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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

June 17, 2019

Iowa Will Go First For the Foreseeable Future

This week at New York I addressed a controversy that comes up every four years like clockwork:

One of the great quadrennial rituals of our presidential-nominating system is the descent of candidates on Iowa (e.g., the 19 who appeared in Cedar Rapids at this year’s Iowa Democratic Hall of Fame Dinner) at about this point in the cycle. Close behind it in predictability is the rise of complaints about Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucuses and their privileged status. This year it’s Michelle Cottle who has offered an exceptionally high-profile objection to the whole thing. Here’s a sample, though if you’ve read this sort of argument before, you can practically recite it without a script:

“Demographically speaking, the Iowa electorate looks about as much like the face of America as does the Senate Republican conference. Which says a lot.

“Iowa’s caucuses are mind-numbingly convoluted and anti-democratic, favoring the most motivated, well-organized few over the less-obsessive majority of Iowans. More fundamentally, granting one state — any state — a perennial lock on the pole position of presidential voting fosters a sense of entitlement resulting in a quadrennial parade of pandering that borders on the absurd. Ethanol subsidies? Seriously?”

To her credit, Cottle understands that we’ve been hearing such complaints for eons, saying: “Hating on the Iowa caucuses has become a cliché.” Some of the particulars of her indictment are a bit off, though. Yes, caucuses don’t enlist as much participation as government-sponsored primaries, but party-sponsored primaries don’t do much better. Who’s going to force the taxpayers of Iowa to pay for official presidential-nominating contests? Since Iowans are by and large very happy with the status quo, that ain’t happening.

Her dismissal of Iowa Democratic Party efforts (via a “virtual caucus”) to comply with new rules allowing for participation in the caucuses without physically attending them seems a bit churlish as well: It’s an entirely new and untested system, so it might be wise to let it operate at least once before denouncing it as a sham.

The idea that Iowa (alongside New Hampshire, site of the first primary) maintains a death grip on the nominating process by unrepresentative, too-white electorates is a bit outdated as well. Between the 2004 and 2008 cycles, both national parties agreed to move two other states, Nevada (holding caucuses) and South Carolina (with a primary) into the charmed circle of contests sanctioned to kick off the nominating process to provide geographic and racial-ethnic balance (Nevada has a sizable Latino population; South Carolina an even more sizable African-American population). This reform was also a good example of how Iowa has adapted to all the criticism over its preeminence by giving up a bit of power in order to create allies willing to help it defend the power it retains. If they had to, I have no doubt Iowa Republicans and Democrats would support allowing other states to go “early” — though not first — in order to hang onto that First-in-the-Nation designation.

Ultimately, though, Iowa’s primacy depends on the perpetual willingness of presidential candidates to reinforce it. Since the caucuses became major events in 1976, only one successful presidential nominee — Bill Clinton in 1992 — has skipped Iowa, and that was a unique case because Iowa’s own Tom Harkin was running, making the caucuses irrelevant that year. But just participating in the caucuses isn’t enough: Iowans expect prospective candidates to come early and often, and if possible, to spend money and time promoting their own local candidates and their own party infrastructure. And naturally, once candidates have invested in Iowa, they have every interest in recouping that investment instead of supporting some effort to remove the caucuses from their traditional role.

And so the current system, with occasional tweaks and even reforms, lurches along. Those like Cottle who crave a more rational system sometimes fail to comprehend that the nominating process requires action not just by the national party but by state parties and bipartisan state legislatures. She personally favors the idea of rotating regional primaries, an idea that’s been kicking around forever. Actually making that happen across state and party lines would be a gargantuan undertaking. At a minimum, it would require a big push from a powerful figure like, say, a very popular incumbent president with no fear of alienating people in the early states.

There are already gradual developments underway that further erode the old Iowa–New Hampshire duopoly, most notably early voting: On the very same day of the Iowa caucuses next year, by-mail voting for the immense California presidential primary will begin. In the end, though, somebody has to have the first official nominating-contest results, with whatever consequences that might have for winners and losers. Iowans figure it might as well be themselves going first. They have the experience.

Bullock Wuz Robbed

Montana Governor Steve Bullock is the one Democratic presidential candidate who has figured out how to win a state-wide election in a red state. His exclusion from the first primary debates on June 26-7 does not speak well for the DNC’s selection criteria, nor for the Democratic debate process as a whole.

True, rules are rules, and with 23 Democrats announced for the presidency, some worthy candidate was bound to get screwed. But Politico’s Zach Montellaro highlights some of the flaws on the first primary debate process that excluded Bullock:

At issue is whether Bullock has crossed the polling threshold to qualify for the first debate. Candidates needed to earn at least 1 percent in three polls conducted by qualifying organizations and released by the end of Wednesday. But Bullock’s case hinges on the rules surrounding a single poll released in January by ABC News and The Washington Post…The ABC/Post poll showed Bullock receiving 1 percent support — but the question was open-ended, meaning respondents had to volunteer a name instead of being read a list of candidates.

Bullock’s campaign argues that he met the criteria, and Montellaro notes that “many poll trackers — including POLITICO and MSNBC, one of the media sponsors for the first debate — believed Bullock had crossed the polling threshold.” There will be more arguing about the specifics of the rules, and whether Bullock met them.

Not only is Bullock the only Democratic Governor of a red state running for president; He is also the only one who negotiated with his Republican-controlled state legislature to secure Medicaid expansion. Inasmuch as polls indicate that Americans are hungry for bipartisan leadership, as well as better health care, Bullock ought to be considered a standout.

Noting that “the Democratic National Committee is vulnerable to criticism for being heavy-handed after multiple complaints in 2016 that it tried to “rig” the debates and the primaries for Hillary Clinton,” Ed Kilgore writes that “a more generic complaint by another late-announcing laggard, Senator Michael Bennet, has challenged the very idea that the DNC should be in the candidate-winnowing process, as it definitely will be with those toughened second-round requirements (which at this point only eight candidates would definitely meet).”

However, notes Kilgore,

It’s unlikely the party is betraying any individual candidate preferences in setting debate rules that merely hold down the crowd to the size of the biggest family table in a restaurant. And by eschewing the GOP’s 2016 practice of demoting a big chunk of the field to a “kid’s table” preliminary event that few will watch, and giving all qualifiers an equal, random assignment, the DNC is doing its best to avoid putting a thumb on the scales for the candidates most likely to win.

Still, Kilgore writes that “there’s at least a theoretical argument that the party should not do anything to discourage anyone until the caucuses and primaries come around and let voters do the winnowing. Otherwise, late-blooming candidacies will be killed before their time.” Well-said.

We might also ask, is the public well-served by having 10 candidates on a stage, each one of which gets a few minutes to make her/his case in a few soundbites? The argument that it’s just good to see them all together begs the question: Other than the overall impressiveness of the Democratic field, Why?

Might it be better to have a rolling series of one-on-one, nationally-televised debates in communities large and small across the country? Let the networks pick a few choice high-ratings confrontations, such as Sanders vs. Warren or Biden/Harris, and then another dozen or two match-ups selected at random.

