washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

RUBI Report Highlights Successful Approaches for Rural Democratic Candidates

Read the Report

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

“Peaceful Protest” vs. “Rioting” is a False Choice.

There’s a Militant, Powerful Strategy for Protesting Police Injustice

Read the Memo

Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

February 1, 2023

NC: Fool’s Gold for Dems, or Next Blue State?

Elena Schneider explains “How Democrats got sidetracked in their swing state of the future” at Politico, and writes:

“Republicans know that they have to win North Carolina in order to win a presidential race — there’s no other path for them. There are other paths for a Democrat to become president and not win North Carolina,” said [Roy] Cooper, who is now termed out of his governorship, in an interview with POLITICO.

Cooper argued that makes victories in places like Arizona and Pennsylvania in 2022 possible, as North Carolina soaks up resources that could go elsewhere. But Cooper said he’s still making the argument “to the president on down” that North Carolina should chart the top of their priority list in 2024.

However, Schneider notes,

Yet interviews with nearly a dozen North Carolina Democratic elected officials and strategists yielded a range of problems, including a weak in-state party infrastructure, a series of less-than-inspiring federal candidates and not enough investment from national Democratic groups. Unlike a number of other Sun Belt states, growth has not been driven by one major city but by a patchwork of regionalized metro areas, all with different media markets, and North Carolina’s urban and non-white populations have not grown at the same lightning speed as cities like Atlanta or Phoenix.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the next domino that will make it blue, on a presidential level, forever in the way we see in Virginia, Arizona and even Georgia, where the demographics and population changes are truly driving this,” said Corey Platt, a Democratic strategist who served as the Democratic Governors Association’s political director. “It’s a purple state that’s center-right on economics and a bit more center-left on social issues, and so it takes the right Democrat or the right Republican to win, and federally, we haven’t been able to thread that needle.”

And then there is the problem of money. Schneider quotes former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who said that electoral victory in NC frequently “comes down to who has more money, and the stats show it….Both parties can be accused of misreading North Carolina, but I would be shocked if Democrats leave it uncontested,” McCrory said, who lost a Senate GOP primary bid in 2022. “North Carolina can swing back and forth.” Schneider continues,

It all has big implications for 2024, as Cooper drives to make it a top priority for a Biden reelection and state Attorney General Josh Stein launches bid to succeed Cooper in what could be the most expensive gubernatorial race next cycle. A potential redrawn congressional map later this year could also pad the GOP’s slim edge in the battle for the House next year, now that the state Supreme Court leans conservative.

The size of North Carolina’s swings back and forth has shrunk, meanwhile, into a smaller and smaller pool of truly independent voters, making the days of backing President George W. Bush by 12 points — even with then-Sen. John Edwards on the Democratic ticket — and Democratic Gov. Mike Easley by 13 points in 2004 feel like ancient history. Mirroring national trends, North Carolina’s urban-rural divide reveals a stark partisan split — an intractable problem for Democrats, as the state boasts the second largest rural population, behind just Texas.

When Democrats fail to turn out their core base in urban corridors, Republicans’ rural edge becomes insurmountable. In 2022, Democrats struggled with just that, despite a history-making candidate on the ballot in Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court justice who is a Black woman. Instead, Democrats saw significant dropoff with young voters, urban voters and Black voters.

Statewide, African American turnout dropped by 6 points compared to 2018, another midterm year when there wasn’t a major statewide race atop the ticket. Voters over 60 made up a far larger share of the electorate  compared to millennials and Gen Z, while urban voters lagged behind the statewide turnout average, according to an analysis by Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College.

That turnout drop off, some Democrats argue, came down to cash. Republican outside groups significantly outspent their Democratic counterparts, giving now-Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) about a $50 million spending edge over Beasley. Republicans, meanwhile, note that Beasley outraised Budd in candidate cash by $24 million, which should’ve helped close some of that gap, since candidates get better rates on TV ads than outside groups.

“It’s almost impossible to overcome a $53 million outside spending gap that depresses votes for the Democratic candidate,” Cooper said. “I do think resources play a huge role and will play a huge role in 2024.”

It’s the “money is the mother’s milk of politics” argument, that has also been made to explain Democratic losses of strong, qualified candidates in senate races in Ohio and Florida in 2022. But NC, FL and OH have about half the percentage of eligible Black voters as Georgia, where Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock was re-elected. Yet racial demographics fail to explain why Democrats do so poorly in the state with the highest Black population percentage, Mississippi, where systemic black voter suppression is a Republican art form.

Schneider also writes that “Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel still believes that what works in North Carolina is to reach into that middle”:

“There’s a vast group of voters in the middle, and they don’t want people on the far right and they don’t want people on the far left,” said Nickel, who won an evenly divided congressional seat against former President Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Bo Hines. “Anyone who watched our race knows that we were running against extremism in both parties and on the issues that mattered to most folks in the middle.”

Looking forward, perhaps the winning Democratic formula for NC and other states looks something like: energized Black turnout +more money +smarter persuasion = Victory. There is substantial room for improvement in all three factors.

Teixeira: Biden’s uphill battle with working-class voters

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Washington Post,  where he is a new columnist. His forthcoming book with John B. Judis is “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?

Since November’s elections, President Biden has been in Michigan, Arizona, Kentucky and Ohio, touting the job-creating wonders of three big bills he has signed: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; the Chips and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. And he has been at pains to emphasize the blue-collar benefits of these bills: “The vast majority of [the] jobs … that we’re going to create,” he said, “don’t require a college degree.”

