washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE.

No matter who.

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

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

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

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE!

No Matter Who.

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

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

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

RIP GOP book by Stanley Greenberg

R.I.P. G.O.P.

You can find out more about the return to progressive politics from our founder Stanley Greenberg in his new book!

Pre-Order Now.

The Daily Strategist

January 22, 2020

Update on Democratic ‘Trifectas’ in State Politics

Among the most regrettable developments for Democrats in recent years, the Republican  takeover of a majority of state legislatures and governorships has done a lot of damage. At the same time, the GOP-friendly American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was able to spearhead enactment of hundreds of regressive laws in state legislatures each year. ALEC and the Republicans have enacted state  laws that: undermine environmental protection; privatize corrections facilities for profit; change rules to benefit big tobacco; and weaken consumer safety protection, to name a few.

Democrats reversed the trend in the 2018 midterm elections and picked up six “trifecta” states, in which one party has a majority of both houses of the state’s legislature plus the governorship. Dems added another trifecta in 2019. At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik reports that “Republicans retain a narrow 26-24 edge in governorships…But that’s a big shift from mid-2017, when Democrats held just 15.”

According to Ballotpedia, “There are currently 36 trifectas: 15 Democratic and 21 Republican. Democrats would have to pick up trifecta control in three states in 2020 to match the Republican total. Click here for an inter-active map depicting trifecta control by state.

Ballottpedia reports also that, “As of December 31, 2019, Republicans controlled 52.1 percent of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 46.6 percent. Republicans held a majority in 61 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 37 chambers. One chamber (Alaska House) was sharing power between two parties.”

The 16 states with “divided government” include: AK; DE; KS; KY; LA; MA; MI; MN; MT; MD; NJ; NC; NH; PA; VT; and WI. Dems now hope the edge provided by a presidential election will provide a pivotal boost to their candidates for Governor and state legislative seats in November. In a ‘blue wave’ election, it’s not hard to see how Dems could get a net trifecta pick-up of 3 or 4 states.

Democrats now hold the Secretary of State offices, which count the votes in elections, in 22 states. Three states, Alaska, Hawaii and Utah have no such office, and assign vote counting duties to the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Since 2018, Democrats have held the SOS offices in swing states AZ; CO; MI; NJ; PA; WI.


Teixeira: Real Origins of Trump’s Support

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

It’s Still Important to Understand Where Trump Support Came From.

And many liberal Democrats still don’t–though they think they do. Political scientists Justin Grimmer and Will Marble look at the facts in a new paper, “Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory

“A surprising fact about the 2016 election is that Trump received fewer votes from whites with the highest levels of racial resentment than Romney did in 2012. This fact is surprising given studies that emphasize “activation” of racial conservatism in 2016—the increased relationship between vote choice and racial attitudes among voters.

But this relationship provides almost no information about how many votes candidates receive from individuals with particular attitudes. To understand how many votes a voting bloc contributes to a candidate’s total, we must also consider a bloc’s size and its turnout rate.

Taking these into account, we find that Trump’s most significant gains came from whites with moderate attitudes about race and immigration. Trump’s vote totals improved the most among swing voters: low-socioeconomic status whites who are political moderates. Our analysis demonstrates that focusing only on vote choice is insufficient to explain sources of candidate support in the electorate.”


Political Strategy Notes

From “As Richmond braces for hate, Americans say race relations are getting worse” by  Sara Kehaulani Goo at Axios on the 35th MLK holiday: “Is the president really responsible for rising racial tension?…A majority of Americans say he is, according to a survey last year by non-partisan Pew Research Center. But the diverging views between blacks and whites and Democrats and Republicans make it seem as though they are living in different versions of America…A strong majority of blacks (73%), Hispanics (69%) and Asians (65%) say Trump has made race relations worse, compared with about half of whites (49%), according to the Pew Research Center survey released in April 2019…Majorities of blacks and Hispanics say that people are more likely to express racist or racially insensitive views since Trump was elected…More than 8 out of 10 Democrats say the president has made race relations worse; just 1% say he’s improved relations…More than a third of Republicans say Trump has made progress toward improving race relations. Just 20% say he’s made it worse.”

Commemorating MLK on the holiday, Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. quotes from one of President Obama’s most eloquent speeches: “That the forces celebrating King prevailed spoke to a healthy intuition that cannot simply be written off as tokenism…No one championed this view more passionately than former president Barack Obama. In 2015, he offered his most powerful testimony on its behalf when he traveled to Selma, Ala., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights…“What could be more American than what happened in this place?” Obama asked. “What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people — the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many — coming together to shape their country’s course?”

In his article, “Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate” at The Hill, Albert Hunt writes that “the Kentucky Republican may turn out to be an asset for Democrats in the fall, as already competitive challengers against Republican incumbents are tying those incumbents to the Senate majority leader, not so much on impeachment but rather on his legislative role: rushing through right-wing judges and bottling up popular House-passed legislation, including crackdowns on rising drug prices, boosting the minimum wage, some campaign finance reform and pay equity for women…On most of these issues, McConnell doesn’t want his half-dozen endangered incumbents to face a vote that big financial interests, always a primary McConnell priority, oppose.”

