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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

To Regain the Support of “Culturally Traditional but Not Extremist” Working Class Voters Democrats Need to Understand the Compelling Political Narrative That Leads Them to Vote for the GOP.

Read the Memo

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

By Andrew Levison

Read the Report.

The Daily Strategist

September 29, 2022

Political Strategy Notes

Some thoughts from Michael A. Cohen’s “Democrats’ strategy to boost MAGA Republicans is vindicated: Whatever sane Republicans remain in office, they remain largely enablers of the party’s anti-democracy majority” at msnbc.com. Cohen writes that “some pundits and even some Democratic politicians took the party leadership to task for what, on the surface, might seem like a cynical decision. Democrats “or their political consultants,” wrote Amy Davidson Sorkin in the New Yorker last August, “may have become too enraptured by the idea of their own cleverness or toughness” to recognize they were “immers(ing) themselves deeper in folly” by boosting the candidacies of pro-Trump Republicans. “It’s dishonorable, and it’s dangerous, and it’s just damn wrong,” said Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, to risk putting people in Congress who would undermine the nation’s democratic guardrails….On Wednesday, the House voted on the Presidential Election Reform Act. The bill would protect American elections from the kind of machinations that endangered our electoral process just two years ago, such as making it more difficult for state legislators to overrule election results and clarifying that the vice president plays only a ministerial role in counting electoral votes….Every Democrat backed the legislation, but just nine Republicans joined them….But last week’s vote confirms that electing any Republican, even those who are not fully indoctrinated in pro-MAGA thinking, risks placing American democracy in peril….The arguments criticizing Democrats for working against occasionally pro-democracy Republicans were based on a faulty premise: that there exists a sane and reasonable wing of the modern Republican Party.” Cohen provides some notable examples to support his argument. It does seem defeatist to argue that Dems should be tactical purists in light of Mitch McConnell’s trashing bipartisan initiatives going back to the day he urged opposing everything President Obama supported regardless of its substance. That’s not to say that supporting unelectable opponents is always a good idea. But the threat to democracy is so immediate, that if helps prevent the authoritarian nightmare, it will be ok for 2022.

Myah Ward provides some evidence that it iS working in “Dems’ big midterm bet pays off — so far” at Politico. “It was a risky bet, but at the moment, it appears to be paying off. In the six races where Democrats were successful in boosting hard-right candidates to the GOP nomination, many of the Republicans are lagging in the polls, struggling to raise money and forced to explain past controversial statements. In three governors races where Democrats played a role in shaping the primary outcome — Pennsylvania, Maryland and Illinois — cash-poor GOP candidates haven’t aired any TV ads since winning their primaries….In the Illinois governor’s race, incumbent Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has led Republican Darren Bailey by double digits in nearly every poll since July. Even a recent poll sponsored by Bailey’s campaign showed Pritzker ahead by 7 percentage points….Bailey’s troubles extend beyond the polling. The downstate Republican’s comments about Chicago — he’s referred to the state’s largest city as a “hellhole” — aren’t helping in the populous Chicagoland area: Bailey, a farmer from Louisville, Ill., is now living in a Chicago high-rise to “immerse” himself in the “culture” of the city….He also has money problems. Bailey’s $1.7 million in cash on hand is just a fraction of the billionaire governor’s $60 million war chest….There hasn’t been much polling in Maryland’s gubernatorial race, but what’s out there shows a huge advantage for Democrat Wes Moore. You can tell Republican Dan Cox is feeling the heat: He’s upped his attacks against Mooresince the unflattering numbers were published….Last month, the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed the race’s rating from “likely Democratic” to “safe Democratic.”….The closely watched race for Pennsylvania governor’s mansion has had a few more polls to examine than the other races. FiveThirtyEight’s polling average has Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro leading Republican Doug Mastriano by 10.4 points….There’s not much out there in terms of public polling data for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, where Republican John Gibbs ousted Rep. Peter Meijer in an August primary….both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball shifted this race from “toss-up” to “leans Democratic,” reflecting the perceived weakness of his campaign.” Ward goes on to cite more examples in New Hampshires Senate race and 2nd congressional district.

“Despite still trailing their Republican counterparts in fundraising this cycle, a jolt of post Dobbs enthusiasm had the president of the Democrats’ main fundraising arm for state legislatures confident enough on Tuesday to declare optimism for flipping GOP majorities in three states,” Jake Lahut and Scott Bixby report in “Dems Are Newly Bullish About Flipping These Statehouses” at The Daily Beast. “We know what we’re up against, but we are making a play to undercut GOP power in the Michigan House and Senate, the Minnesota Senate, and the New Hampshire House and Senate,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday….Lahut and Bixby quote an unnamed strategist who explains, “if you’re serious about protecting Roe, winning, winning Congress is very important, winning the gubernatorial races is very important, but also you get much more bang for your buck protecting Roe by winning state house and senate seats.”….Post said that while the DLCC has made improvements compared to their GOP counterparts—including setting back-to-back fundraising records in the two days following the leak of the Dobbs decision and the decision itself—they’re “still being outspent by our Republican counterparts who are flooding money into battleground states.” Readers who would like to contribute to Democratic candidates  for the state legislatures via the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee can do so right here.

