it’s not like the Republicans can credibly attack  Democrats for bucking bipartisan comity and playing hardball. As Kilgore concludes, “..I wouldn’t rule it out entirely before the new Congress is gaveled in.”

Sam Wang’s “Constitutional Hardball: Can Senate Democrats Confirm Merrick Garland on January 3rd?” explores the idea further at The Princeton Election Consortium. Calling it a “long shot,” Wang says “A bigger hurdle is whether Democrats have the boldness to attempt such a move. To some extent, party members adopt their tone from their leaders. Senate Democrats might have to push back on President Obama, who has made it clear that he seeks to make an orderly transition to the Trump Administration. But the roughness of the Presidential transition may give him second thoughts. Democrats may be bolstered by the fact that Obama’s net approval is quite high, while Trump’s net approval rating is the lowest of any incoming President on record.”

It seems possible, at least, that Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham is going to raise some serious hell about Putin’s meddling in U.S. politics. As Theodore Schleifer reports at CNN, quoting Graham, “There are 100 United States senators. Amy Klobuchar is on this trip with us. She’s a Democrat from Minnesota. I would say that 99 of us believe the Russians did this and we’re going to do something about it,” said Graham, who is planning a hearing with McCain on Russia’s interference with US elections. “We’re going to put sanctions together that hit Putin as an individual and his inner circle for interfering in our election, and they’re doing it all over the world — not just in the United States.”

Josh Katz has a fun post up at NYT’ The Upshot, “‘Duck Dynasty’ vs. ‘Modern Family’:50 Maps of the U.S. Cultural Divide.” It’s also an excellent resource for political ad buyers, because it indicates exactly where such TV shows and many others are popular. A lot of the popularity maps are predictable enough, but you might be surprised to learn that “The Walking Dead” is very big along the Texas-Mexico border, while “Game of Thrones” doesn’t do very well outside of narrowly-defined cities and “The Tonight Show’s” largest area of popularity is in north-central Utah. In PA, you would book some ads on “Dancing with the Stars,” “NCIS” and “Law and Order: SVU.” On the Pine Ridge reservation in SD, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” rules and “Saturday Night Live’s” strongest southern metro area is Nashville.

John Nichols has a welcome spirit-lifter at The Nation, “The 2016 Progressive Honor Roll: Yes, it’s been an awful year. But the untold story is that grassroots activists have actually frequently prevailed.”

Krugman: Trump’s Phony Populism Screws Working-Class Supporters

From Paul Krugman’s syndicated column, “Working-class voters duped by Trump’s ‘populism‘”:

Authoritarians with an animus against ethnic minorities are on the march across the Western world. They control governments in Hungary and Poland, and will soon take power in the United States. And they’re organizing across borders: Austria’s Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, has signed an agreement with Russia’s ruling party — and met with Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser.

But what should we call these groups? Many reporters are using the term ‘‘populist,’’ which seems inadequate and misleading. I guess racism can be considered populist in the sense that it represents the views of some non-elite people. But are the other shared features of this movement — addiction to conspiracy theories, indifference to the rule of law, a penchant for punishing critics — really captured by the ‘‘populist’’ label?

Political writers in the U.S. have struggled with the term “populism” for a long time, since it encompasses both pro-worker and racist movements. But they use it more frequently nowadays to describe the more authoritarian, racist movements that have emerged on both sides of the Atlantic. But Krugman pinpoints the crucial distinction between ‘populist’ movements in the U.S. and those in Europe.

…The European members of this emerging alliance have offered some real benefits to workers. Hungary’s Fidesz party has provided mortgage relief and pushed down utility prices. Poland’s Law and Justice party has increased child benefits, raised the minimum wage and reduced the retirement age. France’s National Front is running as a defender of that nation’s extensive welfare state — but only for the right people.

Trumpism is, however, different. The campaign rhetoric might have included promises to keep Medicare and Social Security intact and replace Obamacare with something ‘‘terrific.’’ But the emerging policy agenda is anything but populist.

All indications are that we’re looking at huge windfalls for billionaires combined with savage cuts in programs that serve not just the poor but also the middle class. And the white working class, which provided much of the 46 percent Trump vote share, is shaping up as the biggest loser.

