washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Like a master stage magician’s best “sleight of hand” trick, Ruffini makes MAGA extremism in the GOP disappear right before our eyes.

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A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

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The recently published book, Rust Belt Union Blues, by Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol represents a profoundly important contribution to the debate over Democratic strategy.

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Why Don’t Working People Recognize and Appreciate Democratic Programs and Policies

The mythology of “Franklin Roosevelt’s Hundred Days” and the Modern Debate Over “Deliverism.”

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The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy The Fundamental but Generally Unacknowledged Cause of the Current Threat to America’s Democratic Institutions.

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Immigration “Chaos” Could Sink Democrats in 2024…

And the Democratic Narrative Simply Doesn’t Work. Here’s An Alternative That Does.

Read the Memo.

The Daily Strategist

February 22, 2024

Political Strategy Notes

NYT Opinion essayist Thomas B. Edsall addresses a question of overarching consequence for the 2024 presidential election, “Does Biden Have to Cede the White Working Class to Trump?” An excerpt: “A chorus of political analysts on the center left is once again arguing that the Democratic Party must reclaim a significant share of racially and culturally conservative white working-class voters if it is to regain majority status….John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira have made this case repeatedly in recent years, most exhaustively in their 2023 book, “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?”….They are not alone….“For Victory in 2024, Democrats Must Win Back the Working Class,” Will Marshall, the founder and president of the Progressive Policy Institute, wrote in October 2023. “Can Democrats Win Back the Working Class?Jared Abbott and Fred DeVeaux of the Center for Working-Class Politics asked in June 2023; “Democrats Need Biden to Appeal to Working-Class Voters” is how David Byler, the former Washington Post data columnist, put it the same month.” Edsall quoters a number of academics who have expertise on issues related tot he topic, including Judis, who says: “Democrats have won and could win elections without winning back many of the working-class voters that deserted the party over the last decades. Democrats did so in 2022 by decrying Republican attacks on abortion rights and on gun control and by decrying Donald Trump’s leadership and his threat to democracy. Democrats could win on these issues again in 2024.” However, notes Edsall, “Judis argued, however, that this approach is not adequate to “establish solid majorities capable of upending the balance of power in American politics.” For Democrats to return to their position as the dominant political party, Judis maintained that “they have to win back working-class voters.”

Edsall also quotes William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who contends: “1. The lines between the white working class and the nonwhite working class are eroding. Donald Trump received 41 percent of the non-college Hispanic vote in 2020 and may well do better this time around. If this turns out to be the case, then the old Democratic formula — add minorities to college-educated voters to make a majority — becomes obsolete….2. The share of young Americans attending and completing college peaked a decade ago and has been fitfully declining ever since….3. The “stop chasing the working-class vote” approach flunks the most important test — Electoral College math. The stubborn fact is that working-class voters (especially but not only white) form a larger share of the electorate in key battleground states, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, than they do nationally….Galston provided The Times with data showing that while the national share of white working-class voters is 35 percent, it is 45 percent in Pennsylvania, 52 percent in Michigan and 56 percent in Wisconsin, all battleground states Biden won in close contests in 2020 and states that the Democrats are very likely to need again this November.” Edsall also quotes Dartmouth political scientist Sena Westwood, who observes, ““it is foolhardy for Democrats to count on higher education to offset the growth of more conservative minority populations….The number of students entering the nation’s colleges, Westwood wrote, is about to fall off an “enrollment cliff,” while “the nonwhite portion of America is on track to continue surging. The undeniable truth is that the future of America and of both parties rests in the hands of America’s minority population.”

Edsall notes further, “Robert Borosage, a founder of the Campaign for America’s Future and the issue director of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign, argued in an email that white working-class voters are crucial to the ideological coherence of the Democratic Party, You can’t build an enduring majority for progressive change vital to sustaining a democracy without a broad coalition that includes white working-class support. Without the effort to appeal to the white working class, you will watch more and more erosion of working people of all races and genders.…Candidates, Borosage continued, “who lead with a populist economic agenda can, in my view, sustain their social liberalism. Candidates that lead with their social liberalism and eschew a populist economic agenda pay a severe price for that failure — Hillary Rodham Clinton as signature example.”….Politically speaking, in Borosage’s view, Democrats have suffered more because of their economic policies than from cultural liberalism and identity politics: Where Democrats have been losing is that their economics hasn’t worked for working people. It is far more destructive to be the party of Wall Street and multinational corporations (the neoliberalism from Carter to Clinton to Obama, with Clinton the worst offender) than to be the party defending abortion or D.E.I.  Edsall; adds, “While the call coming from Judis, Galston and others for the Democratic Party to do all it can to retain and expand its working-class support has merit, I think [Jacob] Hacker’s case for Democrats’ continued reliance on an upstairs-downstairs coalition will be the party’s de facto strategy.”

At 538, via abcnews, Monica Potts shares some specific observations about divided GOP state parties in key swing states: “In Michigan, Arizona and Georgia, intense internal battles are tearing through the state Republican parties. The fights largely pivot around divisions that opened up in the wake of the last presidential election. A new cadre of Trump-loyalist party leaders, in many cases propelled into power based on their defense of the Big Lie that former President Donald Trump actually won in 2020, have found themselves at war with more establishment-aligned Republicans … and, increasingly, with each other….These rifts in three potential swing states are one of the many ways that Trump’s hold on the GOP and the rise of election denial in the aftermath of the 2020 election are defining not only the election this fall — when Trump loyalists could be looking at their 2020 playbook for ways to influence the outcome — but also the Republican state party organizations that will shape their states’ politics for years to come….State parties traditionally don’t play a huge formal role in presidential elections, but they can certainly have an impact. While national candidates and party organizations have their own turnout and fundraising machines, state parties filter money from the national parties, recruit local and state candidates, and play a role in driving turnout. Even more directly, in some states, including Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, state parties also choose electors for the Electoral College vote, an issue that has become newly salient in the wake of 2020 election denial. “If there’s a question about who gets on the ballot as electors … [state party leadership] comes into play, because a lot of times the state party rules specify how electors are chosen,” said Douglas Roscoe, a political science professor at UMass-Dartmouth….With election deniers helping to shape state parties, another battle could open up if election results in a state are close and subject to court challenges, in which these organizations traditionally play a role….More broadly, state parties play a major role in selecting candidates for down-ballot races. A dearth of young Republican leaders seems to be an emerging challenge for the GOP, as support for Trump and the Big Lie remain a litmus test for those who would run for office — these younger, Trump-aligned Republicans are often less experienced than their more establishment peers, more focused on grandstanding than policymaking.”