In “Hey, Democrats, It’s Time for Unity, Not Purity,” Bill Scher writes at The Washington Monthly: “Democrats shouldn’t make Schumer’s job harder than it already is. The party is on a hot streak, partly because of a legislative strategy sensitive to the needs of vulnerable swing district incumbents. Not since 2002—when President George W. Bush’s Republicans picked up eight House seats—has the president’s party led in generic congressional ballot polls this close to the midterms. Remarkably, Democrats have mustered a slight one- to two-point lead in the Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight averages even though they’re saddled with what’s usually the burden of an incumbent president. Why put this momentum at risk?….the demands of backbencher purists did not help Democrats rack up legislative accomplishments and give themselves a rare chance to keep control of Congress during a midterm when they hold the White House. Democrats unified through compromise, and they fused progressivism with pragmatism. They took on seemingly unsolvable problems and delivered. They can do it one more time before America votes if all wings of the party remember what’s brought them to the cusp of victory.”

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The Gridlock Theory of the 2022 Midterms

In looking at the trajectory of the 2022 midterms, I noted at New York a theory that suggests we’d better get used to close elections that defy history:

With six weeks to go until Election Day, the midterms aren’t unfolding as we all expected earlier this year, when Republicans were better than even money to retake the Senate and a lead-pipe cinch to flip the House by a substantial margin. There are, of course, plenty of reasons you can cite for this change in the political climate, from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to somewhat better economic news to Donald Trump’s continued presence on the campaign trail to bad GOP-candidate selection. It’s nerve-racking, of course, because with Democrats holding the slightest of majorities in both congressional chambers, very small micro-trends in just a few states or districts could have enormous consequences for the parties and for the country (the consequences extend, of course, to state-level positions, not just governors but election-supervising secretaries of State).

But as political observers anxiously parse polls and hold up weather vanes to test partisan winds, Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter offers another way of looking at this election cycle:

“In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck write that American politics has become more polarized and calcified. Events and the responses to them from politicians no longer have the ability to deeply and fundamentally reshape our politics or political coalitions. ‘Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms,’ they write. ‘In the fall of 2020, 90 percent of Americans said there were important differences in what the parties stood for — the highest number recorded in almost 70 years of American National Election Study surveys.’

“Moreover, they write, voters are ‘less likely to change their basic political evaluations or vote for the other party’s candidate.’ This calcification of our partisanship ‘produces rigidity in our politics — even when dramatic events suggest the potential for big changes.’

“In other words, if every election is an existential fight, then every election will be close. Or, as the Democratic strategist told me, ‘notably competitive.’”

If true, this would mean not only fewer “persuadable” swing voters to produce big shifts in the results from election to election, but likely a reduction in the sorts of “enthusiasm gaps” thought to affect partisan turnout patterns in the past. Elections would be more like a series of huge pre-mobilized armies meeting in a series of huge clashes with no prisoners taken (and little cooperation across party lines between elections). Even if that’s an exaggeration of the degree of gridlock from which our government and our electorate is suffering, we might truly be entering a period in which swings in party voting are limited. And as Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck note, the “calcification” of party and ideological divisions can become self-perpetuating:

“Calcified politics and partisan parity combine to produce a self-reinforcing cycle. When control of government is always within reach, there is less need for the losing party to adapt and recalibrate. And if it stays on the same path, voters have little reason to revise their political loyalties.”

To be clear, very close elections can have variable outcomes. And in our winner-take-all system, the stakes will remain high. It will obviously make a great deal of difference which party wins the White House in 2024. Control of the Senate, moreover, depends as much on near-accidents of landscape than on the overall voting strength of the two parties, since only one-third of senators face voters each cycle. Democrats are benefiting from a modestly positive Senate landscape this year. Republicans should have a big Senate advantage in 2024. There is no guarantee either party can muster a governing “trifecta” in the future. As Republicans learned in 2017–18 and Democrats have learned in 2021–22, a trifecta isn’t all that if you can’t rigidly discipline all your troops all the time.

When white-knuckle time arrives just before Election Day this year, the odds are pretty good there will remain a lot of uncertainty about exactly what will happen when the votes are all counted (assuming we can get bipartisan buy-in on the results as officially certified, which is hardly a safe assumption at present). If Democrats managed to hold onto both congressional chambers, they may well feel vindicated by voters and go on to undertake an ambitious agenda in the next two years. More likely we will have a return to divided government and even more uncertainty and gridlock as we enter still another momentous election cycle.