For those who may be wondering why European populist movements deliver some benefits to the working-class, while the U.S. versions never produce any such reforms, the answer is the stronger labor unions in Europe, particularly in north Europe. Racist leaders in Europe know they have to defend and expand worker benefits to survive in a unionized economy. And so they do, even as the whip up xenophobic attacks on their immigrant workers, who are mostly from predominantly Muslim nations.

In the U.S., however, Trump’s cabinet picks and other actions so far have more in common with an all-out war on his white-working-class supporters, than an effort to improve their lives. As Krugman explains:

Both his pick as budget director and his choice to head Health and Human Services want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and privatize Medicare. His choice as labor secretary is a fast-food tycoon who has been a vociferous opponent of Obamacare and of minimum wage hikes. And House Republicans have submitted plans for drastic cuts in Social Security, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.

What would these policies do? Obamacare led to big declines in the number of the uninsured in regions that voted Trump this year, and repealing it would undo all those gains. The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimates that repeal would cause 30 million Americans — 16 million of them non-Hispanic whites — to lose health coverage…And no, there won’t be a ‘‘terrific’’ replacement: Republican plans would cover only a fraction as many people as the law they would displace, and they’d be different people — younger, healthier and richer.

Converting Medicare into a voucher system would also amount to a severe benefit cut, partly because it would lead to lower government spending, partly because a significant fraction of spending would be diverted into the overhead and profits of private insurance companies. And raising the retirement age for Social Security would hit especially hard among Americans whose life expectancy has stagnated or declined, or who have disabilities that make it hard for them to continue working — problems that are strongly correlated with Trump votes.

“European populism is at least partly real,” wrties Krugman, “while Trumpist populism is turning out to be entirely fake, a scam sold to working-class voters who are in for a rude awakening.” Krugman warns that Trump’s supporters will try to blame President Obama and the Democrats for Trump’s failure to deliver any benefits to working families. They will also roll out media distractions and stunts and international confrontations to deflect accountability for  Trump’s failures.

For Democrats, the challenge is to stay focused on the core issues of economic opportunity and refuse to let Trump and the Republicans off the hook. “Above all,” concludes Krugman, Democrats “shouldn’t let themselves be sucked into cooperation that leaves them sharing part of the blame. The perpetrators of this scam should be forced to own it.”

Political Strategy Notes

At NPR Linda Wertheimer interviews Nick Rathod, executive director of the State Innovation Exchange (SIX), which fights for progressive causes and candidates in state houses across America. Rathod notes that”one of the things that progressives have done…is that we try to pass big pieces of legislation here in D.C. and then educate everyone on the back end where conservatives have developed policies that are tailored to local communities and then have the conversation and build narratives around what that means for people. I mean, I grew up in Nebraska, and when I talk with my conservative friends there, we’re pretty close on a lot of the issues. But the thing is that we just haven’t ever really sat down and talked to people about what it – what equal pay actually means. You know, do you care whether your daughter gets paid the same as your son? I think most people would say yeah. Do you care that people have a living wage, that people who are playing by the rules, working hard, I think people would say yes to that. Let’s have those conversations locally, and let’s shake out who is actually fighting for those things.”

Here is some good post-election news for progressives, as reported by Joanna Walters at The Guardian:  “From smaller local organizations to household names such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, nonprofit organizations across the US reported fundraising tallies many magnitudes higher than in previous years as they approached their end-of-year donation drives…Progressive causes in the US saw a spike in donations immediately after the election on 8 November from voters dismayed, outraged or even frightened by the outcome. In the weeks since, this wave of strategic giving has compounded. Planned Parenthood has received more than 300,000 donations in the six weeks since the election, 40 times its normal rate. Around half the donors were millennials and 70% had never given to the family planning organization before, a spokesman told the Guardian.”

