It’s reasonably clear by now that despite some significant differences on the details, the really striking difference between Democratic and Republican “lobbying reform” proposals in Congress is that Democrats are promising to shut down wider abuses of power like the K Street Strategy, while Republicans basically deny the K Street Strategy even exists (or, as that unlikely Republican “reformer,” Rick Santorum, occasionally claims, it’s just a good government process whereby GOP Hill Barons benevolently try to make sure lobbying shops hire the best qualified people). So it’s kind of important to understand what the K Street Strategy is really all about.Like everyone else, I recommend, and have recommended from the day it was published, Nick Confessore’s famous 2003 Washington Monthly analysis of the whole scheme (in which “good government” Ricky Santorum plays a prominent role). But long and brilliant articles like Nick’s don’t necessarily boil it all down to something newspapers can understand, so here’s my simple take: The K Street Strategy was and is an effort to concentrate the vast array of money and power commanded by lobbyists into a simple relationship with the vast array of money and power commanded by the Republican leadership of Congress (and its ally in the White House). The message so often conveyed by Ricky and others to K Street is simply this: you’re on our team, and there’s no other team to join. Thus, the K Street Strategy, aimed explicitly at consolidating lobbyists into a single and disciplined force, had to be accompanied by a parallel consolidation of total power within the federal government, creating the big and single bargaining table. That’s why the K Street Strategy was indeed the crown jewel of Republican corruption, and why it went hand in hand with so many other abuses of power in Washington. Its whole aim was to create a cartel of power with a few players who were free to do what they wished at public expense, not only to do each other’s will, but to perpetuate the arrangement as long as possible. So please, “even-handed” reporters, don’t buy into the idea that today’s Republicans are just emulating the abuses of power practiced by yesterday’s Democrats. This is new stuff: the ruthless effort to establish a small place in Washington where all the deals go down, and all the money changes hands, and all the legislation gets cleared. It’s breathtaking in its audacity, and Democrats need to explain that destroying it isn’t just a matter of “lobbying reform” or even “ethics reform,” but a necessary effort to restore Congress as a functioning representative body.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a story on faulty focus group memories of Trump, and I wrote about the implications at New York.
As an unpopular president facing a sour electorate, Joe Biden really needs to make 2024 a comparative election rather than a straight referendum on his presidency. Luckily for him, his likely general-election opponent, Donald Trump, is equally unpopular for reasons that are quite vivid. He’s as well known as Biden, and he works very hard to reinforce the traits that might make an undecided voter (even one unhappy with Biden) reluctant to put him back in the White House. So half of Biden’s work in drawing contrasts is done for him, and part of the other half is made easy for him by Trump’s strongest supporters, the “deplorables” (to use the Hillary Clinton term that has become a MAGA badge of honor) who enjoy shocking the world by advertising their hero’s most questionable characteristics.
It is becoming apparent, however, that Trump’s potential coalition is being augmented by low-information voters with a hazy understanding of the Trumpier features of the 45th president’s record, character, and agenda. By that I do not mean the non-college-educated voters who make up so large a part of the Trump base. Many if not most of them are pretty educated about their candidate. But there’s evidence that disengaged and/or deeply alienated folks who may nonetheless vote in a presidential election (if not any others) don’t know as much about Trump as you might assume, as the New York Times’ Patrick Healey has observed:
“Our latest Times Opinion focus group discussion with 13 undecided independent voters included a striking result: 11 of the 13 said they would vote for Donald Trump if the election were held now, and only two said they would vote for President Biden. The reason: overwhelming concern about the economy.
“But I was less surprised by the big vote for Trump than by this: The group didn’t blame Trump for things he was responsible or accountable for.
“For instance, several people linked their economic troubles to COVID, but they didn’t put any blame on Trump for that. Some were upset with the end of abortion rights nationally, but they didn’t tie that to Trump’s Supreme Court appointments. Several wanted bipartisanship, but they didn’t blame Trump for his hand in sinking the recent bipartisan border deal. One person, a Latina, blamed Trump for worsening racism in the country and recounted a searing incident that happened to her — but she was among the 11 who would vote for him anyway.”
Healey concludes that “a lot of our focus-group participants — and many voters — see Trump as an acceptable option in November, yet they don’t know or remember a lot about him.” This makes them, of course, highly susceptible to Trump campaign messaging asserting that the economy during his presidency was the greatest ever; that he’s a natural peacemaker who inspired respect for the United States everywhere; and that he’s a decent, law-abiding businessman (and family man!) whose near-constant forced court appearances are uniformly the product of his persecution by the other party.
Democrats, of course, will have opportunities (and increasingly, an obligation) to set the record straight about Trump and his presidency. But the difficult thing is that low-information voters also tend to be low-trust voters, which means they don’t tend to believe traditional arbiters of objective reality like the mainstream news media, and may not grant more truthful politicians superior credibility. Further distorting understanding of the Trump administration (and thus its possible return) is the huge trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which gives everything that immediately preceded the disaster an undeserved glow, while immolating memories of less powerful traumas associated with the former president’s tenure.
In other words, low-information voters who dislike politics so much that they are not inclined to dig into facts and evidence touching on political topics are highly vulnerable to the kind of disinformation that benefits Donald Trump. And if they are in a bad mood in November, they could help turn the election into a negative referendum on Joe Biden even if they are inviting something — and someone — far worse. Democrats will have to work hard to break through with the truth.