washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

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

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

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

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

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

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

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

The Daily Strategist

April 26, 2017

Conservative “Base” Voters Only Have Eyes For Trump

After looking at some public opinion polling about conservative feelings towards Donald Trump, I came to a pretty interesting conclusion and decided to write it up at New York.

The announcement of Neil Gorsuch as SCOTUS nominee represented a new high point in Donald Trump’s relationship with the conservative movement and the GOP. It was a full-on love-fest — and beyond the immediate and overwhelmingly positive response among right-of-center folk, the nomination has established significantly more trust for Trump among serious conservatives.

But before mainstream Republicans get too comfortable with the 45th president, they should consider the bad news: That he is stealing their voter base away from them, even as they cheer him on for nominating Gorsuch.

That is the most obvious lesson to derive from some new large-sample data from Morning Consult (via The Upshot):

“54 percent of registered voters in districts represented by Republicans viewed Mr. Trump favorably compared with only 42 percent who view him unfavorably. More important, people who identify with the party overwhelmingly view him favorably. In districts represented by Republicans, fully 87 percent of registered Republicans view Mr. Trump favorably.

“Support for Mr. Trump in G.O.P. districts is even higher among registered Republicans who are extremely interested in politics (94 percent favorable), identify as strong Republicans (92 percent favorable) or say they are very conservative (94 percent favorable). These groups are especially likely to vote in primaries and are key constituencies in nomination contests for higher office. As a result, they wield disproportionate influence on legislator behavior.”

To put it simply, while Republicans may have assumed their most conservative “base” supporters would help them bend Donald Trump to their will when push came to shove, the opposite may prove true: the GOP base increasingly looks like it may become a whip with which Trump lashes establishment conservative elected officials and opinion-leaders to keep them in line.

It’s been true for quite some time that most Republicans in Congress feared primary challenges from their right more than anything Democrats could throw at them. What has changed is that the voters most likely to participate in Republican challenges seem to have fallen in love with Donald Trump, and could keep elected officials who previously thought themselves safe on their toes and ready to defend Trump even when long-cherished ideological tenets would otherwise have them supporting different policies. The alternative would be to likely face a primary challenge by a more robustly Trumpian politician, with the knowledge that the base would probably be with the populist.

While it’s premature to predict the potentially wild course of events just ahead, friction between Trump and his party could be relatively manageable — and a visible schism might never open up between the president and the party mainstream. We could see an implicit deal where Trump gives the older forces in the GOP most of what they want on economic and fiscal policy so long as they go along with Trump on trade, immigration, crime, and maybe some token “populist” gestures like jobs initiatives or protecting Social Security and Medicare.They can probably reach rough agreement on most national security matters so long as defense spending goes up and the administration doesn’t completely abandon Europe to Putin.

But if there is a rupture that threatens the smooth-functioning machine Republicans need to enact an agenda with little or no Democratic support, don’t assume Trump will have to come hat in hand to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, or beg for support from conservative think-tanks or opinion outlets.

In that context, it’s less surprising, if no less scandalous, that the GOP has surrendered to Trump so quickly.


Political Strategy Notes

NYT columnist Charles M. Blow has some elegantly-put observations about the Gorsuch nomination, which Dems can mine for sound-bitable comments: “This nominee is the fruit of a poison tree and no amount of educational pedigree or persuasive elocution can cleanse him of that contamination…If Trump can impose a Muslim ban until we “figure out what the hell is going on” with national security threats, we can withhold approval of his Supreme Court nominee until we “figure out what the hell is going on” with threats to our national elections…As for the “brilliant” rollout, let’s be clear: It was a solid rollout, but the bar for Trump has been set so low that merely behaving like an adult, deferring to counsel, not stepping on your own message with idiocy and building support makes a blathering half-wit look like he’s had a stroke of genius…As for Gorsuch himself, he’s a rather standard right-of-center, religiously deferential judge…Democrats must oppose Gorsuch on principle. Democrats have grown too soft. They are still trying to fight a gentleman’s war in the middle of a guerrilla war. Their efforts to reach across the aisle keep being met by hands wielding machetes; their overwhelming impulse to take the high road ignores the fact that Republicans have already blown up the bridge on the high road.”

The usually wrong-headed National Review does have an interesting paragraph in Jonathan S. Tobin’s take on the Gorsuch nomination: “Based on “President-elect Trump and His Possible Justices,” a study by Washington University in St. Louis, the Times chart analyzes Gorsuch’s legal history as being to the right of every justice on the current court with the exception of Justice Clarence Thomas. Indeed, it asserted that he was more conservative in his opinions than Justice Scalia. The Times quoted the study’s authors as predicting that Trump’s nominee, if confirmed, would seek to “limit gay rights, uphold restrictions on abortion and invalidate affirmative action programs.” Those are fighting words for the Left and enough to ensure that even red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2018 should fear the reaction from their party’s grassroots if they were inclined to oppose a filibuster, let alone vote to confirm Gorsuch.”

With every Supreme Court nomination, most of the print and video coverage deals the nominee’s views on abortion, gun control, and other ‘social issues,’ while the critical concern of economic justice usually goes all but ignored. But, in his Washington Post column, “It’s time to make Republicans pay for their supreme hypocrisy,” E, J, Dionne, Jr. makes a case for opposing the Gorsuch nomination based on  the nominee’s economic philosophy: “Let this nomination also be the end of any talk of Trump as a pro-worker “populist.” Gorsuch is neither. Trump could have made things harder for Democrats and progressives by nominating a genuine moderate. Gorsuch may be nice and smart, but “moderate” he isn’t.” Also, notes Dionne, “The Rubicon was crossed with Garland. Conservatives complain about the treatment of Robert Bork when he was nominated to the court in 1987, and they turned the word “Borked” into a battle cry. But Bork got a hearing and a vote on the Senate floor, which he lost. To be “Merricked” is to be denied even a chance to make your case.” Dionne also provides quotes from Republican Senators Cruz, McCain and Burr saying that the Supreme Court can function just fine with only 8 justices. “If that argument was good in 2016, why isn’t it valid in 2017?,” asks Dionne.

Casey Quinlan reports at ThinkProgress that “Betsy DeVos is one ‘no’ vote away from defeat: Two Republican defections mean that Trump’s education pick is in serious jeopardy.” You can call any U.S. senator at 404-224-3121.

At The Atlantic, Russell Berman probes “How Progressives Are Forcing Senate Democrats Into Action: Lawmakers wanted to choose their battles against Trump’s Cabinet nominees carefully, but activists have a different plan: Fight them all.” While Democrats will be lucky to actually prevent any of the nomines from being confirmed, there is merit in delaying the confirmations, educating the public about the track records of the nominees and what is at stake and improving the Democratic Party’s image with progressive voters who are needed for Dems to win in 2018.

Lynn Vavreck observes at The Upshot “… For more than six decades, party identification has been shaping the vote. Political scientists have long held that party labels do more than just summarize people’s views on issues and policies. They are expressions of an identity. This trait, like many others, may be learned in the laps of our parents and in our neighborhoods when we are young, the same way we learn about our ethnicities or religions…There have been very few deviations from this pattern over the last two decades. Roughly 90 percent of partisans voted for the candidate from their party in every year since 2000…For all of its unexpected moments, 2016 looks an awful lot like all the other years: There was no meaningful shift in the pattern of intraparty voting.”

Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball discusses 37 U.S. House districts in which “seats with Republican incumbents where Hillary Clinton performed at least five percentage points better than Obama in 2012, Donald Trump underperformed Mitt Romney’s 2012 share by at five points, or both,” along with districts in which Republicans did better. Kondik notes that the Democraic Congressional Campaign Committee has only targeted 17 of these 37 seats so far. Democrats must pick up 25 seats to regain the House majority and the speakership.

Frequent TDS contributor John Russo explains “Why Democrats Lose in Ohio” at The American Prospect and suggests a path forward for the state’s Democrats: “The party should have done a better job of recruiting stronger candidates, developing political strategies, and building local support..The state party’s general cluelessness should be cueing up an insurrection within the ODP, just as the establishment’s inability to change and win has done in other states…No challenges have been mounted to the Democratic leadership in this former battleground state, where Sanders received almost as many votes as Clinton…The most productive tack the Democrats could take would be to begin organizing ballot initiatives to roll back unpopular GOP legislation, such as the bill prohibiting cities from raising the minimum wage, or to enact progressive reforms, such as raising the minimum wage statewide, developing a new formula for school funding, or improving the electoral system (by using mail ballots, for example). All these direct-democracy initiatives have public support and that of Ohio Democrats’ most successful office-holders, Senator Brown and Representative Tim Ryan. Such initiatives could strengthen the party and give Democratic candidates statewide an attractive platform to run on.”

Ten writers, inbcluding Thomas E. Mann, Gavin Newsome, Rev. William J. Barber and Rep. John Lewis, offer “10 Ways to Take on Trump: What We Can Do from Congress to the Streets” at The New Republic. Here’s a sample from U.C. Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Numberg, which makes a potentially useful distinction”…Resistance calls for a broader linguistic strategy. You want to build solidarity among your partisans, but you have to reach the voters you lost in November, the people who know that Trump is an asshole but voted for him anyway out of frustration or dislike of the Clintons—as opposed to the people who voted for Trump becausehe’s an asshole, who are really a minority of his supporters.”


Greenberg: Parties of the Left, Wake Up! In the United States and the United Kingdom, voters told Democrats and Labour how they need to change. Will they?

The following article by Stanley Greenberg is cross-posted from a Democracy Corps e-blast and has appeared in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas:

Center-left parties in America and Europe are struggling. They are struggling for three reasons: First, they have failed to offer a credible response to the period of prolonged income stagnation and growing inequality; second, they have become part of the political-business-elite accommodation that the public views as corrupt; and third, they have been indifferent to the disruptive effects of globalization and loath to show immigration needs to be controlled.

Donald Trump’s improbable and tragic victory has now shown painfully and unnecessarily how important are those factors in the United States too. It would have been better had we been spared this American experiment, but we can at least learn from it, and quickly.

Hillary Clinton lost steam in the closing weeks and days because her campaign chose not to contest the economy or the undue influence of the few over government. They chose not to attack Trump for cheating workers and small contractors and for using cheap Chinese steel and undocumented immigrants. They chose not to contrast Trump’s massive trickle down tax cuts for billionaires with Clinton’s tax cuts for the middle class. They decided not to tantalize voters with her promise of bold reforms to make the economy work for all, not just those at the top.

WikiLeaks published some of my emails to the campaign’s chair, and he invited me after the FBI’s late interjection to share my findings on the power of closing on the economy, but Clinton’s top manager and advisors pushed back, saying, “We can’t win the economic argument.”

Instead, she appealed for unity over division, hope over hate, and experience over bad temperament. She promised an era of unrivaled opportunity for all groups, and to build on Barack Obama’s economic progress. After all, “America is already great.”

The campaign came to that assessment despite Clinton achieving her biggest margins in the race after uniting with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and embracing their case for economic change; after her convention speech, when she called for a fair, inclusive economy; and after the debates, wherein she articulated her bold economic plans, prosecuted Trump mercilessly for his “Trumped-up trickle down” tax cuts for billionaires and repeatedly promised to raise taxes on the rich, because they’ve reaped all the gains and “that’s where the money is.”

Secretary Clinton invited me to weigh in on her economic speeches and message, and the result was most evident in the debates. After they aired, just weeks before Election Day, Clinton achieved parity with Trump on who could best handle the economy, the number one issue to be decided on Election Day, according to exit polling, and the top concern for 60 percent of her own voters. Clinton voters, even more than Trump’s, were angry at corporate abuse. Yet Clinton went silent on the economy, corporate irresponsibility, and undue special interest influence.

As a result of that choice, she lost the struggling white working class, particularly the women who broke for Trump at the end. She also lost ground with the progressive base voters, who disappointed on turnout and vote share. Millennials, Sanders voters, single women, and minorities were struggling financially, and they were the voters most determined to disrupt the nexus of Wall Street and Washington. Secretary Clinton was acutely conscious of the pain so many families were experiencing, but, she told me, she couldn’t be seen to be critical of President Obama’s economy in any way.

I admire what Obama achieved as President, but he, like so many other center-left leaders who led their countries’ passage through the financial crisis, have been nearly silent on the new economic reality of long-term income stagnation, jobs that don’t pay enough to live on, and the richest 1 percent taking virtually all the new income and wealth gains. Few have championed plausible plans bold enough to produce a more broadly shared prosperity.

Obama faced an economy in free fall and acted boldly to keep it from heading into a depression. The economic project of his whole presidency, accordingly, was getting the economy to a full recovery. That started with restoring the financial health of the big banks. The long-term stagnation of wages and inequality was not part of that project. Obama also declined to be an educative President who spent time and capital explaining his initiatives, even the economic policies and the Affordable Care Act that had the middle class as the main beneficiary. Obama believed that the progress and positive changes on the ground—the “facts”—would ultimately become evident to the people. He would thereby be vindicated and his opponents rejected.

As a result, his economic recovery effort came to be seen as “bailouts.” One year after the passage of the economic recovery program, most thought the big banks, not the middle class, were the main beneficiaries of Obama and the Democrats’ heroic efforts. TARP remains a searing event in the consciousness of a citizenry who think the elites, joined by Obama, rushed to bail out the irresponsible and protect their executive bonuses while doing nothing about home foreclosures or the lost wealth that hit the Hispanic and black communities particularly hard.

Yet this was the President’s message from the beginning, pursued also in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014 and the general election of 2016: The country is making progress and the economy is recovering and you should punish the Republicans who want us to fail. In his final weekend speech before the 2010 election, he scorned the Republicans who had driven our economy “into a ditch” and were now doing everything possible to impede us, and argued that the car was “pointing in the right direction.”

The President used this refrain again in 2014, a second off-year shellacking, and in his closing weekend appeal in 2016: “We’ve seen America turn recession into recovery” and have created 15.5 million new jobs. Pointedly, he said, “Incomes are rising. Poverty is falling.” So get out and vote because “we now have the chance to elect a forty-fifth president who will build on our progress.”

Obama closed his presidency uncharacteristically, campaigning publicly and lobbying Congress intently to win passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries, encompassing 40 percent of the global economy. He argued that it would grow the U.S. economy, raise labor and environmental standards, and block China’s strategic advance. He won the acclaim of editorial writers, but TPP lost public support as opponents argued that it was actually shaped in secret by hundreds of industry lobbyists and would allow foreign corporations to sue our government and overturn consumer protections. Finally, they argued that it would cost U.S. jobs and push down wages; that was the final straw for many working-class voters who opposed the agreement intensely. This was at the heart of Trump’s campaign in the Rust Belt states and subsequent attacks on Clinton.