Gene B. Sperling, director of the National Economic Council from 1996 to 2001 and from 2011 until 2014, has a New York Times op-ed, “The Quiet War on Medicaid,” focusing on a looming crisis Ed Kilgore flagged at New York Magazone back on December 1st. As Sperling writes, “if Democrats focus too much of their attention on Medicare, they may inadvertently assist the quieter war on Medicaid — one that could deny health benefits to millions of children, seniors, working families and people with disabilities…Of the two battles, the Republican effort to dismantle Medicaid is more certain. Neither Mr. Trump nor Senate Republicans may have the stomach to fully own the political risks of Medicare privatization. But not only have Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s choice for secretary of health and human services, made proposals to deeply cut Medicaid through arbitrary block grants or “per capita caps,” during the campaign, Mr. Trump has also proposed block grants.”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich discusses Donad Trump’s “7 Techniques to Control the Media” in a ‘Democracy Now’ interview with Amy Goodman. Discussing one of the points, Reich observes, “Donald Trump has, almost from the beginning of his campaign, and certainly in the—and he’s continued it—in the post-election period, to denigrate and berate the media. He holds rallies, and he talks about the dishonest media. He uses adjectives like “scum” and “scoundrel” to describe the media. He picks out individual members of the press who have criticized him, and talks about them in very critical terms or mocks them. This is not the habit of a democratic—democratically elected president…We’ve never before had a president or president-elect who has taken the media on so directly and so negatively and tried to plant in the public’s mind—and I think this is the real danger, Amy—trying to plant in the public’s mind the notion that the press is the enemy itself.” Video of entire interview here.

The debate about the substance of the best Democratic message will continue on through the next few elections. As for the best message vehicle, here’s a clue: “So what medium really is a primary news source for the largest number of Americans? We can find an answer to that in a different Pew Research report, this one from June, titled, “The Modern News Consumer.” It compares the percentage of U.S. adults who “often” get news from various platforms. By this metric, television remains the dominant medium by a significant margin, at 57 percent. A distant second is “online,” at 38 percent. This combines the 18 percent who get news often from social media with an overlapping 28 percent who get it often from “news websites/apps.” Third on the list is radio at 25 percent, followed by print newspapers at 20 percent.” from “How Many People Really Get Their News From Facebook?” by Will Oremus at slate.com.

Michael Moore’s assertion that Trump was going to “get us all killed” seems a little less of an overstatement in the wake of Trump’s tweet last week that that the U.S. should “greatly strengthen and expand” its nuclear capability.” In their syndicated column on “The chaos theory of Donald Trump: Washington Post analysis,” John Wagnern and Abby Phillip share a chilling quote about it by a foreign policy expert: “We’re just operating in this world where you cannot believe the things he says,” said Eliot Cohen, a foreign policy expert and former George W. Bush administration official at the State Department. “It will have large consequences for our allies and our adversaries, and it’s going to greatly magnify the danger of miscalculation by all kinds of people.” It’s one thing for Trump to be a ‘bomb-thrower’ in his domestic policy tweets, without regard for the consequences. But loose talk about escalating the nuclear arms race is a much more dangerous kind of foolishness. The top foreign policy pros should ask for a meeting with Trump at the earliest opportunity, to at least try to get him to stop tweeting about the arms race.

Greg Sargent adds to this concern in his Plum Line post, “Could Trump help unleash nuclear catastrophe with a single tweet?,” noting “Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, points out that in peacetime, any belligerent Trump Tweet about nuclear weapons might not appear as alarming, simply because “confirmation bias” might lead key actors not to interpret it in its most frightening light at that moment. Amid rising international tensions, though, that confirmation bias might work in the other direction, he says…“Imagine we’re in a crisis — if he recklessly Tweets, people could read these things in the worst possible light,” Lewis tells me. “The North Koreans have a plan to use nuclear weapons very early in a conflict. They’re not going to wait around. If they think we are going, they’re going to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and Japan.””

