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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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

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

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

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

Read the memo.

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

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

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

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

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

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

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

The Daily Strategist

October 27, 2021

Limitations of the ‘Popularism’ Debate

At The Washington Monthly David Atkins explains why “Arguing About Popularism Is a Dead End. Fix American Democracy Instead: Why governing by polls cannot save the Democrats or the country” :

The hottest conversation in influential liberal punditry these days is about “popularism.” The basic idea is that Democrats should use survey data to find out what ideas and policies are most popular, then promote those ideas and policies while forcefully marginalizing unpopular ones. Adherents of this strategy believe that, because of the structural disadvantages Democrats face in gerrymandered legislatures, the Senate, and the Electoral College, it is necessary for the party to minimize messages that offend the largely rural and exurban white working-class voters who are overrepresented by these structures, as well as voters of color who bend more conservative.

Popularism says, in short, that Democrats should sideline activists pushing for more radical social change and prioritize the average voter in a Montana general election for Senate.

There are many reasons why this approach, currently in vogue in powerful liberal circles and even in the White House, is likely misguided. First, quantitative policy surveys are a terrible methodology to gauge what really motivates voters. Second, Republicans seem to have no trouble winning elections—even occasionally in blue areas—despite pushing for a host of deeply unpopular policies. Third, it’s impossible and unwise to tell unelected activists that they have to stop pushing for social changes unpopular with the broader electorate, much less the median rural, conservative, older white voter. Fourth, it’s not at all clear that if Democrats were to de-emphasize, say, police reform or climate change or antiracism that it would bring back any low-trust voters lost to Trumpism or Q-adjacent conspiracy theories. Finally, it’s likely that any potential voters won over by minimizing liberal priorities would crush the mobilization of progressives and younger voters who already feel desperate and marginalized by a climate-ravaged future and exorbitant housing, health care, and education costs.

But the real problem of our politics doesn’t come from the activists, or the legislators, or the strategists. It comes from the broken and anti-majoritarian structures of American democracy. Both the popularists and the anti-popularists are trapped in a cage bounded by an unrepresentative Senate, a gerrymandered House, and an increasingly unstable Electoral College. Both sides are fighting one another when they should be focused on how to escape the cage entirely.

Among Atkins’ strategic alternatives, “It may be time, then, to consider even more radical approaches to the problem. Blue counties already account for 70 percent of U.S. GDP, and that figure is growing. Might there be ways to leverage corporate and economic power to ensure that the areas on which the American economy depends receive the equal per capita representation they deserve? If it is impossible to alter the composition of the states in the Senate, might it be worth figuring out mechanisms to encourage more liberal voters to move to small red states?…Radical, wacky, and desperate as these ideas might seem, they are probably more productive conversations than endlessly arguing over the strategic value of popularism.”

Teixeira: ‘It’s the Working-Class, Stupid’

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

Forward to the Working Class, Comrades!

I believe I’ve made this point before.

But it is good to see it underscored by a big data dump and analysis from Democracy Crops, Equis Strategies and HIT Strategies. I’m not crazy about all the data presented here and not sure the approach they recommend to the working class will be quite as efficacious as they think. But at least they asking the right question and have answers that are at least somewhat plausible.

“Policies that make families materially better off and tip balance of power to working people are the pathway to electoral success.

A sweeping nationwide study of working class voters shows Democrats can gain at the ballot box by emphasizing popular economic policies that help families thrive and make big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes….

One of the most important findings was the discovery that the Democrats’ diverse base and persuadable working class voters have similar priorities for government. A key driver is the popularity of the new expanded Child Tax Credit that is very important to parents and white working class voters under 50 years of age.

Communities remain worried about crime and support messages that favor funding and respecting the police, while also ensuring abusive officers will be held accountable for their actions.

These shared priorities come from recognizing the Democrats’ base is overwhelmingly working class. Fully 70 percent of Black voters in HIT’s battleground survey did not have a four-year degree; even more, 75 percent in EquisLabs’ battleground states. Two-thirds of millennials/Gen Z, 69 percent of unmarried women and 57 percent of white unmarried women also lack a four-year degree.

