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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

January 22, 2019

Ocasio-Cortez Has Lessons for Dems

Democratic candidates, campaigns and office-holders would do well to read “What Democrats Can Learn From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Her communication style is worth emulating, not dismissing” by Aaron Huertas at medium.com. Some insights from Huertas:

Attention is a limited resource in politics, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., commands a lot of it. She has almost 2.4 million Twitter followers, and media outlets breathlessly cover her statements and policy proposals as well as feckless attempts by Republicans to throw her off her game.

For a lot of Democrats in Washington, this is disruptive. Normally, a freshman member of Congress would command little if any public attention and would quietly sit in the back benches, slowly building seniority over time with the hopes of one day running a powerful committee.

Huertas notes AOC ‘s unique appeal to millennials, who “grew up with a political system that has proven incapable of addressing student debt, income inequality, or climate change. We aren’t waiting for change; we don’t have the time. And there are more of us voting every single year.” Further,

That’s why it’s a mistake for Democrats to try to “rein in” the party’s biggest rising star, as this Politico article put it. Instead, the party should be looking to Ocasio-Cortez for guidance on how to effectively speak to working people, collaborate with activists, and beat Republicans soundly in 2020 and beyond.

Huertas cites  an article on Politico, dissing NY-14’s new congresswoman for being popular on Twitter, and argues that “This idea is so backward. Twitter stars can be great legislators, and having nearly 2.4 million Twitter followers is a very effective way to get out the message about legislation.”

Activists, like Ocasio-Cortez and John Lewis, who have a genuine grass-roots connection to their constituents, have an advantage in educating them and mobilizing volunteers. Huertas adds, for example,

Ocasio-Cortez’s advocacy for a Green New Deal is a great example of combing inside and outside influence from activists to advance an agenda. Several progressive House candidates campaigned on a Green New Deal last year, but the topic received little interest during the campaign. It only grabbed public attention after Ocasio-Cortez joined Sunrise Movement protesters in Nancy Pelosi’s office who were demanding a special committee create a Green New Deal…Did the Sunrise Movement and other Green New Deal advocates get exactly what they wanted right away? No, definitely not. But now the Green New Deal is a new standard for what serious climate policy looks like, and presidential candidates are starting to line up behind them.

AOC’s experience knocking on doors as a Bernie Sanders campaigner and her participation in the Standing Rock protests also served her well. It’s not a bad thing for elected officials to have had significant face time with grass-roots activists. “The simple truth,” says Huertas, “is that there is nothing preventing a lawmaker from actively working with protesters, dissidents, and activists to achieve serious political change. In fact, doing so is smart politics.”

Huertas argues that some of Ocasio-Cortez’s critics are more judgemental about women of color than they are about male office-holders, ignoring the reality that “A big reason Ocasio-Cortez resonates is that millennials actually have members of Congress who represent our generational interests now: eliminating student loan debt, income inequality, gun violence, and climate change…pundits and columnists should be asking themselves how they can market their own ideas more effectively. Because there is a zero-percent chance any leftist politician is going to take their free advice and hand the spotlight back to them.”

In addition, “In many midterm races, the youth vote was decisive as young people broke two-to-one for Democrats. Splits like that are a once in a generation opportunity to build lasting power,” as this chart illustrates:

Partisan breakdown of the 18–29 vote in midterm elections. Chart: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Ocasio-Cortez “dunks on right-wingers who make stupid arguments with abandon,” notes Huertas. “While other Democrats ignore them or respond in somber, serious tones, Ocasio-Cortez rejects the premise that bad faith arguments should be taken seriously” — and boldly discredited.

This has created an incredible attention cycle online. Every time a prominent Republican takes the bait and attacks Ocasio-Cortez, they simply empower her more by giving her the opportunity to spend a few minutes composing a trenchant tweet, which then gets covered with short posts on dozens of media outlets.

When Republicans tried to bash Ocasio-Cortez for advocating higher taxes for the wealthy, “Instead of taking this argument seriously or posting charts and graphs, Ocasio-Cortez responded by debunking a powerful GOP legislator, questioning his knowledge about policy, and then pointing out why the GOP routinely lies about tax rates.”

It’s about getting engaged with adversaries, being confident and unafraid to confront them with well-informed refutations of their flawed defenses. She understands that “Politicians hate talking about their most unpopular policy positions, such as low taxes for wealthy people,” and denies them any wiggle room. Also, notes Huertas,

Calling out bad faith arguments has also extended to what Republicans call “working the refs.” In Ocasio-Cortez’s case, that means taking on fact-checkers who have rewarded her with four Pinocchios/Pants on Fire ratings for relatively mild errors. For instance, what’s worse: denying the scientific reality of climate change or not precisely representing budget figures from a media story about Pentagon accounting? How about scapegoating immigrants with hateful, dishonest rhetoric or talking about people who aren’t unemployed but are working multiple jobs to keep ahead of the cost of living?

tenIf you’re a fact-checker, it’s perhaps not something you’ve thought about because that’s a value-laden, moral question. But in challenging fact-checkers over what they choose to scrutinize, Ocasio-Cortez has exposed how an overly precise focus on facts can obscure the deeper moral questions at the heart of politics…When debates are broken, challenge the premise of the debate. Don’t obscure the real-world impact policy has. Confront it.