In his post-debate poll analysis, Nate Silver notes at FiveThirtyEight that “our topline forecast is largely unchanged. Biden remains the most likely candidate to win the majority of pledged delegates, with a 41 percent chance, followed by Sanders at 23 percent, Warren at 12 percent and Buttigieg at 9 percent. There is also a 15 percent chance that no one wins a majority, a chance that could increase if Bloomberg, who has now almost caught Buttigieg in our national polling average, continues to rise.” Silver’s chart:

“What did Sanders and Warren discuss at that meeting in 2018? Who misinterpreted whom? It shouldn’t matter. This is no way to select a nominee,” David Daley writes at salon.com “Sanders and Warren are natural allies. Their supporters share overlapping policy agendas. They seem to like and respect each other personally. They’re only fighting this fiercely over ephemera to try and move a handful of voters from one column to the other ahead of a tight four-way race. Our very winner-takes-all election structure not only encourages this inane behavior, it almost necessitates it…The problem isn’t the people. It’s the all-or-nothing nature of the system. It is time to change it…Just imagine how different Sanders and Warren might campaign if we elected our leaders with ranked choice voting, and voters had the power to select their backup second and third choices to count if their first choice couldn’t win. Sanders and Warren wouldn’t be at each other’s throats, and we wouldn’t be seeing their supporters battling with snake emoji and unleashing powerful emotions about gender still raw from 2016. They’d be campaigning as a team, urging followers to support the other as a second choice…Different incentives lead to a different kind of race. When candidates also compete to be second and third choices, they play nicer and engage in less negative campaigning. They need to appeal to supporters of other candidates. They can’t risk alienating them.”

Regarding the fuss between supporters of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Harold Meyerson writes at The American Prospect: “I’m not going to be around in 2070, but if somehow there’s any money left in my posthumous checking account, I’ll bet it all that they’ll both be remembered for initiating a sharp break with the financialized capitalism of the past 40 years, and bringing the cause of a radically more democratized and egalitarian economy into American political discourse and the highest levels of American politics. Unlike the other candidates in this year’s Democratic field, each wants to tax wealth and financial transactions, each wants to put workers on corporate boards, each wants to switch to Medicare for All (if at different speeds), each backs free universal child care and preschool, each wants to curtail hedge funds and private equity, each wants to go as far beyond Obama and the previous ideology of the Democratic Party as (to paraphrase Michael Harrington) Roosevelt went beyond Hoover. As well, each has sworn off high-dollar fundraising and depends solely on small contributions—again, unlike the other Democratic candidates…In fact, both Sanders and Warren, whatever their flaws, are daily prescribing the kinds of radical egalitarian reforms that our increasingly plutocratic nation so badly needs. Campaigns are invariably about comparisons and differences, but I hope Warren’s and Sanders’s supporters, and Warren and Sanders themselves, can remember how much, uniquely, they have in common, and how important it is that their common perspectives, under either’s banner, prevail.”

“Of course, every group of reliable Democratic voters is important,” David Edward Burke writes in his article, “Who, Exactly, Makes Up the Democratic Base?” at The Washington Monthly. “But if Democrats want to consistently win elections in 2020 and beyond, they need to think differently about who, exactly, the base is and what unites them. The foundation of the Democratic Party is not built on what we look like, but rather, on a set of ideas that reflect our shared values. As President Obama has said, we don’t need to embrace a false choice between appealing to minority voters or white working-class voters. A candidate who prioritizes and effectively speaks to the issues that most voters truly care about can do both…Even in 2016, Democratic voters were approximately 60 percent white, 20 percent black, and 14 percent Hispanic., and 45 percent of all voters were whites without a college degree. By the time a coalition big enough to win in a general election is assembled—unmarried women, black voters, Hispanic voters, millennials—the concept of “the base” is no longer effectively measured by demographic makeup…It’s also not ideologically monolithic. The Democratic party is neither overwhelmingly liberal or moderate: Self-identified liberals make up 46 percent of the party, whereas moderates comprise 39 percent, and conservatives 14 percent. Therefore, a candidate who appeals more to liberals at the exclusion of everyone else is not necessarily more likely to turn out the base than a more moderate candidate—let alone attract independents.”

“If the Democratic Party wants to turn out their voters in 2020,” Burke continues, “they should choose a nominee who speaks effectively to the priorities and anxieties of the majority of Americans. On average, voters want someone who can help lower prescription drug costs, enact sensible gun control, invest in infrastructure, and strengthen women’s rights. They shouldn’t pick someone peddling divisive policies that can turn off more voters than they turn out…Any candidate who can remain in step with most Democratic voters while not adopting more extreme policy positions will likely win over many independents and Republican-leaning voters as well. A majority of Republicans also support increasing federal spending on education, rebuilding highways and bridges, and imposing universal background checks on gun sales…What’s more, approximately one-third of Republicans support raising taxes on corporations or believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Trump was out of step with most Americans in pushing for a tax break for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, standing in the way of gun control, and separating immigrant children from their families. Simply put, there is a golden opportunity for Democrats to exploit those weaknesses…But to take advantage, party leaders need to stop defining its base through the prism of age, race, or gender. It’s by focusing on the issues that most Americans care about that the party will succeed in 2020. If Democrats do that, they can turn out their base and reach enough swing voters to make Trump a one-term president.”


