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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


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The Daily Strategist

February 26, 2021

Tomasky: Another Way to Win a Minimum Wage Hike

Although Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough just ruled the minimum wage increase out of the COVID relief bill, Michael Tomasky argues in favor of the “Dems’ Tricky New Two-Step: First COVID Relief, Then a Wage Hike” at The Daily Beast:

Well, I think there’s a chance, and maybe a good one, that a minimum wage increase isn’t dead yet. But passing one is going to require courage, patience, and compromise. I know compromise is a dirty word. But that’s the legislative process when you didn’t win enough elections to have things the way you want them in our ridiculous system.

Tomasky makes the case that the Covid relief bill has great merit, even without the minimum wage hike., and says Democrats “should immediately start agitating for a stand-alone bill. This would require eliminating or changing the filibuster, which I’ve been saying for years they need to do.”

That will be tough. Manchin and Sinema have to go for it. Biden has to lean on them hard. Might they accede if Biden drops the number a bit from $15 and promises billions for their states? I don’t think it’s impossible. The key phrase above may prove to be “or changing”; Ian Millhiser of Vox recently wrote a comprehensive piece on how the filibuster can be changed, not eliminated, in ways Manchin and Sinema might be able to live with.

There is a significant upside for Dems pushing stand alone minimum wage legislation, according to Tomasky:

A stand-alone bill would pressure some Republicans who purport to be on the side of the working class to take a stand one way or the other. Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, a couple others; they talk populism sometimes, but their no votes on a stand-alone minimum wage bill would chisel their hypocrisy in stone. And Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a top Democratic target for 2022, would make himself more vulnerable with a no vote.

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders proposes “an amendment to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages.””

Tomasky notes another alternative:

The other way to go is to attach the minimum wage to a “must-pass” bill like a defense appropriations bill. That’s what happened the last time a minimum-wage bill passed in 2007. It was part of an emergency appropriations act that funded the Iraq War.

There will be plenty of those bills in the next couple years. What’s important now is that the White House keep everybody together, and that Democrats not let this setback start a corrosive dynamic. The Senate is a completely screwed-up place. Its rules constantly thwart a majority. These are the kinds of things that happen there. People can respond by getting more enraged—or by getting more strategic.

Tomsky concludes, “Bank the big win of the relief bill, which is coming, and find another venue to fight for the minimum wage. That fight is far from over.”

Republicans Again Fighting In-Person Early Voting

Amidst all the Republican attacks on voting by mail, something else was going on, which I wrote about at New York:

Republican state legislatures across the country recently launched efforts to restricting voting by mail in myriad ways. It’s generally understood that they are reacting to Donald Trump’s bizarre but incessant claims that massive fraud associated with expanded mail ballots in 2020 robbed him of a “landslide” victory. That’s not, however, the only voter-suppression measures the GOP is pursuing in states where they control both the executive and legislative branches of government. They are also returning to their pre-2020 agenda of restricting in-person voting in ways that disproportionately affect Democratic-leaning constituencies.

That’s most evident in Georgia, where GOP legislators are considering crackdowns on early in-person voting, restricting weekend voting opportunities, banning mobile polling places, and invalidating provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. But it’s popped up also in Iowa, where Republicans have sent their GOP governor a bill cutting back on early voting and even closing the polls earlier on Election Day (Democrats traditionally vote later in the day than Republicans).

In both states, of course, these attacks on in-person voting are being combined with restrictions on voting by mail; one of the bills in Georgia would eliminate no-excuse absentee ballots — in effect since Republicans introduced it in 2005 — altogether. But there’s clearly a bait and switch going on, in which general-purpose attacks on the franchise, and particularly voting practices thought to benefit Democrats, are being hustled through even though they have nothing to do with the widespread Trumpian claims that liberalized voting by mail is a threat to election integrity.

This reality creates a bit of a strategic problem for Democrats. Should they expend their energy defending expanded (or even universal) voting-by-mail opportunities to the last ditch just because Trump chose to demonize the practice in one election cycle? In the past, after all, voting by mail was actually thought to favor Republicans in many states. Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz has just published an analysis concluding that expanded voting by mail didn’t have much to do with Joe Biden’s victory, even in the pandemic-distorted atmosphere of 2020.

Certainly in many parts of the country — including Georgia — early in-person voting has been the favorite balloting method for Democratic-leaning minority voters. It was no accident that an early version of one of the Georgia bills banned in-person voting on Sundays altogether, which was a direct attack on “Souls to the Polls” — post-worship-service voter-mobilization drives undertaken by many Black churches (the provision was struck, as it sounds both racist and anti-religious, though it was replaced with restrictions on how many weekend days were available for early in-person voting).

