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

September 24, 2017

Trump Removal Involves Tricky Strategy, Timing

Julia Azari explores the ramifications of a difficult question and a painful reality in her Five Thirty Eight post, “What Happens If the Election Was a Fraud? The Constitution Doesn’t Say.” As Azari writes:

For all the headlines about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, no hard evidence has come to light, at least publicly, showing that President Trump or his team were involved. But suppose that such evidence did come to light — what would happen if it became clear that Trump or his advisers colluded with the Russians?1 This isn’t the only type of wrongdoingthe investigations could uncover, but it’s among the most serious because it would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2016 result. So, is there a process for dealing with a finding that in essence invalidates an election?

When it comes to presidential elections, the answer is: not really. The laws and processes around national elections have grown up in a piecemeal fashion over time, with state and local laws governing the administration of presidential elections. And the Constitution itself focuses more on ensuring stability than on administering elections. As a result, there aren’t clear procedures for how to handle questions of legitimacy after the fact — especially when those questions involve the presidency.

…The lack of an established process for reviewing elections points to a larger issue: The structures established by the Constitution assumed a world in which the presidency and the Electoral College were not fully absorbed into a contentious national party system. That vision has long since been replaced by one in which presidential elections are national contests over policy agendas and ideas. The text of our Constitution has never been changed to reflect this reality. Instead, the Electoral College remains the final word on who gets to be president. When it comes to the possibility that the winning side colluded with a foreign power to influence the election outcome, the Constitution doesn’t offer much in the way of a plan.

Democrats should press the case for a complete investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, while keeping in mind the reality that Republican suppression of pro-Democratic voters, especially African Americans and gerrymandering are likely stealing even more votes than any foreign interference. There are also indications that Republican Secretaries of State are suppressing a lot of votes by delaying registration of voters. Consider, for example this disturbing excerpt from a Democracy Now report about voter registration problems in the recent GA-6 election, featuring voter suppression expert Greg Palast and voting rights activist Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project:

GREG PALAST: Voting rights groups registered literally tens of thousands of minority voters, but, strangely, the voter forms simply vanished.

NSE UFOT: We registered over 86,419 voter registration forms.

GREG PALAST: How many again?

NSE UFOT: Eighty-six thousand four hundred nineteen. There are 46,000 of the folks that we’ve registered who have made it, and 40,000 of them are missing. And you know what they told us? “We don’t know what you’re talking about. What forms?”

GREG PALAST: You mean that 40,000 of the voters you had registered, mostly minorities, just disappeared?

NSE UFOT: They did not disappear.

GREG PALAST: Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project.

NSE UFOT: With all four of my eyes, I—we walked into county boards of elections—county boards of registrars and seen boxes of voter registration forms waiting to be processed.

GREG PALAST: And if you complain about the missing voter registrations, you could face criminal felony charges, and your group could be destroyed…

Concerns about a fraudulent election at the presidential level may not come to much, if there is a lack of compelling evidence. Even if there is adequate evidence, the Trump Administration may delay action on it for a long time. Or the Republicans might take pre-emptive action/distraction by finally stepping up to impeach the President, since he has been so distructive to their brand.

Never before in American history has there been so much buzz about impeachment so early into a President’s term. Many political observers (see here for example) have been dismissive about the idea, more because of the difficulty of rallying the needed support than concerns about whether Trump’s mess meets impeachment requirements. Other progressives have worried about impeachment on strategic grounds — that impeachment could result in the worst case scenario of President Pence for two plus terms (the Constitution limits the time a President can serve to ten years. If the Republicans want Trump impeached, they have to time it in such a way that Pence would be sworn in just less than 10 years before his second term would be completed. We may see some tricky timing maneuvers by both Democrats and Republicans before any such impeachment drama runs its course). Forcing Trump’s resignation could accomplish the same result.

But Trump’s brand of lunacy could make avoiding impeachment impossible for Democrats, as well as Republicans. Who would bet that Trump will not do anything illegal, dangerous or outlandish enough in the next couple of years to make impeachment the only palatable choice for members of congress who want to get re-elected?

Between the GOP’s twin disasters of their health care debacle and Trump’s destructive tweets, they are on track to experience a rout in 2018. When your adversary is self-destructing, the argument goes, get out of the way. Don’t introduce another draining distraction.

For now, the best strategy for Democrats is to remain vigilant, while leaving the headache about removing Trump to the Republicans. The distracting drain on time, energy, money, credibility and emotions presented by mobilizing for impeachment properly belongs to Republican office-holders and operatives. Democratic resources can be better allocated elsewhere, like recruiting strong candidates, registering voters, fighting voter suppression and crafting a better message/brand for the party. Dems may eventually have to play a leadership role in impeachment, but not yet.

Toomey Reveals a Secret: GOP Didn’t Plan For a Trump Win

As Senate Republicans battled to get to 50 votes for their Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill, a broader GOP problem suddenly appeared, as I discussed at New York:

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey offered a simple, remarkable explanation this week for why Republicans have struggled so mightily to find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“‘Look, I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win, I think most of my colleagues didn’t, so we didn’t expect to be in this situation,’the Pennsylvania Republican said Wednesday night during a meeting with voters hosted by four ABC affiliates across his state.”