Tomasky: Dems Must Connect Economics, Democracy and Freedom

Eric Alterman’s ‘Altercation’ at The American Prospect features an interview with Michael Tomasky, editor of The New Republic and Democracy and author of The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity, on the topic of “How the Democrats’ Economics Changed.” Among Tomasky’s observations:

How can liberalism win the economic argument against the right? People need to wrap their heads around four propositions:

1. Even when the economy today is “good,” it’s not really good. That is, even when unemployment is low and the market is doing well and so on, the fact is—a fact mostly unremarked in the daily media—we are still in the midst of an economy whose main feature is that millions of dollars every year are being transferred from the poor and the middle class to the top. So even when the working class (the 50th percentile, say) is doing better, the super-rich (the 1 percent and even the .1 percent) are doing way better.

2. Economics has finally recognized the existence of politics. For decades, or centuries even, economics gave no thought to politics. Wages, for example, were determined by a set of market forces, and politics had nothing to do with it. That’s how academics thought, but it’s not how the world works. In the world, workers make what they have the political power to make. That seems obvious to you and me, but economists were (and many still are) deeply resistant to acknowledging this. The book tells the story of how this change came about, through the work of people like Joseph Stiglitz and groups like the Economic Policy Institute. It’s a really important change because it rejects the assumption of classical economics that left alone, the market will find equilibrium. No—the state has to play an evening-out role.

3. Economics has changed profoundly in this century. In sum, much of economics has moved from being based on theoretical modeling to being based on empirical data. And as this change has happened, economics has moved left, not because economists are leftists, but because the empirical data showed, for example, that r > g, in Thomas Piketty’s famous formulation. That is, the data show that the system is rigged for the rich in a way theoretical modeling did not. There are still, of course, plenty of conservative economists, but a younger and more diverse generation of economists is changing the profession, and those changes are seeping their way into politics.

4. Finally, here’s how the Democrats should explain all this to people. Republicans and the right are not, of course, just going to lie down and stop arguing economics. We’re in for a long battle. I think the best way for Democrats to win it is this: They need to attach their economic ideas to the ideals that Americans are taught to cherish from an early age—democracy and freedom. They should say something like: Yes, our economic policies will put more money in your pocket. But they’ll do more. They are good for democracy, because as the founders knew, a healthy democracy depends on a strong middle class. Too much economic and political power in the hands of the rich leads to oligarchy, and that’s where we’re headed if the trend of the last few decades isn’t arrested.

In addition, our economic plans will advance freedom. The right has sold people one definition of freedom: The free market means freedom. Well, there are a lot of small towns across this country where people are “free” to work at the dollar store or sell a little Oxy. That’s not freedom. There’s another definition of freedom: making people free to live up to their fullest potential. That’s a kind of freedom that dates to Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” and the definition of rights advanced in his 1944 State of the Union; it even goes back to some founders, as Joseph Fishkin and William E. Forbath show in an important recent book. When that single mom who works at the dollar store can go to free community college and has a safe and affordable place to park her toddler while she takes those night classes, she is doing exactly that: fulfilling her potential, and in addition, contributing more to the economy. That’s freedom, too. I think the Democrats need to say that—especially after the Dobbs decision. When the right has taken away a half-century-old freedom from women, the door is open to repossess that word and radically redefine it.

Long-standing neoliberal economic assumptions are finally being successfully challenged. If we can save our democracy in these next couple of years, we can win this fight. And I think we’re more likely to win it when we make people understand that economics, democracy, and freedom are not separate things. It’s all one argument.

Teixeira: Does the Abortion Issue Mean Democrats Have Won the Culture War? Not Even Close

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

Some Democrats may believe that they have now fixed what’s wrong with their party. They just passed some key legislation and are set to do better than expected in the 2022 election. Republicans are on the defensive about abortion. Democrats are unified, particularly in their depiction of their opponents as an ultra-MAGA party controlled by semi-fascists. Perhaps their problems are now solved.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The reality is that, when the smoke clears and the dust settles this November, Democrats will likely control just the Senate (if that) of the two houses of Congress and still face the same daunting obstacles that were looming before their fortunes improved in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. The same geographic and educational polarization that undercuts the power of the Democratic coalition will remain. Indeed that polarization is likely to increase as the party relies more and more on white college-educated voters in affluent metropolitan areas.

This has profound implications for Democrats in the Electoral College and in Congress, especially in the Senate. Put simply, Democrats’ uncompetitiveness among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America puts them at a massive structural disadvantage given the structure of American electoral system. This problem has only been exacerbated by recent attrition in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters.

Nothing that has happened in the last several months changes this underlying and uncomfortable fact: Democrats have failed to develop a party brand capable of unifying a dominant majority of Americans behind their political project. Indeed, the current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swathes of American voters who might potentially be their allies. And those swathes are very, very important. Without better performance there, Democrats’ hold on power will be ever tenuous, as will be their ability to implement their agenda at scale.

