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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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No Matter Who!

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Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE!

No Matter Who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

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The Daily Strategist

December 12, 2019

Political Strategy Notes

Right-wing media is at full-bore today, blasting Trump’s pending impeachment with a host of increasingly hysterical messages du jour, none of which is likely to convince many swing voters. But Republicans are struggling to make anything resembling a credible legal case against impeachment, and Caroline Kelly explains why in her article, “More than 500 legal scholars sign letter saying Trump committed ‘impeachable conduct‘” at CNN Politics: “More than 500 legal scholars signed on to a letter published Friday accusing President Donald Trump of having “engaged in impeachable conduct” in his dealings in Ukraine…”There is overwhelming evidence that President Trump betrayed his oath of office by seeking to use presidential power to pressure a foreign government to help him distort an American election, for his personal and political benefit, at the direct expense of national security interests as determined by Congress,” they wrote. “His conduct is precisely the type of threat to our democracy that the Founders feared when they included the remedy of impeachment in the Constitution.”..The letter comes after four other legal scholars testified at the first House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing Wednesday, with three of them making the case for impeaching Trump…They pointed to treason and bribery as the two potential charges prompting impeachment “because they include conduct undertaken not in the ‘faithful execution’ of public office that the Constitution requires, but instead for personal gain (bribery) or to benefit a foreign enemy (treason)…Corrupting elections subverts the process by which the Constitution makes the president democratically accountable,” the scholars wrote. “Put simply, if a President cheats in his effort at re-election, trusting the democratic process to serve as a check through that election is no remedy at all. That is what impeachment is for.”

In “How Nancy Pelosi Is Dictating the Democrats’ Impeachment Strategy,” John Cassidy writes at The New Yorker: “She could have scheduled the announcement of an agreement on the trade deal for tomorrow or next week. But, by holding it right after the unveiling of articles of impeachment, she demonstrated that, even as she and her colleagues are trying to drive Trump out of office, they are also focussing on bread-and-butter matters, such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, guaranteeing paid leave for federal workers, and enshrining labor protections in trade agreements. Her message is that, in order to make progress in these areas, House Democrats are even willing to coöperate with a President whom they are impeaching…Pelosi has insisted on keeping the impeachment inquiry narrowly focussed on Ukraine, probably because she thinks returning to the Russia investigation would play poorly in swing districts. With the support of Adam Schiff, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, she has got her way…If Pelosi had believed that there was a realistic chance of removing Trump from office, she might have endorsed a broader and lengthier impeachment process.”

Regarding Pelosi’s fast-paced impeachment strategy, Andrew Prokop notes at Vox, “Due to the supermajority requirement for removal, at least 20 Republicans would have to break ranks to oust Trump. They knew that was never remotely likely and that, as a result, the impeachment quest would ultimately end in failure…Impeachment supporters will cry foul here. They will say that only if impeachment was done differently — perhaps with more months of hearings, perhaps by exploring topics other than Ukraine, perhaps with more effective Democratic leadership — it could have succeeded…Perhaps. But the way things have played out so far is quite close to what Pelosi would have predicted. Voters’ opinions about Trump have remained remarkably entrenched, as they have for the past two years. And congressional Republicans haven’t abandoned him, which means he’s here to stay…The impeachment investigation wasn’t a sham — far from it. It surfaced new information and helped nail down the facts of an apparent abuse of power by the president of the United States. It will likely result in a historic reprimand of Trump’s conduct as he becomes the third president ever to be impeached. But those who had greater expectations will probably end up disappointed.”

At The Atlantic, however, Elaine Godfrey explains why “The Activist Left Feels Betrayed by the House Impeachment Process“: “But as the House moves closer to approving two articles of impeachment against him—both concerning the president’s interactions with Ukraine—progressive activists and organizers have felt deflated instead. They had been advocating for Democrats to levy a much broader set of charges to paint a thorough portrait of the president’s wrongdoing, not the discrete list the House Judiciary Committee revealed on Tuesday. Making matters worse, they told me, House Democratic leaders’ near-simultaneous announcement of their support for Trump’s new trade deal diluted the significance of the moment, giving Trump and the Republicans a key win on a day that should have been focused entirely on Democrats’ denunciation of the president…Their grievances not only reflect the ideological fissures within today’s Democratic Party, but they may also foreshadow arguments to come next year as Democrats attempt to hang onto their House majority and win back the Senate and the White House. The disagreement over scope and timing is yet another sign that Democrats aren’t even close to a consensus on which strategy is best for beating Republicans in 2020…“They are catering to scared members of their caucus who think they won [in 2018] by [toeing] a middle ground, when they actually won due to anti-Trump outrage,” argued Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political-action committee.”

Most Democrats would say at this point, thanks, but they don’t need another presidential candidate. Nonetheless, it’s fun when a well-known Republican, David Gergen co-authors, with James Pitch an article at CNN Opinion entitled, “If Nancy Pelosi ran for president, she’d beat Trump.” As Gergen, who served in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administrations (Clinton’s also), and Pitch argue that Pelosi “is enjoying not only a last laugh but also a major comeback—mostly because she has been more successful than any other Democrat at outmaneuvering and often outfoxing President Trump…With the nation’s attention riveted on her as she has guided the impeachment inquiry, she has been at her absolute best—keeping an ideologically diverse and at times unruly caucus largely satisfied while not allowing impeachment fervor to overcome her governing or judgment…But what Pelosi has done outside the realm of impeachment also deserves acknowledgment. Under her leadership, the Democrat-controlled House has passed a number of significant bills—ones that would protect voting rights, take needed action on climate change, address gun violence and help achieve equality for LGBTQ Americans…Meanwhile, with the trade deal—the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement—Democrats appear to have gotten most of what they wanted, and Pelosi has given her moderates something to sell back home (and she may offer another victory for Democrats with the prescription drug bill this week)…By moving so quickly with impeachment, she’s making it clear that a President should be held accountable and that elections must be transparent and fair, while also guaranteeing that in the runup to next November, Democrats have time to focus on key issues, such as health care costs. (Please see a shocking story in The Washington Post showing that the percentage of Americans who cannot afford medical care has doubled in the past three decades.) Americans may remain unsure who should be the next President. But it’s clear Democrats already have their best possible choice for Speaker of the House.”

