washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?

Read the Memo.

Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People of Color” Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.

The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy.

Read the memo.

Democratic Candidates: The Whole Debate about “Critical Race Theory” is a Cynical GOP propaganda trap – Here’s What you Should Say Instead

The latest example of this extremely effective GOP exploitation of language is the current debate over “Critical Race Theory” – a perspective about race that is supposedly being foisted on children in classrooms around the country.

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

Democratic officeholders and candidates who plan to run in 2022 and 2024 need to face a simple, brutal fact – many will lose their next elections and will return control of government to the GOP if they do not offer a more plausible strategy for reducing the surge of immigrants at the border

Democrats in 2022 and 2024 will lose elections without a strategy.

Let’s Face It: The Democratic Party is Not a “Big Tent” Political Coalition – But it Desperately Needs to Become One.

Democrats routinely describe the Democratic Party as a “coalition” or even a “big tent coalition.” But in reality Dems know that this is not the case.

American Business Has the Power to Stop the GOP Assault on Democracy – Here’s a Strategy to Make Them Do It.

America is now well on its way to creating an electoral system that functions like Mexico’s during its era of one-party rule.

The Daily Strategist

January 24, 2022

Political Strategy Notes

Some key findings of the new NBC News poll, conducted January 14-18, as reported by Mark Murray of nbcnews.com: “Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, that their household income is falling behind the cost of living, that political polarizationwill only continue and that there’s a real threat to the nation’s democracy and majority rule….What’s more, the nation’s top politicians and political parties are more unpopular than popular, and interest in the upcoming November midterms is down — not up….“Downhill, divided, doubting democracy, falling behind, and tuning out — this is how Americans are feeling as they’re heading into 2022,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies….While the poll shows Democrats enjoying a narrow 1 point advantage over Republicans as the party that should control Congress, it also shows President Joe Biden’s job approval rating remaining in the low 40s, Republicans holding a double-digit edge in enthusiasm and key Democratic groups losing interest in the upcoming election….On the economy, while job creation is up and the unemployment rate is down, 61 percent of respondents in the poll say their family’s income is falling behind the cost of living. That’s compared with 30 percent who say they’re staying about even and 7 percent who say their income is going up faster than the cost of living….And on the state of democracy, a whopping 76 percent of Americans — including 7 in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents — believe there is a threat to democracy and majority rule in this country….”

Murray notes, further, “With fewer than 300 days until the November midterm elections, the NBC News poll finds 47 percent of registered voters saying they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, while 46 percent want Republicans in charge. But Republicans enjoy a double-digit advance on enthusiasm ahead of November’s elections, with 61 percent of Republicans saying they are very interested in the upcoming midterms — registering their interest either as a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale — compared with 47 percent of Democrats who say the same….In previous midterm cycles — whether 2006, 2010, 2014 or 2018 — the party that held a double-digit advantage in enthusiasm ended up making substantial gains….And some of the biggest drops have come from key segments of the Democratic base, including Black voters, young voters and urban voters….Asked their two most important issues facing the country, the top responses from Americans were jobs and the economy (a combined 42 percent), the coronavirus (29 percent), voting rights and election integrity (25 percent), the cost of living (23 percent) and border security and immigration (22 percent)….Among Democrats, the top issues were the coronavirus, voting rights and election integrity, social and racial justice, jobs/economy and climate change….Among Republicans, the top issues were jobs/economy, border security/immigration, taxes and spending and the cost of living….Finally, the NBC News poll finds every politician and political party it tested to be more unpopular than popular with the American public…”

Nathaniel Rakich has an update on congressional redistricting at FiveThirtyEight: “Since we last took stock of redistricting in early December, eight more states — including some of the biggest and swingiest states in the country — have finalized their congressional maps for the next 10 years. In all, 26 states have now completed the congressional redistricting process (not including the six states with only one congressional district). Of the 268 congressional districts drawn so far, 128 have a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean1 of D+5 or bluer, while 119 have a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of R+5 or redder. Only 21 are in the “highly competitive” category between D+5 and R+5….That’s a net gain of seven Democratic-leaning seats over the old maps in those 26 states, while the number of Republican-leaning seats has increased by only one. Since the old House map had 208 Republican-leaning seats and 181 Democratic-leaning seats overall, that means redistricting has chipped away at — though certainly not erased — Republicans’ structural advantage in House elections….the number of light-blue seats has actually increased by eight as the number of dark-blue seats has decreased by one. But that’s not because Democrats have been redistricting saints. While Republicans, who went into redistricting with a better starting position, have adopted a defensive redistricting strategy (i.e., shoring up already-red seats), Democrats have adopted an offensive strategy of maximizing the number of seats that are any shade of blue….These are the takeaways of redistricting so far — but we must emphasize the “so far.” Eighteen states have yet to finalize their new maps, and some could genuinely scramble the math above. For instance, how aggressive will Democratic cartographers be in New York? Republicans in Florida?…And then there’s the fact that even those 26 states may not be done with redistricting. Lawsuits over the new maps loom in at least eight of those states, and one other state’s map (Ohio’s) has already been overturned. Just under two-thirds of the districts whose lines are being challenged (73 out of 110) were drawn by Republicans, too, so there could be substantial upside for Democrats here — enough that some analysts believe the House’s Republican bias will disappear completely.”