There’s a good reason for Biden to try this tack. Despite Democrats’ unexpectedly good performance in the midterms, there were abundant signs of continued weakness in an absolutely vital part of their coalition: working-class (noncollege) voters. Democrats’ weakness among White working-class voters is well known. According to AP/NORC VoteCast data, Democrats lost the White working-class vote by 25 points in 2020 and 33 points in 2022.

Less well-understood is Democrats’ emerging weakness among non-White working-class voters. Between 2012 and 2020, Democrats’ advantage among these voters declined by 18 points, with a particularly sharp shift in 2020 and among Hispanics. VoteCast data indicates that Democrats’ margin among non-White working-class voters declined 14 points between 2020 and 2022.

Democrats lost the overall working-class vote by a solid 13 points in 2022. When Republicans claim they are becoming the party of the multiracial working class, this is less far-fetched than most Democrats think. In fact, by this data, the GOP already is. No wonder Biden is worried — and he’s right to be.

But will Biden’s turn to the working class work?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. It is an uncomfortable fact that, despite the very tight labor market of the past two years, most workers have lost ground relative to inflation. And, while the administration touts the projected openings of semiconductor, battery and electric-vehicle plants tied to provisions of the administration’s semiconductor and climate bills, manufacturing today employs less than one-tenth of the country’s services-dominated working class. That is unlikely to change.

Political Strategy Notes

At Politico Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris report that “Rebranding rift guts Blue Dog Dem ranks: Nearly half the members of the influential centrist coalition are letting themselves out after a failed push for a name change designed for a new era.” As Mutnick and Ferris explain,  “Congress’ influential Blue Dog Coalition is getting chopped nearly in half after an internal blow-up over whether to rebrand the centrist Democratic group….Seven of the 15 members expected to join the Blue Dogs this year, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), are departing after a heated disagreement over a potential name change for the moderate bloc. For now that’s left the Blue Dogs with seven, all male members — their smallest roster in nearly three decades of existence. One freshman member remains undecided….At the core of some of the breakaway Blue Dogs’ demands was a rechristening as the Common Sense Coalition that, they argued, would have helped shed the group’s reputation as a socially moderate, Southern “boys’ club.” Blue Dogs have long stood for fiscal responsibility and national security, issues with broad Democratic appeal, but some members felt the name had a negative connotation that kept their colleagues from joining. A majority of other members disagreed, saying they saw no reason to toss out a longstanding legacy….Those tensions came to a head earlier this month as Blue Dog members met for a lengthy debate over the reboot that culminated in a secret-ballot vote to reject the new name, according to interviews with nearly a dozen people familiar with the situation, on both sides of the dispute. Shortly after that vote, Reps. Ed Case (D-Hawaii); David Scott (D-Ga.); Rep. Brad Schneider(D-Ill.); Lou Correa (D-Calif.), Spanberger and Sherrill all left the group.” Here’s hoping the moderates will still be able to work together to insure their influence helps create the mix of policies that can lead Dems to a stable majority.

Speaking of political branding, I was among those who relished the ‘GOP in disarray’ theme the media amped up during the House speakership follies. Turns out, however, that the Republican brand wasn’t all that popular even before McCarthy and Santos became their new poster boys. As Nathaniel Rakich reports at FiveThirtyEight, “Twenty-one percent of respondents said Republicans exhibited stronger leadership than Democrats in Washington in a November 2022 Ipsos poll. And the same pollster showed no significant change after the speaker vote: Nineteen percent said the GOP showed stronger leadership in January 2023….Civiqs maintains a running tracker of whether registered voters have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, and it has remained steady at 64 percent unfavorable, 26 percent favorable since Dec. 22, 2022….Similarly, every week, YouGov/The Economist asks Americans whether they have a favorable or unfavorable view of Republicans in Congress. Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 9, their favorable rating barely changed (from 37 percent to 36.5 percent), and their unfavorable rating slightly ticked up (from 56.7 percent to 58.9 percent)….Finally, Republicans in Congress remained a net of 15 percentage points underwater with registered voters before and after the speaker vote, according to Morning Consult. Interestingly, though, opinions of McCarthy got worse after the vote. His net favorability rating was -20 points on Dec. 29 and -26 points on Jan. 8, even as his name recognition improved slightly between the midterm elections and the speaker election….According to Ipsos, almost half of adults (49 percent) did not follow the speaker election news at all or followed it “not so closely.” A similar 42 percent felt that the fight over the speakership had very little to do with their daily lives….Another reason could be that Americans were already so cynical about Congress that the chaos of early January made them nod and say, “Yup, sounds about right.” In the HarrisX/Deseret News survey, 56 percent of registered voters thought that the dispute was just “politics as usual.””

In “What the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party Has Planned Next,” Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America, DNC member and Board Chair of Our Revolution, writes at In These Times: “While Republicans now control the U.S. House, which stifles prospects for any major Democratic legislation over the next two years, progressives are not slowing their efforts to transform U.S. politics. Both in Congress and through internal Democratic Party decision-making, progressives are building on lessons learned during the first years of the Biden administration to grow their power. This effort includes using their expanding congressional ranks to push progressive policy and when necessary challenge Democratic Party leadership, build progressive majorities in state-level parties and change internal rules to ban dark money in primaries….The most dramatic changes in progressive party reform over the past year can be seen in the growth of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). After the November 2022 midterms, the caucus now claims an all-time high of 103members — nearly half of all House Democrats….In the past, the CPC has been criticized for failing to deliver on progressive goals and including members not fully committed to achieving them. However, since reforming internal CPC rules in 2020 to create more unity and enforce members voting as a bloc, the caucus has proven to be increasinglyinfluential in the party. Along with such policy wins as including $1,400stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits in 2021’s American Rescue Plan, the CPC has helped shape the Democrats’ national priorities and economic playbook under the leadership of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).” Cohen goes on to share more successes and note a couple of failures, and adds: “What happens inside the Democratic Party and inside party caucuses of elected Democrats is frequently ignored by progressives, who are generally more comfortable protesting and working solely outside the party. Of course, protest is essential, and new party-building is fine. But for those of us who believe we must fight in every possible way to advance progressive issues and win real power, we ignore party reform at our peril, even as we demand broader electoral reforms, such as fusion and ranked-choice voting, proportional representation and more.”