Nate Cohn shares some revealing data at The Upshot: “The exit polls also show all of the signs that Mr. Trump was winning over Obama voters. Perhaps most strikingly, Mr. Trump won 19 percent of white voters without a degree who approved of Mr. Obama’s performance, including 8 percent of those who “strongly” approved of Mr. Obama’s performance and 10 percent of white working-class voters who wanted to continue Mr. Obama’s policies…Mr. Trump won 20 percent of self-identified liberal white working-class voters, according to the exit polls, and 38 percent of those who wanted policies that were more liberal than Mr. Obama’s…Taken together, Mr. Trump’s views on immigration, trade, China, crime, guns and Islam all had considerable appeal to white working-class Democratic voters, according to Pew Research data. It was a far more appealing message than old Republican messages about abortion, same-sex marriage and the social safety net.”

At The Jacobin Seth Ackerman’s “A Blueprint for a New Party” includes a critique of the Democratic Party, arguing in essence that it is neither Democratic, nor a Party. Ackerman is not interested in improving the Democratic Party. But he offers several interesting observations, among them: “It’s true that a number of sincere, committed leftists, or at least progressives, run for office on the Democratic ballot line at all levels of American politics. Sometimes they even win. And all else equal, we’re better off with such politicians in office than without them…But electing individual progressives does little to change the broad dynamics of American politics or American capitalism. In fact, it can create a kind of placebo effect: sustaining the illusion of forward motion while obscuring the fact that neither party is structurally built to reflect working-class interests. “Working within the Democratic Party” has been the prevailing model of progressive political action for decades now, and it suffers from a fundamental limitation: it cedes all real agency to professional politicians. The liberal office-seeker becomes the indispensable actor to whom all others, including progressives, must respond…In this “party-less” model of politics, it’s the Democratic politician who goes about trying to recruit a base, rather than the other way around. The politician’s platform and message are devised by her and her alone…Start with the most fundamental fact about the Democratic Party: it has no members…fundraising letters aside, there are no real members of the Democratic Party: “Unlike these [British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand] democracies, where members join a political party through a process of application to the party itself, party membership in the United States has been described as ‘a fiction created by primary registration laws.”

Russo: Bellwether Ohio Leads Political Realignment

The following article, John Russo, former co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies, coordinator of the Labor Studies Program at Youngstown State University and visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor at Georgetown University, is cross-posted from Moyers & Company:

This year’s election has led some to predict a realignment of the two-party system in the US. We can see early signs of this in Ohio, where both parties are facing internal divisions.

The Republicans

As we are beginning to see in Congress and at Trump Tower (think about the embarrassingly public debate over Mitt Romney), the divide is all about loyalty to Donald Trump on the GOP side. Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges faces a challenge over lukewarm support of the president-elect. Jane Timken, vice chair of the Stark County Republican Party and wife of Tim Timken, a major Trump fundraiser and chief executive of TimkenSteel Corp., wants Borges’ job. In a letter to the GOPs State Central Committee that in January will decide on the next state chairperson, Timken wrote:

Once the nomination was settled, Chairman Borges had the obligation to fully support the nominee and his campaign. He did not, and his actions have divided the state party leadership. This was his choice.

Borges’ arm’s-length relationship with the Trump campaign is just the beginning of the extraordinary situation in Ohio: The state’s two top Republican elected officials publicly repudiated their nominee.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who won his own re-election Nov. 8 with more than 200,000 more votes than Trump got in the Buckeye State, initially offered tepid support for the Republican presidential nominee; then, after the infamous Access Hollywoodtape was released, he refused to vote for Trump. Portman said he would write in Mike Pence’s name for president. Even more strident in his opposition: Republican Gov. John Kasich, who said he wrote in John McCain on his November ballot. Such resistance on the part of Ohio Republican leaders led Trump and his loyalists to cut ties with the state Republican Party.

Whether the challenge to Borges is the beginning of a civil war, as some have suggested, is uncertain. While both wings of the Ohio GOP have kept the fight largely under wraps, it could prove more an internal battle over positioning future candidates and political spoils of a successful presidential victory rather than a fight over the ideological direction of the party.

The Democrats

Even trickier to settle are the conflicts within the Ohio Democratic Party. Its leaders and regulars largely supported Clinton. Bernie Sanders supporters were clearly underrepresented in leadership ranks, though Sanders won 43 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. Also absent in the post-election discussions: the many Democrats statewide who crossed party lines to register as Republicans this year. These two groups will not likely return to the party if the leadership remains the same.