Big TV certainly has the resources to fund such a project, and it’s not like there isn’t enough time to make it happen, with more than a year to go until the Democratic convention. Dems could also benefit by hosting some debates in rural America, much of which now feels neglected by the party. As it is, the field includes only three Democratic governors, one of them a former Governor, a complaint frequently cited by voters who would like to see more candidates with executive experience.

Meanwhile, you can’t blame Bullock supporters for feeling a little ripped-off. True, he was “late” getting in, compared to others. Here’s Bullock’s explanation:

“I certainly knew getting in at the time I did would give me fewer opportunities to be on shows with you and others, but I had a job to do and if it ultimately ever came down to choosing between getting Medicaid reauthorized, getting 100,000 Montanans health care, versus getting in earlier just to bump up on another poll, I would make that same choice time and time again,” he said. Bullock, who announced his bid a month ago, waited until the Montana legislative session concluded to enter the race.

Bullock made the right choice. Hopefully, the networks will give him some extra exposure. Those so inclinded can visit Bullock’s ActBlue donations page.

Political Strategy Notes

In FiveThirtyEight’s insightful forum, “Is The Senate Really A Better Option For Some Presidential Candidates?,” political analyst Geoffrey Skelley explains why the senate seart of Maine’s Susan Collins is a prime p[ick-up opportunity for Democrats: “Collins remains relatively popular in Maine, although her approval rating isn’t as high as it used to be — in 2017, Morning Consult found her approval rating north of 60 percent, but in the first quarter of 2019, it was 52 percent…But, yeah, besides Colorado, Maine is the only other GOP-held Senate seat that’s up in a state that isn’t Republican-leaning — in fact, it’s 5 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole, and Trump lost it by 3 points in 2016. So it’s vital for Democrats that they compete there, especially since Democrats need a net gain of three seats to win the Senate (if they also win the presidency; otherwise they need to pick up four seats). And Alabama is going to be very difficult for Democrats to hold.” But Democrats still need a good candidate to make a go fo it.

From “Pelosi’s Agenda Is Popular — Much More So Than Impeaching Trump” by Perry Bacon, Jr. also at FiveThirtyEight:

The Pelosi agenda vs. impeachment

Americans’ views on provisions in the six bills from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s agenda that have passed the House vs. Americans’ views on starting impeachment proceedings against President Trump

Background checks for nearly all gun sales Quinnipiac May 16-20, 2019 94% 4%
Path to citizenship for some undocumented young people Quinnipiac Jan. 5-9, 2018 79 18
Banning discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity PRRI June 27-July 8, 2018 71 22
Allowing felons to vote post-incarceration Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 69 30
Automatic voting registration Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 65 34
Making Election Day a federal holiday Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 65 34
Allowing same-day voter registration nationally Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 64 35
Keeping U.S. in Paris climate agreement Quinnipiac Sept. 21-26, 2017 60 30
Barring companies from asking about your previous pay SurveyMonkey March 23-27, 2019 52 43
Starting impeachment proceeding against President Trump CNN May 28-31, 2019 41% 54%

Despite a majority of Americans oposing impeachment at the political moment, a slightly larger majority believes that Trump engaged in crimes prior to becomming president, and that, if evidence supports that belief, he should be held accountable. “A large majority of voters, or 57%, believe Trump “committed crimes before he took office,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday,” Emily SInger notes at ShareBlue. “And, a whopping 69% of voters say that sitting presidents should be subject to criminal indictment if there is evidence they committed crimes, the poll found.”

Chloe Reichel writes at Journalist’s Resource that “A new study in JAMA Cardiology looks at the difference in death rates attributed to cardiovascular causes, including heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmia-related death, stroke, and diseases of the aorta and blood vessels. The key finding: middle-aged people who live in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA are less likely to die of heart disease…Sameed Khatana and his co-authors find that counties in Medicaid expansion states had, on average, 4.3 fewer deaths per 100,000 residents per year than counties in states that did not expand Medicaid. Put another way, mortality rates among residents in non-expansion states increased over the six years studied – from 2010 to 2016 – while mortality rates among residents in expansion states stayed flat.”

“Democratic voters also don’t seem convinced yet that the party should be rushing to pass single-payer as soon as possible,” note Dylan Scott and Li Zhou at vox.com.  “A CNN survey found that a little fewer than half of potential Iowa caucus-goers think supporting Medicare-for-all is a “must-have” for them to consider supporting any of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last summer found 37 percent of Democratic voters consider a candidate’s position on Medicare-for-all the single most important factor in picking a candidate in 2018 versus 45 percent that said it was very important but not the most important issue. Other surveys have indicated Democrats would prioritize improving the Affordable Care Act over passing single-payer.”

At CNN Politics, Caroline Kelly reports that “Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill Wednesday that would grant the state’s electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote, her office confirmed…Oregon is the 15th state to join the National Popular State compact, an agreement established by each participating states’ laws to put its electoral votes toward the winner of the national popular vote, instead of the state’s own popular vote. The compact will only go into effect if the cumulative total of the states’ electoral votes surpasses the 270 necessary for a majority, which would require states that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 to sign on…Oregon’s seven electoral votes push the running total to 196. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state and the District of Columbia have all joined the pact.”

In “Bernie’s New Deal: Sanders makes the case that FDR was actually a socialist,” Jim Newell observes at slate.com, “By shoehorning FDR’s New Deal vision into the umbrella of democratic socialism, Sanders tried to inoculate himself against the socialism attacks that, as he conceded in the speech, his opponents would use to sink him. That was the point of the speech, it seems: Sanders can’t pretend that he has never called himself a socialist, since he’s been doing so for decades. What he can do is try to define his “socialism” as an extension of the New Deal programs that voters know and love—even if they’re not really socialism.” Sanders is correct that FDR’s policies fit nicely into the “democratic socialist” model, and you really don’t need much of a ‘shoehorn’ to make the case. However, recent polls indicate that Sanders may have been out-maneuvered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who shares many of his policies, but avoids red-baiting by saying she wants to save capitalism with reforms. Yet, even with 23 Democratic presidential candidates, not one has called out the false choice between the two ideologies, and acknowleged the reality that every one of the candidates embraces a mixture of both socialist and capitalist policies.

At Brookings, Douglas Harris shares “8 reasons why education may be pivotal in the 2020 election (and beyond)”  and notes, “Among politicos, education is not usually considered a top-tier issue in presidential elections. The issue tends to get overshadowed by other issues where the president is the obvious leader and decisionmaker—defense, security, climate change, health care, Social Security, and economic affairs. Education, in contrast, has been seen as a state and local issue. But times have changed, especially when it comes to Democratic primaries…For all of these reasons, education will be a major issue on the minds of Democratic voters. One poll has it among the top five issues for Democratic voters. Only health care beats it (and only slightly). This rising importance may also be long-lasting.”