Stanley Greenberg, founder of Democracy Corps with James Carville, said, “I guess, it’s the working class, stupid! “

May I recommend here my recent piece on The Power of the Working Class Vote? Reading it in conjunction with these new data may be enlightening.

“Nationally and in every state the working class vote is far larger than the college-educated vote. Because of this, if education polarization increases in the manner it has recently, with the college-educated moving toward the Democrats while the working class becomes more Republican, equal-sized shifts favor the GOP. For example, looking first at the national distribution, since the working class share of voters is 70 percent larger than the college-educated share (63 percent noncollege/37 percent college, according to 2020 Catalist data), if a one point increase in Democratic support among college voters is counter-balanced by a one point shift in support against the Democrats among the working class, the net effect would be to reduce the Democratic margin in the popular vote by half a point. If there were 5 point shifts for and against the Democrats in these two education groups, the Democratic margin would shrink by 2.5 points; if 10 point shifts for and against, the result would be a 5 point shrinkage.

This is the national situation. But the power of the working class vote is just as strong in most swing states. According to AP/VORC VoteCast data (Catalist data not yet available on the state level), the working class/college disproportion is even higher than the national average in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This is perhaps as one might expect.

But consider a state like Arizona. We are used to thinking of it in terms of its increasing race-ethnic diversity, which is helping drive political change in the state. But that trend obscures another fact: it’s still a heavily working class state, significantly above the national average. That means that shifts among working class voters in Arizona are potentially even more powerful than those described for the nation as a whole.”

Political Strategy Notes

Stephen Collinson reports at CNN Politics that “Joe Biden is tantalizingly close to fulfilling what supporters see as the historic promise of his presidency in the coming days, at a critical moment for his social policy transformation at home and his hopes of reclaiming US leadership overseas….After weeks of feuding between moderate and progressive Democrats and his agenda’s several brushes with extinction, the President’s double play of social spending and a bipartisan infrastructure program may finally come to fruition this week. Democrats hope to agree on a framework on a trimmed down package of social, health care and education programs in order to lift a House progressive blockade on a vote on the bipartisan bill fixing roads, bridges and railroads….”I think we’re pretty much there now,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” on Sunday. A Democratic source told CNN’s Manu Raju the goal is now for the House to have a vote on the infrastructure package on Wednesday or Thursday and send it to Biden’s desk. The exact content of the final social spending bill is not yet known, since negotiations on paring back a more ambitious program to win moderate votes have been taking place behind closed doors. But Democrats still appear to be determined to provide free pre-kindergarten education, an extension of Medicare, home care for seniors and more affordable child care.”

At The Hill, however, Lexi Lonas reports that “Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Saturday that the expansion of Medicare to include dental, hearing and vision coverage is staying in the human infrastructure bill despite doubts from President Biden….Biden said Thursday during a CNN town hall that it would be a “reach” for the spending bill to include the Medicare expansion due to opposition from moderate Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (Ariz.)….“The expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision is one of the most popular and important provisions in the entire reconciliation bill,” Sanders tweeted on Saturday….“It’s what the American people want. It’s not coming out,” he added….Biden said Thursday during a CNN town hall that it would be a “reach” for the spending bill to include the Medicare expansion due to opposition from moderate Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (Ariz.).” The Kaiser Family Fund reported in September that “Results from a recent KFF poll indicate that 90% of the public says expanding Medicare to include dental, hearing, vision is a “top” or “important” priority for Congress.”

As for lowering prescription drug costs, “Democrats have been at an impasse for weeks as a small handful of House and Senate centrists continue to push back on the planned sweeping system for negotiating drug prices, ” Jennifer Scholtes, Marianne Levine and Alcie Miranda write at Politico. “Now lawmakers acknowledge they will end up with a far narrower drug pricing bill, if they can secure one at al l….Fallback plans include negotiating a smaller set of drugs under Medicare Part B, which covers drugs people usually wouldn’t self-administer, like vaccines and IV fluids. Lawmakers are considering leaving out drugs covered under Medicare Part D, which covers other prescriptions. They are also mulling negotiation only for the cost of drugs with expired patents and setting prices based on a U.S. standard, rather than an international baseline….Other options for scaling back the plan include applying the lower prices in Medicare and not private insurance plans, or phasing in the changes more slowly to give corporations time to adjust.” The KFF poll reports that 83 percent of respondents favor “Allowing the gov’t to negotiate with drug companies to get a lower price on Rx drugs that would apply to both Medicare and private insurance (Oct. 2021).”