Despite the downer polls, Tom Hanks rolls out a more optimistic and share-worthy view of the Biden Administration’s accomplishments:

The Terrible Consequences of Abandoning Objective Measures of What Americans Want

I returned to one of my favorite themes at New York this week in the context of the ongoing MAGA delegitimization of elections:

Donald Trump’s obsession with inflated estimates of the crowd sizes at his various live events has been a long-running joke in American politics. This was exhibited most famously in his bitter argument with the National Park Service over the number of people who attended his inauguration five years ago. But as Elaine Godfrey notes at The Atlantic, the phenomenon persists even today, and it’s central to MAGA claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump:

“Before the 2020 election, Trump and his fans would often ask reporters how Joe Biden could possibly win when he didn’t have rallies as big as Trump’s. Now that Biden is president, Trump-rally goers say things like Trump couldn’t really have lost. Look at all of these people! In Arizona this weekend, 51-year-old Tammy Shutts put it this way to me: ‘100 percent, 1,000 percent, 1 million percent Biden didn’t win’ her state, she said, gesturing to the hordes of people around her. ‘I’ve been in Arizona for almost 21 years. There is no way—no way—we went blue.’”

As Godfrey acutely observes, big crowds aren’t “just a bragging point” for Trump and his supporters. It’s “proof they are part of the American majority.” This both reflects and reinforces the core belief in MAGA land that more objective measurements of Trump’s popularity, like polls and election results, are unreliable and likely “rigged.” The proof? Look at those crowds!

Th preference for subjective instead of  objective standards for political strength was not, of course, invented by Trump or his followers. It’s pretty common among political groups who don’t want to accept evidence that they are outnumbered or outgunned. During the home stretch of the very competitive 2012 presidential campaign, with polls showing Barack Obama building a solid lead over Mitt Romney, there was a profusion of Republican wishful thinking based not only on comparative crowd size but on the number of Romney yard signs evident along the highways and byways of the country. This obsession with the display of popularity reached epic levels during Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, which greatly valued huge flags and signs, boat parades, owning the libs with obnoxious motorcades through Democratic areas, and, of course, Trump’s rallies. The Biden campaign could not remotely match all this frenetic activity, in part, to be clear, because it considered it unsafe to voters, campaign operatives, and volunteers alike in the middle of a pandemic. But to an extent that leaves coastal elites baffled, the conviction has spread that Biden’s base of support was a statistical Potemkin village because it was far less visible.

Political operatives and pundits should examine themselves in the mirror before making too much fun of this hammerheaded, snail’s-eye view of political popularity. Some of its also stems from the incessantly discussed and near-universally accepted emphasis in recent political discourse on enthusiasm as a tangible election-winning asset. It does matter, to be sure, particularly in midterm and off-year contests, in which lukewarm voters often do not participate. But a candidate does not get extra votes for having supporters who are teeming with joy or fury, and enthusiasm beyond the point needed to get voters to the polls only helps if it is communicable. As a substitute for objective data about electoral outcomes, enthusiasm and its visible signs can be actively misleading.

But if your favorite president and partisan media have told you day in and day out for years that polls are fake news and elections are rigged, then direct experience of the strength of the political cause you share with so many others (in many places, with virtually all of your friends and neighbors) is all you’ve got. Add in a polarized atmosphere in which the other “team” is deemed actively evil and its supporters are dismissed as dupes or fellow-travelers in sin, and you get January 6, 2021. On that day, another crowd — “the biggest crowd I’ve ever,” according to Trump — formed to overwhelm Congress with its conviction that Biden’s victory was a lie because the Democrat didn’t command those monster crowds.

The sense that the MAGA movement feels like a majority and thus must be one is naturally growing stronger at a time when Democratic enthusiasm is low and Trump is plotting a triumphant restoration to power, whatever it takes. As Yeats famously said of post–World War I Europe just over a century ago, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Unfortunately, some of the worst believe their passionate intensity entitles them to rule.

Dionne: How Biden Can Turn His Presidency Around

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s Washington Post column, “Biden’s road back: Asking Republicans ‘What are they for?’”: 

With the president’s approval ratings languishing, the first anniversary of his inauguration has turned into a Rorschach test for partisans and commentators. Advice on how to turn his presidency around bears an uncanny resemblance to the preexisting views of those offering their counsel….With 6.2 million jobs created on his watch, the unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent, far lower than anyone anticipated when he took office. Gross domestic product is up and workers have more bargaining power than they’ve enjoyed in decades.” Further, “Nearly 210 million Americans are fully vaccinated, as Biden noted, through more than a half-billion shots. With very narrow congressional majorities, Biden secured his $1.9 trillion economic relief package and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. It’s a good record. The problem is that much of this occurred in the first part of Biden’s opening year. His approval ratings then, a healthy 50 percent or better,, reflected this.”