So what would happen if Rep. Justin Amash ran for president in 2020 as a Libertarian. Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman concludes that, “Normally, you’d expect the libertarian candidate to cut more deeply into the Republican candidate’s base than the Democrat’s, but that is not a certainty. It might even cut in different directions depending on the state. A lot will depend on how comfortable the Democrats’ affluent white suburban professional base is with the their nominee. They may seek a middle option to register their disapproval, just as many are suspected to have done in 2016. Romney would be an easier landing place for them than Amash, but he might also soak up #NeverTrump votes that would otherwise go to the Democrat…When we talk about whether the smarter Democratic strategy is to run to the left or the center, the answer could depend on who the Libertarians are running and what kind of support they can pick up in different scenarios.”

“Spine” Is Necessary, But Not Sufficient, To Beat Trump and the GOP

I finally saw an opportunity to address a pet peeve of mine at New York this week, and took it:

Progressives should keep in mind that sometimes ideological or strategic differences of opinion among Democrats are just that, and do not betray an overweening desire to sell out “the base” for a mess of bipartisan pottage or pundit admiration. And being “tough” or a “fighter” or “unafraid” does not necessarily dictate the most successful course of action. Even though progressives have earned the right to lead the Democratic Party, an aggressive attitude simply won’t be enough.

It’s an important distinction to remember in the Trump era, when it’s a rare left-of-center political person who does not openly and loudly disparage the president and his party. Trump is the American Beauty rose of will-to-power politics, who has satisfied those in the GOP who cared most about “owning the libs” and defying “political correctness.” But the habit of identifying the leftmost course as defining Democratic courage lives on in the attacks on Nancy Pelosi for resisting demands for an immediate lurch down the path to impeachment. Does anyone who has paid attention to Pelosi’s career really believe she’s afraid of anybody or anything? Quite possibly she is wrong that impeachment might materially improve the odds that Donald Trump will serve a second term in which he can further stack the judiciary with stone ideologues and shred every constitutional and democratic norm. If she’s wrong, she’s wrong, but it’s not a matter of inadequate spine.

You can hear the same sort of mistake being made in the criticism of Joe Biden’s irrepressible faith in an honorable GOP that will spring back to life once the Evil One in the White House is gone. He’s absolutely wrong about that, of course. But it’s not because he’s soft or too nice or lacks spine. No one Biden’s age is likely to be afraid of anything other than the Grim Reaper.

More to the point, though, toughness is not going to beat Trump or the GOP, either. It’s going to require brains and and a workable strategy, both in the 2020 election and beyond. And it’s the apparent lack of brains exhibited by Biden’s persistent bipartisanship that’s troubling.

Nobody’s going to call progressive writer Brian Beutler a milquetoast centrist. He is practically the Cato the Censor of pro-impeachment agitprop. But he understands why Biden’s misapprehension about Republicans is a problem, and what needs to be done about it:

“[It] … foreshadows how things will go for any winning Democratic candidate who clings, sincerely or otherwise, to the view that a golden era of compromise will dawn once Trump is gone. These candidates will lock themselves into a mode of governing that can not work anymore. Their supporters and intra-party critics will be demoralized, their presidencies will stagnate, and they will waste precious time grasping for a better approach. (That’s if they don’t react to predictable GOP resistance by passing new, ill-conceived pseudo-compromises like the Hyde amendment.)

“It’s obviously just as naive to assume that hard-nosed realism about the nature of the modern GOP will unlock a progressive revolution all on its own. But candidates who understand what they’re signing up for can take steps to prepare for governing around Republicans now, knowing it’s delusional to imagine they’ll govern in coalition with them. If Democrats win the White House but not the Senate, Democrats should be prepared to implement creative foreign and administrative policies; if they consolidate power, they should be prepared to legislate in an aggressive and likely partisan way. The next time a Democrat is president, Republicans will again want to filibuster his or her presidency into failure, so the filibuster must be on the chopping block, and the party should be prepared to legislate around its own internal center, rather than let its most conservative members set the agenda in the vain hope of securing bipartisanship.”

This is a challenge to intelligence and imagination and political skill, not just to courage and strength and “spine.” Out-thugging Donald Trump may well be impossible in any event. So instead of simply demanding that Democrats “stop bringing a knife to a gunfight,” progressives should ask them to bring all their assets to the table. They’ll need them.

Teixeira: The Denmark Lesson

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

The Danish social democrats ran in the recent Denmark national elections on a left, anti-austerity program on economics and a fairly tough stance on immigration–described by the party’s leader, Mette Frederiksen, as both “realistic and fair”. The result: her center-left “red bloc” took the majority of the seats in the Danish parliament, meaning that Frederiksen should be the next prime minister. The far right populists, on the other hand, lost badly.

This excellent result contrasts rather starkly with the dreadful performance of many other European social democratic parties recently. This is generating considerable debate in European social democratic circles about whether Denmark is demonstrating a road forward out of the current mire. And well it should; the situation of European social democracy is dire and in urgent need of correction.

Paul Collier argues the case for the relevance of the Denmark social democratic path in a challenging piece in the New Statesman. His concern is to show that Frederiksen and her party are trying to recapture something vital about social democracy that has been lost in recent times. Their stance on immigration is not just political expediency but about re-establishing something very fundamental about social democracy’s commitment to the common good and common purpose.

“Following her success in the Danish elections, Mette Frederiksen is set to return the Social Democrats to power. This contrasts starkly with such parties’ fate elsewhere in Europe: the long melancholy roar of an ebb tide. Mette’s explanation for that decline, pitched at working class voters, has been “you didn’t leave us; we left you”. She has won not by ditching core values but by returning to them. To grasp that, we need a larger picture than post-millennium Denmark….

The essence of social democracy was to recognise both the value and the grim limitations of market capitalism, building a belief system among citizens whereby the anxieties that it kept generating could be addressed. Political leaders communicated a sense of common purpose to achieve a forward-looking agenda, matched by inculcating a sense of mutual obligations to deliver it. People learnt that they had duties to each other: not just to their families, but to the entire society. Gradually, the society wove a dense web of reciprocal obligations: trapping people in it by the gentle pressure of self-respect and peer esteem. The economy grew, and the benefits were shared…..

Like other social democratic parties, that in Denmark had always been based on an alliance between the provincial working class and the young metropolitan educated. But the change in the belief system of the metropolitans faced the party with a choice. The metropolitans held the advantage: unions were in decline, while they were on the rise. As they took over the party, the working class gradually drifted off, and disdainful metropolitans accused them of being “deplorable”, by which they meant “fascist”….

Depicting [shared identity and reciprocal obligations] as quasi-fascist was the theatrical conceit of those keen to ditch their obligations. The domain of reciprocity has to be national for the simple reason that the nation is the entity within which the tax revenues needed to meet those obligations can be raised. First and foremost, the key obligations are on skilled metropolitans to hand over more of the high productivity now generated by agglomeration, and which they wrongly attribute entirely to their own abilities.