In addition, AOC “has helped foster more debate about the ways “how do you pay for it” rhetoric is selectively deployed for health, education, and environmental protection but not military spending, tax cuts, and other deficit drivers” — a good, and often overlooked point that adds needed perspective on spending debates that can help Democrats.

Huertas highlights the difference in communication styles between traditional liberal Democrats and Ocasio Cortez:

…Prominent Democratic Twitter users like Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Ted Lieu, both D-Cal., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, tend to strike a more serious tone and often point out their political opponents’ hypocrisy. These arguments have a lot of reach, but Donald Trump and other Republicans can’t really be hypocrisy shamed any more, so these messages don’t quite have the same reach or impact they had a few years ago.

They’ll also dabble in memes, leetspeak, and slang, but playing along with internet culture is distinct from being born into it, and as a younger person, Ocasio-Cortez’s use of these tropes resonates, is consistent with her bio, and is stickier for audiences.

Finding one’s online voice is different for every politician, but emulating Ocasio-Cortez in this regard means finding novel, deeply personal ways to talk about the news of the day and a progressive policy agenda. That means effective communicators don’t just play along with how social media works. They embody it. Finding ways to be authentic online is incredibly hard, especially for politicians, but that’s the difference between being good on social media and being great.

Huertas distills her debate strategy as, “When debates are broken, challenge the premise of the debate. Don’t obscure the real world impact policy has. Confront it. And speak to people’s moral values and the type of world we want to live in.”

No doubt the nit-pickers will continue to needle Ocasio-Cortez at every opportunity. But there is zero chance that they are going to distract the new Rep from NY-14. Democrats would do well to study and emulate her energetic engagement and refusal to give them the last word.

In his conclusion, Huertas advises Dems to “Embrace that change, including change from the outside, and don’t be afraid to compromise with the next generation.” Good advice, right on time.

Teixeira: Some Trump Voters Bail on Him Due to the Shutdown

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

That would perhaps be a better headline than the Post headline on the web which says: “Trump voters now blame him for the government shutdown“. That sounds like all of them and of course that’s not true. But the fact that outlets like the Post are starting to run stories not about how Trump voters are still rock solid for their man but rather about how some of them are getting fed up is a good thing.

The article while anecdotal is still worth reading, especially since it’s written from Macomb County in Michigan, a storied locus of white working class discontent with the Democrats going back decades. As the article notes, while Trump carried the county by 12 points in 2016, Democratic Senate and governor candidates carried the county in 2018. Perhaps something is going on there and, by extension, in other similar areas in the Midwest.

The article also correctly points out that Democrats would be unwise to simply count on fed up-ness with Trump to close the deal with wavering Trump voters, especially when it comes to the immigration issue.

“The 2020 Democratic presidential primary contest is expected to include a heavy dose of debate over how to balance attempts to win back white working-class voters — those who live here as well as in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which Trump also won — with the energy around ascendant women and minorities.

Those attempts will also draw into question whether Democrats can find a way to articulate an immigration plan in areas like this, where the issue resonates. Trump’s insistence on building a border wall has hardened Democrats, whose most prominent policy now is to stop the wall. They rarely tout their own views on border security, but that issue remains important to many voters in industrial states….

“People do want immigration managed,” said Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who has been studying Macomb County voters since the 1980s. “Trump makes it hard because he’s so outrageous. You don’t want to give him an inch. But immigration is still an important issue, and Democrats will have to speak to it.”

A similar point is made by Francis Wilkinson in a recent Bloomberg piece. You might summarize his article as saying “Democrats won’t always have the Wall to kick around” Wilkinson points out:

“[W]hen the shutdown, and the symbolic skirmish behind it, ends, the immigration debate will not. And it’s unclear how much progress Democrats will have made persuading distracted voters to embrace a realistic and humane alternative to Trump’s fantasy and aggression….

[W]ill Americans who have been encouraged to imagine an impregnable curtain of steel be better able to imagine the legal and topographical fiascos that would ensue from trying to build it? Or the handmade wooden ladder that would be used to vault over it? What about a comprehensive alternative that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented and tighter controls on borders and employment?

There’s no way to make progress on such arguments if the Democratic line is simply that the wall is, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, ‘immoral.'”

Exactly. Time for the Democrats to get to it if they really want to win back wavering Trump voters in 2020.

Political Strategy Notes

“President Donald Trump’s latest offer of a deal to resolve the government shutdown was an inept playing of a weak hand,” Robert Kuttner argues in “Why Trump Will Lose The Government Shutdown Fight” at HuffPo.”It was never in the cards for Democrats to agree to Trump’s $5.7 billion wall demand in exchange for just three years of protection for the Dreamers plus temporary reprieves for some other immigrants…Trump obviously knew this when he made the offer. He is still betting that the public will accept his argument that a physical wall is needed to protect Americans from an invasion of refugees and an inflow of illegal drugs. But public opinion isn’t buying it…I continue to believe that the final deal will include a DACA agreement in exchange for some increased funding for border security that will include some stretch of physical barrier that Trump can call a wall. He has already back-pedaled on his demand for a literal concrete wall. In the endgame, he can term a mix of electronic surveillance and some actual barriers a “wall,” and declare victory.”

