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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

February 21, 2019

Political Strategy Notes

In “How Democrats Can Avoid Turning Their Presidential Primaries into a Circular Firing Squad” at The American Prospect, Steve Rosenthal offers four “Political Rules of Engagement,” which can help insure victory for Dems in 2020, including: Rule 1: Don’t try to stifle new ideas, new opinions, or new plans (“Trump, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and some in the media are painting new ideas from the Democratic camp as “socialist” and “fringe.” They will suggest that the views of every single elected Democrat represents the views of the entire party. This will only work if Democrats take the bait, turn on each other, and, so to speak, eat their young.”); Rule 2: Democrats need a robust debate on the issues instead of misleading or attack ads aimed at tearing each other down (“any debate or opposition should be primarily about the issues, not about attacking each other’s character or running misleading ads to score political points. It’s unhelpful, its counterproductive, and voters see right through it.”); Rule 3: “The Two-for-One-Rule” (“If a candidate spoke negatively about an opponent, people in the audience could remind her or him of the “Two-for-One Rule,” thus compelling the candidate to then say two positive things about their opponent”); and Rule 4: Every Democratic candidate should sign a pledge that they will give their wholehearted support to whoever eventually wins the party’s nomination (“Every Democratic candidate who doesn’t win the nomination should campaign full-time for the party ticket in the fall, as if they were the nominee.”)

At FiveThirtyEight, Perry Bacon Jr. explains why “Elizabeth Warren’s Ideas Could Win The Democratic Primary — Even If She Doesn’t.” Bacon writes that “Warren is likely to be at the forefront of the “policy primary,”– the one-time Harvard professor is perhaps the wonkiest person in the field. And Warren knows how to push her ideas onto the national agenda quite well…The Massachusetts senator appears poised to serve as a progressive policy anchor in the 2020 Democratic field, pushing the field — and the eventual nominee — toward aggressively liberal policy stands…How might Warren have such influence? Because the Massachusetts senator is planning to release detailed and decidedly liberal policy proposals on issue after issue. Her rivals, if past primary campaigns are any guide, will feel pressure to either “match” her on policy by coming up with their own proposals, say that they agree with Warren, or convince the party’s increasingly left-leaning electorate that Warren’s proposals are too liberal.”

At CNN Politics, Grace Sparks reports that “New research from Gallup released Tuesday reveals the party is getting less white, more educated, less religious and progressively more liberal since 2001. Notably, the party’s liberal shift is mostly driven by white Democrats, while nonwhite Democrats make up a larger share of the moderate and conservative wings of the party…In the last six years, more than half of white Democrats, 54%, identified themselves as “liberal.” That’s a 20-point jump from the average in 2001-2006. By comparison, the percentage of Hispanic Democrats and black Democrats identifying as liberal grew 9 points and 8 points, respectively, in that same time frame…College-educated Democrats have long been more likely to identify as liberal than those without college degrees, and the percentage of Democrats who reported having a college education grew 17 points from 2001-2006 to 2013-2018…Those educated groups have grown increasingly liberal over lime, with the percentage of Democrats with college degrees who identify as liberal jumping 16 points from 2001-2006 to 2013-2018. The percentage of Democrats with post-graduate degrees identifying as liberal also jumped 13 points in that time frame, outpacing the growth among people with some college education (12 points) and no college education (10 points).”

“The nascent 2020 campaign is shaping up to be all about radical ideas on the left, with candidates looking toward a populist, progressive agenda that’s distinct from the centrist politics of previous election cycles,” reports Lydia DePillis at CNN Politics. “Already, Democratic presidential contenders have proposed everything from requiring worker representation on corporate boards to strongly discouraging stock buybacks, along with almost uniformly agreeing with the need to provide some kind of public option for healthcare and invest in a “Green New Deal” to fight climate change. Free college, which Sanders floated in 2016, has become a litmus test; and this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed introducing free childcare starting from birth…That means that, all of a sudden, the academics who’ve been quietly working on those ideas for years now are finding an eager audience. Take University of Georgia law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, who has long advocated for allowing the US Postal Service to function as a bank in order to create a public option for financial services — an idea USPS has indicated it would be open to pursuing.”

John Nichols writes at The Nation: “Just as there was in the 1930s, and in the 1960s, there is now an opening for the Democratic Party to fill a void in our politics and policy-making. But to fill that void, the party must be willing to embrace at least some ideas that have been labeled as “socialist”—and to maintain the embrace even when a Herbert Hoover or a Barry Goldwater or a Donald Trump attacks. Social Security was described as a “socialist” program, but FDR fought for and implemented it. Medicare was attacked as a “socialist” program, but LBJ fought for and implemented it. Major strides on behalf of racial justice, gender equity, disability rights, and environmental protection, to implement fair taxation and to provide a safety net, were often decried by the right as “socialist” initiatives—as backers of a Green New Deal are now learning—but, as these policies have been advanced, society has come to the point even centrists and some conservatives recognize their value.”

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait has a salient comment on the Republicans’s resurrected Socialist Bogeyman: “Possible Democratic presidential nominees Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Beto O’Rourke have all explicitly disavowed the socialist label. Last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bluntly told one questioner that the Democratic Party is capitalist…I am old enough to remember when Pelosi was the prototype of the far-left ideology that would make Democrats radioactive in swing districts. (That was less than three months ago.) It is actually a form of progress that the liberal bogeyman has been replaced by the socialist bogeyman. For one thing, it’s much easier for Democrats to triangulate against socialism than it was for them to triangulate against liberalism. Trump’s campaign has given Democrats an easy way to position themselves in the center. All they need to do is say they believe in a role for free markets and reject socialism.”

Also at New York, Ed Kilgore weighs in on the socialism vs. capitalism hoo-ha with another sobering observation: “No, the term “socialism” doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of Americans the way it did during the Cold War, and that’s a good thing for anyone who believes the promise of this country requires a less neurotically intense allergy to government activism in the national interest. But Democrats are making it clear that support for social democratic staples like single-payer health care or aggressive bank regulation are drawn from the practical needs of the citizenry, not perusal of dusty pamphlets from the early-20-century British Fabian Society or any other ideological template. Perhaps Sanders and AOC will yet make American politics safe for socialism writ large. But in the meantime, a progressive take on democratic capitalism is likely to prevail in the marketplace of ideas.”