Dionne notes some of the reasons for the decline in Biden’s approval figures, and writes, “He needs to focus incessantly on the virus and inflation — twin challenges that are top of mind for most Americans. Biden clearly knows this, which is why he spoke at length on Wednesday about how his administration has made testing widely available through an easy-to-use website and is boosting access to high-quality N95 masks. Going forward, he needs to settle on a strategy that reaches toward as much normality as is consistent with the virus threat, and he needs to put an end to confusing messaging from various parts of the government. Neither will be easy….On inflation, he needs highly visible efforts to unsnarl the supply chain. One idea: Create a task force on these issues. Possible members: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm; Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; Labor Secretary Marty Walsh; and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Have them report publicly every week on concrete steps the administration is taking to fix the problems.

But as progressives insist, Biden also needs to resolve the core contradiction of his presidency — between his longing to be the great unifier and his desire to do big things Republicans were bound to oppose. Not, mind you, radical things. Simply helping Americans on health care, child care, education and relief for our ailing planet….And on the biggest struggle of this generation, the battle for voting rights and democracy, Trumpified Republicans are plainly committed to giving the states they run free rein to suppress votes and subvert elections….Democrats need to enact whatever they can of the Build Back Better legislation and then move on to passing pieces of what’s left individually, if only to force the question Biden asked of Republicans at his news conference: “What are they for?” And whatever happens the next few days on voting rights, they cannot walk away from the struggle — in Washington or in the states.”

Dionne concludes, “Biden’s task is to combine effective, visible engagement on the front-burner problems with a determined effort to raise the stakes in our politics. Americans need to come to terms with the radicalism of the Republican Party and its attacks on our democracy. If the president can make progress on the first imperative, he’ll earn the nation’s attention on the second.”

Biden’s Approval Rating Is High Enough to Beat His Most Likely 2024 Opponent

There’s been a lot of buzzing lately about the president’s job approval ratings, so I gave them a close look at New York:

Midterm elections almost always serve as referenda on the perceived job performance of the president. It’s no accident that just prior to the two recent midterms (1998 and 2002) in which the party controlling the White House gained House seats, which is rare, the president’s job approval ratings were in the 60s. On three other occasions (1962, 1986, and 1990), presidents with job-approval ratings of at least 58 percent kept midterm losses for their party in the single digits.

With Democrats currently holding a five-seat margin in the House, President Joe Biden would probably need one of those very-high-job-approval moments to save his party’s control of the House in the 2022 midterms. Unfortunately, in this era of partisan polarization, a Biden boom in popularity is improbable. According to the FiveThirtyEight polling averages, the president’s approval rating peaked at 55.1 percent on March 22. It’s currently at 42.1 percent, and it is “underwater” (below his disapproval rating) by 9.8 percent. If Biden can turn the fairly steady downward drift in his approval ratings around, he can certainly help Democrats mitigate midterm House losses. On two occasions, presidents with pre-midterm approval ratings in the 40s lost only a handful of seats: Carter’s party lost 11 seats in 1978, with a Gallup rating of 49 percent, and Obama’s party lost 13 seats in 2014, with a Gallup rating of 44 percent. On the other hand, Democrats lost 53 House seats when Obama was at 45 percent in 2010 and 63 House seats when Clinton was at 46 percent in 1994. So Democrats can almost certainly kiss their trifecta goodbye, barring something unforeseeable.

The Senate is invariably another matter, since the particular “class” of senators up for reelection in any midterm has a huge impact on partisan performance. In 2018, to cite the most recent example, Republicans managed to gain two net Senate seats despite losing 40 net House seats, mostly because Democrats had an incredible 26-9 disadvantage in seats they had to defend. It was a terrible Senate landscape for Democrats, who, by contrast, face a marginally favorable Senate landscape in 2022. Still, a pretty reliable Senate model devised by Sean Trende projects that Democrats are likely to lose control of the upper chamber in 2022 if Biden’s job-approval ratings haven’t rebounded to the high 40s by Election Day.

In the longer term, there is a definite silver lining to Biden’s current popularity woes, reflected in this ostensibly very negative headline at FiveThirtyEight: “One Year in, Biden Has the Second-Lowest Approval Rating of Any President.” Guess who had the very lowest at this point in his presidency? That’s right: Donald J. Trump, whose approval rating was at 39 percent a year after his inauguration. If, as is currently more likely than not, the 2024 presidential election is a Biden-Trump rematch, you have to like Biden’s odds for a second term if he can improve his public standing even slightly between now and then. Yes, ex-presidents usually become more popular after they leave office. But they generally don’t insist on making the low point of their presidencies a signature moment, and defense of it a litmus test for their party, as Trump is doing with the Capitol riot and his broader campaign to steal the presidency. It’s as if George W. Bush had tried a 2012 comeback (and hadn’t been term-limited) based on the eternal righteousness of the Iraq War.

With better skill than he has showed lately and a bit of luck, Biden can make the midterms a nick rather than a grievous wound to his party. Then, like his friend and former boss Barack Obama, he could win reelection two years after being underestimated.