We’ll never know why Trump spent so much time attacking voting by mail in 2020, absent any clear evidence it would benefit his opponent. My own guess is that all along he contemplated the “red mirage” strategy of claiming victory based on early returns and either stopping or delegitimizing mail ballots counted later — a strategy that depended on convincing his own supporters to vote in person, which they obediently did, relatively speaking. That he failed to competently pull it off is no evidence that this was not the plan. But in any event, absent an extended or future pandemic, unrestricted or positively encouraged voting by mail may not be as fundamentally essential to voting rights as it appeared to be when Trump and his allies were assailing it every day. At a minimum, voting-rights advocates should be vigilant about a return to systemic voter suppression aimed at other — or all — methods of balloting.

Political Strategy Notes

Dail Kos Elections has a fun map in their post, “Morning Digest: We’ve finished calculating the 2020 presidential results for every House district” (flagged by Ruy Teixeira).  From the opening paragraphs: “Pres-by-CD: Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 House seats nationwide concludes, appropriately enough, with Pennsylvania, the state whose electoral votes sealed Joe Biden’s victory four days after Election Day. You can find our detailed calculations here, a large-size map of the results here, and our permanent, bookmarkable link for all districts here. You can also find a traditional geographic map version here of the cartogram at the top of this post that shows the presidential election result margin in every district nationally….With figures from the Keystone State in hand, we now know that Biden carried 224 congressional districts while Donald Trump prevailed in 211. That’s very close to the 222-213 split between House Democrats and Republicans that emerged from the November elections, which is due to the fact that both parties occupy a similar number of so-called “crossover” districts: Seven Democrats hold seats that Trump won while nine Republicans represents districts that went for Biden….The number of crossover districts—16 in total—is extremely low by historical standards but continues a downward trend reflecting our nation’s increased political polarization. Following the 2016 elections, there were 35 crossover seats, which was an increase from 2012 but a steep drop from the 83 produced by the 2008 Democratic wave. For much of the post-war era, there were 100 or more such districts, according to the Brookings Institution—to find a lower proportion in a presidential year, you have to go back to the GOP landslide of 1920, when there were just 11 crossovers.” The map:

“Heck, I don’t know which side is more likely to gain or lose seats in the Senate or House next year,” Charlie Cook writes at the Cook Political Report. “History suggests that Republicans should pick up seats, and even minimal gains would likely put them on top in either or both chambers, given the Democrats’ slim majorities. But then again, a party in turmoil—and in some cases eating its own—is not well positioned to win any elections….So, having outlined what we don’t know yet about next year’s midterms, what do we know? Incumbency is of less value than ever before, and candidates’ personal brands matter less than they used to. As longtime National Journal writer Ron Brownstein says, it’s not the name on the back of the jersey that matters so much anymore, it’s the color of the jersey. Ours is a parliamentary voting system now…n the House, only seven Democrats represent districts Trump carried, while nine Republicans hold seats that Biden carried. With the House pretty sorted out along partisan lines, it won’t take a tsunami or even a more conventional tidal wave to move a dozen or two seats. Even a ripple might do it.”

Peter Wade reports that a “Whopping 46 Percent of Republicans Would Disown GOP for the Trump Party, Poll Says” at Rolling Stone, and notes, “The Grand Old Party ain’t grand enough to keep devoted Trump fans from abandoning the party if the former president creates his own….In a new Suffolk University–USA Today poll of Trump voters released on Sunday, nearly half — 46 percent to 27 percent — say they’d ditch the GOP for another if the twice impeached Trump were at the helm….Also, over 50 percent of respondents said the GOP should be “more loyal to Trump.” And 58 percent believe the lie that the January 6th attack on the Capitol was “mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters….An astounding 73 percent say President Biden’s election win is not legitimate. This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising considering major news networks keep inviting prominent Republicans onto their airwaves to spread Trump’s election lies.” There’s a clue.