According to the Washington Post’s Paul Kane, this is almost certainly why congressional Republicans agreed upon a “repeal and delay” strategy for dealing with Obamacare soon after the election: They had no real clue how to do anything else. But the lack of advance planning has also been evident in the inability of Republicans in the Executive and Legislative branches to reach any kind of agreement on how to proceed with other very basic agenda items — also achievable without Democratic votes — like “tax reform” and the federal budget. And the disarray extends beyond the legislative process:

“Perhaps nowhere did the surprise factor of Trump’s victory show its impact more than in the effort to fill top jobs inside the administration. Clinton’s campaign, fully expecting victory, was stocked with hundreds of volunteer advisers who were already angling for sub-Cabinet-level posts in key agencies including the departments of State, Justice and Defense. Many of them were current or former senior staff to congressional Democrats.

“But with Republicans, those connections were rare because few believed them to be worth the effort.”

It is hard to overstate the difference for Republicans between the “Trump wins” and “Clinton wins” scenarios. After all, the GOP had been rehearsing the politics of obstruction and enjoying the innocent pleasures of passing consequences-free legislation for six long years after Republicans retook the House in 2010 (and then the Senate in 2014). The transition from gesturing to governing was especially tough for the anti-government party, and it did not help that the new GOP president was so unorthodox, unpredictable, and inexperienced a figure. Republicans did not, as Toomey said, “expect to be in this situation,” so they did not go through the difficult process of airing their differences and putting together pre-vetted consensus plans. On issue after issue, they are doing that now, on the fly, using — as Toomey puts it— “live ammo.”

It’s not going very well.

Political Strategy Notes

As a group, veterans don’t seem to vote to any significant exent according to candidate positions on issues like veterans benefits. It may be that the best way for Democrats to court veterans is to encourage more of them to run as Democrats. In her New York Times article, “Democrats Court Military Veterans in Effort to Reclaim House,” Emmarie Huettman writes that “Most of the veterans serving in Congress are Republicans; of the 13 veterans in this year’s House freshman class, 10 are Republicans.” Now, however “about 20 military veterans who have announced that they will run as Democrats for the House of Representatives next year. Democratic Party leaders are aggressively seeking former members of the military in hopes of increasing their appeal among the sort of frustrated voters who elected President Trump — and winning back the 24 seats they need to regain the Republican-controlled House.”

At The Hill, Mike Lillis probes deeper into a much discussed topic in his post, “Dems divided on Trump attack strategy for 2018.” While nearly all Democrats advocate honing a better message, most of the disagreement over strategy seems to be about who to attack and how. There is lots of disagreement about how much to attack Trump and Republican candidates. But Lillis provides one quote that suggests a new approach that merits more discussion in Democratic strategy circles: “I don’t want to run against Trump,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “My recommendation is to run against the Republican Party, and I think our party has made a mistake by emphasizing too much Mr. Trump.” Dems should try a series of hard-hitting ads that focus more directly on branding the Republican Party, instead of just its candidates. At the very least, the idea should be tested in focus groups.

Ron Klain provides some salient insights about how Democrats might flip the meme about which party is really condescending to working people, and put it where it belongs, in his Washington Post article “To win the working class, Democrats need to start talking straight.” As Klein writes, “Trump’s economic message has been a kind flim-flammery where the carnival barker lavishes compliments on his audience while whispering to his sidekicks, “Can you believe they are buying this?” He extolled the virtues of “Buy American” while building his own projects with imported Chinese steel. He made immigrants the scapegoats for a wide array of economic problems, while applying for special visas to import foreign workers for jobs at Mar-a-Lago…It was Trump’s campaign that reeked of condescension when he told working-class voters that he alone could make sure that jobs shipped overseas come back. Trump’s presidency is erected on faux populism, as he claims to look out for “forgotten people ” while saying that only rich people are qualified to formulate economic policy and using the presidency to promote his family’s businesses. Appealing to working-class voters on false promises and flawed premises is not showing them respect: It is a condescending belief that with enough bluster and showmanship, you can get away with anything.”

Sarah Jaffe reports at Truthout on the activities of a new progressive political action group in Indiana: “We have been building this thing now for three months. We have got a small but growing base of dues-paying members. We have teams around operations and administration and around fundraising and around politics. We have been running a test canvas program to gear up for our first big canvas, which we will start on July 8 and go for three weeks. We did a daylong boot camp training for organizers in Indiana. People from all over the southern half of the state came. We did one action on Donnelly’s office around Medicaid cuts and infrastructure. We have been collecting Medicaid stories, getting videos of them, first person accounts that people, mostly mothers in the region, have written and trying to get them placed in national press outlets…A lot of this organizing is based on having long one-on-one discussions with people, what their lives are like, what they are interested in, what they are concerned about, what they are afraid of, what they are angry about, what they are hopeful for and growing relationships that way. That is both on the doors and ideally in follow-ups after people get knocked or called.”

