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The Daily Strategist

January 20, 2021

Linkon and Russo: Beyond Economic Populism

The following article, by Sherry Linkon and John Russo of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Predictably, politicos and commentators spent much of 2020 debating why working-class voters supported Trump and how the Democrats could win them back. Although we’ve occasionally contributed to these conversations, we’re also getting tired of them. They tend to envision “the working class” as if it were one group with a well-defined set of interests, and worse, they treat working-class people as a marketing problem. These habits reflect not only the commentators’ distance from the working class but also, for many, a sense of meritocratic superiority to people they view as deluded, foolish, stupid, or even amoral. If we want to improve the lives of the working class, and especially if we want to heal the divisions of American political and public life, we need to reframe the problem.

That should start by resisting any effort to define the working class in any singular way. Simplistic definitions fuel both stereotyping and resentments. Defining based on occupation or income highlights important differences in economic interests, but it doesn’t address the resentments that even many fully-employed, unionized, economically-comfortable working-class people feel in the U.S. today. To define the working class based on the college degree, as many pollsters do, ignores the complex array of forms, amounts, qualities, and outcomes of education. Focusing on one variable, like education, might be necessary in polling, but it erases the relationships among education and occupation, social status, and cultural patterns. Electricians and plumbers may lack college degrees, but their specialized training yields them secure and well-paid work as well as pride in their blue-collar status. Meanwhile, K-12 teachers often have graduate degrees but earn less than plumbers or electricians. If we link class with unions, a common (if outdated) assumption, then we might also note that teachers may be more likely belong to active unions than many industrial workers these days.

One illustration of the problem of simplistic definitions is the either/or debate about how to appeal to “the working class” as a voting bloc: either promote economic populism or talk about racial justice, either embrace the dignity of work or value the dignity of marginalized people. These options suggest that the working class is either white, blue-collar, and struggling economically or Black and Latinx and focused on racial rather than economic justice. If we reject this false choice and envision a working class that includes all of these people, one that might not respond as a bloc to any one political strategy or message, it can seem like we’re ignoring class altogether. Addressing working-class concerns – economic, practical, but also social and cultural – requires more complex thinking about class, culture, and policy.

It doesn’t help that discussions about working-class voters so often focus on how politicians should talk rather than on what they should do. That’s part of why we appreciated the invitation to contribute to a forum in  Social Policy, due out next week,to suggest what the Biden administration could do to help the working class. Simply framing the question in terms of policy rather than politics is a step in the right direction.

We recommended a few fairly obvious actions, starting with getting the coronavirus under control, a concern for everyone but especially for the working class. Even before the pandemic, many working-class people had limited access to good health care, and they were more likely to have underlying medical problems that made them vulnerable to COVID. Contrary to the old blue-collar stereotype, most working-class jobs today are in the service industry, including many of the jobs we now deem “essential” – grocery clerks, nursing assistants, janitors, delivery drivers, postal workers. This has put many workers at risk. Others face economic risks because of lost jobs. To address the needs of the working class, we need to stop the spread of the virus and provide substantial economic relief to ensure that millions of Americans with little or no savings will not lose their homes or go hungry.

To strengthen the economy going forward, the Biden administration should also develop a broader industrial policy that includes infrastructure projects, a buy American program, improved labor laws, improved training opportunities, and a higher minimum wage. All of this will create jobs and improve economic conditions for working people. It can also help address some social problems. Expanded access to health care, improved early childhood and K-12 education, and support for elder and child care could decrease some of the despair that has played out in high rates of drug addition, family violence, and mental health issues for many in the working class.

These are not new ideas, nor are we alone in suggesting them (see, for example, the list from the Economic Policy Institute). But to make a real difference for the working class, Biden and Congress must move beyond talking about these ideas in campaign speeches, as they have done in the past. They need to take significant action.

This will all help, but we need to do more to heal the divisions that leave many in the working class feeling disrespected and aggrieved. That will require a change in attitude from those who so often look down on the working class, smugly certain that they have earned their privileges and are intellectually, culturally, even morally superior to those who are struggling. As philosopher Michael Sandel argues in The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?, the pandemic makes clear both our mutual dependence and the hollowness of the refrain that “we are all in this together.” We failed to come together, he suggests, because of a combination of unprecedented inequality that separates those who succeeded economically have become ever more disconnected from those who are struggling and a deeply-embedded belief that those on top deserve their success because they have the education needed to compete in the global economy. The winners see themselves as better than the losers, and the losers are all too aware that the winners not only don’t care but actually hold them responsible for their own problems. As a result, neither those on the top nor those on the bottom actually believe that we are all in this together.

