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

January 19, 2018

Greenberg: Democrats Need To Lead The Fight For A Better NAFTA — There Is No Upside to Being on the Sidelines of This Debate

The following article by Stanley Greenberg of Greenberg Research is cross-posted from Democracy Corps:

Donald Trump remains deeply unpopular with the American people, and his recent actions to undermine health care and pursuit of trickle-down tax cuts will surely make matters worse.

But the round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations that occurred last week in Washington reminds us that there is an area where Trump’s job performance is relatively strong. According to Democracy Corps’ most recent poll, 46 percent of registered voters approve of his “handling of trade agreements with other countries,” 51 percent, how he is “putting American workers ahead of the interests of big corporations” and 60 percent, “keeping jobs in the United States.”

That is made possible, in part by the relative silence of Democrats on these issues (and in spite of committed progressive trade advocates among America’s unions and consumer and environmental organizations.)

Indeed, Hillary Clinton and national Democrats’ failure to vociferously express their doubts about NAFTA and opposition to President Obama’s signature trade policy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), contributed mightily to Trump’s victory in many of the swing Midwestern states.

What Trump knows and all Democrats must understand is this: for the voters, this is not about trade agreements like NAFTA and TPP per se. It is about the outsourcing of good paying American jobs that these agreements facilitate.

Only 11 percent of voters view “outsourcing” favorably in our most recent poll. That was vividly expressed by voters from the Rustbelt to Seattle in focus groups conducted this summer. Just hearing the word ‘outsourcing’ would get them fuming, and they say those are “middle income jobs” and companies that outsource jobs are “traitors” and “should be financially penalized.”

While the country is evenly divided on whether NAFTA has been good for the economy, they are pretty sure it has meant fewer American jobs. That is why Trump has made trade agreements so central to his agenda – it makes him relevant to Americans’ consuming struggle with jobs and wages.

NAFTA renegotiations are putting trade front-and-center again, and this time Democrats must not remain invisible. That is not just because it makes Donald Trump relevant on the issue of jobs and wages and fuels one of his only remaining areas of approval.

What is more important is the opportunity to secure changes to NAFTA for which many progressives have been fighting for so long. That includes taking on the lack of enforceable labor and environmental standards and the special protections for corporations (like Investor State Dispute Settlement) that push so many corporations to outsource good paying American jobs.

Our focus groups and polling for Public Citizen has revealed just how much both Clinton voters and Trump voters, including his white working class base, dislike features of NAFTA. That includes some elements that progressive trade reformers have been fighting for years and that the current U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, proposed to address in the recent NAFTA talks.

At the top of that list is a significant rollback of the corporate investor protections and ISDS regime that make it less risky and expensive for corporations to outsource jobs to Mexico. Also proposed was an end to NAFTA’s open-ended waiver of Buy American and other local preferences in government procurement that outsource our tax dollars rather than reinvesting them to create jobs here.

Trump’s has reneged on too many trade-related campaign promises that enjoy progressive support like confronting currency manipulation and making negotiations more transparent for Democrats to be silent now.

Voters are also concerned by problems with NAFTA that the administration has shown no interest in addressing. The most convincing argument for major changes to NAFTA is one that says “the U.S. worker is the big loser” because NAFTA lacks enforceable “labor and environmental standards so companies can move U.S. jobs to Mexico to pay workers poverty wages” and dump pollutants and “then import those products back to the U.S. for sale.” Over 80 percent of Trump voters and over 60 percent of Clinton voters found that a compelling argument against the current NAFTA. But new terms to remedy this do not appear to be at the top of the Trump trade agenda.

If saving American jobs and better wages is not enough for Democrats to take a visible stand on trade, then consider this: after a simulated debate over NAFTA, nearly 60 percent of voters came to believe NAFTA was bad for the economy and meant fewer American jobs. For Democrats, there is no upside to being on the sidelines – or worse, the wrong side – of this debate.

Democrats owe it to their voters and the country to lead the fight for a better NAFTA.


Political Strategy Notes

Reporting from the DNC meeting in Las Vegas, PowerPost’s David Weigel and Ed O’Keefe have an update on the Virginia governor’s race, focusing on Democratic nail-biting about the possibility of a bad outcome, in part because of statewide polls failing to predict Trump’s November upset in key rust belt states. The Virginia election will be a pretty good test about the reliability of various polls in the contest, most of which show the Democratic nominee with a lead of a few points. But the most accurate polls tend to be in the final two or three days of the campaign. In any event, it’s good to know that Democratic leaders aren’t basking in either overconfidence or hand-wringing. O’Keefe and Weigel quote DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who rebukes Democrats “who believe Virginia is now solidly, safely, permanently blue after years of population growth in the diverse suburbs of Washington.” As Perez put it, “I hear ‘demographics is destiny’ and it’s nails on a chalkboard to me…Demographics is not destiny. Organizing is destiny.” In a close election, it’s all about GOTV. In this case, the GOP mobilizing turnout of Virginia’s suburbs and rural areas vs. the Democratic focus on major urban areas and northeastern Virginia, especially the suburbs around  Washington, D.C. The authors point out that the RNC has 80 staff members on the ground in the state, twice as many as the DNC, and substantially more money. Those who want to help reduce the Republican’s financial edge can support the campaign of Democratic nominee Ralph Northam right here.