So, what to do? I have a modest three point plan for reform and renewal. The Democrats, of course, will continue to win some elections and dominate their favored areas of the country, even without reform. But if they are serious about moving the country away from its current partisan stalemate toward robust political and economic health, they must follow a new path. Here is the first part of that path (I will cover the other two in subsequent posts):


Political Strategy Notes

Kaleigh Rogers and Zoha Qamar explain “How Americans Feel About Republican Governors Sending Migrants To Blue Cities” at FiveThirtyEight: “A poll from The Economist/YouGov fielded in the days after the Martha’s Vineyard flights found that Americans were evenly split over whether or not they approved of Texas and Florida sending undocumented immigrants to northern cities without giving those cities notice: Forty-four percent “somewhat” or “strongly” approved, while 44 percent “somewhat” or “strongly” disapproved (12 percent were not sure). Democrats were more likely to disapprove of the relocation efforts, with 71 percent disapproving, while three-quarters of Republicans approved. A poll from Politico/Morning Consult found that 42 percent of registered voters said it was appropriate that “some Republican governors from states along the U.S.-Mexico border have been sending thousands of migrants to liberal states and cities in the U.S.,” with another 41 percent saying it was inappropriate….Fifty-nine percent of Democrats said it was inappropriate, and 66 percent of Republicans said it was appropriate….And in a separate poll from YouGov, Americans were likewise divided when asked whether they approved or disapproved of Southern Republican governors sending undocumented migrants to Democratic-controlled cities without giving those cities notice….When asked in an August Economist/YouGov poll whether immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, or whether they should be required to leave the country, Americans were split 44 percent to 41 percent. They were similarly divided in other YouGov data from this week: Thirty-seven percent of Americans said undocumented immigrants were treated “fairly,” and 38 percent said “unfairly.” And in an April survey from Republican pollster Echelon Insights….Thirty percent said immigration should stay at its current level, while 45 percent said it should be decreased and 15 percent said it should be increased….And in an NBC News/Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies survey conducted earlier this month, a majority of registered voters (56 percent) said the Republican Party better handles border security, and a plurality (46 percent) preferred the GOP on immigration.”

From FiveThirtyEight’s “Other Polling Bites“: “A recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that almost half of Americans (41 percent) thought the age of our political leaders, such as the president and those in Congress and on the Supreme Court, is a major problem, and another 37 percent considered it a minor one — a breakdown that remained fairly consistent across political leanings. Seventy-five percent of Americans were in favor of introducing age maximums for members of Congress, too. Additionally, a majority agreed that a president should “definitely” undergo a physical and mental assessment to take office, with Americans ages 55 to 64 (71 percent) most likely to say so.” And at Forbes, Madeline Halpert reported on September 8, “A clear majority of both Democrats and Republicans think the U.S. should have a maximum age limit for those holding public office—and most believe it should be lower than the ages of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump—according to a CBS poll released Thursday, which also found about half of voters are interested in seeing more young people elected….Republicans and Independents were slightly more likely than Democrats to say there should be age limits: 75% of GOP voters and Independents were in support of a limit, while 71% of Democrats were in favor of a maximum age….Only 27% of all voters said there should be no limits, according to the poll, which surveyed 2,085 U.S. adults from August 29 to 31….About 40% said 70 should be the maximum age to serve as an elected official, while 26% said 60 years old and 18% said 80 years old….About half of U.S. senators are older than 65, according to several reports, despite those 65 years and older only representing 16% of the total American population as of 2020.” These studies don’t tell us which advanced age is a deal-breaker in all circumstances. But they do suggest the age ballpark that would be problematic in a “normal” election, when there is no extremely-corrupt, democracy-threatening opposition candidate. Could Biden win again, despite his relatively advanced age? Maybe, if he runs against the same, but even more damaged candidate again. But these studies do suggest that a healthy political party does a better job of developing its younger leaders than is now the case for Dems. But btw, Trump ain’t no spring chicken.

At Daily Kos, Christopher Reeves has some good questions Democratic campaigns should ask in public forums and media: “Why have Republican candidates not denounced or set themselves apart from Marjorie Taylor Greene, or said they don’t approve of Donald J. Trump’s behavior? While Democratic candidates worry about offending their base a little, Republican candidates are terrified of it. Their own base is so divided that they are not in a position where they feel they can stand against the MAGA members of their own party, and yet, they cannot risk losing the moderate, fiscal Republicans or party-unaffiliated voters who dislike the MAGA message. Now is the time for Democratic campaigns to turn the tables and start demanding: Will you denounce these out of control viewpoints?…If you are going to swing at Republicans, you swing at them right from the beginning on issues you know split their own base. Do they agree with Lauren Boebert? Where do they stand on a national abortion ban? Should people be free to marry whomever they choose? Where does the Republican in the race stand on protecting health care? Where are they on protecting Social Security? At the state level, where is my opponent on honoring elections?….In my own state of Kansas, we still have those who think the 2020 Kansas election was rigged. This in a state where not only is there no proof of that, but Donald J. Trump won the state’s electors fairly easily. Still, some want to go to court and protest….Put the Republican in a position to divide them away from their own base….Republicans yell about “the squad,” but it is well past time we yell back. The further Republicans are forced to define themselves on the issues, the more their own base fractures….When pressed to decide, most simply can’t and act as though they are caught like deer in the headlights. Why? Because they are not certain what they can say without potentially alienating the MAGA voters they have whipped up for years or turning off other voters they need….At every turn possible, force them to make that decision. Force the Republican in the race to choose their friends. To define themselves by their friends. To stand with their friends on issue after issue or to decide to be their own candidate….Force Republicans to own their issues. Lean in as far as you can.”