Sandel argues that we must reject the toxic mix of professional-class hubris and working-class resentment that has shaped so much of our public life in recent years. That will require more than economic populism. We’ve spent a lot of time this year applauding doctors and nurses but we too often ignore the janitors, medical assistants, teachers’ aides, and food service workers who are less visible and widely underpaid, treated with disdain, seen as less valuable, less smart, less human. Raising their wages is a step in the right direction. Sharing their stories is a good start. Real healing will require a step beyond: to genuine respect.

To serve the interests of the working class, we should learn from the model of Bargaining for the Common Good, an organizing strategy that emphasizes connections between the needs of workers and the needs of communities and in the process builds relationships and collective power.  It is time to embrace policies as well as attitudes and relationships that move us all toward a greater sense that we really are in this together.

Teixeira: Time for a Democratic Brand Reset

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

Only a few more days of the Orange One! But Joe Biden and the Democrats have a huge challenge ahead of them in terms both of governance success and future electoral success. At The Liberal Patriot, John Halpin has a lucid analysis of the need for a Democratic brand reset to accomplish all this. You will perhaps recognize some of the themes I have touched on in my posts. But there’s plenty new here as well. I heartily endorse it all–this is exactly the course the Democratic Party needs to chart.

“Given the upcoming transition to unified Democratic control of government, it would be wise for the party as a whole—and the Biden/Harris administration and congressional leaders, in particular—to acknowledge and take steps to fix its image problem. With Republicans facing their own internal fissures post-Trump, the House majority on the line, and Democrats locked out of many state legislatures, governorships, and Senate seats across the country, the party needs to think clearly about strategies that add voters to its ranks rather than subtract them.

Unfortunately, to many voters, the Democratic party is the one where you get handed a list of 25 rules at the door about what you can and can’t say; and cliques of people—probably lawyers—whisper and size people up; and you can’t find a beer and you just want to get the hell out before the lecture on “Structural Normativity and Late-Capitalist Hegemony” gets going.

Instead, the Democrats need to be the party where people of all backgrounds get together to ensure that everyone has a job and health care. The party that stands up for American workers and businesses in the world, and that fights the bullies and thugs who prey on the vulnerable and weak. The party that welcomes new people and has their back and doesn’t cast out anyone who looks, talks, or thinks differently. The party that believes in a fair shot for everyone and special privileges for none….

With a new Biden administration taking office, it is time for a reset. What needs to be done? This is not an exhaustive list but here are a few ideas to help get the Democratic brand back on track as the party of the people, not the elites.”

Read it all! Halpin’s ideas for the reset are spot on.

Political Strategy Notes

Matthew Yglesias explains how “On Day One, Biden Can Start Winning the Midterms” at Blooomberg Opinon: “Job No. 1 (and 2, 3 and 4) is delivering a rapid economic recovery. A big, quick Covid relief bill such as the one Biden unveiled last week would go far toward achieving that, which in turn underscores the need to get something done fast rather than advance ideological pet projects. As negotiations proceed over what and how much to include in this and future relief bills, Democrats should favor easily understandable policies — like sending $1,400 checks to everyone — rather than convoluted and opaque measures…. instead of being coy about it as they were during the 2020 campaign, Democrats should be loud and proud about the fact that the state and local financial assistance they are pledging to deliver in the next relief package is funding the police —and that, by opposing state and local aid, Republicans are in effect defunding the police….Biden cannot afford to settle for a slow recovery. He needs to break 21st century growth records in 2021 in order to position workers for strong wage gains in 2022….Biden also needs to do everything in his power to center the national political agenda on popular progressive ideas such as raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana and investing in clean energy. Progressives often tell themselves that this is exactly what they intend to do before getting derailed by things like linking Covid relief to immigration amnesty….For Democrats, the key to success in 2022 is a disciplined agenda in 2021.”

The Des Moines Register editorial Board offers “6 priorities Joe Biden should pursue immediately through executive action to undo the damage done by Trump” including: Restoring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; return the U.S. to the Iran nuclear deal; Reinstate regulations and repair the nation’s framework of environmental protections; Hold for-profit colleges accountable foer their abuses of federal aid programs; and Revoke the gag on health providers, which prevents physicians from making referrals to abortion providers; Shoring up the Affordable Care Act – Trump’s “administration slashed funds to promote Obamacare insurance, shortened the open enrollment period to buy private coverage, welcomed back junk health “plans” that do not cover essential health services, and cleared the way for states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients.,,,,We should say goodbye to all of that….The Biden administration can also refuse to allow states to privatize Medicaid programs, which could finally put an end to the costly privatization mess in Iowa, with its record of eroding service and delaying payments to providers.”