President Obama stumps for Democratic nominee Ralph Northam:

But it’s not only the Governorship that is important in Virginia’s November 7th election. In his graph-rich post, “Underneath It All: Elections for the Virginia House of Delegates: The General Assembly’s lower chamber is also up for election on Nov. 7,” Geoffrey Skelley explains at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “While November’s political spotlight will shine brightest on the gubernatorial contest at the top of the Virginia ticket between former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), there will also be many interesting races down-ballot in the Old Dominion on Election Day. Not only will there be elections for the commonwealth’s two other statewide offices — lieutenant governor and attorney general — but all 100 House of Delegates seats will also be up for grabs. The General Assembly’s lower house will probably look a little different after Nov. 7, but the question is, how different?..As things stand, the Republicans hold a 66-34 edge over the Democrats in the House of Delegates, meaning that the Democrats must win 17 net seats to retake it. Not shockingly, the Crystal Ball can confidently say that the GOP will maintain control of the chamber. In fact, Northam admitted just as much at a dinner recently where he said he looked forward to current House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R) becoming speaker of the House (current Speaker Bill Howell is retiring and Cox is the presumptive replacement). Still, the partisan makeup of the House could change quite a bit…A Northam win by two points or so might mean only two-to-four seats for Democrats, whereas a Northam win by five points could mean more GOP-held seats fall to the Democrats. On the other hand, a nail-biter or Gillespie win could trim the Democratic gains even further. There may be many races decided by just a few hundred votes. These are the kinds of contests that should remind people that every vote really does count.”

Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal-Star reports on recent remarks by Thomas Frank, author of the much-buzzed about “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” As Walton writes, Frank “places the blame for the election of President Donald Trump squarely on the back of the Democratic Party and its abandonment of working-class Americans…They love it when unions work hard for them and give them campaign funds,” Frank said in a telephone interview.  But they aren’t deeply concerned with the problems faced by working-class people,” he said. “They need to stop taking those people for granted…Frank has described the change as a shift of political attention from the working class to professionals, “the highly credentialed and creative class…In the process, he said during an earlier address at the Kansas City Public Library promoting his book, “Listen, Liberal,” the Democratic Party became “a party of New Economy winners.” Democrats, adds Frank, “certainly can beat Donald Trump” in 2020, he said. However, they cannot do it by “going down the road they’ve been going,” he said, and they will need to choose a nominee “who is good on working-class issues.”

At The Daily 202, James Hohman notes a scary Morning Consult poll indicating that Trump’s attacks on the press are getting some traction in the court of public opinion. As Hohman explains, “The president touted a PoliticoMorning Consult poll published last week that found 46 percent of registered voters believe major news organizations fabricate stories about him. Just 37 percent of Americans think the mainstream media does not invent stories, while the rest are undecided. More than 3 in 4 Republicans believe reporters make up stories about Trump…The same Politico-Morning Consult poll that Trump tweeted about yesterday found that 28 percent of Americans think the federal government should have the power to revoke the broadcast licenses of major news organizations if it says they are fabricating news stories about the president or the administration. Only 51 percent think the government should not be able to do that. A plurality of Republicans, 46 percent, thinks the government should have the power to revoke licenses if it says stories are false. As a thought exercise, imagine how much these same people would have freaked out if Barack Obama had called for revoking Fox News’s license to broadcast. Hohman cites other polls, including “An annual survey published last month by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 37 percent of Americans cannot name even one of the five rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. About half of those surveyed got freedom of speech but couldn’t get any of the others…Only 26 percent of respondents could name the three branches of government, down from 38 percent in 2011…Even more worrisome, 39 percent of Americans support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval.There was less opposition to prior restraint (49 percent) this year than in 2016 (55 percent).”

At The Tacoma News Tribune Matt Driscoll reports on a new study, ““The Other White America: White Working-Class Views on Belonging, Change, Identity, and Immigration,” by Harris Beider, Stacy Anne Hardwood and Kusminder Chahal, and observes, “Among other things, the study argues that as a group the white working class is far more diverse in its views than the stereotype that so often defines it. At the same time, the report is blunt in assessing the challenges of building coalitions across racial lines.,,The report, which was funded by the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs, included 415 conversations in five cities across the country between August 2016 and March 2017. Along with Tacoma, researchers spent time in New York City; Dayton, Ohio; Phoenix; and Birmingham, Alabama…Researchers organized workshops and held discussions with people who identified themselves as white working class. Scholars then analyzed and detailed what they said. The hope was to use the data to help pave a productive path forward…In reality, the researchers found a much more fragmented, nuanced and diverse section of society. While a general sense of economic insecurity — living paycheck to paycheck — along with a shared set of values based on work ethic, family, and self-sufficiency were all prevalent, educational attainment, political views, occupations and income levels varied widely.”

