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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A New Approach for Democrats

TDS Strategy Memo Published by Washington Monthly

A New Approach for Democrats

The Washington Monthly has just published a thought-provoking analysis by TDS Contributing Editor Andrew Levison that suggests an alternative to the usual conception of the Democratic Party as an amorphous “big Tent.”

The Daily Strategist

May 21, 2019

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “The Democrats’ Age Divide Is Defining the 2020 Primary: Joe Biden’s edge with older voters is his greatest asset so far in the race” in The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein shares some revealing stats: “His greatest strength is his appeal to older Democratic voters, both white and African American, who are typically more ideologically moderate and more politically pragmatic. For the 76-year-old Biden, that’s an acceptable trade-off because voters older than 45 cast fully 60 percent of all votes in the 2016 Democratic primary, according to a cumulative CNN analysis of all the exit polls conducted that year…Only a little more than one-fifth of Democratic voters ages 45 and older described themselves as very liberal in 2016; about twice as many described themselves as moderate or conservative…In CNN’s first national poll after Biden entered, the former vice president drew 45 percent of likely Democratic primary voters older than 45, four times as much as Sanders, his nearest rival. Among voters younger than 45, Biden also led, but only by 31 percent to 19 percent…In Pennsylvania, a Quinnipiac University pollreleased Wednesday showed Biden and Sanders running about even among voters younger than 50, but Biden leading him by almost 12 to one among those who are older.”

Perry Bacon, Jr., however, takes a different slant the age issue in “A Lot Of Americans Say They Don’t Want A President Who Is Over 70. Really?” and observes at FiveThirtyEight that, “Gallup recently released new data on Americans’ willingness to vote for presidential candidates with certain traits. About 1,000 adults were asked1whether they’d vote for a well-qualified candidate who was nominated by their party and was black, gay or had one of 10 other characteristics that are rarely or never seen in presidential nominees…Almost all Americans said they’d be comfortable voting for a woman (94 percent), or a Catholic (95 percent), Hispanic (95 percent) or black (96 percent) candidate. But there are characteristics that big swaths of Americans said would be disqualifying — in particular being older than 70, being an atheist and being a socialist.” However, notes bacon, “Thirty-seven percent of Republicans said they would not back a GOP presidential candidate over the age of 70. Well … yep, President Trump was 70 on Election Day in 2016, and he’ll be 74 in 2020.”

A Gallup Poll chart from Bacon’s article:

What types of candidates would Americans NOT vote for?

Share of respondents to an April survey who said they would not vote for a “generally well-qualified” presidential candidate from their own party if the candidate had each of the following characteristics

Socialist 24% 48% 80% 51%
Atheist 28 33 56 39
Older than 70 35 37 37 37
Muslim 14 26 62 33
Younger than 40 21 28 34 28
Gay or lesbian 17 18 39 24
Evangelical Christian 27 20 6 18
Jewish 5 9 5 7
Woman 3 6 9 6
Catholic 4 6 3 5
Hispanic 3 3 8 5
Black 1 4 5 3


For an update on the presidential candidates in relation to labor unions, read Tara Golshan’s “2020 Democrats’ battle for union support, explained” at vox.com. Some of Golshan’s insights: “Union members “vote at higher rates than most Americans, they are mobilized, they are in important states,” Paul Frymer, a political scientist with Princeton University who has written on the labor movement, said. “The union movement is a big part of the Democratic Party — there isn’t another mobilized coalition like it. They are the biggest civil rights movement in the country.”… Golshan notes that front-runners Biden and Sanders are at odds on some trade issues, with Sanders taking a more protectionist stance. “In an AFL-CIO poll of its members,” Golshan writes, “65 percent said they opposed NAFTA, and 72 percent said the TPP would have been bad for American workers, leading to outsourced jobs and lower wages…”

Golshan adds, “Exit polling from the 2016 presidential election showed Trump trailing Clinton by only 8 points among union households — a significant improvement from Mitt Romney, who trailed Barack Obama by 18 points with those same voters. Those numbers, in part, reflect a shift among white men, according to data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study.”..FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver put it in terms of the 2016 election results in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, which Trump won by razor-thin margins to claim the presidency. In 2016, Clinton underperformed Obama among union members by 18 points. “That roughly 18-point swing was worth a net of 1.2 percentage points for Trump in Pennsylvania, 1.1 points in Wisconsin and 1.7 points in Michigan based on their rates of union membership — and those totals were larger than his margins of victory in those states…”

A DLCC e-blast notes that “Pennsylvania, more than almost any other state, helped put Donald Trump in the White House and Trump’s allies in charge of the Senate. This Tuesday, we have a chance to turn the tide and start pushing this key swing state back into the Democratic column…In just a few days, Pennsylvania will hold three special elections for their legislature, and these races are going to be tough…They’re happening in some of the reddest seats in the state, and they’re easily our most daunting challenge yet in the Trump era…Just last month, Democrat Pam Iovino — an exemplary public servant facing daunting odds — flipped a seat that backed Trump by nearly 6 points.
A blue Pennsylvania is within our grasp…” And yes, you can help by clicking here, and doing your part.