At The Hill, Amitai Etzioni urges, “Invoking the War Powers Act (WPA) would enable President Biden to use unique capacities provided in the act to accelerate the vaccination of Americans, without waiting for Congress to confirm his Cabinet members, hold hearings on the needed budget and so on. (The Washington Post reports that “Biden’s incoming administration is in danger of not having a single Cabinet official confirmed on Inauguration Day, upsetting a tradition going back to the Cold War of ensuring the president enters office with at least part of his national security team in place.”)….Drawing on the WPA (as well as on the Defense Production Act, which Biden is already planning to invoke) would allow for rapid, effective, multifaceted domestic mobilization. The statutes enable the president to order corporations that manufacture vaccines to increase their production. If they need additional resources that are not available through the marketplace, the president can order these materials to be turned over to these corporations, compensating those that will be forced to give them up.”

David Roberts aregues that “Joe Biden should do everything at once: How to succeed in hyperpolarized politics: run a blitz” at Vox: “The only thing Biden will have real control over is his administration and what it does. And his North Star, his organizing principle, should be doing as much good on as many fronts as fast as possible. Blitz….Biden’s best chance is to try to overwhelm the system the way Trump did, by doing so much that it’s impossible to make any one thing into a lasting story. He should launch so many simultaneous reforms that there’s no time for right-wing media to make up lies about all of them or for the Supreme Court to hear them all. He should ignore bad-faith attacks and stay relentlessly on message about what’s gotten done and what’s getting done next. He should, at every juncture, get caught trying to make government work better for ordinary people….To succeed, all this must happen alongside Democratic Party efforts to improve messaging and media, get persistent party infrastructure on the ground in communities the party has neglected, and innovate on voter outreach and persuasion. (Aaron Strauss has some good ideas on that front.)”

Assessing Senate Republicans Before the Impeachment Trial

Now that a Senate impeachment trial is going to happen sooner or later, I took a skeptical look at possible Senate Republican supporters of conviction at New York:

The brisk and successful drive to a second impeachment of Donald Trump and his ebbing power in Washington have raised some hopes that this time around the U.S. Senate might actually convict him of high crimes and misdemeanors and bar him from future office (since the calendar will take care of removing him from the one he occupies now). Predictions that this could happen appear to be based largely on the relatively low level of Senate Republican support for Trump’s electoral-vote protests on January 6, and a surge of questionably sourced claims that Mitch McConnell might actually support conviction.

It’s worth taking a closer look at how many Republican senators might reasonably be expected to throw Trump into the dustbin of history. Seventeen GOP senators would have to break ranks to convict him on the “incitement to insurrection” impeachment article, assuming Democrats stick together (and that’s not certain given Joe Manchin’s comments suggesting that it’s unnecessary and an obstacle to future bipartisanship). After conviction, only a simple majority would be needed to prohibit Trump from holding future office. Who might these Republican defectors be, in theory?

Mitt Romney, who voted to convict and remove Trump from office in February 2020, can be expected to do the same the second time around. Another regularly anti-Trump Republican, Ben Sasse, might go along with the more concrete “incitement to insurrection” accusation this time around. You could probably place Pat Toomey, an outspoken opponent of Trump’s election-coup efforts, in the same category as Sasse; he’s also announced he’s retiring at the end of his term in 2022. Other Republican senators prone to rebellion now and then are Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, against whom Trump has pledged to campaign in 2022, and Maine’s Susan Collins, the one Republican senator reelected in a state carried by Joe Biden in November. That’s five senators, though none of them is a lead-pipe certainty for conviction.

Senators Leaving Office or Fighting for Reelection in 2022

One theory of the case is that Republicans who have nothing to lose because they are lame ducks might defect at the end of an impeachment trial — as might senators in tough 2022 reelection contests. Aside from Toomey, the one Republican senator who is definitely headed for the exit in 2022 is North Carolina’s Richard Burr, who said on January 6 that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack on the Capitol, and has reportedly expressed contempt toward the 45th president in private. So you can put him down as a possible if still unlikely (Burr is hardly a boat-rocker) conviction supporter.

Another possibility is Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who will turn 89 in 2022 when his current term ends, and who has said Trump has forfeited any opportunity for future leadership of the GOP. On the other hand, the fitness fanatic Grassley could well run again in 2022, when offending Trump supporters could be precisely the kind of thing that might attract a primary challenge to an otherwise unassailable veteran. And his suggestion that Trump has already disqualified himself from a 2024 comeback could ironically help Grassley argue that making it official is unnecessary.

There’s not a lot of fodder for conviction among the 16 other Republicans likely to run for reelection in 2022 (excluding the aforementioned Murkowski). Only one, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, is in a state carried by Joe Biden, and he’s been one of the most hard-core supporters of Trump and his election-fraud claims. Most are in deep-red states where their major political concern would be a primary challenge.