Kate Arnoff of the Intercept argues that “Democrats Are letting the Climate Crisis Go to Waste,” and observes “What should be a sparkling opportunity to push forward an ambitious agenda on climate—to condemn Republicans for not just ignoring but fueling a crisis with increasingly human and economic consequences—is going quite literally up in smoke. Even the most dogged climate champions in Congress are doing something Republicans would never dream of: Letting a crisis go to waste…Republicans are doing everything in their power to rip up the regulations and policies that could help mitigate the United States’ contribution to our ongoing climate crisis, most recently in taking their first official step to dismantle the Clean Power Plan…There’s been no unified policy response from congressional Democrats to Republicans’ attack on the Clean Power Plan or recent extreme weather events. Instead, the country’s most progressive Democrats have taken the GOP’s advice of not politicizing the events of the last few months. “We have a lot of time to make that point,” climate hawk Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D.-R.I., told Politico when asked about seeing the storms as a chance to talk about rising temperatures.”

Of course it’s way early, but David Weigel notes at PowerPost that “An early poll of the 2020 Democratic primaries, which kick off in roughly 820 days, finds Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at the front of a crowded field — in a race that would bear little resemblance to 2016’s two-candidate marathon…The first 2020 Granite State poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s survey center, finds that 31 percent of the state’s Democrats would back Sanders if the first presidential primary were held today. Twenty-four percent would back former vice president Joe Biden, while 13 percent would back Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). No other contender, not even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, cracks double digits.”

But Ed Kilgore makes a case that “Democrats Should Not Consider a Presidential Nominee Who’s Older Than Trump,” noting that “…While no one in the running for 2020 suffers from the exact vulnerabilities created by the massive, decades-long attacks on Hillary Clinton, there is one clear and present danger that needs to be confronted directly and honestly. It’s that Democrats could choose a challenger so old that the prospect of infirmity or mortality — or worse yet, actual infirmity or mortality during the general-election campaign — could give Trump just the kind of advantage he needs…On election day in 2020, Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old, and Joe Biden will be a couple of weeks from turning 78. These happen to be the early front-runners for the Democratic nomination, according to initial polls…Biden 2020 or Sanders 2020 is a really bad idea, for reasons that go beyond the anomaly that either would make the oldest man ever elected president the youth candidate in his reelection bid…If nothing else, this is a subject that demands discussion among political activists and the news media. Perhaps an aging country has all but abandoned the idea that you can be too old to run for president. If not, we need to know that now instead of in the heat of a campaign.”


New GQR poll shows Democrats erase national security trust gap with Trump

The following article is cross-posted from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research e-blast:

A new poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner shows a 55- 45% majority of registered voters trust Democrats in Congress more than Donald Trump to handle America’s national security.  This represents a huge 18-point swing toward Democrats since March, when a 54-46% majority said they trusted Trump more.

The declining trust of Americans toward Trump on national security comes at a time when the country and Trump administration face a host of foreign challenges, from growing tensions with North Korea, to Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran deal, to a consensus that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election.

GQR partner Jeremy Rosner, who served on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton said: “The American public is rapidly losing faith that Donald Trump can keep them safe. The more they watch him handling foreign challenges, from North Korea to Iran to Russia, the less confidence they have in him.”

The American public particularly lacks faith in Trump’s ability to deal with North Korea – arguably the most dangerous of his immediate national security challenges. The public trusts Democrats in Congress more than they trust Trump to deal with North Korea, by a 57-42% margin. This 15 point Democratic edge is up 5 points just since this August, when Trump first threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” – a sign that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric is undermining his own public support, rather than enhancing it.

Equally notable: at a time when Republicans in Congress have dismal ratings – CNN polling in September shows 72% of the public disapproves of the job performance of “Republican leaders in Congress” – the public trusts Trump even less than Republicans in Congress on these life-or-death issues of national security. By a wide 62-37% margin, respondents in the GQR poll say they trust Republicans in Congress more than Trump on national security.

Trump’s mishandling of national security is starting to erode the Republican brand on these issues. In March, voters trusted “Republicans in Congress” on national security more than “Democrats in Congress,” by a large 20 point, 60-40% margin. But nine months of Trump’s tenure as Commander in Chief has cut that margin to just a 5-point, 52-47% advantage. Indeed, the GQR poll shows that on the central threat of North Korea, the public already trusts Democrats in Congress more than their Republican counterparts, by a 53-47% margin.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey fielded online, October 3-10, among 2,000 registered voters.

For more information, contact GQR at info@gqrr.com.


When It Comes to Senate Races, Are Trump and Bannon Both Losers?

After reading an awful lot of articles about Steve Bannon and Donald Trump jousting over 2018 Senate primaries, I expressed some skepticism at New York about this alleged clash of the titans:

While it hasn’t been formally confirmed by the White House just yet, Politico is reporting that President Trump called up three Republican senators who are up for reelection and promised to help them fend off any primary challengers that might emerge. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three – John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been the subject of dark imprecations and thinly veiled threats from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, that great defender of Trumpism even if that involves opposing Trump.

The three senators receiving an offer of help from Trump are a goodly portion of the incumbents under fire from Bannon. There are only eight GOP senators up next year. Bannon isn’t messing with Ted Cruz. Bob Corker is retiring. Another, Orrin Hatch may retire, too; he hasn’t announced his intentions. There are two senators that Bannon and like-minded “populists” might target but that Trump probably won’t back no matter what Mitch McConnell does: sworn presidential enemy Jeff Flake of Arizona and the less-abrasive but still unreliable Dean Heller of Nevada. That leaves the very three Trump apparently called this week.