Mette Frederiksen recognized the need for shared belonging. She is rebuilding common purpose around a forward-looking pragmatic agenda of addressing the new anxieties that global capitalism has thrust on the working class. But after years of neglect, working class voters no longer trusted the party. To re-establish credibility, she needed a “signalling action”: something that, had she been a metropolitan trying to bullshit them, she would not have done….

In tandem with her core focus on returning to the party’s roots in addressing the anxieties faced by working people, Frederiksen is paying serious attention to how integration can best be achieved. All citizens need to absorb the belief system of reciprocal obligations and mutual regard that underpins Denmark’s social miracle: that is the condition under which immigration from different cultures is sustainable. The acceptance of shared identity by immigrants does not preclude retaining some other identities. But it has to be sufficiently manifest to generate the common knowledge that they have embraced the identity, the common purpose, and the obligations that come with them….

Frederiksen is pioneering the renewal of European social democracy: at its core is the rebuilding of shared identity, common purpose, and mutual obligations that eludes the metropolitans.”

Very interesting analysis. We shall see how the debate within European social democracy evolves from here.

Metzgar: Talking Class and Race at the Same Time

The following article by Jack Metzgar, author of Striking Steel: Solidarity Remembered and former president of the Working-Class Studies Association, is cross-posted from Working-Class perspectives:

Most progressive policies have the potential of unifying people around class interests, but a convention in talking about these things often seems to purposely lean against pointing that out. Cory Booker’s baby bonds, all versions of Medicare for All, and the $15 minimum wage, for example, would all disproportionately benefit blacks and Latinxs, a point often highlighted by politicians and in the press, especially the advocacy press.  What they usually don’t say, however, is that though lower percentages of whites will benefit from these policies, very large numbers of them will. What would be wrong with uniformly mentioning that while people of color are disproportionately affected, the largest groups of poor, uninsured, and negative-wealth Americans are white folks?

Maybe candidates and reporters assume that everybody knows this, but I’m pretty sure they do not.  Though I have only anecdotal evidence, I suspect large numbers of white people don’t realize how substantially they would benefit from these policies.  Every time a politician or advocate says proudly that their policy would “especially benefit people of color,” to white folks it can sound like the policy is geared mostly toward people unlike them.  Because whites are still a large majority of the population (67%) and an even larger proportion of voters (72%), this should be seen as political malpractice.  But beyond political pragmatism, there’s a moral and truth deficit to mentioning one but not the other.

Almost any policy, existing or proposed, that aims to improve the economic circumstances of the bottom half of the population by income will end up benefiting larger percentages of people of color (what is meant by “disproportionately”), while the largest group of beneficiaries will be white people.  While whites are under-represented among the bottom half, they are still the largest group as we define our races and ethnicities.  A $15 minimum wage, for example, would benefit the majorities of blacks and Hispanics and only a little more than a third of whites, but of the 60 million people who would benefit, 33 million would be white.

To take a more complicated example, consider this headline from Vox, “Study: Cory Booker’s baby bonds nearly closes the racial wealth gap for young adults.”  The black-white racial wealth gap is huge, and it is clearly tied to a centuries-long history of structural racism that continues today in many forms, including education, housing, and lending practices.  The mean average wealth of white households is nearly 9 times higher that of black households.  What’s more, about 20% of black households have zero or negative net wealth versus only 10% of white households.  But while it may seem paradoxical, more than twice the number of white households have zero or negative net wealth than black households – 7.7 million white households compared to 3.3 million black households. This is simple arithmetic – lower percentages of much larger groups mean more actual people, but most of us can’t and don’t do this arithmetic in our heads.  And, unless it is pointed out, we don’t often infer it as a background fact.

So if Cory Booker says his baby bonds would “especially benefit people of color” in building wealth, is that actually true?  If we look at just those with negative net wealth who would benefit the most from Booker’s means-tested proposal, more than 7 million white households would benefit while only about 3 million black households would.  What is “especially” about that?  Booker assumes that people only go by percentages, and his proposal would indeed substantially reduce the black-white wealth gap in median incomes, but the largest group of beneficiaries will still be white. Booker’s baby bonds scheme reduces not only the racial wealth gap but also the class wealth gap.  Families of color will benefit disproportionately, but white ones will “especially” benefit too.  Wouldn’t being explicit about that make the proposal more attractive, not less, to a big chunk of the two-thirds of the electorate that is white?

Would that be appealing to “white” self-interest?  Yes, in part it would, but it would not appeal uniformly across white income classes, 20% of whom would likely see their benefit from baby bonds as insignificant.  But this is also true of people of color.  By mentioning that a policy “disproportionately benefits people of color,” we might think we’re appealing to the interests of all people of color, but we’re undoubtedly appealing most to those for whom baby bonds could be a generational game changer – a group defined by class, not by race.  Baby bonds benefit almost everybody (up to $126,000 in annual income), but they make the most difference for people of little or negative wealth regardless of race or ethnicity.  Calling out not just how a policy benefits almost everybody, but specifically how it benefits larger numbers of white people at the same time as it benefits larger percentages of people of color is to talk about race and class at the same time – and we need to do more of that.

It feels awkward, because calling white people white can seem provocative.   But if we’re going to divide ourselves into racial groups as we do – white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and other – then we need to stop talking as if all poor people are people of color and all white people have the full array of privileges that come with whiteness.  Though nearly everybody would get it right on a true-false test, well-educated journalists and politicians routinely use “poor” as if it were a racial category and “working class” as if it were wall-to-wall white (and often just blue-collar white men).  This implicit usage not only makes building class unity more difficult, it makes it nearly impossible even to envision.

It also encourages politicians and pundits to pose false dilemmas pitting Trump’s working-class white base against the Democrats’ rainbow coalition, as in suggesting that the Party must choose to “Win Back Trump Voters or Rally the Base?”  It makes it impossible to see that 33 percent of the rainbow are whites without bachelor degrees – the reigning definition of the white working class and the largest single group in the Democratic base.  Dems need class-based policies that appeal across our racial categories, and candidates running for the Democratic nomination have a potpourri of such policies on offer.  But they need to learn how to talk about class and race at the same time.

Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic, Ben LaBolt, a former national press secretary for President Obama’s reelection campaign, warns that “neither the Democratic National Committee nor any of the major Democratic super PACs are live with any notable broadcast or digital-advertising budget in battleground states targeted toward general-election swing voters. The 23 Democratic presidential campaigns are naturally focused on proximate targets, such as winning early states and meeting the DNC’s fundraising thresholds. As a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications and digital-marketing agency that has in the past served as an advertiser for Democratic presidential campaigns and super PACs, I follow this world closely. I’ve seen a number of campaigns begin to spend on digital advertising, but their ads are not focused on messages that will erode support for Trump. That’s not the role they are expected to play at this stage.”