Kaila Philo reports that “Election Deniers Are Walking Back Their Claims For The General Election” at Talking Points Memo, and writes, “I very much believe it and I think it exists.”….That’s what New Hampshire Senate hopeful Don Bolduc told the New Yorker last October when asked whether he genuinely believed that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump through voter fraud….But when asked again on Fox News this month, the retired Army brigadier general walked back his belief. “I’ve come to the conclusion and I want to be definitive on this,” he said. “The election was not stolen. Elections have consequences and, unfortunately, President Biden is the legitimate president of this country.”…He’s not the first to make the abrupt switch: Former triage nurse and Washington’s Republican Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley used to wear her denialism with pride. Statements like, “The 2020 elections raised serious questions about the integrity of our elections” and “I believe that courts have an obligation to give all evidence of voter fraud a fair hearing” sat pretty on her website until early August when, as Axios reported, they disappeared….There seems to be a growing pattern of Republican congressional candidates smothering their denialism once they hit the general election. Some haven’t even admitted their belief out loud: Colorado Republican congressional candidate Erik Aadland, for example, was exposed as a believer in the Big Lie only when a recording surfaced of a man who seemed to be him expressing his fealty to it.….In fact, similar switcheroos have been on display throughout the country in recent months on another topic — abortion. Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jenning, for example, reeled in his support for an abortion ban after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, a deeply unpopular decision in his state. His opponent, Democratic incumbent Tim Walz, enjoys an 18-point lead, widely seen to be in part a result of his pro-life stance.” In ads, interviews, debates and every opportunity, Democratic campaigns and candidates should make their opponents own their walkbacks. And be sure to refer to certified election results when talking about election deniers, just to remind voters of the legitimacy of the vote count, as opposed to unsubstantiated Republican allegations.

About That House Republican “Agenda”

I’m certainly old enough to remember lots of these pre-election “agenda” documents, and couldn’t help but mock the latest one at New York:

In Thomas Pynchon’s 1965 cult novel The Crying of Lot 49, a character who has taken too much LSD decides that if everyone on earth repeats the marketing phrase “rich, chocolatey goodness,” it will represent the voice of God. With or without drugs, a lot of people in politics have a similar delusion that getting candidates to make the same noises like chirping cicadas will produce electoral victories. It’s a particularly strong belief among congressional Republicans, who share the dubious conviction that Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” is what flipped control of Congress in 1994.

With the assistance of Gingrich and former Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, the House Republican Conference has released a new “agenda” document, entitled “Commitment to America.” The document, clearly designed for online consumption, has lots of bells and whistles and factoids about the hellish reign of Joe Biden and his “Democrat” Party. What it doesn’t have is a whole lot of specificity, unlike the unfortunate “agenda” that Republican Senate Campaign Committee chairman Rick Scott released earlier this year to the near-universal horror of his colleagues, who don’t want to be identified with the proposed sunsetting of Social Security and Medicare.

The relatively anodyne character of Kevin McCarthy’s pet project doesn’t mean it is entirely useless. Candidates mouthing the approved pieties will presumably not be expressing their pithy views on Jewish space lasers or repeating QAnon slogans.

Still, it’s hard to take seriously an agenda for the nation that does not mention climate change, Russia, or extremist threats to democracy — or one that suggests the sole cure for inflation is to cut “wasteful government spending” without explaining what that means (in the indictment of Democrats that accompanies the agenda, there is much criticism of direct stimulus payments, which Donald Trump preferred to virtually every other form of government spending).

Most interesting was how House Republicans handled a red-hot issue they dare not ignore completely, given the obsession it commands among a very big chunk of the GOP party base: abortion. You have to look pretty hard to find it, nestled as it is under the unlikely heading of “A Government That’s Accountable,” and the downright misleading subheading of “a plan to defend America’s rights under the Constitution.” And it simply says Republicans will “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” So they checked off a box for anti-abortion activists in the manner least likely to draw curious or unfriendly attention to the extreme abortion views so many of them have expressed, which don’t poll well. Perhaps voters will be too mesmerized by the overall party message to notice. Repeat after me: rich, chocolatey goodness.