Will Biden Create an “Open Convention?” Nah.

There’s been a lot of buzz about a recent Ezra Klein podcast spinning a particular fantasy about the 2024 presidential race, so I examined it from a historical perspective at New York:

Pundits once loved the idea that somebody might challenge and defeat Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination. However, those hopes died after primary deadlines came and went while the Dean Phillips candidacy went nowhere very fast. The 46th president is going to lock up enough pledged delegates to make him the nominee very soon, and for all the private kvetching about the polls and the incumbent’s age, Democrats are for the most part publicly gearing down for a good, vicious Biden-Trump rematch.

But fantasies of something different happening haven’t totally gone away, and they don’t entirely depend on the remote possibility of Donald Trump being denied the GOP nomination because he’s a convicted felon or a bankrupt loser. The New York Times’ Ezra Klein has suggested Democratic fears about Biden’s age could be addressed by a real unicorn of a development in August: a wide-open Democratic National Convention that would choose a Biden replacement based on who wowed the delegates in Chicago.

Klein doesn’t go into great detail about how this would happen (he promises to do so in a future podcast), but his premise is that Biden would voluntarily withdraw from the contest and release his delegates not too long before the convention without dictating a successor (like, say, his hand-picked vice-president, Kamala Harris, who would presumably have to fight for the nomination if she wanted it without a heavy-handed presidential assist). In that case, Klein says, Democrats could choose from a deep bench of talented politicians in an unscripted televised drama that would capture a nation that had been dreading a 2020 rematch.

The first thing to understand about this scenario is that it would be entirely unprecedented. Yes, as Klein notes, conventions rather than primaries chose major-party nominees from 1831 through 1968 (from 1972 on, nearly all states have chosen delegates via primaries or caucuses with the limited exception of the Democratic experiment with “super-delegates”). But in each and every case, the conventions were preceded by carefully planned candidacies, some as sure a bet as any multiple-primary winner; the apparent spontaneity of the choice of a nominee was often as contrived as the bought-and-paid-for “spontaneous demonstrations” for candidates that abruptly ended in 1972. In addition, long before primaries dominated nomination contests, they still on occasion had a big impact on the outcome (way back in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft slugged it out in a long series of primaries before dueling in a closely divided convention that wound up splitting the GOP).

The last major-party convention in which the presidential nominee wasn’t known in advance (putting aside a few convention “revolts” that were doomed to fail) was the 1976 Republican confab. And there the gathering was the very opposite of “open”: All but a handful of delegates were pledged to Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan, and the battle was over that undecided handful. Most delegates had zero “choice” over the nominee. There was “drama,” but no sense in which the party was free to choose from an assortment of possible candidates who proved their mettle at the convention itself. The only surprise was Reagan’s decision to announce a proposed running mate (Pennsylvania senator Richard Schweiker) before the presidential balloting. This was an innovation at the time, which (as it happens) failed.

Yes, the further back you go, there were plenty of major-party conventions that were “deliberative,” in the sense of the nomination not being locked up in advance. Occasionally, the outcome was something of a surprise, most recently in 1940, when a whirlwind propaganda effort by a few wire-pullers and packed galleries produced Indiana utility executive Wendell Willkie as a Republican nominee. But again, the delegates themselves weren’t generally free to deliberate, since many were controlled by state political leaders and others were chosen in primaries.

If you want a truly wide-open convention, the eternal ideal is the Democratic convention held one century ago in New York. The 1924 gathering featured 103 ballots before the exhausted remainder of delegates who hadn’t run out of money or patience chose dark horse James W. Davis as its nominee. Davis went on to win a booming 29 percent of the general-election popular vote and lost every state outside the former Confederacy.

That brings to mind another note of caution about the idea of an “open convention”: a nominee chosen not by primary voters or by a consensus of party leaders is just as likely to produce a calamitous general-election campaign as some burst of enthusiasm among united partisans. The last multi-ballot Democratic convention nominated Adlai Stevenson in 1952. He lost. The last multi-ballot Republican convention chose Thomas Dewey in 1944. He lost. The record of nominees chosen by deliberative (much less contested) conventions isn’t that great generally. Gerald Ford (winner of the aforementioned 1976 Republican convention) lost. His vanquisher, Jimmy Carter, lost in 1980 after a tough primary challenge and then a convention full of buyer’s remorse. The biggest general-election winners in living memory (Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1996, Barack Obama in 2008) were the products of conventions that were virtual coronations.

The 2024 convention will end on August 22 (assuming it doesn’t go into overtime like the 1924 affair), leaving ten weeks before the general election on November 5. Would a Democratic Party fresh from an “open convention” be able get its act together in that span of time, particularly if the nominee is someone other than a universally known figure? What if there are Democrats who are unhappy with the nominee? When does that get sorted out?

I’m interested in learning more about “open convention” scenarios. But at first and even second blush it seems a far riskier proposition for Democrats than just going with the incumbent president of the United States.