At npr.org, Julie Rovner addresses the question, “Which Health Care Strategy Has The Edge Among Democrats And Swing Voters?,” and writes, “The latest Tracking Poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation in late November found 24% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they want to hear the candidates discuss health care. That’s twice the total for the next top issue, climate change, and four times the total for immigration, the No. 3 issue…On the one hand, Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents in the KFF poll say when it comes to health care, the candidate they trust most is Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (who has been pushing a Medicare for All plan since at least 1993)…Yet those same people say they prefer a public option (of the sort supported by former Vice President Joe Biden) to Sanders’ Medicare for All plan…That voter preference for the public option strategy was borne out in a separate Quinnipiac poll released last week, in which 36% of respondents say Medicare for All is a good idea while 52% say it is a bad idea. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from September found similar results: 67% of respondents said they would support allowing people younger than 65 to “buy their health coverage through the Medicare program,” while only 41% favored “adopting Medicare for All, a single-payer health care system in which private health insurance would be eliminated…The key to becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, of course, is threading the political needle in a way that keeps the enthusiasm of the Democrats’ Medicare for All base, while not scaring away voters in swing areas who fear such major changes.”

Jennifer Bendery’s “Georgia Democrats Haven’t Won A Senate Seat In 19 Years. Two Women Say They Can.” at HuffPo offers some insight into Democratic chances for picking up Republican David Perdue’s Senate in the Peach State. Noting that “national groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List are still watching to see if it’s worth investing in a real fight in Georgia, where Democrats have teetered on the edge of winning a statewide election for years but fallen just short every time,” Bendery cites “a mix of factors give the party an edge: the state’s rapidly changing demographics around Atlanta, where the population is diversifying and threatening the GOP’s grip on power; the “Stacey Abrams phenomenon,” as Tomlinson put it, meaning Democratic voters are still fired up after she nearly won last year’s governor’s race; and the fact that both Senate seats are open in 2020 and neither will be held by a longtime Republican anymore.” However, ““Georgia has been like the Lucy’s football of American politics,” said Jeffrey Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University. “Time and time and time again, Democrats have been getting 46, 47, 49%, going back to 2000 in Senate races and governor’s race.,,Demographically, it does look like any year now it could be the time when a Democrat wins.”

Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT opinion article “Trump Has a Gift for Tearing Us Apart: There are a lot of different ways to build walls” provides an indepth, data-rich analysis of his divide and conquer strategy. Edsall focuses on what several major studies indicate about public attitudes toward immigration and Trump’s unprecedented ability to excite irrational fears of immigrants. Edsall explains, “Donald Trump has done everything within his power to activate racial and ethnic animosity in this country. His main targets are immigrants, who are often greeted with rank hatred. But it’s a mistake to think that Trump started all this, even as he’s taking full advantage of the opportunities animosity has unleashed. He’s riding a wave…Trump’s genius in 2016 lay in his willingness — indeed, his eagerness — to openly and aggressively unleash the forces of racial and ethnic hostility that Republican elites had quietly capitalized upon for decades. Trump will be a formidable candidate next year because he is prepared to look under the rocks of the American belief system and see the snakes and vermin that have camped there in the dark.”

For the best one-graph summary of the last couple of political weeks, I’d go with Esquire’s Charles Pierce, who explains: “Nothing was more tiresome in this week’s House Judiciary Committee slanging than the baseless charge by the Republican minority that the impeachment inquiry is taking up so much of the House’s attention that the Republican minority doesn’t have the time to pretend to care about the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or the cost of prescription drugs. This was all my bollocks, of course. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out, while chasing the president*’s connections to the Ukrainian shakedown, the House has passed some 400 bills, many of them on a bipartisan basis, and the majority of them have died in the Senate because Mitch McConnell has been too busy putting unqualified Christopaths on the federal bench, and because McConnell just decided one day to be a megalomaniac with his thumb on history’s scale.”


Falling Between Two Stools on Impeachmemt?

As the Kabuki Theater of impeachment rolls along in the U.S. House, there are legitimate fears about how it will all play out for Democrats, as I explained this week at New York:

 It’s important to internalize a couple of basic facts about the big picture with respect to the impeachment process: (1) Trump is not going to be removed from office by the Senate, and (2) whatever impact impeachment has on future presidents or on historical judgments of this Congress — both factors often cited by Democrats favoring impeachment — we won’t know it for a good while. So the only thing relevant to analyze is the effect that this process and its trajectory may have on the 2020 elections.

We just don’t know at this point how the voting public will adjudge the impeachment inquiry, the House impeachment, or the Senate acquittal. Public support for impeachment spiked a bit just before and just after the formal process was initiated, but it has stabilized amid evidence that it’s not very popular in the Rust Belt battleground states where Trump pulled his upset in 2016. Attitudes toward impeachment, not surprisingly, are beginning to pretty closely match attitudes toward Trump and his reelection bid. So the best early evidence is that the impact of impeachment may be on the margins of the election, where enthusiasm and turnout patterns are legitimately important and not just the subject of spin.

That should concern Democrats. The decision by Nancy Pelosi to quickly enact narrow articles of impeachment before the 2020 election year formally begins may well indicate that she views it as a distraction at best and as a potential problem for Democrats at worst. These attitudes should be unsurprising given her steady resistance to going down that road until the Ukraine scandal broke and the Democratic rank and file shifted massively into the pro-impeachment camp. As I noted when the articles were announced, pro-impeachment Democrats — including those who favored taking this step before the Ukraine scandal appeared and Pelosi climbed aboard — may soon feel cheated out of a deep, broad investigation that would accompany the 2020 campaign:

“It’s certainly not hard to suspect that Pelosi is really just cutting losses by focusing on one incident of Trump’s misgovernment and racing to impeach him by year’s end so that House Democrats can move on to their previously scheduled election-year agenda. And the impression that she’s ready to ‘move on’ is certainly reinforced by the fact that she is holding another presser today to announce support for the administration’s renegotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.”

At the same time, though, impeachment has gone far enough to unite Republicans behind Trump and give them the relentless talking point they have already agreed upon and will repeat like a meditative chant at any moment Republican partisans need a fresh burst of energy: Impeachment is a coup designed to rob American voters of their right to elect — or reelect — the president of their choice. A variation on this theme that we will briefly hear before the Senate trial concludes is that panic-stricken Democrats know the only way they can keep Trump from a second term is to secure his removal from office. But he and the GOP will thwart these traitors, and the preordained acquittal will be celebrated as total exoneration wherever MAGA folk gather.

So in one party, you will have excited, triumphant fans of the president, who once again eluded and outsmarted his elitist enemies, snake-dancing to the polls to secure another four years for their hero. In the other, you will have some people who want to forget about impeachment altogether and talk about health care whenever the party’s presidential candidates aren’t bickering about it, plus some people who are in a state of simmering resentment that their congressional leaders just went through the motions and didn’t expose Trump’s broader crimes and misdemeanors.

This isn’t an equation that works out very well for Democrats in 2020. Yes, of course, they can still beat Trump, and unless his job-approval rating finally rises, they probably will if their presidential nominee is decent and competent and acceptable to all party factions. But it may well be that Pelosi’s effort to thread the needle on impeachment will instead show her to have fallen between two stools, disappointing Democrats yet giving Republicans the hate-rage jet fuel on which they thrive.