At salon.com, Heather Digby Parton writes, “As the New York Times reported in its massive exposé of the Trump family business going back to the 1960s, Trump was a millionaire before he was out of diapers — and his repeated failures in business were all because of his lack of business acumen. Researchers discovered that had voters known about this, it would have changed the minds of a meaningful percentage of those who voted for Trump. Perceptions of Trump’s business acumen, which are fairly high among voters of both parties, are also subject to a significant shift. When they find out that his daddy bailed him out his whole life, Republicans reduce their admiration for his skills by 9 points and Democrats by 6. These are small differences, but considering how close the election was in 2016, it’s something worth thinking about for 2020…The Democrats can’t give in or this will be the only way he “negotiates” for the rest of his term. That would be a disaster. So, if he refuses to declare his bogus emergency and save face with Ann Coulter, it’s going to be up to Mitch McConnell to bring him the bad news. Ultimately McConnell can call a vote and override Trump’s veto if necessary to get the government open again. So far, McConnell’s been AWOL on the whole thing, but he may have to step up to get the Greatest Negotiator the World Has Ever Known out of his jam — just like Trump’s daddy always did.

Sen. Jon Tester shows how Dems can frame the shutdown. If Trump delivers a SOTU address, Tester would be a strong choice to respond for Dems:

So how wil Democrats handle Trump’s end the shutdown proposal, when it is submitted to congress this week? Stephen Collinson reports at CNN Politics: “Democrats will counter that the House has voted to reopen the government multiple times already but the Senate has refused to take up any measure Trump won’t sign…The House Democratic leadership plans its own vote on a new plan this week to add an extra $1 billion for border security not including the wall. Like Trump’s plan, it is unlikely to end the shutdown but will help rebut claims they are weak on the border…As each chamber takes up dueling measures to end the shutdown and the President continues posturing, it will look yet again like Washington is playing its political games and ignoring shutdown victims.” As Speaker Pelosi responded, “”@realDonaldTrump, 800,000 Americans are going without pay. Re-open the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border. #EndTheShutdown,” the California Democrat tweeted.”

A commenter, “Stephen C,” responding to Ruy Teixeira’s “is Trump Losing White Workers?” at TDS, writes, “I would love to see stories of Trump voters who’ve now reached their limit: instead of liberals complaining about Trump which tends to push Trump supporters back in line, we need to gently light up the exit path, from a distance.” It’s a really good idea, a worthy project for major TV networks, perhaps as a special report. A series of interviews with disaffected Trump voters might also provide good audio for radio — the leading daytime news source for working people.

Daniel Politi’s post, “Pence Likens Trump and His Offer to End Shutdown to Martin Luther King” at slate.com notes that, during an interview with CBS News on Sunday, “At one point in the interview, host Margaret Brennan asked the vice-president why Democrats weren’t included in the process to come up with the proposal that Trump put forward Saturday to end the longest government shutdown in history. After spouting his talking points, Pence quoted the civil rights leader. “One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.’ You think of how he changed America,” the vice president said. “He inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union. That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do. Come to the table in a spirit of good faith.” Pence does that with a straight face. He has been widely-ridiculed on the left as Trump’s empty suit boot-licker, not without reason. But I hope Dems do some serious thinking about what happens to that image if he assumes the presidency, which is not all that unlikely and could happen quite quickly. In that event, Democrats would lose ovdernight whatever edge they get from unhappy Republican moderates and other voters who are fed up with Trump’s general nastiness and boorish behavior, but not so much his politics.

For those who have been seething over Mitch McConnell’s betrayal of democracy, Charles Pierce has a blistering, share-worthy take-down at Esquire, entitled “There Is No More Loathsome Creature Walking Our Political Landscape Than Mitch McConnell. Yes, that includes the jumped-up real-estate crook in the White House.” Among Pierce’s observations: “There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles…Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head. McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years…He doesn’t have the essential patriotism god gave a snail. He pledges allegiance to his donors, and they get what they want. He’s selling out his country, and he’s doing it in real-time and out in the open. This is worse than McCarthy or McCarran ever were. Mitch McConnell is the the thief of the nation’s soul.”

Andrew Prokop explores the pros and cons of Democrats pursuing impeachment at Vox, and concludes that “In the end, while Democrats may have a host of disagreements on impeachment, the real decision-makers on whether Trump may one day be convicted and removed from office are Senate Republicans…The bar for convicting an impeached president is high — the votes of 67 senators, two-thirds of the chamber, would be necessary…Since Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a 53-47 majority, that means that even if all 47 Democrats voted to convict Trump — including moderates like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — they would need another 20 Republicans votes to make it happen…That’s grown tougher to imagine after two years of Trump exerting his dominance over the GOP Senate caucus. With a few exceptions, the vast majority of Republican senators try desperately to avoid high-profile spats with the president. They have to face primary voters, and fear that attacks from Trump could sink their careers…It’s hard to envision this changing without one of two things: an utter collapse in Trump’s popularity (well below his current 40 percent overall approval and his 89 percent approval with Republicans) that would make the party expect a total wipeout in 2020; or some indisputable, incredibly damning evidence of an extremely serious crime. (Even that might not do it.)”