Even as a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. in the wake of McCarthyism, I became aware that the Socialist Bogeyman was weaponized to bash liberals, smother free speech and destroy lives. Back then, many Republicans preferred to trot out the Communist Bogeyman, but today’s Republicans are mostly content to conflate the terms. My hunch is that most voters who would be receptive to such smear campaigns in 2020 are going to vote Republican anyway. One swing constituency I would worry some about is the estimated 120 million small business operators and their employees, some of whom may associate the term with high taxes and burdensome regulations. Small businessmen and women have much to gain from being relieved of health insurance headaches by a more accessible government alternative, and that’s a net plus for Democrats. But it might help if Dems offered them some additional tax incentives and relief from over-regulation. It can’t hurt to make the Democractic ‘brand’ more small business-friendly in any case.

Kevin Drum reports that “North Carolina Vote Fraud Case Takes a Dramatic Turn Against Republican Candidate” at Mother Jones. Drum notes that “Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th district, has a son. And that son, John Harris, is an attorney. Not just any attorney, either: he’s an assistant US attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina. Today he testified about McCrae Dowless, the campaign operative hired by his father to get out the Republican vote: …First in a phone call and then in subsequent emails, the younger Harris warned his father of both political and legal ramifications of hiring Dowless….He spoke to his parents on April 7, 2017, a day after the candidate met with Dowless. “I told him that collecting absentee ballots was a felony,” John Harris said, “and I would send him the statute that collecting ballots was a felony.”…This certainly seems to change things from “poor Mark Harris was duped by McRae Dowless” to “Mark Harris knowingly hired a guy to perform ballot harvesting.” Stay tuned.”


Age As An Issue in 2020

I’ve written about this issue before, but with the presidential field now forming, it’s time to get serious about it, as I argued at New York:

With Bernie Sanders’s announcement of a 2020 presidential candidacy, we know for sure that there will be at least one aspirant for the job who would turn 80 during his first term in office. He’s the second septuagenarian to enter the race, counting the 72-year-old incumbent, though Elizabeth Warren will turn 70 this summer. And the field could soon include another candidate who would have an 80-candle birthday cake in the White House, Joe Biden (a little over a year younger than Sanders).

Will our budding gerontocracy be an issue during the nominating or general election stages of the 2020 campaign?

[F]ans of Biden and Sanders tend to brush off questions about their heroes’ ages by denouncing ageism, touting their vigor as compared to the junk-food-loving and sedentary Trump, or pointing at each other (if Biden can run, so can Bernie, and vice versa). But it was an issue in the presidential campaigns of the two nonincumbent septuagenarian major-party nominees before Trump (Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008 — both younger than Biden and Sanders will be in 2020), whose other unusual features overshadowed his age. So it cannot just be waved away as somehow irrelevant.

Presumably the younger Democratic rivals of Biden and Sanders will bring up the age issue indirectly by drawing attention to their own relative youth and/or their appeal to younger voters (though it will be tough for any of them to do better among younger voters than Sanders did in 2016). But the most destructive way it could arise, especially in the general election campaign in which no vulnerability will go unexploited, would be via a negative health event or some incident suggesting a “senior moment” or some more serious cognitive issue.

Do Democrats really want to take that chance given the existential threat of a second Trump term? And conversely, could they find significant value in a situation where it’s Trump and Trump alone who is vulnerable to age-related voter concerns? Is that a potential advantage that should be casually tossed away?

These are certainly factors that ought to be taken into consideration along with current horse-race polling and other candidate assessments that don’t take terrifying if marginally likely possibilities into account. Democrats have the luxury in 2020 of a vast field of qualified candidates with platforms ranging across the ideological spectrum; it’s doubtful there’s any one candidate who is indispensable. Perhaps testing the upward limit of an intangible maximum age for running for president is worth the risk in order to beat Trump soundly or reward Biden or Sanders for past service. But dismissing the risk involved is plain foolish.


Winning Support for a Public Option Through a Medicaid Buy-In

Jordan Weissman explains why “Every Democrat Should Talk About Health Care Like Amy Klobuchar Does” at slate.com. Weissman quotes Sen. Amy Klobuchar at a CNN town hall, in which she plugged Sen. Brian Schatz’s health care reform bill, which lays the foundation for a public option through Medicaid buy-in:

What we need is to expand coverage so people can have a choice for a public option. And that’s a start. And you can do it with Medicare. You can do it many ways. But you can also do it with Medicaid, something I don’t think we’re talking about enough as a potential solution. This is a bill that I am one of the original sponsors of, Sen. Sanders is also sponsoring it, it’s a bill by Brian Schatz, who is a senator from the state of Hawaii, and what it basically says is “Let’s expand Medicaid so you can buy into Medicaid, and it’ll bring the prices down, and we can cover more people.”

Weissman praises Sen. Klobuchar for the way she frames the proposal “if you didn’t particularly like the substance of Klobuchar’s response, I think she deserves credit for being forthright; Democrats would be better off if more candidates talked about health care with her level of candor.” No matter which candidate you support, Klobuchar’s respectful tone could prove effective in winning popular support in the 2020  general election.

But Schatz’s bill is not intended as a final substitute for ‘Medicare for All,’ the health security reform brand most frequently associated with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who just entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination as a leading candidate. Schatz’s billI is more of an interim reform on the path to universal health care coverage, one which may have some appeal to moderate Democrats, who are looking for legislation that could pass sooner than any of the ‘Medicare for All’ bills. Weissberg highlights some of the key features of the legislation:

…It would allow states to create public health insurance plans through Medicaid, with premiums capped at 9.5 percent of a family’s income. The policies could be sold on Obamacare’s exchanges and states would be free to include copays and deductibles. In states that adopted it, residents would be guaranteed access to health insurance priced at no more than one-tenth of their income; that’s progress from today’s status quo, where families that earn more than 400 percent of the poverty line have to pay the full cost of insurance, no matter how high premiums rise, and counties can be left without coverage options if private insurers decide to bail. It would also make Medicaid payments to primary care doctors more generous, which could encourage more physicians to accept it. And by working through Medicaid, it avoids the usual Republican attack that Democrats are somehow going to destroy Medicare by expanding it.