Why USMCA Is a Big Win for Dems

At Vox, Jen Kirby reports, “On Tuesday, House Democrats announced that they’d back the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), the updated version of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the Trump administration renegotiated last year…Democrats are supporting the agreement now that they’ve secured changes to the deal, achieving concessions on labor and environmental rules and enforcement, prescription drugs, and other provisions that had long been sticking points between House Democrats and the administration.”

Free traders are grumbling, predictably enough, and so are a few progressives, who see any cooperation with Trump as a gift to him, a counter-narrative to impeachment. But Pelosi and other Democratic leaders see a significant upside for their party, because it shows Dems are capable of bipartisanship — when the cause is good. Also, Democrats won major pro-labor concessions few thought would be possible earlier this year.

“Make no mistake, we demanded a trade deal that benefits workers and fought every single day to negotiate that deal; and now we have secured an agreement that working people can proudly support,” Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president, said on Twitter,” notes Kirby.

As Pelosi explained, ““There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference Tuesday. “But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.”

Kirby notes some of the major improvements in USMCA from the points of view of pro-labor progressives:

They said they’d strengthened rules for workers, including additional protections to make sure Mexico is meeting these standards. As part of USMCA, Mexico agreed to pass new workers’ rights laws, including guaranteeing the right to unionize and negotiate labor contracts. The updated USMCA will establish a committee to monitor Mexico’s progress and benchmarks for Mexico to meet. If it does not, it could lead to penalties.

Another big win for Democrats was the removal of a certain rule involving pharmaceuticals. The original USMCA extended the period that certain drugs (known as “biologics”) can be protected from generic competition to 10 years (it’s already 12 years in the US). Democrats objected to this provision, saying it could potentially thwart future efforts to lower the cost of some prescription drugs. That provision has now been removed from the USMCA.

…Already included in the USMCA were new rules that said cars must have 75 percent of their components manufactured in Mexico, the US, or Canada to qualify for zero tariffs (up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA) and provisions that 40 to 45 percent of automobile parts must be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023. (Now with increased enforcement, per the Democrats.)

The USMCA also adds a 16-year “sunset” clause — meaning the terms of the agreement expire, or “sunset” after 16 years. The deal is also subject to a review every six years, at which point the US, Mexico, and Canada can decide to extend the USMCA.

Among the purely-political benefits of USMCA for Dems, noted by Kirby: “Democrats in more moderate districts were reportedly particularly nervous about leaving USMCA unresolved before the end of the year, and now they’ll have a legislative victory to take home, showing that they can still work with the administration on issues that benefit the American people — even as they’re holding the president accountable for his conduct.”

Going forward, “The House will vote on the USMCA legislation before Congress breaks for recess for the holidays, probably around the same time it votes on impeachment. The Senate must also take up the USMCA — though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the body won’t consider it until after Trump’s impeachment trial in January.”

Sure, the timing of the USMCA deal may not be optimum. But legislative timetables can’t always be controlled, especially toward year’s end. There should be no doubt, however, that USMCA is a big plus for American workers and their unions, and that fact will not be lost on working-class swing voters in the Rust Belt. Pelosi and House Democrats seized the moment, and got it done when they could. That’s what real leadership is all about.


Teixeira: Biden’s Edge with Older Black Voters Powers Campaign

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

It’s An Older Black Voter Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand

People continue to be mystified why the old establishment white dude who stumbles over his words comfortably leads the Democratic field. But Biden continues to refuse to collapse.

There are several reasons for this but surely one of the most important, if not the most important, is his strength among black voters. And not just black voters in general but older black voters in particular. And it is this latter trend that is possibly the origin of many observers’ failure to “get” Biden’s enduring popularity. Harry Enten explains:

“Biden’s averaged 49% among all potential black Democratic primary voters in our last two CNN national polls. That’s good enough not only for a 35-point lead over his Democratic competitors, but good enough to beat all of them combined by about 10 points.

But I think treating black voters as if they’re some sort of monolith creates some sort of a blind spot for those following the campaign: the wide faultline along age in the black community.

In our polling over the last two months, Biden is getting northward of 60% of the vote among black voters 45 years and older. His nearest competitor, Warren, is 50 points behind him.

Younger black voters are far less enthralled with Biden. A look at our polling over the last three months has him in the low 30s with black voters under the age of 45.

This large age gap has existed all primary long, and it’s not going away. If anything, our polling is indicating that it is getting larger.

The age gap in Biden’s support benefits him in a way that I’m not quite sure folks understand. Simply put, there are more older black voters than there are younger black voters. Those 45 years and older made up 60% of all potential black primary voters. In the majority black primary in South Carolina, those 45 years and older were 71% of all actual primary voters in 2016.

I cannot help but think this age divide imperils some folks ability to understand Biden’s appeal with black voters. If all you’re reading about is how a lot of younger black activists don’t like Biden (which is true), you’re missing most of the black voting population. This is also true if you’re someone who gets their news off of Twitter, where younger voices dominate in a way they don’t in the real world.”

I agree with Enten. I think many people are being sorely misled by what they hear on Twitter and from a sector of very visible black activists. Those views are not, by and large, the views of the black community writ large. It is the latter’s views that explain Biden’s continuing popularity and illuminate his future prospects.

Which are actually pretty good, when you consider how crucial the black vote is to the Democratic nominating process. The Times had an excellent piece on this with good accompanying graphics last week.

Candidates gain delegates based on voting in both states and districts, which are Congressional districts in all but a few places. While Iowa and New Hampshire may generate political momentum for a winner because they vote first, the two states award very few delegates. By contrast, a candidate who is popular in California, Texas and predominantly black districts in the South could pick up big shares of delegates.

A recent poll shows Mr. Biden at 44 percent among black voters in South Carolina, the early voting state with a majority-black Democratic electorate, and a historic harbinger for how the South will vote. The same poll had Mr. Biden’s next closest competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, trailing him by more than 30 percentage points among black voters.

Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Ala., who has yet to endorse a candidate, said national political analysts are underestimating the political advantages Mr. Biden enjoys in the South.

“It’s not that he’s weaker than people think,” Mr. Woodfin said. “He’s much stronger.”

Some of the most delegate-rich districts in Southern states like Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina have large shares of black Democratic voters. (Vermont is an exception; its population is largely white, but it has only one district with 11 Democratic delegates.)

Under party rules, more delegates are awarded in districts with high concentrations of Democrats. Because black people overwhelmingly vote Democratic, areas with many black residents tend to have higher numbers of Democratic delegates.