Both NBC and ABC web pages have-round up reports on various Democratic presidential candidates participation in MLK holiday events marking Dr. King’s 90th birthday across the nation. You may also want to check out John Blake’s in-depth report, “A new Supreme Court is poised to take a chunk out of MLK’s legacy” at CNN.

Could a TSA Strike Tempt Trump to Play Reagan?

Like a lot of observers, I had a sense of deja vu after hearing calls for a strike of TSA workers who are toiling without pay, and I wrote about it at New York:

As Trump’s partial government shutdown drags on with no end in sight, attention is beginning to shift from furloughed federal workers and unperformed tasks to “essential” federal employees who are being forced to work without pay. Their ranks swelled this week as the administration “recalled” an estimated 46,000 furloughed workers, the majority of them at the IRS, where the GOP’s precious tax cuts are being doled out via endangered refunds.

Many of the “essential” employees are at work on chores remote from the public eye, such as processing oil-drilling paperwork for the nation’s extremely vital fossil-fuel industry, already reeling from years of Democratic persecution. Even IRS staff are invisible to most taxpayers lucky enough to avoid audits or other enforcement actions. And so the most visible symbol of involuntary servitude during the shutdown has become the 51,000 employees of the Transportation Security Administration. For anyone who flies, they are essential employees indeed, and the rising number who are calling in sick to protest the situation have already caused serious airport delays.

The union representing TSA employees has gone to court to challenge the work-without-pay system, but a parallel petition by the union representing IRS employees was rejected earlier this week by a federal judge who warned of chaos if unpaid workers were allowed to go home until pay is appropriated. So each day that passes without progress toward a resolution of the stalemate in Washington increases the possibility of the previously unimaginable: a TSA strike.

This specter was raised publicly in a New York Times op-ed by Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Stevenson, who noted the relatively low pay (a starting wage of $23,000) and high visibility of TSA agents, plus the possibility that they could build on last year’s wave of public-sector labor activism:

“T. S.A. workers should use last year’s teachers’ strikes as a model. They were called not by the leadership of the teachers’ unions but by the rank and file. It was a new kind of labor activism, starting at the bottom and depending heavily on community support. By sticking together and creating their own communication system, the teachers succeeded in sending a powerful message of solidarity and strength.”

But Ehrenreich and Stevenson also acknowledge a specter haunting the potential TSA strike that could shut down the nation’s airports:

“In 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization struck over wages and working conditions, prompting President Ronald Reagan to fire 11,000 highly skilled workers, replacing them with military personnel. Patco was destroyed and unions in general retreated into a defensive crouch. Who wants to risk something like that again?”

That’s a good question. Reagan’s decision to fight the illegal strike was risky and curtailed air travel for quite some time. But it worked wonders for him politically, as Joseph McCartin observed years later:

“He showed federal workers and Soviet leaders alike how tough he could be. Although there were 39 illegal work stoppages against the federal government between 1962 and 1981, no significant federal job actions followed Reagan’s firing of the Patco strikers. His forceful handling of the walkout, meanwhile, impressed the Soviets, strengthening his hand in the talks he later pursued with Mikhail S. Gorbachev.”

Whatever it did or didn’t accomplish in concrete terms, the PATCO strike and its aftermath became a key part of the Reagan mythos and the enduring adulation he earned from conservatives. You could see how that example might be appealing to his current successor, who views himself as a world-historical figure fighting resolutely for America against a host of subversive forces.

So just to play this out, if TSA workers did go on strike, could Trump respond the way Reagan did? That’s unclear. On the one hand, there is no military equivalent to the armies of TSA screeners deployed at U.S. airports. On the other, screening is a vastly less complex process than air traffic control functions; presumably military personnel could be trained to take on screening responsibilities with reasonable dispatch.

The politics of breaking a TSA strike are not entirely clear, either. PATCO members struck over standard collective-bargaining issues like pay, benefits, and working conditions. The federal government has clearly breached its contract with TSA employees, and nobody supports the travesty of extended involuntary work without pay, even if pay is guaranteed (as it has been in legislation passed by Congress and signed by Trump) when the shutdown is finally resolved. In addition, Trump has the alternative remedy of simply letting the federal government reopen and continuing his fight with Democrats over his border-wall fetish without the hostages he’s chosen to take. And in the final analysis, Trump, the border wall, and the shutdown are all significantly less popular than Ronald Reagan was in 1981.

Still, one can imagine malevolent aides whispering in Trump’s ear that breaking a public employee strike could be a legacy-making “accomplishment,” much like it was for Reagan, and long before that, for Calvin Coolidge, whose successful battle against a Boston police strike in 1919 led to his vice-presidential nomination in 1920 and his ascension to the presidency on the death of Warren Harding.

A TSA strike might push him to an impulsive action a more prudent executive would avoid like the plague. But for unpaid workers and those spoiling for a definitive fight with Trump, it might be worth the risk to defy him.

Teixeira: Is Trump Losing White Workers?

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

Maybe Trump Will Finally Get Tired of Winning!