“By tearing one another up over the impeachment question, Democrats only serve Trump’s interests by dividing and dispiriting the very people who most want him driven from office,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated column. “Personally, I continue to prefer a glorious election night in which Americans tell the world that we are not Trumpists and Trump is not us. The best way to get there is to focus public attention not on the impeachment debate itself but on the horror of Trump’s actions — and on the Republican Party’s flight from problem-solving…Thus, a modest proposal that is imperfect but may be the only practical way forward: Democrats should publicly time-limit their forbearance. Give the Trump administration a set amount of time — say, 60 days — to respond to subpoenas for witnesses and documents and end the blockade on testimony from current and former officials. Make clear that if the stonewalling continues, an impeachment inquiry will start…Given the Republicans’ complicity with Trump, it’s a near-certainty that only the voters can make this happen. All thinking about impeachment must keep this goal in mind.”

In his Vox post, “Public support for left-wing policymaking has reached a 60-year high,” Matthew Yglesias explains that “Public support for big government — more regulation, higher taxes, and more social services — has reached the highest level on record in one of the most prominent aggregate surveys of American public opinion…James Stimson, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina who’s one of the giants of American public opinion research, broke the news in a modest missive to a political science email listserv on June 6. He was sharing the news that the latest edition of Policy Mood, a composite look at American opinion across a range of polls on a range of issues, was available for public release…“The annual estimate for 2018 is the most liberal ever recorded in the 68 year history of Mood,” he wrote. “Just slightly higher than the previous high point of 1961.” However, concludes Yglesias, “while the public is more open to a surge of activist government activity than at any time in the past six decades, the odds of actually getting such a surge remain relatively low.”

Ronald Brownstein writes, also at The Atlantic, “Democrats debating whether to impeach Donald Trump may be misreading the evidence from the last time the House tried to remove a president…It’s become conventional wisdom—not only among Democrats but also among many political analysts—that House Republicans paid a severe electoral price for moving against Bill Clinton in 1998, at a time when polls showed most of the public opposed that action…But that straightforward conclusion oversimplifies impeachment’s effects, according to my analysis of the election results and interviews with key strategists who were working in national politics at the time. While Republicans did lose House seats in both 1998 and 2000, Democrats did not gain enough to capture control of the chamber either time. And in 2000, lingering unease about Clinton’s behavior provided a crucial backdrop for George W. Bush’s winning presidential campaign—particularly his defining promise “to restore honor and dignity” to the Oval Office.”

Brownstein continues, “Tad Devine, a senior strategist for Al Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000, concurs. Bush’s ability to tap the public’s dismay over Clinton’s personal life “more than anything else got in our way in terms of winning the election,” he told me. Even if the Senate doesn’t convict Trump, Devine believes, impeachment in the House could offer Democrats a similar chance to highlight the aspects of Trump’s volatile behavior that most alienate swing voters…it’s easy to overstate the magnitude of the GOP’s backslide in 1998. In the Senate, Democrats gained no seats that year, leaving the Republican majority intact. Nor did the five-seat House loss cost the GOP its majority in that chamber. Republicans still won more of the total national popular vote in House races than Democrats. Swing voters didn’t stampede away from the GOP; in exit polls, Republicans still narrowly beat Democrats among independent voters.”

Brownstein concludes, “All of that suggests it’s not a guaranteed political winner for House Democrats to impeach Trump when there’s virtually no chance the Senate will vote to remove him. But the full ledger on Clinton’s impeachment invalidates the common assumption that impeachment without removal is a guaranteed political loser. Considering both the 1998 and 2000 elections, there’s considerable evidence that the struggle actually helped the GOP; at worst, its political impact was equivocal. Which means that, on impeachment, House Democrats may have more leeway than they believe to do what they think is legally and morally right.”

Matt Ford unveils a complicated plan for Supreme Court reform at The New Republic: “The best mechanism for reform would be a constitutional amendment. That process faces more hurdles, to say the least. But it would be less corrosive to the nation’s governance in the long term than letting Congress lob the Supreme Court’s membership back and forth like a frayed tennis ball. To build consensus around a constitutional amendment, the restructuring should also take place along neutral principles that favor neither side.” Ford proposed relinking Supreme Court seats to the circuit courts, throwing in term limits and then “When one of the justices leaves the court, their replacement would be chosen by lottery from among the federal judges in their seat’s respective circuit. To avoid the oddities that come from an even-numbered court, a thirteenth seat would be held by the chief justice, who would be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.” All of this would have to be done by constitutional amendment.” For Democrats, however, the quickest route to high court reform is forget about constitutional amendments. As former Supreme Court clerk and law professor Ian Samuel has argued, “You could amend the constitution to fundamentally change the way the court works — that’s very hard to do. You could try impeaching justices, but that would also be very hard to do and not obviously justifiable,” he said. “Then you have this idea of changing the size of the Supreme Court that has this wonderful virtue that it’s just doable with ordinary legislation the next time you happen to hold political power in the elected branches of government.” Yes, it would require a Democratic landslide. But that’s what we are fighting for anyway.

Steven Greenhouse, author of the forthcomming “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor,” makes the case that “Unions should draw up a Contract for the American Worker and make it clear they will only support candidates who endorse it” at The Guardian: “Such a “Contract” could call for”: A $15 federal minimum wage by 2024; Paid parental leave for 12 weeks; Paid sick leave (at least five days per year); Paid vacation; Universal health coverage; Free community college; and Lifelong training credits. “For too long, largely because of the disproportionate power of business, workers in the wealthiest nation have gone without many basic protections. This proposed contract would aim to end what I call “America’s anti-worker exceptionalism”….Whichever candidates back this Contract for the American Worker can trumpet themselves as true friends of workers. Those who don’t will need to explain to voters why American workers deserve less than workers in other advanced industrial nations.”

Tomorrow, House Democrats will vote to hold AG William Barr and Don McGahn in contempt of Congress. Michael Tomasky writes at The Daily Beast that “The contempt vote is without precedent in the modern history of the country. Never before (that I’m aware of) have two very high-ranking officials been charged with contempt on the same matter and on the same day…Tuesday’s vote isn’t just symbolically nailing some hapless AG to the cross to make him bleed in public for a few hours. This is part of an investigation into genuine presidential obstruction of justice. And it involves both Trump’s attorney general and his former White House counsel, who is described in the Mueller Report as saying that the president directed him to obstruct justice…Assuming Barr doesn’t budge, the next step against him should clearly be impeachment…And McGahn? He can’t be impeached. But he can be disgraced. What the Democrats need to understand here is that the contempt vote is not the end of anything. It’s the beginning. Holding the two attorneys in contempt is step number one in bringing them before the bar of justice—in working what remains of their consciences, which in Barr’s case particularly seems to be pretty close to nothing, and in forcing them to capitulate to what both surely know is a justified pursuit of the truth, and threatening them with a pretty bad next 10 or 20 years if they don’t.”

Democrats Are Getting Back To a Vital Government Reform Agenda

This week, I returned at New York to an old obsession of mine: the long-long Democratic tradition of advocating significant government reform:

One of the problems progressive Democrats have had for a long while is the inveterate American suspicion of and sometimes hostility toward government, and particularly the federal government. It’s not a phenomenon isolated in any one demographic group, region, or cultural persuasion. As the party of activist government, Democrats have often vacillated between opportunistic appropriation of selected conservative anti-government themes, emphasis on government functions that happen to be popular, and, well, changing the subject to go after institutions (e.g., Big Pharma or banks) that are at least as unpopular as Washington.