Two potential right-wing challengers are looking at Barrasso with bad intent: gazillionaire Foster Friess, the man who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Blackwater founder (and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince. Bannon has talked to former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn, who lost badly to Ben Sasse in a 2014 Senate primary, about taking on Fischer. And Chris McDaniel, who blew a primary runoff against Thad Cochran in 2014, is eager to run against Wicker, who had the temerity to suggest that Mississippi might want to consider ending its ancient and evil love affair with the Confederacy.

The big question is exactly what either Trump or Bannon will add to any of these three races. Trump obviously has clout and ultimate visibility as the president of the United States, and for all the #NeverTrump movement conservatives (Flake and Sasse now being their increasingly isolated representatives) who initially withheld affection for their party’s ravisher, he’s now loved by the right-wing rank-and-file as though he were the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater.

But Trump’s clumsy and narcissistic embrace of Luther Strange in Alabama should give pause to any future endorsee. A postelection study showed Trump did little or nothing to boost his candidate’s standing, even in a state where Republicans adore him. It’s possible his appeal, such as it is, simply isn’t transferrable, and it’s also possible his fans believe in doing what Trump does rather than doing what Trump says. Candidates adept at bone-charring rhetoric and provocation of the hated liberals may be irresistible to Trump’s base, no matter whom he backs.

On the other hand, Bannon’s insurgent wizardry is a bit suspect as well. The idea that he deserves much credit for Roy Moore’s primary win in Alabama is laughable: Moore was a massive celebrity in his home state (and among Christian-right folk nationally) back when Bannon’s main theater of operations was in sinful Hollywood. And Luther Strange, bless his little heart, was a great big hot-air balloon losing altitude from practically the moment he accepted appointment to the Senate from a disgraced governor he had been protecting from impeachment. It is at this point not at all certain he can go rolling into a state like Wyoming with Mercer money and screaming Breitbart headlines and take down an incumbent senator, particularly if his candidate is a sketchy character like Prince, who probably knows more about sandy plains of Iraq than about the windy plateaus of the Equality State.

It could well turn out that neither Trump nor his former sidekick and ideological shaman is going to have that dramatic an effect on GOP Senate primaries in 2018.

So much losing. Sad!


Shrum: Where Clinton’s Economic Messaging Fell Short

No one could blame you for having your fill of post-mortems of the 2016 presidential election. But Democratic strategist and current USC professor and and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Robert M. Shrum has some perceptive insights in a review article of Hillary Clinton’s book, What Happened. Writing in America: The Jesuit Review, Shrum has this to say about Clinton’s economic messaging:

To put it plainly, in areas of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that previously went for Barack Obama, she lost the message war on the economy. Yes, Trump’s claims to be on the side of working people were specious. But they were also effective. His explanations for the economic distress of those who have not shared in the post-2008 recovery were trade and immigration—scapegoats, in my view, but nonetheless a resonant message about things he said he could change that would, in turn, change their lives. Thus, while Clinton characterizes Trump’s performance in their first debate as “dire,” the reality is that in the opening minutes, he relentlessly hammered away on trade, the loss of manufacturing jobs and her shifting positions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. And in a different context, she herself cites data showing that voters under economic stress were more negative toward immigration.

Clinton fell short in communicating a persuasive economic message of her own. She criticizes Joe Biden for saying this and notes that he campaigned across the Midwest and “talked plenty about the economy.” But his commitment was not in doubt; hers was. He was not the candidate; she was.

The tragedy here is that she had, as she notes, an economic program that should have appealed to precisely the places she had to win: “massive infrastructure…new incentives to attract and support manufacturing jobs in hard hit communities…debt-free college.” It was on her website, but who among the undecided or wavering voters bothered to read it? She insists that on the campaign trail, she talked more about the economy and jobs than anything else—and cites a word frequency chart to prove it.

As T. S. Eliot wrote, “Between the idea and the reality…. Falls the shadow.” The shadow for Clinton is that what counts is not what you say but what people hear. Still, the failure to convey an economic message was not just her fault. The U.C.L.A. political scientist Lynn Vavreck found that from Oct. 8 on “only 6 percent” of news coverage mentioned Clinton “alongside jobs or the economy.” (Only 10 percent mentioned Trump in that context, but arguably his economic message had long since broken through.) Clinton did have another means to deliver her message, paid advertising, but Vavreck calculated that only 9 percent of her television spots were about jobs or the economy. Instead three-quarters of her ads focused on leadership “traits” or character, frequently in the form of assaults on Trump.

…Trump would have been vulnerable to an economic assault. As Obama did with Mitt Romney in 2012, Clinton’s ads could have spotlighted his controversial business dealings and mistreatment of ordinary workers; then they could have moved on to arraign his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy and to convey Clinton’s plans on jobs, manufacturing and infrastructure. The strategy might not have been a silver bullet, but it could and probably would have been enough to move those 38,000 votes.

Shrum notes a paradoxical effect of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, a “bright shiny object,” which distracted the media and voters from Trump’s embrarrassing economic record, as well as Clinton’s progressive economic policies. Shrum acknowledges other factors which could have played a decisive role in Trump’s Electoral College victory, from Comey’s meddling and voter suppression to her husband’s ill-timed visit to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, among others.