Meanwhile, factions within the Ohio Democratic Party are blaming each other for Hillary Clinton’s loss. The questions being raised in this debate mirror those the party must confront on a national level about whether the party was too quick to write off its once-loyal blue-collar base and questions about whether enough effort went into mobilizing voters in what the party views as its new strongholds: big cities and minority communities.

Harsh public criticism of both Ohio party leaders and Clinton’s Ohio campaign came in the form of:

  • An open letter circulated by party activists that pointed to a series of humiliating defeats and questioned the party’s commitment to its working class voters;
  • report issued by Strategic Resources on anemic African-American turnout in 2016. Strategic Resources is an Ohio-based consulting firm that has worked for Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and that, according to Federal Election Commission records, did work for the Clinton campaign early in 2016.

After issuing a boastful public relations blast in the spring that mocked their Republican counterparts for disarray, Ohio Democrats suffered losses this year that were nothing short of catastrophic. In a state that was once a political battleground, not only did Trump trounce Clinton, but Ted Strickland — hand-picked to increase Democratic turnout — went down to a crushing 21-point defeat to Sen. Rob Portman, who was once seen as vulnerable.

It’s the latest in a series of Democratic Party defeats over the past two decades, as Youngstown political reporter David Skolnick recently pointed out: Ohio Republicans have a 12 to 4 advantage in the US House of Representatives; Democrats hold only nine seats in the 33-seat Ohio Senate General Assembly and only 33 of 99 seats in the Ohio House; and except for 2006, Democrats have not held a single executive branch seat in Ohio since 1990. Skolnick also suggests that Ohio Democrats’ failures have put Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in danger of losing his next re-election bid in 2018.

This is not unlike the situation facing the party nationally: Barack Obama’s back-to-back election triumphs masked the fact that Democrats have been steadily losing ground in state legislative and congressional elections.

It also mirrors what’s happening in the party nationally in other ways. As in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, critics of the Ohio Democratic party leadership are now calling for changes — especially in the symbiotic relationship practices between state Democratic Party and campaign officials. But an Ohio Democratic Party executive committee meeting ended earlier this month with state Chairman David Peppers still at the helm.

One example of Democratic denial came in a post-election forum, in which Aaron Pickrell, the senior adviser for the Clinton and Strickland campaigns in Ohio, defended the campaign by saying that it had the infrastructure and funding to win, and noted that urban areas garnered large victory margins as expected. “I don’t know what we would have done differently in Ohio,” he said. “I don’t know how we could have swung it, because of the national narrative.”

But in the aforementioned open letter to state Democratic Party leaders, which was discussed at the executive committee meeting, critics provided overwhelming evidence that these claims had no foundation. While they agreed the Clinton campaign had sufficient resources, they said they weren’t used properly. They argued that the campaign took African-American and urban voters for granted, a failure reflected in voting tallies: Clinton won fewer votes than Obama had in 2012 in 8 out of 10 urban counties, and her total vote count in those areas was 184,228 less than Obama won in 2012.

The suggestion that part of the blame lies with Rust Belt countiesthat usually bring out strong support for Democrats only raises questions about why Democrats did nothing about a crisis they had to know was brewing. Internal memos that appeared in The Washington Post, reveal county party leaders delivered early warnings to the state Democratic Party and Clinton campaign that Trump was gaining traction among core Democratic voters. Those local Democrats’ pleas for action to counter Trump’s appeal were never heeded. Now the party — and the — must live with the consequences.

A Plan for Thwarting Trump

Tis the season for Democrats to get over November 8 and begin to plan ahead for how they intend to turn things around. I wrote up a nine-step recovery plan at New York this week:

Now that the 2016 election has formally ended, and there’s no denying Donald Trump the presidency, Democrats can finally and fully focus on their strategy for opposing him. I say “opposing him,” because everything Trump has done since November 8 shows beyond a reasonable doubt that there’s not going to be some shockingly moderate Trump administration as open to Democratic as to Republican policies and priorities. Becoming a “loyal opposition” is not an option, and if Democratic leaders actually went in that direction (beyond a few formulaic expressions of willingness to cooperate with Trump if he turns out to be someone other than himself), the Democratic rank and file would probably find themselves new leaders.