Lest progressive Dems get too optimistic, however, Kyle Kondik shares “Initial Senate Ratings: Democrats Have a Lot of Defending to Do” at Crystal Ball, and explains: “How we see the Senate to start – Democrats have considerably more exposure than Republicans in this cycle’s U.S. Senate races — a point made plainly clear in our initial ratings of the 2024 Senate races….First of all, there’s just the basic math. There are 34 Senate races slated for next year so far — 33 regular contests, plus a special election in Nebraska, where newly-appointed Sen. Pete Ricketts (R) will be back on the ballot to defend the unexpired term left behind by Ben Sasse (R), who resigned to become the president of the University of Florida….Democrats are defending 23 of these seats, while Republicans are defending just 11. That Democratic tally includes the 3 states with independents who caucus with the Democrats: Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Angus King of Maine, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The races for next year are shown in Map 1:

Kondike concludes, “Democrats overcame a difficult environment in 2022 and netted a Senate seat in large part because of their ability to court persuadable voters and turn races that could have been referendums on Democrats into, instead, choices between candidates. They will need to do that again in a presidential year, particularly in the otherwise unfavorable states of Montana, Ohio, and West Virginia.”

2024 California Senate Race Gets More interesting With Schiff’s Entry

Like most California political junkies, I’m already looking forward to a vibrant 2024 Senate race. I wrote up the latest development at New York:

In the conservative imagination, California is sort of an evil empire of leftism. It’s where white people have been relegated to a minority for decades; where tree-hugging hippies still frolic; where Hollywood and Big Tech work 24/7 to undermine sturdy American-folk virtues; where rampaging unions and arrogant bureaucrats make it too expensive for regular people to live.

But in truth California’s dominant Democratic Party has as many mild-mannered moderates as it does fiery progressives. One of them, Dianne Feinstein, has held a Senate seat for over 30 years. As the 89-year-old political icon moves toward an almost certain retirement in 2024 (though she now says she won’t announce her intention until next year), another ideological moderate has just announced a bid to succeed her. Los Angeles congressman Adam Schiff, though, has an asset most centrist Democrats (those not named Clinton or Biden, anyway) can’t claim: the rabid hatred of Donald Trump–loving Republicans, giving him the sort of partisan street cred even the most rigorous progressives might envy.

It’s why Schiff begins his 2024 Senate race with something of a strategic advantage. The first-announced candidate in the contest, Congresswoman Katie Porter (also from greater L.A.), is a progressive favorite and more or less Elizabeth Warren’s protégé as a vocal enemy of corporate malfeasance. Another of Schiff’s House colleagues, Oakland-based Barbara Lee, has told people she plans a Senate run as well; Lee is a lefty icon dating back to her lonely vote against the initial War on Terror authorization following September 11. And waiting in the wings is still another member of California’s House delegation, Silicon Valley–based Ro Khanna, who is closely associated with Bernie Sanders and his two presidential campaigns.

Obviously, in a Senate race featuring multiple progressives, the national-security-minded Schiff (who voted for the Iraq war authorization and the Patriot Act early in his House career) might have a distinct “lane,” particularly if he draws an endorsement from Feinstein. (Schiff is already suggesting his campaign has her “blessing.”) But he may poach some progressive votes as well by emphasizing the enemies he’s made. Indeed, his campaign’s first video is mostly a cavalcade of conservatives (especially Donald J. Trump) attacking him.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Schiff is announcing his Senate bid immediately following his expulsion from the House Intelligence Committee by Speaker Kevin McCarthy for his alleged misconduct in investigating Russia’s links with Trump and his campaign (and in making the case for Trump’s impeachment). Schiff was also a steady prosecutorial presence on the January 6 committee that McCarthy and most Republicans boycotted).

Complicating the contest immeasurably is California’s Top Two primary election system. Schiff and his Democratic rivals will not be battling for a party primary win but for a spot in the 2024 general election, given to the top two primary finishers regardless of party affiliation. The Golden State’s Republican Party is so weak that it might not be able to find a candidate able to make the top two in a Senate primary; two Democrats competed in two recent competitive Senate general elections in California (in 2016, when Kamala Harris defeated Loretta Sanchez, and in 2018, when Feinstein trounced Kevin DeLeon). If that’s the case, though, it’s unclear which Democrat might have the edge in attracting Republicans. Porter’s campaign is circulating a poll showing she’d beat Schiff in a hypothetical general election because Republicans really hate Schiff despite his more moderate voting record.

For all the uncertainties about the 2024 Senate field, it is clear that the two announced Democratic candidates will wage a close battle in one arena: campaign dollars. Both Schiff and Porter are legendary fundraisers, though Porter had to dip deeply into her stash of resources to fend off a tougher-than-expected Republican challenge last November. Big remaining questions are whether Lee can finance a viable race in this insanely expensive state with its many media markets, and whether Khanna, with his national Sanders connections and local Silicon Valley donor base, enters the contest. There are racial, gender, and geographical variables too: Until Harris became vice-president, California had long been represented by two Democratic woman from the Bay Area. With Los Angeles–based Alex Padilla now occupying Harris’s old seat, 2024 could produce a big power shift to the south and two male senators.