At The Daily Beast, Allison Quinn argues that “GOP Congressman Justin Amash’s Impeachment Call Boosts Pressure on Pelosi.” As Quinn explains, “Many were quick to wonder aloud why it was a Republican lawmaker making the case for impeachment rather than top Democrat Pelosi, who has called Trump “unfit” for the presidency but come out against impeachment, saying it’d be too “divisive” for the country…Earlier this week at an event hosted by the Georgetown University Law Center, she said she doesn’t “want to impeach” even though in her opinion, Trump is giving more “grounds for impeachment” with every passing day by ignoring subpoenas issued by House Democrats.

If Trump is pondering some sort of power-grab after losing the 2020 election, he won’t find much support from voters, according to a new poll conducted by IPSOS and the University of Virginia Center for American Politics, as reported at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “By a 77%-16% margin, respondents did not think that the 2020 election should be delayed and President Donald Trump given an extra two years in office. This question was based on a recent tweet by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell suggesting that because of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the president’s term should be extended two years (Trump retweeted Falwell). There were partisan differences on this question: Democrats said no overwhelmingly, 89%-9%, while Republicans said no by a smaller 62%-31% margin…Just 7% of respondents said that if Trump loses the 2020 election, he should ignore the results and stay in office.”

Democrats beware: Trump could ride tariffs to a presidential win,” warns Egberto Willies at Daily Kos: “Trump’s Chinese tariffs create points of discussions on the deficit, taxes, lying to his base, the economic pain of the masses, and much more. But Democrats are just leaving it up to pundits, journalists, and others to craft a less-than-perfect narrative…The thing is, except for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the Democrats have not given voters a transformational vision of our economy that will help all those who are hurting financially. Trump is building such a vision, even if it’s just a facade. And whether he gets the beneficial terms from China or not, the truth is that because Democrats haven’t provided a compelling counter-narrative, Trump may win over enough voters to cruise to re-election in 2020.”

Study of 2018 Ads Shows Winning Priorities for Dems

In her Axios post, “The Democratic hunt for a 2020 down-ballot message,” Sara Fischer writes that  data from Advertising Analytics indicate that the content of TV and digital ads for the 2018 elections emphasized health care, which apparently served Democrats well in Senate and House races.  Ads focusing on education dominated the gubernatorial contests.

Almost half of all ads for House races (48%) and Senate races (47%) focused on health care. Fischer notes that “While anti-Trump sentiment likely helped drive Democrats to the polls last cycle, there’s no question that a single, pro-policy message helped unify the electorate to overtake Republicans in the House…Republicans, who lost the House, had no unifying message.”

Democrats hunt for down-ballot message

Reproduced from Advertising Analytics. Chart: Axios Visuals

Regarding the 2020 campaign, Fischer adds that “Democratic presidential candidates top issues so far have included climate change, wealth inequality and universal health care — all likely to inform the party’s message for down-ballot races in the House and Senate.” Fischer writes that “Focus groups with Democrats in key states, including Wisconsin and Ohio, suggest that messaging around the Green New Deal and Medicare for All hasn’t broken through for all Democratic voters.”

GOP Extremism Predated Trump and Won’t Die With His Departure

In listening to some of the intra-Democratic discussion of Trump as an “aberration,” I felt the need to weigh in at New York with some not-so-distant memories:

One of the latent questions in American politics for both parties is whether Donald J. Trump is some sort of horror-movie version of a unicorn, who after this term, and perhaps another one, will retreat to Mar-a-Lago, leaving the Republican Party — and the United States — scarred but not fundamentally changed. For obvious reasons, Republicans don’t discuss this view of their own future very openly, lest their master resent the suggestion that he’s a man whose moment is rapidly slipping away. You hear the subject discussed more among Democrats, particularly those who are running for president to consign Trump to the ash bin of history. Joe Biden, for example, has made it clear he considers the 45th president an aberration, whose evil spell over Republicans will dissipate once he’s out of office.

But Trump’s undoubtedly strange and outlandish personality should not make us forget that the party he took by force in 2016 was already exhibiting an alarming extremism on multiple issues. Here’s Barack Obama being hopeful about Republicans in 2012:

“President Obama told supporters that he expected the gridlock to end after the election, when Republicans can stop worrying about voting him out of office.