Part of the appeal of a public option is that it won’t alienate most voters who want to keep their health insurance, while it allows those who want a public option to try it out. Critics of the approach argue that the economics of universal coverage requires “all-in” participation. No matter which reform is eventually adopted, however, there will be unforseen problems and glitches that need to be fixed. Democrats should acknowlege that reality with an up-front commitment to making the needed repairs, while reminding voters that the Republican “reform” means letting insurance companies have their way with consumers.

Of course nothing is likely to pass before 2021, and then, only if Democrats win a Senate majority and the white house in the 2020 elections. If Democrats win by a landslide margin, a Medicare for All bill will become a practical possibility. If the margin is narrower, the Medicaid buy-in public option may be the more realistic possibility in the short range.

Either way, Democrats should not get suckered into internicine warfare between Medicare for All advocates and supporters of a public option through Medicaid buy-in. Don’t let the debate degenerate into a bitter false-choice exercise. Whichever approach gets prioritized after the election, it’s likely that it will win near unanimous support from Democratic Senators and House members in the final floor vote. Once it is passed, the other alternative will top the Democratic reform agenda. Indeed, expanding eligibility for both Medicaid and Medicare merits support from all Democrats as essential steps toward universal coverage for every American and all illnesses.


Teixeira: The Green New Deal: The Good, the Bad and the Nuts (II)

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

Now that a little more time has elapsed since the GND roll out, the responses on the left to the initiative have become clearer.

First, there are some folks–I would mention Mike Tomasky and Jonathan Chait here–who see the GND as being net negative because it’s so far over the top that it discredits the Democrats and provides abundant ammunition to the GOP. Tomaksy describes it as “a home run for Mitch McConnell”. Chait describes it as basically bad and a kind of anti-capitalist fever dream dressed up in green clothing.

That seems a bit harsh. Surely some credit is due for putting the general idea into play even if some of the specifics are, well, bonkers. On the other hand, another stream of left commentary is probably much too forgiving of the wackier aspects of the GND. (Examples: Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times; Maggie Koerth-Baker on 538.) The general idea here seems to be that since the basic idea is so good, we don’t really need to worry about nutty ideas that are associated with it. Hey, we’re moving the Overton window here, don’t bother us!

This is not convincing. The possibility and desirability of moving said window does not mean that you can loudly assert whatever wish list agenda you have and expect good results. The Overton window is indeed movable, but it’s not that movable. It still has to respect the underlying structure of public opinion and the state of real world politics.

Finally, there are those who are sympathetic to the general idea but recommend that a GND actually be at least somewhat economically and politically feasible and actually be targeted on climate change. I recommend here the approach of Noah Smith whose Bloomberg column on designing a GND “that isn’t over the top” is well worth reading. Some excerpts:

“I propose an alternative Green New Deal, which would focus on actually defeating climate change. Some of the proposals here are included in the Green New Deal resolution; some are not.

The first pillar of an alternative Green New Deal would be green technology. If the U.S. can discover cheap ways of manufacturing cement and concrete without carbon emissions, and of reducing emissions from agriculture, it will give developing countries a way to reduce carbon output without threatening their economic growth. To this end, the U.S. should pour money into research. The budget of ARPA-E, the agency charged with leading this research, should be increased from about $300 million to $30 billion per year.

The second way to move green technology forward is to encourage the scaling of these technologies. As companies build more solar power, batteries, smart grids, low-carbon building retrofit kits and other green technologies, the costs go down. To that end, the government should provide large subsidies to green-energy companies, including solar power, batteries and electric cars, as well as mandating the replacement of fossil-fuel plants with zero-carbon plants.

Infrastructure spending is also important. The original Green New Deal’s goal of building a smart electrical grid is a good one, as is the idea to retrofit American buildings to have net zero emissions.

Technologies developed in the U.S. need to spread quickly to other countries. All ARPA-E breakthroughs should be freely transferred to other countries….

[A]n alternative Green New Deal should include proposals to make sure as little as possible of the costs of the transition fall on the economically vulnerable. Government infrastructure and retrofitting projects will naturally create many green jobs. The proceeds of a carbon tax can be rebated to low-income Americans, either as a carbon dividend, or through earned income tax credits, child tax credits, food stamps, housing vouchers and income support for the elderly and disabled. These policies combine the goals of fighting climate change and supporting the poor and working class.

In order to sweeten the deal politically, an Alternative Green New Deal should also include some economic policies that aren’t directly related to climate change — but make sure these are things that should be done anyway, and which won’t break the bank. Universal health insurance….should be included [as well as] Increased spending on public universities and trade schools in exchange for tuition reductions, and grants to help lower-income students pay for these schools,…

Finally, an alternative Green New Deal should involve progressive taxes, both to raise revenue for the spending increases and to let the nation know that the well-off are shouldering more of the burden. Wealth taxes and inheritance taxes are good ideas…..

This alternative Green New Deal has similarities to Ocasio-Cortez’s version, but also has key differences. By focusing on technological development and international assistance, it would tackle the all-important problem of global emissions [while] avoiding huge open-ended commitments like a federal job guarantee or universal basic income…Ultimately, this plan would represent the U.S.’s best shot at fighting the looming global menace of climate change while also making the country more egalitarian in a safe and sustainable way. It would be a worthy successor to the original New Deal.”

This makes good sense to me. It’s plenty ambitious but actually has some intellectual coherence as a GND, rather than a wish list. It would likely be more effective and certainly more salable than the original proposal. If folks are really serious about a GND, that’s the direction we need to go in.


Political Strategy Notes

“House progressives are set to introduce a revised single-payer “Medicare-for-all” bill during the last week of this month, as Republicans sharpen their criticism of the policy and Democratic presidential hopefuls face questions about whether they support it, writes Mary Ellen McIntire at Roll Call. “The House bill from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., will have at least 100 initial co-sponsors. It comes as Democrats are offering a range of bills to expand health insurance coverage, such as a proposal to allow adults between 50 and 64 to buy into Medicare that was unveiled Wednesday, and presidential candidates refine their positions on what “Medicare-for-all” should mean and the role private insurers would play…The intra-party divisions could complicate Democrats’ hope of keeping health care as a unifying issue and a central theme in the 2020 campaign, building on their capture of the House in 2018 by focusing on protections for pre-existing conditions and defending former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement…“The most important thing for Democrats to do is outline a couple of core principles that they are for and what they mean by ‘Medicare-for-all,’” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, adding that candidates should focus on broad topics like covering all Americans, lowering costs and the ability to choose their own doctors. “It’s very, very important that we get some of those components and core values out.”…“At the end of the day, what people want is access to affordable health care for everyone,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist and president of the Mellman Group. “People are less concerned about the mechanism through which that’s provided and more concerned about the ultimate objective….Polling shows that most people support expanding coverage through Medicare, but support for “Medicare-for-all” fell when people heard it could cause them to lose their insurance. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month found that support for a national health plan fell from 56 percent to 37 percent when people were told it would eliminate private insurance.”