When Bill Clinton and Al Gore made “reinventing government” a major theme of their administration in the 1990s, it was a point of departure for Democrats that soon more or less evaporated, in part because they oversold the initiative and in part because it focused too narrowly on cost saving rather than improvement of public services. When the more virulent forms of anti-government activism like the tea party movement arose in the 21st century, progressives tended to defend government rather than trying to fix it. As social scientist Paul Light noted in 2015, the constituency for reinventing government faded thanks to this pincer movement, and along with it, any immediate incentive for progressives to embrace public-sector innovation. And as Yoni Appelbaum observed a few years earlier, Democrats were losing ground in the eternal fight over the shape and size of government:

“The current progressive movement has … tended to promise better policies and improved implementation, while rallying to the defense of government from its critics. It insists that government should do better, but not that we need a better government. Whatever its intellectual merits, this approach has a fatal political flaw: most Americans number themselves among government’s critics. They don’t think government works terribly well, and they are disinclined to support politicians who do.”

One of the side benefits of Democrats losing control of the federal government in 2016 was that it liberated them from the reflexive habit of defending Washington. Indeed, one of the hottest topics in progressive political discourse these days is the once-radical belief that our current institutional arrangements all but guarantee a conservative oligarchical control of the country for decades to come. Add in a huge Democratic presidential field and voters hungry for new ideas, and you have a prescription for a revival of interest in government reform.

“It has not always been thus. During the Progressive period of the early 20th century, liberals rallied around a series of major systemic reforms. They pushed to break up trusts. They expanded the vote, and demanded recall elections and popular referenda. They passed the Seventeenth Amendment, mandating the direct election of senators by voters, rather than by state legislatures.

“Democrats took up this mantle, from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Republicans could still win presidential elections, but as with Dwight Eisenhower, they were often offering just a scaled-back version of Democratic big-government ideas. The GOP was supine.”

Part of the new interest in government reform on the left comes from the very old fear that the public sector has been “captured” by wealthy interests, and needs refocusing as much as it needs expansion. That’s at the heart of the wonkiest of Elizabeth Warren’s wonky policy ideas, a proposal to reorganize federal trade policy functions. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in this area since at least the Carter administration:

“[A] new Department  —  the Department of Economic Development  —  will replace the Commerce Department, subsume other agencies like the Small Business Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office, and include research and development programs, worker training programs, and export and trade authorities like the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The new Department will have a single goal: creating and defending good American jobs.”

In this case, reform serves as the handmaiden of the populist goal of ridding the federal government of a pro-corporate structural bias that has been built right into our fragmented system. But it reflects a more general resurgence of interest in government reform among presidential aspirants, as Graham notes:

“Many of them are proposing things that would require constitutional amendments, all the more notable since there hasn’t been a substantive amendment since 1971. To name just a few: O’Rourke wants term limits. As I wrote earlier this week, radical reforms to the Supreme Court, including court packing, have become central to party thinking, even for cautious candidates such as O’Rourke and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Obama achieved universal insurance coverage through the private-insurance system; several Democrats want to bulldoze it entirely with Medicare for All schemes. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been perhaps the most aggressive of the bunch, pushing everything from abolishing the filibuster to busting trusts to enshrining a right to vote.”

Medicare for All is not only the largest and most revolutionary government reform idea kicking around left-of-center circles this year; it’s also one that cleanly illustrates the conflicting impulses progressives continue to have between reforming and simply expanding government. On the one hand, single-payer health care is a classic reform aimed at sweeping away the hodgepodge of public and private health-insurance services that has so ill-served Americans over the years, and creating a much simpler and fairer model that has been tested in many other countries. On the other hand, its proponents have chosen to brand it (somewhat misleadingly) as simply an expansion of an existing government program, albeit one that is relatively quite popular. Unsurprisingly, public support for this reform tends to shrink when conservatives and their health-industry allies pound it as a government takeover of health care that will reduce consumer choice and carry an enormous price tag: the standard anti-big-government theme that always strikes a chord with so many Americans.

In this as in so many other areas, Democrats would be wise to remember that a majority of voters don’t inherently trust government any more than they do big corporations. The political power of “populism” — in both its left- and right-wing expressions — derives from a perpetual national craving for leaders who will bend government to the popular will and force it to address genuine needs. This by no means requires hostility to public employees or any reluctance to expand government where it’s needed. But it does mean boldly taking issue with government as it exists.


Gose and Skocpol: New Grassroots Groups Are Transforming Progressive Politics

In his New York Times column, “When It Comes to the Senate, the Democrats Have Their Work Cut Out for Them: Regaining control of the upper chamber may lie just outside the party’s grasp, but it is not out of reach,” Thomas B. Edsall provides a source-rich exploration of Democratic prospects for winning a Senate majority in 2020. Edsall checks in with several of the most perceptive political analysts, and concludes,

Leah Gose and Theda Skocpol, sociologists at Harvard, have been tracking on-the-ground mobilization efforts by over 100 resistance groups in Pennsylvania and they are more optimistic about Democratic prospects in 2020.

In “Resist, Persist, and Transform: The Emergence and Impact of Grassroots Resistance Groups in the Early Trump presidency” Gose and Skocpol argue that anti-Trump efforts “have remade American civic life and politics since 2016.”

The two observe that the anti-Trump mobilization has not been “restricted to liberal states or to ‘blue enclave’ areas where voters mostly support Democrats” but extends into “places where Democrats or liberals are a beleaguered minority.”

Skocpol sees little or no letup on the part of local resistance groups. In an email, she wrote:

Almost all groups plan to be very active going into 2020. The national media obsesses with the presidential horse race and the impeachment argument, but local groups are keeping at the fundamentals in many places.”

Democrats who have been frustrated by Republican control of the Senate — from 1995 to the present Congress, Republicans will have been in the majority for 19 years to the Democrats’ nine — had better hope that Gose and Skocpol are right.

If not, Democrats can bank on more years of staring at what Will Bunch, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, described as “Mitch McConnell’s democracy-crushing smirk” while McConnell presides over a Republican majority that has become the fervent ally of a president determined to embrace and embolden a white America hostile to immigrants, committed to an immoral racial hierarchy and eager to eviscerate the social progress of the past 60 years.

We encourage TDS readers to take the time to read the entire Gos/Skocpol paper, including their appendices, references and other notes. Their research not only provides a hopeful guide to successful progressive organizing projects in current context; they also shed light on how new groups can form and add to this all important coalition. In the paper’s abstract, the authors explain:

The November 2016 election sparked the creation of thousands of local groups committed to resisting the new Trump administration and Republican Congress. Our paper uses online surveys and interviews as well as evidence from fieldwork and web searches to analyze the development, demographics, and activities of such groups operating since late 2016 in eight non-metropolitan counties in four states as well as in dozens of cities, towns, and suburbs spread across the state of Pennsylvania. Local groups were founded through friendships and social media contacts and most of their members and leaders are middle-class white women. Often networked across states and regions, grassroots resistance groups have reached out to surrounding communities and generated and supported new candidates for local, state, and national offices. During the 2018 midterms and beyond, they are challenging and often remaking the Democratic Party at the local level.