Geoffrey Skelley addresses a question of increasing concern “Could Manchin Actually Leave The Democratic Party?” at FiveThirtyEight, and writes, “Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters Wednesday that suggestions he would leave the Democratic Party were “bullshit” with a “capital B.” He’d previously told Democratic leaders that he’d consider becoming an independent if they felt it would help them explain to the public why the party was having such a hard time coming to an agreement on its social spending plans, but he denied that he’d made threats about leaving the party.” In an extensive study, political scientist Antoine Yoshinaka “found party-switchers performed 4 to 9 percentage points worse in their next general election than non-switchers between 1952 and 2010.” Skelley adds, “Yet while one can make a fairly convincing electoral case for why Manchin should consider switching parties, it’s most likely he’ll stay where he is considering the enormous amount of leverage he has. He essentially can veto any proposal he disagrees with while also working within his party to adjust legislation to better reflect what he wants. And because Democrats have full control of government, he’s more likely to get laws passed that are agreeable to him….if Manchin were part of a 51-member Republican caucus, he would wield a similar amount of veto power. But outside of that, it’s unlikely he would be as influential as he is right now….And he’d also be unlikely to influence the trajectory of GOP legislation in the way he does as a longstanding member of the Democratic caucus.”

“Red Dog” Democrats Shouldn’t Expect Big Policy Concessions

While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:

For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.

So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:

“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …

“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …

“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”

Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.

Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.

That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.

This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.

Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.


Brownstein: Midterms Will Likely Turn on How Voters Perceive the ‘Here and Now’ – a Year from Now

Some sobering insights from Ronald Brownstein’s latest article in The Atlantic:

Democrats must “recognize that the potential upside of [their economic] bills [is] limited for next year, regardless of how virtuous they are in the policy,” says Simon Rosenberg, the president of NDN, a Democratic research and advocacy group. “Joe Biden was elected to do one thing, which was to defeat COVID. And when he was defeating it, his numbers went way up, and when COVID started defeating him, his numbers went way down. The key to him getting his numbers going back up is he has to defeat COVID and get credit for it. This has to be the central governing and political priority for the Biden administration.”

Sarah Longwell, the founder of the Republican Accountability Project, an organization of Republicans critical of former President Donald Trump, likewise says that in recent focus groups she’s conducted in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, few voters were following the legislative maneuvering over the Democrats’ huge agenda. “The thing that people care about right now is getting COVID under control, and all of the attending economic consequences relating to COVID,” Longwell told me. Not all analysts agree that the Democrats’ legislative agenda is unlikely to affect the midterms. Many campaign aides and operatives at the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees are eagerly anticipating that if the party reaches agreement on its big economic proposals, candidates next year can run on the trinity of creating jobs (through the infrastructure bill), bolstering families (mostly by extending the Child Tax Credit) and reducing health-care costs (through increasing federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and authorizing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices). They are especially keen to highlight the lockstep Republican opposition to all of those measures.

The Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who was one of Biden’s lead polling advisers during the 2020 campaign, told me that many voters will view passing legislation that helps stabilize family budgets as an integral part of an effective COVID response. “I don’t think it’s a dichotomy,” she said. “We have got to deliver something to working- and middle-class families.” The emergence of the Delta variant, Lake said, surprised and dismayed many Americans who thought the country was on a steady path to recovery—one focus-group participant called it “a kick in the gut”—and now they worry that more unpleasant surprises will threaten their family’s health and finances. “For women in particular, we have to deliver something to their family, to their kitchen tables,” she said.

Brownstein adds that “the clearest rule might be that midterm elections turn less on assessments of legislation that may eventually affect people’s lives than on verdicts about the country’s condition in the here and now….An old political adage holds that presidential elections are always about the future; midterms seem to be more about today. As Bolger put it to me, voters “step outside and feel how the weather is, and if I feel uncomfortable with it, I take it out on the incumbent party.”