Dionne: DeSantis Immigration Distraction May Backfire

It’s just a hunch, but I think FL Gov. Ron DeSantis probably screwed himself and hopefully his party’s brand, with what Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. calls DeSantis’s “cruel stunt of flying Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard — now under investigation by a sheriff in Texas and the subject of a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Boston.”

I doubt that there are a lot of swing voters thinking, “Hot damn, just what I wanted to see – a Republican governor defrauding impoverished immigrants and making their lives harder.” People who like that ‘owning the libs’ sort of thing are already on board with the GOP’s worst policies. There’s no value added with swing voters who are looking for constructive solutions and more bipartisanship.

DeSantis’s stunt does nothing to solve immigration problems and it calls attention to the GOP’s inability to come up with any credible immigration reforms. Makes you wonder if DeSantis has the same advisor who persuaded Sen Lyndsey Graham that now would be a good time to call for a national ban on abortions.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. sees it this way: “So DeSantis’s cynical move was, as much as anything, an effort to push aside abortion rights, an issue central to the underdog campaign Democrat Charlie Crist is waging against him….” Dionne adds,

This dynamic is playing out all over the country. Candidates who once spoke of their ardent opposition to abortion are now scrubbing their websites of references to the issue (“duck and cover” exercises, in the words of one Democratic strategist) and touting their own moderation on the issue.

One of the most transparent efforts to reset the campaign agenda: an ad from Republican Scott Jensen, a doctor and former state senator challenging Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. In April, Jensen said that if he were elected, “We’re going to ban abortions.” Not now. In the new spot, Jensen awkwardly holds his grandchild and declares:

““Abortion is divisive, and Tim Walz is weaponizing the issue. In Minnesota it’s a protected constitutional right and no governor can change that, and I’m not running to do that….”

Lacking a credible defense of the Supreme Court’s Republican majority Dobbs decision, DeSantis and the GOP’s midterm strategists are now reduced to the politics of distraction, and right at the moment when Trump’s legal difficulties are coming into sharper focus. It’s not a good look, six weeks out from the midterm elections.

For Democratic candidates, now is the time to make their Republican debate opponents squirm like worms on meth in front of the TV cameras. It shouldn’t be too hard.

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall takes a deeper dive into the “Why Aren’t You Voting Your Financial Interests?” thing and comes up with some perceptive comments, including: “Partisan prioritization of cultural and racial issues has, to a notable extent, superseded the economic conflicts that once characterized the nation’s politics, leading to what scholars call a “dematerialization” of American electoral competition….On the right, millions of working- and middle-class whites have shifted their focus away from the goal of income redistribution — an objective Democrats have customarily promoted — to support the Republican preference for traditional, even reactionary, sociocultural values. At the same time, college-educated white voters have come to support tax and spending initiatives that subordinate their own financial self-interest in favor of redistribution and liberal social values….In “Identity, beliefs, and political conflict,” Giampaolo Bonomi, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of California, San Diego, and Nicola Gennaioli and Guido Tabellini, professors of economics at Bocconi University in Milan, make a similar argument:

Economic shocks that boost conflict among cultural groups can also trigger a shift to cultural identity. We offer two examples: skilled biased technical change and globalization. If these shocks hurt less educated and hence more conservative voters, and benefit more educated and hence more progressive voters, they make cultural cleavages more salient and can induce a switch to cultural identity. As a result, economic losers become more socially and fiscally conservative.

In support of their argument, Bonomi, Gennaioli and Tabellini cite the work of David Autor and of Italo Colantone and Piero Stanig to “show that, both in the U.S. and in Europe, losses from international trade foster support for right-wing and conservative parties.”….Their analysis reveals how economic issues mesh with cultural issues in ways that make it difficult to define whether the economic framework creates the moral framework or vice versa.”

Edsall also quotes Jared Clemons, author of “From ‘Freedom Now!’ to ‘Black Lives Matter.’” As Clemons explains: “There are limits to white liberalism, as many Black activists noted when the civil rights movement attempted to transition from civil and voting rights (which, by and large, required little to no material sacrifice from affluent, white liberals) toward economic issues like equal access to housing and public schools, which white liberals supported at far lower levels. Martin Luther King Jr., in particular, spoke about the hollowness of racial liberalism and believed the best way to secure material gains for Black people was by building a cross-racial movement of working-class individuals that could make demands of the federal government (like full employment), rather than depending on the moral resolve of affluent white liberals….

My work suggests that a change in behavior is only likely when the political act in question is relatively costless. For as we know — as evidenced by places likely Berkeley, Calif., Boston, or D.C. — some of the most liberal cities are also the ones in which racial inequalities, particularly in the realm of housing and education, are their most pronounced. This is because it is much more costly to stake the more left-wing position on these issues. Once economic matters of this sort are on the table, research shows that white liberals’ progressivism wanes.