Voters already viewed Obama’s economic commentary incredulously and his approval ratings fell dramatically in 2010 in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and in 2014 in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. On the eve of the 2016 general election, Obama’s approval hovered near 40 percent in many of these states.

The discontent was also evident very early on within the progressive base. In both the 2010 and 2014 midterm election years, 40 percent of the new American majority of minorities, unmarried women, and millennial voters disapproved of how the President was handling his job, and many chose not to vote. These were the voters most burdened by new lower-paying jobs, foreclosures, lost house value, and student debt.

As a result, Obama struggled with working-class voters and millennials in his own re-election. In 2012, few commentators and strategists commented on Obama’s millennial vote, which had dropped from 69 to 60 percent, while Romney carried white millennials by seven points. Perhaps millennials were the canary in the coal mine.

And while the Obama Administration was scrupulous in avoiding personal scandal and self-dealing, voters quickly concluded our government favored Wall Street over Main Street, with the way smoothed, they assumed, by lobbyists and big donors. Voters grew ever more skeptical about the massive growth of campaign spending, lobbying, SuperPACs, and dark, secret contributions during Obama’s period in office. Yet the Democratic Administration never prioritized reforming the role of money in politics. Indeed, Obama raised billions outside the system of public financing.

Bernie Sanders, by contrast, declared that he prioritized getting money out of politics over any other policy, since breaking that corrupt bond would liberate government and allow it to work for the middle and working classes. He attacked Hillary Clinton’s SuperPAC and Wall Street contributions and said, “You’re not going to have a government that represents all of us, so long as you have candidates like Secretary Clinton being dependent on big money interests.” Senator Sanders won 72 percent of the millennial vote in the primary.

Many middle Americans believed they were seeing the real Obama when he told his big donors that white workers “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations” in tough economic times; or the real Mitt Romney when he described the 47 percent who “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it”; or the real Hillary Clinton when she described half of Trump’s voters as belonging in “the basket of deplorables.” Together, they offer a powerful imagery of our elected leaders from both parties hanging out and catering to the economic and cultural elites, while analyzing and patronizing America’s working people.

Those elites and the great majority of Americans with a four-year college degree are comfortable with globalization, growing international trade, and immigration. They do not fully understand that most working people of all races believe government and elected leaders have an obligation to control immigration. Six-in-ten voters believe immigrants strengthen our country, but they also think borders should be real and citizens should matter more than non-citizens. They worry somewhat about competition for jobs, but even more about access to schools, housing, and health care, all desperately short of resources.

President Obama and Democrats gained majority support in the country for comprehensive immigration reform because their plan involved increased enforcement on the border and in workplaces along with giving the law-abiding, taxpaying undocumented a path to citizenship after paying a fine and learning English. This reform allowed the Administration to manage immigration and build a framework for increasing entry numbers in the future, but they also showed that they were serious about border control and citizenship. President Obama did not allow undocumented immigrants to gain subsidies under Obamacare, and he deported more undocumented immigrants than any other President. He took a lot of heat from activists, but the Democratic Party was probably the only center-left party in the advanced world trusted to address immigration, and that is probably still true today.

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton differed with that approach. She promised to end deportations for all but violent criminals and terrorists and declared, “I’m introducing comprehensive immigration reform within the first 100 days with the path to citizenship.” Her focus was not on managing immigration, but on enforcing immigration laws “humanely” and respecting the rights of immigrants. She paid a price for that, I believe. The biggest hope of the independents and Democrats who voted for Trump was that “he will get immigration under control and deport those here illegally.”

Voters made clear they want an economy, society, and government that works for them. Obama left office with a rising approval rating in the same range as Ronald Reagan, with an economy nearing full employment, and real wages climbing up. Still, half of voters in the last election said the economy was the top priority in their voting choice. These voters were sending a very clear message: They want more than just a recovery. Trump mercilessly exploited that; he won because he offered change and American jobs, vowed to take on disloyal American companies and their corrupt deals with the Washington elite on immigration and trade; Clinton, in the end, engaged on none of them.

Before America gave us Donald Trump, Great Britain, for many of the same reasons, gave us the Conservative Party’s surprise victory in 2015 and, of course, Brexit.

But Hillary Clinton can at least be satisfied with the fact that she won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, a 2.1-point margin over Trump. The British Labour Party, on the other hand, is struggling today to reach 30 percent of the vote, and the Conservatives hold a double-digit lead.

I myself once worked as a pollster and strategic advisor to Tony Blair when he and Gordon Brown helped create New Labour. They were tough on crime and on its causes and wanted to reward hard work; they showed independence from trade unions so they could, instead, govern for all. Labour attacked Conservative boom-and-bust economic incompetence. They promised limited spending and no rise in income taxes so that voters could trust them to invest, renew, and reform the public services, particularly the National Health Service and schools. They were reelected under the banner, “Schools and Hospitals First!” They introduced a minimum wage and EU work guarantees and aggressively used tax credits to make sure most families saw incomes rise and poverty fall throughout the government’s first decade in power. Labour won the working class and middle class alike, including landslide majorities in two general elections and a respectable majority in the third.

But Blair’s New Labour project did not have much to offer working-class voters. Consequently, the election of 1997 saw a 6.3 point drop in turnout, reaching historic lows, while 2001 saw a further drop of 12 points, the lowest since 1918. The turnout crash was greatest in older industrial Labour seats, among unskilled manual workers and younger blue-collar workers.

I tried to focus the prime minister and Labour party’s attention on that disengagement, but Blair was much more interested in Labour winning comparable levels of support among all classes, and he resisted talking about “hardworking families,” a two-tier Britain, or attacking the Tories for only caring about the few. His New Labour project was more about community, unity, and One Nation, ideas that seemed disconnected from the emerging economic challenges in Britain.

Blair was right to weaken the ability of trade union leaders to dictate the party’s policies and leaders and thus, make Labour electable again, but he also moved toward a new level of accommodation with business and the City, the most dynamic part of the economy. That accommodation, however, also included visible association with very rich donors who helped fund the party and campaigns. And when the expenses scandal rocked the reputation of many MPs, Labour politicians struggled, more than ever, not to look like they were just in it for the money.

But at least, at that time, Blair’s government was associated with stable growth and a broadly shared prosperity. That was not the case when Gordon Brown lost his election in 2010. Incomes had stagnated for the four years before the financial crash. Labour policies were not producing a rising prosperity for those in the middle, yet the party continued to argue for its economic competence and successes.

At the same time, Labour barely spoke above a whisper about immigration, even though immigration from the Commonwealth and expanding EU rose dramatically under Blair and Brown’s watch. The Labour government scarcely acknowledged that asylum seekers and immigrants affected the availability of council housing and increased pressure on the schools and NHS. Blair was not willing to press his party for reform, and Brown viewed these working-class frustrations as racist, most notoriously when a TV microphone that he thought had been switched off caught him calling Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy “just a sort of bigoted woman” after she had expressed concerns to him about Eastern European immigration at a campaign event.

Indeed, it could be said that the biggest doubt about the Labour government when it lost power was its failure to get immigration under control. Ed Miliband as Labour’s new leader resisted speaking about the issue or advocating for greater control until the general election neared.

With Labour’s credibility shredded on spending and debt, the party barely challenged the economic policies of the Conservative-led coalition government under David Cameron. It claimed that the Tories were cutting spending “too far, too fast,” but did not challenge deficit reduction as the first task of economic policy. And it did not make the case for long-term investment, growth, and shared prosperity.