In any event, nobody is waiting around for Feinstein to make her retirement official before angling for her seat, which means a Senate race that won’t affect the partisan balance of the chamber at all (barring some wild Republican upset) will soak up a lot of attention and money for a long time. At this early point, Schiff’s positioning as the moderate that Republicans fear and despise looks sure to keep him in the spotlight.

23 Comes Before 24

You can thank us later for the hot flash in the title. But there are some important elections this year that merit attention and thoughtful analyses. Geoffrey Skelley has the skinny at FiveThirtyEight, and flags “a bevy of fascinating contests on the ballot this calendar year that will affect the lives of millions of Americans.” Skelley notes further,

“Three states will hold gubernatorial elections, four will decide the makeup of their state legislatures and two will vote for potentially critical seats on their supreme courts. Additionally, a host of large cities will cast ballots for mayor. With so much on the docket in 2023, we decided to take a look at the high-profile races you should be watching….Three southern, Republican-leaning places are voting for governor this year. However, Democrats currently control the governorships in Kentucky and Louisiana, while the GOP holds Mississippi via Gov. Tate Reeves. Republicans are hoping to flip the other two, as Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana is term-limited and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky is likely to face a formidable Republican opponent. Victories in these gubernatorial races would give the GOP full control of state government — a “trifecta” — in Kentucky and Louisiana (and maintain it in Mississippi).

Now, Beshear does have a decent chance of bucking Kentucky’s red lean to win a second term. In the last quarter of 2022, Beshear’s 60 percent approval rating made him the most popular Democratic governor in the country, according to Morning Consult….But Beshear is far from a shoo-in considering Kentucky ranks as the reddest state in the country with a Democratic governor, based on the 2020 presidential vote. And an array of Republican candidates are champing at the bit to take him on.

Republicans have a clearer shot of capturing a Democratic-held governorship in Louisiana, where Edwards is leaving office after two terms….no major Democrat has yet entered. But that could soon change….Democrats will need some things to go their way if they want to replicate Edwards’s success.

In Mississippi, “Reeves could face both a serious primary challenge and just about the strongest potential candidate the Democrats could have in the general election. …But considering Reeves fended off a popular statewide-elected Democrat in 2019, it will still be a tall order for Democrats to win this race.

Looking at the state legislatures, Skelley writes:

Four states have elections for their state legislatures this year, with Louisiana and Mississippi holding them in tandem with their gubernatorial elections, and New Jersey and Virginia holding legislative midterms. The dominant party in three of those states — Republicans in Louisiana and Mississippi, Democrats in New Jersey — are likely to retain full control, though there’s a question of whether the GOP can hold onto or win veto-proof majorities in Louisiana and Mississippi, in case a Democrat manages to win either governorship.

Skelley notes that Virginia is ” one of the only states where each party controls one legislative chamber. And with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin in office, the results will determine whether Republicans can capture full control of state government….Thanks to redistricting, Virginia’s elections will take place on new maps, which should produce a number of highly competitive races — although each party may have a slim edge in the chamber it already controls.1 The November environment is difficult to know, but Democrats did claim a pivotal 2-point victory in a Jan. 10 special election for a Senate district that Youngkin had carried by 4 points, in a race that centered largely on the future of abortion rights in Virginia.

As for the state courts, Skelley reports:

….”two states — Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — also have elections for state supreme court in 2023″ and “12 of the nation’s 25 largest cities by population have mayoral elections this year. Most of these cities employ a “strong mayor” form of government — where the mayor is the city’s chief executive and can veto actions by the city council — so these elections could have major repercussions for millions of Americans….Chicago’s race is probably the headliner. There, Mayor Lori Lightfoot faces a difficult reelection battle amid high crime rates, and she has also faced potentially sexist criticism over her combative personal style.”

These are some of the important scheduled elections this year. Skelley has lots more to say about these races, and ballotpedia.org has more as well.

Republicans Can’t Specify a Debt-limit Ransom

It’s one of the more comical aspects of the deadly serious game of chicken that House Republicans are playing on the debt limit, but it’s worth pointing out, as I did at New York:

As the United States lurches toward a possible debt default thanks to House Republican hostage-taking on legislation needed to extend or suspend the debt limit, it’s increasingly evident that (as my colleague Jonathan Chait observed) the hostage-taker is strangely reluctant to name a ransom. Indeed, the initial Democratic strategy in this complicated chess game was simply to force House Republicans to say exactly what kind of spending cuts they propose to make in exchange for allowing a debt-limit measure to wobble its way to Joe Biden’s desk.

It’s easy to mock GOP lawmakers for the brainlessness, or maybe cowardice, of their effort to make Democrats identify the spending cuts their opponents want. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell tans the elephant’s hide with considerable panache:

“Republicans have Very Serious budget demands. Unfortunately, they can’t identify what any of those demands are.

“They say they want to reduce deficits — but meanwhile have ruled out virtually every path for doing so (cuts to defense, cuts to entitlements, wiping out nondefense discretionary spending, or raising taxes). …

“Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut ‘wasteful spending’ … but can’t agree on what counts as ‘waste.’”

In so quickly reaching this predictable dead end in answering the world’s easiest math problem, Republicans have one plausible line of defense: It’s how much of the public feels about fiscal matters as well. They really don’t like deficits and (especially) debt. But they really don’t like the kind of spending cuts that Republicans are talking about either (tax increases, of course, are categorically off the table for the GOP and have been since the George H.W. Bush “Read my lips: No new taxes” debacle).