Some nuggets from “People Of Color Make Up 41 Percent Of The U.S. But Only 28 Percent Of General-Election Candidates” by Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight: “Unsurprisingly, as has been the case for decades, Democrats had a more diverse candidate pool. At least 46 percent of their candidates this cycle were people of color, as opposed to only 19 percent of Republican candidates. But, in 2022 — possibly because white candidates were more likely to have advantages like incumbency and fundraising, possibly because of racism on the part of voters, possibly for other reasons — candidates of color from both parties had a harder time winning their primaries. As a result, when we mapped Fraga and Rendleman’s data onto the primary results, we found that people of color will constitute just 39 percent of Democratic general-election candidates and 16 percent of Republican general-election candidates….According to Fraga and Rendleman, 16 percent of all Democratic and Republican candidates for Senate, House and governor this cycle were Black. In comparison, 15 percent of the final nominees for those offices identified as Black. That’s slightly higher than their share of the U.S. population, which is 14 percent. But of course, one party had a lot more Black candidates than the other: 28 percent of Democratic candidates running in primaries identified as Black, but only 8 percent of Republican candidates did. And while at least 111 Black Democrats are on the November ballot, there are only 31 self-identified Black Republicans. Still, Black Republican members of Congress have been so rare in the past 150 years that there’s a good chance that the 118th Congress will have a record number.”

Rakich continues, “The researchers found that Hispanic and Latino Americans are the second-most-common minority group in 2022’s candidate pool, making up 8 percent of all candidates and 9 percent of the final nominees. But both numbers are much smaller than their share of the population (19 percent, though they constitute a smaller share of the citizen voting-age population). Hispanics and Latinos are also more evenly split between the parties: 53 Democrats and 31 Republicans are running in the general election. That mirrors the fact that, while Latinos still lean Democratic overall, they are much more of a swing demographic than Black voters….There are also interesting patterns among 2022’s Latino candidates. At least 26 Latino Democrats on the November ballot identified as being of Mexican descent, and at least five as Puerto Rican. But Fraga and Rendleman could identify only two who are Cuban American. By contrast, they found Republicans have nominated at least seven Cuban Americans. Fraga and Rendleman could find only 10 Mexican American Republican nominees and no Puerto Rican ones. This jibes with data that shows Cuban Americans are a Republican-leaning group, but Puerto Ricans and especially Mexican Americans are generally Democratic.” Such is the diminishing utility of the term ‘Latino’ in a political context.

The Return of Party “Issue Ownership”

I knew there was something familiar about the way Democratic and Republican strategists were talking about the 2022 issue landscape, and it finally hit me, as I noted at New York:

In the gospel according to the Church of Bipartisanship, the way politics should work is that each side should devise distinctive solutions to commonly identified problems and then compromise where necessary to get things done. If that doesn’t happen, the blame is typically assigned to self-serving politicians and fanatical activists who prefer gridlock to any accommodation of divergent views.

Reality is more complicated. In part, that’s because the real engines of gridlock are the institutional obstacles (especially the Senate filibuster and judicial review) available to minority parties to obstruct anything they don’t want to happen. Beyond that fundamental problem, moreover, is a flawed premise at the heart of the bipartisan proposition: The parties often don’t agree on any “commonly identified problems.” Indeed, as Ron Brownstein explains, that’s why Democrats and Republicans appear to be “talking past each other” in this year’s midterm-election chatter:

“As the Democratic pollster Molly Murphy told me, 2022 is not an election year when most Americans ‘agree on what the top priorities [for the country] are’ and debate ‘different solutions’ from the two major parties. Instead, surveys show that Republican voters stress inflation, the overall condition of the economy, crime, and immigration. For Democratic voters, the top priorities are abortion rights, the threats to democracy created by former President Donald Trump and his movement, gun control, climate change, and health care.”

Now this is not, of course, an entirely unprecedented phenomenon. Ever since polling and focus groups were invented, politicians have understood there are certain issues that favor or disfavor their own parties. For ages, Republicans have struggled to maintain credibility on fundamental fairness, maintenance of an adequate social safety net, and sensitivity to the needs of minorities, while Democrats aren’t really trusted to keep government efficient, attend to national security needs, or protect traditional moral values. Ceding whole areas to the opposition unfortunately tends to reinforce such stereotypes, which in turn makes loud shouting the way to elevate the issues one “owns.”

In living memory, some of the more innovative politicians in both parties have refused to play this game of ownership and instead sought to “capture,” or at least neutralize, the other party’s issues with distinctive policies of their own. Most famously, Bill Clinton, to the great dismay of Republicans and quite a few people in his own party, insisted on offering proposals aimed at reducing crime (e.g., community policing and deploying more officers on the streets), reforming welfare (originally a work-based proposal that maintained a personal entitlement to assistance), and “reinventing government.” Yes, Clinton, whose party did not control either chamber of Congress for six of his eight years in office, ultimately went too far in accommodating Republican policies on both crime and welfare reform (thus exposing him to the charge of “triangulating” against his own party). But the basic idea of offering Democratic proposals on public concerns outside the party’s comfort zone was smart, and it drove Republicans, who constantly complained that Clinton was “stealing our issues,” absolutely crazy.