Li Zhou and Emily Stewart consider “5 ways Trump’s national emergency declaration could be stopped” at vox.com, including: 1) A joint resolution of termination contesting the status of the emergency; 2) Congressional Democrats sue the White House; 3) Landowners sue the White House; 4) Liberal activist groups sue the White House; and 5) California and other states sue. There is a good chance that all of these challenges will soon be launched. As Zhou and Stewart explain “Trump is issuing the declaration under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which lets presidents issue an emergency declaration but under certain constraints — namely, Trump can only use specific powers Congress has already codified by law, and he has to say which powers he’s using. The act doesn’t define what counts as an emergency…House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday that they were prepared to take multiple routes to try to block Trump’s efforts. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available,” they said in a statement.”

At CNN Politics, Priscilla Alvarez explores the question, “Will the Supreme Court stop Trump’s national emergency?” Alvarez notes, “How and where these legal challenges proceed is unclear, but it’s likely they’ll bubble up to the Supreme Court — potentially testing for the first time the 1976 law that formalized the structure by which a president can declare a national emergency…There’s been virtually no litigation in the 43-history of the National Emergencies Act about that statute,” said Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law. “To a large degree, what is about to happen is not precedented,” he added.”…the administration could face legal challenges on what statutes he relies on to merit pulling from funds that haven’t been appropriated for his wall. Trump invoked Section 2808 of Title 10 of the US Code, which allows him to dip into a stash of Pentagon funds that are earmarked but have no signed contracts for spending that money. Section 2808, specifically, requires the use of the armed forces.”

“By validating the Republican efforts to portray Democrats as outside the mainstream,” writes Ronald Brownstein in “Howard Schultz Is Already Helping President Trump: The former CEO has staked out a platform few Republican-leaning voters would endorse” at The Atlantic, “Schultz is helping Trump already. He would help him even more if he runs as an independent behind a platform that aligns much more closely with the views of Democratic voters than with those of Republican voters. An independent candidacy that splinters the vote would reduce the share of the vote required to win, inexorably benefiting a president who has never sustained support from more than about 45 percent of the public. Unlike Clinton, who sought to remake the Democratic Party from within, Schultz could debilitate Democrats…With minorities and Millennials replacing working-class whites in the Democratic coalition, the party is more liberal than during Clinton’s era. But enough voters inside the coalition still share the views Schultz has expressed for him to exert influence within the party if he chooses to. Instead, he’s pursuing a course that may only help Republicans.

In his article, “One blue wave was not enough: Democrats need another in 2020: Beating Donald Trump might not be Democrats’ biggest task in 2020: A second blue wave could reshape history.” Paul Rosenberg writes: “Altogether, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is initially targeting 33 GOP-held seats, for 2020. Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., has declared that “2018 was just the tip of the iceberg for Democrats,” adding, “We have a clear path to expanding our Democratic majority, and by putting our plans in motion earlier in the cycle than ever before, we are demonstrating to Democrats across the country that the political arm of House Democrats is operating in high gear from the start.”…What’s more, the DCCC pointed out, 20 of the 33 seats it’s targeting “are held by an incumbent Republican who has never served in the minority before,” making them especially likely to retire and create a more winnable open-seat race…Pundits have largely tuned out on the House amid the early furor of the impending presidential campaign. That’s a mistake. Just as 2018 was all about the House, 2020 is expected to be all about the White House — with a secondary nod to the Senate. But a second wave election in the House could be crucial for longer-term Democratic success. And making further gains in state legislative races will be crucial to the redistricting process after the 2020 census is complete.”…“In 2020 we can defeat Trump and set up decades of progressive victories,” a Swing Left spokesperson told Salon. “That requires winning the White House, the Senate, key state races that will determine redistricting, and protecting our majority in the House. Put simply, the blue wave can’t be a temporary movement, and it can’t be confined to the House. We need to build a comprehensive and sustained approach to activating grassroots energy to win elections up and down the ballot.”

Rosenberg continues, quoting Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska and chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party: “There’s no question that Democrats need rural voters in order to win back the White House, as well as to win statewide races like U.S. Senate,” she said. “Unfortunately, Democrats have lost an entire generation of rural voters because there’s been this cycle of mutual neglect. Democrats don’t invest in the state parties, and then they don’t have the money to talk to rural voters. We don’t talk to rural voters, so they don’t vote for Democrats.”…One old-timer put it bluntly to her husband at a town hall, Kleeb recalled: “Let’s just be honest, if there’s only one church in your community, guess what religion you become.” Kleeb added that Democrats “have to start including the solutions that rural people are already putting on the table to the big issues facing our country and our party.”…“Real investments have to be made in red and rural states if we’re going to win the White House and critical statewide elections,” Kleeb said. “Specific examples are investing in state parties who know their communities best; opening up our primaries to independents, since we need their votes to win elections; and talking about issues that matter to rural people, like ending eminent domain for private gain, providing broadband access and ensuring competitive markets for family farmers and ranchers.”

At The San Antonio Express-News, Kevin Diaz reports that Dems see a “Texas ‘focal point’ of Democratic congressional strategy in 2020.” Diaz explains, “Smelling blood after picking up two Texas congressional seats in November – along with Beto O’Rourke’s narrow loss in the U.S. Senate race – House Democrats on Monday announced six new 2020 targets in the Lone Star State.” Diaz notes that Democratic strategists see 33 pick up opportunities for House of Reps seats in 2020, and 6 of them arte in Texas. “The targeted Texas lawmakers include Houston-area Republicans Michael McCaul and Pete Olson. Around San Antonio, the Democrats are putting two other Republicans in their sights: Freshman Chip Roy, a conservative stalwart who worked for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and moderate Will Hurd, who represents a heavily Latino border district. Rounding out the list are Republicans John Carter of Round Rock and Kenny Marchant of Coppell…”All six have suburban areas experiencing population booms and an increasingly diverse electorate. These factors gave Republicans a taste of what is headed their way.” said DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, an Illinois Democrat, in a memo released Monday…Republicans still represent 23 of the state’s 36 congressional districts. Flipping six seats would give Democrats a 19-17 majority in Texas.”