A candidate can’t always control “what happened” during a campaign. But every Democratic candidate has to take charge of their economic messaging, define clearly how it differs from that of their adversary and make sure it gets out to both the base and swing voters.


First New Hampshire Poll For 2020 Shows Trump Potentially Vulnerable

Don’t look now, but the pollsters are already out there looking at the 2020 elections. I wrote about it at New York.

Yes, it’s incredibly early to be taking polls for the 2020 presidential contest. But on the other hand, there are places like Iowa and New Hampshire where presidential politics is pretty much a constant preoccupation. So it’s worth taking a quick look at the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State Poll, the first to examine the standing of potential candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary.

Among Democrats, what jumps off the page is that there does not at the moment appear to be a deep yearning for fresh faces. Bernie Sanders runs first at 31 percent and Joe Biden runs second at 24 percent. In other words, over half of New Hampshire Democrats currently favor a presidential candidate who would seek to become the first to celebrate an 80th birthday in the White House. Even though she represents a state whose media markets extend well into New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren is running a relatively poor third at 13 percent. Perhaps, at 68, she’s just a bit too young.

Nine other potential Democratic candidates are named, and they register a collective 17 percent of the vote (Cory Booker leads the pack with 6 percent).

Among Republicans, no potential challenger to Donald Trump is tested, but interestingly enough, only 47 percent say they “plan” to vote for the president in the 2020 primary, with 23 percent saying they’d prefer another candidate and 30 percent being unsure. The same survey at the same point in Barack Obama’s presidency showed 64 percent of Democrats planning to vote for the incumbent, 5 percent expressing support for a different nominee, and 30 percent unsure.

It’s important to remember that the cast of characters for the 2020 presidential contest has not been formed. At the same juncture four years ago, neither of the eventual winners of the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primaries, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, was even listed in the Granite State poll field. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton, who was eventually trounced by Sanders in New Hampshire, was favored by 64 percent, with no one else being in double digits. Among Republicans, Rand Paul and Chris Christie led the 2013 Granite State Poll; Paul would drop out before New Hampshire and Christie would finish sixth. Trump ultimately led the field by nearly 20 points. Indeed, Trump’s 35 percent as an upstart candidate facing a huge group of opponents in 2016 isn’t that much less than the 47 percent he currently commands in New Hampshire as the president of the United States.

So it will be fascinating to see if any Republican arises to test Trump’s vulnerability in the early going.


Political Strategy Notes

Whatever else you read today, check out Ari Berman’s Mother Jones article, “Rigged: How Voter Suppression Threw Wisconsin to Trump.” As Berman writes, “A post-election study by Priorities USA, a Democratic super-PAC that supported Clinton, found that in 2016, turnout decreased by 1.7 percent in the three states that adopted stricter voter ID laws but increased by 1.3 percent in states where ID laws did not change. Wisconsin’s turnout dropped 3.3 percent. If Wisconsin had seen the same turnout increase as states whose laws stayed the same, “we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016,” the study said. These “lost voters”—those who voted in 2012 and 2014 but not 2016—”skewed more African American and more Democrat” than the overall voting population…After the election, registered voters in Milwaukee County and Madison’s Dane County were surveyed about why they didn’t cast a ballot. Eleven percent cited the voter ID law and said they didn’t have an acceptable ID; of those, more than half said the law was the “main reason” they didn’t vote. According to the study’s author, University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Kenneth Mayer, that finding implies that between 12,000 and 23,000 registered voters in Madison and Milwaukee—and as many as 45,000 statewide—were deterred from voting by the ID law. “We have hard evidence there were tens of thousands of people who were unable to vote because of the voter ID law,” he says…Its impact was particularly acute in Milwaukee, where nearly two-thirds of the state’s African Americans live, 37 percent of them below the poverty line. Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the nation, divided between low-income black areas and middle-class white ones.”

As for solutions to the problem, Berman quotes former Missouri Secretary of State and Founder of let America Vote Jason Kander, who points out that so far “it has been a politically consequence-free exercise for vote suppressors. That has to change.” Further, writes Berman, “Let America Vote plans to open field offices in Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Tennessee in 2018 and to focus on electing pro-voting-rights candidates for state legislature, secretary of state, and governor. The group has signed up more than 65,000 volunteers and placed more than 100 interns and staffers in Virginia, which has a strict voter ID law, for the 2017 gubernatorial and legislative elections, with a goal of contacting half a million voters. “We’re saying, ‘If you’re going to make it harder to vote, we’re going to make it a lot harder for you to get reelected,’” Kander says.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched its first national TV ad:

Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin notes “The GOP nose dive now shows up in individual races. The Cook Political Report tells us: “Based on recent developments in races and conversations with candidates and operatives on both sides of the aisle, many races have the potential to become more competitive. This week, we’re changing our ratings in 12 districts.” Spoiler alert: All are shifting away from Republicans. Cook now rates one GOP seat (retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Florida’s 27th Congressional District) as leaning to the Democrats, 12 GOP seats as toss-ups and 23 GOP seats as only “lean Republican.” Put differently, of the 45 competitive seats, 36 are held by the GOP. If it loses 24, Democrats win the House majority.”