Navalny Assassination Underscores ‘GOP Soft on Putin’ Meme

Kelly Eleveld explains why “Democrats have an opening as Trump rolls over for Putin at Daily Kos: ”

It’s worth remembering here that, despite Trump’s bromance with Putin, the vast majority of Americans have no love for Russia. In fact, last year, Gallup found Russia’s favorability rating among Americans was at an all-time low of 9%, as former Obama White House aide Dan Pfeiffer noted in his “Message Box” Substack.

Newly released polling from Pew Research Center also found that 74% of Americans view the war in Ukraine as important to U.S. national interests, including 43% who describe it as “very” important….The combination of Russia’s abysmal favorability rating, Americans’ understanding that the fate of Ukraine has implications here at home, and Putin’s likely role in Navalny’s death—his biggest political threat at home—leave Trump and Republicans more vulnerable than ever to attack on the issue.

Eleveld urges that “Biden and Democrats should keep rallying around Navalny’s death, Putin’s thuggery, and Trump’s cowardice. For House Republicans, failure to act on the Senate-passed aid package will likely play terribly in the 17 Biden-won districts they need to hold in November to keep control of the House.”

In “Schism over Russia drives Republicans apart” at CNN Politics, Zachary B. Wolf notes that “In recent days, Haley has made passionate arguments about the need for the US to stand up to autocrats and bristled at Trump’s attempt to compare himself to Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in jail.”

Further, notes Eleveld, “And on Tuesday, the Biden administration said it plans to announce a new sanctions package against Russia on Friday over Navalny’s death.” Quite a contrast from Putin’s lapdog. As Eleveld writes, ” Biden is taking charge, using the tools at his disposal to hold Putin to account, while Trump is whining on the national stage and promising to give Putin free rein “to do whatever the hell they want” to our NATO allies.”

It’s too early in the ’24 election campaign to assess whether the Navalny assassination will continue to deepen the divide among Republicans leading up to the election. But Democrats certainly can get plenty of video footage showing beloved Republican leaders, including Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan and Republican presidential nominee John McCain warning Americans – and their fellow Republicans – to be wary of the malevolence of Russian leaders. Hell, Reagan called the Soviet Union, which Putin wants to restore under his control, “the evil empire.”

The conventional wisdom is that foreign policy doesn’t win or lose elections because the economy overshadows all international concerns, although historians can name a few exceptions. But the steady improvement in  economic indicators just might give Democrats enough room to make what they can of the GOP’s shamefully epic cave to Putin, and pick up a point or two in key swing states.

Teixeira: The Way of the Fetterman

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

If Democrats lose Pennsylvania, they will have a lot harder time winning the 2024 election. Sure, there are non-Pennsylvania paths but it becomes a way heavier lift, closing off, for example, holding the “Blue Wall” as a sufficient path to victory.

Right now, Biden leads Trump in the RCP running average by three-tenths of a percentage point. Too close for comfort! (Plus the running average has Biden behind in every other swing state.)

So: how to do it—make sure Pennsylvania stays blue in 2024? Well, in 2022 there was exactly one Democrat who managed to flip a Senate seat: John Fetterman, who captured Pennsylvania’s Class 3 seat by a solid 5 points. Famously, Fetterman has a distinctive persona which makes him seem like not-a-typical-Democrat at all. This undoubtedly helped him with working-class (noncollege) voters among whom he did significantly better than Biden.

But there’s more to Fetterman’s persona than his massive stature, hoodie, and shorts. He’s also a straight-talker in a lot of areas where standard-issue Democrats fear to go. When he ran for Senate, while he wobbled a bit, he wound up declaring decisively:

Any of the issues that I ever had with fracking is really around environmental regulations and once those were passed and they were addressed…you know, I support fracking…I absolutely support energy independence and making sure that we can never be held by a country like Russia and making sure that we produce as much American energy as possible, and I fully support fracking.

Not too many Democrats are willing to go on record these days with full-throated support of producing fossil fuels! And since his election, he’s continued to carve out an independent path. Like this:

…I’m not a progressive, I’m not that kind of a label or anything like that…I said that before the primary in ’22, and that’s how I’ve always believed. And I think these have all been very easy calls. I follow the moral clarity, not the polls or any silly labels.

Or this:

We do have a crisis on the border—and we have to look at the numbers that are the size of Pittsburgh showing up on the border. You can’t just say, ‘Oh yeah, OK. It’ll all work itself out’…I think if you really want to address immigration in the way that it deserves, we first must also have a secure border.

Or this joint statement with Pennsylvania’s other Senator, Bob Casey, on the Biden administration’s decision to freeze approvals for liquified natural gas (LNG) export permits:

Pennsylvania is an energy state. As the second largest natural gas-producing state, this industry has created good-paying energy jobs in towns and communities across the Commonwealth and has played a critical role in promoting U.S. energy independence…

While the immediate impacts on Pennsylvania remain to be seen, we have concerns about the long-term impacts that this pause will have on the thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. If this decision puts Pennsylvania energy jobs at risk, we will push the Biden Administration to reverse this decision.

And just in case anyone out there doesn’t “get” where he’s coming from relative to many in his party:

What I have found out over the last couple years is that the right, and now the left, are hoping that I die…There are ones that are rooting for another blood clot. They have both now been wishing that I die…

It’s just a place [the “progressive” label] where I’m not…I don’t feel like I’ve left the label; it’s just more that it’s left me.

Clearly, Fetterman has declared his independence from the progressive left. He’s modeling a combination of strategic flexibility, honesty, and courage, I will dub The Way of the Fetterman, in a nod to the ancient Japanese way of the samurai.

Looking at the situation in Pennsylvania today, you can see how The Way of the Fetterman is very much in order for Democrats in the Keystone State. In 2024, around two-thirds of Pennsylvania eligible voters will be working class, which projects out to around three-fifths of actual voters. Because we now live in the Upside Down, Democrats reliably win the college-educated but lose the working class. That means that, given the disproportion between the two groups, Democrats need to win the college-educated by way more than they lose the working class to win the state.