“’My expectation is that if we can break this fever, that we can invest in clean energy and energy efficiency because that’s not a partisan issue,’ Obama said, speaking to supporters in Minneapolis.

“Obama pointed to deficit reduction, a transportation bill, and immigration reform as initiatives that could well pass in November.”

None of that happened, of course. And instead of getting over their “fever” of policy extremism and tactical obstructionism, what did Republicans do? They nominated Donald Trump as their next presidential candidate.

Mitt Romney, one of the GOP’s most respectable figures, advocated immigration policies arguably to the right of Trump’s in his pursuit of the 2012 presidential nomination. He also endorsed the Ryan budgets (reflecting the party’s hard-core commitment to “entitlement reform” and an end to decades of anti-poverty measures), and supported the cut, cap, balance pledge to permanently shrink the size of the federal government. And most famously, he embraced one of the foundational myths of conservative extremism in his remarks that the votes of “47 percent” of Americans had been corruptly bought by welfare-state benefits, thus implicitly making those votes illegitimate.

For the ninth consecutive time, the GOP platform on which Romney ran in 2012 called not just for the reversal of reproductive rights in Roe v. Wade but the constitutional enshrinement of fetal (even embryonic) rights in a Human Life Amendment that would ban states from allowing abortions from the moment of conception.

All that was mainstream Republican policy pre-Trump. In the ever-more-militant conservative wing of the party, the big fashion in the early years of this decade was to call oneself a “constitutional conservative.” As I tried to explain at the time, this meant something genuinely alarming:

“I do worry that the still-emerging ideology of ‘constitutional conservatism’ is something new and dangerous, at least in its growing respectability. It’s always been there in the background, among the Birchers and in the Christian Right, and as as emotional and intellectual force within Movement Conservatism. It basically holds that a governing model of strictly limited (domestic) government that is at the same time devoted to the preservation of ‘traditional culture’ is the only legitimate governing model for this country, now and forever, via the divinely inspired agency of the Founders. That means democratic elections, the will of the majority, the need to take collective action to meet big national challenges, the rights of women and minorities, the empirical data on what works and what doesn’t — all of those considerations and more are so much satanic or ‘foreign’ delusions that can and must be swept aside in the pursuit of a Righteous and Exceptional America.”

A first cousin to, or perhaps just a corollary of, constitutional conservatism is the belief, which has spread rapidly through the GOP ranks, that the Second Amendment is the most important element of the Bill of Rights and includes an implicit right to armed revolution against “tyranny,” as defined by, well, constitutional conservatives. It wasn’t Donald Trump who espoused that point of view during the 2016 Republican presidential nominating process, but his rivals Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson.

Constitutional conservatism has more or less been absorbed into “America First” Trumpism, but the way of thinking hasn’t gone away — as evidenced by Trump’s tendency to disregard those aspects of the Constitution that don’t suit his needs, while deifying those that do. When it comes to extremist goals like banning abortion entirely, or defending an absolutist view of gun rights, or sealing the borders, or making freedom of religion contingent upon its consistency with “Judeo-Christian heritage,” Trump is a louder champion of extremism, but hardly novel. And even where Trump has departed from hard-core conservative orthodoxy, he seems to have coarsened it more than anything else, viz the open pro-corporate mercantilism of his trade policy, and the supposed “non-interventionism” that is accompanied by constant threats of military violence.

Yes, there are long-term demographic trends that could make Republican extremism no longer practicable, but you have to figure the GOP will have to lose a few more presidential elections before that lesson sinks in; extremism does, if nothing else, help mobilize the party “base” and attract highly motivated donors. For every Democrat baffled by Trump’s win in 2016, there’s a Republican who believes the formula will work forever. For the legions of younger Republicans who have probably never met a genuinely “moderate” GOP leader in their lives, the “fever” could be especially persistent.

Practical politics aside, progressives need to take seriously the possibility that their counterparts on the right feel just as passionately about fetal life, the alleged threat of immigrants to civilization, and the decline of religious affiliation and 1950s-style patriarchal “family values” as those on the left feel about climate change or equality. Those who doubt the staying power of conservative extremism beyond its relationship to Trump should take another look at Michael Anton’s 2016 essay arguing that the condition of liberal-dominated American society is so catastrophically dire that voting for Trump is a survival impulse like that of the terrorism victims who stormed the cockpit of United Flight 93 on 9/11. Trump’s 2016 victory was in no small part the product of that brand of extremism, not its cause.