September 2022 poll from the deficit scolds of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that Americans are up in arms about all the borrowing:

“A 31-month high of 83% of voters are urging the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the national debt, with the biggest jump among those under age 35 (8 points to 85%).

“More than eight-in-ten voters (81%) also said that their concern about the national debt has increased. Nearly three-in-four voters (74%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 65% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 86% of Republicans.”

From 40,000 feet, all that red ink looks pretty alarming, it seems. More recently, this very week, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal found a majority of Americans stamping their feet about it:

“Most Americans oppose raising the federal debt ceiling without accompanying cuts to federal spending, a new RMG Research poll finds.

“Sixty-one percent of 1,000 registered voters in the survey said Congress should either raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts (45%) or refuse to raise the ceiling at all (16%). Only about a quarter (24%) said Congress should raise the ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.”

To House Republicans, the great symbol of runaway spending is the “monstrous” $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December. Many of them claimed during the fight over Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership bid that “the American people” were outraged by the measure despite the fact that it cleared the Senate, House, and White House. Perhaps they were thinking of a Twitter poll conducted by Elon Musk that showed that 75 percent of respondents opposed the omnibus bill.

The sad truth is, however, that the more specific you are in identifying items in one of those “monstrous” bills, the more support they command from the public. In 2021, Gallup published a summary of public-opinion research on what was then a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Democratic budget-reconciliation proposal (soon whittled way down to $2.2 trillion and then to a net-negative figure in the ultimately enacted Inflation Reduction Act) and found that its provisions were very popular despite the debt they required:

“[S]everal recent polls … ask about the bill in a broad, umbrella fashion, and all find majority support. A Quinnipiac poll conducted July 27-Aug. 2 asked, ‘Do you support or oppose a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors?’ and found 62% support, 32% opposition. A Monmouth University poll conducted July 21-26 asked about both the initial infrastructure bill and the new $3.5 trillion bill, describing the latter this way: ‘A plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support.’ The results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll, with 63% in favor and 35% opposed …

“A progressive think tank, Data for Progress, conducted an online poll among likely voters July 30-Aug. 2, with a much more detailed 130-word description of the bill, including in the question wording a bulleted list of six specific proposals in the plan, the $3.5 trillion price tag and even a description of the ‘reconciliation’ procedure necessary to pass it. All of this (and the online mode, and the sample of likely voters as opposed to national adults) also didn’t seem to make much difference; 66% of likely voters in their sample supported the plan as described, while 26% opposed it — similar to the Quinnipiac and Monmouth results.”

So the minute you get into the particulars of Democratic-proposed spending bills, public concerns about debts and deficits tend to fade. And oh — there’s another problem for Republicans on the fiscal front: voters like the idea of higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations to pay for popular spending measures.

The lesson for Republicans is clear: Their crusade for fiscal discipline is popular, so long as it is very general and you exclude higher taxes on the rich as a possible solution. No wonder politicians like McCarthy want Democrats to be the ones who name the GOP’s price for letting the U.S. economy get through the year without calamity.

Political Strategy Notes

If you are a Democrat in a state that has a large rural population and thinking about a statewide or rural district candidacy, read Thomas B. Edsall’s column, “The Resentment Fueling the Republican Party Is Not Coming From the Suburbs” in the New York Times. Edsall writes, “Rural America has become the Republican Party’s life preserver….Less densely settled regions of the country, crucial to the creation of congressional and legislative districts favorable to conservatives, are a pillar of the party’s strength in the House and the Senate and a decisive factor in the rightward tilt of the Electoral College. Republican gains in such sparsely populated areas are compensating for setbacks in increasingly diverse suburbs where growing numbers of well-educated voters have renounced a party led by Donald Trump and his loyalists….The anger and resentment felt by rural voters toward the Democratic Party are driving a regional realignment similar to the upheaval in the white South after Democrats, led by President Lyndon Johnson, won approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964….Even so, Republicans are grasping at a weak reed. In a 2022 article, “Rural America Lost Population Over the Past Decade for the First Time in History,” Kenneth Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy and a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, notes: “Between 2010 and 2020, rural America lost population for the first time in history as economic turbulence had a significant demographic impact. The rural population loss was due to fewer births, more deaths and more people leaving than moving in.”

Edsall continues, “There are few, if any, better case studies of rural realignment and the role it plays in elections than the 2022 Senate race in Wisconsin. The basic question there is how Ron Johnson — a Trump acolytewho derided climate change with an epithet, who described the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement” and who proposed turning Social Security and Medicare into discretionary programs subject to annual congressional budget cutting — got re-elected in Wisconsin….In 2016, Johnson rode Trump’s coattails and the Republican trail blazed by the former governor Scott Walker to a 3.4 point (50.2 to 46.8) victory and swept into office, in large part by running up huge margins in Milwaukee’s predominantly white suburbs. That changed in 2022….Craig Gilbert, a fellow at Marquette Law School and a former Washington bureau chief of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, conducted a detailed analysis of Wisconsin voting patterns and found that Johnson performed much worse in the red and blue suburbs of Milwaukee than he did six years earlier in 2016. Johnson lost Wauwatosa by 7 points in 2016, then by 37 points in 2022. He won Mequon in Ozaukee County by 28 points in 2016 but only by 6 in 2022. His victory margin in Menomonee Falls in Waukesha County declined from 32 points six years ago to 14 points. So again, how did Johnson win? The simple answer: white rural Wisconsin….In her groundbreaking study of Wisconsin voters, “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker,” Katherine Cramer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, prompted a surge of interest in this declining segment of the electorate. She summed up the basis for the discontent among these voters, saying, “It had three elements: (1) a belief that rural areas are ignored by decision makers, including policymakers, (2) a perception that rural areas do not get their fair share of resources and (3) a sense that rural folks have fundamentally distinct values and lifestyles, which are misunderstood and disrespected by city folks.” My bet is on Edsall’s #3.