At Daily Kos, Joan McCarter explains why “Tom Price’s Health and Human Services Dept. forced to admit Obamacare is doing pretty well,” and notes “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, part of Tom Price’s Department of Health and Human Services, is out with its report on the health of the insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act for 2016, and it’s pretty good…If not for the out-and-out sabotage by the Trump administration and the uncertainty created by its dithering over payments to insurers (not to mention the chaos Congress has created), the market would be going into the 2018 plan year very strong. As it is, it finished out 2016 in very good shape, and the Trump administration just admitted it.”

Democratic candidates and campaigns should make themselves familiar with the latest innovative reforms regarding campaign finance, and one of the best ways to do it is to read “Public Funding for Electoral Campaigns: How 27 states, Counties and Municipalities Empower Small Donors and Curb the Power of Big Money in Politics” by Juhem Navarro-Rivera and Emmanuel Caicedo at Demos. The authors observe that “Public campaign funding programs have been successful in diversifying the donor base of candidates in terms of class and race. In some places, these programs have also succeeded in diversifying the gender, racial, and class makeup of candidate pools. Among the other benefits they cite are more quality time with constituents and more women running for office. They credit the reforms with “reducing participating candidates’ reliance on large individual, corporate, and out-of jurisdiction donors, while providing incentives to reach out to constituents for small contributions.”

Generic Ballot Model Gives Democrats Early Advantage in Battle for Control of House, reports Alan I. Abramowitz at Sabato’s Crytal Ball. Abramowitz concludes that “On average, based on calculations from FiveThirtyEight, Democrats hold an adjusted lead of close to seven points on the generic ballot, mirroring that of the RealClearPolitics average. A lead of that magnitude would result in a predicted Democratic gain of close to 30 House seats, more than enough to regain control of the chamber. Given the model’s standard error of 11.6 seats, that forecast would give Democrats about a two-thirds chance of regaining control of the House…So keep an eye on the generic ballot polling for 2018. If Democrats maintain a lead in the high single digits, that probably indicates they will have a decent chance to win the House or at least significantly cut into the Republicans’ majority. A bigger Democratic lead, into the double digits, would make a takeover more likely, while a smaller Democratic lead — or a GOP advantage — would put Republicans in a clearer position to preserve their majority.”

Peter Beinart argues at the Atlantic that Democratic leaders must present an assertive challenge to Trump’s Korea policy. As Beinart writes, “Republicans tend to think Ronald Reagan proved that the way to deal with adversaries is through ideological denunciations, economic sanctions, and military threats. By contrast, Democrats—at least in the Obama era—emphasized diplomacy and international cooperation. Instead of seeking the capitulation of hostile regimes, they sought deals that involved compromise by both sides. They supported pressure only when it helped to bring such deals about…Not anymore. When I asked the veteran arms-control expert Joe Cirincione what today’s Democrats believe about North Korea, he answered: “A Bud Light version of the hawkish neocon view…What makes this so tragic is that the path Trump is on—with bipartisan support—is doomed to fail. Were Democrats willing to risk a political fight, they could offer a better way…The lesson of the Iraq War is that progressives must challenge the GOP’s hawkish maximalism regardless of the political cost. The lesson of the Bernie Sanders campaign is that grassroots Democrats hunger for authenticity, independence and courage. If there are dangers for Democrats who challenge the current hawkish discourse on North Korea, there are opportunities too.”

Enroute to making his point at cnbc.com that “Liberal firebrands may not be best hope for divided Democrats in the Trump era,” John Harwood notes of the electorate that “in 2000, they embraced George W. Bush’s vow to restore “honor and dignity” to a White House tarnished by Bill Clinton’s scandal.” But, ahem, let’s not forget that Bush lost the popular vote. We nonetheless hope that a majority of voters in the next couple of election cycles still want to “restore ‘honor and dignity’ to a White House,” because the options for those two qualities should be quite clear by then.

It’s Time for Dems to Tend Their Pivotal Base Constituency

Democratic strategists and candidates should take the time to read — and think about — Lauren Victoria Burke’s “As Democrats Keep Chasing Trump Voter Waterfalls, Will They Ever Listen to Their Actual Base: Black People?” at theroot.com. Burke sheds some much-needed light on a Democratic blind spot:

…Does it really take a genius to figure out that if a group votes for you 90 percent of the time you should do what it takes to make sure that group is at the polling place on election day?

…The hard fact is that the Democratic party has no history of taking the strategic advice of African-American elected officials, leaders or consultants and applying substantial financial backing to black voter outreach. Will new DNC Deputy Chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) be listened to? Who knows.

If past is prologue, everyone knows what happens next: Senior black officials asking the party for field help will be ignored and, instead, Democrats will stage a few visits to black churches two Sundays before Election Day, followed by that crash panic of activity days before Election Day.