The latest CNN poll finds him tanking among white noncollege voters, the very folks who tend to be his staunchest supporters and who–in Trump’s theory, if we can dignify his bizarre mix of gut instinct and reality show street smarts by the word “theory”–were supposed to be utterly delighted to have him shut down the government to get the border wall.

It doesn’t seem to be working:

“During the longest government shutdown in US history, President Donald Trump has been losing support among those who may be his strongest supporters — white Americans who don’t have college degrees.

Among this group, only 45% said they approved of the job Trump is doing as President, according to a recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS. That is the lowest level of support among this subgroup by 1 percentage point in CNN’s surveys and a dip from a poll conducted in early December, before the partial shutdown, when 54% of whites without college degrees approved of his job as President and 39% disapproved.

The dip is notable since among whites who hold college degrees, Trump’s ratings are largely unchanged in the last month and remain sharply negative — 64% disapprove and 32% approve.”

As always, I’d like to see more data on this trend but these are certainly very interesting–and potentially important–findings.

Political Strategy Notes

Josh Marshall explains why “Politics Aside, Pelosi Made the Right Decision on SOTU” at Talking Points Memo’s Edblog: “Nancy Pelosi is clearly playing hardball by essentially disinviting President Trump from giving a State of the Union address at the end of January. It’s a good move in terms of political leverage and to make a point. But it’s good for a reason that goes beyond political posturing or negotiation. It’s the same reason it was a good thing that Democratic senators are refusing to move bills on non-budgetary issues until the shutdown ends…The President has deliberately, intentionally stopped the federal government from functioning, except on certain continuity over government bases, to force an issue that has little public support and which he’s unwilling to bargain over through a normal legislative process. That’s not okay and we can’t allow it to migrate into becoming normal. The foundational role of the federal government and the essential responsibility of those who run it is that it runs. It isn’t security or the general welfare or anything else. It’s to run it. It’s no different from the fundamental responsibility of the electrical utility, which is that the electricity works. It’s critical to preserve the reality that this is a crisis and really nothing can be discussed or dealt with before this crisis is addressed.”

Paul Glastris envisions “How Democrats Solve Their Geography Problem” at The Washington Monthly.  “The challenge is not only that Democrats have hemorrhaged support in economically declining rural areas. It’s also that metro areas in red and purple states, which generally support Democrats, haven’t been growing enough to offset those rural losses. Instead, growth in income and opportunity has overwhelmingly flowed to a handful of large metro areas on or near the coasts—precisely the places where Democrats are wracking up millions of “wasted” votes…Democrats can fix their geography problem, our latest issue argues, only by confronting this regional economic inequality. And the best and only way to do that is to reverse the national policies that caused the problem in the first place: the abandonment of antitrust and other measures that once ensured that every part of the country could compete economically, which has since enabled the rise of monopoly firms that cluster opportunity in a few lucky coastal megacities like San Francisco and New York…In the short term, committing to that path could help Democrats make inroads among the rural voters they desperately need to woo back…Over the longer haul, anti-monopoly policies could empower small and midsize cities to compete for business, economic growth, and residents—and take away the GOP’s geographic advantage for good.”

“It’s still hard to gauge how this might play out for the president politically—he appears to have no actual strategy—even as the suffering brought by a lack of pay comes into sharper focus,” Matt Taylor writes in “Trump’s Shutdown Is a Savage Assault on the Working Class” at vice.com. “But the saga is not playing well in swing districts and some of the key electoral turf where Trump peeled off working-class votes from Democrats to win in 2016. Class consciousness may not be at an all-time high in this country, and public employees have long engendered resentmentfrom Americans who may be angry at the decline of manufacturing and other industries. But the specter of a rich man deigning to shell out a few thousand bucks on fast food for college football players while public servants worry about putting food on their tables probably isn’t doing him (or the conservative movement he represents a freak mutation of) any favors…We’ll have to wait and see whether this ends up worse for those who aspire to do good for the country or the party that has embraced the “deconstruction of the administrative state” as a core philosophy. If nothing else, it’s increasingly obvious the shutdown isn’t some kind of coherent political gambit so much as an unadulterated expression of class rage from top down.

From “Credit Where It’s Due: Democratic Leaders Have Not Caved Like a Bunch of Weenies on the Border Wall” by Ben Mathis-Lilley at slate.com: “One of the criticisms of the Democratic Party that has been made approximately one billion times since Barack Obama took power in 2008 is that its leaders are too quick to compromise. From the decision to leave the “public option” out of the Affordable Care Act, to Obama’s offer to make cuts to entitlement programs in 2013, to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s agreement to “fast-track” the confirmation of judicial nominees in October 2018, a pattern has emerged: Dems bend over backwards to make concessions to Republican interests and talking points but Republicans never, ever return the favor…The border wall-shutdown standoff is exactly the kind of situation in which another Democratic fold would seem to be, er, in the cards. And yet not only have Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi not folded, it doesn’t seem like they’ve even thought about folding, despite some grumbling by new House members from swing districts. It’s gotten to the point where Donald Trump invited several centrist-ish rank-and-file Democrats to have lunch with him Tuesday without caucus leaders, ostensibly to woo and seduce them, but it didn’t work; none of them went. Democrats: Not in disarray! They also, per multiple polls, hold the significantly more popular position on just about every shutdown and wall-related question—and looking forward, an ABC-Washington Post survey found that respondents opposed Trump’s oft-threatened plan to launch the wall project via a declaration of national emergency by a blowout-level, mercy-rule 66–31 margin.”