This is a big reason why black Democrats are so sought-after in the race for the party’s nomination. Historically, black Democratic primary voters have tended to back a single candidate…The last Democratic candidate to win the nomination without winning a majority of black voters was Michael Dukakis, then the governor of Massachusetts, in 1988.”

I might add here that black voters are not Biden’s only advantage at this point. There’s also his adamant refusal to take politically toxic positions on hot-button issues to appease vocal critics on his left. We see this most recently in the run up to the release of his immigration plan. From the Post’s Daily 202:

“[The plan] will outline an end to Trump’s family separation policy, protections for “dreamers” and address the root causes of the immigration crisis. This will include a proposal for foreign aid to stabilize the Northern Triangle countries in Central America, similar to what Sanders and Warren had in their plans….

Biden’s plan will be more moderate than his rivals. So far, the biggest flashpoint in the Democratic immigration debate this year has been over whether to repeal a portion of the law that makes it a criminal offense to illegally enter the United States. The proposal was first made by former housing secretary Julián Castro, the first candidate to publish a detailed immigration plan, and it targets Section 1325 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which the Trump administration used to defend its family separation policies. Sanders and Warren endorsed Castro’s idea.

Biden still opposes repealing Section 1325, and that won’t change. He said during one of the debates that changing the law could incentivize more illegal immigration. “Repealing that section could undermine our immigration system. It could undermine efforts to combat human smuggling,” Alex said in an interview. “It would shift an additional burden into the immigration court system. Additionally, if the logic behind ending 1325 is to end family separation, there are likely at least eight other laws on the books that someone nefarious and anti-immigrant like Trump could use to separate families. So the problem isn’t 1325. The problem is Donald Trump.”

Not that I don’t have my doubts about Joe Biden. I worry about him as a campaigner against Trump. And, while I think his programmatic commitments as they are evolving are plenty progressive, I worry that he will surround himself with the kind of economic and budgetary advisers that will undercut that program. Personnel is policy and neoliberal personnel tend to promote neoliberal policy (see Reid Hundt’s A Crisis Wasted).

That said, he does have strengths–some very important strengths–and even those who don’t like him would do well to understand them.


Teixeira: The Economy Vs. Approval Ratings

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

With the strong economic report on Friday, there is some trepidation in Democratic circles that such reports will translate into a second Trump term. This is possible. The growth and jobs performance of the economy close to the election has a strong historical relationship to Presidential election outcomes. As a number of people have pointed out, incumbent presidents rarely lose re-election except when there’s a recession in the last two years of their term. And so far we haven’t seen one.

But the other side of this is that strong economic performance should translate into high approval ratings and we’re not seeing that either. Instead, Trump is mired in the low ’40s and seemingly going nowhere. And that is another very strong historical relationship: Presidents with low approval ratings tend to lose elections. And, as Harry Enten points out, we are very close to the period where approval ratings start to be very predictive of the ultimate election outcome.

“The next 100 days will be critical to understanding whether President Donald Trump will win a second term in office. His approval rating has been consistently low during his first term. Yet his supporters could always point out that approval ratings before an election year have not historically been correlated with reelection success.

But by mid-March of an election year, approval ratings, though, become more predictive. Presidents with low approval ratings in mid-March of an election year tend to lose, while those with strong approval ratings tend to win in blowouts and those with middling approval ratings usually win by small margins.

Let’s start with where Trump is right now: an approval rating in the low 40s. Since World War II, two presidents have had an approval rating at or below 45% in mid-March of an election year. George H.W. Bush had an approval rating at 39%, while Jimmy Carter’s was at 45% and falling fast. Both of them went on to lose reelection by greater than 5 points.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there have been five presidents with an approval rating of 55% or above. There was Bill Clinton at 55%, Ronald Reagan at 55%, Richard Nixon at 58%, Dwight Eisenhower at 72% and Lyndon Johnson at 80%. All of these presidents won their elections by nine points or greater.

Finally, we have the group of presidents with approval ratings between between 46% and 54%. This includes Gerald Ford at 47%, Barack Obama at 47%, George W. Bush at 49% and Harry Truman at 51%. All of their elections were decided by less than 5 points.

[Only] Ford didn’t win.”

So all in all, I’d keep my eye on Trump’s approval rating. If economic performance is truly going to boost him to a second term, we should start seeing evidence of that in his approval rating. If not, and his approval rating stays where it is or declines, he is in trouble even if the economy keeps chugging along.


Political Strategy Notes

At The Cook Political Report, David Wasserman writes that “Democrats Are Making Big Gains in the Suburbs. Here’s Why That May Not Be Enough to Beat Trump” and notes: “The continued migration of highly college-educated suburbs away from Republicans in the Trump era is welcome news for Democrats. The Kentucky and Louisiana results are a continuation of midterm gains for Democrats in places like the suburbs of Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Charleston and Oklahoma City…However, robust turnout in more rural parts of Kentucky and Louisiana is a silver lining for Trump. More critically, Democratic gains among suburban college-educated whites — and relative stagnation among other voters — could actually widen Trump’s advantage in the Electoral College relative to the popular vote…Of the dozen states where college graduates make up over 40 percent of all eligible white voters — California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Virginia — none are likely to be decisive in the race for the Electoral College…In other words, unless Democrats are able to retain support among other groups in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, they risk further adding to their vote-wasting problem in 2020, which could allow Trump to win re-election while losing the popular vote by 5 million or possibly more.”

Grace Sparks reports at CNN Politics that, “A CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll in Iowa finds that a majority of likely Democratic caucusgoers would prefer a health care option that isn’t “Medicare for All.”…About a third (36%) want Medicare for All while another third (34%) want to create a public option for buy in and 20% would prefer to restore lost provisions from the Affordable Care Act and work incrementally from there…Together, a majority (54%) would prefer an option that isn’t Medicare for All, while only 36% prefer the more liberal alternative…Likely Democratic caucugoers ages 65 and over are the most interested in restoring the lost ACA provisions through incremental work (34%), though they are still split between restoring Obamacare provisions and creating a public option (35%).”

“The genius of the civil rights movement of the 1960s is that it really did bring home the nature of racial injustice in our country,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated WAshington Post column. “The Great Recession and the agitation of Occupy Wall Street and other groups altered the way we discuss economic inequality. The feminist movement transformed the way we think about gender roles, while the movement for LGBTQ rights revolutionized our view of sexual identity. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shifted the debate about guns in fundamental ways…I doubt all this history was going through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s mind last Thursday when she wheeled around in anger after James Rosen of the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group asked her, “Do you hate the president, Madame Speaker?” But the larger lesson of the American story certainly was.  Her answer brought cheers from her admirers, especially from liberal Catholics who were buoyed by her insistence that “as a Catholic, I resent your using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone.” It was bracing to see Catholicism invoked as a call to Christian love and prayer — especially for Trump.’