Political Strategy Notes

Amid all of the downer reports on voting rights, there is a bit of good news, as reported by Matt Robison at Newsweek: “On Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court threw out the Republican legislature’s ludicrously gerrymandered congressional maps. It wasn’t the final word—but the final result is going to be a lot fairer than if self-serving politicians had had their way….If Democrats can pick their chins up and pause outrage-tweeting for a moment, they will see that the Ohio win didn’t just fall out of the sky. It will make a meaningful difference in making elections actually reflect the will of the voters, and can be replicated around the country. The Democrats may not be able to pass a big, sweeping federal law to comprehensively stop abuses. But that doesn’t mean they can’t grit and grind their way to achieve many similar protections in the states….What exactly did Democrats in Ohio do? “This happened because of five years of work by a lot of people,” says former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who helped orchestrate the effort. “Grassroots groups, good government groups, the party, we all worked together to fight back.”….As Pepper chronicles in his book Laboratories of Autocracy, a small group started out with a meeting in 2017 to devise a detailed roadmap. They recognized that by so flagrantly gorging on political gerrymandering, state Republicans had angered and energized a cadre of activists, and made moderate voters more receptive to a message of clean, fair elections….But how to leverage that? It’s hard to overcome the Catch-22 of election reform. After all, how can you pass anti-gerrymandering law in a gerrymandered legislature? How do you win races to end the rules that are designed to keep you from winning races? So the group worked around the legislature by drafting a constitutional amendment. In six months, a volunteer army gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures and forced a measure onto the ballot….They didn’t just win; they crushed. The new constitutional language, which voters ultimately approved in 2018 in a 75-25 landslide, was straightforward, clear, and fair. It required both parties to have a say in new maps, and that “the general assembly shall not pass a plan that unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents.”….But that’s not the end of the story. It’s one thing to write a law, another for courts to enforce it. Ohio is a state that elects its Supreme Court Justices. So the coalition honed in on those races to make sure the new law would have a fighting chance. In 2018 and 2020, Democratic-endorsed candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court won three out of four statewide elections, moving the court from 7-0 Republican-favored judges to 4-3, even as Ohio went for Donald Trump by 8 points in 2020. And it was that new court makeup that last week upheld the ballot measure, preventing an obscenely rigged and undemocratic result.”….”We got those wins by doing what the Right does all the time, focusing on where the power was, and aggressively explaining the stakes to voters,” says Ohio-based Democratic consultant Cliff Schecter, who advised independent efforts to boost those campaigns.” More here.

In his article, “The false “trap” of bipartisanship: Fix the Electoral Count Act if you can; worry about the rest later” at Slow Boring, Matthew Yglesias writes: “Republican members of Congress seem to be increasingly interested in reaching a deal on reform of the Electoral Count Act. This is good news on several fronts….A bill with Republican Party support can pass the United States Senate, whereas a purely partisan bill will die via filibuster. It’s also good news because ECA reform is good on the merits — it won’t fix American political institutions or “save democracy,” but it will reduce the odds of a collapse, and reducing those odds is important. Passing and signing bipartisan bills also tend to be at least a little bit popular and make the president who’s doing it look good.” Yglesias notes that “This study — published in Foreign Affairs this month — says: “Put simply, there is no evidence that turnout is correlated with partisan vote choice” (Sens. Warnock and Ossoff would likely point out that there are, ahem, important exceptions). Yglesias adds, “The government should pass laws that make life easier and more convenient. Republicans are making life harder and less convenient out of a mistaken belief that this gives them a partisan advantage. But when Democrats say that a federal requirement for more early voting is necessary to “save our democracy,” Republicans hear that making it convenient to vote early helps Democrats and dooms Republicans….The way forward here is to turn the temperature way down and have some people sit in a quiet room with experts and work out a list of things that everyone can agree are pro-convenience and don’t advantage anyone. It really should be doable since there is no clear advantage here.” At The American Prospect, however, co-founder and co-editor Robert Kuttner doesn’t buy it, and writes “Sorry, but this kind of “reform” is worse than nothing. It is bipartisanship on Republican terms and it fails to address the real threats to American democracy….the last thing we need is sham reform.”

Also at The American Prospect, Editor at large Harold Meyerson argues in “How Democrats Can Dig Themselves Out of Their Current Hole” that “It will be no easy task for Joe Biden and the Democrats to extricate themselves from this hole. Certainly, passing a scaled-back Build Back Better bill would help. As for the elements left out of that bill, House Democrats in swing districts have an interesting proposal: Bring them each to a separate vote. If, as appears likely, the ultimate BBB fails to include such items as the Child Tax Credit and reducing drug prices, bring those up for votes, so at least Democrats can highlight their support for them, and Republicans’ opposition, before the November election….The Washington Post reports that House Democrats would like to begin that process ASAP, but I think the better course of action would be to let Senate Democrats winnow down BBB so that it can pass through reconciliation first, and only then take votes on its omitted popular particulars. Getting BBB enacted in any form has proved to be such a maddening, Herculean task that distractions like side votes might become just more obstacles to enactment. Once the bill is enacted, however, Democrats all but have to do what their swing-districters recommend. To not put themselves on the side of, say, reducing drug costs, while putting Republicans on the record opposing such actions, would amount to political malpractice of the highest order. The Democrats should enact what’s enactable and demand a division of the House on what’s not. Otherwise, the division of the House in the next Congress will be lopsidedly worse than Democrats currently fear—and avoidably so.”