Ronald Brownstein shares some thoughts about “The blind spot in the immigration debate” at CNN Politics: “While the working-age population is stagnating, the senior population is exploding. Even under current levels of immigration, the Census Bureau projects that the senior population will grow by nearly 40% from now through 2035, almost exactly 10 times as fast as the working-age population….In a recent paper, Noorani and co-author Danilo Zak calculated that these trends will produce a precipitous decline in what’s called the “dependency ratio,” the number of working-age adults — defined as those aged 18-64 — available to support each senior. Today there are about 3.5 working-age adults for each senior; by 2060, that number will plummet to 2.7, the lowest in modern times. Such a decline will increase pressure either for cuts in federal retirement programs, difficult tax increases on the working-age population to fund those programs or some combination of both….The nation’s growing diversity is centered among the young: Frey says the 2020 census will find that for the first time, a majority of the nation’s under-18 population is non-White. But because the US largely cut off immigration from 1924 to 1965, most older Americans are White….I’ve described this demographic contrast as a collision between “the brown and the gray,” and one of its many implications is that through the 21st century, a growing and preponderantly White senior population will depend on an increasingly non-White working-age population to pay the taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare….”Without legal immigration, the United States is not going to see sustained population growth and we’ll see declining economic growth as a consequence,” says Cato’s Bier. “It’s just that simple.”

M4A Movement at the Crossroads

Natalie Shure has a sobering read, “Before Forcing the Vote on Medicare for All, We Must Build Power: Overcoming the ruthless opposition of the health care industry will take a mass movement” at The Nation. Among Shure’s insights:

“With Pelosi’s reelection in January, the best path forward for Medicare for All remains uncertain. While President Joe Biden staunchly opposes it, the razor-thin Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, as well as Democratic supermajorities in several states, could still present opportunities to advance the cause. Even if #ForceTheVote never materialized as initially conceived, many advocates continue to push for a floor vote as soon as possible. But the unfortunate truth is that the Medicare for All movement lacks the power to make such a vote effective.”

Bam! She’s not saying the M4A idea lacks popular support. She is saying that the movement for it is still too weak. The polling data is favorable overall, depending on the way the polling questions are phrased. (A public option is much more popular than eliminating health insurance companies). But the on-the-ground organizing needs work. Shure continues,

“More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, the case for single-payer has never been clearer: Millions of Americans have lost their employer-provided insurance; inadequate access to care has driven up the Covid-19 death count; and hospitals have found themselves underwater without revenue from elective procedures. The pandemic has given us an intimate look at our country’s unequal health outcomes, which Medicare for All would do more to address than any other systemic reform. But moral necessity isn’t enough to win against a $3.8 trillion health care industry that accounts for nearly 20 percent of the US economy and would be fundamentally upended if Medicare for All were to become a reality. With the health care sector already accounting for some of the top political spenders in Washington, there’s virtually no limit to the amount it would expend to topple reforms far more incremental than Medicare for All. Overcoming the ruthless opposition of the health care industry will take a mass movement willing to hit the streets, engage in direct action, and even go on strike to demand single-payer. Until Medicare for All has that kind of movement power behind it, it will easily be defeated by capital—a lesson we’ve learned repeatedly from health care reform battles in the past. And while it has popular support, polling between 40 and 70 percent, the same was true of national health insurance in the 1940s, until a major doctor-and-insurance-backed lobbying effort made the prospect of “socialized medicine” utterly toxic.”

The pandemic provides an important lesson for those who are willing to learn, that health insurance companies and state boundaries are both pretty useless in a global public health crisis. That part is not a tough sell. But Shure warns of the danger if premature congressional action:

From that perspective, the idea of putting politicians on the record regarding Medicare for All has no obvious value. For one thing, similar insight can already be gleaned from a list of the bill’s House and Senate cosponsors. But more important, given the current power disparity between the Medicare for All movement and the colossus it confronts, the unavoidable fact is that most of the elected officials who say they’re in favor of single-payer health care will never be true ride-or-die supporters until we can generate enough force to make the idea of bending to our will more compelling than bending to Big Health Care’s.

Rather than “bending to our will,” an effective social change movement wins over voters by persuasion and persistence. But Shure is right that building this coalition is the essential precondition that has to come before congressional floor votes, or even committee votes. Chase Iron Eyes makes the argument for pressing the case in congress in “We Can’t Miss the Next Chance to Force the Vote on Medicare for All: The tactic helps pinpoint which Democrats value donors over working people,” also in The Nation. He argues that “Forcing the vote lets the public see where our politicians stand. It feeds into other organizing and makes clear to elected officials that the people are watching them. It also helps the public pinpoint which Democrats value donors over working people.”

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders, inclding President Biden, Majority Leader Shumer and Speaker Pelosi all favor building on the Affordable Care Act over Medicare for All, and that’s what is going to happen — until the movement for Medicare for All reaches maturity.

Teixeira: Attaching “Equity” to All the Democrats’ Programs Is Not a Very Good Idea

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

Back during the campaign, I wrote a piece that got around on “Common Sense Democrats“. I argued that “there is a need for political common sense to undergird…debates [within the party]. If polling, trend data, campaign history and/or electoral arithmetic make clear that certain approaches are minimum requirements for success, they should be front-loaded into the discussion. That way discussion can focus on what is truly important instead of endlessly relitigating questions that are essentially settled.