 It was white women who gave 53 percent support to Donald Trump. It was Hispanic voters who gave Trump 29 percent of their support. African Americans voted for Hillary at 93 percent. You’d think lots of energy to get that group out would be common sense after black women were number one in turnout percentage of any voting group…Black turnout dove to 2004 levels in 2016 after Democrats decided that the record numbers seen in 2008 and 2012 would magically persist without President Obama on the ticket.
Then Burke gets down to a very recent case:
There were over 130,000 African Americans in South Carolina’s 5th congressional district. Did the Democratic Party attempt to make a vigorous effort to turn them out? No. African American voters vote for the Democratic Party over 90 percent. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) asked for $200,000 to get out that vote. The answer was no.
It’s entirely possible Democrats could have picked up that seat with a small fraction of what was spent on the Ossoff campaign. It’s not like they weren’t informed about it. Compounding the mistake, Democrats ignored the good advice of one of their most loyal and experienced African American congressmen. As Burke notes,
On June 22, The Root asked Clyburn if he could remember a time when the Democratic Party has listened to blacks on strategy.

“I haven’t really thought about that,” said Clyburn, with a smile in a ornate lobby off of the House floor. “But they didn’t this time,” he added.

Clyburn will turn 77 next month and has been in Congress since 1993. If Democrats in charge of strategic decisions aren’t listing to him when it comes to black voter outreach, who are they listening to? Speaking with several other senior black Democrats reveals the same scenario.

Further, asks Burke, “Where’s the DNC’s anti-suppression campaign? Where’s the get out the vote effort target to black voters? Where’s the census strategy?”

Damn good questions.

Democratic leaders should certainly make an effort to get more votes from the white working-class. But even if they succeeed in gettting a larger share of that constituency, it won’t mean much if they underperform with African American voters. It’s time to take a sobering look at how they allocate GOTV resources to insure that the only constituency that votes Democratic 9-1 receives the attention it merits. This they should do, not only because it makes practical sense, but also because it is the right thing to do.

“Democrats are proving cycle after cycle that you can have all the money in the world,” concludes Burke, “but if you’re a loser on messaging and vote targeting it’s a waste.”

Choosing between pouring resources into white working-class GOTV and African American voter turnout is essentially a false choice. Neglecting either constituency is a ticket to defeat. Democrats have got to do both — if they really want to win.

Two Weeks Later, Reasons for Ossoff Defeat Come Into Focus

Two weeks after the GA-6 special election run-off, seasoned political columnist Albert R. Hunt of Bloomberg View offers some perceptive observations about Jon Ossoff’s defeat in that marquee contest:

Some disappointed Democrats have argued that they failed because their candidate wasn’t tough enough on Trump, and didn’t take strongly progressive positions that would energize their most loyal voters.

That theory doesn’t hold up to an analysis of voter-turnout data by John Anzalone, the pollster for the Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.

Anzalone’s breakdown shows that Democrats turned out to vote in impressive numbers. There were 125,000 votes for Ossoff, more than Democratic congressional candidates had gotten in the district before and more than Barack Obama received in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.

“We did excite the Democratic base,” Anzalone said. “Trump was the accelerant that brought out Democrats who would not normally vote in a midterm or special election.”

The problem for the Democrats was that there was a larger-than-expected Republican turnout too, enabling the GOP candidate, Karen Handel, to win by 10,000 votes. Some Democrats had hoped that Trump’s unpopularity would dampen turnout for the Republican House candidate; it didn’t happen.

Hunt also sees a foreign policy impact benefitting Handel, as “supporters of Handel hammered Ossoff in the closing weeks of the campaign for inflating his national-security resume and for working with the Qatari-based media network Al Jazeicalera,” and notes that “Trump’s favorable poll ratings in the district rose only once, when he ordered the bombing of Syria in April.” But that’s an argument that would be more applicable to a U.S. Senate race than a House contest. It would be hard to cite a GA House race that clearly turned on foreign policy concerns in the last decade.

Hunt notes the Handel campaign’s extensive Pelosi-bashing as a possible factor. Ads can amplify an albatross strategy to a modest extent. But most Pelosi-haters would likely have voted against Ossoff anyway, regardless of any such attack ads. Value added by such ideological linkage would likely be minimal.

Ossoff’s defeat notwithstanding, Hunt points out that, “in every special House race and statewide contest this year, they [Democratic candidates] have significantly outperformed their showing in recent elections even in defeat.” Picking up two dozen House seats  doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, especially given the President’s tanking approval ratings and the lengthening do-nothing track record of GOP House members.

Other possible reasons for Handel’s win might include suppression of African American and Latino voters, Ossoff’s inadequate  outreach to working-class voters and Handel’s better-than-expected and lavishly-funded ground game. But Hunt is surely right that Democratic candidates have done a lot better thsn before in GA-6 and other 2017 special elections in Repubican-held districts. Looking toward the 2018 midterm elections, Dems have every reason for cautious optimism — and energetic voter mobilization in competitive House districts.

Political Strategy Notes

At HuffPo Sam Levine reports that Republican voter suppression guru Kris Kobach finds himself in a bit of a mess over a court ruling that he be sanctioned for making “patently misleading representations” to the court about the contents of voting rights documents he was photographed holding while meeting with Donald Trump in November.” Kobach’s  excuse, Levine explains, is that “he eliminated four pages of arguments from a brief his attorney was drafting in order to get it down to the page limit as a filing deadline approached.” However, adds Levine “ACLU lawyers also urged the court not to reconsider the sanctions based on Kobach’s pleas about last-minute editing because he hadn’t made such a claim in other briefs responding to the motion to compel him to produce the documents from the Trump meeting. The lawyers said the claim was Kobach’s “latest excuse,” and “if a misunderstanding had simply arisen from editing errors, that fact would have been well known to Defendant and his co-counsel months ago.”