Edsall adds, “In their 2022 paper “Symbolic Versus Material Concerns of Rural Consciousness in the United States,” Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Zack Crowley, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Minnesota, sought to determine the key factor driving rural voters to the Republican Party: anger at perceived unfair distribution of resources by government, a sense of being ignored by decision makers or the belief that rural communities have a distinct set of values that are denigrated by urban dwellers….Trujillo and Crowley conclude that “culture differences play a far stronger role in determining the vote than discontent over the distribution of economic resources.” Stands on what they call symbolic issues “positively predict Trump support and ideology while the more material subdimension negatively predicts these outcomes, if at all.”….While rural America has moved to the right, Trujillo and Crowley point out that there is considerable variation: “poorer and/or farming-dependent communities voted more conservative, while amenity- or recreation-based rural economies voted more liberal in 2012 and 2016,” and the “local economies of Republican-leaning districts are declining in terms of income and gross domestic product, while Democratic-leaning districts are improving.” There may be a bifurcation developing between hard-core right-wing and less partisan rural communities, based on demographic change, migration and industrial development. Those with substantial tourist industries, for example, may be more hospitable to Democratic candidates.

As a resident of a rural, southern community, I note that, despite the overall trend of net out-migration from many, if not most rural areas, there are some exceptions, such as boutique and gallery towns and mountain communities, which are attracting nature-loving voters and urban retirees in potentially-significant numbers. Political analysts understandably spotlight broad national trends. but there are victories that can be won in the margins. My congressional district has experienced a 6-point uptick in the percentage received by the Democratic House candidate between 2020 and 2022, although the Democratic tally is still too low to be competitive. The other consideration is that all trends, broad and narrow, eventually flat-line. The issues that probably hurt Democratic candidates in rural areas the most are guns and abortion, the latter being extremely important to influential rural community churches. Gun worship is almost a separate, but equal religion in a political sense. If there is an issue that could help Democrats, it may be that Republican office-holders are very often too cozy with developers and polluters (follow the rural money). This hasn’t mattered much yet; But it may matter more in the future. I’m seeing other signs of post-Covid telecommuters moving in, including a real estate boom, new parking problems, a sudden influx of out-of-state and other county license plates. No doubt, there are other Appalachian and Mountain West congressional districts experiencing similar trends. It’s not that there is huge love for the G.O.P. among voters in these in rural districts; it’s more that they have bought the negative stereotypes of Democrats. I have to wonder if some independent candidates who criticize both parties could help defeat Republicans in some of these districts. In a closely-divided House of Reps, or even the Senate, that could matter.

Brownstein: Biden Bets on the Working-Class

Ronald Brownstein explains “Biden’s Blue Collar Bet: The president hopes to cut many ribbons throughout the next two years” at The Atlantic. An excerpt:

Although Biden also supports an ambitious assortment of initiatives to expand access to higher education, he has placed relatively more emphasis than his predecessors did on improving conditions for workers in jobs that don’t require advanced credentials. That approach is rooted in his belief that the economy can’t function without much work traditionally deemed low-skill, such as home health care and meat-packing, a conviction underscored by the coronavirus pandemic.“One of the things that has really become apparent to all of us is how important to our nation’s economic resiliency many of these jobs are that don’t require college degrees,” Heather Boushey, a member of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, told me this week.

Politically, improving economic conditions for workers without advanced degrees is the centerpiece of Biden’s plan to reverse the generation-long Democratic erosion among white voters who don’t hold a college degree—and the party’s more recent slippage among non-college-educated voters of color, particularly Latino men. Biden and his aides are betting that they can reel back in some of the non-college-educated voters drawn to Republican cultural and racial messages if they can improve their material circumstances with the huge public and private investments already flowing from the key economic bills passed during his first two years.

Biden’s hopes of boosting the prospects of workers without college degrees, who make up about two-thirds of the total workforce, rest on a three-legged legislative stool. One bill, passed with bipartisan support, allocates about $75 billion in direct federal aid and tax credits to revive domestic production of semiconductors. An infrastructure bill, also passed with bipartisan support, allocates about $850 billion in new spending over 10 years for the kind of projects Biden celebrated yesterday—roads, bridges, airports, water systems—as well as a national network of charging stations for electric vehicles and expanded access to high-speed internet. The third component, passed on a party-line vote as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, provides nearly $370 billion in federal support to promote renewable electricity production, accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and retrofit homes and businesses to improve energy conservation.

Brownstein adds that “Biden could be cutting ribbons every week through the 2024 presidential campaign—which would probably be fine with him. Biden rarely seems happier than when he’s around freshly poured concrete, especially if he’s on a podium with local business and labor leaders and elected officials from both parties, all of whom he introduces as enthusiastically (and elaborately) as if he’s toasting the new couple at a wedding. At his core, he remains something like a pre-1970s Democrat, who is most comfortable with a party focused less on cultural crusades than on delivering kitchen-table benefits to people who work with their hands.”