Labour’s manifesto for the 2015 general election promised that every policy would be paid for, that the party would “cut the deficit every year,” accelerate the increase of the minimum wage, end zero-hour contracts, guarantee apprenticeships for all those coming out of high school, reduce university fees, freeze energy bills, raise the top tax rate from 45 to 50 percent, but not VAT or income tax, and launch an “all-out assault” on tax avoidance. It felt like fingers in a dike rather than an economic offer to produce rising incomes again.

Over the last two decades, Labour lost votes to abstention, to the Tories, and to the anti-Europe and anti-immigration UK Independence Party.

Ed Miliband reached his highest level of support when he challenged Rupert Murdoch and the tabloids that had illegally hacked phones to produce sensational stories. It seemed then that he was willing to break with the elite “establishment” and call out the cozy arrangement of business and government. He also improved his support and raised Labour’s poll numbers when he committed to freeze energy bills, a policy dismissed derisively by the big utility companies. But those gains were episodic and insufficient for the working class, and Labour lost badly in the general election; it later lost many Labour constituencies to Brexit.

Well, the center-left parties now all across Europe are struggling and losing ground to anti-establishment and anti-immigrant parties. The U.K. Labour Party is even more marginalized under its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who questions whether Britain is obligated to respond militarily to a Russian attack on a NATO member and speculates publicly about a nationwide pay cap to address inequality. The party is deeply fractured on immigration and on the free movement of labor from the EU.

In Austria, the anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer won 46 percent of the vote in the election for president.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned after the “No” campaign won almost 60 percent of the vote in the referendum of constitutional reforms that Renzi was pushing. Although this defeat could be explained in a number of ways, Italy is a country where disposable income declined since Renzi formed his Democratic Party government and where 60 percent of the public believes immigration and diversity are a threat to the country—one of the highest levels in Europe.

Donald Trump’s win has given heart to the anti-establishment and anti-immigration parties everywhere, but it also taught us a lot. To start, center-left parties must:

  1. Put working-class economics front and center.
  2. See the country’s challenges through the lives of working people and be skeptical of conventional wisdom emanating from the elites in metropolitan center.
  3. Acknowledge frontally that immigration needs to be better controlled and people are right to want a framework that includes real borders, new migrants contributing through taxes and learning the country’s language, and a framework where citizens receive greater benefits than non-citizens.
  4. Take on the elite, big money special interests that play too big a role and are the prime drivers of economic and social inequality.
  5. Offer much bigger economic vision and policies.

Obviously, many of these will be hard to do. One cannot simply pull economic policies bold enough to shift the distribution of income and wealth off the shelf. Our leaders live and breathe the air and culture of our metropolitan centers. Business donors are very real. And accepting the legitimacy of immigration worries will be most controversial and challenging for progressives who embrace multiculturalism and must also fight Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, and Marine Le Pen’s outrageous and racist polices.

The left can still regain the momentum they need to push through bold reforms if they are honest about the past and bold about the future.


Dems Embracing the ‘Hardball’ Option?

Democrats concerned about their party’s future should read Adam Jentleson’s Washington Post article, “Senate Democrats have the power to stop Trump. All they have to do is use it.” Jentleson, senior strategic adviser at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a former deputy chief of staff to Sen. Harry Reid, writes:

As a Democratic Senate aide for the past seven years, I had a front-row seat to an impressive show of obstruction. Republicans, under then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, decided they would oppose President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at every turn to limit their power. And it worked: They extorted concessions from Democrats with threats of shutdowns, fiscal cliffs and financial chaos.

McConnell is arguably the most effective obstructionist in the history of the U.S. Senate, and that is no small achievement. No living U.S. Senator has done more to thwart legislation and appointments favored by strong majorities of Americans in poll after poll.

But now, Jentelson writes, “Republicans’ unified control of government means that the most effective tool for popular resistance lies in the Senate — the elite, byzantine institution envisioned by the founders as the saucer that cools the teacup of popular opinion.” Further,

Senate Democrats have a powerful tool at their disposal, if they choose to use it, for resisting a president who has no mandate and cannot claim to embody the popular will. That tool lies in the simple but fitting act of withholding consent. An organized effort to do so on the Senate floor can bring the body to its knees and block or severely slow down the agenda of a president who does not represent the majority of Americans.

Jentleson explains how it can work:

The procedure for withholding consent is straightforward, but deploying it is tricky. For the Senate to move in a timely fashion on any order of business, it must obtain unanimous support from its members. But if a single senator objects to a consent agreement, McConnell, now majority leader, will be forced to resort to time-consuming procedural steps through the cloture process, which takes four days to confirm nominees and seven days to advance any piece of legislation — and that’s without amendment votes, each of which can be subjected to a several-day cloture process as well.

McConnell can ask for consent at any time, and if no objection is heard, the Senate assumes that consent is granted. So the 48 senators in the Democratic caucus must work together — along with any Republicans who aren’t afraid of being targeted by an angry tweet — to ensure that there is always a senator on the floor to withhold consent…Because every Senate action requires the unanimous consent of members from all parties, everything it does is a leverage point for Democrats. For instance, each of the 1,000-plus nominees requiring Senate confirmation — including President Trump’s Cabinet choices — can be delayed for four days each.

The moral justification for Democrats taking a turn at weilding the obstructionist cudgel should be obvious. As Jentleson puts it, “by nominating a poorly qualified and ethically challenged Cabinet, Trump forfeited his right to a speedy confirmation process, and Democrats should therefore slow it down to facilitate the adequate vetting that Trump and Senate Republicans are determined to avoid by rushing the process before all the questionnaires and filings are submitted.” Jentleson adds,

Democrats can also withhold their consent from every piece of objectionable legislation McConnell tries to advance. With 48 senators in their caucus, they have the votes to block most bills. But even when Democrats don’t have the votes, they can force McConnell to spend time jumping through procedural hoops. This is the insight McConnell deployed against Reid to manufacture the appearance of gridlock, forcing him to use the cloture process more than 600 times.

…If Democrats withhold consent from everything the Senate does until such a process is established, they can stall Trump’s agenda and confirmation of his nominees indefinitely. Sen. Richard Durbin has been a leader in demanding an independent investigation. But unless Democrats back their calls with the threat of action, McConnell will steamroll them and never look back.

It’s regrettable that Republicans have normalized obstruction of progress as a cornerstone principle of their identity. By reaching out to Democrats with appointments of political moderates and appealing to Dems to join him in a genuine bipartisan infrastructure project that really would restore America’s greatness in a tangible, visible way, Trump has a unique opportunity to bust the politics of knee-jerk obstructionism. He could end the gridlock by offering a bold, bipartisan spirit.

So far, he has done the opposite. His appointments and executive orders are not only  extremist; they are designed, not merely to accomplish political goals, but also to rub his power in the faces of moderates and progressives. Puppeteer Bannon has apparently convinced Trump that unleashing his inner jr. high school bully in all of his actions is a good image to project. Instead, it has earned Trump global ridicule.

Coming after McConnell’s roadblock of Obama’s nomination of the moderate Judge Merrick Garland, Trump’s nomination of right-wing Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court only adds to the toxic polarization of our politics. Democrats ought to use whatever leverage they can muster to delay Gorsuch’s confirmation, if not deny it. The Trump/Republican agenda has become so extreme that doing otherwise is capitulation to the bullying spirit that is ruining our democracy.