Political Strategy Notes

At FiveThirtyEight, Perry Bacon, Jr. addresses the question, “Would Democrats Really Face A Backlash If They Impeached Trump?,” and responds, “In terms of public opinion, probably the best that Democrats can hope for is a 50-50 split on impeachment — basically, Clinton voters in favor and Trump voters opposed. But it’s entirely possible that impeachment remains a net political loser for Democrats…Which leads us to another argument against impeachment, that Democrats should instead focus on issues where a clear majority of the public is on the party’s side. This is Pelosi’s strategy, pushing more popular proposals like defending the Affordable Care Act provision that bars insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher prices for people with preexisting conditions, and making it easier for Americans to register to vote on Election Day…So even if impeachment is basically a 50-50 issue and wouldn’t hurt Democrats’ standing all that much, you could argue that it’s a bad political move because Democrats could be focusing on issues where, say, 70 percent of Americans agree with them.”

Kos reports that “Harris and Warren dis Fox News, because they’re the smart ones” at Daily Kos and argues that “Warren is absolutely correct. Fact is, there isn’t a single primary voter watching Fox News. It’s a waste of time for a Democratic presidential candidate to spend time on that hate network if their goal is to, you know, win a Democratic presidential primary. Meanwhile, they are giving white supremacist Trump State Media undeserved credibility while getting nothing in return…The Sanders appearance has its own internal logic: He likes to thumb his nose at Democrats, including those fighting the war against Fox News. And he delighted his supporters by doing battle with Fox News hosts. It wasn’t helpful to the broader movement, and reinforced the fact that he’ll never be a team player, but it definitely gave him a nice promotional boost at the time. Ratings were legit great. I’ll call it a smart move. An asshole move, for sure! But smart…So congrats to Warren and Harris for doing the only smart thing here: using their time to talk to actual Democrats, while refusing to give any credibility to the right-wing’s most pernicious propaganda outlet.”

It’s a fair question: “What If Electability Is More About Authenticity than Moderation?,” addressed by David Atkins at The Washington Monthly. As Atkins explains, “Conventional wisdom and popular cultural media and entertainment narratives dictate that Americans are looking for moderate politicians who will work across the aisle to “get things done” and make compromises on behalf of the American people. That narrative, however, is belied by just about every single recent trend in American politics, from the 2008 election to the rise of the Tea Party, to the aggressive challenge to the Democratic establishment by a self-described socialist, and, finally, the election of an overtly racist authoritarian who had bragged on camera about sexually assaulting women. Moderation, from either direction, does not seem to be what voters are after…for a certain type of voter, authenticity is more important than any particular policy concern…Rather, they want politicians who they view as authentically placing the interests of real people ahead of corrupt special interests. The policy specifics are secondary to that…It may well be that the same candidates who appeal authentically to progressive emotional sensibilities will also appeal to the voters Democrats most need to persuade in the purple districts and states they need to win. At the same time, they might just be the ones to bring out people who otherwise wouldn’t vote at all.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez resurrects an old messaging tool to good effect in making the case for the affordability of the Green New Deal, reports Frances Langum in “AOC Smacks Down ‘How We Gonna Pay For It’ With Pentagon Receipts at Crooks and Liars. As Langum’s subtitle notes, paraphrasing AOC, “Apparently we “can’t afford” the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, but we can afford to pay $1443.00 for a $32.00 part as long as it’s in the Defense Budget.” Here’s how AOC presented it:

Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine that “U.S. News’ ‘Best States’ Rankings Don’t Smile on Red Ones,” and he observes, “When you look at the states’ political complexions, the patterns are quite clear. The No. 1 state is Washington, and eight of the top ten are states Donald Trump lost (the exceptions being Utah and Nebraska). Twelve of the bottom 13 are states Trump carried (New Mexico is the exception)…It’s an interesting commentary on the ancient reactionary idea that a low-tax, low-regulation, anti-union environment guarantees growth. If that were true, Alabama and Mississippi should be dynamos with high living standards. They really, really aren’t. But the myth endures that the good life is found where government is weak and job creators walk tall, particularly from the safe distance of conservative think tanks far away.”

Margaret Calson argues at the Daily Beast that “The worst thing that could happen to Donald Trump would be for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Public opinion over abortion rests in equipoise with equal percentages for and against, although with those against more energized. But this week’s poll from pro-Trump Fox News  shows that with abortion threatened like never before,  57 percent say of Roe, “let it stand.”…That’s bad news for Trump, although he doesn’t seem to know it yet, the way he doesn’t know Patriot Farms can’t switch on a dime from planting soybeans to corn to mitigate damages from his fruitless trade war.” On the other hand, he (more likely his advisors) may know it and be OK with it losing in the Supreme Court, so they get the benefit of jacking up their base, while not risking energizing the opposition.