That sounds like a wise strategy all Democrats ought to embrace. But that won’t be easy, as Brownstein notes:

…Biden, with his “Scranton Joe” persona, held out great hopes in the 2020 campaign of reversing that decline with working-class white voters, but he improved only slightly above Hillary Clinton’s historically weak 2016 showing, attracting about one-third of their votes. In 2022, exit polls showed that Democrats remained stuck at that meager level in the national vote for the House of Representatives. In such key swing states as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona, winning Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates ran slightly better than that, as Biden did while carrying those states in 2020. But, again like Biden then, the exit polls found that none of them won much more than two-fifths of non-college-educated white voters, even against candidates as extreme as Doug Mastriano or Kari Lake, the GOP governor nominees in Pennsylvania and Arizona, respectively.

Call it ‘restrained optimism.’ As Brownstein writes, “The Democratic pollster Molly Murphy told me she’s relatively optimistic that Biden’s focus on creating more opportunity for workers without a college degree can bolster the party’s position with them….Yet Murphy’s expectations remain limited. “Just based on the negative arc of the last several cycles,” she said, merely maintaining the party’s current modest level of support with working-class white voters and avoiding further losses would be “a win.” Matt Morrison, the executive director of Working America, an AFL-CIO-affiliated group that focuses on political outreach to nonunion working-class families, holds similarly restrained views, though he told me that economic gains could help the party more with nonwhite blue-collar voters, who are generally less invested in Republican cultural and racial appeals. No matter how strong the job market, Murphy added, Democrats are unlikely to improve much with non-college-educated workers unless inflation recedes by 2024.”

“What’s already clear now,’ Brownstein concludes, ” is how much Biden has bet, both economically and politically, on bolstering the economic circumstances of workers without advanced education by investing literally trillions of federal dollars in forging an economy that again builds more things in America. “I don’t know whether the angry white people in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin are less angry if we get them 120,000 more manufacturing jobs,” a senior White House official told me, speaking anonymously in order to be candid. “But we are going to run that experiment.”

Teixeira: From Environmentalism to Climate Catastrophism: A Democratic Story (Part 3)

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

This is the concluding part of a three part series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

The election of Donald Trump threw the climate movement for a loop, as it did all movements on the left. Trump quickly repealed Obama’s  Climate Power Plan and withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement. As the planet, they believed, was burning, the country was now being run by a “climate denier”.

Rhetoric from climate activists became increasingly heated over the course of Trump’s term. Organizations emerged to harness the increasingly radical energy around the issue, particularly among the young. In 2017, the Sunrise Movement was formed, whose tagline is “We are the climate revolution”. The intent was to promote a rapid transition to renewables via a Green New Deal that would simultaneously accomplish this transition and turn the US into a social democratic paradise with great jobs and health care for everybody. They focused their energy on allying with politicians who would support that approach and pressuring others to do so. Famously, newly elected House representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined the organization in a sit-in at Congressional offices, greatly elevating its profile.

Also in 2017, David Wallace-Wells’ highly influential New York magazine article, “The Uninhabitable Earth” (later a best-selling book) came out. Its title is clear enough but the subhead said:

Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

No one in liberal Democratic circles seemed even slightly fazed by the level of rhetoric.

While a number of climate scientists pointed out that Wallace-Wells departed in many places from established findings and deceptively focused on only the worst possible outcomes, the general effect of his work was to raise the profile of climate catastrophism among the general public. As Wallace-Wells repeatedly noted, no matter how much you think you know, it’s “worse than you think”. It was time to contemplate “the prospect of our own annihilation”.

In 2018, a young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg (age 15), came to the attention of the world’s media. She stood outside the Swedish parliament every Friday with a sign demanding climate action (“school strike for climate”). The general tenor of her intervention and her many, many subsequent speeches and interviews as she became a media star was climate change needs massive action now and our political leaders are failing us. The hour is late and we’re on the verge of the apocalypse. In 2019 she gave a widely covered scolding to politicians at the UN that encapsulated her catastrophist stance, increasingly the conventional wisdom of the climate movement.

My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight…..

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.

This Vogtian jeremiad was greeted rapturously by the world’s press. But Thunberg was largely pushing on an open door. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had already been talking regularly talking about a “climate crisis” and “climate emergency”. The mainstream media were under pressure by organizations like Al Gore’s Climate Reality project, Greenpeace, and the Sunrise Movement to formally adopt the use of such language and align their perspective with that of the activists. Protests led by Extinction Rebellion took place outside the New York Times building to press the point resulting in 70 arrests.

The UK Guardian formally updated its style guide that year to favor “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown”. Guardian Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner noted: “The phrase ‘climate change’… sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.” The Guardian became a lead partner of, and 500+ other news organizations eventually joined, Covering Climate Now, an initiative founded in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review and left wing magazine The Nation to promote more and more aggressive coverage of the climate story because humanity has “just 12 years to slash heat-trapping emissions in half or else face catastrophic temperature rise and the record-breaking extreme weather it unleashes.”

This was really quite a significant development and helped shift the entire left of the political spectrum, including the Democratic party, toward the catastrophist view of climate change already held by activists. This view got reinforced endlessly since any unusual weather event was now ascribed by the media to climate change, any new study that suggested dire outcomes from climate change was uncritically covered and even the relatively restrained assessments of the IPCC reports were cherry-picked for the most alarming findings and scenarios. This was typically linked by commentators to the need to radically reduce the use of fossil fuels and immediately ramp up renewables.