Senate Democrats are already showing signs of meeting the challenge limned by Jentleson. At Mother Jones, David Corn notes that “Schumer has not yet embraced such a strategy of resistance. But Senate Dems said on Monday that they will wage a filibuster to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.” Corn adds that Schumer will, however, oppose five Trump nominations: Rep. Tom Price to head Helath and Human Services, Rep. Mick Mulvaney for budget director, Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary, Scott Pruitt for Environmental Protection Agency chief, and Andy Puzder for labor secretary.

Ed O’Keefe, Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell reported at The Post that “Democrats boycotted a Senate committee scheduled to take two votes, one on Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, and the other on Steve Mnuchin, his choice to lead the treasury… Democrats boycotted that meeting entirely, denying Republicans a necessary quorum and forcing them to reschedule both votes…Then, they blocked a vote on Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s nominee for attorney general.”

It may not be too late for Trump to reverse the damage done to himself, as well as our national interest. But time is running out. As Jentleson concludes, “If Trump wants to put their concerns about his legitimacy to rest, he can reach out with consensus nominees and policies…Until then, Democrats can stand up for America by withholding their consent.”


Lux: Resistance Is Beautiful, Necessary — But It’s Not Enough

The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of  The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, is cross-posted from HuffPo:

The grassroots-led resistance is the most heartening and hopeful thing I have ever seen in my 40 years in politics. Fueled not by organizations or politicians or donors or celebrities, but by regular folks throughout America, we are seeing hopeful tangible signs that Trump will not be able to run roughshod over our freedoms and our lives without one hell of a fight.

The Women’s Marches all over America were so thrilling, and all the protests and solidarity online and on the streets happening every day are sustaining our very democracy. The spontaneous protests at airports everywhere this weekend is one more amazing sign of the power of this resistance. One recent mobilizing call sponsored by MoveOn, Indivisible, Working families Party, and People’s Action had over 60,000 people on it, which as far as I know breaks all records for people on one political organizing call.

People are demonstrating at congressional offices all across the country, and not just showing up once — organizations and grassroots activists are planning to show up every single week, similar to the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina which set the stage for Democrat Roy Cooper’s victory in the Governor’s race last year. And plans are being hatched to have another day of protests on Tax Day, April 15th, to protest Trump’s refusal to disclose his taxes and the Republicans’ terribly regressive tax policies, which would massively cut taxes for the wealthy and big business while adding massively to the tax burden of poor and middle income folks.

Hopefully, Democrats in D.C., who so far have seemed mostly disconnected from this outpouring of energy and passion, are getting the message that we need them to show the same fire in resisting Trump as their constituents have. It is time for them to start making some noise and showing some defiance. Insider strategies are great if they result in stopping things, but if Democrats are going to lose on every nomination fight anyway, they should make things as messy and painful for the Republicans ramming through all these terrible Cabinet picks as they can. And they need to make a huge deal, an official red alert, five-alarm fire kind of BFD, over the reprehensible Muslim ban Trump has instituted. It is horrible in and of itself, but it is also clear evidence that the fascist tendencies Trump exhibited in the campaign will be turned into policy.

I see evidence in my recent discussions with Senators that they are listening to the grassroots and starting to get the message. Statements from Democrats about the Muslim ban yesterday showed real passion, thank goodness. And upcoming confirmation battles on many of Trump’s Cabinet appointments will be a lot tougher in the days to come. Senate rules allow for Democrats to slow things down in a major way, and I hope we will see exactly that kind of action. If the progressive grassroots and the Democrats on the Hill equally engage the big battles all-out, we can win some and cause Trump and the Republicans an enormous amount of damage, even on the ones we don’t have the votes to win.

The challenge is that we will have to fight an enormous number of those battles, as the Trump/Republican Congress agenda is broadly evil — yes, evil. This is going to be a war fought on a hundred fronts at the same time, and we have to be ready for that prospect. And we have to understand that with Trump following through on the worst of his campaign promises like the Muslim ban, we are entering a world of darkness unseen in this country at least since the days when Nixon was plotting to break into and even bomb the offices of his political enemies. During the campaign, Trump said his role model was Nixon, and he might turn out to be worse.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last year, Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said that “darkness is good” and spoke admirably of Lucifer and Darth Vader, saying in awe, “that’s power”. And Trump himself has praised dictators around the world while being BFF with Russian autocrat and war criminal Vladimir Putin. So make no mistake, we are going to have fight the darkness with everything we have.

The way I am thinking about these times is to amend that wonderful old saying “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” I think in this case, we have no choice but to curse the darkness, or at least stand up to it and speak against it. But we do also need to light our own candle, to show people what America can be that would be the opposite of Trumpism. Maybe the revised saying needs to be “Fight the darkness. And light your candle very bright.”

The profoundly wonderful thing about the Women’s March, an idea that arose entirely through local grassroots activists online, was that even while they standing up to Trump’s agenda, they were lighting their own candle by showing a better way. The marches all over the country were peaceful, positive expressions of determination and hope that we could build a better world.

We need to resist in very way we can think of, and with everything we’ve got. We need to show grit and creativity in figuring out how to slow Trump and his sycophants in the Republican party from enacting their evil agenda. But let’s also show the American people what the opposite of Trumpism will be. We want an America where freedom of religion and respectfulness to Americans of all religious (or non-religious) beliefs are held sacred. We want an America that understands our country’s history is one of being a nation of immigrants and refugees, and that welcoming them strengthens us instead of weakening us. We want to go back to the sacred vision of this nation as being a land of,by, and for the people instead of a country ruled and rigged by billionaires, big business, and their buddies. We want to be a nation where we lift each other up rather than pushing each other down so that a few can make it while everyone else fights among themselves.

In addition to resistance and rhetoric, let’s show the country what believe in instead. Instead of a Muslim ban, we want to welcome Muslims to this country and show them friendship so that the radical extremism which Trump is always talking about never has a chance to grow. Instead of insulting hard working immigrants and obsessing about kicking them out of our country, let’s welcome them as permanent citizens and help them in starting businesses and getting them jobs and good education, which lifts us all up. Instead of slashing health care coverage and Social Security, let’s make sure seniors and all our citizens have good health coverage and a decent income, which helps us all live in a healthier economy and healthier society. Instead of a radical plan to lower taxes for the wealthy and big business and giving them even more power and wealth than they already have, let’s have a fair tax system and rising wages for all workers. Instead of Wall Street banks being able to run roughshod over the American economy like they did a decade ago, let’s break up the Too Big To Fail banks and create more opportunities for community banks and credit unions to flourish. Instead of stripping away funding for public education, let’s invest in our public schools so that our entire society benefits from a better educated citizenry.

Trumpism is an ugly ideology, and we have to fight it in the streets, at the airports, and in the halls of Congress. The good news is that Americans will turn away from it quickly if we can given them a vision and an agenda they can embrace. Let’s resist at full tilt, and light our candle to show people the way forward.


Political Strategy Notes

It sure looks like Steve Bannon is pulling the Trump puppet strings these days, which is cause for particular concern with respect to national security issues, where expertise, experience and gravitas should be valued over ideological excess. As Karen DeYoung notes at The Post, “Bannon has no job experience in foreign policy…Bannon cemented his role as a champion of the alt-right, an anti-globalism movement that has attracted support from white supremacists and helped power Trump’s populist White House victory.”