Trump’s nasty attacks against ‘Morning Joe’ co-host Mika Brzezinski provide a convenient distraction from more important matters, like the GOP’s latest voter suppression scam under Kobach’s leadership as vice chair of the phony “comission” on election “integrity,” which doesn’t even pretend to be bipartisan. The Mikagate uproar also eats up media space that would be better allocated to coverage of the Trumpcare horror show, at least for the millions of Americans whose health security is at stake. But Trump’s latest twitter disaster has produced one beneficial effect, as Ashley Kilough reports at CNN Politics: Rep Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has introduced “a bill to create an 11-member commission made up of mostly physicians and psychiatrists — more formally called the “Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity,” which could help to oust a mentally-unhinged President. Although few would have thought a year ago that such legislation is necessary, the sobering thought of Trump in control of the launch codes makes it a welcome development. As things stand now, one Democratic slogan for 2020 might be “Sane Leadership for Challenging Times.”

Speaking of distractions, another importat  Heather Digby Parton writes at salon.com; “As much as the president’s grotesque tweets served as a grim reminder of his true character, Trump did manage to do the one thing he has been dying to do for weeks: move the press off the Russia story. Sadly for him, it only lasted a few hours before yet another late-breaking Russia scoop hit. The Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris published a story that links former national security adviser Michael Flynn to a longtime right-wing operative named Peter W. Smith, who told Harris he had engaged with Russian hackers to obtain the so-called “missing emails” from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Smith also claimed he was in touch with Michael Flynn and possibly his son, both of whom he knew through some earlier business dealings…Another big Russia story, arguably even more significant, landed yesterday and few people seem to have noticed. Kevin G. Hall and Ben Weider of the McClatchy Washington bureau reported that Trump’s business dealings in countries of the former Soviet empire were much more substantial than he’s let on and his ties to bankers, oligarchs and politicians in the area are much more consequential…”

Much recent media coverage urges Democrats to focus on developing and projecting a more credible message, instead of relying on blasting Trump (Here is a good example) to win elections. That’s true, although it’s somewhat of a straw-man argument, considering that nearly all Democratic members of the House and Senate embrace a specific, well-thought out legislative agenda, the elements of which generally receive strong support in opinion polls. It’s just hard to condense the various priorities of the ‘big tent’ party into a soundbite, or even a digestible paragraph. In addition, well-targeted attack ads are often effective. The other problem is that Trump’s aggressive pursuit of the most extreme right-wing goals leaves Democrats no choice but to addresss his almost daily outrages — especially since the opposition to his excesses is so weak in the Republican Party.

As for White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claiming at last Thursday’s press briefing that Trump “in no way, form or fashion has ever encouraged violence, quite the contrary,” echoing Trump’s assurance that he “certainly” did not “incite violence,” she should be called on to respond to the following video clip:

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich is trying to discredit the Congressional Budget Office as part of the “Deep State” apparatus, in the wake of the CBO analysis shredding Trumpcare. But current Republican Speaker Paul Ryan sees it a little differently, as Roll Call reports: “One day after the White House criticized the Congressional Budget Office as an inaccurate arbiter, amid a heated debate over the effects of the Republicans’ plans to change the health insurance system, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is defending the nonpartisan office. “Yeah, he’s actually a Republican appointee. If I’m not mistaken, Tom Price appointed him,” Ryan said Tuesday morning when asked whether he had full confidence in CBO Director Keith Hall. Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services and a key advocate of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, was previously the House Budget Committee chairman.”

“House Majority PAC, the main Democratic super PAC involved in House races, has launched a major project studying white working-class voters ahead of the 2018 elections, looking to arrest Democratic losses with the key demographic,” notes Scott Bland at Politico. “The research is a sequel to an effort the super PAC ran in 2016, when it combined focus group interviews and a large-scale series of polls examining the views of whites without college degrees in key congressional districts…The follow-up reflects growing recognition among Democrats that their party cannot win back political power in Washington or many states without many more votes from whites without college degrees.

At The Upshot, Claire Cain Miller reports that “Family-Friendly Laws Are Being Passed, but Not by Trump’s Team,” and notes “Last week alone, state legislatures passed several major pieces of legislation that benefit families. Oregon became the first state to pass a bill guaranteeing workers predictable schedules, with two weeks’ notice and 10 hours off between shifts. Washington passed a paid leave law that gives workers 16 weeks to care for babies, family members or themselves. New Jersey voted to double its paid family leave to 12 weeks, pay workers more while they’re out and let them use it in more types of situations. Rhode Island’s House and Senate passed separate paid sick leave bills, but not yet a compromise bill.”


Trump Brings Back Gingrich’s Inability To Admit He’s Trying to Cut Medicaid

When Donald Trump sent out a certain tweet about Medicaid this week, it brought back some distinct memories. I wrote about it at New York.

How does Trump justify supporting GOP health plans that violate his pledge during the campaign to oppose cuts in Medicaid spending?