In 2020 Biden managed to do this, though by barely enough to win the state. In 2022, Fetterman did much better, almost breaking even among working-class voters and romping to victory. So far (where data are available), this pattern is not evident in Pennsylvania polling this cycle. In the high quality New York Times/Siena poll from the fall, Biden carries college voters by 18 points in Pennsylvania but loses working-class voters by an identical 18 points. That’s a sure recipe for defeat.

In a more recent (January) Bloomberg/Morning Consult Pennsylvania poll, Biden actually carries college-educated voters by less than he loses the working class. Not good. In the same poll, working-class Pennsylvania voters prefer Trump over Biden by 19 points on the economy, 15 points on crime, 25 points on immigration, 17 points on the cost of everyday goods, and 17 points on gas prices.

This calls for The Way of the Fetterman! Convince these voters that you, like Fetterman, are a different kind of Democrat. Instead, as Matt Yglesias puts it:

[W]e continue to see incredible levels of over-emphasis on turnout and mobilization…To win the election, the important thing is to reassure people who are to Democrats’ right on key issues.

The Way of the Fetterman means not being afraid to offer such reassurance, in the recognition that this is strategically wise and that voters’ concerns on these issues are real and not just made-up by conservative media (the Fox News Fallacy). Oddly, as Yglesias also points out, Biden’s instincts are probably in this direction, so it is a shame he doesn’t follow them.

No doubt part of the reason for this faint-heartedness lies in his fear of displeasing the very vocal progressive left, which is well-represented both within and outside of his administration. He believes displeasing them would weaken him and his re-election bid. But the opposite is true. As Janan Ganesh astutely observes in the Financial Times, comparing Biden’s conduct to Keir Starmer’s:

For swing voters, a leader who disappoints their own party is bold. Holding the line against internal dissent is proof of vision and virility. When Starmer drops a commitment to spend an annual £28bn on the green transition and declines to reopen the question of Brexit, politicos suspect a faint heart. The public sees someone answering one of the central questions about an aspiring national leader: is he or she the master of their party, or the creature of it?…

Biden has hardly addressed the master-creature question. Democrats entertain all sorts of explanations for his low ratings—an inadequate White House spin operation is a favourite—except that he has given them too much….Outside of foreign affairs, where his support for Israel upsets a generation of progressives, there are few cases of President Biden displeasing liberal Democrats. (Unlike Senator Biden, who did it all the time.)

Very recent results also suggest the potential efficacy of The Way of the Fetterman. Democrat Tom Suozzi easily dispatched Republican Mazi Pilip in the special House election in New York’s 3rd congressional district. He was mercilessly attacked by Pilip on immigration and crime. And how did he respond? Like this, as reported in The New York Times:

If I run my campaign and just say, ‘I’m Tom Suozzi, I’m a Democrat and my opponent is a Republican,’ I’ll lose this race,” Mr. Suozzi told union carpenters on Saturday at a rally on Long Island. “People are upset Democrats haven’t been tough enough on things like the border.”

“Exactly!” “That’s right!” “Yes, sir,” some in the crowd hollered in approval.

“I’m tougher than you’ll ever be,” Mr. Suozzi razzed back….

At events across the district, he has bucked liberal orthodoxy to call on President Biden to lock down the border. He said a group of migrant men charged with assaulting police officers in Times Square should be deported: “That’s outrageous. Kick ’em out!

It’s The Way of the Fetterman! Time for Democrats to declare independence from the progressive left and follow in Fetterman’s footsteps.

Political Strategy Notes

Adriana Gomes Licon and Jonathan J. Cooper of Associated press report that “Biden’s rightward shift on immigration angers advocates. But it’s resonating with many Democrats,” and explain: “In his 2020 campaign, Joe Biden vowed to undo former President Donald Trump ’s immigration policies, specifically expressing frustration with a policy setting limits on the number of asylum seekers accepted each day at the southern border….This year, Biden backed a Senate proposal that would have set daily limits on border crossings — and Democrats are planning to campaign to reelect him by emphasizing that Republicans caused the deal to collapse….Democrats are reframing the immigration debate, going from embracing more welcoming policies in response to the Trump administration’s programs at the border — including its separation of hundreds of immigrant children from their parents — to declaring that they can get tough on border security and adopt policies long sought by Republicans. Biden’s rhetorical shift risks straining his support from immigrants and their advocates who campaigned for him in 2020, but it appears to be working for Democrats after they won a special election in New York….“We need to lean into this and not just on border security, but, yes, tough border security coupled with increased legal pathways,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist….Democrat Tom Suozzi, who won Tuesday’s special election in New York for the House seat once held by ousted Republican Rep. George Santos, ran ads calling for more border security and featuring an interview he did on Fox News in which he supported U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement….His district includes parts of Queens, a diverse New York borough that has received thousands of migrants bused from the border.” However, note the authors, “More than 130 organizations from around the country sent a letter to Biden opposing the deal and the tougher standards for asylum. Some immigration activists expressed frustration with Biden and a lack of enthusiasm to go knock on doors for him at a recent gathering of more than a dozen advocacy groups in Arizona.”