In his post, “The Shutdown Is Hurting Trump’s Approval Rating. But Will It Hurt Him in 2020?,” Nate Silver argues at FiveThirtyEight that “Trump’s increasingly negative ratings match polling showing Americans growing concerned about the shutdown and disliking Trump’s handling of it. In a Marist College poll that was released this week, for example, 61 percent of respondents said the shutdown had given them a more negative view of Trump, while just 28 percent said they felt more positively toward him…So all of that sounds pretty bad for Trump. But will any of it really matter to Trump’s political standing, in the long run?..The glib answer is “probably not.” We’re a loooong way from the presidential election. And presidential approval ratings, as well as those for congressional leaders, typically rebound within a couple of months of a shutdown ending. A shutdown in October 2013 that caused a steep decline in ratings for congressional Republicans didn’t prevent them from having a terrific midterm in 2014, for instance.”

But Kerry Eleveld points out that “Conventional wisdom is shutdowns don’t have electoral consequences. Trump’s shutdown is different at Daly Kos. “The key difference as this shutdown drags on is that real people are feeling real consequences and real anxiety, with no end in sight. Stories of furloughed federal workers selling personal belongings or dipping into their kids’ college funds in order to pay their bills are spilling out. Some government workers are making horrific life-or-death decisions like choosing between buying food and paying for cancer medication, or rationing their insulin. People who contract with the federal government face the daunting prospect of both covering bills now and never receiving backpay for the work they missed while the government was closed. In addition, everyday Americans are increasingly feeling the effects, with air travelers experiencing excessive TSA lines and farmers, for instance, not being able to get the loans they need to stay in business…this government closure doesn’t have the air of short-lived theatrics that shutdowns past did. Not only is the pain of it reaching further into the heart of America every day, but it reinforces the narrative that has surrounded Trump’s entire presidency: He’s an impetuous and volatile personality who’s disastrously ill-suited for the work of governing.”

Peter Beinart argues that “Nancy Pelosi Is Winning: She beat George W. Bush on Social Security privatization, and she’ll beat Trump on the wall” at The Atlantic. “As in 2005, high-minded centrists are urging Pelosi and the Democrats to compromise…A recent Bloomberg editorialscolded Democrats for wanting “to deny the other [side] anything that might be portrayed as a victory,” and warned that “the only alternative to compromise, now that power in Washington is more equally divided, is paralysis.”…But Pelosi knows that the alternative to Democratic compromise isn’t necessarily paralysis. It may be Democratic triumph. Trump, like Bush, has picked a fight that is popular with conservatives but unpopular with the public at large. Most Americans don’t think there’s a border crisis, don’t support a border wall, and blame Trump for the shutdown. As a result, Republican members of Congress are under more political pressure to back down than their Democratic counterparts, and the longer the shutdown continues, the more that pressure should grow.”

Despite all the polls about the shutdown indicating bad news for the GOP, “House Democrats are frustrated the shutdown is drowning out the rest of their agenda” Dylan Scott reports at Vox. “The shutdown is still an unwelcome distraction and a potential delay on getting to the hard work of moving legislation through committees and onto the House floor. Governing is about priorities and right now there is no bigger priority than opening the government…It is difficult to imagine House Democrats undertaking a major legislative push — like stabilizing the Affordable Care Act, a top campaign promise of many Democrats in 2018 — until federal workers are receiving their paychecks again…It’s not as if the House would have passed Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal if not for the shutdown. Clearly leaders are taking a very deliberative approach to the coming year, setting up hearings on some of the big-ticket items that progressives want to address while at the same time pursuing more targeted legislation on issues where there is a broad consensus within the party…That behind-the-scenes work is still continuing. But they will have to reopen the government before they can truly take on the role of a full-throated new Democratic majority.”

Nathaniel Frank and Evan Wolfson make the case that “Trump’s Shutdown Is a Historic Opportunity for Democrats” at slate.com. They note that, “while Democrats may be poised to win the short-term political argument over the shutdown, the pain and suffering it has inflicted are part of a long-term right-wing strategy that’s older and broader than many people realize. That strategy involved a decades-long campaign to turn everything from the courts to the Congress to the country’s overall cultural character sharply rightward by stigmatizing forms of collective action—government, unions, even voting—that history shows are necessary counterweights to the greed of the powerful…This long-game effort calls for an equal and opposite strategy: something that will bolster the promising, if disparate, elements of the resistance—mass protests, diverse candidates, grass-roots door-knocking, bold policy ideas—by offering a sustained, deep story about the positive role government plays in American life. To change the narrative effectively, progressives should launch a long-term persuasion campaign designed to restore belief in government…Progressives should cultivate and deploy our best and brightest to share powerful stories of all that Americans have achieved through government: protecting food and water from pollution; building highways, dams, great cities, and a thriving middle class; expanding inclusion, equality, and freedom; literally reaching the moon.”