The ‘Great Wall of Hate,’ or ‘Wall of Shame‘ and now ‘Wall of Ignorance.’ Looks like Trump is losing the image battle surrounding the branding of his biggest idea, and progressives are working it effectively. But the ‘Wall of Ignorance’ Paul Krugman is really writing about is more concerned with Trump’s ragged, backfiring trade pronouncements, most recently reflected in his spopkesman Sean Spicer’s declaration that the wall will be paid for by a 20 percent border tatariif on  Mexican exports to the U.S. “America is part of a system of agreements, ” writes Krugman, “a system we built — that sets rules for trade policy, and one of the key rules is that you can’t just unilaterally hike tariffs that were reduced in previous negotiations….The risk wouldn’t so much be one of retaliation — although that, too — as of emulation: If we treat the rules with contempt, so will everyone else. The whole trading system would start to unravel, with hugely disruptive effects everywhere, very much including U.S. manufacturing…So let’s sum it up: The White House press secretary created a diplomatic crisis while trying to protect the president from ridicule over his foolish boasting. In the process he demonstrated that nobody in authority understands basic economics. Then he tried to walk the whole thing back…All of this should be placed in the larger context of America’s quickly collapsing credibility.”

Don’t be surprised if  “chaos” increasingly dominates the ‘word cloud’ describing the Trump Administration’s policies, statements and actions. That’s certainly the case regarding Trump’s travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries, which appears to exempt nations where he has business interests, as Nancy Leung, Tim Langmaid and Deanna Hackney explain in their CNN Politics post “A travel ban that descended into chaos, protests: What we know.”

Democrats have mounted an energetic and comprehensive attack against Trump’s immigration measures, report Dave Weigel and Ed O’Keefe in their Power Post article,  “Democrats launch a full-scale opposition push against Trump’s executive order.” Their article describes an encouraging array of legislative, legal and citizen actions to stop Trump’s assault on immigrants, who he has ruthlessly exploited in his business practices, if the number of lawsuits from his contractors is any indication.

Miles Mogulescu’s HuffPo article “How Senate Democrats Can Muck Up the Trumpublican Blitzkrieg and The Resistance Can Make Them” offers this insight into the progressive strategy: “…If Senate Democrats filibuster all of Trump’s remaining Cabinet picks and most of his other appointments, they can block the Republican-controlled Senate from passing much other legislation for many months…Delay can mean victory for the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump… Trumpublicans are trying to use the “Shock Doctrine” to roll back much of the New Deal and Great Society. As Naomi Klein pointed out in her book of the same title, only in times of economic or political crisis can oligarchic forces push through otherwise unpopular “free” market and neoliberal reforms—including massive cuts in the social safety net, tax cuts for the elites, privatization, and deregulation. In more normal times, their unpopularity make such measures unachievable…Moreover, by speaking out on the Senate floor against the anti-worker, anti-middle class agenda of Trump’s nominees, they can convince many of the “forgotten people” that Trump is a con artist who’s acting in the interests of the economic elites, not of ordinary Americans.”

You will have no trouble finding friends, as well as pundits, who make disparaging, even sneering remarks about the efficacy of marches, rallies and other forms of protest, even among self-described liberals. As Roderick M. Hills writes in his post, “Do Public Protests Matter in a Democracy? The “outside strategy” as a signal of support to judges and bureaucrats,” at Just Security, “In authoritarian regimes, “the Street” is a substitute for elections.  In a functioning electoral democracy, however, one might argue that the only march that counts is the march to the polling booth. Put more generally, what is the political value of mobilizing large numbers of protestors to parade around a city, apart from making the marchers feel good about themselves?” I would disagree in that many legislative reforms, including the transformative Civil Rights reforms of the 1960s, were  profoundly influenced by mass protest demonstrations. Hills does agree that mass protest helps secure reforms in the courts and governmewnt offices. “By throwing millions of demonstrators on the street, organizers of mass protests might be stiffening the spines of those unelected officials who may otherwise fear the pressure and vengeance of elected incumbents…Large demonstrations might send a message to judges and bureaucrats that a critical mass of voters have their back, because politicians will not have a strong stomach for a protracted showdown with the third and fourth branches….he recent legal victories in Massachusetts and New York, where judges Allison D. Burroughs, Judith G. Dein, and Ann Donnelly have, for now, put a stop to parts of Trump’s refugee and immigration bans, are the very type of decisions that public demonstrations help support.”

I hope Sen. Franken is here referring to something more comprehensive than the clock management thing, which is smart and interesting. But Franken’s assurance that “We have real discipline” indicates a needed change is underway.

At The New Yorker James Surowiecki explains “Why Trump’s Conflicts of Interest Won’t Hurt Him,” andnotes, “Likewise, Trump’s base, as the pollster Stanley Greenberg has written, believes that “politics has been corrupted and government has failed.” It’s not that they approve of self-dealing per se—a poll during the campaign found that ninety-nine per cent of Trump supporters cited corruption as a key issue of concern. But they’re less bothered by individual instances than by the sense that the whole system is rigged to favor élites. Trump’s apparent willingness to blow up the system matters far more to them than the possibility that he might feather his nest along the way…Furthermore, though voters claim that they worry about corruption, a lot depends on context. Partisanship plays a big role: Republicans cared a lot about the Clinton Foundation but gave Trump a pass. Besides, issues that the press and government reformers take very seriously often matter less to ordinary voters. A recent study of Berlusconi supporters found that the constant barrage of scandals simply increased their tolerance for corruption. The political scientist Arnold Heidenheimer draws a distinction between “black corruption”—things that just about everyone thinks are unacceptable, like outright bribery—and “gray corruption,” which appalls élites but elicits only shrugs from ordinary voters. Absent a clear quid pro quo, conflict of interest seems like a classic example of gray corruption.”

David Byler, elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, makes the case that a presidential candidate with  the better qualities of former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards could provide the first real test of a candidate prepared to leverage the demographic dynamics of our times. An attractive, youthful and eloquent Democratic presidential candidate with a working-class background and an inclusive, progressive economic commitment could do well in presidential politics, argues Byler, — provided he or she remained squeeky-clean and refused to get distracted or off-message.


Republicans Are Wandering Around in the Dark, Looking For a Legislative Strategy

One of the strangest phenomena of this strange week was to watch congressional Republicans gather in Philadelphia to get their act together, only to wind up more lost than ever. I wrote about the first two days of their “retreat”–and a retreat it was!–at New York:

The congressional Republican retreat in Philadelphia this week was supposed to foster highly efficient private discussions and briefings, and let the solons emerge from their labors revealed as a lean, mean, legislating machine. From reports at the end of the first day, however, they looked more like lost sheep, disappointed at the inability of their leaders to provide clear direction on how they would negotiate the tangle of health care, budget, and tax legislation they’ve committed to enact. There is particular anxiety about the very first item on everyone’s agenda: the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

“Exact, specific and detailed — that’s what people want,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee. “We’re going to own this stuff, and we better be able to explain it.”

They sure didn’t get that kind of guidance. Here’s an example:

“I don’t think you will see a plan,” said Rep. Patrick J. Tiberi (R-Ohio), chairman of a key subcommittee on health care. “I think you will see components of a plan that are part of different pieces of legislation that will make up what will ultimately be the plan.”

That’s clear as mud, isn’t it?

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan tried to generate a sense of decisiveness and momentum by talking about the timetable for one reconciliation bill to repeal (and replace?) Obamacare, another to cut taxes, and additional actions required on appropriations. But the content of all this frenetic activity was left maddeningly vague.