“But Pelosi was on to something else as well,” Dionne continues. “She knows that Trump’s apologists want to keep the focus on the motives of the president’s opponents and to make this battle about nothing more than partisanship. Those who would let Trump get away with anything want us to talk as little as possible about his own behavior. Their claim is that it’s all about identity — the president’s big-city, liberal, Christian-hating, elitist, immigrant-loving, politically correct enemies vs. his hardworking, religious, gun-rights-defending, taxpaying friends who live in small towns and the countryside…Pelosi’s invocation of her faith was one way to blow up this narrative, but her care in separating out her political disagreements with Trump (on immigration, guns and climate change) from the reasons for impeachment (his abuse of power and constitutional violations) reflected an awareness that opinion about impeachment is still fluid. Yes, there is room for persuasion.”

Dionne adds, “An analysis by FiveThirtyEight, for example, suggested that about a quarter of Americans were not yet certain about their view of the matter. And those who oppose impeachment appear more open to revising their view than those who support it. A Quinnipiac University survey last month, for example, found that 17 percent of those who were against impeaching Trump and removing him from office said they could change their minds; only 8 percent of those who support it said they might change theirs…This means that those who see impeachment as a moral imperative need to avoid playing to their own gallery and should fight rather than reinforce the culture-war narratives Trump is counting on…It’s not surprising that many among Trump’s foes are obsessed with impeachment news, but they must recognize that those who might eventually come their way are not: In the Quinnipiac survey, 21 percent of those who did not watch the hearings said they could change sides, compared with only 11 percent who did.”

In The American Prospect’s special issue addressing the climate crisis, Robert Kuttner highlights the strategic merits of progressives “front-loading” needed environmental reforms: “Ideally, we should have reached zero fossil fuel extraction and combustion years ago. Ideally, all fossil fuel operations should be shut down immediately. We can demand that, but we can’t will it into happening. As the lead article by Jeffrey Sachs and the discussion of emerging technologies by Mara Prentiss explain, we can in fact get to zero carbon a lot faster and with a lot less economic cost than the naysayers contend, and even faster if we get the politics right. Prentiss demonstrates that most of the needed technologies are available now. Our special issue taken as a whole shows that a Green New Deal can be achieved…As Jeff Faux’s piece recounts, we are asking citizens to trust their government to launch an initiative at a massive scale at a moment when trust in government and in all large public systems is at an all-time low. Today, that mistrust is all too appropriate, given the Trump presidency. Yet, as Faux observes, the very process of having highly visible projects that improve people’s lives can cumulatively rebuild public trust. These projects, however, will need to be somewhat front-loaded, to demonstrate benefits in the new administration’s first two years. Otherwise, a new president with grand promises and scant results could suffer the fate of Bill Clinton, whose party lost a record 54 House seats for a Democrat in 1994—until that record was broken in 2010, when Barack Obama’s party lost 63 seats. Notably, the only Democratic president to avoid that midterm curse was Franklin Roosevelt, who managed to deliver a great deal in his first two years. The voters reciprocated by increasing his Democratic majority in 1934 by nine seats in the House and nine in the Senate.”

From “Voters’ Second-Choice Candidates Show A Race That Is Still Fluid” by Geoffrey Skelley at FiveThirtyEight:

Kyle Kondik’s assessment of the current status of the presidential campaign at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “It’s too early to tell for 2020. The ingredients are there for a Democratic disaster. But the ingredients are also there for a victory next November. Nothing’s carved in stone…The Democratic delegate allocation rules must remain front of mind. All delegates are awarded proportionally, although 15% or greater support is required to win delegates. In crowded contests, there may be at most just a few candidates who get delegates. The lack of winner-take-all delegate allocation could prompt the process to drag out into June of next year, or maybe even to the convention. If no one achieves a majority of the delegates on the first ballot — something that hasn’t happened in a national party convention since 1952 — party leaders will become formally involved in the process as “superdelegates,” who are effectively sidelined under new Democratic rules unless the convention deadlocks. In such a scenario, the potential for bad feelings among the supporters of the losing candidates rises…For the general election, it isn’t just who is chosen as the Democratic nominee. It’s how he or she is chosen, how damaged the nominee is from the process, and how fractured the party is once it’s over. Democrats being Democrats, some will be off sulking for a while. And some primary voters may disappear in the fall: It’s easy to imagine some supporters of the outsider candidates, most notably Sanders, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D, HI-2), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, falling by the wayside, even if the candidates themselves dutifully get behind the eventual nominee…Still, Trump is a great unifier for Democrats, and that effect will kick in come fall, maybe even summer. We still see the general election as basically a 50-50 proposition, which is reflected in our early Electoral College ratings.”

Maresa Strano and Lydia Bean explain “How Red States Are Steamrolling Blue Cities” by enacting state preemption laws. Writing in The Washington Monthly, Strano and Bean note that “the last decade has seen an unprecedented swell in the number of preemption bills introduced and passed by state legislatures. As of 2019, twenty-five states have passed laws preempting local minimum wage ordinances (up from ten states in 2010). Twenty-three states have banned ordinances requiring paid sick days (up from one state in 2010). Between 2014 and 2019, an astounding forty-four states removed or prevented employment and labor protections for Uber and Lyft drivers…Some of these laws are notorious. North Carolina’s House Bill 2, or “the Bathroom Bill,” famously mandated that individuals use the bathroom corresponding to the gender assigned to them at birth. A direct attack on the transgender community, HB 2 was passed to stop the City of Charlotte from increasing its anti-discrimination protections. The same bill also explicitly preempted local regulation of employment standards, such as increasing the minimum wage and mandatory paid sick days…The increase in volume, sweep, and frequency of preemption laws is hardly driven by grassroots concerns. Instead, it reflects a pattern in which industries have used preemption to promote their putatively pro-business, anti-regulation agendas with no regard for public health and safety, nor the public will. They have found happy advocates in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization bankrolled by industry lobbyists that drafts conservative state legislation and shares it across the nation. ALEC provides the templates for many of the preemption bills circulating today. A recent report from the Local Solutions Support Center and State Innovation Exchange noted that about one in five of the over 1,000 ALEC bills introduced each year are signed into law…Preemption has skyrocketed under Republican state dominance. But now that the genie is out of the bottle, it’s reasonable to expect Democrats to use it…But ultimately, the best solution is to elect state officials who respect local authority. As we head into the 2020 state legislative election cycle, remember that redistricting is not the only reason to pay attention to state politics. Preemption is also on the ballot.”