“While Northam is looking to atone for his actions, black organizers and activists say that he has a lot to do before he can be forgiven…Northam declared last week that he will stay in office, promising to help Virginia “heal” and use the blackface scandal as an opportunity to be more active in addressing racial inequality. That hasn’t stopped protests, though, or ended calls for his immediate resignation…Strong turnout among black Virginians, coupled with the fact that 87 percent of black voters in Virginia backed the Democrat, pushed Northam to a decisive victory over Republican Ed Gillespie…With Northam staying in office in hopes of riding out the scandal, the focus now shifts to how he will address the issue moving forward. On Tuesday, the governor’s office released a statement touting Northam’s record on restoring civil rights to people with felony convictions, a group that is disproportionately black. The Washington Post reported last week that the governor’s office is planning a statewide “reconciliation tour”, and Northam will attend a February 21 discussion on race at the historically black Virginia Union University. — From P. R. Lockhart’s “Ralph Northam wants forgiveness. Virginia’s black activists want him to work for it: The embattled governor’s fight for redemption is just beginning” at vox.com.

Lockhart reports that some groups, including the national and Virginia NAACP and county branches of the organization are still calling for Northam to resign. Other groups have have seized on the Northam meltdown to convert the controversy into an opportunity to advance a stronger civil rights agenda. The ACLU has called on him to support a constitutional amendment to protect the right to vote for those who have been convicted of felonies. Also, “In a letter sent to Northam this week, an activist group called the Virginia Black Politicos outlined their own set of policy proposals, including the removal of Confederate monuments, the creation of funds supporting black entrepreneurship and Virginia’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and a new office focused on issues affecting people of color.” Virginia’s legislative Black Caucus, which earlier called for his resignation, may be the most influential organization in shaping the outcome. Much depends on whether they will see a way for Northam to continue in office, in light of his record of support for civil rights reforms and the outright hostility to civil rights by Virginia’s Republican leaders.


First 2020 Democratic Debates Will Be…Interesting

On reading a description of plans for the first Democratic presidential candidate debates of the 2020 cycle, I put down some thoughts at New York:

[A]nyone who has thought for a few moments about the giant Democratic presidential field that is currently assembling has probably wondered how it will affect candidate debates. Faced with a similar problem in 2016, Republicans devised a poll-based formula for participation in the first several debates. But since there were 17 (or a bit later, 16) candidates in the field, the networks sponsoring the debates divided them into two groups, with the top tier (ranging from 8 to 11 candidates) getting a spot in the main prime-time debate, and the remainder appearing in a prior (but little-watched) “undercard” or “kiddie table” debate.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of complaining about this arrangement from those left off the big stage. But it probably helped Republicans gradually winnow their enormous field into, well, Donald Trump and an assortment of candidates who were supposed to beat him.

Now Democrats are preparing for their first round of 2020 Democratic debates for June, to be sponsored by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. And with a field that could potentially include well over 20 candidates, the Democratic National Committee has had to face some of the same decisions Republicans encountered last time around. Perhaps because of residual bitterness from former and current Bernie Sanders supporters over the DNC’s role in minimizing the number of debates in 2016 — presumably in the interests of Establishment favorite Hillary Clinton — the party is taking a lighter hand this time around. So while there is a formula for getting on the stage, there’s no “kiddie table,” and if the field is really large, random rules for sorting out participation could lead to some rather interesting combinations:

While that would exclude some completely anonymous schmo from the debates, the threshold is not that high. More importantly, the random assignment of candidates to the two nights means there may not be the kind of interchanges among the truly viable candidates that debates are designed to produce.

What this means more strategically is that a gun-shy DNC has decided it won’t try to use the debate structure to winnow its crazy-large field. And if said field doesn’t get winnowed on its own, then the debates could be unwieldy free-for-alls for quite some time.

Gird up your loins and get ready.


Teixeira: Hey Big Spender!

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

There are few policy questions more important for Democrats than how they’re going to handle the debate about deficits and the national debt. This is because every time Democrats come up with some good new programs that would actually help people and make the country better and more productive over the long haul, the standard response is: we can’t afford it, that would run up the debt, we’ll become like Greece, etc. That is, unless you want to raise taxes to cover every nickel of that spending–and good luck with that.

But the conventional economic wisdom on deficits and the debt is shifting–finally–and that should help Democrats keep their heads on straight about this stuff. It’ll still be a struggle to hold off the conservative attack dogs and their pals in the deficit hawk community. But there is hope that the ideological tide on government spending is turning.

Paul Krugman:

“[T]here are…two big questions [about the debt]. First, how much should we care about debt? Second, will a double standard continue to prevail? That is, will the deficit scolds suddenly get vocal again if and when Democrats regain power?

On the first question: One surprising thing about the debt obsession that peaked around 2011 is that it never had much basis in economic analysis. On the contrary, everything we know about fiscal policy says that it’s a mistake to focus on deficit reduction when unemployment is high and interest rates are low, as they were when the fiscal scolds were at their loudest.

The case for worrying about debt is stronger now, given low unemployment. But interest rates are still very low by historical standards — less than 1 percent after adjusting for inflation. This is so low that we needn’t fear that debt will snowball, with interest payments blowing up the deficit. It also suggests that we’re suffering from chronic weakness in private investment demand (which, by the way, the 2017 tax cut doesn’t seem to have boosted at all).

So in the past few months a number of prominent economists — including the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund and top economists from the Obama administration — have published analyses saying that even now, with unemployment quite low, debt is much less of a problem than previously thought…..

[B]orrowing at ultralow interest rates to pay for investments in the future — infrastructure, of course, but also things like nutrition and health care for the young, who are the workers of tomorrow — is very defensible.

Which brings us to the question of double standards.

You don’t have to agree with everything in proposals for a “Green New Deal” to acknowledge that it’s very much an investment program, not a mere giveaway. So it has been very dismaying to see how much commentary on these proposals either demands an immediate, detailed explanation of how Democrats would pay for their ideas, or dismisses the whole thing as impractical.”