2024 Presidential Aspirants

The Republican senators who would have the most to gain from Trump being sidelined in 2024 are those who have aspirations to succeed him as the GOP presidential nominee: Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Marco Rubio, just to name the most obvious presidential wannabes. But without question, the political calculation for any of them would begin with a hope that they could inherit some or all of Trump’s fervent supporters, and any real chance of the 2024 nomination might end with being labeled an enemy of MAGA. So while these worthies might hope Trump is convicted, they will not want their fingerprints on the weapon that denied Republicans the opportunity to seek vengeance and vindication for him.

If there is a possibility of a 2024 aspirant trying to stand out by taking on Trump and his legacy, it could be Cotton, the most outspoken dissenter toward Trump’s attempted election coup in the group, or possibly the supremely opportunistic Graham, who might stop sucking up to the former president after he leaves office. But the safer course for all of them is to find some excuse for voting no at the end of a Senate trial, with or without public expressions of solidarity for Trump. Cotton has already issued a statement opposing a postpresidential trial as unconstitutional.

Constitutional Sticklers

Two Republican senators, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, style themselves as more loyal to the Constitution than to any party or politician, and both have occasionally given Trump problems (while generally currying his favor). But for that very reason, they will likely be convinced by conservative constitutional scholars, like Michael Luttig, who argue that any textual analysis of the Constitution prohibits an impeachment proceeding against a former president (an argument already endorsed by Tom Cotton). And in general, that will be a convenient excuse for a no vote across the ranks of Senate Republicans.

The McConnell Factor

Mitch McConnell is notorious for valuing doubt about his intentions, so all the blind quotes from those said to be familiar with his thinking on an impeachment trial should be accordingly discounted. His own statement that he is “open” to a conviction is indeed different from his public admissions before the first impeachment trial that he was closely coordinating with the White House on a defense for the president. But it’s still literally and figuratively an expression of the formal neutrality customary for all senators before an impeachment trial, not a veiled signal that he’s going to send Trump to political hell. The two things we know for sure about McConnell is that he’s not going to go against a majority of his conference on anything important and that he’s already ensured, by refusing to reconvene the Senate until January 19, a trial managed by Chuck Schumer.

With Joe Biden taking office and testing Republican unity early and often, you have to assume McConnell isn’t going to divide his troops or lead them into a massive intraparty fight. Maybe he’ll give the signal that further defections are all right if a majority of Republican senators are onboard for convicting Trump, but he probably won’t do a single thing to make that happen.

Why Most GOP Senators Are Likely to Oppose Conviction

Despite strong bipartisan elite fury and dismay over Trump’s conduct leading up to and during the January 6 crisis, “the base” hasn’t abandoned him in any significant way. Yes, he’s losing some support across the board, but not enough to embolden Republican rebels. A new Axios-Ipsos survey dramatically shows the current public opinion dynamics: A majority of Americans now favor removing Trump from office, but “a majority of Republicans still think Trump was right to challenge his election loss, support him, don’t blame him for the Capitol mob and want him to be the Republican nominee in 2024.” Among the more than one-third of Republicans who appear to identify with Trump more than with their party, support for Trump 2024 — which of course conviction in the Senate would make impossible — is at an astronomical 92 percent.

Republican senators will be reluctant to fight that sentiment, particularly since there are so many ways they could vote against convicting Trump without condoning his conduct. As his presidency quickly recedes into the background, Senate sentiment for formally burying him may recede as well.

But the most powerful excuse for doing nothing will be the plea (ironic as it might be coming from Trump-era Republicans) we heard so often during the impeachment debate in the House: that the country needs healing as it moves from the Trump presidency to Biden’s. It’s an argument that was clearly not available during the first impeachment trial, which occurred on the brink of the most intensely combative presidential election in living memory. Implicit in a let’s-move-on posture is the belief (stated or unstated) that Trump’s grip on the GOP will fade quickly as his proximity to the power he has lost — and to the social-media platforms he has been denied — grows more distant. Senate Republicans may accept his fall from grace, but don’t count on them to give him a push.

Pew Research Study: Biden Has Public Support Needed for Key Reforms

Some insights from “Biden Begins Presidency With Positive Ratings; Trump Departs With Lowest-Ever Job Mark: 68% of public does not want Trump to remain a major political figure in the future,” based on a study by The Pew Research Center, “conducted Jan. 8-12 among 5,360 U.S. adults, including 4,040 who say they voted in the presidential election”:

As Joe Biden prepares to take office just days after a deadly riot inside the U.S. Capitol, 64% of voters express a positive opinion of his conduct since he won the November election. Majorities also approve of Biden’s Cabinet selections and how he has explained his plans and policies for the future.