In other words, start with common sense and then build from there. There will still be plenty of room for debates between left and right in the party, but matters of common sense should be neither left nor right. They are simply what is and what anyone’s strategy, whatever their political leanings, must take into account.”

“Democrats should not run against Republicans with positions that are unambiguously unpopular. These include, but are not limited to, defunding the police, abolishing ICE, reparations, abolishing private health insurance and decriminalizing the border. Whatever merits such ideas may have as policy–and these are generally debatable–there is strong evidence that they are quite unpopular with most voters and therefore will operate as a drag on the Democratic electoral and governance success.”

There is another side to this proposition that could be 6a or maybe just a proposition of its own. Just as Democrats should not advocate unpopular policies, they should not advocate popular policies in a way that makes them less popular.

This is brought to mind by the current vogue for attaching the word “equity” to virtually everything the Democrats are advocating and frequently seeming to justify race-neutral and popular polices on the grounds that they would promote racial equity. As politics, this makes no sense. You are taking policies that have great appeal to persuadable voters–otherwise they would not be so popular–and framing them as equity policies, which will reduce their appeal to persuadable voters who have non-liberal views on racial issues.

This is a very bad idea, as this piece from Matt Yglesias’ substack (written not by Matt but by Marc The Intern–nice job Marc!) establishes. The analysis in the piece shows that there are far more persuadables who support progressive economic positions but are non-woke on racial issues than there are those that are woke on racial issues but don’t support progressive economic positions. So framing race-neutral, popular Democratic economic programs as equity programs is a very poor tradeoff in support and electoral terms.

“There’s a growing trend both in media and among elected politicians of deliberately highlighting racial equity as a key argument in favor of left-of-center economic policies.

Two UC Berkeley economists writing in the NYT: “To Reduce Racial Inequality, Raise the Minimum Wage”

Two more academics writing in the NYT: “What Canceling Student Debt Would Do for the Racial Wealth Gap”

And it’s not just in the newspaper. In January, Cory Booker and Ayanna Pressley rolled out a proposal for “baby bonds,” emphasizing the idea that this program would help close the racial wealth gap.

President Joe Biden, 10 days before he took office, described his completely race-neutral small business proposals as prioritizing “Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American owned small businesses.”

None of the actual ideas are bad ideas. We should raise the minimum wage. We should cancel some student debt. We should give more money to poor people (baby bonds are just one way of doing this). We should help small businesses during a pandemic.

It’s also true that these ideas would disproportionately benefit people of color. After all, poor people in America are more likely to be non-white. Literally any policy that helps the poor regardless of race advances racial equity. This is not just true in theory — anti-poverty programs in this country have already reduced racial inequities.

But the premise of this style of argument seems to be that there are lots of people who are skeptical of race-neutral social welfare programs who will become more enthusiastic about them when the policies are framed as winners for racial equity.

With some help from the Voter Study Group, we can see that data clearly supports that this framing is counterproductive — almost everyone who cares a lot about racial justice also supports an expanded welfare state, whereas lots of people who support progressive economic policies have conservative views on racial justice questions.”

The piece proceed to demonstrate this by marching through a series of crosstabs of views on progressive economic positions with views on racial issues. They are well worth your attention (I reproduce one below, but there are quite a few of them.) The piece concludes:

“[I]t’s completely true that left-of-center economic programs advance racial equity.

But nearly all Democrats would continue to advocate for anti-poverty programs even if the poor were a perfectly racially representative group.

Racial issues are fashionable in progressive circles, so it’s useful in intra-progressive status competitions to say that your pet issue has a racial equity angle. But this approach risks losing many more cross-pressured voters than it has any chance of winning.

Whether you think people are skeptical of things that seem to help some races at the expense of others (this is my take), or if you think Americans are simply really racist (probably someone’s take), the conclusion is actually the same: if you want to advance racial justice, you have to win first. And you can’t win by alienating all the populists.

This was conventional wisdom until very recently. Obama knew focusing on race would hurt him, allowing him to be popular enough to win states like Indiana once and Florida, Ohio, and Iowa twice…..

So I don’t think this should be taboo to say: Americans, on average, are in line with (or even to the left of) Democrats on economics, but they are not in line with the Democrats’ new focus on making everything about race, including the very economic ideas that give them a fighting chance to win elections.”

Please read the entire article; it’s an important piece.