Noah Smith:

“[E]conomists’ views on the subject of debt are changing. Economist Kenneth Rogoff, who once ran into criticism for a dubious claim that debt reduces growth, now advocates more deficit spending for the U.K. The IMF has softened its tone on debt, and is beginning to embrace the idea of fiscal stimulus for distressed economies. And Olivier Blanchard, a respected macroeconomist and former IMF chief economist, has a new paper questioning the idea that higher deficits would impose any real cost on the U.S. economy.

Blanchard begins with a simple observation: If the interest rate paid by the government is lower than the rate of economic growth, government debt doesn’t have to be paid down. Instead it can be infinitely rolled over, and as the economy grows, the debt burden will have a tendency to shrink all on its own. Blanchard notes that interest rates on short-term government debt have generally been lower than the rate of nominal GDP growth during the past few decades:…

Blanchard notes that effective borrowing costs may be even lower for the government, since some portion of the interest paid to bond holders gets taxed, ending up back in the government’s coffers. Taking this into account, he finds that during the past half-century, the U.S. almost always could have afforded to take on more government debt than it did.”

Sometimes you just gotta borrow the money. And quite frequently, and especially now, that’s fine.


Largest Presidential Field Ever?

In looking at the list of actual and potential Democratic candidates for president in 2020, I’ve become a bit concerned, and shared some thoughts on the situation at New York:

It’s been obvious for a while that the Democratic presidential field for 2020 is going to be pretty large, and could produce an unexpected nominee, much like the comparably vast Republican field of 2016 that gave us our very strange 45th president. But as Nate Silver explains, this could be the largest presidential field in any one party since the advent of near-universal state primaries and caucuses made announced candidacies all but essential for anyone wanting to become a major-party nominee.

Silver counts nine announced candidates with at least potentially viable profiles (plus one, Richard Ojeda, who announced and then dropped out), and then another 12 that he figures are more likely than not to run in the end. So even without such remote possibilities as New Yorkers Michael Bloomberg, Bill de Blasio, and Andrew Cuomo, or retreads John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, or House backbenchers Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton, we are likely looking at the largest presidential field ever.

The largest Democratic fields up until now were in 1972 (15 candidates) and 1976 (16 candidates). Those two cycles, interestingly enough, produced the least likely Democratic nominees in recent memory, the ideologically marginal (by contemporary standards) George McGovern and then the very obscure one-term Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. McGovern, as you probably know, lost 49 states; Carter narrowly won what was supposed to be a Democratic slam dunk by putting together an unusual coalition rooted in the Deep South, a region where Democrats had not done well at all since 1960. So neither nominating contest went the way most party elites would have preferred, for sure.

So it’s reasonably safe to say that very large presidential fields have more often than not led to defeat and/or eccentric nominees. They’ve also often produced nominees who didn’t get anything close to a majority of the popular vote in the primaries, which was less problematic back when Democrats didn’t have the kind of strict proportionality in delegate awards that they do now. As Silver observes:

“The three past elections when the field was as large as its shaping up to be in 2020 all resulted in party elites failing to get their way. They also resulted in a nominee who failed to get 50 percent of the popular vote in the primaries, which could yield a contested convention since Democratic delegate allocation rules are highly proportional to the popular vote. In a field of 20 candidates, for instance, you’d project … that the eventual nominee would have either 32 percent or 40 percent of the popular vote, depending on whether you use a linear or logarithmic trendline.”

Yikes.

Now it’s also entirely possible that a giant field could get “winnowed” early on, as it was among Republicans in 2000 (when George W. Bush basically had a one-on-one fight with John McCain after New Hampshire) and among Democrats in 2008 (when Obama and Clinton largely stood alone after New Hampshire). If, say, Biden and Sanders both run and rout the field in Iowa and New Hampshire, a lot of candidates might quickly drop out. But as Silver notes, the size of the field itself represents a pretty big bet by a lot of people that nobody’s going to run away with this thing.

 

 


Political Strategy Notes

In “2020 Democrats Try to Woo Back Trump’s Union Voters” at The Daily Beast, Gideon Resnick shares some insights on the role of labor unions in the 2020 election: “Trump made inroads with labor in 2016. Those looking to unseat him now are making moves to ensure it doesn’t happen again…In 2016, the AFL-CIO supported Clinton but when they conducted exit polls on how their members voted in the presidential election, they saw a nine percentage point drop among active and retired members from the level of support Obama had. That decline, union officials say, is what could have contributed to the narrow margins of victory for Trump in Midwestern states…“It was much more of a drop off in enthusiasm for Clinton than it was a big shift of union voters from Obama to Trump,” Thea Lee, former deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO, told The Daily Beast…But union officials say Trump’s pitch seems to have faded and his hold on that voting bloc seems to have cracked, as evidenced by midterm results that saw Democrats gaining the governorships, House seats and holding Senate seats in the Midwest states that have often comprised the so-called Blue Wall. With those voters seemingly up for grabs in 2020, Democrats have made a concerted effort to speak the language of labor, talking more about disadvantaged workers, income inequality, wealth gaps and health care. Warren has advocatedfor allowing workers to elect at least 40 percent of board members for corporations with over $1 billion in revenue. Sanders has gone directly after Amazon and Walmart, successfully pushing the former company to raise wages for workers. Brown wants to eliminate incentives for offshoring for corporations that emerged as a byproduct of the recent GOP tax bill. And they’ve all talked about the importance of unions in restoring the middle class.”

Nate Silver comes right out and says what lots of Democrats are thinking, if not saying, in his FiveThirtyEight post,  “Everyone’s Running — And That Could Be Dangerous For The Democrats: When the field gets big, the primaries get weird.” As Silver writes, “The crowded field developing for 2020 doesn’t necessarily imply that an anti-establishment candidate will prevail. Even when party elites don’t get their first choice, they usually get someone they can live with. But the high number of candidates does imply a higher-than-usual risk of chaos.” In all likelihood, says Silver, “we’ll end up with a total of between 17 and 24 Democratic candidates, including the 10 (one since withdrawn) we have already…a very big, possibly even record-breaking field.”…larger fields are correlated with more prolonged nomination processes in which both voters and party elites have a harder time reaching consensus…But the past electoral cycles where the field was nearly as big as this one shouldn’t exactly be comforting to Democrats, and it should be particularly worrying for next-in-line candidates such as Biden. Democratic voters like a lot of their choices and feel optimistic about their chances of beating Trump in 2020. The large field is both a sign that there may not be consensus about the best candidate and a source of unpredictability.”