Donald Trump is leaving the White House with the lowest job approval of his presidency (29%) and increasingly negative ratings for his post-election conduct. The share of voters who rate Trump’s conduct since the election as only fair or poor has risen from 68% in November to 76%, with virtually all of the increase coming in his “poor” ratings (62% now, 54% then).

Trump voters, in particular, have grown more critical of their candidate’s post-election conduct. The share of his supporters who describe his conduct as poor has doubled over the past two months, from 10% to 20%.

The study notes further that “About two-thirds (68%) say Trump should not continue to be a major national political figure for many years to come; just 29% say he should remain a major figure in U.S. politics.” Also, “A narrow majority of Americans (54%) say it would be better for the country for Trump to be removed from office, with Vice President Mike Pence finishing the last few days of his term…” However,  “45% say Trump should remain in office until his term ends Jan. 20.”

The survey also found that “Among voters overall, 65% say Biden definitely or probably “received the most votes cast by eligible voters in enough states to win the election”; 54% say he definitely won the most votes.” Yet, “34% incorrectly say Trump definitely or probably was the rightful election winner.”

In addition, “57% – approve of Biden’s Cabinet choices and other high-level appointments. Almost half (46%) expect Biden to improve the way the federal government in Washington, D.C., works, while 28% say he will make things worse; 24% say he will not have much of an effect.”

Clearly, President-elect Biden and his fellow Democrats have reason to be hopeful that they have adequate political capital to enact major elements parts of their legislative agenda, such as pandemic vaccination acceleration and Biden’s stimulus proposals. But the thin margins they hold in congress will require successful bipartisan oputreach to enact many Democratic priorities.

Political Strategy Notes

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to flip the hourglass and put impeachment on rapid track in the House is a done deal, and now impeachment papers will reportedly be sent to the senate very soon. Majority Leader McConnell’s choice about his personal support for convicting, or merely barring him from holding office (14th amendment, section 3) is still pending as of this writing. It’s a trickier call for Republican leaders. who have to decide not if, but how they want to divide their party, in favor of the voices for moderation and dignity restoration vs. more red meat for Trump’s trogs. In any case, President-elect Biden should refrain as much as possible from even mentioning Trump’s name going forward. He should focus instead on taking charge, and putting pandemic vaccinations and economic stimulus to help working Americans front and center. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to shrink inauguration festivities even further in the name of containing pandemic exposure and enhancing security.

Now that Trump has been impeached, it’s all about Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and whether he will lead his party toward Trump’s conviction or not. As Nick Niedzwiadek notes in “McConnell says he hasn’t ruled out convicting Trump in Senate trial” at Politico, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican colleagues on Wednesday that he had yet to make up his mind on the fate of President Donald Trump, ahead of a House vote to impeach the president later in the day…..“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote in a letter.” As of this writing, it’s unclear whether McConnell is doing a media strip-tease and knows exactly what he is going to do, or if he is truly undecided, which would be understandible, consideing the consequences. It’s essentually a choice between pisssing off the energetic pro-Trump base, or restoring a semblance of credibility and dignity to his party to win back some centrist voters. It’s all about which path gives him power. Expect drama. Regardless of McConnel’s choice, Democrats should stay focused on what the Biden Admonistration should do to check the pandemic, rebuild the economy and brand Democrats as the party of all working Americans.

Some good news from the Institute of Politics Civility poll, conducted by Republican pollster and former GU Politics Fellow Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake between January 4, 2021 and January 7, 2021: “Despite deep political polarization and levels of civil and political unrest not seen in a generation, American voters are cautiously optimistic about the future of our politics, according to the most recent Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) Civility Poll…..Just one week ahead of the Biden-Harris Inauguration (with its stated theme of “America United”), more than half (56%) of Americans are at least somewhat optimistic President-Elect Joe Biden can restore civility and unity in our politics, an issue at the forefront of his campaign. A full 9 in 10 Americans (92%) want the President and Congress to work together to solve our most important problems, and 63% think President-Elect Biden and Congress will be at least somewhat successful in this effort, including 44% of Republicans….The poll asked voters to rate on a scale of 0-100 the level of political division in America, with 100 being the highest level. Asked their view of the level of division now, the mean response was 76. But when asked to consider where their view will be in one year, the mean response was 65, an improvement of more than ten points.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the Georgia senate flip is how pro-Democratic activists got fierce about challenging the state’s voter suppression practices. Sam Levine rolls it out in “They always put other barriers in place’: how Georgia activists fought off voter suppression” at The Guardian: “Suppression has become more brazen in Georgia, overcoming it has become a core part of the work that Abrams and other organizers have done to mobilize the new electorate in the state. This work is not glamorous, focused on helping new voters navigate a bureaucracy designed to make it more difficult to vote. It’s making calls to voters to ensure they know their polling place, explaining how to fill out a mail-in ballot, and making sure they aren’t wrongly purged from the voter rolls. But the multi-year investment in overcoming voting barriers significantly contributed to organizers’ success in Georgia this year.” Looking ahead, Georgia GOTV activists will face a new challenge. ” Georgia Republicans have already signaled they plan to move ahead with new restrictions on vote-by-mail after an election in which a record number of people used the process.”