“People feel tired and dispirited and when that happens a “throw the bums out” attitude often takes hold,” Heather Digby Parton explains at Salon. “The Washington Post’s Philip Bump argues that this shift proves the Democratic Party’s focus on Republican anti-democratic behavior has failed as a political message and that any thoughts the GOP might be permanently harmed by its complicity in January 6th simply haven’t resonated:…The polling to which he refers shows that it’s actually Republicans who believe that democracy is in danger more fervently than Democrats —because they believe Trump’s Big Lie. That doesn’t, however, mean that the Democrats’ argument isn’t landing. It just means that Democratic voters still have some faith that the system will hold. That isn’t a rejection of the argument that the Republican Party has become a toxic force. In fact, it may just mean that many voters accept that they are and simply believe that American democracy is strong enough to withstand it. (That may be naive, but it strikes me as quintessential American optimism.)…In any case, there is some other polling that seems to contradict all the agita over the Gallup findings, evidence that the media overlooked. USA Today reported this just a couple of weeks ago:

Republicans lost their lead on a generic congressional ballot, according to a new USA Today-Suffolk University poll, a red flag for the party ahead of this year’s midterm elections.The poll found Democrats leading Republicans on a generic ballot 39% to 37%, within the poll’s margin of error of 3.1 percentage points but a significant drop from Republicans’ 8-point lead in the same poll in November.

This is hard to reconcile with the reaction to the Gallup numbers and it’s impossible to know exactly what might have precipitated the drop. But these findings are no less determinative than Gallup’s, and none of it can accurately predict what’s going to happen next November….If Bump is correct and the Democrats’ legitimate alarm about the anti-democratic behavior of the GOP has been falling on deaf ears, there’s one thing that will almost certainly get the public’s attention: Donald Trump’s return. There’s no one in the country who makes that argument for the Democrats more clearly than he does.”

Dems Embrace ‘Show and Tell’ Strategy on Voting Rights Reform

At msnbc.com, Ja’Han Jones explains “Why Democrats are reverting to a ‘show and tell’ strategy on voting rights“:

Democrats aren’t banking on the long shot that any senators — Democratic or Republican — will change their minds and suddenly support voting rights bills or back rule changes to pass voting rights legislation. Instead, they’re using this week’s debate to try to show voters the depths of conservative obstructionism and the GOP’s opposition to democracy. Then, they’re hoping to use that exposure to hammer voting rights legislation opponents and mount a public pressure campaign that either sways Sinema and Manchin, if and when the bill is reintroduced in the future, or inspires enough voter outrage to prevent Republicans from reclaiming the Senate in the fall.

That strategy is unlikely to move progressive activists, many of whom are demanding substantive voter protections by any means necessary.

Regardless, you can hear Democrats beginning to embrace the show-and-tell strategy as they talk about the importance of getting senators’ voting rights stances on the record.

….During “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said this week’s votes are needed because “we need to know who is with us and who is not, so we will know how to conduct ourselves going forward.”….”We operate now in the blind. Let’s have these votes. Let people have this debate. And let’s see where we stand, so we will know how to conduct ourselves,” the majority whip added.”

However, Lisa Hagen notes at US News: “That failed motion will trigger a debate and vote on a rules change. Senate Democrats met Tuesday evening to discuss the path forward and see if they can agree to a rules reform by using the “nuclear option.” Rules changes need 67 votes – which the party doesn’t have – and going nuclear will allow them to do so with a simple majority. As of now, Democrats don’t have all 50 of their senators behind any option.”

Mitch McConnell will tap a range of parliamentary gizmos to try and foil every Democratic tactic to advance voting rights reform. But it is McConnell’s ‘unified front’ against voting rights that has forced Democrats to embrace re-establishing the talking filibuster. There’s no denying that a defeat on voting rights would be a major blow to Democrats. But, if their ‘show and tell’ strategy convincingly portrays the Republicans as the real obstructionists of bipartisan democracy in the months ahead, it could help Dems in November.

Beyond short-range tactics for the midterm elections, Dems should be working harder than ever on longer-range strategies, including: improve candidate recruitment; mobilize a larger African American turnout; accelerate outreach to working-class voters of all races and more aggressively discredit the GOP ‘brand.’ But Dems should also develop more creative ideas to strengthen Democratic state and local parties, particularly in swing states and swing districts; toughen up party discipline; energize lobbying of elected officials; and identify and connect with moderate and persuadable voters. Formidable challenges, yes. But improvement in any of these areas would be welcome.

Teixeira: We Need a Politics of Abundance!

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

I quite liked this piece by Derek Thompson on the Atlantic site. He’s singing my song!

“Zoom out, and you can see that scarcity has been the story of the whole pandemic response. In early 2020, Americans were told to not wear masks, because we apparently didn’t have enough to go around. Last year, Americans were told to not get booster shots, because we apparently didn’t have enough to go around. Today, we’re worried about people using too many COVID tests as cases scream past 700,000 per day, because we apparently don’t have enough to go around….