“The reality is that if the GOP caucus in the House and Senate can remain intact, they can pass Trump’s tax cut for their wealthy donors without a single Democratic vote,” writes Dean Obeidallah at The Daily Beast. “But even with Senate GOP using the budget reconciliation process so they only need 50 votes to pass this, they are worried. That’s why Trump, along with Ivanka and Jared Kushner, are wining and diningDemocratic senators in Red States up for re-election like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp. But in reality, how many voters in West Virginia and North Dakota will be passionate about a massive tax cut for the 1 percent that offers only empty promises for the rest of us?!..The Democrats shouldn’t play ball with Trump on this—even if Trump offers incentives like fixing the ACA. Trump is a serial liar who can’t be trusted. But Democratic leaders need to do more than say no—they need to use every means available to define the Trump tax plan for what it really is: A massive tax cut for the GOP’s wealthy backers that offers the rest of us the promises of a proven liar…Yes, it will be challenging to stop this but so was defeating the GOP’s ACA repeal and yet we won there. And if we can win this battle, we are well on the way to winning the war.”

Thomas B. Edsall’s latest New York Times op-ed includes a range of insights from politial commentators about the reasons behind dyfunctional democracy, including this one by University of Michigan political scientist Ron Inglehart: “What makes the United States so distinctive? One reason may be that in recent years U.S. democracy has become appallingly dysfunctional. It suffers from 1) virtual paralysis at the top, as exemplified by the willingness of Congress to shut down the federal government, regardless of the damage to the country’s credit, after failing to get its way via normal procedures in a budget standoff with the White House; 2) massive increases in income inequality — greater than those found in any other established democracy, with most of the population’s real income declining during the past few decades despite substantial economic growth; and 3) the disproportionate and growing political influence of billionaires, as money plays a greater role in U.S. politics than in almost any other democracy…The economic stagnation and rising inequality of recent decades have led to increasing support for authoritarian, xenophobic political candidates, from Marine le Pen in France to Donald Trump in the United States.”

For an update on the debate among Democrats about whether or not to impeach Trump, read Graham Vyse’s New Republic article “The Impeachment Litmus Test Is Dividing Democrats,” in which he notes, ““An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history,” said Gerald Ford, then the House minority leader, in 1970. The Republican Party almost certainly won’t remove Trump from power before the midterm elections next fall, but Democrats are on firm ground calling for the GOP to do so. Scholars are building a case against Trump based on obstruction of justice, conflicts of interest, and corruption, but as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wrote back in May, the constitutional phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” may well cover “a much wider range of presidential abuses.” Veteran Washington journalist Elizabeth Drew, author of a book on Watergate, made a similar point last week. “A president can be held accountable for actions that aren’t necessarily crimes. A crime might be an impeachable offense—but not all impeachable offenses are crimes,” she wrote at The Daily Beast. “Impeachment isn’t a process by which an established set of principles is enforced. There’s no tablet to be taken down from on high and followed; there’s no code of offenses for which a president can be charged. There are precedents, but they’re not binding, which is a good thing.”

At Talking Points Memo, Caitlin MacNeal reports that “A bipartisan group of governors on Wednesday night sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to pass legislation to stabilize Obamacare’s individual health market….“We urge Congress to quickly pass legislation to stabilize our private health insurance markets and make quality health insurance more available and affordable,” the governors wrote in the letter.The governors support the agreement reached by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to restore the subsidies to insurers cut off by the Trump administration this month. They called for the government to fund the cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments through 2019. The governors warned that nixing the CSR payments will raise premiums and cause insurers to leave the marketplace, citing a Congressional Budget Office report predicting a premium spike.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper provided an instructive lesson for his fellow journalists on how to respond when attacked by right-wing media types. As Mary Hui reports at The Washington Post, “CNN’s Jake Tapper and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly traded blows on Twitter late Wednesday afternoon, after O’Reilly taunted Tapper’s ratings for being “as low as you can go.”…Minutes after O’Reilly’s tweet, Tapper fired back at O’Reilly….“ ‘Low’ would be sexually harassing staffers and then getting fired for it — humiliated in front of the world,” he wrote…Now THAT would be low.”


‘Dems Need Wall St.’ Argument Oversimplified

When I first saw the headline of Douglas Schoen’s New York Times op-ed, “Why Democrats Need Wall Street,” I thought, well maybe this will stake out some needed middle ground in the debate about the proper role of Wall St. in Democratic politics. Instead, it’s closer to a call  for Wall St. domination of the Democratic Party.

In Schoen’s view, “Hillary Clinton’s lurch to the left probably cost her key Midwestern states that Barack Obama had won twice and led to the election of Donald Trump.” That will provoke derision from progressive Democrats, who believe that Clinton lost the Electoral College, not with a lurch to the left, but by failing to advocate populist economic reforms that could motivate a good turnout among the base and win over swing voters.

Schoen’s argument that Democrats failed to even connect with, much less motivate, small business entrepreneurs to support the Democratic Party makes better sense. Small business folks rarely applaud  Democratic ideas. Looking to the future, Democrats may gain some traction with small business by pushing for a public option that would relieve employers of the ever-worsening burden of providing job-linked health insurance.