2020 Democrats Need to Focus More On What They Can Actually Accomplish

After the seventh Democratic presidential candidates’ debate, I called at New York for the turning of a corner:

[A]s the voting phase of the nominating process approaches, and the field of candidates inevitably continues to shrink, it’s time for the practical part of the debate discussions to grow a lot larger, as legal expert Jeffrey Toobin suggested earlier this week at the New Yorker:

“The Democratic debates so far have featured detailed discussions of the candidates’ competing health-care plans—none of which is likely to become law in any form close to what’s so far been described…. But one thing we know for sure is that, if a Democrat wins the White House this year, he or she will be responsible for appointing federal judges, including a few likely vacancies on the Supreme Court.”

Yes, that subject did come up in the October debate, but even then it was more about visionary ideas of how to reshape SCOTUS to protect cherished rights via court-packing or terms limits or some other unlikely-to-be-enacted scheme. More specific, short-term plans are more relevant. Will the candidates, for example, emulate Trump’s politically smart approach of setting up a vetting process for prospective SCOTUS candidates and a list of potential nominees before the 2020 election cycle ends? Bernie Sanders recently said in an interview that he’d “consider” doing that, even before the nominating contest is over. Let’s hear more about that from him and from his rivals. But that’s not the only question, even on judges: how will the candidate deal with such nominations if Republicans continue to control the Senate, which at present is more likely than not? And will she or he devote some real political capital to legal fights in the state and lower courts where reproductive rights, health care protections, treatment of immigrants, and other key issues are being litigated every single day?

As Toobin points out, a coalition of progressive groups focused on such issues (including the Demand Justice Initiative, the Center for Reproductive Rights and NARAL Pro-Choice America) are sponsoring a presidential forum (not a debate, but a series of candidate interviews) on February 8 in New Hampshire. That’s the day after the eighth official candidate debate, and just three days before the New Hampshire primary. It will be a great opportunity to get into real detail on each candidate’s perspective on constitutional rights, SCOTUS, and the judiciary generally. But this questions should be on the agenda wherever candidates gather.

The judiciary isn’t the only practical issue that needs more airing before the primary ends. Given the many structural obstacles to the enactment of progressive policies in Congress, with or without Democratic majorities, candidates need to be pressed on their “theories of change,” their strategies for overcoming entrenched opposition, whether it’s Amy Klobuchar’s focus on executive orders or Elizabeth Warren’s belief that an anti-corruption push can break the power of lobbyists. The health care and climate change arenas are both high-priority areas in which there simply aren not and won’t automatically be working majorities for what has to be done. It’s not enough to say, like Joe Biden does, that Trump’s departure will change everything, or to claim, like Bernie Sanders does, that a “political revolution” will materialize to square every circle. A sustained questioning of the candidates on crucial issues of implementation, definitively nailing them down on items like filibuster reform where several have been slippery, could be worth a lot to voters who seem very hard-headed when it comes to electability but not necessarily in terms of exactly what electable candidates are expected to accomplish.

Yes, some parts of the Democratic primary electorate may feel that beating Trump and getting him and his cronies out of power is enough for one year; actually accomplishing anything is gravy. But that’s a sad and defensive posture to have, and one that voters are not likely to reward, either. Values are essential and vision can be inspiring in a president. But if that’s all a candidate offers, we need to know the next four years could become a huge disappointment and a lost opportunity.


Political Strategy Notes

E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated column that “it was only in Joe Biden’s closing comments that the gravity of our situation was truly brought home. “We can overcome four years of Donald Trump,” he said, “but eight years of Donald Trump will be an absolute disaster and fundamentally change this nation.” That’s a good message for all progressives going forward to November 3rd. Dionne, also notes of the Iowa Democratic presidential debate, “This debate likely leaves Iowa’s poor caucus-goers more uncertain than ever as they decide under the cloud of a national political crisis. But it made one thing obvious: The outcome on a cold Monday night in February will hang on whether most of them are thinking about the urgency of dispatching Trump, or are pondering instead the kind of country they want to build after he is gone.”

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky flags a ‘sleeper’ issue, which may bear on the Iowa caucuses outcome: “In 2015 and 2016, when Trump and Sanders were gaining steam, support for free trade sank (though it never, to my knowledge, went below 50 percent). But that has changed. And last August, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that support for free trade was at an all-time high: By 64-27 percent, Americans said free trade brought more benefit than harm. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats agreed with the statement that “free trade is good for America, because it opens up new markets, and the country can’t avoid the fact of a global economy.”…And that brings us to last December’s House vote on USMCA, which passed by a whopping 385 to 41. All three of Iowa’s House Democrats voted for it: Cynthia Axne, Abby Finkenauer, and David Loebsack all said yes. The AFL-CIO, which is important in the state, said yes. In addition to that, naturally, Iowa’s farmers and leading business associations are all for it. Environmental groups are strongly opposed…The Senate hasn’t voted on it yet. It will do so soon—maybe before the Feb. 3 caucuses. Sanders will vote no, but Warren (and Klobuchar) will vote yes. It’s not likely to generate a ton of media interest, but it could shift a lot more votes here than most people realize, and the exchange may have been this debate’s sleeper moment.”