It’s not going to pass before Democrats win back the white house and the senate, but “The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), introduced earlier this month by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), would push back on a series of Republican-backed laws that have cropped up in more than two dozen states in the past decade.” Among several important provisions, the “new bill would also allow workers to sue employers who illegally interfere with unionizing efforts, instead of forcing them to take all their complaints to the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that enforces collective bargaining laws. The new bill would also let the board hit employers with fines if they break the law. Right now there’s currently no financial penalty for employers who illegally fire workers who are trying to unionize, for example…Despite declining union membership, more and more Americans support the idea of unionizing these days. In fact, there’s been a sharp increase in public support for labor unions in recent years, according to Gallup…Still, it’s highly unlikely that any Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate would ever touch the new labor reform bill. In fact, they’re moving in the other direction, trying to expand a bill in the Senate that implements right-to-work laws in every state…” – from “Democrats have an ambitious plan to save American labor unions” by Alexia Fernandez Campbell at Vox.

Yes, the Alabama abortion law was signed into law by a woman governor. But the title of Danielle Girard’s cbsnews.com post, “Alabama just criminalized abortions – and every single yes vote was cast by a white man” further highlights a good messaging point for Democrats, that the G.O.P. is the party of old white guys at the state level, as well as nationally. Dems should be more dilligent about always putting together a group photo of the Great White Wall that that is so often responsible for the legislative disasters du jour and publicizing it where it can do some good. Just clip the pix from their individual web pages and present them as a whole. It’s not a good look, even in Alabama, which is far more diverse than its state legislature indicates.

There are plenty of articles noting the unwieldy size of the Democratic field of presidential candidates and all of the problems it creates, not the least of which is that many of the candidates can’t get much media coverage. Indeed, Dems do have a bumper crop of very impressive presidential candidates with relatively low name-recognition, at least compared to Biden and Bernie. Only Mayor Pete Buttigieg of the lesser-known candidates is getting substantial coverage. But could the large number of quality candidates, depicted as a whole, also be a good look for the party? Showcasing the Democrats’ array of attractive younger candidates could also help portray an appealing image of the party. Sure, the diversity could be better. But, compared to the Republicans, it’s much more impressive and also helps to make Dems look like the party of the future and the one that looks like America. Not to deny the very real problems Dems face with the huge field of candidates; but Dems would be wise to make the most of their younger, more diverse ‘look.’

GOP “Infanticide” Attack Lines Colliding With GOP Early-Term Abortion Bans

Sometimes a political party’s left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing, and that’s happening to Republicans on abortion policy, as I noted this week at New York:

For many years, the chief political strategy of the anti-abortion movement has been to gradually chip away at reproductive rights by focusing on rare but lurid-sounding late-term abortions. It made sense, given the unpopularity of such procedures (particularly when presented without the context of the tragic circumstances involved) and the overwhelming popularity of legalized early-term abortions, whose criminalization is the movement’s ultimate goal. Once the regime set up by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey is unraveled, anti-abortion proponents thought, it might be time to stop the charade and go public with a more radical agenda.

But as my colleague Irin Carmon recently explained, as pro-lifers have gained power in state legislatures via the Republican Party they now completely dominate, the temptation to go for the anti-choice gold has been too strong for many to resist, as evidenced by the sudden rush to enact “heartbeat” bills that ban abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy:

“Heartbeat bans are suddenly in place, if not in effect, in Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, and Kentucky …

“For nearly a half century, the Supreme Court has said that states can’t ban abortion before a fetus is viable — no earlier than 24 weeks, not six, before many women even know they’re pregnant. That’s why the focus-grouped, gray-suited architects of the anti-abortion movement believe total bans hurt their cause. They’ve read the polls that say Americans broadly support abortion in the first trimester, that they don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and that they squirm when they hear about the later abortions allowed under it: after 20 weeks, or later for reasons of health or life.”

Yet states’ early-term abortion bans are becoming more radical every day, culminating in this week’s passage of legislation in Alabama that would ban all abortions from the moment of conception other than those necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. There aren’t even exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

As a matter of constitutional law, it’s unlikely that even today’s 5-4 majority of presumed abortion foes on the Supreme Court would choose so extreme a law as the lever to reverse or modify its reproductive-rights precedents. If they do want to go in that direction, laws regulating later-term abortions — such as the 20-week bans popular among Republican legislators in many states and in Washington, too — are a more likely vehicle.