2020 Was a Victory That Limited What Democrats Could Accomplish

While listening to the blame game about why Democrats are struggling to enact Joe Biden’s agenda  and put themselves in better shape for the midterms, I made an unconventional argument at New York:

Between the struggle in Congress to get Joe Biden’s agenda enacted; the president’s own sagging job-approval ratings; the persistence of Donald Trump; and a bad moon rising over Donkey Party prospects in the 2022 midterms and maybe even some 2021 elections; the search for scapegoats is understandable if not terribly fair. 

But the underlying problem is a 2020 election that fell short of expectations, and fell even shorter of what the party needed to govern effectively. Initial relief over finally ejecting Donald Trump from the White House and excitement over winning control of the Senate should not obscure the fact that Democrats emerged from the last election with the stage set for their present troubles.

Consider how they underperformed in every significant category:

The 2020 presidential misfire

A lot of the pre-election chatter revolved around the question of whether Biden would win by a landslide and earn a clear policy mandate, or would instead win by a more modest margin. (And of course, many Democrats feared that Trump might win legitimately, despite Biden’s polling lead, or make good on hints that he would try to steal the election.) Ultimately, a mere 44,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin kept Trump from tying Biden in the Electoral College. Yes, Biden ultimately defeated Trump by a 4.4 percent national popular-vote margin, nearly as big as Barack Obama’s margin over Mitt Romney in 2012. But the final polling averages at FiveThirtyEight projected an 8.4 percent Biden win, with the Democrat likely to carry Florida, North Carolina, and the 2nd congressional district of Maine along with the jurisdictions he ultimately won.

In the run-up to the election, I was one of many analysts who thought that perhaps a Biden win in Florida on November 3 might settle it all early enough to avoid a contested election, even if Trump was as unscrupulous as we expected:

“It’s a different matter, of course, if Florida is called for Trump or the state is just too close to call as the morning after Election Night dawns. There are definitely some Biden paths to victory without Florida being in his column, but they may not be entirely apparent in early returns if Trump is leading in most of the battleground states. So Democrats would be well advised to kick out the jams in the land of Mickey Mouse and the NBA bubble.”

Unfortunately, they didn’t. Perhaps there was no margin of victory by Biden that would have convinced Trump not to claim a stolen win and seek to execute an election coup that finally failed on January 6. But a close race definitely made it much easier for Trump to fire up the MAGA base, convince rank-and-file Republicans to believe his Big Lie about a stolen election, and ensure lockstep GOP obstruction of Biden’s actions as president.

The House fiasco

To say that House races didn’t turn out as expected would be a major understatement. The respected Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball projected just prior to Election Day that Democrats would win 243 House seats, a net gain of 10. Instead they won 222 seats, a net loss of 11. Here’s what Cook Political Report’s House race wizard David Wasserman had to say when the dust settled:

“[I]n the House, Republicans nearly swept the 27 races in our Toss Up column and won seven races in our ‘Lean’ and ‘Likely’ Democrat columns. These included some big upsets: Republicans held every vulnerable seat in Texas, picked up four Biden/Clinton-won seats in California and even picked up two Miami area seats Clinton had carried by more than 15 points in 2016.

“In 2018, Democrats won most of the Toss Ups and even four seats we had rated as ‘leaning’ or ‘likely’ Republican — not entirely dissimilar. But this time, instead of a strong majority, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is left with 222 seats and virtually no margin for error — especially with Reps. Cedric Richmond (LA-02), Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Marcia Fudge (OH-11) set to decamp for administration posts.”

This last point is worth underlining: Given Pelosi’s narrow margin of control in the House, you might think the president-elect would ask his intended appointees who were House members to hold off for a while until his agenda had been mostly enacted. He did not and that’s why House Democratic centrists were in a position to join with their Senate counterparts in holding Biden’s agenda hostage this summer and fall (even as House progressives felt their own oats in a narrowly divided House and made their own threats).

The Senate fail in North Carolina

You might say that whatever bad luck or skill Democrats had in the late stages of the presidential and House races was matched by their great fortune in those two January 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia, where they won control of the upper chamber and a governing trifecta. That may be true. But it was an Election Night fail in North Carolina that left Democrats with 50 Senate seats and a situation inviting any one senator to hold the party agenda hostage.