From Ronald Brownstein’s analysis of the debate in The Atlantic: “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two senators jostling for the support of the Democrats’ most progressive voters, both delivered confident, aggressive performances in which they underlined their commitment to an array of liberal causes, from withdrawing all American forces from the Middle East to raising taxes on the rich and opposing most free-trade agreements…None of the more centrist candidates on the slimmed-down debate stage was nearly as vivid. And overall, the debate lacked the intensity that many expected for the final confrontation before the first votes are cast in Iowa, on February 3—especially since recent polls have shown the top four candidates all closely bunched together. The evening’s most anticipated moment largely fizzled, too. Sanders flatly denied that he told Warren, during a private meeting in 2018, that he believed a woman could not win the presidency, as initially reported by CNN. And when asked about Sanders’s denial, Warren chose not to challenge him—detouring instead into a forceful argument for why women can win elections. Without a genuine confrontation between the two, the real fulcrum of the debate was the division between the two of them and former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.”

Brownstein continues, “But none of them delivered that case with as much conviction and energy as the two leading liberals on the stage. Biden, in particular, vanished for much of the debate; until his closing statement—which featured a strong appeal to reclaim the American character from Trump—it seemed unlikely that viewers would remember much of what he said. (While the Los Angeles debate last month dampened concerns among many Democrats about Biden’s capacity to build a case against Trump in the general election, last night’s performance seems destined to rekindle them.) Klobuchar and Buttigieg were better at making the case against the ideas from the left, particularly single-payer, though neither was as effective as they had been in earlier encounters.”

Aaron Bycoffe, Saah Frostenson and Julia Wolfe report on the findings of a poll by FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos following the debate  “we asked respondents to estimate each Democrat’s chances of defeating Trump, from 0 percent (no chance) to 100 percent (certain to win). Going into the debate, as in other general-election polls, Biden was the candidate voters thought was most likely to beat Trump, on average. He still leads on that question after Tuesday’s debate, with Sanders in second. But, as you can see below, Biden’s average stayed essentially unchanged while all the other candidates gained ground.”

At CNN Politics, Grace Sparks reports on the findings of a new CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, conducted Jan. 2-8: “Majorities of likely Democratic caucusgoers say they’re optimistic, fired up, feminists and … exhausted by politics. A new poll from CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom finds fewer soon-to-be caucus attendees consider themselves socialists than capitalists, and almost a quarter are regular Twitter users…Three-in-five likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers say they’re fired up, especially those who are very liberal (76%), extremely enthusiastic about their first choice candidate (76%), and have locked in who they’ll caucus for (71%). Likely caucus attendees who say they’ll “definitely attend” rather than “probably attend” the caucus are more likely to describe themselves as “fired up” (66%)…But just as caucusgoers are fired up, they’re also pretty tired. Over half (54%) say they’re “exhausted by politics.” Lynn Richards, a retired social worker in Iowa, says she can’t turn on the TV without being bombarded by political ads.”

There is no substitute for personal, press-the-flesh contact, but I doubt that the impeachment trial is going to hurt any Democratic presidential candidates who can’t campaign in Iowa because they have to stay in Washington, D.C. As Ella Nilson and Li Zhou note at Vox, “Campaign spokespeople for three of the four senators told Vox they’re planning to fill in with a range of tactics such as having high-profile surrogates and candidates’ families hit the trail in the early states this week. And with social media, senators can hold events remotely or send messages out to their supporters. For the events they do conduct in person, at least one plans to focus on evening appearances in New Hampshire, which is logistically more accessible from Washington…For about a week, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire should expect to see a lot of the candidates’ spouses and family, as well as high-profile surrogates who have endorsed them…Warren and Sanders, in particular, have a number of celebrity endorsers who could hit the trail to draw crowds. A Warren campaign spokesperson pointed Vox to a previous statement made by communications director Kristen Orthman to the Washington Post.”

In their article, “Ratings Changes: Senate, House, and Governor,” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman write that “The Kansas Senate race is getting a lot of national buzz, but we still see the GOP as clearly favored to hold the seat…The chances of Republicans springing Senate upsets in New Hampshire and Virginia appear to be growing dimmer…Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA) decision not to hold a special election for CA-50 makes it likelier for Republicans to hold the seat…Vermont is a sleeper Democratic gubernatorial target.”

“Even if the Democratic nominee manages to hold all the states Hillary Clinton won,” Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report, “and win back Pennsylvania and Michigan, they can’t get to 270 without adding Wisconsin (or picking up Arizona, a state Clinton lost by almost four points). Trump can’t afford to lose Wisconsin either — unless he’s able to pick up neighboring Minnesota — a state where he came within 44,000 votes back in 2016…The most recent Marquette University Law School poll found a similar level of stability in opinions of President Trump that we see in national polling. His job approval in the state was 48 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove — not much different from his December showing of 47 percent approve to 50 percent disapprove. But, Charles Franklin, the Marquette pollster, notes that it “is the first time Trump’s disapproval has fallen below 50 percent in the Marquette Law School Poll since March 2017 when 47 percent disapproved.”