But beyond that, such laws uncloak the ultimate goals of the GOP and the RTL movement at a time when Republicans are trying to brand Democrats as an extremist party that supports abortions so late in pregnancy that they can be labeled “infanticide.” As National Journal reports, this is a big deal for Donald Trump’s party heading toward 2020:

“President Trump has laced it into his rally repertoire, calling Democrats ‘the party of high taxes, high crime, open borders, late-term abortion, witch hunts, and delusions.’ And as campaigns continue to ramp up for 2019 and 2020, there is little expectation among Republicans that the abortion message will fizzle …

“The issue was sparked in January, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act, which expanded limited abortion rights beyond the 24th week of pregnancy, and days later when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam made comments about a bill in his state loosening restrictions on late-term abortions …

“Critics call the infanticide claims manufactured outrage, pointing to the existing laws that criminalize action taken to end a newborn’s life. As it stands, late-term abortion — generally referring to those after 20 weeks of gestation — is a rare procedure typically done in the interest of protecting the mother’s health, according to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report.

But it’s kind of hard to pose as the party in the firm mainstream of public opinion on abortion, fighting those baby-killing Democrats, when one’s own Republicans are trying to ban the bulk of abortions that occur early in pregnancy. It’s not just a mixed message but arguably an honest statement of principles stepping all over a calculated lie.

Some observers suggest the infanticide talk may be “cover” for the early-abortion prohibition measures beginning to sweep through Republican legislatures. If so, it may not be loud enough to drown out the howls of triumph from extremist lawmakers in places like Alabama or the cries of dismay from those who previously thought basic reproductive rights were safe. It’s hard to look at all this state-level activity and not quickly discern who the real “extremists” are.

Martin: Digging Deeper in Trump Country

The following article by Lou Martin, associate professor of history at Chatham University and author of Smokestacks in the Hills: Rural-Industrial Workers in West Virginia, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives: 

The 2018 documentary Moundsville drops viewers into the West Virginia town with no introduction. Instead, the film takes us directly into conversations with local residents, the mayor, a former mayor, retirees, a couple of historians, young entrepreneurs—a dozen or so people from all walks of life.  They talk about the town’s history, the prehistoric burial mound for which it is named, the leading industries over the decades, the boom times, the economic decline since the 1980s, and ideas about the town’s future.  I grew up in the Ohio Valley, about an hour’s drive from Moundsville, so these conversations felt familiar, like spending an afternoon in the local diner.

A central theme is the local economy, including the remarkable number of products that the towns’ workers manufactured in decades past.  At one time, Marx Toys, which employed thousands in its Glen Dale factory (neighboring Moundsville), produced one of every three toys made in America.  Other major employers in the area included Fostoria Glass, U.S. Stamping Company, Allied Chemical, and the Moundsville State Penitentiary.  A short drive away were coal mines, steel mills, and more chemical plants.

Today, Moundsville’s economy—like much of the region’s—looks a lot different.  Many of the mines and mills have shut down.  RV Parks just out of town house out-of-state gas pipeline and drilling crews.  The downtown has a lot of old businesses but also empty storefronts, and the Walmart Supercenter and other chain stores on the edge of town have won over many customers.  Some local entrepreneurs have found their niche in the new economy by, among other things, capitalizing on tourism to the now-shuttered prison and the nearby Palace of Gold (a Hare Krishna community).  But a third of the town’s residents have moved away.

With so many rusting factories, Moundsville could have become just another of the many reports from “Trump Country” since the 2016 election.  Most of those seem to be written by journalists facing deadlines, who parachute into Appalachia, gather a few quotes that support their assumptions about racist provincials, and then head back to the airport.  In her recent book What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Elizabeth Catte writes that these reports “share a willingness to use flawed representations of Appalachia to shore up narratives of an extreme ‘other America’ that can be condemned or redeemed to suit one’s purpose.”

Those reports often attempt to construct a single narrative about voters in “Trump Country,” and the makers of Moundsville explicitly position their documentary against such narratives.  The voiceover for one of the trailers for the documentary explains that after the election “every media story about small-town America seemed to focus on the same things: Trump, opioids, and the rusting factory.”  “But,” it continues, “what if you went to a small town and didn’t talk about those things?  What if you simply asked people about their lives without connecting their answers to those larger narratives?”

Indeed, Moundsville does a good job of capturing the joys of life in a small town and highlighting the diversity of voices even in a town of nine thousand by featuring young and old, women and men, and white, African American, and Latino voices.

While this portrait is refreshing because the filmmakers brought empathy and patience to the project, they left out some important, complex, and challenging topics do not lend themselves to restaurant conversations.  While the documentary touches on economic decline, trade policies, and the outmigration of young people, it tends to treat economic change as natural or neutral, not even mentioning the policymakers or policies that facilitated capital migration.  I would argue that one of the greatest accomplishments of the proponents of neoliberalism has been to make their ideology seem like economic changes just happen.  Neoliberals’ free trade policies, cuts to taxes and social spending, privatization, and the elimination of union protections have hollowed out many factory towns, cut assistance to the poor and unemployed, and concentrated wealth and power in the hands of the few.