Democrat Cal Cunningham led Republican incumbent Thom Tillis in nearly every poll of their contest for months and months. Then in the final weeks of the campaign it all slowly unraveled, as CNN reported at the time:

“Text messages leaked last week and reports detailing Democrat Cal Cunningham’s alleged extramarital affair this summer have undercut the image he has carefully crafted, as a man of integrity who serves in the Army Reserve. While Democratic and Republican strategists say it’s too early to know how the scandal may influence his race against GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, particularly in the age of Trump, Republicans now have a new line of attack — and are planning to put millions of dollars behind it in the final days of the campaign.”

It worked, and while Democrats still won control of the Senate, they didn’t have the margin for error the much-predicted North Carolina win might have given them. And that in turn gave any one Democratic senator the power to veto the budget-reconciliation bill advancing much of Biden’s domestic agenda. Two senators, Joe Manchin and Kysten Sinema of Arizona, have used that power aggressively, likely paring the size of that bill by more than half from its original dimensions, and creating a yet-to-be-resolved battle over its specific provisions.

The state legislative disaster

The U.S. House disappointment was made worse by the failure of Democrats to win nearly all of their ambitious goals for flipping state legislatures and getting control of redistricting after the 2020 census. Politico succinctly described the disaster:

“By Wednesday night, Democrats had not flipped a single statehouse chamber in its favor. And it remained completely blocked from the map-making process in several key states — including Texas, North Carolina and Florida, which could have a combined 82 congressional seats by 2022 — where the GOP retained control of the state legislatures.”

Democrats also fell short in Arizona and Georgia, while losing control of both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature, leaving the GOP in control of 61 chambers overall as compared to 37 for Democrats.

Coming just before a reapportionment and redistricting year, this was a disappointment that will continue to sting for a decade, with Republicans now expected to net somewhere between six and 13 House seats in 2022 from the new maps alone, immensely complicating the already difficult Democratic goal of maintaining House control. Since a majority of state legislatures also draw their own maps, the Republican advantage at the state level may be perpetuated as well.

The legacy of Democrats’ 2020 fumbles

To be clear, ejecting Trump from the White House by any margin was critical, and however fragile the Democratic trifecta now seems, it was better than divided control of Congress. Still, to the extent that Democrats are now struggling with legislation this year and fretting over midterm elections on the horizon, 2020 was the big win the party needed and didn’t get. The biggest problem still ahead could be a 2024 presidential election close enough to nourish the Big Lie and undermine confidence in democracy among a dangerously high percentage of rank-and-file Republicans. It does little good to look back in anger, but we should all have some sympathy for what elected Democrats are going through now. It’s not all about the events of 2021.


Political Strategy Notes

Every Republican U.S. Senator voted to block the The “Freedom to Vote Act,” from being considered. As Sam Levine explains at The Guardian, the Act “would require every state to automatically register voters at motor vehicle agencies, offer 15 consecutive days of early voting and allow anyone to request a mail-in ballot. It would also set new standards to ensure voters are not wrongfully removed from the voter rolls, protect election officials against partisan interference, and set out clear alternatives people who lack ID to vote can use at the polls.” Levine continues, “While most Democrats in the Senate favor getting rid of the filibuster, at least for voting rights legislation, the blockade will put immense pressure on two of the most significant remaining Democratic holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. There will be particular scrutiny on Manchin, who personally helped write the revised bill and has been seeking GOP support for it. It’s not yet clear if a lack of Republican support for any kind of compromise could force Manchin to finally support some kind of change to the filibuster but activists have been heartened by a letter he issued earlier this year in which he said “inaction is not an option” around voting rights.”