One Debate, Two Very Different Takes

After watching the seventh Democratic candidate debate this week, I observed a strangely bifurcated treatment of the event in the news media, and wrote up the phenomenon for New York:

If you didn’t watch last night’s Democratic presidential candidate debate from Des Moines and just checked into your favorite media outlets this morning to see what happened, you might have seen two distinctive takes that might as well have described two different events. One (offered by such veteran observers as Vox’s Matt YglesiasTNR’s Walter Shapiro, and Politico’s Ryan Lizza) tended to treat the debate as unremarkable, with the candidates performing at various levels but not really generating any big moments, in part out of fear of offending Iowans’ famous sensitivity to negative politics. The other (including one I posted last night) focused heavily on the unsettling confrontations of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders after CNN moderator Abby Phillip, citing CNN reporting, injected an alleged statement by Sanders to Warren that a woman cannot beat Trump, into an otherwise mild-mannered debate. The dispute culminated in Warren refusing to shake Sanders’s hand after the event and Sanders seeming to storm away in frustration after a brief exchange of words.

The more comprehensive takes from Yglesias, Shapiro, and Lizza mentioned this incident, of course, but found it less than game-changing. You’d have to guess they were written before the post-debate confrontation between Warren and Sanders (they had unhappy-looking words and then Warren seems to have refused to shake Bernie’s proffered hand) that seemed to place an exclamation point on the whole evening. An example of how that moment changed things for many observers was evident at FiveThirtyEight, whose liveblog of the debate concluded with the same sort of not-much-to-see-here observations others were making. Their podcast, recorded a bit later in the wee hours, began with participants describing the debate with terms like “anti-climatic,” “snoozeville” and “nothingburger.” But midway through the recording, they became aware of the post-debate incident, and the conversation pivoted hard in the direction of the dispute and what its fallout would be. As he watched the video for the first time, Nate Silver mused that it “might affect how this thing is covered by the press.” Clare Malone wondered, “Does this entire incident look good for either the Warren or Sanders campaign?”

Some media outlets offered competing takes — one of a debate defined by comity, another of one defined by a moment of drama. The Des Moines Register, a debate co-sponsor, had one that focused on the Warren-Sanders dynamics and another that didn’t at all. Another co-sponsor, CNN, whose reporting and debate moderation caused the entire brouhaha, didn’t focus on it that much initially, either. And at Politico, conventional, broad-scope takes from Lizza and from John Harris (who called the debate “painfully dull”) competed with Tim Alberta’s report from a Des Moines bar frequented by young progressives, who were agonizing over the Warren-Sanders “feud.”

Determining which of these two very different versions of last night prevails in the public imagination will depend, of course, on how the situation plays out in the days ahead. FiveThirtyEight’s pre- and post-debate surveys with Ipsos showed Warren gaining the most in net favorability, and Sanders losing a bit, but it’s not clear why. And at this point, national perceptions of the debate may matter a lot less than those in Iowa, where viewership of this local event was probably very high.

The big risk for Sanders and Warren is that their confrontation, if it ends up dominating how Iowans think of the debate, will run afoul of Iowa Nice sensibilities and hurt both of them. But if the campaigns find a way to de-escalate, and the furor subsides, then the blander interpretations of the debate could turn out to be true after all. At best, though, it’s quite a distraction for the two progressive favorites at a moment when the Iowa race looks to be a close four-way tangle among Sanders, Warren, Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg, with Amy Klobuchar desperately trying to join them.


Teixeira: The Case Against the Case Against the Democrats

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

The case against the Democratic nominee in 2020, whomever he or she may be, is simple. Trump is the incumbent! The economy’s good! This recipe for re-election can’t be beat, so he can’t be beat. So have concluded a number of allegedly savvy pundits whose sad duty it is to deliver this bad news to the Democrats.

But perhaps they’re not as smart as they think they are. Alan Abramowitz has the case against the case on Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

“Since the end of World War II, three incumbent presidents have lost their bids for reelection — Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. Carter and Bush suffered from approval ratings that were well under water and Ford, while personally popular, was damaged by his association with his disgraced predecessor, Richard Nixon. All eight successful incumbents had net approval ratings that were either positive or, in the cases of Harry Truman (-4) and George W. Bush (-1), only slightly negative, in the months preceding their elections. In contrast, Donald Trump’s approval rating has remained mired in negative territory from the beginning of his presidency. As of Wednesday, his net approval rating stood at -10.8% (approval 42.2%, disapproval 53.0%), according to the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of recent polls. Moreover, polls measuring the intensity of these opinions have consistently found that those strongly disapproving of Trump’s performance outnumber those strongly approving by a fairly wide margin. In a Jan. 7-9 YouGov poll, for example, 45% of Americans strongly disapproved of Trump’s job performance compared with 26% who strongly approved….

According to recent research on congressional elections, the advantage of incumbency has declined sharply in recent years as a result of growing partisan polarization. Gary Jacobson of the University of California, San Diego has shown that voters have become increasingly reluctant to cross party lines to support incumbents based on their voting records or constituency service. The same logic may well apply at the presidential level, especially with an incumbent like Trump whose electoral strategy is based on reinforcing partisan divisions among the public. Indeed, Trump’s presidency has produced the sharpest partisan divisions in job approval ratings in the history of public opinion polling. In a December Quinnipiac poll, for example, 91% of Republican identifiers approved of Trump’s performance with 79% strongly approving. In contrast, 94% of Democratic identifiers disapproved of Trump’s performance with 89% strongly disapproving.