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore also sees the large Democratic presidential field as problemtic, and notes, “Putting aside the aforementioned 2016, 1972, and 1976 cycles, there have been seven other presidential fields that reached double digits: Democrats in 1988, 2004, and 2008, and Republicans in 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2012. Only two of them produced victory, and that includes a 2000 George W. Bush election that required overtime and an intervention by the Supreme Court…So it’s reasonably safe to say that very large presidential fields have more often than not led to defeat and/or eccentric nominees. They’ve also often produced nominees who didn’t get anything close to a majority of the popular vote in the primaries, which was less problematic back when Democrats didn’t have the kind of strict proportionality in delegate awards that they do now.”

The title of Zack Beauchamp’s article, “Howard Schultz’s CNN town hall revealed the emptiness of elite centrism: Schultz’s vacuous politics are a reflection of his class” at vox.com captures the feeling Schultz seems to leave with many Democrats. Beauchamp elaborates: “The CNN town hall from former Starbucks CEO and potential 2020 candidate Howard Schultz on Tuesday was revelatory: It showed he has no agenda beyond blaming the “extreme left” and “extreme right.” Asked repeatedly to explain his policies for fixing America’s biggest problems, Schultz proved himself entirely incapable of proposing new ideas or specific solutions…One audience member asked Schultz what he would do to fix the health care system. His response: “This gives me another opportunity to talk about the extreme left and the extreme right.” CNN’s Poppy Harlow asked him for specifics two more times, to explain what exactly he would do to overhaul American health care. Schultz had no plan…A Houston resident, citing his city’s damage from Hurricane Harvey, asked Schultz what his plans would be to address climate change. Schultz responded by bashing the Green New Deal and complaining about the federal debt.” Sort of centrism for its own sake. I’ll be surprised if Schultz is still in the mix in six months.

Writing at The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky sees the ‘Green New Deal’ as “a home-run – for Mitch McConnell.” As Tomasky explains, “It’s overly broad and grandiose. Getting to zero carbon emissions by 2030 is basically impossible. Serious environmentalists are shooting for 2050. Sweden hopes to be carbon neutral by 2045. That’s Sweden. The United States has 32 times Sweden’s population and 39 times its gross national product…Ernest Moniz, Barack Obama’s energy secretary, is a brilliant person. No one knows more about energy than he does. He told NPR: “I’m afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year time frame. It’s just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid time frame that we can achieve.” Tomasky believes that a the Senate vote ont he Green new Deal resolution McConnell plans to scedule is designed to “reveal a big split in the Democratic caucus” and divide Democxrats…Credit AOC for getting the Green New Deal in the camera frame. Climate change is an issue that needs serious attention. But it doesn’t need this sort of attention. Let’s hope this lesson about throwing a hanging curveball over Mitch McConnell’s plate has been learned.”

Many Democrats, who saw Virginia as the emblematic red-to-blue transition state, are shell-shocked by the sudden credibility meltdown among its top Democratic leaders. Looking toward Virginia’s future, Kyle Kondik argues that “Democrats hope for a nationalized Virginia election this fall: Richmond chaos could threaten state legislative takeover but big-picture trends still favor team blue” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. As Kondik sees it, “So here we are, with the top three officials in the state all damaged to at least some degree, but without any real indication as of this writing (Wednesday evening) that any will leave office voluntarily...What is at stake in the state is more than the future of the three state-level, statewide elected Democrats. Before this cascade of revelations and party chaos, Virginia Democrats were looking at the very real possibility of total state government control and — given that many Southern states were ruled by conservative Democrats before Republican dominance in the region — perhaps the most liberal (or progressive, if you prefer) state government in the post-Reconstruction history of not just Virginia, but the South in general…No doubt, the Richmond scandal is an immense headache for Democrats, and a black eye for the commonwealth. If Democrats fail in the fall, the scandal probably will be part of the reason why. But it may be that Democrats suffer through agony all year and then win the state legislature in the fall anyway. If that happened, it would be another triumph for the long-term, nationalized trends that have more often animated politics across the country in recent years than the local ones that seem so politically important in the moment they are happening.”

Top experts on Virginia politics Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik also provide a more in-depth look at the stakes in the battle for control of the Virginia state legislature in light of the current scandals: “Looming over all of this is the upcoming state legislative elections in Virginia this NovemberRepublicans are hanging on to very slim majorities in the state House of Delegates (51-49) and state Senate (21-19). Democrats made a net 15-seat gain in the House of Delegates in November 2017 as Northam, Fairfax, and Herring won statewide. Democrats seemed like favorites to win both chambers — we’ll analyze these races later in the year — particularly because a new state House of Delegates mapimposed by judicial order will improve Democratic odds in that chamber. Some Virginia Democratic operatives, even before the current mess, were concerned that the white hot intensity that fueled Democrats in 2017 and 2018 might cool in 2019, particularly without any statewide elections on the ballot. Lower turnout might help Republicans, whose voter base in Virginia (and elsewhere) can be more reliable in off-year elections. Still, the growing nationalization of American politics could help the Democrats by pushing them to maximize turnout in Virginia by focusing again on the unpopular President Trump. But one could imagine the opposite happening, particularly if Northam hangs around and depresses Democrats, or the Fairfax allegations continue to churn. Perhaps a statewide election for lieutenant governor, if it happens, will increase turnout in Democrats’ favor. Or if Northam stays, could we see Democratic state legislative candidates running on impeaching their own party’s governor? It’s not impossible, and it would be just the latest crazy development in a state rocked by them over the last week.”

There may not be much hope for atonement and rehabilitation for Virginia’s Democratic  Governor Ralph Northam, since most of the state’s African American leaders have reacted to revelations of his black-face mockery in the 1980s by calling for his resignation. Complicating factors include Northam’s positive track record as a progressive Governor, the fact that overt Republican racists always get a free ride with their party and the reality that the next two Democrats in the VA succession order are also in very hot water, while the fourth in line is a Republican. At cnn.com, John Blake makes a case that “Some of the biggest champions for black people in America’s past have been white politicians who were racists.” Blake cites  Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, LBJ and Abraham Lincoln as primary examples, along with racially-insensitive remarks by former Vice President Biden and former President Bill Clinton. Blake concludes that “there is not much room for a politician to evolve in today’s environment. There is a “rage industrial complex” that fixates on the latest racial flashpoint: an outrageous video, remark or image that’s passed around social media like a viral grenade.” But, what if Virginia’s African American leaders embraced a different strategy of insisting Northam hire African Americans for his top staff and workshopping him through a process of rehabilitation? Might that be a more instructive and healing way to address racist behavior?