While some of the participants in the documentary share their memories of Moundsville’s prosperous decades, they don’t talk about how unions enabled workers to address safety concerns and gender discrimination, win fair wages and benefits, bring stability to their families, buy homes, and have discretionary income to spend at local businesses.  While the residents remember those prosperous years by listing employers, they don’t mention the American Flint Glass Workers’ Union, the United Steel Workers of America, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, and the United Mine Workers of America.  I’m guessing that only a few of those interviewed were union members, and as union strength has declined since the 1980s, public memories of the critical role they played in earlier decades have faded.

Also, Moundsville offers only a cursory discussion of race and racism.  A former mayor, who is African American, recalls painful episodes of racism when he was growing up but says that he no longer faces that kind of cruelty.  And the Latino owner of the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant says that racism is still present and that it negatively frames residents’ understanding of immigrants.  We do not hear other residents’ thoughts on the role of race in their town’s history.  While Moundsville avoids the overly simplistic, stereotypical portraits of racist hillbillies that are a common feature of “Trump Country,” the result is to largely ignore race and racism, which are admittedly complex subjects.

Growing up in northern West Virginia, I was largely unaware of racism and associated it most with the use of the N-word, which was only uttered by the crudest students at my school.  It was not until I reached adulthood that I began to realize that racism was particularly powerful when it was unheard and unseen.  Racism has shaped life in these Ohio Valley factory towns in fundamental ways, particularly through discriminatory housing, employment, and education, and sometimes as a result of battles fought decades ago.  These forms of racism are pervasive throughout the United States—no region or social class has a monopoly on it—and institutional racism’s profound effects up through the present need to be better understood.

When we erase subjects like institutional racism, the labor movement, and the rise of neoliberalism, the resulting portrait is incomplete, and things seemingly just happen to people and towns with no understanding of why.  Moundsville is an intimate portrait of a former factory town whose residents are proud of their hometown and working to redefine it, and I appreciate the filmmakers’ hard work and empathetic lens.  Yet, much work remains to help us make sense of the past and present of Moundsville and many places like it.

Teixeira: How Far Left Is Too Far Left?

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

Public opinion and recent electoral results suggest American voters are ready for significant change in a leftward direction. Consequently, the Democratic nominee in 2020 is likely to offer a strongly progressive program to the electorate.

Common sense suggests, however, that there are limits to how far left this program should go. Programs that lack public support should be avoided and programs preferred that generate strong support among not just among the base Democratic constituencies like blacks and Latinos but also among white college graduates and ideally have significant purchase among white noncollege voters as well.

The latest Quinnipiac poll provides some insight along these lines. The Democratic policy ideas tested in the poll included several that did not garner majority public support, including making all public colleges free to attend (45 percent), a marginal tax rate of 70 percent on income over $10 million (36 percent) and allowing current prisoners to vote (31 percent).

But there were a couple of ideas that got strong support. One was forgiving up to $50 thousand in student debt for households making under $250 thousand a year. Overall 57 percent support included very high support from blacks and Latinos but also solid support from college and noncollege whites.

Support was even stronger for an annual wealth tax of 2 percent on those with over $50 million. Three-fifths of voters supported this with blacks, Latinos and college whites all strongly in favor and even noncollege whites favoring the proposal by 15 points.

Also worth mentioning here is the latest Kaiser poll which showed Medicare for All getting only 37 percent support if it eliminated private insurance, but Medicare for all who want it, while retaining the private insurance option, drawing lopsided support from not only blacks and Latinos but college and noncollege whites as well.

So there is left and then there is too far left. Democrats who want the best chance of beating Trump and the most robust possible political coalition would be wise to choose the former not the latter.

Teixeira: Biden and White Noncollege Voters

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

Biden’s spike in the polls is well-documented. His current popularity with black voters is striking as has been noted. Less has been written about how he’s doing with white noncollege voters, but the results here are also of significance. Harry Enten notes in his latest CNN column:

“Whites without a college degree still make up a substantial portion of the Democratic Party. Despite much noise about how whites with a degree are the future for Democrats, each group is about 30% of the party. Nonwhites, both with and without college degrees, are about 40% in total. [Note: these figures agree with my own States of Change data.]….

Our latest CNN national poll shows Biden is strong with non-college educated whites, as well [as with nonwhite voters). Biden jumps from the low 20s among whites with a college degree to the mid 30s among whites without a college degree. Comparably, his lead over Sanders increases from only 5 points over Sanders among whites with a college degree to about 20 points among whites without a college degree. Sanders polls in the mid 10s with each group….