Licon and Cooper continue, “Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and secretary of housing and urban development who ran against Biden for the presidential nomination in 2020, suggested Biden and his allies were adopting the terms of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell….“Democrats, you’re never going to be cruel enough, ‘tough’ enough, anti-immigrant enough or able to deport your way to the negotiating table with McConnell and MAGA,” Castro said. “Stop playing their game.”….The border proposal would have included for the first time a right to counsel for vulnerable asylum seekers such as children 13 and younger and would have raised the cap on immigrant visas available by 250,000 over the next five years. The National Border Patrol Council and the Chamber of Commerce supported it….“The President stands with the overwhelming majority of Americans who demand action from Washington to address our long-broken immigration system,” Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign, said in a statement. “MAGA Republicans, led by Donald Trump, have opted to abdicate their responsibilities so they can demonize immigrants to score political points.”….Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat and the only Hispanic woman in the upper chamber, said her constituents want to see an “orderly process at the border.” She said they still demand broad immigration reforms that legalize the status of “Dreamers” and others who only have temporary protections from deportation. “We can work on a broken immigration system but also secure our border,” Cortez Masto said in an interview. “Many of the Nevadans that I talked to, including in the Latino community, get that because they want safe communities. They understand that. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to work on fixing this broken immigration system.” Cortez Masto said she hopes that after the collapse of the border deal, the public sees that Republicans were not looking for solutions….Gabriel Aldebot, a 66-year-old union electrician in Las Vegas, said he felt lawmakers must secure the border, and a compromise that includes more resources for enforcement is the best way to do it….“The more bipartisan, the more it’ll seem like it’s fair to people,” Aldebot said after voting for Biden in Nevada’s Democratic primary.”

Rehan Mirza explores “How AI deepfakes threaten the 2024 elections” at Jounalist’s Resource: “Deepfakes already have affected other elections around the globe. In recent elections in Slovakia, for example, AI-generated audio recordings circulated on Facebook, impersonating a liberal candidate discussing plans to raise alcohol prices and rig the election. During the February 2023 Nigerian elections,an AI-manipulated audio clip falsely implicated a presidential candidate in plans to manipulate ballots. With elections this year in over 50 countries involving half the globe’s population, there are fears deepfakes could seriously undermine their integrity…. Media outlets including the BBC and the New York Times sounded the alarm on deepfakes as far back as 2018. However, in past elections, including the 2022 U.S. midterms, the technology did not produce believable fakes and was not accessible enough, in terms of both affordability and ease of use, to be “weaponized for political disinformation.” Instead, those looking to manipulate media narratives relied on simpler and cheaper ways to spread disinformation, including mislabeling or misrepresenting authentic videos, text-based disinformation campaigns, or just plain old lying on air.…As deepfakes continually improve in sophistication and accessibility, they will increasingly contribute to the deluge of informational detritus. They’re already convincing. Last month, The New York Times published an online test inviting readers to look at 10 images and try to identify which were real and which were generated by AI, demonstrating first-hand the difficulty of differentiating between real and AI-generated images. This was supported by multiple academic studies, which found that “faces of white people created by AI systems were perceived as more realistic than genuine photographs,” New York Times reporter Stuart A. Thompson explained….Listening to the audio clip of the fake robocall that targeted New Hampshire voters, it is difficult to distinguish from Biden’s real voice.”

“The media narrative is grim for president Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats,” Susan Milligan writes in “Democrats Are Trailing Everywhere But at the Ballot Box: Democrats aren’t getting a lot of encouraging news from 2024 opinion polls these days. But elections are painting a much different picture” at U.S. News: “Biden’s too old and his mental acuity is questionable, sayeth the pundits and the polls. Democratic base voters, particularly Black voters, are disenchanted with the president, leading a generally cranky Democratic rank-and-file to stay home this November….Actual elections, however, paint a much different picture. Democrats scored a big win in New York on Tuesday, and the numbers were extremely encouraging for the party. Not only did Democrats add a seat to their caucus in Washington, but it wasn’t even close: Tom Suozzi, a former House member who reclaimed his old job, beat Republican Mazi Pilip by 8 percentage points – a 16-point swing from 15 months ago, when former GOP Rep. George Santos took the district by 8 percentage points….Across the country, Democrats are winning special elections and overperforming in elections they have predictably lost. And it’s fueling optimism among Democrats looking at a challenging election year for both the White House and Congress….”Polls don’t vote. People vote. And that’s what’s been happening,” says Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, a veteran lawmaker from Massachusetts who has served in both the minority and the majority. Despite what the polls say, “people have been voting, and they’ve been voting Democratic. I feel really good about November – and not just about the president. I feel really good about us taking back the House.”….Experts caution that a special election win in New York – particularly a district Biden won in 2020, albeit when the district was drawn to be more Democratic-friendly – does not a national movement make. The president still has abysmally low approval ratings, and national and battleground state polls show him in a tight race with his likely fall opponent, former President Donald Trump.”

That Other Joe (Manchin) Not Running in 2024

You might have missed a potentially significant political story involving a non-candidate for president, so I wrote about it at New York:

One variable in the fraught and complex 2024 presidential election has now been put to rest: Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has announced he will not pursue an independent or “unity ticket” candidacy for president this year, as USA Today reports:

“Manchin made the announcement during a speaking engagement at West Virginia University for his recently created nonprofit group Americans Together, which is aimed at connecting and empowering moderate voices.

“’I will not be seeking a third-party run, I will not be involved in a presidential run,’ Manchin, 76, told the crowd. ‘I will be involved in making sure that we secure a president who has the knowledge, has the function and has the ability to bring this country together.’”

He argued that “the system right now is not set up” for candidates not affiliated with either major political party to win the presidency but said that in the “long game” there could be room to make a third party viable.

Manchin’s vow not to be “involved in a presidential run” seems also to preclude a vice-presidential candidacy, which had seemed a possibility if No Labels, the nonpartisan organization with which Manchin has been closely associated, winds up sponsoring a ticket headed by a Republican. His subsequent comment about the kind of president he wanted to help the country secure could indicate that for all his third-party flirtations and ideological heresies, Manchin might endorse a second term for Joe Biden. He could not possibly have been talking about Donald Trump by referring to a president who had “the ability to bring this country together.”

In any event, Manchin’s decision was good news for his party’s 2024 prospects. There’s likely a ceiling on Trump’s support well short of a popular majority, so it’s a strategic imperative for Biden to corral anti-Trump voters without too much competition from minor candidates, and particularly from a well-known Democrat.