At The Daily Beast, Sam Brodey shares some perspectives on how to persuade Sen. Joe Manchin to support Democratic legislative reforms: “At this point, those who are pleading with Manchin not to buck his party’s agenda are at a loss. That’s particularly the case for some of the senator’s own constituents, who have sought to make the case directly to him that the party’s sweeping proposal would provide much-needed investments in their home state, one of the nation’s poorest….“It’s become insanity to us,” said Angi Kerns, one of the West Virginia activists who confronted Manchin from a kayak on the Potomac River outside his houseboat….“We’ve done everything we can do in West Virginia—collected stories, amplified voices, thousands of people are calling a day,” she told The Daily Beast. “He doesn’t care. The only option we have at this point is to make ourselves be heard.”…Liberal advocates in West Virginia have an unusual relationship with the senator they’re often cajoling. He may resist their pleas, but because he is so attuned to his reputation back home, he tries to avoid stiffing his constituents. That means some advocates have had multiple meetings with him over the years—which are not always groundbreaking but can be productive….Kerns said before showing up at Manchin’s houseboat, she had met with him or his staff directly five times so far this year. In those discussions, she said, it was tough to dislodge the senator from his talking points—until she started speaking his language….“It’s not what you say, but how you lay it out for him,” Kerns said. “To get his attention, it has to be structured in terms of an investment, a return on investment… then, as a businessman who cares a lot about dollars and cents, he at least takes pause, and he doesn’t have a pre-set narrative.”…Getting as far away from an ideological discussion as possible is crucial with Manchin, said DiStefano. “The over the top rhetoric only reinforces the national media narrative, which has not been the best,” he said. “The key to success is presenting an argument to the senator, begin with data, lead with your values, and your values should be delivered by people who are living this.”

In “Why Democrats are trying to fit every wish into a shrinking bill: Democrats are banking on the popularity of these policies to keep them around,” Li Zhou reports at Vox: “Democrats, it seems, are looking to pare down their budget bill by going the route favored by progressives. While they’re weighing some big cuts to the $3.5 trillion package, the general approach — which isn’t yet finalized — skews toward funding more programs for a shorter period of time, rather than fewer programs for longer….Pushback from moderates over the size of the package has meant tough decisions about what to cut and what to keep. Progressives argued for preserving as many of the proposal’s policies as possible, while saving money by having them expire sooner than initially planned. Some moderates, meanwhile, advocated for the opposite: funding fewer programs for more time….President Joe Biden backed the former strategy as well, and that appears to be the course Democrats will pursue. Biden and the progressives hope the policies will be so popular — even if they’re only implemented for a short period — that it will be difficult for future lawmakers to let them lapse, regardless of who controls Congress….Obviously, some of these programs are shorter than ideal. But the president believes, and I agree with him, that once we have these programs established, it becomes hard to take them away,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a member of Progressive Caucus leadership, told reporters on Tuesday….Opponents of this thinking emphasize that this approach could mean that many of these programs simply expire after funding runs out.”

Noah Rothman explains why “Popularity is just not enough to make activist desiderata manifest — not in the United States” at at MSNBC News: “That word — popular — has become something of an obsession among anxious center-left Democrats. It’s contributing to a mania overtaking the liberal media ecosystem. And the unlikely figure around whom apprehensive Democrats find themselves rallying, 30-year-old political strategist David Shor, has the answer: Just talk about popular stuff….Doing things” via legislation is difficult by design. Popularity without exigency is not enough. What’s more, initiatives that are undeniably popular can become unpopular (see the latitude once afforded labor unions in law and jurisprudential precedent) and vice versa (see the Affordable Care Act). The public’s attitudes shift, sometimes as a reaction to complex societal phenomena but often in response to stimuli policy wonks would dismiss as superficial. To predicate your political strategy on popularity is to build a foundation on sand….What Shor has right, and what his progressive opponents are deliberately refusing to comprehend, is that Democrats are better off without needlessly antagonizing the public. Wild-eyed theories that would replace police with social workers and functionally end the enforcement of U.S. immigration law in workplaces offend on an essential level. Reducing financial pressures on families by doling out largess from the public treasury sounds great, but not to the point that the public welcomes disincentives to work indefinitely. There’s a difference between being popular and principled. Voters can tell the difference, even if the Democratic intelligentsia cannot.”

Shor’s ‘Popularism’ a Better Strategy for Midterms

A prescriptive nugget from Peter Grier’s “Why Democrats may be facing a generation in the wilderness” at The Christian Science Monitor:

The discussion about the Democratic Party’s future has been simmering for some time, but hit a boil last week when New York Times writer Ezra Klein published a lengthy interview with David Shor, a Democratic data expert whose electoral outlook for the party is particularly gloomy.

The bad news for Democrats is rooted in structural imbalance, in Mr. Shor’s view. The Senate privileges rural states – Wyoming has as much power in the chamber as California. The GOP created some Western states in the late 1800s, such as North and South Dakota and Montana, in part to provide reliable party votes, which they still do.