Zoom out yet more, and the truly big picture comes into focus. Manufactured scarcity isn’t just the story of COVID tests, or the pandemic, or the economy: It’s the story of America today. The revolution in communications technology has made it easier than ever for ordinary people to loudly identify the problems that they see in the world. But this age of bits-enabled protest has coincided with a slowdown in atoms-related progress.

Altogether, America has too much venting and not enough inventing. We say that we want to save the planet from climate change—but in practice, many Americans are basically dead set against the clean-energy revolution, with even liberal states shutting down zero-carbon nuclear plants and protesting solar-power projects. We say that housing is a human right—but our richest cities have made it excruciatingly difficult to build new houses, infrastructure, or megaprojects. Politicians say that they want better health care—but they tolerate a catastrophically slow-footed FDA‪ that withholds promising tools, and a federal policy that deliberately limits the supply of physicians.

In the past few months, I’ve become obsessed with a policy agenda that is focused on solving our national problem of scarcity. This agenda would try to take the best from several ideologies. It would harness the left’s emphasis on human welfare, but it would encourage the progressive movement to “take innovation as seriously as it takes affordability,” as Ezra Klein wrote. It would tap into libertarians’ obsession with regulation to identify places where bad rules are getting in the way of the common good. It would channel the right’s fixation with national greatness to grow the things that actually make a nation great—such as clean and safe spaces, excellent government services, fantastic living conditions, and broadly shared wealth.”

This reminds me of some of the themes in my recent essay on The Five Deadly Sins of the American Left:

“The final deadly sin I discussed in my essay was technopessimism. I observed that:

[M]any on the left tend to regard technological change with dread rather than hope. They see technology as a force facilitating inequality rather than growth, destroying jobs rather than leading to skilled-job creation, turning consumers into corporate pawns rather than information-savvy citizens, and destroying the planet in the process. We are far, far away from the left’s traditional attitude, which welcomed technological change as the handmaiden of abundance and increased leisure, or, for that matter, from the liberal optimism that permeated the culture of the 1950s and ‘60s with tantalizing visions of flying cars and obedient robots.

The passage of a year and a change in presidential administration does not seem to have altered this attitude much. There remains a distinct lack of optimism on the left that a rapid advance and application of technology can produce an abundant future. But there is an endless supply of discussion about a dystopian future that may await us thanks to AI and other technologies. This is odd, given that almost everything ordinary people like about the modern world, including relatively high living standards, is traceable to technological advances and the knowledge embedded in those advances. From smart phones, flat-screen TVs, and the internet, to air and auto travel, to central heating and air conditioning, to the medical devices and drugs that cure disease and extend life, to electric lights and the mundane flush toilet, technology has dramatically transformed people’s lives for the better. It is difficult to argue that the average person today is not far, far better off than her counterpart in the past. As the Northwestern University economic historian Joel Mokyr puts it, “The good old days were old but not good.”

Doesn’t the left want to make people happy? One has to wonder. There seems to be more interest in figuring out what people should stop doing and consuming than in figuring out how people can have more to do and consume. The very idea of abundance is rarely discussed, except to disparage it.

These attitudes help explain why the left does not tend to feature technological advance prominently in its policy portfolio. The Biden administration did manage to get the U.S. Competiveness and Innovation Act through the Senate (it has yet to pass the House) but with far less funding and far less probable impact on scientific innovation than it had when it was the Endless Frontier Act. But nobody on the left seemed to mind very much since it just wasn’t very high on their priority list.

You can also see this in the rather modest amount of attention and resources devoted to technological advance in the Democrats’ other bills. The bipartisan infrastructure bill did contain some money for developing next generation energy technologies like clean hydrogen, carbon capture, and advanced nuclear, but the amount was comparatively modest. The clean energy money in the last version of the Build Back Better bill, now shelved, was mostly focused on speeding up deployment of wind, solar, and electric vehicles.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that the left thinks about the clean energy future in a dreamy, fuzzy way as entirely driven by all-natural wind and solar power. But if there is to be a clean energy future, especially on the rapid timetables envisioned by most on the left, it will depend on our ability to develop the requisite technologies—not all wind and solar—quickly. Here is an area, perhaps more than any other, where the left’s technopessimism does not serve it well.

In the end, most of what the left says it wants to accomplish depends on rapid technological advances. That would seem to call for techno-optimism rather than the current jaundiced attitude toward the potential of technology.”