The big problem Republicans face, of course (beyond the unpopularity and the fiscal unfeasibility of much of what they want), is that they’ve chosen a partisan strategy to enact their agenda, which means precision timing and, most of all, advance assurances their own president is onboard are critical. Nobody wants to be halfway through an amendment vote-a-rama on a budget-reconciliation bill repealing Obamacare to find out via Twitter that Donald Trump has changed his mind or finally understood some key issue thought to be long resolved. So the Republicans in Philadelphia expected some guidance and feedback from the president, scheduled to address them on the second day.

Instead, Trump gave them a ton of headaches even as they arrived in Philadelphia, with a bunch of executive orders on hot-button issues. It was painfully clear nobody at the gathering had been given a heads-up on what he planned to do while they were away from Washington, and new issues to grapple with were absolutely the last things they needed.

But the senators and congressmen dutifully cheered the new boss during his pithy remarks today, even as many inwardly cringed at his cavalier disregard for their needs, and his insistence on pursuing entirely imaginary priorities like “voter fraud,” a reminder that he is still upset about losing the popular vote last November.

What they did not get from Trump’s speech was even an ounce of guidance. His comments on tax reform amounted to one vague sentence. On Obamacare, he spent most of his time making the strange and incredible claim that he had thought seriously about letting the present system stay in place until it collapsed, but instead decided to “help out” Democrats by putting it to the sword. He did mention his interest in a big fat infrastructure spending binge, which most Republicans, worried about the red ink he seems determined to spill, would love just to go away. All in all, it was a sort of unplugged version of a 2016 Trump campaign speech.

Sure, Trump or his underlings could convey more concrete hopes, wishes, and instructions informally whenever they wanted. But listening to Republicans in Philadelphia and elsewhere, it sure sounds like that’s not happening, at least not yet. And so they rush toward the deadlines they’ve set for themselves, without the slightest assurance any of their complex legislative maneuvers will turn out well.

After I wrote all that, the Washington Post published an account of their discussions on Obamacare, based on a recording of the GOP retreat, and believe it or not, they sound even more confused than I had imagined. They’re not at all in any sort of agreement on timing, substance, procedures, or what kind of health system they think will exist when they are through with their efforts. According to their own budget resolution, they were supposed to start putting together the reconciliation bill that would repeal Obamacare today. They are miles and miles away from that point right now, and may never get there, at this rate.


Follow-Up Notes for America’s Students on ‘The Politics of Cowardice’

New York Times columnist David Brooks’s “The politics of Cowardice,” which he “directed at high school and college students,” includes a few distortions, as well as an excellent, though disturbing psychological portrait of President Trump.

From Brooks’s perceptive take on Trump:

Consider the tenor of Trump’s first week in office. It’s all about threat perception. He has made moves to build a wall against the Mexican threat, to build barriers against the Muslim threat, to end a trade deal with Asia to fight the foreign economic threat, to build black site torture chambers against the terrorist threat.

Trump is on his political honeymoon, which should be a moment of joy and promise. But he seems to suffer from an angry form of anhedonia, the inability to experience happiness. Instead of savoring the moment, he’s spent the week in a series of nasty squabbles about his ratings and crowd sizes.

If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear. If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in: Pull in from Asian entanglements through rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Pull in from European entanglements by disparaging NATO. It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

We have a word for people who are dominated by fear. We call them cowards. Trump was not a coward in the business or campaign worlds. He could take on enormous debt and had the audacity to appear at televised national debates with no clue what he was talking about. But as president his is a policy of cowardice. On every front, he wants to shrink the country into a shell.

…Desperate to be liked, Trump adopts a combative attitude that makes him unlikable. Terrified of Mexican criminals, he wants to build a wall that will actually lock in more undocumented aliens than it will keep out. Terrified of Muslim terrorists, he embraces the torture policies guaranteed to mobilize terrorists. Terrified that American business can’t compete with Asian business, he closes off a trade deal that would have boosted annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of G.D.P. Terrified of Mexican competition, he considers slapping a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods, even though U.S. exports to Mexico have increased 97 percent since 2005.

Trump has changed the way the Republican Party sees the world. Republicans used to have a basic faith in the dynamism and openness of the free market. Now the party fears openness and competition.

Here Brooks provides one of the most insightful descriptions of what is eating Trump. But Brooks does have his blind spots. He suffers, as do most conservative columnists, from romaticized  delusions about Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Brooks and other conservatives often describe the Reagan years as a  sort of golden age, and they tend to give him nearly all of the credit for the end of the Cold War and its nuclear arms race

Mr. Brooks does mention Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as a partner in this effort. In reality, most of the post-World War II American presidents took part in the arms race with the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev deserves most of the praise for the winding down of the Cold War. He was the  visionary realist who took the bold action for disarmament, economic and political reforms needed to spark this historic transformation. Reagan does merit some credit for not screwing up disarmament, but the Republican tendency to glorify Reagan’s contribution is one of the more grotesque exaggerations of recent history.

The other thing students should note about Reagan is that Republicans and conservative writers have also distorted his record on economic progress. As Robert Borosage wrote of the effects of Reagan’s economic policies,

…Reagan opened the campaign against government domestic spending that leaves us with an aged infrastructure that is dangerous to our health, schools that put children at risk, and record numbers struggling simply to feed their families. Poverty levels began rising under Reagan and have remained high, other than in the couple years of the Clinton presidency when full employment began to lift all boats

…Free trade was the label affixed to a trade policy defined by and for multinational companies and banks. Under Reagan, America began shipping jobs rather than goods abroad. When Reagan fired the PATCO strikers, he signaled to corporate America that it was open season on unions. The combination was lethal for America’s manufacturing base — and for the family wage that was the signature of America’s broad middle class.

Deregulation gutted consumer protection, environmental protection, workplace safety and the right to organize under Reagan. It led to many scandals that made his administration one of the most corrupt in history, with a record 138 officials investigated, indicted or convicted. But the biggest change was deregulation of banking, which led to successive financial wildings and crashes that have cost taxpayers literally trillions. The first was the Savings and Loan debacle that followed on Reagan’s reforms that empowered banksters to gamble with other people’s money, with their losses guaranteed by the federal government.

America’s students can find a Republican President who actually deserves more praise in President Eisenhower, who, unlike Reagan, actually built important stuff, like the interstate highway system, which laid the infrastructure foundation for the nation’s post-war prosperity. Eisenhower was also one of the nation’s greatest military leaders, and he merits further admiration for his warning about the corrupting power of militarism. Eisenhower, like Reagan, would be horrified by Trump’s undignified leadership.

Note also that President Reagan had a cynical side, as well as the  “sunny faith” in America cited by Brooks. Reagan, more than most post-war presidents actively obstructed civil and human rights in America, often in ugly ways and comments conservative writers rarely acknowledge. As Sidney Blumenthal wrote in The Guardian,

Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it “humiliating to the South”), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house,” he said, “he has a right to do so.” After the Republican convention in 1980, Reagan traveled to the county fair in Neshoba, Mississippi, where, in 1964, three Freedom Riders had been slain by the Ku Klux Klan. Before an all-white crowd of tens of thousands, Reagan declared: “I believe in states’ rights.

Reagan’s awful civil rights and economic policies notwithstanding, he did actually negotiate in good faith with Democrats, unlike Trump, McConnell and Ryan. Credit Reagan also for upholding the basic dignity of his office — a quality, we have learned can no longer be taken for granted.


Feels a Lot Like a Pat Buchanan Administration

As Donald Trump announced various “America First” initiatives on his first day in office, I could not avoid the feeling another nationalist-populist’s legacy was finally reaching fruition, and so I wrote about it at New York.