Political Strategy Notes

Will Texas become the next mega-state to tilt towards Democrats? “The brutal winter storm that turned Texas roads to ice, burst pipes across the state and left millions of residents shivering and without power has also damaged the reputations of three of the state’s leading Republicans,” Marc Caputo writes at Politico. “Sen. Ted Cruz was discovered to have slipped off to Mexico on Wednesday night, only to announce his return when he was caught in the act. Gov. Greg Abbott came under fire over his leadership and misleading claims about the causes of the power outages. And former Gov. Rick Perry suggested Texans preferred power failures to federal regulation, a callous note in a moment of widespread suffering. It’s more than just a public relations crisis for the three politicians. The storm has also battered the swaggering, Texas brand of free-market governance that’s central to the state’s political identity on the national stage.” Texas Republicans may prefer that Perry, in particular, STFU. As Caputo notes, “Unmentioned by Perry: He was governor in 2011, when experts recommended winterizing the power grid. Perry went on to run for president in 2012, then was reelected governor two years later, ran unsuccessfully for president again in 2016 and served as then-President Donald Trump’s secretary of Energy from 2017 to 2019….“Whether it’s Abbott’s failed response or Cruz’s abandoning of our state, we shouldn’t put people in charge of government who don’t believe in government. They fail us every time,” said former federal Housing Secretary Julián Castro, a Democrat who’s considering a bid against Abbott or Cruz.”

And yesterday, Tim Stelloh reported at nbcnews.com that “An estimated 10 million Texans were waking up without safe drinking water Monday as state officials sought to ramp up bottled water distribution and calm residents whose electricity bills have spiked after a severe winter storm battered the state….Sprawling lines could be seen at distribution sites in some parts of Texas. Vanessa Fuentes, an Austin City Council member, posted avideo showing dozens of cars outside a soccer complex south of downtown Austin….Nearly 700 cases were given out before the event even began at 11 a.m., she said, and at another site, vehicles began lining up five hours before distribution started….”The impact from this devastating crisis will be felt for days,” she tweeted….President Joe Biden has signed a major disaster declaration making federal funding available to counties hit hard by last week’s storm. More than 4 million customers lost power, and at least 22 people have died in connection with the winter weather.” Such are the fruits of the deregulation party.

Nathaniel Rakich has a comprehensive update indicating that “Polls On Reopening Schools Are All Over The Map” at FiveThirtyEight. Rakich reviews all available pol;ling data and observes, “With many schools physically closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents are now balancing their omnipresent concerns over their children’s education, development and emotional well-being with their own lives and careers. And the stress of that has bubbled over to the point where reopening schools is now a major political issue….But despite the increased volume of the debate, public opinion on reopening schools is complicated. The issue is not as black-and-white as many are depicting it, and the variations in wording that pollsters use to ask about it can produce different results….Another problem with the school-reopening debate is that polls about individual elements of the issue are all over the map — giving both those for and against remote learning a number of stats to use to their own advantage….although Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for wobbling on reopening schools (something Biden has promised to do for K-8 schools within his first 100 days), it does not appear to be a political vulnerability for him yet. Morning Consult/Politico found that 52 percent of registered voters trusted Biden to decide whether to reopen schools in the fall versus 40 percent who did not. Quinnipiac also gave Biden a positive net approval rating on his handling of school reopenings (42 percent to 38 percent), including among parents of school-age children (43 percent to 37 percent), although a significant share of respondents (20 percent) had no opinion, suggesting they might be adopting a wait-and-see approach. Lastly, at least one poll (albeit from a liberal sponsor) thinks Biden still has the upper hand on this issue over Republicans. Global Strategy Group and GBAO, polling on behalf of Navigator Research, found in a Jan. 27-Feb. 1 survey that registered voters trusted Biden and Democrats to handle school reopening more than the GOP, 45 percent to 35 percent.”

In his article, “Organizing Going Forward” Steve Rosenthal writes at The American Prospect: “Progressives constantly jury-rig systems to compensate for the lack of deeply rooted, well-funded groups on the ground. For the past several years, many individual and organizational donors have talked about only “investing in building permanent infrastructure.” Yet there is a severe lack of permanent infrastructure to point to in most states. Too many donors tend to be fickle and want immediate results. They move from supporting one organization to another, funding the shiniest new object. And most organizations in recent years have been heavy on staff and light on volunteers….And while the progressive community has now repeated the mantra that we cannot just talk to voters at election time and expect them to participate, talk is cheap. There are too few examples of these types of investments. One notable exception was the organizing work that led to victory in Georgia in 2020. In early January, The New York Times reported that an extraordinary group of mostly women, led by Stacey Abrams, had a ten-year plan to flip Georgia. They executed their program, and donors stood with them instead of bailing after Republicans stole the governor’s race from Abrams in 2018. But what happened in Georgia shouldn’t be the exception….Of course, progressives won’t get everything they want all of the time, and there will always be inequities we need to fight against in this country. Still, we have one of the most pro-worker, racially diverse, and science-believing administrations in our nation’s history. And we have an all-too-rare unified Democratic control of Congress. If we can’t articulate change to voters and keep them informed about how their vote made a difference, what reason will they have to vote for us in the future? Winning in organizing matters—let’s not just tell voters what we will do; let’s be sure to inform them of what we have done and how this is just the beginning.”