Rather than trying to expand his electoral coalition by appealing to Democrats and independents, Trump’s strategy for 2020 appears to be based almost entirely on energizing and mobilizing the Republican base. The problem with this approach, however, is that efforts to energize and mobilize the Republican base also energize and mobilize the Democratic base. Thus, the 2018 election produced the highest turnout for any midterm election in over a century and big gains for Democrats, and recent polls have found that voter interest in the 2020 election is very high among Democrats as well as Republicans….

Despite the solid economic numbers, however, there are good reasons to believe that the economy may not be as big an advantage for Trump as some analysts, and the president himself, believe. For one thing, the rate of economic growth under Trump has actually been fairly modest and consistent with that under his predecessor, Barack Obama. Economic forecasts generally have the U.S. economy expanding a rate of about 2% during the first half of 2020. The average growth rate of GDP for incumbent presidents since World War II is 3.9%. And while unemployment is near record low levels, gains from the growing economy have been concentrated heavily among the wealthiest Americans.

Another reason why the president may not receive much political benefit from a growing economy is partisan polarization. John Sides of George Washington University has recently shown that public opinion about the state of the U.S. economy is now far more divided along party lines than in the past. Republicans generally have very favorable opinions about economic conditions and credit the president for producing those results. Democrats, on the other hand, are far less sanguine about the economy and give the president far less credit for any positive results. As a result, Sides argues, Trump may receive less benefit from positive economic trends than earlier presidents who presided over growing economies…..

Based on his current net approval rating of approximately -10 and the expected growth rate of real GDP during the second quarter of 2020, Trump would be expected to win approximately 237 electoral votes — well short of the 270 needed to win. Given the fairly large standard error of this estimate, a reflection of the small number of elections it is based on, the prediction of a Trump defeat is far from certain — he would still have about a 30% chance of winning. But these results suggest that Trump begins 2020 as a clear underdog.

Abramowitz concludes on a cautionary note that Democrats would do well to heed:

“The biggest unknown about the upcoming election is the identity of President Trump’s Democratic opponent. While a presidential election with a running incumbent is largely a referendum on the incumbent’s performance, the political appeal and campaign ability of the challenger also matters. The more the campaign and the election revolve around the president’s record and performance, the better the chance that he will be defeated. And while Trump and his allies will undoubtedly try to portray any Democratic challenger as a radical socialist whose extreme policies would destroy the economy and embolden America’s adversaries, some potential Democratic candidates might make that task easier than others.”


Teixeira: Progressives and Moderates Unite! (And Agree on a New Vision While You’re At It)

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

John Halpin and I review EJ Dionne’s new book Code Red and find much to like there but something missing as well. That missing something is a new vision; we call it “a New Frontier for contemporary times.”

“Given the collapse of the Reagan-Thatcher economic model, Dionne argues, the time is ripe for both moderates and progressives to again work cohesively to reverse decades of deregulation, supply-side tax cuts, underinvestment, and rising inequality. He argues that each side will complement the other well. Progressives need moderates for their values of balance, pluralism, and aversion to extremism—“virtues that any successful democracy requires.” In turn, moderates need progressives for their energy, activism, and willingness to challenge entrenched power, the privileges of the wealthy, and the assumptions of conservative economics. To overcome Trump and his reactionary nationalism, the two sides need to reconcile their differences, reason together, and “get the country moving again by demonstrating anew our nation’s capacity of self-correction, social reconstruction, and democratic self-government.”

When it comes to explaining what this reconciliation would look like in terms of policy, Dionne is intentionally squishy. He embraces the political theorist Michael Harrington’s “visionary gradualism” as a good approach to resolving disputes, arguing that both sides should try to pursue a left wing of the possible. On the issue of health care, for example, Dionne says that while universal coverage must be the end aim, the left needs to recognize that a robust public option, which is clearly more popular with voters than a single-payer model, is not some sellout of the cause and goes far beyond the Affordable Care Act. But Dionne also argues that debt-free college and the “Green New Deal” are necessary goals to drive state and federal actions that will lower education costs and grapple with climate change.

Dionne’s goals-not-policies approach won’t please everyone, but he does put forth a compelling and historically valid model for progressive action. For example, the coupling of expansive progressive visions with pragmatic legislation and shrewd politics was the model for Social Security, which initially limited who could benefit but grew over time to include more people in more lines of work and developed into one of American liberalism’s crowning achievements. The same is potentially possible on health care, education, and climate change today….

We find little to object to in Dionne’s advocacy of a new synthesis within the Democratic Party. Indeed, in the current conjuncture, it really amounts to common sense and important practical advice.

But the…example [of 2018] also highlights potential limitations to the model of progressive-moderate dialogue put forth in Code Red. In 2018, it was enough for the party to be against Trump. But as Democrats select a presidential candidate, they need more than common sense, more than just a plea for all sides to learn from what works and discard what doesn’t. They need a unifying vision. Is there a thread that can and should unite the factions of the Democratic Party beyond the overriding desire to beat Trump?