There is not much question that most congressional Democrats will be taking as a template Mitch McConnell’s declaration of scorched-earth opposition to all Barack Obama’s policies and initiatives in early 2009. Partly it’s a matter of payback, but the more important motive is that it worked: Democrats lost their control over Congress at the very first opportunity, in the 2010 midterms; even before that, major elements of Obama’s agenda — including climate-change legislation — were derailed. But there are some major differences between the situation of Democrats today and that of Republicans in 2009 and 2010 that should be reflected in the party’s strategy.

Democrats controlled 60 Senate seats as the Obama era began; today’s Republicans only control 52. That theoretically gives today’s Democrats more leverage — or, at the very least, it forces Republicans to squeeze as much of their agenda as possible into budget-reconciliation legislation that cannot be filibustered. At the very beginning of 2010, however, Republicans got a huge break when GOP candidate Scott Brown won a special election for the seat vacated when Ted Kennedy died, ending the Democrats’ ability to overcome a filibuster without Republican votes. Henceforth, Senate Republicans displayed impressive unity, and 41 votes were enough to pretty much end the really productive period of Democratic rule.

Can 48 Democrats accomplish as much obstruction as 42 Republicans did in Obama’s first two years? That’s not as clear as you might think, thanks to an unbelievably difficult 2018 Senate landscape that will constantly tempt the ten Democrats up for reelection in states Trump carried to defect. Six Republican senators from states carried by Obama in 2008 were up in 2010, but all of them were from states that were narrowly blue in 2008 and ripe for reversion to the GOP in midterms where turnout patterns favored Republicans.

Unify their ranks. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to keep potentially wayward colleagues inside a “big tent” with a broad leadership team that includes the especially vulnerable Joe Manchin of West Virginia. But it will take constant vigilance and even imagination to offer a message and agenda that gives senators like Manchin, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Jon Tester of Montana — all from states Trump carried by landslide margins — some opportunities to sound bipartisan without actually joining Senate Republicans on important votes. Outside Washington, the best template for party unity may be Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy” at the Democratic National Committee (working in harness with Democratic Party committees in Congress) that helped keep Democrats focused on Republican weaknesses from the party’s 2004 defeat until its 2006 midterm landslide win.

Opportunities for unity will be enhanced if Democrats can get through a DNC chair contest early next year without too many recriminations, and avoid going back down the rabbit hole of finger-pointing about the shortcomings of the Clinton campaign or what might have happened with Bernie Sanders as the nominee.

Find a way to pick off three Republican senators. This will be absolutely crucial for confirmation and budget votes. Unlike Republicans eight years ago, Democrats cannot filibuster executive-branch or non–Supreme Court judicial nominations. This is a result of the party’s 2013 decision to invoke the “nuclear option” — that is, changing the Senate rules to provide for simple majorities in those situations. A key test of power in January and February will be whether 50 Senate Republicans (or fewer, if they can flip Democrats) can hang together to confirm Trump’s entire cabinet and enact a budget bill that repeals Obamacare and defunds Planned Parenthood (and perhaps other goodies for conservatives). There are already Senate Republican misgivings about Rex Tillerson at State, and all sorts of concerns about the structure and timing of an Obamacare repeal. So alert Democrats could find an opportunity to register early wins over Trump, but the need to appeal to Republicans could temper their rhetoric as well.

Beginning even before Trump’s inauguration, Democrats have to keep a keen eye out for opportunities (which may or may not arise) to split the GOP coalition — not just by picking off three senators now and then, but by exploiting any big differences of opinion between Trump and congressional Republicans (over budget, trade, or immigration policy, for example), or within the congressional Republican caucuses (perhaps a House Freedom Caucus revolt over raising the debt limit in March or a budget that does not sufficiently cut federal spending later in the year).