Teixeira: The Winning Message for 2020

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

The good folks at Center for American Progress (full disclosure: I work there!), including my good buddy and co-conspirator John Halpin, have just released an enlightening poll on voter attitudes toward the economy, government and poverty. As Helaine Olen notes in the Post, the findings suggest the outlines of a winning Democratic message for 2020 (see the table below for some of those findings).

“As Democratic candidates slug it out with their primary rivals, a new report on voter attitudes toward the economy from the Center for American Progress and pollster GBAO offers guidance on what kind of message will put the eventual nominee and party in the best position for the general election.

Here’s the good news: Unity exists, even in the United States of 2019. “We see widespread support on reducing college costs, taxing the wealthy, checking corporate power and ensuring people have access to the basics,” John Halpin, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and one of the report’s co-authors, told me.

While the president remains divisive, the report finds majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans agree on many things. Seventy percent or more of those surveyed, including majorities of Republicans, agreed with each of the following statements:

* College education is too expensive, and states should do more to “help people afford a college education without getting buried in debt.”

* “Rich families and corporations should pay a lot more in taxes than they do today, and middle-class families should pay less.”

* People who don’t receive health insurance from an employer should be allowed to buy into a public plan, and pharmaceutical companies should be “penalized” if drug prices increase faster than the rate of inflation.

* Increase “good jobs” with a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, including both roads and “expanded production of green energy.”

* Reduce inequality with a 2 percent “wealth tax” on net worth in excess of $50 million.

That’s not all. People of every political persuasion give President Trump negative marks on his handling of health care and poverty. When asked what they believed is the most important issue that Trump and Congress should address in the coming year, “making health care more affordable” was cited by a majority of voters. Only a third of the entire electorate supported cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in an effort to address the national debt. And 8 in 10 Democrats and three-fourths of independents believe corporations have too much power and should be “strongly regulated” — something even 49 percent of Republicans also signed off on.”

This is mighty sweet music to my ears. The ideas above are a popular and plenty progressive program a Democratic candidate should be able to run on and win. Not progressive enough for you? Allow me to quote the immortal words of Nancy Pelosi: “Just win, baby”.


Kamala Harris’ Presidential Bid: What Went Wrong?

I don’t routinely post items here on the demise of presidential candidacies, but Kamala Harris’ involved strategic issues to an unusual degree, so I’m sharing what I wrote up for New York.

When Steve Bullock and Joe Sestak withdrew from the 2020 presidential race at the beginning of this week, it represented the inevitable, arguably overdue winnowing of a might-have-been and a never-was contender. Kamala Harris’ surprise withdrawal today was more significant, representing the demise of a candidacy that made a lot of strategic sense and that for a brief moment last summer looked very formidable.

It’s unclear at this early juncture whether the withdrawal was the product of the “disarray in the campaign” that has been written about abundantly in recent weeks, most pungently at Politico:

“Kamala Harris’ campaign is careening toward a crackup.

“As the California senator crisscrosses the country trying to revive her sputtering presidential bid, aides at her fast-shrinking headquarters are deep into the finger-pointing stages …

“[One] person described the current state of the campaign in blunt terms: ‘No discipline. No plan. No strategy.’”

Most accounts of Harris campaign troubles focused on overspending and on confusion at the top of the organization where campaign manager Juan Rodriguez and campaign chair (and the candidate’s sister) Maya Harris were twin authorities.

But beneath the day-to-day problems was a campaign whose plausible strategic objectives simply weren’t being met. The original Harris plan was modeled to a considerable extent on Barack Obama’s in 2008, as I observed last fall:

“[I]t’s the strategy successfully pursued by another freshman senator with a multiracial background in 2008: establish your political chops by winning in nearly-all-white Iowa and then consolidate minority support in the South and in urban states with large African-American populations. Indeed, Harris has an advantage that Barack Obama did not enjoy: her own home state of California has moved its primary up until March 3, just after the initial quartet of events in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

“In the sports language often used (along with combat and gambling lingo) by political operatives, one of Harris’s people called this strategy: ‘the SEC primary meets the West Coast offense.’ And it makes sense, on paper, particularly if Harris can go into South Carolina with a head of steam and win there.”

Aside from the challenge of trying to get traction in a crowded field in Iowa, Harris had to do to Joe Biden what Obama did to Hillary Clinton in 2008: shake loose a strong attachment to a white front-runner among African-American voters, particularly in South Carolina. For a moment, after she seized the spotlight in the June candidate debate with a strong criticism of Joe Biden’s understanding of racial issues, it looked like she was well on her way to doing just that, as I noted at the time:

“Totally aside from the substantive impact of Harris’s challenge to Biden’s record on school busing and racial justice generally, it’s not good for the former veep that two of the strongest performers in the first round of debates have been Harris and Cory Booker, who represent a generational and a racial contrast to him. They are both gunning for Biden in South Carolina, and if one or both begins to carve into his African-American support, he’s in serious trouble.”

And in part because she was the clear star of this debate, it was Harris, not Booker, who caught fire. A Quinnipiac poll immediately afterwards showed her leaping into second place, just two points behind Biden, and well ahead of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Perhaps even more importantly, a CNN survey showed Harris cutting Biden’s advantage over her among nonwhite voters from 26 percent to six percent.

But even before her underwhelming performance in the second round of debates in July, there were signs Harris’ boom was subsiding. By August her national polling numbers were back down into the single digits, and it became obvious she was significantly trailing Obama’s trajectory at the same stage of the 2008 campaign, particularly in terms of African-American support and positioning in Iowa. The rise of Elizabeth Warren during this same period took a lot of the spotlight away from the Californian as well.

By September Harris recognized that without a better showing in Iowa she was unlikely to enjoy a South Carolina breakthrough. So she emulated another successful campaign of the past, John Kerry’s in 2004, in putting all her resources into the first-in-the-nation-caucus state, famously telling Senate colleagues she was “f___ing moving to Iowa.” But she never got traction there. In a September Iowa Poll from Ann Selzer, she was at six percent, and then in Selzer’s November poll, she had dropped to three percent. And that’s about the time when the “disarray” that got so much attention became impossible to ignore.

Contributing to Harris’ strategic failures were some messaging missteps. In the crucial July debate when she began to lose steam, she got mired in a confusing explanation of her differences with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on Medicare For All, and walked right into a savage attack on her criminal justice reform record by Tulsi Gabbard. And while she issued well-regarded proposals on teachers’ pay and tax reforms, she never really achieved a signature policy proposal, which enhanced the impression that she was mostly focused on her positioning in the field rather than making a compelling case for her nomination or her ability to beat Trump. And her debate stumbles quickly diminished thoughts of this ex-prosecutor dismantling Trump in a general election tilt.