We believe there is: a New Frontier for contemporary times, an optimistic vision of the future focused on making the U.S. again the world’s most innovative and advanced country with broadly shared economic growth. All wings of the Democratic Party already embrace elements of this plan. Both moderates and liberals believe that we should have a dramatic jump in public investment in infrastructure. The whole party should expand that support to new domains, like education, science, and technology, that will drive future economic gains and improve public services. It should explicitly commit to ensuring that, as FDR said, all Americans enjoy “the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”

This entails a massive national commitment to clean-energy development and deployment to meet the climate challenge, as well as a nationwide push to reduce and eliminate poverty and low-opportunity environments for all. Rather than promoting abstract theoretical arguments about inequality and social identity that often lead to public confusion and coalitional divisions, Democrats should put forth concrete plans to fight existing housing, education, and employment discrimination and break up concentrated wealth and political power. And they should develop new avenues for public service and civic participation and take seriously the need to rebuild trust in government through effective and honest public management.

America has an important opportunity at this pivotal moment—it can become the home to the industries of the future and the jobs they’ll generate, especially in areas of critical need like clean energy and public health. Democrats should call on America to be the undisputed international leader in scientific achievement and technological progress across the board, doing our part to cooperatively solve global problems like climate change, pandemic disease, and poverty; increase overall equality and opportunity for more people; and develop new knowledge for the benefit of humanity.

That is a positive vision that can be embraced by all wings of the Democratic Party. And it must be, if Dionne’s new synthesis is to be more than a tactical truce.”


Russo: Beyond Policy – Why Democrats Need to Show White Working-Class Voters Some Respect

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

When I heard Hillary Clinton refer to half of Trump supporters as “deplorables” during her 2016 presidential campaign, I knew she would lose. Her comment exemplified the arrogant, elitist, dismissive attitudes that make many white working-class voters suspicious of the Democratic Party. Four years later, as Democrats try to figure out how to beat one of the least popular Republican presidents ever, they’re still trying to get over their deplorables problem.

Political advisers suggest two strategies for winning this year. One says that “demography is destiny,” arguing that Democrats will win because of the increasing power of voters of color, young people, and middle-class whites, especially suburban women. If Democrats can secure votes from these groups, they don’t need to worry about the white working class. After all, this theory suggests, white working-class voters didn’t suddenly shift to the right in 2016. They had been moving in that direction since the late 1960s with Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” of emphasizing racial resentment. Further, some argue that as more people earn college degrees, the working class is getting smaller.

The second electoral strategy argues that many white working-class voters remain “persuadable,” especially those who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then switched to Trump in 2016. And even if the working class, as defined by education, is declining, they still constitute a significant portion of the electorate, and Democrats have to win support from at least some of them in order to win in 2020.


Political Strategy Notes

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who some observers believe won the last presidential debate, still lags in polls by double digits behind her 4 competitors in Tuesday’s televised debate. But expect that she will try to make a splash tommorrow night. Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. previews Tuesday’s debate, and notes, “More than anyone, Klobuchar needs to upend the dynamic of the contest. Her survival as the fifth option is not a trivial accomplishment given how many other candidates have already fallen by the wayside. But her candidacy is unlikely to continue past Iowa unless she can cut deeply into Buttigieg’s and Biden’s vote shares. This gives her an interest in provoking dramatic moments on Tuesday while hoping that her two immediate rivals falter.”

Meanwhile, Nate Silver makes the case at FiveThirtyEight that “Sanders Now Leads A Wide-Open Iowa Race.” As Silver writes, “We don’t necessarily plan to publish an Election Update as a result of each single new poll, but Friday’s Selzer & Co. poll of the Iowa caucuses, published by the Des Moines Register and CNN, warrants an exception and did have a somewhat material effect on the model…The poll showed Bernie Sanders ahead with 20 percent of the vote, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 17 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 16 percent and Joe Biden at 15 percent. This is a reasonably big shift from the previous Selzer & Co. poll, in November, which had shown Buttigieg ahead with 25 percent of the vote…Amy Klobuchar was next in the poll at 6 percent, but that was unchanged from November despite a couple of debate performances since November that voters rated strongly in our polling with Ipsos. Andrew Yang was sixth at 5 percent.” In terms of the national race for the nomination, “Biden remains the most likely candidate to get a delegate majority, with a 38 percent chance, followed by Sanders at 24 percent, Warren at 13 percent, and Buttigieg at 10 percent. There’s also a 14 percent chance that no one wins a majority, which could potentially lead to a contested convention.”

But don’t ignore the prospects of the unprecedentedly self-funded candidate who is skipping the debates. As Charlie Cook notes in his Cook Political Report,”The Democrats who do emerge out of those first four contests will face at least $160 million in media buys by Bloomberg, according to Advertising Analytics, in addition to an 800-person staff spread across 30 states. His plan: Accumulate delegates here and there in districts that his rivals will have never either visited or spent a dime in. After the first four states, it’s only about the delegates, which the Democratic Party rewards for as little as 15 percent of the vote share in a district…he may position himself to be an electable alternative to the current five contenders—more centrist than Sanders and Warren and without some of the baggage that he presumes Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar carry…Maybe it works, maybe it won’t, but any polling taken over the last few days would indicate whether Bloomberg’s ads are taking hold or not.”