Schoen makes a blunt argument for Democratic dependency on Wall St.:

Democrats should keep ties with Wall Street for several reasons. The first is an ugly fact of politics: money. Maintaining ties to Wall Street makes economic sense for Democrats and keeps their coffers full…In the 2016 election, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, employees and companies in the securities and investment industry donated more than $63 million to the Democratic Party.

He argues further, that “Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris as well as Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor — should not be dismissed simply because of their current or past ties to Wall Street.” As of this writing all are considered good possibilities to serve on the Democratic 2020 ticket.

“If voters really hated ties to Wall Street and financial elites,” writes Schoen, “Republicans would not enjoy such a commanding electoral position — or have elected a New York plutocrat president.” But that doesn’t discount the possibility that voters dislike “Wall St. ties and financial elites,” but are willing to subordinate such concerns, if they like something else about a candidate.

But Schoen takes a dubious leap  in stating:

Despite what the Democratic left says, America is a center-right, pro-capitalist nation. A January Gallup poll found that moderates and conservatives make up almost 70 percent of the country, while only 25 percent of voters identify as liberal. Even in May 2016, when Senator Sanders made redistribution a central part of his platform, Gallup found that only about 35 percent of Americans had a positive image of socialism, compared with 60 percent with a positive view of capitalism.

Cherry-picked polls about public views on “capitalism” and “socialism” are problematic, since the public has a broad array of definitions for each term. And rigid adherence to ‘isms’ of any sort is not a high priority with today’s voters, anyway. The assertion that “America is a “center-right” nation, based on polls showing 70 percent self-identify as “moderates and conservatives,” ignore the reality that “moderate” includes a wide range of views, including center-left opinions.

Schoen’s unbridled celebration of deregulation seems more characteristic of conservative Republicans than even centrist Democratic leaders: “The Democrats cannot be the party that supports only new, stifling regulations. Reducing regulation allows banks to employ capital and finance investment in our country’s future, making electric cars, renewable energy and internet connectivity across the globe a reality.” Most genuine moderates would agree that at least some regulations serve the public interest — and public safety.

Ditto for his opposition to the concept of a livable minimum wage. “Advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and further banking regulation does not constitute a positive, proactive agenda,” Schoen writes, calling it “an ineffective, negative and coercive economic message.”

Schoen comes to his globalist, neo-liberal perspective from the vantage point of a frozen-in-1990s-amber Clintonista. Clinton did enjoy a booming economy and a semblance of party unity that served Dems well —  for a while. Economists will long debate how much his better economic statistics came from good policy vs. good fortune.

There were also a lot of problems percolating during the globalist glory days of the Clinton Administration. As Charles Pierce notes in a 2010 Esquire post, dryly referrring to Clinton as “the Pericles of the Ozarks”:

…It was the Clinton years that produced a Democratic party content with half-measures and wishful thinking, attaching itself to trade policies that substituted the messianic buzzwords of globalism for, you know, actual jobs, abolishing the Glass-Steagall Act to great acclaim and even greater financial fraud, and generally refashioning itself as a home for people who really, really Liked Ike…This was fine when the economy was humming along, and we were not bogged down in two wars, and the financial system hadn’t nearly dissolved into a puddle. Now, it’s been so long since the Democratic party ran on a genuinely progressive platform that the president and his people can’t seem to put together a coherent campaign based on what they relentlessly assure us has been the most triumphant progressive presidency since LBJ. They don’t know how to run like that anymore, especially not the retreads from the Class of ’92…

Are Dems really stuck with a binary choice between full-blown 90s Clintonism and all-out democratic socialism?  Isn’t it at least conceivable that both government and the private sector can play a better role in creating a more livable society for everyone?

Most voters simply don’t fit neatly into rigid ‘ism’ boxes. Instead, they fill a wide spectrum between the two poles that can vary significantly from issue to issue. Candidates who avoid being ideologically pidgeonholed can win majority support of both Democrats and persuadable voters — provided they articulate an inclusive, hopeful and credible vision.


New GQR poll shows Democrats erase national security trust gap with Trump

The following article is cross-posted from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner research e-blast:

A new poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner shows a 55- 45% majority of registered voters trust Democrats in Congress more than Donald Trump to handle America’s national security.  This represents a huge 18-point swing toward Democrats since March, when a 54-46% majority said they trusted Trump more.

The declining trust of Americans toward Trump on national security comes at a time when the country and Trump administration face a host of foreign challenges, from growing tensions with North Korea, to Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran deal, to a consensus that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election.

GQR partner Jeremy Rosner, who served on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton said: “The American public is rapidly losing faith that Donald Trump can keep them safe. The more they watch him handling foreign challenges, from North Korea to Iran to Russia, the less confidence they have in him.”

The American public particularly lacks faith in Trump’s ability to deal with North Korea – arguably the most dangerous of his immediate national security challenges. The public trusts Democrats in Congress more than they trust Trump to deal with North Korea, by a 57-42% margin. This 15 point Democratic edge is up 5 points just since this August, when Trump first threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” – a sign that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric is undermining his own public support, rather than enhancing it.

Equally notable: at a time when Republicans in Congress have dismal ratings – CNN polling in September shows 72% of the public disapproves of the job performance of “Republican leaders in Congress” – the public trusts Trump even less than Republicans in Congress on these life-or-death issues of national security. By a wide 62-37% margin, respondents in the GQR poll say they trust Republicans in Congress more than Trump on national security.