Perhaps the coup de grace in terms of Harris’ trajectory in the race occurred earlier this week when two national polls showed her even or actually behind Michael Bloomberg, who very recently entered the race. She was continuing to go nowhere fast, and there was even talk in California that if she didn’t get out of the race and mend fences back home, she might court a 2022 Senate primary opponent.

It’s unclear exactly how Harris’ withdrawal will affect the race. The potential beneficiary who needs help the most is the one remaining African-American candidate, Cory Booker, who has been laboring in Harris’ shadow in both Iowa and South Carolina, the two key states for him as well. And it creates a real battle royal in California, where Harris retained some significant support despite slipping behind the leading national candidates there. Arguably Joe Biden, who was for a while vulnerable to Harris’ strategy, will be relieved to see the back of her. And to the extent that Harris at her best was a potential unity candidate for the party, her absence could create a fresh competition for that mantle.

All in all, Harris had a lot of potential but failed to capitalize on it, which has led some observers to compare her to 2016 Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

At 55, Harris isn’t quite as young as the 48-year-old Rubio, but like him, she is young enough to contemplate a national political comeback–perhaps even by becoming someone’s running-mate next year.


Political Strategy Notes

In his CNN Politics post, “Democrats’ new impeachment message: Expel Trump now,” Stephen Collinson sets the stage for th next step in the impeachment drama — and the stakes for Democrats: “Democrats are injecting an urgent new argument into their already fast-moving impeachment drive: President Donald Trump poses such a flagrant threat to the republic that there is no time to waste…The dispute over how fast to go and over the scope of the Democratic impeachment case spilled over — in far more civil and respectful terms than the bitter exchanges between lawmakers — in a debate between four renowned law professors asked to testify to the committee on the mechanics and justifications of impeachment…Three of the four, who were invited by Democrats, agreed that the President’s transgressions were already sufficiently severe to justify the ultimate political sanction of impeachment. The fourth, a Republican invitee, urged Democrats to slow down and to exhaust the full extent of the law to compel testimony from key witnesses before making a case to the nation that Trump should be removed…”Are you ready?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked her caucus on Wednesday, setting the stage for an accelerated timetable that could see Trump impeached by the full House before the Christmas and New Year break. The speaker is also quietly taking the temperature of her caucus before making a final decision on the end game of the House process — and how widely to draw articles of impeachment, CNN’s Manu Raju reported on Wednesday.”

“Democrats used their witnesses to paint a picture of abuses of power by Trump of such staggering proportions that his immediate removal is the only way to secure America’s democracy,” Collinson continues. “All three law professors called by the majority agreed that Trump had committed multiple impeachable offenses, in the commission of the Ukraine scheme and obstructing Congress in covering it up…”The evidence reveals a President who used the powers of his office to demand a foreign government participate in undermining a competing candidate for the presidency,” said Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law professor…Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman warned: “If we cannot impeach a President who abuses his office for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy.”…But the White House’s blanket refusal to honor 71 Democratic requests for documents — revealed in the report — and its blocking of testimony from key White House officials is strengthening the obstruction case and presents an opportunity to make a more complete case to Americans.” However, “Party leaders have warned that they are unwilling to allow the White House to stretch out the impeachment drama for the many months that multiple legal challenges would entail.”…There’s a political motivation as well — Pelosi’s desire to quickly send Trump’s fate to the Senate is seen as an effort to pivot the political focus to Democrats’ bid to oust Trump at the ballot box next year that begins with the Iowa caucuses in February.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “The Moral Imperative of Impeachment” distills the essential argument Democrats must deploy as the political party which defends America’s democracy. “The most important charge in the Intelligence Committee’s report is this one: that “the President placed his personal political interests above the national interests of the United States.” Trump’s other offenses flow from this one. That is especially true of his willingness to press foreign governments to meddle in our elections, as he did with Ukraine’s president, or to issue an open invitation to a foreign government to jump right in. That’s what he did with his infamous “Russia, if you’re listening” comment during the 2016 campaign…“Trump being Trump” — or what Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Michael McCaul of Texas tried to glorify as his “ ‘outside the Beltway’ approach to diplomacy” — can no longer be an excuse for overlooking how much weaker the United States is today than it was 1,048 days ago.”

Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT column, “The Savage Injustice of Trump’s Military Pardons,” spotlights some instructive political opinion data regarding active military personnel: “In an article published on Nov. 19, “Donald Trump falls out with the military establishment he once wooed,” The Economist reported that “the highly educated officer corps dislikes Mr. Trump,” while “47 percent of the enlisted ranks, largely without college degrees, back him.” (The magazine did not provide specific figures on the percentage of those in the enlisted ranks who oppose Trump or on the percentages of the officer corps who like and dislike the president.)…A September-October 2018 poll conducted by Military Times found approval of Trump among active duty military personnel falling from 46 positive and 37 negative in 2016 to 44 positive and 43 negative in 2018. In other words, Trump’s favorability among active duty servicemen and women fell from plus 9 in 2016 to plus 1 in 2018…The Military Times survey also showed a split between officers and enlisted service members. Among officers, “more than half have an unfavorable view of his presidency, against 41 percent who have a favorable view,” while among enlisted personnel 45 percent had a positive view of Trump while 41 percent had a negative view.”

Some of the revelations from the Blue Wall Voices Project, a collaboration between the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Cook Political Report, which examined the attitudes and experiences of voters in several key battleground states leading up the 2020 presidential election: “There are many undecided voters and a few persuadable swing voters. One year out from the 2020 presidential election and without a clear frontrunner in the Democratic primaries, a large share of voters – about four in ten (41%) – say they have not yet made up their minds about who they plan to vote for in November 2020. These “swing voters” either report being undecided about their vote in 2020 or are leaning towards a candidate but haven’t made up their minds yet. With a substantial number of votes still up for grabs, this analysis looks in-depth at this group of voters to explore the policy issues that could swing these voters to vote for either President Trump or the Democratic nominee.”

Also, Blue Wall Voices found that “President Trump himself is the defining factor for voters – both positive and negative. When asked to offer in their own words what one thing will motivate them to vote in the 2020 presidential election, nearly three times as many voters offer responses related to defeating President Trump (21%) as offer responses related to re-electing him or not wanting a Democrat to be elected (8%). Defeating President Trump was offered as the top motivation to vote in 2020 by four in ten Democratic voters (39%) while responses related to re-electing President Trump/not wanting a Democrat were offered by 21% of Republican voters. One-fifth of independent voters offered responses related to defeating President Trump while fewer (7%) of independent voters offered responses related to re-electing President Trump. Overall, one-fourth (23%) of voters offer issues such as health care, the economy, and immigration, as their motivation for voting in the 2020 presidential election.”