It seems POTUS does not understand how Medicaid funding works, and thus what constitutes a “cut.” He appears to think if any program’s funding goes up year-to-year, it hasn’t been “cut.”

This is rarely true, actually. Even with programs that are subject to annual appropriations, providing the same services from one year to the next usually costs more, thanks to inflation and population growth. Demographic changes and economic circumstances can aggravate or ameliorate the need for more funding. But you cannot point to a rise in funding and say, “That’s not a cut,” without knowing a lot more about the program, its services, and the specific population it serves.

With an entitlement program like Medicaid, moreover, in which defined categories of people receive defined benefits automatically, annual spending increases are virtually guaranteed unless the population is shrinking or the economy is really booming. As it happens, Medicaid spending under current policies is going up significantly in the immediate future thanks to at least three factors: the expansion of eligibility 31 states have elected to pursue under the Affordable Care Act; medical inflation, which generally exceeds consumer inflation; and the rapid growth in the senior population, adding to the number of Medicaid’s most expensive beneficiaries.

You can argue, as many Republicans do, that policy makers should act to curb Medicaid’s rising costs. But you can’t claim such efforts are not “a cut.” For the Medicaid expansion population at greatest risk of losing eligibility entirely under the House and Senate health-care bills, that would definitely represent “a cut.” The same is true of any Medicaid participants who may have to deal with reduced benefits or increased “cost-sharing” requirements as states adjust to a per capita cap on federal Medicaid payments.

Since we will never entirely agree on what the “normal” or “natural” funding levels for a program like Medicaid should be, the only rational way to look at Medicaid proposals is to compare how much money it would take to finance Medicaid under current law, and how much the proposals would change those costs. That is precisely what the Congressional Budget Office — who are not “Democrats,” mind you, but hires of a Republican-controlled Congress — did in describing the Better Care Reconciliation Act as “cutting” Medicaid spending by $772 billion over ten years. That does not mean reducing Medicaid spending by that much on a year-to-year basis. But it does mean that according to CBO’s best estimates BCRA will undershoot by $772 billion what it costs to provide the same Medicaid services to the people now deemed eligible. And that’s a “cut.”

Now it is entirely possible Donald Trump understands all this and is simply hoping readers of his tweets don’t. That was the calculation his friend Newt Gingrich made back in the 1990s when he perpetually insisted in a highly publicized argument with Bill Clinton that the Medicare and Medicaid cuts he was proposing weren’t cuts at all but simply “reductions in the rate of growth.” (Indeed, Gingrich is saying the same thing now, which may be where Trump got the idea.) He did not win that argument with Clinton then, and Trump is not likely to win it now, particularly since congressional Republicans, whether or not they support their party’s health-care plans, are not buying this line. When real, live people lose things they would otherwise have, they have been “cut.” Pretending otherwise represents ignorance at best and cynical demagoguery at worst.

How Dems Can and Can’t Win a House Majority in 2018

At The Daily 202 James Hohmann explains why “Even sweeping the suburbs would not be enough for Democrats to win the House majority“:

To win the House majority in the midterms, Democrats will need to make big gains with suburban voters, defend incumbents in rural districts where President Trump remains popular, topple a handful of Republicans in the Sun Belt and probably win a handful of seats that still aren’t on anyone’s radar.

That’s a formidable challenge for Democrats, almost as difficult as Trump’s upsets in rust belt states last year. What makes it even possible is Trump’s increasingly unhinged behavior that, sooner or later, will cause at least some of his supporters to conclude that, maybe it’s time to check his power, and Republicans don’t seem to be up for the job.

Hohmann goes on to note that Republicans now hold 23 House seats in districts Clinton won. “But some of the incumbents are very popular, with brands that are distinct from Trump’s, and they are unlikely to lose no matter how bad the headwinds become.” In addition, writes Hohmann, “Democrats must defend 12 seats in districts that Trump carried in 2016.”

Hohmann cites a Third Way study of 65 potential ‘swing districts’ that fell into four basic categories, including “Thriving Suburban Communities, Left Behind Areas, Diverse/Fast-Growing Regions, and Non-Conformist Districts.” The study underscored the demographic complexity of the districts and concludes that there are simply not enough suburban districts where Democrats have credible chance to win, “even if they could get every single 2016 Clinton voter who backed a Republican House candidate to turn out again in 2018 and cross over.

The study concludes, further, that Democrats simply have to convert some Trump voters, which is a challenging goal, considering other studies which indicate that most Trump voters still support him, despite mounting evidence that he is being manipulated by Putin, almost daily revelations of his lies and blundering comments that alientate U.S. allies abroad.

“There is palpable concern among moderate Democrats that the party will squander precious pick-up opportunities in the midterms,” notes Hoihmann, “and even allow Trump to get reelected in 2020, by nominating unelectable liberals.” The key to Democratic victories next year, according to Third Way is “ideological diversity to take back legislative seats that were lost during the Obama era at the federal and state level” — the exact opposite of the robust populism many progressive Democrats are advocating.