Republicans Predictably Over-React to Surge in Voting By Mail

As someone who closely monitored Donald Trump’s campaign against voting by mail in 2020, I am discouraged but not surprised to report that Republican state legislators are now reversing the kinds of access to mail ballots they use to support, as I explained at New York:

Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on voting by mail throughout the 2020 presidential-election cycle were clearly designed to set up a bogus election contest by creating a partisan gap in voting methods, an early Republican lead on Election Night, and a host of empty but redundant claims of voter fraud. But while his effort to reverse the election results failed, his determination to restrict the franchise live on wherever Republicans control the state legislature. According to the Brennan Center for Justice,

“Thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 bills to restrict voting access. These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) slash voter registration opportunities; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges. These bills are an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud that followed the 2020 election.”

While voter-ID requirements, tougher voter-registration procedures, and aggressive voter-roll purges are perennial Republican “ideas” in this era of adverse demographic trends for the GOP, the attack on voting by mail is actually rather new. The big bipartisan trend prior to 2020 was toward liberalized voting by mail, a convenience measure favored in some states by Republicans in particular (most notably in the all-mail-voting jurisdiction of Utah but also in states, such as Florida, with histories of heavy no-excuse absentee voting). All in all, 34 states entered 2020 allowing any registered voter to cast a mail ballot without an excuse, including the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Notably, Republicans controlled the legislatures in all of these states other than Maine.

While Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature approved no-excuse voting by mail in 2019, as Michigan voters had before them in a 2018 ballot initiative, some of the states now looking at mail-ballot restrictions haven’t had them in a long time. Florida’s GOP governor and legislature introduced no-excuse absentee ballots in 2002, as did Georgia’s in 2005. In Arizona, such ballots were first permitted in 1991. Thanks to Trump, there are now strong Republican efforts under way to restrict eligibility in all these states.

The most blatant of them may be in Georgia, where Trump-generated hostility toward voting by mail has been augmented by a flank-covering maneuver from Trump nemesis Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, who refused to “find” the 45th president enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s Georgia victory. Raffensperger, who had already annoyed the White House by proactively sending mail ballots to voters qualified for the 2020 primaries, now backs new excuse requirements and redundant voter-ID rules. Legislation is currently moving in both chambers of the Georgia legislature to accomplish these and other “reforms.” The chief state-senate bill would restrict voting by mail to people who (a) are over 75, (b) have a disability, or (c) are physically absent from the voting jurisdiction on Election Day.

Republicans are promoting a subtler effort to undermine access to mail ballots in Florida. Until now, Florida, like a number of other states, allowed people to register in advance to vote by mail for multiple elections (under current law, someone registering to vote by mail in 202a could continue to do so through 2024). Republican-sponsored legislation would require reregistration for every election cycle.

Particulars aside, these developments show a depressing retreat by Republicans from “convenience voting” measures that, before Trump started attacking them, were considered at least as friendly to Republican voters as to Democrats. The countertrend parallels and reinforces the more general GOP retreat from the very concept of voting as a right rather than a privilege, with the privileged having a thumb on the scales. And it underlines the urgency of federal voting-rights legislation to create a level playing field.

Russo: Rush Limbaugh and the Myth of the Conservative Working Class

The following article, by John Russo, visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor and co-editor of the blog, Working-Class Perspectives, is cross-posted from Newsweek:

Rush Limbaugh, who passed away on Wednesday at age 70, was conservative talk radio’s most flamboyant and influential provocateur. Boasting an audienceof 15 million, Limbaugh is often credited with persuading working-class voters to embrace a Republican Party whose pro-business, free trade economic policies went against working-class interests. As Kevin Wagner, a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, explained, “Limbaugh was on the forefront of trying to take conservative policies and explain them in a way that appeals to a demographic that typically would not favor the Republican Party.” The result, Wagner suggests, can be seen in “the strength of the Republican party has among working-class Americans.”