The announcement obviously takes away one option for No Labels, which is reportedly in the process of interviewing potential candidates, even though the group has not formally decided whether to undertake a campaign (it has, however, secured ballot access in 13 states so far).

It also likely means Manchin has run his last campaign. He chose not to run for a third full term in the Senate this year, likely because West Virginia had turned so bright red that even a relatively conservative Democrat would have no real chance of winning, particularly in a presidential-election year. With no electoral base, the 76-year-old former governor will wind up his Senate service and presumably retire to his houseboat. His family already dodged one calamity this year when Manchin’s wife, Gayle, survived a serious car accident. A futile presidential run would not have improved their quality of life.


Brownstein: Long Term Senate Control May Be on Ballot in November

In “Why November could decide Senate control for years,” Ronald Brownstein writes at CNN Politics:

In this fall’s Senate elections, Democrats will be defending more seats in precarious political terrain than in any other election during the 2020s. That list of challenging elections this year includes the final three Senate seats Democrats hold in states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, and five more in states that President Joe Biden won by 3 percentage points or less. Meanwhile, Republicans this year are not defending any Senate seats in states that voted against Trump in 2020, or preferred him by 3 points or less.

That math underlines the stakes for Democrats in Biden improving his position in the key swing states by November. One of the most powerful trends of modern Senate elections is that it has become exceedingly difficult for candidates in either party to win seats in states that usually vote the other way for president.

The Senate Democrats running in difficult electoral terrain might break that trend this fall. Yet if they can’t, Biden’s fate in November could determine control of the Senate not only in 2025, but for years thereafter.

A strong recovery by Biden in which he wins most of the key swing states could position Democrats to remain competitive in the battle for Senate control through the remainder of this decade, even if they narrowly lose the majority in November. But if Biden loses most of the swing states, Democrats could fall into a Senate deficit too large to realistically overcome for years — especially because the party has so few plausible opportunities to flip seats now held by the GOP.

Brownstein adds that “That prospect has enormous implications not only for the passage of legislation but also for the composition of the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court. Four of the Supreme Court justices will be older than 70 by 2028. Even if Biden holds the White House in 2024, and a vacancy arises, a durable Republican Senate majority might refuse to fill any of those seats — just as then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did while Barack Obama was president in 2016.”

Further, Brownstein notes,”Heading into the 2024 election, Republicans hold 47 of the 50 Senate seats in the 25 states that voted for Trump in 2020. Democrats, in turn, hold 48 of the 50 Senate seats in the 25 states that voted for Biden last time….In 2020, Biden won three states by less than a single percentage point: Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. He won three others by less than 3 percentage points: Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan. Democrats now hold 11 of the 12 Senate seats from those six highly competitive states.

“By contrast,” Brownstein reports, “among the 25 states that backed Trump, North Carolina — where Republicans hold both Senate seats — was the only one Trump carried by less than 3 percentage points. Even extending the net to states Trump won by less than 5 percentage points brings in only Florida, where Republicans also hold both Senate seats….This contrast creates a huge disparity between the parties. Democrats now hold 14 inherently vulnerable Senate seats: their three from the states Trump won in 2020, and their 11 in the states Biden won only narrowly. For Republicans the total is at most six: two in states that Biden won in 2020, and four in states that Trump won narrowly, even with Florida included.” Also,

This year’s Senate races in the narrow Biden states include Democratic incumbents Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and Jacky Rosen in Nevada; also on the ballot is an open Democratic-held seat in Michigan (where the party is very likely to nominate Rep. Elissa Slotkin) and the Arizona seat held by Kyrsten Sinema, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Sinema hasn’t indicated whether she will seek reelection, but Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego is already running for the seat. (Democrats also face an unexpected challenge in Maryland — a state that leans much more reliably toward them in presidential elections — after GOP former Gov. Larry Hogan last week said he would run for the open seat there.)

In addition, Democrats this year must defend all three of their remaining Senate seats in the states that voted for Trump in 2020. That includes incumbents Jon Tester in Montana, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, and the open seat being vacated by the retiring Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Neither of the two remaining Senate Republicans in states that Biden won last time (Susan Collins in Maine and Johnson in Wisconsin) are up this year; nor are either of the GOP senators from North Carolina, the state Trump won by his smallest margin.

Both parties agree the open West Virginia seat is virtually guaranteed to flip to the GOP. Tester and Brown both have strong personal brands, but Biden is almost certain to lose their states, and possibly by substantial margins. If he does, Brown and Tester could survive only by breaking a nearly inviolate recent pattern in presidential election years.

“If Democrats lose Senate seats in the narrow Biden states,” Brownstein points out, “they simply have very few places on the map to replace them, given the parties’ patterns of support. It’s that prospect that has led the Democratic data analyst David Shor to warn for years that if the party doesn’t perform well in the 2024 presidential election, the GOP could seize control of the Senate for a sustained period.”

There are some more optimistic scenarios for Democrats, as Brownstein explains: “David Bergstein, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, notes that in the 2022 midterm election, Democrats won Senate races in most of these same battleground states, although exit polls showed substantial discontent with the economy and Biden’s performance then, too. “Senate campaigns are candidate versus candidate battles,” Bergstein said. “We have the superior candidates, and Republicans are putting forward candidates who have big flaws, who lost races before, or are facing the prospect of damaging primaries. Certainly a presidential cycle is different than a midterm, but the laws of Senate campaigns, where candidate quality matters, are still in effect.”

Brownstein concludes, “Unless and until such a new political configuration emerges, both parties can realistically target many fewer Senate seats than they could even two decades ago. But the ceiling is clearly lower for Democrats than for Republicans. It leaves Democrats, even in good years, with achingly little margin for error to build a Senate majority. And unless Biden recovers more strength, 2024 may be very far from anything Democrats would call a good year.”