Nixon, Trump and the Damage Done to Their Party

As the House moved towards impeaching Trump, at New York I did some comparisons of the consequences for the GOP compared to the Nixon disaster back in 1974:

As the Republican Party reels from Donald Trump’s seditious effort to overturn Joe Biden’s election and the impeachment it has earned him, diagnoses of the party’s malady range from fatal to weakened to sick but purged and recovering. But it’s worth remembering this isn’t the first time observers thought the party was facing an existential crisis from which it might not recover.

In October 2016, for example, Republicans were running for the hills after it was revealed that their presidential candidate had boasted of being able to get away with sexual assault, using crude terms that had to insult every woman in America. Twelve years ago, after Barack Obama’s election and a Democratic congressional landslide, there was talk of the GOP being demographically doomed unless it undertook fundamental changes to recruit new kinds of voters.

So prophecies of disaster often don’t come true. But the moment in living Republican memory that most resembles what we are experiencing today occurred in 1974, when another disgraced president scurried toward Marine One in flight from the White House: Richard Nixon.

Then, as now, Republicans stuck with their embattled and scandal-ridden president for a long time before evidence of extreme conduct (e.g., Nixon’s “smoking gun” tape and Trump’s January 6 speech inciting the riot) wrecked their unity and confidence. Then, as now, the leader had to be pushed out the door. Then, as now, there was even talk of the GOP being displaced by a new third party (today, a Trumpist “populist” party, then a Reagan-led conservative party uniting business constituencies with blue-collar workers and Southerners).

But there are some very important differences in the condition of the GOP at the endgame of these two disastrous presidencies.

Trump Has More Rank-and-File Support

In the final Gallup survey before his resignation, Nixon’s job-approval rating among Republicans was at 50 percent, and 31 percent of Republicans favored his resignation. According to a NPR/Marist survey, Trump’s job-approval rating from Republicans is at 77 percent (with 64 percent “strongly” approving), and only 15 percent of Republicans support steps to remove him from office before his term expires.

“Moving on” from Trump won’t be as easy as it was for Republicans to put Nixon in the rearview mirror, in part because they retained the White House under his successor, Gerald Ford, and in part because there was zero fear of Nixon making another comeback.

Republicans Were Consolidating an Enduring Majority Back Then, Not Now

While Nixon’s disgrace and resignation temporarily plunged his party into crisis (exemplified by the “Watergate Election” midterm Democratic landslide that occurred less than three months after Nixon left office) it’s important to remember that he won a second term by a landslide in 1972, and that the Democratic Party was in the middle of a chronic ideological crisis. Democrats won 43 percent of the popular vote for president in 1968 and 38 percent in 1972. They got a temporary respite when one-time southern voters and those disgusted by Watergate gave Jimmy Carter 50 percent in 1976, but they were back down to 41 percent in 1980 and didn’t win a popular-vote majority again until 2008. Republicans didn’t have much rebounding to do at all: They came within an eyelash of winning in 1976 and didn’t lose the presidency again until 1992.

Now it’s Republicans who are on a long-term popular-vote losing streak in presidential contests (from 1992 through 2020, with the exception of 2004). And the GOP is famously on the wrong side of demographic trends that are shrinking its coalition rooted in older white voters and expanding the opposition’s younger and more diverse base. Yes, they enjoy more robust power than their actual support merits thanks to the distorting effects of the Senate, the Electoral College, and gerrymandering of House and state legislative districts. But it’s not like they have a stiff wind at their backs as they seek to recover from a lost presidential election and now a doubly impeached president.

Post-Nixon Republicans Had a Movement and a Leader. Where’s That Now?

Despite his many years of service to his party and some genuine (if often “liberal”) policy accomplishments, Nixon had no clear ideology and no enthusiastic personal following. He sometimes pandered to and sometimes thwarted the steadily rising conservative movement that had achieved a false dawn under Barry Goldwater in 1964, but when Nixon crashed and burned in the Watergate scandal, conservatives (rooted in the South and West, where Republicans were in the ascendancy) were ready to assume leadership of the GOP. And their almost universally acknowledged leader, Ronald Reagan, very nearly won the presidential nomination in 1976 over Ford, and won the whole ball game four years later. Reagan’s 1984 reelection slogan was: “It’s Morning in America,” but it was morning in America for the conservative movement and its Republican Party in 1980.