Political Strategy Notes

“He was a militant civil rights leader and a preacher of the Christian Gospel,” E. J. Dionne, J. writes in his Washington Post column. “He was a believer in racial concord and an agitator — in the best sense of that word — against the racism that permeated our institutions. He believed in the conversion of adversaries, but getting there often required confrontation and discomfort. King was far more a “both/and” figure than an either/or, yet the capaciousness of his worldview did not stop him from drawing clear moral lines.” And at Time, William J. Barber II writes at Newsweek, “As the nation honors Dr. King and the civil rights movement’s legacy, Democrats are hoping against the longest odds that they can unite to push back against an assault on democracy that the President calls “Jim Crow 2.0….The Beloved Community that Dr. King preached and organized toward wasn’t just an America where Black, white and brown could sit down in a restaurant together. It was the hope of a political system where the Black, white and brown masses could vote together for leaders who serve the common good….Jim Crow always had a purpose: preventing the multiethnic voting coalition that could create a more equal society….No one would put this much energy into suppressing our votes if a multiethnic coalition did not have the potential to change this nation. This MLK weekend, we must resolve to do what Dr. King noted our foreparents did during Reconstruction: unite and build a great society.”

From “Chuck Schumer’s Last Chance on Voting Rights: The talking filibuster is something the majority leader can produce—and it just might help democracy” by Bill Scher at Washington Monthly: “Democrats can’t pass their voting rights bills without bending or breaking the filibuster, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says they will try to do by next week. Exactly how is not clear. According to Politico, “Democrats are oscillating between voting on a talking filibuster or a carveout for elections reform.” Why are they torn? “Some Democrats want to preserve significant sway for the minority and prefer a talking filibuster. That would still allow the minority to gum up the Senate for weeks, but senators would have to hold the floor to do so to stop a vote at a majority threshold. Others prefer the carveout, which would allow a quicker majority vote but pare back minority rights too much for some.”….This is an easy choice if you know two things. One, Democrats don’t have the votes to change the Senate’s rules by majority vote. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose such parliamentary hardball, with Sinema on Thursday forcefully declaring her support for keeping “the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation.” Two, Schumer can bring back the talking filibuster without any vote at all….I’m not arguing that the talking filibuster is going to fix all the Democrats’ problems. I’ve shared my concerns about the potential unintended consequences of the talking filibuster, which are illustrated by the 1988 example. Just because you make the minority talk doesn’t mean the minority will budge. And when the minority can clog the floor, no other Senate business can be accomplished—no legislation, no executive branch appointments, no judicial confirmations….But right now, what is on the Democrats’ to-do list that’s so pressing? Build Back Better is stuck. Biden has 26 pending judicial nominations, but they can wait until the end of the year (so long as no Democratic senator dies from one of the nine states where the replacement could be a Republican). What better time to have a knock-down, drag-out?”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes, “With the Republican-appointed majority on the U.S. Supreme Court showing little inclination to restrain state actions—and in fact encouraging them through landmark decisions in 2013 and 2021 that weakened the federal Voting Rights Act—the failure to pass new national standards this year could clear the path for years of escalating GOP restrictions….Advocates also identify a second essential front: accountability for the efforts to overturn the 2020 election that culminated in the assault on the Capitol….frustration is growing at the failure of state and federal law enforcement to prosecute the Trump supporters behind a rising tide of physical threats against state and local election officials. (Reuters has documented more than 800 such threats in 12 states.)….with polls showing Trump’s continued appeal to the party rank and file, leaders such as Graham and Representative Kevin McCarthy quickly pivoted to stress the importance of making peace with the former president. Business groups quietly resumed contributions to the objecting legislators. (One study released this morning found that corporations have now donated more than $18 million to congressional Republicans who voted to reject the election results last January.)….Business leaders in states such as Arizona and Texas helped block some of the most extreme voter-suppression measures, and a nationwide coalition called Business for Voting Rights, which includes prominent companies such as Target, Google, and Dell, has endorsed federal voting-rights legislation. But none of the biggest national umbrella trade-business associations closely allied with the GOP, such as the Business Roundtable or the National Association of Manufacturers, has joined that effort; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a statement opposing H.R. 1 and instead called for a national bipartisan commission to study voting rules. As Kristol notes, “All the notions there would be a solid front, the business community, the Wall Street Journaleditorial page, the national-security people, saying ‘This is it,’ this is the moment when they step up,” have failed to materialize.”

In his New York times column, “The Gender Gap Is Taking Us to Unexpected Places,” Thomas B. Edsall shares some statistics and analysis that may have important implications for Democratic political strategy: “In one of the most revealing studies in recent years, a 2016 surveyof 137,456 full-time, first-year students at 184 colleges and universities in the United States, the U.C.L.A. Higher Education Research Institute found “the largest-ever gender gap in terms of political leanings: 41.1 percent of women, an all-time high, identified themselves as liberal or far left, compared to 28.9 percent of men.”….The data on college students reflects trends in the electorate at large. The Pew Research Center provided The Times with survey data showing that among all voters, Democrats are 56 percent female and 42 percent male, while Republicans are 52 percent male and 48 percent female, for a combined gender gap of 18 points. Pew found identical gender splits among voters who identify as liberal and those who identify as conservative….“Significant gender differences in party identification have been evident since the early 1980s,” according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, which provides data on the partisanship of men and women from 1952 to the present day….It’s clear from all this that the political engagement of women is having a major impact on the social order, often in ways that are not fully understood.” The data would be more useful if it included race and education. But it’s not too big of a stretch to infer that Democrats could benefit from having more women candidates, particularly those who can connect with working-class voters.