Political Strategy Notes

At The New Republic, Jason Linkins argues “Rather than follow the Beltway’s cynical damage-control playbook, the president should put on a master class in how to take responsibility for a mistake,’ and writes “There are early indications that Biden’s mishandling of classified documentsis rooted in error rather than corruption or egomania. Unlike Trump, Biden did not spend a lengthy period of time intransigently blowing off authorities, forcing them to carry out a search and seizure of his property; his team immediately fessed up and handed over the documents to the National Archives….That the White House prefers a low-key approach is understandable—unlike Trump, most presidents don’t try to inject themselves into the news cycle every hour of the day. But I think it’s an error. What Biden is facing is a test of mettle, not a pitfall to dodge. Rather than play this matter down, Biden should—within the limitations that are wisely enforced during an ongoing investigation—endeavor to play it up, instead. He should own whatever mistakes led to these classified documents ending up where they shouldn’t have. This is an opportunity to make government ethics great again, and it’s long overdue….Biden should sail over the low bar set by his predecessor by detailing the errors that led to the misplacement of these classified materials and making clear what’s being done to ensure the mistake won’t be repeated….Moments inevitably arise in any presidency when having the trust of the public and the institutions that safeguard the civic interest is critical. Moreover, there is vital capital to be earned by owning our mistakes, and there’s an important distinction that Biden can draw with his political opponents. The president would do well to follow the old adage: Tell the truth—and shame the devil.”

Rick C. Wade explains how “The Democrats’ South Carolina strategy empowers all Black voters” at The Hill: “The Democratic National Committee’s recent decision to restructure the 2024 presidential nominating calendar and put South Carolina — and Black voters — at the beginning of the process is a bold and important step….Black voters in South Carolina account for more than 60 percent of the state’s Democratic turnout and nationally have been the backbone of the Democratic Party, yet they’ve had to wait too long to have a say in the primary process. As President Biden said ahead of the South Carolina primary, “99.9 percent of Black voters” had not had the chance to vote at that point. This calendar puts the national spotlight on South Carolina, which translates to everything from strengthening party infrastructure to stimulating the state economy and ensuring that the concerns of Black voters across South Carolina and America are heard and top of the national agenda….Being first defines how presidential candidates run their campaigns, the promises they make, the voters they talk to, and the issues they focus on….The bottom line is the first test candidates will face under this proposed calendar is that of Black voters. The extent to which the candidate passes the test can fundamentally reshape the priorities of future presidents, the American political system and our country in general.” I doubt making South Carolina the first Democratic primary would leave a lasting negative impression on white working-class voters. Lots of them live in SC also. In fact, it might even help juice the Democratic brand a bit in the south.

From “How the White House plans to target 18 House Republicans from districts Biden won” by Edward-Isaac Dovere at CNN Politics: “In parts of the West Wing and Capitol Hill, they’re known as “The 18” – the 18 House Republicans elected in districts where voters supported President Joe Biden over Donald Trump. His aides are putting together plans to squeeze and shame them in the hopes of peeling off a few key votes over the next two years….To the president and House Democratic leaders, they are the path back to the majority in 2024, and maybe even to some actual governing in between. Democrats are already making plans to pressure these Republicans to break with their party – and let their Biden-supporting voters back home know about it if and when they don’t….The big test will be a showdown over the debt ceiling, which will play out over the spring. But White House congressional liaisons beginning to fan out on Capitol Hill believe they might be able to get beyond the basics and possibly get bills through on Biden’s cancer moonshot, veteran care, the opioid epidemic and mental health – among other items that are being considered as part of an outreach and unity agenda, which may be included in Biden’s State of the Union address next week….White House aides are eying carrots like Oval Office sit-downs, invitations to the president’s box at the Kennedy Center, spots in official delegations overseas. Others are already sharpening sticks, like political ads that are planned to start running back home earlier than ever before with the aim of shaming Republicans who vote with their party rather than peeling off toward Biden….Then there are the Air Force One trips. It’s early still, but White House aides are already teasing the idea of Biden flying on Air Force One into districts where he’s popular – maybe to say thanks for working with him, or maybe to bemoan those who couldn’t join him on common ground….

Dovere continues, “For each bill, Democrats would only need five defections to join them – 218 votes are needed to pass the House bills – and the party is heavily favored to win a race for an open seat in Virginia scheduled for late February, which would add one more vote to their current total of 212 seats. And they don’t think new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, with his own narrow margins and his loose hold on the speakership, will be able to do much to stop them or punish them – provided they can find ways to force votes on the floor that he may not want….“Given the very Democratic nature of some of these districts, they’re going to have to weigh their political futures against party loyalty on a relatively consistent basis,” said a bemused senior Biden adviser already drawing up plans to pressure The 18. “Given what appears to be a hardening position from the House Republican leadership on how they plan to conduct business, that leadership will be putting their own members between a rock and a hard place.”….The swing voters in these districts, Democrats believe, went with Biden because they’re moderates who don’t like chaos, while the concessions McCarthy made to win his gavel proved that the MAGA wing is empowered in the House Republican majority….“Many Republicans in swing districts talked a good game during their campaigns but folded to the House Republicans’ MAGA agenda as soon as they arrived in DC,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, who’s coming in as the new chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm….White House aides are particularly eying the six Biden districts in New York and five in California currently represented by Republicans. There are enough seats in each of two of the very blue states to give Democrats the majority. Base turnout is always higher with a presidential race on the ballot, but they’re also counting on Biden – if he runs, as most around him currently expect him to – to do well with swing voters, with coattails that can carry them along….But some Democratic operatives are eying an even wider list of Republicans that they can pull the same squeeze-and-shame maneuver on, including South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher and Iowa Rep. Zach Nunn. Though Biden didn’t win in their districts, he did well there, and they are all members who often look to stress their independence to voters. The Democratic thinking suggests they can be pushed into choosing between joining with them and threats of primaries from their right flank.”