But is it really true that Limbaugh, who could be misogynistic and racially inflammatory in his broadcast, appealed primarily to the working class? In fact, as Rick Perlstein has suggested, Limbaugh’s listeners are more aptly described as “the petty bourgeoisie, the Joe the Plumbers, the guys with their own bathroom fixture businesses, the middle managers.”

This case of mistaken identity, of misidentifying people who are actually quite comfortable as “working class,” is one that has plagued coverage of American conservatism for years now—and was a crucial error in how people interpreted the participants in the Capitol riot. Many of those arrested after the January 6 riot were middle-class business owners, doctors, lawyers, IT specialists and accountants.

So why do so many continue misidentify them—and former President Trump’s supporters more generally—as working class? We can trace the error back to its grain of truth: the economic displacement that explains why white working-class people are so angry.

Three Generations of Right-Wing Extremists

Looking through the latest news about the January 6 insurrectionists, I spotted a very familiar name, and wrote about it at New York:

Some of those involved in the January 6 Capitol Riot were to most observers anonymous schmoes called to Washington by Donald Trump, while others were familiar to intrepid analysts of the far, far right. But as rioters were called to account for their conduct, one name leaped right off the page, as this HuffPost report explained:

“Leo Brent Bozell IV, the son of conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III, was captured on video inside the Senate chamber during the attack on the U.S. Capitol and has been charged with three federal offenses, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed on Tuesday.

“Bozell is charged with obstructing an official proceeding, entering a restricted building, and disorderly conduct. The complaint features several images of him on the floor of the Senate, where he was wearing a sweatshirt featuring the name of a Christian school where he formerly served as a girls’ basketball coach. Online sleuths focused in on him because of that sweatshirt and posted videos of his activity online.”

Many will recognize Bozell IV as the son and namesake of Brent Bozell III, founder of the Media Research Center and a relentless critic of alleged liberal bias in the mainstream media. Bozell III probably had more to do than any other single person in laying the groundwork for Donald Trump’s assaults on “fake media,” which is ironic since he was initially a very vocal conservative critic of Trump. Like his hero Ted Cruz, though, Bozell came around, and now occupies a pan-Republican position of great influence. He’s never been far from the conservative fringes, however; he was finance chairman for Pat Buchanan’s insurgent presidential campaign in 1992 and was involved in the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference until he split with the event’s organizer in 2012 over its acceptance of a gay Republican group as a participant in the annual conference.

But Bozell IV’s grandfather, Brent Bozell Jr., was arguably a more influential and definitely more radical forebear. The son of an ad executive, Bozell Jr. was William F. Buckley’s best friend and debating partner at Yale, and soon his brother-in-law (he married WFB’s sister Patricia Buckley). Together the two fiery young conservatives wrote the definitive defense of Joseph McCarthy, called McCarthy and His Enemies. Bozell would later ghostwrite Barry Goldwater’s manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative. But it was his conversion to Catholicism in high school that really changed his life and ultimately his political views. As the founder of a journal of “political Catholicism,” Triumph, Bozell became more and more estranged from the more ecumenical conservatism of Buckley, and eventually, from America itself. He even moved for a while to Franco’s Spain to enjoy a society rigidly organized on conservative Catholic lines, and later had his own collision with authority (as Ben Sixsmith explained years later):

“Passive dialogue was not enough for Bozell. He became, as far as I know, the only National Review contributor to be arrested for participating in a disorderly protest when with a group of like-minded Catholics named ‘Sons of Thunder’ – clad, misguidedly, in khakis and red berets – he broke into an abortion clinic with the intention of disrupting its procedures. A journalist for The [Fredericksburg] Free Lance-Star was baffled by the thought of a supposed conservative defying law and order. ‘If disorder is necessary to stop this murder of babies,’ Bozell replied pugnaciously, ‘I’m in favor of disorder.’”

Bozell Jr. suffered from a variety of physical and mental ailments, and spent a good part of his declining years doing charity work among Hispanic immigrants. But he is arguably the ideological father of the culturally authoritarian wing of conservatism that has flourished in the wake of Donald Trump (a sort of Catholic version of Josh Hawley). And for all we know, his willingness to support disorder in the name of his cause could have inspired his grandson.