Jeff Greenfield wrote a column in September with the headline: “Trump Is Pat Buchanan With Better Timing.” The similarities are obvious: Both men spurned the Republican Establishment, rejected GOP economic doctrines from free trade to inclusive immigration laws to “entitlement reform,” and were hostile to globalism in all its forms. They even shared the same “America First” slogan, itself a typically Buchananite shout-out to the old-right isolationists who were indifferent (or worse) toward the possibility of Hitler winning World War II.

That reflects one difference between the two demagogues, of course: Buchanan has always had an acute if skewed sense of history, while the 45th president’s contact with the subject is probably limited to extremely brief exposure to the History Channel. And they are hardly in lockstep on every policy issue: Buchanan has taken angry exception, for example, to his protégé’s long-distance love affair with Bibi Netanyahu.

But it is the priorities President Trump has revealed in his first days in office that really make one pause to realize how similar he is to Buchanan: canceling TPP and demanding the renegotiation of NAFTA; tossing day one goodies to the anti-abortion movement; ordering a quick start to his beloved border wall while threatening the undocumented; and now, initiating a systematic program of disinvestment in international organizations, especially the U.N. All these are things you might have expected in a Buchanan administration, including the last item: As the Reform Party candidate for president in 2000, Buchanan made withdrawal from the U.N. and expelling the organization from New York a campaign staple. And in 2002, he wrote an entire book attacking liberal immigration policies under the inflammatory title, The Death of the West.

Beyond policies, the tone Donald Trump has adopted as president so far is very faithful to the example set by Buchanan, the pol who invented the term “culture war,” which he regarded as a very good thing. Trump’s belligerent inaugural address and manifest determination to bend the GOP to his will nicely reflect Buchanan’s incessantly combative approach to intra-party and inter-party politics.

While we naturally think of Pat Buchanan as a figure from another era, he is actually only eight years older than Donald Trump. Perhaps he can lend Stephen Miller a hand in the presidential speechwriting shop, where he once labored in the vineyards of Richard M. Nixon. He would fit right in.


Political Strategy Notes

Elliot Hannon’s “Today Was the Worst Day Yet” at slate.com documents the damage Trump did with executive orders and other actions yesterday. It’s clear already that Trump’s grand strategy is to pile on so much that the media, Democrats and progressives will not have time to respond effectively — before the next headline-grabbing outrage is launched. Very similar to his campaign strategy. Hannon writes, “On Wednesday, the president of the United States made historic moves to recast the country as an angry, insular nation, one that recoils from the world around it and casts suspicion on those within and without. This is the America Donald Trump envisoned; this is the America he campaigned on; this is the country he’s delivering.” Progressive social change groups will have to step up their game to respond effectively to the Trump (Bannon) rapid-fire, ‘shock and awe’ strategy.

In his Politico post “Democrats launch scorched-earth strategy against Trump,” Gabriel Debenedetti writes, “According to interviews with roughly two dozen party leaders and elected officeholders, the internal debate over whether to take the conciliatory path — to pursue a high-road approach as a contrast to Trump’s deeply polarizing and norm-violating style — is largely settled, cemented in place by a transition and first week in office that has confirmed the left’s worst fears about Trump’s temperament. …“They were entitled to a grace period, but it was midnight the night of the inauguration to 8 o’clock the next morning, when the administration sent out people to lie about numerous significant things. And the damage to the credibility of the presidency has already been profound,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “They were entitled to a grace period and they blew it. It’s been worse than I could have imagined, the first few days.”

In the same post, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a candidate for California governor,  offers this cogent strategic insight: “Focusing too much on what he says — every absurdity, every misrepresentation of fact, every lie that comes out of his mouth or his tweets — makes no sense to me…The best way to fight Trump is to chart what represents the values, the priorities that we’re for. I don’t think it makes sense to spend all of our time responding to every tweet, I think that will just reinforce a notion that many people have in our country that we put party before country.”

Behind the Democratic strategy on confronting Trump’s cabinet nominees, according to Leigh Ann  Caldwell at nbcnews.com: “Democrats in the Senate are in the minority and don’t have enough members to block a nominee. However, if they slow down the process, it not only gives the party more time to negatively influence public opinion of the GOP agenda, but it also stalls what Republicans hoped would be an aggressive legislative agenda that includes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act…Senate rules allow for up to 30 hours of debate on each nominee. Thirty hours of clock time could take days. Multiply that by a dozen cabinet nominees — not to mention the dozens of lower-level nominees that will come before the Senate — and it leaves much less time to achieve legislative wins….Republicans continue to argue that President Barack Obama had seven members of his cabinet confirmed on his first day. Instead, Trump has the fewest number of nominees confirmed on his first day of any president since Jimmy Carter in 1978…”The more we learn about these nominees, the clearer it becomes that Trump’s plan is to break his campaign promises, and the more the public gets fired up for a thunderous fight to stop him,” said Ben Wikler, president of the progressive grassroots group MoveOn.”

Here’s a couple of polls that help show why public school-basher Betsy Devos is an extremely out-of-touch pick for Secretary of Education: Alexa Welch Edlund of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, “…A poll from Virginia Commonwealth University…released this week, found that 69 percent of Virginians are willing to pay more in taxes to maintain state funding at current levels…54 percent, said they would be willing to pay more to increase funding for public schools.” At The New Mexican Staci Medlock adds “New Mexico residents want to preserve state funding for schools and raise taxes instead of shoring up state revenues, according to a poll released Wednesday. Some 72 percent of 402 registered voters surveyed statewide said they oppose further cuts to public education, according to the poll, conducted by Research & Polling Inc. for the nonprofit New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.”

This may explain why Ted Cruz groveled so shamelessly to Trump, who suggested and never retracted his belief that Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination. Trump got Cruz’s grovel in exchange for nothing, similar to the way Trump played the equally-gullible Mitt Romney.

As Trump prepares to unveil his real Supreme Court nominee (the short list does not include Ted Cruz), Senate Democrats are shaping their resistance strategy, albeit with limited options. Meanwhile, the role and future of the fillbuster tactic is very much at issue, Carl Hulse reports at The New York Times.

At Vox Seth Maskett sketches a credible scenario for a Democratic comeback in 2018. It largely depends on an economic slowdown and declining popularity of Trump, both of which are quite possible, even likely. Plus historical patterns in the midterms have not been kind to the party in the White House. But Maskett disses factors Democrats can influence, like “recruitment, canvassing, advertising, and innovative strategies by new party leaders,” without justification. It’s like saying there’s not much Democrats can do to improve their prospects for the upcoming midterm elections. If so, why bother preparing for 2018?

In his article “How The Democratic Party Can Get Back Into The Game,” pollster John Zogby has an easier-said-than-done quintet of suggestions, at Forbes, no less. One of his better ideas comes under the subtopic “Building a bench, recruiting candidates,” in which Zogby offers “I would closely look at two new sources of candidates and policymakers—mayors and community college presidents. These are men and women who must establish vision, communicate to a wide range of leaders, balance budgets, create initiatives with limited resources, be nimble enough to spot trends and act upon them rapidly, welcome newcomers, enable economic development, and suffer daily the narrow minds and whiny voices of the jaded. These are the people to learn from and welcome.” Fair enough, but it would be good if Democrats also made an extra effort to recruit women and some working-class leaders, perhaps from the labor movement. And do make sure that those college presidents don’t sound too much like academicians. Democrats need more candidates and office-holders who talk like regular people and would never use words like “deplorables” in the battle to win hearts and minds.