The argument about whether a populist or centrist messaging strategy is better for Democrats in the 2018 midterms is not going to be decided by Democratic Party leaders. Instead, it will be decided mostly by two basic factors, the beliefs, determination and skills of the individual Democratic candidates who run and what the voters do on election day. Campaign consultants and strategists can help candidates get elected. But the candidates themselves have to provide the passion and commitment that can inspire voters.

It will be interesting to see if the winning Democratic candidates of 2018 are more in the progressive or centrist tradition, or perhaps somewhere in between, or even sprinkled across the ideological spectrum. The morning after the election is when the debate about whether a left or centrist message is better for Democratic candidates in 2018 can be credibly evaluated.

Democratic Unity Aided By GOP’s Lack of a Political Strategy

Watching the continuing struggle of congressional Republicans to enact a health care bill that is increasingly unpopular with the public led me to wonder aloud at New York about their motivations:

One of the much-predicted things in politics that has not actually happened this year (so far, at least) is the defection of congressional Democrats from districts or places carried by Donald Trump. There are 12 Democratic House members who fit that description, and all of them, obviously, will face voters in 2018. And there are famously ten Democratic senators up for reelection next year who represent states carried by Trump.

While some of those senators supported Trump on Cabinet confirmations more than their blue-state counterparts (particularly when the result was not in doubt), on big votes there was more unity. Only four Democrats failed to join the filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, even though everyone knew that would trigger the “nuclear option” which would eliminate judicial filibusters, maybe forever. A smattering of House Democrats voted for resolutions repealing late Obama regulations — mostly on guns and abortion — but such actions were rare in the Senate (except for one regulation involving coal, which attracted four coal-state Democrats).

But on the big measures that are preventing all the other GOP-sponsored big measures to proceed, Democrats are holding fast. The fiscal year 2017 budget resolution that made this year’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation possible passed both Houses without any Democratic votes. No House Democrats voted for the American Health Care Act. No Senate Democrats have breathed a word suggesting they might support the Better Care Reconciliation Act, however it is amended.

For those whose memories only date back to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, this opposition-party unanimity might seem normal. But it is actually very unusual by historic standards. Last time Republicans had control of the White House and Congress, during the George W. Bush administration, a significant number of Democrats regularly crossed the aisle to support GOP priorities, from No Child Left Behind to the Medicare prescription-drug benefit to comprehensive immigration reform — not to mention the authorizations and appropriations for military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What’s the difference now? In part, it could be the simple result of polarization and the example set by congressional Republicans when Barack Obama was president. And in part, some credit for Democratic unity is owed to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, not to mention the millions of progressive activists who have urged Democrats to hold the line against Trump and the GOP.

But there’s something else going on as well. During the W. years, Republican initiatives were built around Karl Rove’s swing-voter strategy for building a permanent GOP majority. Most Bush domestic initiatives were aimed at converting a segment of Democratic-leaning voters, from the seniors who were the targets of the Medicare prescription-benefit legislation to the Latinos favoring immigration reform. And the swing-voter strategy was enfolded in a more systemic (and successful) effort to mobilize Republican voters — especially conservative Evangelicals.

What’s remarkable about the very similar House and Senate health-care bills that Republicans are struggling to get to Donald Trump’s desk is that they don’t seem to be based on any particular strategy, beyond checking off the box of “repealing Obamacare,” which many conservatives don’t even believe the legislation will do. Indeed, these bills have virtually no curb appeal for swing voters, and also heavily and overtly wreak havoc on the lives of the very swing voters — particularly white working-class voters — that elected Trump and have been trending Republican for years. Here’s how Ron Brownstein puts it:

“Drafted without any Democratic input, the House and Senate legislation presents an unusually explicit statement of priorities. Tax cuts emerge clearly atop that list: The Congressional Budget Office calculates that through 2026 the House bill reduces federal revenues by an annual average of $100 billion, and the Senate bill by an average of $70 billion. In each chamber, the biggest cut is the repeal of ACA taxes on income and investment profits that apply only to individuals earning at least $200,000 or families earning at least $250,000 …

“On the other side, the cuts’ corresponding benefit reductions would hit lower-income and older workers hardest, particularly in the last years before retirement. Those are cornerstone Republican voters: Nationwide, over two-thirds of all adults ages 45 to 64 are white and Trump dominated among them.
So these bills manage to offend a sizable majority of the electorate at a time when Republicans ought to be thinking about defending their congressional majorities in 2018 and helping Trump consolidate his support for 2020.”

There’s no pressure on Democrats to cross lines and help get these bills enacted because they make no sense politically — not even for Republicans, much less for Democrats.

Political Strategy Notes

The editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas are running a symposium on “The Missing Progressive Infrastructure.” It features a dozen contributions from top progressive thinkers and political analysts, including: Heather Booth; Donna Brazile; Hahre Hahn; Ilyse Hogue; Sally Kohn; Maria Teresa Kumar; Scott Nielson; Faiz Shakir and Sarah Miller; Jonathan Soros; Zephyr Teachout; Michael Tomasky; and Vanessa Williamson. A sampling of the topics covered includes “Get Millennials to Run for Office,” “Culturally Competent Messaging, ” “Reaching White Women” and “A Group to Defend Government.”