There is no obvious ideological successor to the traditional Republican conservatism Trump swept away in 2016, and no leader waiting in the wings. Complex Republican taxonomies are a dime a dozen these days. No one thinks “Trumpism” is entirely dead as a popular movement and a distinct — if often incoherent — creed. But nor will Trump and his family conveniently step aside to enable the emergence of a “Trumpism Without Trump.” Yes, Republicans may achieve an artificial unity in seeking to thwart the new Biden administration. But the kind of positive momentum the GOP achieved in the 1980s and 1990s — and even in the early days of the George W. Bush administration — requires a hymnbook and a choir leader. Neither seem on the horizon right now.

Republicans May Not Be Ready to Move On

It all adds up to a real problem for the party Trump is damaging on his way out the door: Its voters may not let go of him, and he may not go away. And in the meantime, the problems Republicans worried about before the 45th president pushed them in a new (if self-destructive) direction haven’t been solved by his defeat and disgrace. If they can somehow get their act together quickly, 2022 could be a Republican comeback year in which they take control of Congress again and prepare to reconquer the White House. But the confusion in Republican ranks in Washington and increasingly around the country as to whether Trump is a victimized saint or a delusional villain does not bode well for a quick recovery from the furies he unleashed.

Silver: GA Runoff Election’s Powerful Impact

The significance of the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections have been overshadowed by the media coverage of Trump’s goon riot in the U.S. capitol. Fortunately, Nate Silver provides an insightful take on the Warnock and Ossoff victories at FiveThirtyEight. As Silver notes,

“…Having a Senate majority is a big deal. It means that Democrats should be able to confirm Supreme Court justices and President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet. They’ll likely be able to pass additional COVID-19 stimulus legislation at the very least, along with other budgetary policies through reconciliation. Other policy changes would require eliminating the filibuster — unlikely — or getting cooperation from enough Republicans. But at least Democrats will have the chance to bring to the floor election-reform bills like H.R. 1 and policies like Puerto Rico statehood, giving them a fighting chance instead of having Majority Leader Mitch McConnell squash them from the start.

And symbolically? Well, it’s Georgia. With the possible exception of Texas, no other state has been as much of a symbol of an emerging Democratic coalition of college-educated white voters and high turnout among Black voters and other minority groups. Both Warnock and Ossoff are breakthrough candidates, not the moderate, white Blue Dogs that Democrats have traditionally nominated in Georgia. Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, will become the first Black senator from Georgia and the first Black Democrat ever to serve in the U.S. Senate from the South. Ossoff will become the youngest senator elected since Biden, in 1973, and the first Jewish senator elected to the U.S. Senate from the South since the 1880s.

Then there’s the fact that the runoffs came during a lame-duck period in which — in a predicate to Wednesday’s violence — Trump and other Republicans tried to overturn and subvert the results of the election and undermine faith in the democratic process. If Republicans get the message that anti-democratic actions have negative electoral consequences, they may be less inclined to push democracy to the brink in the future.”

To all of the above, we might also add that the GA Senate runoff elections complete Trump’s loser trifecta — during his term, he has booted the White House, the House of Representatives and now the Senate to the opposition party. Republicans who cling to him as he circles the drain run the risk of looking like dimwits when they next run for re-election.

Teixeira: How Can the Democrats Press Their Advantage?

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

Republicans are in disarray after the disastrous Georgia election. As Sabato’s Crystal Ball put it, Democrats now have the “51 percent trifecta” that will shortly allow them to control the Presidency, Senate and House, albeit with thin majorities that could easily disappear in the 2022 midterms. How can Democrats make the best of their current opportunity and maximize their chances of retaining political control for more than two years?

It seems obvious that the less the country and political debates focus around Donald Trump in the next six months, the better off Democrats will be and the more they’ll be able to get done. For better or worse, it now seems minimizing Trump-centered politics will have the challenge of a second Trump impeachment. That train, as they say, seems to have left the station.

Whatever else a House vote for impeachment may accomplish, nobody seems to be arguing that it will actually help Biden organize and pass his legislative agenda. The preferred argument is that it won’t really matter. I find this highly dubious but the best way I can think of to at least minimize damage is to delay the Senate trial as long as possible–Clyburn has suggested 100 days–or, even better, never have it, since it will hoover up political oxygen and is highly unlikely to actually result in a conviction (the only way, people should be reminded, that Trump can be prevented from running again in 2024; a second impeachment by the House has no effect on this).