Similarly, George W. Bush, on the advice of strategist Karl Rove, spent much of his first term offering modest but significant proposals on health care (a Medicare prescription-drug benefit), education (the No Child Left Behind Act), and immigration (a comprehensive reform measure) — all issues Democrats were generally thought to “own.” Like Clinton, he paid a price among party activists for “RINO” efforts to address “Democrat issues.” Arguably, the conservative backlash to his perceived heresies, especially on immigration, fed both the tea-party movement and its descendent, the MAGA movement, though Bush himself was clearly undone by the Iraq War and his inept reaction to a financial crisis. But the impulse to build credibility on salient public concerns where none existed was wise, and it was even in some minor respects emulated by Donald J. Trump (e.g., in his effort to co-opt criminal-justice reform via the Jared Kushner–brokered First Step Act).

Is anything like this kind of mold-breaking occurring at present? To some extent, Democrats have tried to address “Republican issues” involving the economy. Certainly, Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have spent much of 2021 and 2022 touting their budget proposals as essential to the task of building a strong economy. And while Joe Manchin might have been principally responsible for branding the fiscal year 2022 budget-reconciliation bill as an “Inflation Reduction Act,” by the time Biden signed the legislation, it had come to seem like a very good idea to most Democrats. The party has been less resolute in dealing with the crime issue, other than by constantly trying to rebut made-up claims that it wants to “defund the police” as part of an orgy of “wokeness.”

Republicans, perhaps because they thought they had a surefire winning message in 2022 and are loath to depart from it, have been less adept in adjusting to shifting public concerns that undermine their position. They justifiably think of abortion as a “Democrat issue” right now — one that threatens to boost Democratic turnout while flipping many suburban swing voters — and when Lindsey Graham tried to offer a proposal to reposition them on stronger ground, the reaction among Republicans was overwhelmingly negative, as the Washington Post reported:

“In a memo to GOP campaigns released this week, the Republican National Committee laid out what it called a winning message on abortion: Press Democrats on where they stand on the procedure later in pregnancy, seek ‘common ground’ on exceptions to bans and keep the focus on crime and the economy. Then, Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation to ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy — overshadowing new inflation numbers and undermining what many GOP strategists see as their best message for the fall: ‘Leave it to the states.’

“’It’s an absolute disaster,’ GOP strategist John Thomas said, as Republican Senate nominees already targeted for their comments on abortion were asked to weigh in. ‘Oy vey,’ he said when informed that Blake Masters in battleground state Arizona had just expressed his support.”

Even if Republicans succeed in making inflation or crime or border control more salient than abortion among 2022 voters, they will pay a price down the road — among voters generally and in their powerfully anti-abortion base — by running for the hills when an issue is raised that’s not going to go away in the foreseeable future. Maybe someday the two parties can get onto the same page when it comes to the menu of national problems they intend to address. But don’t hold your breath.

Meyerson: Dems Should Stress Economic Reforms to Win Young Voters

From “How to Turn Out Young Voters in November” by Harold Meyerson at The American Prospect:

By the evidence of every known survey, today’s young Americans are the leftmost generation in many decades, perhaps in our entire history. But will they vote in sufficient numbers this fall to block a Republican takeover of the Senate and the House?

….A new poll by Hart Research of nine states with closely competitive Senate contests, which oversampled voters under 40 (it polled more than 800 of them), shows, however, that the Democrats can still campaign profitably on the economy, inflation notwithstanding.

Even though Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the poll’s overall sample, young voters in those states favored the Democratic Senate candidates by a 57 percent to 29 percent margin. The top three most important issues to those voters were “prices and inflation,” with 55 percent highlighting that concern; “wages and salaries that keep up with the cost of living,” with 47 percent; and “abortion,” with 43 percent.

The poll then teased out themes from that “wages and salaries” issue. Asked whether companies or workers had too much power today over the other, or whether their power was roughly balanced, 79 percent of young voters said it was the companies that had too much power, versus the 7 percent who said it was workers and the 14 percent who said the relationship was balanced. Seventy-seven percent of young voters said they’d prefer a pro-union candidate, while 23 percent preferred an anti-union candidate. After hearing a description of the PRO Act, which is the latest iteration of congressional legislation making it easier to join or form unions, 64 percent of young voters said they’d back a Democrat who supports the act, while just 22 percent said they’d back a Republican PRO Act opponent.

Singling out swing voters among the young, the way to their hearts, and to get them to the polls, Hart Research concludes, is to emphasize such messages as raising wages and salaries (which 63 percent of those young swing voters say is an “extremely strong reason to support a Democratic candidate”), and making sure that workers are not “punished or even fired” for speaking out about problems on the job (68 percent).

“In other words,” Meyerson concludes, “abortion is still a crucial issue for Democrats to stress, but there’s also some economic messaging, despite inflation, that will help turn out the young.”