Political Strategy Notes

Taylor Giorno reports that “Corporate greed increasingly seen as ‘major cause’ of inflation: Poll” at The Hill, and writes: “A new poll found 3 in 5 Americans now say corporate greed is a “major cause” of inflation. That’s a 15 percent jump to 59 percent from 44 percent in January 2022, according to a new poll from Navigator Research. The left-leaning polling and opinion research group surveyed 1,000 registered voters from Jan. 25-29…..“After more than two years of corporations posting record profits while Americans struggle to balance their checkbooks, it’s no surprise that people increasingly see corporate greed as a problem,” said Maryann Cousens, associate of polling and analytics for Navigator Research….Inflation hit 7.5 percent year over year in January 2022 and peaked at 9.1 percent 6 months later, as measured by the Labor Department’s consumer price index (CPI). Prices have fallen precipitously, with annual inflation clocking in at 3.1 percent in January, but it remains above the Federal Reserve’s goal of 2 percent….The share of respondents who said they believe corporate greed causes inflation is now on par with the share who blame inflation on government spending. While the latter position tends to be favored by Republicans, the rise in Americans blaming corporate greed for higher prices spans party lines….The share of Democrats and independents who said corporate greed was a “major cause” of inflation increased by 17 percentage points, while the share of Republicans who agree increased by 13 percentage points….A whopping 84 percent of all respondents said they believe “corporations being greedy and raising prices to make record profits” is a driver of inflation, according to the poll….Overall, Democrats are still more likely to say that corporate greed is a “major cause” of inflation: 72 percent, according to the new poll, compared to 62 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans.”

“According to Pew Research, the share of voters who said that the United States provides “too much” support to Ukraine more than quadrupled between March 2022 and December 2023, going to 31 percent from 7 percent,” Thomas B. Edsall writes at The New York Times. “Among Republicans, the share grew to 48 percent from 9 percent….A Gallup poll found even more opposition to American aid for Ukraine among Republican and independent voters. The share of Republicans agreeing that the “United States is doing too much to help Ukraine” rose between August 2022 and October 2023 to 62 percent from 43 percent and among independents to 44 percent from 28 percent….Both polls reflect the rapid increase of isolationism in the American electorate.” Edsall interviews foreign policy experts, including Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., and a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraf, who observes: “a public tired of external interventions has turned inward. There is little expectation that the United States can turn global situations around. There is no longer a political price to be paid for failing to support long-term commitments or interventions.” Edsall adds that “The failure last year of Ukraine’s highly publicized counteroffensive, leaving the contest at a standstill, with Ukrainians suffering continued losses and destroyed infrastructure, also diminished public support here for the continuation of the war.” Edsall quotes Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, who motes “Ordinary Americans are increasingly doubtful that the burdens of global leadership are worth bearing. Events since 9/11 have undercut public confidence in establishment thinking regarding America’s role in the world. That Trump’s views attract as much support as they do from ordinary citizens is an indication of the extent to which the establishment has forfeited public support.”

Edsall notes further “Polling conducted annually by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows a recent sharp decline in support for the engagement of the United States in international affairs. From 1974 to 2020, the share of Americans surveyed agreeing that “it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs” barely changed, going to 68 percent from 67 percent….That abruptly shifted over the next three years as the percentage supporting the United States taking an active role in world affairs steadily declined by 11 points, to 57 percent. The drop cut across partisan groups: Democrats by eight points, independents by 10 and most precipitously among Republicans, a 17-point drop to 47 percent from 64 percent….Timothy Frye, a political scientist at Columbia, wrote by email: “The place of the United States in the world in the coming years will largely be decided by domestic politics in the United States rather than by international events.”….Christopher Nichols, a professor of history at Ohio State with a focus on national security, wrote by email that….there is far more anti-Americanism across the world than there was in the late 1940s and 1950s, largely the result of the ways the United States wielded power in the past 75 years, which means U.S. motives for action and support, or lack thereof, are subject to tremendous scrutiny and castigation.”…..Trump’s declaration on Feb. 9 that he would not only decline to come to the assistance of a NATO country attacked by Russia if that country was behind on its “dues” but also would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” has inflicted profound damage on America’s stature, according to Nichols….This low opinion of Trump has dragged down the international reputation of the United States. “Trump’s unpopularity has had a significant negative effect on America’s overall image,” according to Pew’s report. “Ratings for the United States plummeted after he took office in 2017. In fact, in several nations that are key U.S. allies and partners, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is at its lowest point in nearly two decades of polling.”

From Ben Metzner’s “GOP Pollster Reads Party the Riot Act Over 2024 Losses: Republican pollster Frank Luntz is issuing a “wakeup call” to the rest of the GOP after the brutal New York special election” at The New Republic: “Frank Luntz foresees disaster for Republicans if they don’t course-correct following the brutal New York special election that cost them a House seat….“Tonight is the final wakeup call for the @HouseGOP. If they ignore or attempt to explain away why they lost, they will lose in November as well,” the Republican pollster tweeted. “The issue agenda is on their side. Their congressional behavior is not.”….Democrat Tom Suozzi on Tuesday handily defeated Republican Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip to reclaim his House seat after it was vacated by George Santos….While it’s fair to question Luntz’s analysis that Republicans have winning issues, it’s hard to disagree with his comment on their recent actions in Congress….On the campaign trail, Suozzi hit at Pilip for opposing the border deal brokered in the Senate, a position Pilip shared with House Speaker Mike Johnson and former President Trump. In doing so, some say, he outflanked Pilip on the issue of immigration, even as House Republicans have attempted to portray Democrats as overly soft on the border. The GOP Congressional Leadership Fund’s $1.5 million ad buy aimed to tar Suozzi as dismissive of the “migrant crisis,” but those attacks didn’t seem to stick….Now, though, with Luntz, the call is coming from inside the house, and it’ is not anti-trans hysteria, but recalcitrance to passing bipartisan legislation that threatens to hurt Republicans in 2024….The smart money is on House Republicans continuing to fearmonger about immigration, but will these attacks land now that their vote against a harsh border bill is on the record? Will House Republicans get their act together before November? Whatever the answer is, they won’t be able to say Luntz didn’t warn them.”