Political Strategy Notes

In her Politico article, “Reparations bill tests Biden and Harris on racial justice: The House proposal has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans.,” Maya King writes, “Despite the enormity of the task behind the legislation known as H.R. 40 — named for the “40 acres and a mule” that has come to symbolize the post-Civil War government’s failure to help formerly enslaved people — the bill has new political momentum since its last introduction in 2019, when the GOP controlled the White House and Senate. The nationwide protests last summer following George Floyd’s killing have raised public awareness of racial injustice and kick-started a national conversation that advocates for a reparations dialogue see as valuable….What no one knows yet is how committed the White House is to the specific House legislative vehicle, which has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans….If the legislation passes, it would create a commission of more than a dozen experts to review the United States government’s role in supporting enslavement of African Americans from 1619 to 1865 from financial and legal perspectives. It would then recommend to Congress ways to both educate Americans on the legacy of slavery and alleviate its harms.”

However, “Americans are growing increasingly aware of racial inequality in the United States, but a large majority still oppose the use of one-time payments, known as reparations, to tackle the persistent wealth gap between Black and white citizens,” Katanga Johnson reported at Reuters last June. “According to Reuters/Ipsos polls this month, only one in five respondents agreed the United States should use “taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States…A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed clear divisions along partisan and racial lines, with only one in 10 white respondents supporting the idea and half of Black respondents endorsing it…Republicans were heavily opposed, at nearly 80%, while about one in three Democrats supported it. The poll did not ask respondents why they answered the way they did. Other critics have said too much time has passed since slavery was outlawed, and expressed confusion about how it would work.” Yet, “The failure of efforts to offset inequality, beginning with broken promises of farmland for freed slaves after the Civil War, “laid the foundation for the enormous contemporary gap in wealth between Black and White people in the U.S.,” Duke University economist William Darity and writer A. Kirsten Mullen argued in their April book “From Here to Equality.” It appears that any form of cash grants to individuals are a non-starter, politically. But “too bad about your enslaved ancestors, but that was then and this is now” is also a non-starter. While compensatory programs for horrific historical injustices are justified, the term “reparations” remains a tough sell. However, large grants to HBCUs and tuition grants for Black students may be a more promising approach.

In his post, “The Democrats Have An Ambitious Agenda. Here’s What They Should Learn From Obamacare” at FiveThirtyEight, Dan Hopkins writes, “Democrats are back in the driver’s seat, with unified control of the federal government thanks to their Senate wins in Georgia. So, what lessons from their 2010 signature accomplishment should they apply to their efforts to pass legislation in 2021, whether it’s on COVID-19 or climate change?….As a political science professor studying public perceptions of the ACA, I see two core lessons for Democrats to keep in mind. First, to stop high-profile laws from becoming unpopular, it helps to keep them simple. And the ACA was anything but: It sought to increase access to health insurance through a complex patchwork of regulations and other policies, which included creating new health insurance exchanges, expanding Medicaid, adding new rules to guarantee insurance access regardless of preexisting conditions, and mandating that all Americans obtain health insurance….Second, when the public evaluates a complex, multifaceted policy, like the ACA, there is a tendency to focus on its least popular parts. Most of the ACA’s major provisions were actually pretty popular. In a January 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, for instance, 67 percent of respondents said that they were more likely to support health care legislation that created insurance exchanges, while 62 percent said the same about expanding Medicaid. Yet, Obamacare as a whole was viewed unfavorably from 2011 until 2017. That was, in large part, due to one unpopular provision in the law: the individual mandate. In that same 2010 KFF poll, 62 percent said that the health insurance mandate made them less likely to support the bill. And for millions of Americans, the ACA became synonymous with the individual mandate.” Perhaps another lesson is that big package reform is possible only when 60 Senators are in favor of it or with budget reconciliation.

Dylan Scott makes the case that “The Covid-19 relief bill is also an Obamacare expansion bill: Millions of Americans could gain health coverage under the Democrats’ stimulus bill” at Vox. As Scott observes, “The Covid-19 relief package proposed by President Joe Biden and being considered by Democrats in Congress could expand health care coverage to millions of people, the most significant step in the last 10 years toward patching up some of the holes in the Affordable Care Act….The ACA led to a historically low uninsured rate in the US — 8.6 percent in 2016 — but the number of uninsured Americans started ticking up again during the Trump administration, rising to 9.2 percent by 2019. Then millions of people lost their insurance (along with their jobs) during the coronavirus pandemic….The Covid-19 relief plan is trying to move the rate back in the other direction. The most effective provision would be a two-year expansion of the ACA’s premium subsidies, which Americans can use to purchase private health insurance on the marketplaces the law established….Completing the work of universal coverage, which is what Biden’s campaign platform amounted to, will almost assuredly not be accomplished in the president’s first big legislative package. Democrats will likely face a lot of pressure from progressives to go bigger in the next reconciliation bill they pull together….But this is, nevertheless, a start.”