A Biden-Cheney Ticket For 2024 Is a Really Bad Idea

I read a Thomas Friedman column this week that really required a smackdown. So I supplied one at New York:

How much political capital should Democrats invest in a probably doomed effort to save the political career of Liz Cheney? Earlier this week, Never Trump Republican Linda Chavez penned a column urging Wyoming Democrats to take a dive this November in order to give the incumbent a chance to survive as an independent, assuming (as it safe) that Cheney will be purged in her own party’s primary. And now, in an apparent coincidence, in comes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggesting a far more radical step by Democrats to align themselves with the small slice of Republicans who follow Cheney’s example in repudiating Donald Trump. He wrote:

“Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination.”

Friedman phrases this as a question, but clearly he thinks it’s a good idea given the “existential moment” America would face if Trump is allowed to regain the presidency in 2024. It’s a bit of a loaded question, too, since it postulates that nothing short of a previously unimaginable “sacrifice” by Democrats and Never Trump Republicans alike can stop Trump — and that it would, in fact, succeed in stopping Trump.

I certainly agree that Democrats dumping Kamala Harris to give their vice-presidential nomination to a conservative Republican who opposes legalized abortion and is a militarist by conviction and heredity would be a “sacrifice,” to put it very mildly. It would also be very, very weird. Friedman cites the recent establishment of a mind-bending coalition government in Israel to thwart Bibi Netanyahu as a development comparable to what he is suggesting. But as he acknowledges, Israel has a parliamentary system in which multiparty coalitions are the rule rather than the exception. A presidential system in which parties invariably run separate tickets for the top job is another thing altogether.

The U.S. has had exactly one example of multiparty fusionism in a presidential election. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Republicans nominated Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee — then serving as U.S. military governor of Tennessee — to run with Lincoln on a “Union” ticket. The experiment did not turn out well, beginning with Johnson’s drunken inaugural address in 1865 and continuing with the racist solidarity he exhibited toward ex-Confederates after Lincoln’s assassination, culminating in his impeachment and near removal from office. There are important reasons politicians sort themselves out into major parties, which should be apparent in an era of polarization over issues other than the scofflaw behavior of Donald Trump.

Is the threat of Trump’s return to the White House the equivalent of the U.S. Civil War? Not in itself, I would contend, though that horrific development could lead eventually to grave conditions comparable if not equal to a civil war. The premise that a Biden-Cheney fusion ticket would uniquely doom Trump to failure is even more dubious. There has never been much evidence of a mass following for Never Trump Republicans, and such as it is, it is mostly composed of people who would (and did in 2020) gladly vote for Biden and Harris. The baleful effect that replacing Harris with Cheney on the ticket would have on Democratic turnout could easily offset or exceed the alleged benefits of bipartisan and trans-ideological fusion.

So Democrats should say thanks, but no thanks, to Friedman for the idea of submitting their party to some sort of unwieldy and unnatural coalition of national salvation, so long as there is the slightest possibility of beating Trump the old-fashioned way. Liz Cheney deserves great respect for the courage she has shown in defying Trump at the expense of her own career, and if Biden is reelected with her support, perhaps she deserves an ambassadorship, a minor Cabinet post, or a major sub-Cabinet position. But she has no business being at the top of the line of succession to a Democratic president.

New Poll Shows Voters Narrowly Favor Filibuster Carve-Out for Voter Protection

Kaia Hubbard writes at usnews.com:

“Voters are split on their attitudes toward the filibuster, which has in recent months been at the center of a debate over stalled voting rights efforts in the Senate….The rule, which allows the minority party to block the majority party’s legislative priorities by effectively requiring a supermajority of senators to agree to allow a final vote, is supported by about 42% of voters, according to a Politico-Morning Consult poll conducted Jan. 8-9. Another 30% of voters disagree with the rule, the survey says. And a similar share of voters, 28%, said they do not know enough about or have no opinion on the filibuster at all.”  However, “When asked about changing the filibuster rule in order to pass voting rights legislation, respondents were even more split than on the filibuster generally, with 37% supporting the move, while 36% opposed a change to the rule and 27% took no position.”

Some other findings from the Morning Consult Poll:

Asked, “If the election for U.S. Congress in your district was held today, which one of the following candidates are you most likely to vote for?,” 44 percent of the respondents said they would support the Democratic congressional candidate, compared to 41 percent for Republicans and 15 percent said they had no opinion or didn’t know.

Asked, “Which of the following would you say was a greater violation of the U.S. Constitution?,” 47 percent cited “The January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol”; 22 percent cited “The 2020 U.S. presidential election”; 15 percent said “Both equally violated the U.S. Constitution”; and 8 percent said they “don’t know” or had “no opinion.”

In adition, 61 percent of respondents supported “making Election Day a federal holiday,” while 56 percent supported “same-day voter regostration,” 55 percent supported expanding access to both “early voting” and “voting by mail.” (provisions of the Freedom to Vote Act).

As for “Favorability for Republicans in Congress,” 39 percent responded ‘favorable,’ while 53 percent said ‘unfavorable.’ For Democrats, the figures were 40 percent ‘favorable,’ with 53 percent ‘unfavorable.’