The BWV project also notedThe 2020 election may be a lot about health care and the economy, two issues that voters judge President Trump’s actions on very differently. Health care and the economy are the top issues for voters leading up to the 2020 presidential election but they are also two issues on which voters give President Trump very different marks. Overall, voters are somewhat positive in their views of how President Trump is handling the economy (-1 percentage points net approval) while a larger share of voters “disapprove” than “approve” of the way President Trump is handling health care (-21 percentage points net approval). Health care is one of the only issues in which President Trump’s approval is lower than his overall job approval (-18 percentage points). President Trump also has low approval ratings (-20 percentage points) on the way he is handling foreign policy– an issue of increasing importance among voters in these states.”

Most swing voters in these states see bans on fracking, stopping detainments at the U.S. border, and Medicare-for-all as bad ideas. The poll also consistently finds that while Medicare-for-all has played a significant role in the 2020 Democratic primary debates, it is not the top health care issue for Democratic voters. Large shares of swing voters in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin say stopping detainments at the U.S. border for people cross into the country illegally and a national Medicare-for-all plan are “bad ideas.” Swing voters are slightly more divided in their views of a ban on fracking with large shares of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin swing voters saying such a ban is a “bad idea” as do a slim majority in Michigan and half of Minnesota swing voters.”

A final note on the ‘suspension’ of Sen. Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign: Her departure leaves a void in the Democratic field, not just because of her race and gender. Harris was one of the most ardent and skillful debaters, always focusing on the central moral questions underlying the issues. She displayed admirable passion and a fierce fighting spirit in each Democratic debate, particularly the last one. It was not hard to envision her skewering Trump into a muttering mess during the final presidential debates next year. Indeed, Harris provided one of the best anti-Trump zingers yet, in her response to Trump’s gloating tweet about her exit from the campaign, “Too bad. We will miss you Kamala!” To which Harris responded, “Don’t worry, Mr. President, I’ll see you at your trial.”  As a demographic twofer, Harris will likely be on the eventual nominee’s short list for vice presidential choice, or perhaps Attorney-General, if Democrats win the white house. As it is, her departure underscores the hard reality that a great campaign launch, a terrific work ethic and a strong message don’t necessarily insure that a presidential candidate can stay competitive, especially in a large field.


Beware “Checks and Balances” Voters in 2020

Given how close the 2020 election is likely to be, Democrats need to pay attention to some relatively small swing-voter groups, and I wrote about one of them at New York:

[A] lot of self-identified political independents are quite proud of themselves for, well, their “independence.” A majority of them, as many political scientists have explained, are functionally partisan in their voting habits, but since they are theoretically open to going the other way, they aren’t like those knee-jerk D’s and R’s, or so they imagine. It is true that some indies have a mix of positions on issues that don’t nicely comport with either major party’s — or any minor party’s — views (notably economic liberals who are also social conservatives; those with the opposite configuration can always vote Libertarian). It’s a free country, and it’s fine with me if they want to let their freak flag fly.

There is one species of nonpartisan, however, who might be considered different from others and even pernicious: those who oscillate from party to party not based on issue adherence, or even the attractiveness or repulsiveness of individual candidates, but because they want to keep all parties and all factions in some sort of equipoise where they don’t get to have their way. These “checks and balances” voters are often very proud of themselves for the civic virtue they display in limiting the power of the overwhelming majority of citizens who are partisan. And when the two major parties are equally strong, they can even determine outcomes, as Nate Cohn and Claire Cain Miller explain in examining some Siena College polling data from battleground states concerning voters who supported Trump in 2016 and 2018 but voted Democratic in the 2018 midterms:

“Many of the voters who said they voted Democratic but now intended to vote for Mr. Trump offered explanations that reflect longstanding theories about why the party out of power tends to excel in midterms.

“Michelle Bassaro, 61, is a Trump supporter, but in the midterm election, she voted for the Democrat in her district to balance the administration’s power. She said she had voted for Republicans when Democrats were in the White House for the same reason, consistent with research that shows that some people intentionally vote for divided government.”

The research these writers referred to is a bit dated but still relevant; one study showed that an estimated 16 percent of voters, as of 2008, preferred divided government. A lot of them don’t act on this sentiment — or don’t really have the practical option to do so in a particular election — but there are enough to be dangerous in a close contest. And dangerous they are, I believe.

Perpetually divided government (which we have had more often than not at the federal level in the post–World War II era) is an invitation to gridlock, dysfunction, and citizen dissatisfaction. It’s even more damaging now that the ideological polarization of the two major parties has made bipartisan coalitions vastly less likely than in the days when liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats walked the Earth. Yet some of the same voters who consider themselves shrewd and civic-minded for keeping the two parties in balance tend to complain about stuff not getting done:

“Danny Destival, 56, who runs a greenhouse supply business in Panama City, Fla., said he’s ‘been a Southern Democrat all my life.’ But in 2016, he cast his first Republican vote because he liked that Mr. Trump was a businessman, not a politician — and he disliked Hillary Clinton.

“His main priority is voting for ‘the person who’s going to get more done’ — that’s why he stuck with the Democrats in the midterms — but at the national level, he said, the Democrats have disappointed him on that front.

“’If you’re going to Washington, you need to do something,’ he said. ‘If the only thing you’re going to do the whole time you’re there is try to get rid of the president, that’s a problem. I mean, Trump is not a great person, but you’ve got to get some work done.'”

This “swing voter” does not seem to be aware that he is part of the problem he is complaining about. And his preferred candidate for president is a symptom of how haywire things can go if the normal processes of policymaking and legislation are frustrated by divided government and the consequent gridlock. You get voters throwing up their hands and then supporting a demagogue who claims he will “drain the swamp,” only to run one of the most corrupt administrations in history with legislative accomplishments — even when his party did have unified control of the government — that would fit in a thimble. Trump is also emblematic of the recklessness a president can exhibit when thinking of himself as empowered to overpower and dominate other institutions or the rule of law itself.

Complain as we might about the folly of using one’s vote to alternate perpetually between the parties, it’s enough of a reality to sober any Democrats who believe their midterm victory in 2018 gives them an automatic upper hand in 2020. You might imagine logically that the phenomenon of a party winning a second consecutive presidential election while losing the intervening midterm would be relatively rare. It has actually happened (just going back to the end of World War II) in 1956, 1972, 1984, 1988, 1996, and 2012. Some of it has to do with differential turnout patterns in presidential and midterm elections, but the regularity with which the president’s party loses ground in the midterms suggests that voter oscillation, whether or not it consciously reflects a desire for divided government, is likely a factor. Democrats need to include in their 2020 messaging some recognition of this fact, and they to make it clear that any of their voters from the 2018 midterm who think voting for Trump will keep things under control in Washington will risk ushering in the most uncontrolled presidential term since Andrew Johnson decided to try to veto the results of the Civil War.