Heather Booth writes in “State of the States” that “State infrastructure—especially grassroots organizing—is the weakest link of the progressive movement…To turn this around, we need to invest in grassroots networks around the country—both a 50-state strategy and a focus on building in key states where we can have an impact on redistricting in 2020…To do this we need to hire, train, and supervise organizers whose job it will be to find those who will vote for progressives. We need to be organizing both those we need to mobilize and those we need to persuade. We need to fund candidates for down-ballot races, to build our farm team and impact local politics. The Koch Brothers are doing this for every position from sheriff to school board. We need the political funding, not only restricted non-partisan money, to do the same—the amount of money is important, but so is the kind of funding to do advocacy and politics.”

Michael Tomasky writes in his contribution to the symposium, “My idea is for an organization that will defend government. On its face, that may sound so simple and fundamental as to be unnecessary…But think about it. We’ve seen 35 years of unrelenting assaults on the government, with millions of Americans persuaded that the federal government is their enemy; and yet, over all that time, no group has made its mark by defending the existence and functions of this federal government. Specific interest groups guard their turf—environmental groups defend green programs, anti-poverty groups argue for programs for the poor. But no one simply defends government.”

In a slate.com forum, “Can This Donkey Be Saved?,” Jamelle Bouie observes, “What Donald Trump did was match Clinton on the left on economic policy, at least rhetorically. So, if she proposed a $600 billion infrastructure program, Trump proposed a $1 trillion one. She said she would improve the health care system. Trump said he would, too. He also talked a lot about jobs and factories and vocally activated identities and showed signals of this is someone who cares about my economic standing. Here was a candidate offering both. And that I think was effective for Trump. The question is whether it would be effective in 2020, and I’m not sure because by then, Trump will be defending a standard-issue Republican economic program. So that knocks out one element of his appeal.”

Jonathan Chait writes at New York Magazine that “From a pure political standpoint, the Democrats have a win-win choice. They’ll gain if Trumpcare fails in Congress, and they’ll gain even more if it is signed into law. The only way they won’t score political points off the issue is if they join with Republicans to patch up the system. And yet many and perhaps most Democrats are probably willing to make this sacrifice for the same reason they took the risk of voting for Obamacare in the first place: They care a lot about health-care policy outcomes, and are willing to sacrifice seats to pursue them.”

Democrats, including former President Obama, have long been open to bipartisan amendments to Obamacare. Thus far, the only GOP leaders who are genuinely open to bipartisan twesking of Obamacare are some Republican governors. As Alexander Burns reports at The New York Times, “A once-quiet effort by governors to block the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act reached its climax in Washington on Tuesday, as state executives from both parties — who have conspired privately for months — mounted an all-out attack on the Senate’s embattled health care legislation hours before Republicans postponed a vote...More than half a dozen Republican governors, including several from states with Republican senators, expressed either grave reservations or outright opposition to the bill…”

Writing at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein sheds light on a facet of the Republican health care bills that could cost them substantial support from, senior voters: “…As the Kaiser Family Foundation shows in a powerful new interactive map, premiums under the Senate bill would soar almost everywhere for working-class 60-year-old adults. That’s partly because the Senate bill allows insurers to charge older consumers five times as much as younger ones—the ACA set a maximum three-to-one disparity—and also because the proposal provides less generous tax credits for coverage…The cumulative effect is overwhelming. For 60-year-olds earning $30,000, Kaiser calculated, premiums would rise relative to the ACA in every county across the nation except for two in Ohio. (Those exceptions reflect a statistical quirk related to current pricing, Kaiser said.) Premiums would likewise increase for 60-year-olds earning $40,000 in every county except for one of those in Ohio. Even for 40-year-olds earning $30,000, premiums would rise in over four-fifths of counties, Kaiser found…For 60-year-olds, the biggest rate increases would fall on many of the blue-collar, predominantly white counties that powered Trump’s victory…”

But, “Don’t be fooled: the Senate’s Obamacare repeal effort remains very alive,” warns Sarah Kliff at vox.com. “McConnell and his fellow Republican senators view this delayed vote as a temporary obstacle, not a death knell for Obamacare repeal. Senate leadership has reportedly set a Friday deadline for a new draft of the bill. The Congressional Budget Office could score it next week, setting up a mid-July vote..”

Some nuggets from “It’s Time for Medicare for All” by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich: “Some background: American spending on healthcare per person is more than twice the average in the world’s thirty-five advanced economies. Yet Americans are sicker, our lives are shorter, and we have more chronic illnesses than in any other advanced nation…Why is healthcare so much cheaper in other nations? Partly because their governments negotiate lower rates with health providers. In France, the average cost of a magnetic resonance imagining exam is $363. In the United States, it’s $1,121. There, an appendectomy costs $4,463. Here, $13,851. They can get lower rates because they cover everyone – which gives them lots of bargaining power.Other nations also don’t have to pay the costs of private insurers shelling out billions of dollars a year on advertising and marketing – much of it intended to attract healthier and younger people and avoid the sicker and older…ccording to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare’s administrative costs are only about 2 percent of its operating expenses. That’s less than one-sixth the administrative costs of America’s private insurers…”