Trump’s mishandling of national security is starting to erode the Republican brand on these issues. In March, voters trusted “Republicans in Congress” on national security more than “Democrats in Congress,” by a large 20 point, 60-40% margin. But nine months of Trump’s tenure as Commander in Chief has cut that margin to just a 5-point, 52-47% advantage. Indeed, the GQR poll shows that on the central threat of North Korea, the public already trusts Democrats in Congress more than their Republican counterparts, by a 53-47% margin.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey fielded online, October 3-10, among 2,000 registered voters.

For more information, contact GQR at info@gqrr.com.


Can the Republicans Win VA Governorship with Immigration Fear-Mongering?

MARION, Virginia, October 17 – There are a lot of ways to fall in love with Virginia. You could kayak along the Chesapeake shores, which America’s earliest European immigrants, including Captain John Smith, explored awestuck from their base at Jamestown. You can tour Virginia’s matchless historic sites, including not only presidential homes, colonial settlements and battelfields, but also Yorktown and Appomattox where the American Revolution and Civil War ended. Or just take a ride on Skyline Drive along the glorious Blue Ridge mountains.

But for political junkies, I would reccomend cruising along I-81, which traverses Virginia’s northwest to southwest, roughly parallel to the border the state shares with West Virginia. It’s a beautiful drive along several stretches, but the real political interest is the people in the small towns, like Marion, a few miles from the NC and TN state lines.

The southwestern region of VA has gotten recent attention as a key conservative stronghold in a state that has been trending in a blue direction in the last three presidential elections. While the area around Dulles airport is sometimes called the “high-tech coridor” of the east, there is also a high patents/population ratio in southwest Virginia, clustered around Virginia Tech. But the homes and businesses along I-81 are peopled with mostly white blue collar and middle class families, along with a smaller percentage of African Americans and Latinos.

The latter are frequently employed in construction, road-building and restaurants, like “Mi Puerto” in Marion, where I saw great affection between the highly professional and friendly Mexican-American staff and the local predominantly-white families. It was striking because I had been reading that very day about “rising tensions” between Latinos and white Virginians, largely as a result of fear-mongering about a Central American gang, emanating from the campaign of Republican candidate for Governor Ed Gillespie. One of his campaign ads is among the most repulsive example of immigrant-bashing I have seen. As Yvette Cabrera describes the ad at ThinkProgress:

In the ad, which began airing in mid-September, a narrator warns Virginia residents of the menacing threat of the [Latino] MS-13 gang while Coll’s photograph, stamped with the words “Kill, Rape, Control,” flashes across the screen. Gillespie’s commercial tries to pin the increase in MS-13 violence on his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, and criticizes the democrat for his vote against a Virginia bill that would have banned sanctuary cities, which do not actually exist in Virginia.

But the gang members in Coll’s photograph are not actually MS-13 gang members, nor were they photographed in Virginia. The photograph features Barrio 18 gang members that Coll photographed inside a prison in El Salvador. In fact, Barrio 18, a faction of the Sureños gang, is a rival of the MS-13 gang.

MS-13 has a very small presence in northern Virginia, and they are mostly from El Salvador. But Gillespie and the Republicans amplify a few incidents to spread fear and distrust of Latinos in general to steer votes away from Northam.

Gillespie is not a garden-variety Republican gubernatorial candidate. He is also a shrewd political strategist who has been credited with spearheading the GOP’s impressive victories in state politics in recent years, including the Republican pick-up of about 1,000 seats in state legislatures across the U.S. during the Obama Administration. He has been particularly adept at leveraging “cultural issues” to distract voters from the GOP’s dubious economic policies.

What Gillespie lacks in charisma and inspirational ability, he makes up with his strategic chops. That’s a good reason why Democrats should not get overconfident about Democratic candidate Ralph Northam’s lead in the polls (6.8 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average), and mobilize turnout with the same energetic commitment needed as if the polls showed a dead heat. Gillespie, who lost his 2014 race to Sen. Mark Warner by less than half of one percent, knows how to feast on  Democratic indiference in non-presidential elections.

Both Gillespie and Northam are nervous about Trump’s involvement in the campaign. Bush, Obama, Pence and Biden have already campaigned for their party’s nominee. But Gillespie is certainly emulating Trump’s immigrant-bashing and politics of cultural distraction as core elements of his strategy.

In the end, however, the outcome of this marquee off-year race on November 7th may depend on the turnout of northern Virginia liberals and moderates, who especially dislike Gillespie’s opposition to the reproduction rights of women, or conversely, conservatives in the Richmond burbs and exurbs. In either case, It’s all about GOTV now.

Democrats have reason to hope that Gillespie’s Latino-bashing will fail, as a result of the decency of the majority of Virginia’s middle-class whites who won’t deny the clear reality that the overwhelming majority of Hispanics are hard-working, law-abiding and sincerely religious people who enrich the culture and prosperity of their state.

A Gillespie victory would be an upset. If Northam wins, it will be an indication that Democrats are getting focused on the imperative of mobilizing turnout in off-year elections. If he wins big, it will fuel hopes for a ‘blue wave’ election next year and perhaps 2020 – and that would give Democrats some needed optimism.