And at The Nation, Joan Walsh writes, “So where a week ago it seemed unlikely that Northam could survive this crisis, as of Monday it looked possible. While Carroll Foy said she backed the black caucus call for Northam’s resignation, “now that he’s said he’s not going anywhere, and it’s not an impeachable offense, I can use it as a teachable moment.” Keeping Northam in office, as opposed to turning the state over to Republicans, is “better, given that the Republicans say no to unions, no to women’s equality. Even though [Northam and Herring] made this mistake, they are better than the other party” on racial-justice issues…In an interview with The Nation, the Rev. Jesse Jackson acknowledged that he called for Northam’s resignation last week, because “he is less able to govern because of the blackface situation.” But while he denounced blackface as “part of the old scheme of humiliation,” he accused the media of caring more about Northam’s old photo than Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde Smith’s saying she’d be happy to sit in the front row of a lynching, or Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp taking “thousands of black voters off the books” to defeat Stacey Abrams and become governor…“I have to think that when Northam supports Medicaid for all, voting[-rights] enforcement and took the higher side on the Charlottesville march, that should matter more,” Jackson said. He pointed to President Lyndon Johnson as someone who had supported Southern segregation in his youth, but became a champion of civil rights and poverty reduction as president. “We’ve seen what people who are fighting for redemption can do.”..The question in the days to come is whether Northam can convince black voters that he’s serious about redemption.”


Tomasky: Screw ‘Uniting the Country’— That’s Not What Democrats Need in 2020

The following article by Michael Tomasky, editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and author of “If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved,” is cross-posted from The Daily Beast:

So now we have nine declared Democratic candidates for president, with presumably a few more on the way. I don’t know yet if it’s a great field. They all have strengths, they all have weaknesses.

But here’s one thing I like so far. I’m not hearing many sappy calls for unity or pledges to bring the country together. This is a grand development.

Pundits of course are supposed to bemoan this and demand that presidential aspirants summon us toward our better angels. I may have believed this once, but those days are gone. Calling for unity is a sucker’s game for Democrats and has been for a number of years.

It’s been clear since the 1990s that the Republican Party has had no interest in uniting the country. The GOP’s interest—since Newt Gingrich, the rise of Rush and the radio talkers, the illegitimate Bill Clinton impeachment, and the Brooks Brothers Riot of the 2000 election—has been to win. To dominate the other guys. Yes, George W. Bush said while campaigning in 2000 that he’d be a “uniter, not a divider,” and of course he employed some of that kind of rhetoric after 9-11.

But he rarely governed that way. This is largely forgotten now, but after the Supreme Court named him president, there were calls for him—the man who had lost by 500,000 votes and had very obviously carried Florida only because of a bad ballot design that had Palm Beach Jews voting for Pat Buchanan—to appoint moderates to key positions and govern from the center. He did nothing of the sort.

Barack Obama did talk more about unity, and about working across the aisle. What did it get him? Steamrolled, mostly. Key Republicans gathered at a restaurant the night of the inauguration and made a pact not to give him any support on his major initiatives. Mitch McConnell said openly that his goal was to make Obama a “one-term president.” They failed at that, but the list of initiatives on which Obama hoped for but did not receive any bipartisan support is long indeed (minimum wage, infrastructure, overtime pay, and on and on).

Then along came Donald Trump. I give him a perverse kind of credit for not making any stupid, empty pledges to unite the country. He needed a deeply divided country to have a chance, and he knew it. So he stoked division.

I’m not saying this cycle’s crop of Democrats should do that. Obviously, no Democrat would talk like Trump anyway, because that kind of bigoted talk would get a person drummed out of the country’s multiracial party even as it got him celebrated and elevated in the country’s white ethno-nationalist party.

I am saying, though, that Democrats should stop pretending they can unite the country. They can’t. No one can. What they can do, what they must do, is assemble a coalition of working- and middle-class voters of all races around a set of economic principles that will say clearly to those voters that things are going to be very different when they’re in the White House.

I like most of what I’m hearing so far on this front. Putting aside for present purposes their possible weaknesses, which we’ll have plenty of time to discuss, several candidates have come out of the gate emphasizing fighting for their America instead of some dreamy, chimerical vision of contentless unity. “Kamala Harris for the People” is a fighting slogan. For my money, she’s not nearly specific enough yet about what precisely she’s going to fight for, especially on economic questions, but it’s a start. Amy Klobuchar’s speech had some good pugilistic rhetoric about the pharmaceutical companies. Elizabeth Warren’s speech used the word “fight” 25 times.

And not-yet-declared candidate Sherrod Brown struck similar notes in a speech to the New Hampshire Young Democrats Saturday night. Brown also did something else very smart, something I’m on a kick about and will write a hundred times between now and the end of the primary season next year: He talked about small towns. He talked about the opioid crisis, which is crushing rural America but isn’t really on New York, California, or Washington radar screens. Brown is out there saying “I can get enough small-town white people back on our side,” while also emphasizing his record on civil rights and abortion and LGBTQ issues.

That’s a kind of reaching out that is absolutely necessary. But it is not the same as making some treacly, sentimental unity pitch. Brown is saying come join the fight. But saying that acknowledges the existence of the fight.

That’s where Democrats need to be. I hope that if Beto O’Rourke jumps in, he gets this. It’s where people’s heads are now anyway. We’re locked in a fight for the direction of the country. We have a president who’s about to use emergency powers to build a wall that a majority of the country doesn’t want. And in economic terms, we’re at a potentially historic and even revolutionary moment. As I wrote in the Times recently, there are strong and encouraging signs that supply side’s hegemony has run its course, and the public may be open again to Keynesian principles.

Is it kind of sad that unity rhetoric has no place in today’s politics? Sure. But the best way to unite the country, to the extent that such is possible anymore, is to win the White House and Congress and start passing laws and imposing rules that will help regular people again.

And I’m all for reducing polarization–I just wrote a book about it–but that’s a project that will need 20 years, and besides, reducing polarization requires defeating extremist radicalism. That requires pugnacity. Let the disunion begin.