Develop an effective strategy for dealing with Trump’s SCOTUS nominee. A great deal of early drama will come from Trump’s pick to fill the vacancy at the Supreme Court. In theory, Democrats will be able to filibuster that nomination and beat it with 41 votes, but the odds are extremely high that would trigger the GOP’s own “nuclear option” eliminating SCOTUS filibusters, too. So again it will be a matter of keeping Senate Democrats together and “flipping” three Republicans, which will only be possible if Trump nominates a real judicial extremist.

Decide when and how to fight for Obama’s executive orders. Still another theoretical opportunity to thwart Trump will be on votes to overturn recent Obama regulations via the Congressional Review Act (which will probably be amended to allow bundling of regulations to be killed into a single bill). Democrats must decide if such measures, which may attract Senate Democrats, are worth trying to stop with a filibuster. And they must also keep in mind that if they become too frustrated, Republicans could take the ultimate step of “nuking” filibusters of regular legislation.

Get prepared for what will probably be the most important bill of all — the GOP’s 2018 budget. After all these exciting preliminaries, the 115th Congress will settle down to “normal” business, though later in the year the odds are very high that Republicans will try to move a second, much larger budget-reconciliation bill that will likely include high-end tax cuts, defense spending increases, and potentially very large cuts in safety-net programs — in effect some version of the Ryan budgets congressional Republicans have been kicking around for years.

Hope that they’ll have a chance to fight for Medicare. Democrats are already expressing hopes that Trump and the GOP will overreach in their legislative onslaught and do something politically perilous like big changes to Medicare (entirely possible) or Social Security (much less likely). If that happens, congressional Democrats and their allies will replay the successful 2005 effort to beat back George W. Bush’s partial privatization proposal for Social Security, and no matter what happens the subject will be a big part of Democrats’ midterm message in 2018.

Barring that easy call for Democrats, they may be able to find other initiatives Trump and congressional Republicans are pursuing that can be exploited for public-opinion advantage or even a rare congressional victory. For example, if either in the Obamacare repeal bill or later Republicans pursue the plans both Ryan and Trump have embraced to turn Medicaid into a block grant (flat or reduced federal funding in exchange for state flexibility in running the program), the blowback from Republican governors and legislators worried about funding could cause problems, especially in the Senate.

Try to flip the House in 2018. Ultimately, of course, any Democratic strategy for dealing with the new realities created by the 2016 elections must aim at an electoral payoff, and again, their prospects do not quite resemble those of Republicans heading into what turned out to be a 2010 landslide. The aforementioned Senate landscape probably makes any Senate Democratic takeover in 2018 all but impossible. And so in contrast to 2016, Democrats, their donors, and advocacy groups will likely focus on the House, where the 26-vote gain necessary to flip the chamber could become feasible if the Trump administration stumbles badly or Republicans overreach. Democrats will also, of course, spend a lot of time going into 2018 on state-level elections, in preparation for the round of redistricting that will follow the 2020 census. And in both efforts they will need to solve the puzzle of how to get constituencies that typically do not turn out proportionately in nonpresidential elections to vote in a midterm.

Get ready for 2020. If Democrats fail where Republicans succeeded in decisively winning that first midterm after the White House has changed hands, they could still succeed where Republicans failed against Obama by denying Trump a second term. How to do that is a subject for many separate columns, but obviously doing damage to the ruling party wherever possible is part of the prep work.

Find tea-party-levels of intensity in the base. Above and beyond all the “inside baseball” strategies I’ve been talking about, Democrats must begin building the kind of “outside” organized pressure that the Republicans benefitted from when the tea party arrived on the scene in 2009. If the specter of Donald Trump in the White House does not generate immense energy for a popular opposition that need only be organized to unleash regular fury on a Republican-dominated Washington, it will be even more surprising than the mogul’s election.

It’s all quite a challenge for a Donkey Party that did not expect to be in this situation, and that is still tempted to engage in recriminations over Hillary Clinton’s nomination and campaign, or to struggle to define its own soul.

But if Republicans could succeed in thwarting a president as popular as Barack Obama was at this point eight years ago, Democrats ought to be able to do as well against the president who won the White House despite a historically low approval rating and immense concerns about his very legitimacy.

This is just a first draft for Democratic recovery; others are welcome.