Trump Senior Official Says Furlough the Beast

For the most part the Trump administration’s public line is that the current partial government shutdown is not as big a deal as his desired border wall, but that to the extent it’s inconveniencing people it’s the fault of congressional Democrats. But that’s not the only administration voice we are hearing, as I wrote about at New York.

Yesterday at the Daily Caller, however, a sinister, anonymous senior Trump administration official offered a different rationale for continuing the shutdown indefinitely:

“As one of the senior officials working without a paycheck, a few words of advice for the president’s next move at shuttered government agencies: lock the doors, sell the furniture, and cut them down.

“Federal employees are starting to feel the strain of the shutdown. I am one of them. But for the sake of our nation, I hope it lasts a very long time, till the government is changed and can never return to its previous form.”

This latest Anonymous goes on in that vein for paragraph after fatuous paragraph, weaving a right-wing fantasy vision of lazy, evil bureaucrats sabotaging the noble president and his patriotic political appointees. Without a shred of documentation, this very Trump-y individual stipulates that 80 percent of the employees in her/his agency, and apparently all of the furloughed employees, do no work at all because they cannot be fired, and conspire with Congress (the Congress that until 11 days ago was controlled by Republicans) to create and maintain worthless programs. Thus, although it will impose sacrifices on the handful of essential employees currently working without pay, an extended shutdown is necessary to prove to the American people that the only government they need is the “free market night watchman” state “our founders envisioned.”

But what strikes the reader most about this cri de coeur for an indefinite shutdown is how nicely it fits into the annals of gutless conservative strategies for shrinking government indirectly and dishonestly. The most famous was the late-20th-century “starve the beast” strategy, which meant cutting taxes and deliberately engineering large federal budget deficits in order to force spending cuts (ideally by liberals) that conservatives couldn’t or wouldn’t propose straightforwardly. I once called this “the fiscal equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe” for Republicans, because it enabled them to tell themselves and their “base” they were doing brave things like attacking entitlement programs while never actually taking the political heat for it. Similarly, the Daily Caller’s correspondent wants to use the essentially mindless vehicle of a partial government shutdown to do what Trump and Republican pols don’t have the courage to propose. You could call it a “furlough the beast” strategy.

The supposition that “[m]ost Americans will not miss non-essential government functions” is already proving to be erroneous — unless “most Americans” is meant to exclude those who might want safe food or adjudication of tax disputes or federal-guaranteed mortgages or any number of other services and benefits that would be strained or eliminated in an extended shutdown. That’s aside from the fact that “essential employees” can’t be expected to toil without pay perpetually, as this “senior official” apparently has the wherewithal to do.

In the end, this op-ed may just be an ideological self-indulgence for those who always want to believe that the government Americans keep voting to maintain is just one gimmick away from vanishing. But at a time when the president is twisting in the wind, unable to figure out how to deal with a government shutdown that he stumbled into after a temper tantrum, this is one whisper in his ear we don’t need. Trump has already retweeted this recommendation of the Daily Caller piece from his son:


Why Persuasion Should Be Part of Democratic Strategy

At Campaigns & Elections, David Radloff, John Hagner and Dan Castleman explain “Why Persuasion Isn’t Dead in the Age of Wave Elections.” The authors, partners at Clarity Campaign Labs, a data and analytics firm that works with Democratic campaigns, write:

Even after success in 2018, many progressives remain convinced that winning over people who voted for Donald Trump is impossible and that trying is a waste of time…Data, however, tells a different story. According to 2018 exit polls, more than 3.5 million, or 8 percent of people who voted for Trump in 2016 voted for a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House this year.

This probably understates the real number—exit polls have had methodological challenges and many people who defected from Trump are unwilling to admit that they voted for him in the first place. But it’s clear that persuasion is alive and well in American politics.

Radloff, Hagner and Castleman add that they conducted “experiments that allowed us to see which voters actually changed their minds when presented with certain information. Then we scaled that analysis and created statistical models for the national electorate.”

They found that “Nationally, we could move 1-out-of-every-30 voters to change their congressional vote with a single message reminding them of Congress’s power to be a check on Trump…There were an almost equal number of people that moved to the Democrat as there were that moved to the Republican upon hearing anti-Trump messages.” Further,

We also found that using a different message reminding voters about healthcare issues and the GOP’s plan to cut protections for people with pre-existing conditions worked even better. Hearing that message just once, we could move 1-out-of-every-20 voters to change their congressional vote. And, unlike the Trump message, almost all of the movement was towards the Democrat, with very little backlash.

Healthcare, rather than opposition to Trump, proved pivotal for the 2018 blue wave, which won the Democrats a net 40 seats and control of the House. Our methods didn’t just tell us what message worked best, but what voters to target. Despite the backlash, we could identify a universe (almost 20-percent of the country) that still moved Democratic with the Trump message at a staggering rate of six times greater than that of the average voter.

This enabled us to help specific campaigns talk to the right voters, using the right message, and through the right medium. For healthcare messaging, we could identify groups of voters in which 1 out of every 5 we talked to would vote for the Democratic candidate instead.

The authors explain the methodology they used and conclude that “when we have conversations with Republican voters about issues they care about, we can still convince many of them to join us.”

It appears that Democrats can convince ‘some,’ if not ‘many’ targeted Republican voters, to vote for Democratic candidates with the right message. And in close races, ‘some’ may prove to be just ‘enough.’