Overlaid on that today is a Democratic coalition that’s increasingly diverse and urban. In recent years, college-educated voters have moved toward Democrats, and non-college-educated voters – both white as well as some Black and Hispanic – have become increasingly Republican. The Trump era accelerated that movement, locking in the GOP’s ability to win national power with a minority of votes.

To break this cycle, Democrats need to win back states that lean Republican, according to Mr. Shor. But at its top levels, the party is dominated by a cosmopolitan, progressive elite that doesn’t understand rural and working-class voters.

Mr. Shor’s answer to this is something that, for lack of a better word, pundits call “popularism”: Find out what residents of GOP-leaning states want, and then talk mostly about those things. More “Add dental coverage to Medicare,” Less “Defund the police.”

Democrats have to correct the ‘structural imbalance’ the GOP enjoys before they can realistically fight for more controversial reforms – even if it takes a couple election cycles.

Teixeira: Demonizing Moderates Is a Really, Really Bad Idea

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

One more for the “what country do progressives think they’re living in?” file. Anne Kim at the Washington Monthly has the sad tale.

“As one of just seven Democrats from House districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, veteran Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin is exactly the sort of candidate Democrats need to keep their majority in next year’s midterms. A former college football star and an avid hunter, Kind is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a longtime chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, and a vocal champion of the dairy farmers in the sprawling, mostly rural district in western Wisconsin he represents.

But after 13 terms in Congress, Kind has called it quits. “Truth is, I’ve run out of gas,” the 58-year-old said when he announced his retirement earlier this summer. He described himself as someone who “tried to be reasonable, pragmatic, thoughtful” and “worked hard to try to find common ground with my colleagues.”

Kind also called himself a “dying breed in public service,” which could not be more apt.

The moderate Democrat’s likely successor is Trump-endorsed Republican Derrick Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL and café owner who challenged Kind in 2020 and lost by only about 10,000 votes….
Wisconsin’s Third District has grown more conservative. While its voters supported Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama, Trump has not only won it twice but also increased his margin in 2020. As a result, Van Orden will likely join a growing caucus of Trump loyalists in the House that includes Marjorie Taylor Greene (of Jewish space laser fame), Nazi-curious Madison Cawthorn, and gun-toting COVID denier Lauren Boebert. It’s hard to believe that Van Orden could occupy the seat once held by Republican Steve Gunderson, Kind’s predecessor, one of Congress’s first openly gay members, who was known for his bipartisanship.

The departure of a moderate like Kind might be cheered by some progressives. No doubt they’ve been frustrated, often with good cause, by moderates like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. “Manchema” have not only insisted on slashing President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion spending package, they’ve also been coy about their bottom line and demanded deal killers like the Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortion (Manchin) and no hikes in corporate income tax rates (Sinema).

Nevertheless, Kind’s retirement should be alarming to all Democrats, especially since he’s not the only swing-district Democrat bolting. In addition to Kind, the moderate Democrats heading for the hills in 2022 so far include Illinois’s Cheri Bustos, Texas’s Filemon Vila, and Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick. More are likely to come. Their departures show how miserable life has become for Democratic moderates—not just for the coy sorts like Sinema, but for head-down-sleeves-up sorts like Kind. They’re walking away from tough districts, expensive primaries from fellow Democrats, and a Republican Party that often seems to have purged its sane members. The result, however, is a Democratic majority at risk….

Democrats need to keep in mind that the stakes in 2022 are much bigger than the policy debates now dividing them, and that the preservation of the caucus should be their highest priority. Rather than vilifying the party’s moderates, Democrats should be working to grow their ranks.”

This seems stunningly obvious to me. But it does seem to have escaped the notice of many progressives, including politicians who represent +30 Democratic lean districts. Funny thing about that.