From”Nancy Pelosi explains what Democrats gained by holding onto the articles of impeachment” by Katelyn Burns at Vox: “First, she hoped to pressure Senate Republicans into accepting Democrats’ requests that witnesses be called in the trial. “We wanted the public to see the need for witnesses, witnesses with firsthand knowledge of what happened,” Pelosi told This Week’s George Stephanopoulos…“Over 70 percent of the American people think that the president should have those witnesses testify. So, again, it’s about a fair trial,” Pelosi said. “And we think that would be with witnesses and documentation. So, that dynamic has — now the ball is in their court to either do that, or pay a price for not doing it.”Pelosi also said the delay was to allow the public time to see further “documentation which the president has prevented from coming to the Congress” — that is, more evidence of wrongdoing.”

The last thing Republicans want to talk about is health care reform, since the sum of all their ideas quickly boils down to a return to the status quo ante Obamacare. In another Katelyn Burns Vox post, she reports that “The Trump administration wants the Supreme Court to not rule on Obamacare until after the 2020 election: Democrats have asked the Supreme Court to hear a case that could determine the fate of Obamacare. The Trump administration wants the court to wait.” Burns notes, “Should the Republican plaintiffs succeed in getting the ACA struck down, the Urban Institute estimates that about 20 million people in the US will lose their health insurance. And the result of a Supreme Court ruling could have stark effects on both Democratic and Republican pitches to voters ahead of November’s elections…Studies have shown that Americans — including Republicans — like the benefits the ACA has given them. For example, a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 80 percent of Republicans like the ACA’s provision that lowers the cost of prescription drugs for those on Medicare, and that 58 percent of Republicans like that it stopped insurance companies from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions…Overall, the foundation found that 52 percent of Americans approved of the ACA as of November 2019, and that 56 percent feared they, or someone they knew, would lose coverage if the Supreme Court overturned the law.”

Amy Walter mulls over “The Durability Advantage” benefitting Biden and Sanders at The Cook Political Report and provides some salient insights, including, “Biden and Sanders are not just the best-known candidates in the race, but they also have the most defined identities. You know what you get with them. And, that means they have a more stable base than anyone else in the field. While a late November Quinnipiac poll found that almost two-thirds of Democrats said they might change their mind on who they currently support in the primary, 43 percent of Biden voters and 49 percent of Sanders voters said that they were committed to supporting their candidate. Meanwhile, just 29 percent of Sen. Warren voters and 25 percent of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg voters felt similarly…The challenge for Warren and Buttigieg is that while Biden is certainly vulnerable, the two of them are untested and unproven entities…Only when you’ve been through this grueling process can you understand how to prepare for it. This gives Biden and Sanders — and their campaigns — perspective and patience. Something that even the most disciplined first-time candidates don’t have.”

It’s way early, but Joel K. Goldstein kicks off the veepstakes speculations with “The Democratic Vice Presidential Derby: Look Beyond the 2020 Contenders: History suggests broad guidelines for the kinds of candidates who will be considered” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Goldstein argues “The history of vice presidential selection suggests some overarching trends that will guide the eventual Democratic nominee’s selection…One piece of history stands out: Presidential nominees often, though not always, opt for a running mate who was not a candidate for the nomination…Vice presidential candidates tend to have extensive experience in certain feeder positions, and they typically are not chosen to win a key swing state.” Sounds reasonable enough. but the Democratic field of presidential candidates has been  unusually impressive, and it’s not hard to envision most of the Democratic also-rans doing a solid job as a running mate. If one of the older Democrats wins the presidential nomination, a younger, energetic running mate becomes even more important than usual.

In his Salon post, “The Democratic debate stage is now all white. It doesn’t have to be this way,” David Daley, author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count”, writes about tomorrow’s debate at Salon and notes, “Only six candidates will take the stage. All of them will be white. Only three will be under the age of 70. One will be a billionaire. Years from now, historians might compare photos of this debate with Democratic gatherings in the 1980s or 1990s and not be able to tell the difference. It’s an awkward look: The party that lays claim to the nation’s multiracial future will present five white people as its leading contenders…It didn’t have to be this way. Democratic leadership, anxious about the crowded field and unwieldy debates, intentionally structured the process to winnow down the number of candidates before any ballots were actually cast.” Daley reccomends ranked-choice voting in polls, giving all candidates more exposure as a possible solution for enhancing diversity.

Sarah Luterman writes in her article, “Elizabeth Warren Has Made Disability Rights Central to Her Campaign” in The Nation that “in the 2020 Democratic primary, almost every major candidate has put forward some sort of disability policy plan, albeit of varying quality. (The Sanders campaign will be releasing its plan in the coming weeks.) This is the first time that disability has become a mainstream campaign issue. Policy can be a life-or-death issue for those of us in the disability community. Social benefit programs keep many of us alive. In 2018, voter turnout among disabled people spiked by 8.5 percentage points, according to a report from Rutgers University, with 14.3 million disabled Americans voting. For a sense of how many that is, the number of disabled voters surpassed the number of Latino voters. One in four Americans have some form of disability.”