Teixeira: How Did Jon Tester Get Re-Elected?

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

As you may recall, Jon Tester’s re-election in Montana did not exactly seem like a sure thing. This was a state that Hillary Clinton lost by 20 points in 2016.

In the end, Tester pulled out his re-election by 3.5 points over Republican Matt Rosendale. How’d he do it?

Catalist recently dropped a detailed synthetic analysis of the 2018 Montana Senate election–one of their invaluable series they are posting on Medium–along with comparable time series data going back to 2008. These data make clear the basis of Tester’s victory.

As summarized in the Medium piece, Tester triumphed by:

* “In an environment of lagging Republican enthusiasm, converting a significant share of the Republicans who did vote, along with many Independent voters, to support him

* Maximizing his support among more traditional elements of the Democratic coalition, including young voters, single voters, and those in urban areas

* Mitigating historical deficits among more challenging audiences, including voters without a college degree and voters in rural communities”

Repeating a pattern we’ve seen in a number of other states, Tester actually got a bigger pro-Democratic swing (relative to 2016) among white noncollege voters than among white college voters and a bigger swing among rural than among non-rural voters. Given the demographic composition of Montana, where rural and especially white noncollege voters dominate, that’s pretty darn important!

These data can be fruitfully perused along with Andy Levison’s essay on the three notions Democrats must discard to be successful in 2020 (previous posted).

Teixeira: Trump, the Shutdown and 2020

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

We don’t know when the government shutdown over Trump’s border wall will end. But one thing we do know: unless the political dynamic around the shutdown changes dramatically, Trump is probably hurting his bid for re-election.

Consider the facts, as laid out in two recent pieces by Nate Cohn for the New York Times and by Ron Brownstein for the Atlantic.


“There has been little polling since the government shutdown began last month, but what there is indicates that voters oppose a border wall, blame the president for the shutdown, believe the shutdown will have adverse consequences and don’t believe the government should be shut down over the wall.

The wall has consistently been unpopular, with voters opposed by around a 20-point margin over months of national surveys. That makes it even less popular than the president himself….

It’s hard to see how the issue can be used to help him win re-election. Midterm exit poll data, election results, voter file data and pre-election polls indicate that the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent in states worth at least 317 electoral votes (270 are needed to win)….

Data from the Fox News Voter Analysis of the midterms, a new competitor to the traditional exit polls, indicated that a majority of voters opposed the wall in states worth nearly 400 electoral votes, including in several states where the president’s approval rating was above water in the poll, like Ohio and Florida….[T]he wall [also] isn’t popular in Michigan..Pennsylvania [or Wisconsin], important battleground states…

Tying the [wall] to an unpopular shutdown seems particularly unlikely to help and, historically, voters tend to drift against the policy preferences of the president’s party…. [T]here is not much reason to think that the base, alone, is enough for the president to win re-election in a one-on-one race against a viable Democratic candidate. This could change. It has before. But with the midterms over, this is now the central political challenge facing the president. By that measure, it’s hard to see where a shutdown over the wall fits in.”

Brownstein finds it equally difficult to see anything but a negative payoff for Trump in the wall-shutdown dynamic. He notes particularly the way in which this dynamic tends to push wall opponents, a significant number of whom actually Trump in 2016, away from the GOP or third party voting and towards the Democrats.

“After two years of arguing for the wall as president, Trump has shown no ability to expand its popularity. In 10 national polls conducted during his presidency, Quinnipiac University has never found support for the wall higher than 43 percent….

]T]here’s evidence that the voters hostile to the wall, and to many other aspects of Trump’s tenure, are less willing to give him the benefit of the doubt now than they were in 2016….Trump’s position among wall opponents has eroded dramatically….

In the [2016] exit poll, 18 percent of the college-educated whites who opposed the wall voted for Trump anyway, according to figures provided by Edison Research. But now, far fewer express support for Trump in general. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, just 3 percent of these voters approved of Trump’s job performance, according to data provided by Quinnipiac. Ninety-two percent disapproved.

Likewise, just over one-fourth of non-college-educated whites who opposed the wall still voted for Trump in 2016. But in the latest Quinnipiac survey, only 9 percent of these whites approved of Trump’s performance, while 83 percent disapproved. In all, fully 88 percent of Americans who oppose the wall say they disapprove of Trump’s performance as president.

Approval ratings correlate closely with the reelection vote for incumbent presidents….Trump’s relentless effort to cement the loyalty and stoke the outrage of his strongest supporters, compounded by his volatile behavior in office, is building a wall between him and the ambivalent voters who provided him critical support in 2016 (or at least withheld it from Clinton by splintering to third-party candidates)…..

Trump’s monomania on the border wall shows that he remains fixated on the priorities and resentments of his core coalition. But even a 30-foot barrier probably wouldn’t protect him in 2020 if he allows the waves of discontent to continue rising among the majority of Americans who don’t consider themselves part of that ardent club.”

If you like, go back and overlay these data on the Cook electoral college ratings I posted about yesterday. It’s not a pretty picture for Mr. Trump. Getting to 270 in 2020 was never going to be easy for him. He’s now making it even harder.

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