Political Strategy Notes

From “Carville: Democrats “Think It’s Beneath Them” To Go Out And Sell Biden’s Plan, Quit Hounding Manchin and Sinema” at RealClear Politics: “Democratic strategist and former Clinton adviser James Carville admonished Democrats on Wednesday on MSNBC for believing it is “beneath them” to campaign for President Biden’s agenda and for an “idiotic strategy” to protest and hound moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)…..”The issue right now is Democrats in Congress are asked to do very popular things,” Carville said. “It doesn’t take much courage to negotiate prescription drug prices. It doesn’t take much courage to raise taxes on the wealthy. It doesn’t take much courage to expand health care. Somebody has to get into the room and say, ‘Okay, we want to do ten things, we can do five. Let’s do these five and then take the other five and run them in 2022….They have got to understand the reality is they’re just running around like they are people in a locker room banging their helmets against the lockers,” Carville said. “That’s not going to do you any good. You are not going move any further than Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema. So quit this idiotic protesting and hounding them and tell President Biden get them in the room, get the Speaker in there, get the Majority Leader, let’s hammer something out, and what we don’t get let’s go for it in 2022….”Is that a failure of Democratic messaging?” the host asked. “Of course it is,” Carville answered. “They didn’t get out in the country enough, they didn’t sell it enough.” Watch the video at this link for tips on hw to close a political sale.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. largely agrees in his latest Washington Post column, and observes “Democrats are a maddening bunch, especially to their supporters….A party that should be celebrating its efforts to expand health coverage, help families with children, build roads and fight climate change is instead engaged in a messy and increasingly angry confrontation over how much it can and should accomplish….Democrats are effectively running what would be a coalition government in countries with multiparty systems — but without the disciplines that formal coalition agreements typically impose in advance on an alliance’s various components. Democrats are making their deals on the fly, and it shows….I sat down last week with the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, co-authors of the justly celebrated 2018 book “How Democracies Die.” Both speak with deep worry about the anti-majoritarian nature of the American system with a Senate and electoral college that vastly underrepresent rban and suburban voters as well as racial and ethnic minorities….None of this gets Democrats off the hook. As the late Donald H. Rumsfeld might advise them, you have to work with the system you have, not the system you wish you had. It is no excuse for making a mess of what should be a moment of achievement.”

If you were wondering “How Close Is Virginia’s Governors Race?,” Geoffrey Skelley and Mackenzie Wilkes have a good update at FiveThirtyEight: “Election Day 2021 is only about two weeks away, and the big race to watch is undoubtedly Virginia’s gubernatorial contest. A still-somewhat purple state with a Democratic lean in recent presidential elections, Virginia will be viewed by many as a bellwether for the 2022 midterms, and the race is already proving to be a testing ground for some of the big national issues  that could very well influence elections next year, including COVID-19 policies, what should be in taught in schools and the economy.” Noting a slight edge for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in recent polls, but with worrsome upticks for his opponent,  Skelley and Wilkes write, “Still, the polls could be overselling the GOP’s chances, like they did in 2017 when Republican Ed Gillespie trailed Democrat Ralph Northam by about 3 points going into the election — similar to where Youngkin is now — but ended up losing by 9 points. That’s impossible to say with any certainty, as the direction of polling error is inconsistent from one cycle to the next. But polls that model higher turnout, such as the CBS News/YouGov survey, which found that McAuliffe led Youngkin by 8 points instead of 3 points in a high-turnout situation, suggest Democrats could perform better than expected if pollsters are underestimating turnout….Historically, Virginia hasn’t been an especially good barometer of the overall national environment“….one election should never be used as a benchmark on its own, but the spotlight will shine brightly on Virginia’s result nevertheless.”

Will supermarket shortages hurt Dems in the 2022 midterms? Are they already doing so? I got to  wondering yesterday by a customer next to me at the meat bin in a rural Food Lion, who grumbled “I don’t know how people can afford to eat any more,” then walked away empty-handed. I noticed some empty shelf space throughout the market, though not as bad as the early days of the pandemic. But it’s still a bad look. Talking heads debate whether the high meat prices and some product scarcity are caused by labor shortages or “shipping bottlenecks” or”pipeline issues.” Nathaniel Meyerson reports that “Grocery store shelves aren’t going back to normal this year” at CNN Business, and notes, “These latest limits mean that stores won’t have all things for all customers heading into the holidays….” Grimly, I remember the way-back Saturday Night Live skit with Akroyd’s Jimmy Carter punchline “Inflation is our friend.” Low unemployment is a good thing for Dems. But, politically, I’m less worried about a Pringles shortage than high meat prices still hanging around a year from now.