Skocpol and Gos note that “Describing and analyzing the characteristics and activities of these widespread grassroots resistance efforts has been a challenge for scholars, because they are not part of any one big national organization, their participants are not flagged in national surveys, and their leaders and activities are only sporadically featured in the national media.”

Focusing on key swing states, the authors used “innovative forms of data collection – via fieldwork in multiple states, interviews, online surveys, and tracking of the Facebook pages of local groups – to offer the first comprehensive description and analysis of grassroots resistance organizations formed from late 2016 in four states and dozens of communities across North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and (most extensively) Pennsylvania. Specifically, we ask: how did anti-Trump resistance groups form, grow, and sustain themselves at the local level from November 2016 to early 2019? Who formed and joined these groups and what have they done?” Among their insightful observations:

…Research concentrated on street demonstrations and other mass public protests cannot not get at the heart of what makes recent electorally sparked popular upsurges in the United States so consequential…Grassroots resistance groups were built by citizens who found other like-minded people nearby. For those who set up and went to resistance meetings, attendance was about more than political engagement because it provided emotional support and community-based opportunities to connect, organize, and act at what they felt was a shocking moment for America.

in a section entitled, “The Social Characteristics of Grassroots Resisters,” Gose and Skocpol note,

According to responses to our online individual questionnaires (see Appendix D) – and what we see with our own eyes when attending local meetings around the country – most participants in resistance groups are middle-aged or older white college-educated women. Our largest set of individual responses comes from participants in the pro-Trump counties who fit a consistent profile. Nine of every ten are women, and our field observations suggest that male members of local groups are often husbands or partners of the female members. Furthermore, the leadership teams for groups found in the eight counties are either all-female or (in two instances) include a woman teamed up with one or two men.

Nine of ten respondents report their race as white (compared to 8% who identified as nonwhite and two percent who do not indicate a category); and the respondents are even whiter than the surrounding populations in these overwhelmingly white non-big city areas. As for age, these resisters are mostly older adults ranging upward from their 30s into their retirement years (plus one 19-year old). The overall median age is 55 years. And they are highly educated people, with 37% reporting college degrees and another 46% holding advanced post-graduate degrees. Some of these participants are retired. Among both retirees and those still at work, the most frequent occupations cited are school teacher or university professor; health care positions; work in retail or human services jobs; and business management positions.

In addition to the demographic portrait, a sense of interpersonal conection and community is clearly a leading factor in activist participation:

Many resisters also placed high value on camaraderie and joint action with other local people who share their views and want to join forces to create “strength in numbers.” Social ties formed in local resistance groups and projects are crucial, as we have learned. Leaders and participants who did not previously know one another told us they have become close friends while working together in these groups. This dynamic can have a downside, of course; if one friend pulls back, that can reduce the other’s motivation. Yet at the same time, as the months have passed, people often tell us that they are remaining involved despite feelings of burnout, precisely because they value the fellowship. As one female co-leader in North Carolina put it in an email to the authors explaining why she is sticking with her group while another exhausted leader pulled back, “Working with our community makes me happy. I grow appreciative of the interconnectedness we share. I learn about myself and my world. Indivisible members have been a great blessing to me.” Attachments to fellow participants were apparent in many questionnaire responses. As we suggested earlier, the grassroots resistance has created and reinforced interpersonal social ties in the course of drawing volunteer citizens into new levels of activism.

In one of the most hopeful observations, Skocpol and Gose write, “we wondered at the onset of this research whether local resistance groups would tend to cluster in the most liberal states and in the more liberal cities and college towns of conservative “red” states. But that is not what we find. Similar grassroots groups have emerged all over the United States, in and across every state…Indeed, we find many indications in our field visits, interviews, and questionnaire responses that centrist and liberal residents of conservative counties may have felt an even stronger need to come together than their counterparts in liberal-leaning areas.”

As for issues of particular concern to the activists,

Virtually all were horrified at threats they perceived from the Trump administration and the GOP Congress; and most wanted to fight to try to save the Affordable Care Act from repeal once Trump and the Congressional leadership made this a top 2017 priority. But beyond that, various subgroups of resisters cared most about the environment, or were especially determined to push for gerrymandering reforms, or were worried about education spending cutbacks at the local and state as well as national levels.

Almost every one of the several dozen groups we have followed devoted a lot of participant energy to the early year-long fight to save the Affordable Care Act. That fight was ideal for a combination of local organizing and national purpose, because it involved repeated critical junctures as each house of Congress took steps toward repealing or eviscerating the landmark 2010 law that extended health insurance coverage to millions of Americans. Resistance efforts on this front were especially intense and relentless during the spring and summer of 2017 – when local groups used tactics like letter writing and “post card parties,” calls or visits to elected officials and their staffs at district offices, writing opinion pieces, and holding public demonstrations and “die-ins” (for accounts, see Griffin 2017, Weigel 2017, Zremski 2017). Defending health reform was a common challenge around which disparate local resisters could organize, build ties, and hone skills. Members of grassroots resistance groups were engaged at all levels and quite intensely; and even as efforts across many places were nationally attuned, local networks of resisters could take steps to inform their neighbors and local news outlets about what the Affordable Care Act does and what would be lost if it were repealed. Because this “all hands on deck” struggle went on for quite some time, it taught local members and regional networks ways to engage the media and press their representatives on other issues.

Finally, the fight to block health reform repeal boosted the widespread resistance because it ended up “winning” in two important ways. Congressional votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act ultimately fell just short in the Senate, and grassroots efforts at least contributed to this outcome. Those efforts prodded the GOP Congress to keep trying different variants of repeal over many months. And they pushed Maine Senator Susan Collins to become one of three Republican senators who blocked repeal (Cassidy 2017; Levin, Greenberg, and Padilla 2017b). What is more, in a larger sense, during 2017 U.S. public support for the Affordable Care Act shifted from net negative to net positive (Kaiser Family Foundation 2018). Whether or not widespread local resistance agitation directly caused either the Congressional repeal failure or the shift toward more favorable public views of health reform, these coincidences were encouraging to resistance members. Vital lessons were learned about how to act locally to affect national outcomes.

Gose and Skocpol also provide some cogent insights about burnout, attrition and ‘group persistence’ and note the important role of social media, particularly Facebook, in sustaining the activist projects. They also explore the sometimes problematic relationships between the groups and the local Democratic party and Democratic campaigns. They conclude,

Whatever unfolds, our research so far suggests that movement sparked by the Trump election will not push U.S. liberal politics toward the uncompromising far left. The kinds of grassroots resistance groups we have discovered and studied do not espouse the sorts of purist ideological stances sometimes taken by professionally run progressive advocacy groups. Grassroots groups have strong local connections, and their participants are closely engaged with candidates and officeholders with varied backgrounds and views. If these female-led voluntary groups persist as an important part of center-left politics in the United States, they are unlikely to further uncompromising ideological polarization. As before throughout American history, women’s civic activism may revitalize democratic engagement and promote a new birth of responsive government in communities across the land.