How Democrats Could Replace Biden, and Why They Won’t

Since the idea of President Biden being “replaced” as the 2024 Democratic nominee was all the rage for a moment, I took the opportunity to explore the little understood mechanics of the issue at New York:

A byproduct of the panic over Special Counsel Robert Hur’s suggestion that President Joe Biden is an “elderly man” with memory issues has been media efforts to understand and explain how Democrats could replace the 46th president as their 2024 nominee, either with or without his consent. From a political perspective, the idea that Biden might be dumped from the ticket is extremely far-fetched. But technically it is possible, though increasingly complicated, right up to Election Day.

When it comes to changing horses in the middle of a presidential race, Democrats differ from Republicans in one fundamental respect: While GOP rules bind delegates to the candidates who win primaries or caucuses, Democrats have a moral rather than a legal obligation to remain faithful to their candidate. Fourteen states have laws that seek to bind delegates to the winning candidate, but it’s reasonably clear that party rules supersede such laws when they are in conflict. And in most states, delegates are released from their obligations if a candidate withdraws from the race.

Another difference between the parties is that Democrats have an established set of “unpledged” delegates who hold convention seats by virtue of elected or party offices they hold. These “superdelegates” don’t get to vote unless there’s a second presidential ballot. At the 2024 Democratic convention in Chicago this August, there will be 744 superdelegates out of a total of 4,532 delegates.

The idea that superdelegates might vote for anyone they want is largely fictional. They are chosen by campaigns to be 100 percent loyal to their candidate. This loyalty is even fiercer when the candidate is the incumbent president of the United States. There’s a reason no sitting president has been denied renomination if he wanted it since Republican Chester Arthur in 1884. So the idea that Democratic delegates are going to look at the polls in August and decide they can do better than Biden is nonsense; it’s not going to happen. Even if faced with the emergency of avoiding a Trump presidency, the Democratic Party will remain a coalition of interests and principles, not just a vehicle for winning one election.

But if Biden, for whatever reason, chooses to “step aside” — as a self-defenestration is euphemistically described — it’s another matter altogether. The problem for Democratic delegates won’t be liberating themselves to look elsewhere (with the possible exception of those from a few states with stricter “binding” statutes than others); it will be agreeing upon a successor. And the closer to the convention that this decision has to be made, the likelier it is that these 4,000-plus Biden loyalists will back whoever he designated as his successor. Fantasies of a President Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom or J.B. Pritzker or Pete Buttigieg or Michelle Obama notwithstanding, that successor will almost certainly be Vice-President Kamala Harris. Any other choice would not only infuriate Harris and her supporters; it would also retroactively label Biden’s first decision as party leader in 2020 as a mistake. For better or worse, the party will unite around its new leader; the Trump factor will, if anything, give Democrats an abiding hope of victory no matter how things look a few months out.

It is possible, I suppose, that Biden and Harris could decide to “step aside” together as an act of patriotic self-sacrifice and help design a spanking new ticket that’s dressed for success. But that’s more likely the stuff of potboiling novels from the kind of writers who pretend there are such things as spontaneous candidate drafts and moderate Republicans.

The cleanest Plan B scenario would involve some cataclysmic event happening to Biden that leads him or the party to reconsider his candidacy after the Chicago convention. In that extremely remote contingency, the Democratic National Committee would have the power to name a replacement nominee, just as it did in 1972 when vice-presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton “stepped aside” after revelations of DUIs and shock therapy. The DNC isn’t going to dump a renominated incumbent president, no matter how poorly he’s doing in the polls; back in the days when presidential elections weren’t almost always desperately close or vulnerable to post-election challenges and insurrections, one party regularly went to battle after Labor Day knowing it was likely to lose. But if Joe Biden cannot take up the cudgels for the last stages of a rematch with Trump (assuming the 45th president isn’t himself dumped for his vast record of misconduct, if not for some physical ailment), the party can quickly move on with Kamala Harris.

Bitecofer: When They Go Low, We Get…Mean

Rachel Bitecofer visited MSNBC’s ‘Morning. Joe‘ recently to promote her new book, “Hit Em Where It Hurts:How to Save Democracy by Beating Republicans at Their Own Game.” It went like this:

There are times in politics when bipartisan outreach undergirded with respectful courtesy is the wisest approach. But this is not one of those times, according to Bitecofer. As Helmville puts it at Daily Kos, “This is war and I completely agree with Rachel Bitecofer and others like Steve Schmidt who among many more are warning us to stop playing nice! No more nice please! This victory belongs to us and unfortunately we need to take it by force!”

In the classic “Fear and Loathing n the Campaign Trail ’72,” Hunter S. Thompson advised, “Sending Muskie against Nixon would have been like sending a three-toed sloth out to seize turf from a wolverine. Big Ed was an adequate senator . . . but it was stone madness from the start to ever think about exposing him to the kind of bloodthirsty thugs that Nixon and John Mitchell would sic on him. They would have him screeching on his knees by sundown on Labor Day.” The way the ’72 election worked out, however, it’s hard to see how Muskie could have done worse.

But Nixon was a day at the beach compared to what Democrats are facing now. Nonetheless, it can be argued that President Biden has a potent wild card in his ‘nice guy’ image, which stands in stark relief to his opponent’s rabid egotism and vicious treatment of everyone who doesn’t kiss up to him.

Biden didn’t ascend to the presidency by playing patty cake. But going full ‘Dark Brandon’ this year might not come off as authentic, and could backfire. Bitecofer is surely right that Democrats must strike a vivid contrast to Republicans up and down-ballot. Sure, President Biden should deploy well-crafted zingers at opportune moments. But there is a good argument for letting his surrogates bring the mean.