Biden’s ability to breakthrough with non-college whites marks perhaps the biggest difference between the 2016 and 2020 primaries. In 2016, Clinton actually lost white voters without a college degree in the primary. Sanders beat her by 7 points among this group in the median Democratic nomination contest with an entrance or exit poll, even though she won college educated whites by 7 points in these same contests.”

This pattern clearly could help Biden secure the Democratic nomination. But does this mean Biden is the most “electable” nominee against Trump?

Not necessarily and for two reasons, which are frequently confused. One is that superior appeal to one group of voters does not mean that more voters may not be lost by inferior appeal among another group. Using Biden as an example, perhaps whatever he gains among white noncollege voters relative to other potential candidates will be more than counterbalanced by losses from unenthusiastic support and turnout among young voters and possibly some other Democratic constituencies.

Therefore, electability is always and inevitably about trade-offs. No candidate will be without them so people should be asking: who has the highest net, given potential gains and losses, and therefore the best chance of beating Trump overall and in the states that are likely to count the most. This is always hard to do given data limitations but that is really the argument we should be having.

The second reason to be cautious about Biden’s electability is that, even if one is taking proper cognizance of the various factors that may increase or decrease a candidate’s appeal, it is hard to make these judgments and harder still this far in advance of the actual general election campaign, when data are sparse and less reliable. Put more bluntly, a lot of early judgments about electability, by voters and pundits alike, turn out to be wrong.

Does that mean we shouldn’t care about electability and, since no one knows anything (as they say in Hollywood), just roll out who we like the best and hope they win? I don’t think so, especially given the 2020 stakes. But we do need to think about it in a sophisticated and, to the extent possible, in a data-driven way.

That’s it for my plea for rationality. Back to the usual heated and intemperate debate who’s the best candidate!

Teixeira: Will the Real Democrats Please Stand Up?

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

Jonathan Chait attempts to unlock the riddle of why Joe Biden seems to be doing so well, even if he doesn’t seem to represent the leftward shift of the Democratic party. Chait points out that the general leftward shift of the party is frequently confused with the viewpoint of its leftmost adherents, which does’t really make sense. The whole party can be shifting to the left–I believe that it is–but the median Democrat, even if more left than they once were, can still be pretty different from the aggressively left activists who seem to get most of the attention.

Maybe that’s why Biden is doing so well, much to the dismay of the Twitterati and the puzzlement of political observers who pay attention to that world. The median Democrat simply wants to beat Trump and a generally left program, even if falls short, of the current AOC-approved laundry list, will be just fine with them.

Of course, that’s not what you’ll see on Twitter. But, as Chait rightly observes:

“The most important ingredient in the delusion [of a left takeover of the Democratic party] was Twitter. It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which the platform shapes the minds of professional political observers. Part of Twitter’s allure to insiders is that it creates a simulacrum of the real world, complete with candidates, activists, and pundits all responding to events in real time. Because Twitter superficially resembles the outside world’s political debate — it does, after all, contain the full left-to-right spectrum — it is easy to mistake it for the real thing.

But the ersatz polity of Twitter doesn’t represent the real world. Democrats on Twitter skew young and college educated. A study last month found that the Twitter-using portion of the Democratic electorate harbors far more progressive views on everything than the party’s voting base.

One striking example of the disconnect took place earlier this year in Virginia. An old medical-school yearbook showed Ralph Northam, the state’s Democratic governor, in a picture featuring a blackface costume and Ku Klux Klan robe and hood. If you followed the debate on Twitter, as nearly all political reporters did, Northam’s resignation was simply a given. The debate turned to when he would step down, who would replace him, and what other prominent people would have career-ending blackface yearbook photographs.

Virginians, however, were split in ways the political elite would never have guessed. Whites and Republicans favored his resignation, while African-American voters believed, by a 20-point margin, that Northam should not resign.”

So don’t believe what you see or hear on Twitter. Biden doesn’t and that appears to be serving him very well. Other candidates should take note.

How Dems Can Regain Working-Class Support: Look at How Workers Feel About Jobs from a Sociological Perspective, Not Just Economic Policies

Democrats are currently spending a great deal of time debating how much effort should be devoted to regaining support from working class Americans–but much less time discussing how it can be done.

But it’s the second question that’s the most important. Trump’s victory in 2016 was a brutal demonstration that Democrats had lost the trust and support of many working Americans. To prevail in 2020, Democrats now must convince working people that they genuinely understand their problems and will represent them better and more authentically than Trump and the GOP.

This will not be easy–and the first step must be to recognize that simply advocating a list of progressive economic policies will not be sufficient.

The Democratic Strategist is therefore pleased to present the following strategy memo:
Democrats: To Understand How Workers Feel About Jobs, listen to Sociologists and not just Economists

To read the memo, click HERE.

We believe you will find this memo both useful and important.