The research of Skocpol and Gose provides hope that the new ‘resistance’ activist groups can indeed help steer America in a more progressive direction. How effectively Democrats support and interact with these groups may also help the party win the presidency, secure working majorities in Washington and in state legislatures across the nation.

Political Strategy Notes

From Dylan Scott’s “Trump is really unpopular in the most important 2020 battleground states: Trump is deep underwater in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other key 2020 states” at Vox: “Here are the raw numbers for Trump in the states that are expected to be competitive in the 2020 election:

  • New Hampshire: 39 percent approval, 58 percent disapproval
  • Wisconsin: 42 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval
  • Michigan: 42 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval
  • Iowa: 42 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval
  • Arizona: 45 percent approval, 51 percent disapproval
  • Pennsylvania 45 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval
  • Ohio: 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval
  • North Carolina: 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval
  • Florida: 48 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval
  • Indiana: 49 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval”

Amid all of the buzz about Wisconsin becomming a critical swing state in the 2020 presidential election, there are encouraging signs that the state Democratic party is preparing an unprecedented voter mobilization effort. As Emily Hamer reports at The Wisconsin State Journal, “Former MoveOn.org leader Ben Wikler has been chosen as the new leader of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the party announced Sunday. Wikler will lead Democrats into the 2020 campaign in which Wisconsin is widely viewed as potentially decisive in the race for the White House.” At MoveOn, “Wikler helped lead the successful organizing push in 2017 to halt the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.”

Also at Vox, Ella Nilsen writes, “Five candidates, including Biden, Inslee, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Reps. Beto O’Rourke and John Delaney have all released massive plans to combat climate change, ranging from $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion in federal investment over a decade. Candidates are factoring in the spur of private investments as well, hence the jump to $5 trillion in Biden’s plan…“It’s a recognition of where the electorate is,” Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray told Vox. “This popped out from the very beginning. Climate change and the environment in general was the No. 2 issue after health care for Democratic voters.”…“I think it’s just becoming a zeitgeist for Democrats,” Murray added.”

Nilsen and Tara Golshan have another Vox post, “Democrats’ extremely uphill battle to retake the Senate majority in 2020, explained,” which notes a “very tough map” for Dems. As they observe, “Just three Republican seats seem truly competitive, as far as the Cook Political Report is concerned: Colorado, Arizona, and Maine. The rest is a sea of red, including the seat Democrats have to defend in ultraconservative Alabama…To retake a bare majority in the Senate, Democrats need to pick up four seats on net. Because this cohort of senators was last up for election in 2014 — a very strong year for Republicans — Democrats are on offense this year…To retake the majority, Democrats would likely have to:

1) Keep Sen. Doug Jones’s seat in deep-red Alabama. (Trump has a +27 approval rating there.)

2) Win Arizona and Colorado — and they could, since there are already strong candidates declared or interested in running.

3) Turn out an extremely enthusiastic Democratic base and put tough states — Maine, Georgia, Texas, Montana, and Iowa — within reach. Democrats, by the way, still need to recruit “top tier” candidates in all of these states.

4) Take advantage of divisive Republican primaries in Kansas and North Carolina, where Trump has anemic approval ratings. But again, they need solid candidates to compete.”

Ed Kilgore, Gabriel Debenedetti and Benjamin Hart discuss “How Much Does Age Matter for Presidential Candidates in 2019?” at New York Magazine. Some of their observations: Hart notes that “So far, talk of being too old to serve as president does not seem to have had a major effect on any of these people’s standing. Is age now just a number in the presidential sweepstakes?” Debenedetti adds that “voter age doesn’t actually line up with candidate age in any obvious way. Bernie gets younger voters, Biden gets older ones, etc. But to use Buttigieg as an example again, he actually often talks about how older voters have flocked to him in the past in recent elections, specifically because of his youth.” Kilgore argues, “I think there are three ways it could matter in 2020: (1) if a candidate is perceived as too old (that’s sort of what Gabe was just talking about), (2) if a candidate exhibits age-related debility or illness, and (3) a candidate’s age could take away a potential advantage against Trump.”

Elaine Godfrey explains why “Why Pro-impeachment Democrats Are Still Siding With Pelosi” at The Atlantic: “Some of the lawmakers who have recently called for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump say that, despite their own personal feelings, they still support leadership’s slow-and-steady strategy of pursuing congressional investigations first. Although in lengthy Twitter threads and interviews on MSNBC these lawmakers have explained that impeachment proceedings are the best way to protect democracy, they don’t plan to publicly challenge the speaker, according to interviews with several House Democrats and congressional aides…“Right now, the vast majority of the caucus believes she’s doing the right things,” Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, told me in an interview…A lot of us feel that even though we’re convinced he should be impeached, we should let these investigations play out for a little while.”

America Is Missing Its Chance to Fix Our Election System Before We Vote in 2020,” warns Steven Rosenfeld at Common Dreams: “The emergence of powerful forms of online political propaganda, the absence of progress in 2019 state legislatures on improving audits and recounts, and new revelations about the extent of Russian hacking in 2016—accessing more election administration details than previously reported—all point to the same bottom line: what evidence can be presented to a polarized electorate to legitimize the results?…To be fair, some policy experts who network with senior election officials—who have authority to order more thorough vote-verification steps without new legislation—say there is still time to act. But as 2020 gets closer, there are fewer opportunities to do so…There’s a lack of vote count evidence trails and transparent audits to serve as a counterweight to the newest forms of propaganda. And Congress is not poised to handle the power struggle if the presidential result is contested. The clock has not run out with taking proactive steps before 2020, but it is ticking, and opportunities to act are ebbing away while new worries are emerging.”

In his post, “Social media shapes our politics. But does it actually elect presidents?” Sam Fulwood III writes at ThinkProgress that “More In Common, an international research group examining global civic engagement, found that Americans’ use of social media is an imperfect tool to assess the relative support of one candidate over another because highly motivated activists play an outsized role in shaping online conversations…The group’s report — “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape” — surveyed 8,000 Americans and conducted focus group and in-person interviews to discover that Americans are “defined by their core beliefs, rather than their political opinions, race, class or gender.”.Among the report’s more significant findings was that people at the extremes were a distinct minority of the U.S. population, but were among the most active on social media…Americans identified as Progressive Activists, for example, make up 8% of the population and 70% of them said they had shared political content on social media. Those identified as Devoted Conservatives are 6% of the population and 56% of them shared political content on social media…By contrast, the study noted that people categorized as Politically Disengaged, the largest single category at 26% of the population, “are practically invisible in local politics and community life,” and only 5% of them said they shared political content on social media.”