So that brings us back to the necessity of large-scale action to beat the COVID pandemic and deliver enough stimulus to rapidly restore the economy to health. Without successful action along these lines, Trumpism could easily come roaring back; the idea that impeaching Trump and otherwise holding him to account is the key to preventing this is a chimera.

Therefore, Democrats and the left need to exert some discipline in the months ahead and resist the temptation to talk endlessly about Trump, Trump, Trump. That is what he wants. Instead they need a laser focus on improving the country’s situation fast and broadening the Democrats’ coalition. That is the best way to undercut Trumpism and fragment his support.

The alternative could be grim. A surge in white working class turnout and GOP support could easily sink the Democrats in 2022. Don’t think it couldn’t happen. The Democrats’ 51 percent trifecta is mighty fragile.

Political Strategy Notes

Harry Enten reports that “A historic percentage of Americans want Trump removed from office” at CNN Politics: “A look across polls conducted since riots at the Capitol on Wednesday shows that a clear plurality of Americans overall want Trump out of office, even as President-elect Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated on January 20….You can see that well in an ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Sunday. The majority (56%) say Trump should be removed from office, while just 43% believe he should not be removed….An average across polls since Wednesday (in which no pollster is counted more than once) shows that 50% of Americans want Trump to either be impeached, for the 25th Amendment to be invoked or for Trump to resign from office. The minority (43%) say that none of these should occur….The high percentage of Americans who want Trump out of office comes as House Democrats are already planning to introduce an impeachment resolution against Trump as soon as Monday.”

However, John Judis warns, “Democrats: Impeachment is a Political Trap” at Talking Points Memo: “If Democrats vote this week to impeach Trump, the Senate won’t take up the question of conviction until after the inauguration.  The Georgia election may not be certified until January 22, so at that point, the new majority leader Chuck Schumer can take up the question. A trial could take weeks, and would consume the news and the attention of Congress. The Democrats may not get the two-thirds vote it needs in the Senate to convict him. And in any case, Trump will be gone. What’s the point? To make it impossible for Trump, then 78, to run for office again? Nothing would benefit the Democrats more than another Trump bid….Politics is not a simple matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of priorities. Yes, Trump did wrong, he is a bad guy. But the country is in the grips of a pandemic – over 4000 people died on Thursday – and in December, the country lost 140,000 more jobs. The Democrats have to focus on that not on Trump….people outside the Beltway who make up the majorities Democrats need to govern are far more worried about the pandemic and recession than they are about impeaching Trump. And the Democrats can’t do an adequate job of both.”

Noting that “Republicans got a sizable Election Day turnout, but Democrats built a big enough lead in pre-Election Day voting to withstand their onslaught” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman write: “Given the close outcomes in Georgia, any number of factors could have tipped the races the other way. It seems reasonable to suggest that if Trump had accepted his presidential loss, Republicans could have more easily made the Senate runoffs a referendum on unified Democratic control of Washington and perhaps generated a bit more crossover support to have held the seats, and the Senate. After all, Republicans did finish ahead of Democrats in the initial voting in both Senate races back in November. We doubt that the president’s late-breaking support of $2,000 stimulus checks helped the Republicans, either, as it immediately threw cold water on the $600 stimulus checks that Congress approved in advance of the election….But for now, the Democratic victories in Georgia give President-elect Joe Biden more breathing room for getting his Cabinet and judicial appointments through the Senate and for pursuing his legislative agenda.” A Georgia county turnout map from their article:

For capsule profiles of each Georgia County, click here and scroll down to chart. For in-depth demographic profiles of each county, click on the “FIPS code” column in the chart.

From “Georgia Runoff Takeaways from the Cook Political Report Editors“: Editor and Publisher Charlie Cook writes, “This may also impact what may be going on in polling. Interestingly the polling in Georgia over this year appeared to be quite accurate, both in the regular general election and the runoff….The Senate Democratic agenda can only be as liberal/progressive as the least liberal/progressive Democratic senators — the lowest common denominator. Sens. Joe Manchin, Kirsten Sinema, Jon Tester, Chris Coons and a half dozen other Democrats may well be the screening committee for the Senate Democratic agenda items, what does not pass muster with them or with any Republicans is not likely to pass the Senate.” Looking toward the next midterm election, Senate Editor Jessica Taylor adds, “Democrats certainly have vulnerable members — including newly-elected Sens. Mark Kelly and Arizona and now Raphael Warnock in Georgia who have to run again in 2022 for a full term. But state parties and the base in those states seem unwilling to understand the direction that demographic shifts have changed their states, hence why both Martha McSally (in 2018 too) and Kelly Loeffler had to move to the far, far right just to survive primaries — positions that then doomed them in the general even as each was supposed to appeal to suburban women voters.”