I’ll try to move on to other topics directly, but wanted to do one more post about politics in my home state of Georgia. There was good news and bad news today for embattled incumbent Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who was surprisingly forced into an August 8 runoff by Dekalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson. The good news was her endorsement by Andrew Young, who remains a Georgia icon, and who cited a national police union contribution to Johnson (presumably motivated by her recent run-in with a Capitol Hill cop) as angering him into supporting McKinney. The bad news was a post-primary poll from Insider Advantage showing Johnson leading McKinney among likely runoff voters by a 46-21 margin.Figuring out who’s actually going to vote in this kind of runoff is obviously very tricky, so the IA poll should be taken with several grains of salt. But you have to wonder how much room for growth in support the highly polarizing incumbent really has. Aside from her national notoriety, she’s been in Congress for twelve of the last fourteen years, most of it representing pretty much the same district.On another front, I received an email from a Georgia observer who suggested the rumor I repeated earlier this week–about Johnson raising a ton of dough, especially from Jewish Democrats–is actually disinformation being circulated by the McKinney camp in an effort to fire up her base and to depict Johnson as a puppet of shadowy outside forces (not a new tactic for her, based on past races). I have no idea who’s right about this; we’ll have to see whether Johnson suddenly starts appearing on Atlanta metro television screens.The 4th congressional district runoff could have a big effect as well on two statewide Democratic runoffs, since turnout every where else is likely to be infinitesimal. In the contest to succeed Secretary of State Cathy Cox (who lost her gubernatorial race to Mark Taylor), the likelihood of a relatively high turnout in the majority-black 4th is giving new hope to second-place finisher Darryl Hicks, who is African-American, against Gail Buckner, who is white.In the other statewide runoff, for Lt. Gov., former state Rep. Jim Martin (who edged former state sen. Greg Hecht 42-38 in the primary) is running radio ads touting his endorsement by Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who is very popular among Democrats of all races. You have to feel a bit sorry for Martin and Hecht; they were able to draw a lot of attention and money on the theory that they would be facing Ralph Reed in a race that would have overshadowed everything else in Georgia politics. Running against Casey Cagle is a whole ‘nother thing, though Cagle’s own right-wing record, and perhaps residual anger over the harsh ads he ran against Reed, could provide some traction for a Democrat. More immediately, you wonder if either Martin or Hecht held some money back for the runoff. If not, Georgians may soon see them selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road to raise enough moolah for that last-minute runoff push.In non-runoff Georgia political news, DKos reports that a new poll for Republican candidate (and former Rep.) Max Burns shows him trailing Democratic incumbent John Barrow by one percentage point (44-43) in the always-tight 12th congressional district which runs from Augusta to Savannah. The district was originally drawn to favor Democrats, but Burns was able to beat ethically challenged Champ Walker in 2002; he then lost to Barrow 52-48 in 2004. The notorious Georgia re-redistricting of 2005 didn’t reduce the Democratic advantage in the 12th, but it did remove Barrow’s home town of Athens, which means he’s having to solidify name ID elsewhere.Barrow’s race is of national import because he is one of just a handful of incumbent Democratic House members considered vulnerable this November. Another is also from Georgia: 3d district Rep. Jim Marshall. After easily dispatching a heavily financed Republican in 2004, Marshall had to deal with a new map that significantly boosted the Republican vote. He also drew a serious challenger in former Rep. Mac Collins, who lost a Senate primary in 2004. But Marshall has had good leads in all the public polling, and like Barrow, is narrowly favored going into the general election.All in all, the politics in my home state will be as hot and sticky as the weather over the next couple of months.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Noting a shift in some of the rhetoric we are hearing from both parties, I tried to explain it at New York:
Earlier this week, I got an unusual communication from a member of the White House press corps who wondered if I had inspired Joe Biden’s use of the term ultra-MAGA for Rick Scott’s wildly right-wing 2022 agenda for Republicans. I owned up to contriving the term in an effort to describe Scott’s combination of Trumpian rhetoric with Goldwater-era policy extremism. But I had no idea if Biden or someone in his circle read my piece and decided to borrow the neologism or (more likely) came up with it independently for parallel reasons.
Biden hasn’t just hit Scott with “ultra-MAGA”; in the same speech, he also referred to Trump himself as “the great MAGA king.” And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has taken to railing against “MAGA Republicans” as well.
So Democratic leaders are now saying “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) where they would have once used “right wing” or “ultraconservative” or even “wingnut.” This appeared to be a strategic decision, not just a verbal tic or a tossed-off insult. And indeed, on Friday, the Washington Post reported that the rhetorical shift is the result of a six-month research project led by Biden adviser Anita Dunn and the Center for American Progress Action Fund:
“The polling and focus group research by Hart Research and the Global Strategy Group found that “MAGA” was already viewed negatively by voters — more negatively than other phrases like ‘Trump Republicans.’
“In battleground areas, more than twice as many voters said they would be less likely to vote for someone called a ‘MAGA Republican’ than would be more likely. The research also found that the description tapped into the broad agreement among voters that the Republican Party had become more extreme and power-hungry in recent years.”
Despite the potential liabilities, usage of “MAGA” and its variants has been spreading in Republican ranks as well — and the trend began even before Trump decided he liked Biden’s insult and started posting MAGA King memes on Truth Social. For example, Steve Bannon referred to Pennsylvania Senate candidate Kathy Barnette’s rivalry with the Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz as “MAGA vs. ULTRA-MAGA.” The former Trump adviser was using “ULTRA-MAGA” as a compliment; in his eyes, Barnette is deeply devoted to The Cause, while the TV doctor is most palpably devoted to self-promotion.
So why is this happening now? And is the greater embrace of the term on both the right and the left just a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Democrats really need to make the 2022 midterm elections comparative rather than the usual referendum on the current occupant of the White House, who is held responsible for whatever unhappiness afflicts the electorate, which is reflected in Biden’s chronically low job-approval ratings. They also need to find a way to motivate elements of the Democratic base to vote in November, which isn’t easy because (a) Democratic constituencies (particularly young people) rarely vote in proportional numbers in non-presidential elections without extreme provocation, and (b) many base voters are “unenthusiastic” about voting thanks to disappointment over the limited accomplishments Biden and his congressional allies have chalked up since taking control of Washington.
The tried-and-true bogeyman who could help make 2022 comparative because he continues to meddle in politics and threaten a comeback is, of course, Trump. The specter of his return could be especially scary to young voters, whose unusually high 2018 turnout was attributable to their loathing for the 45th president. So it behooves Democrats to remind voters as often as possible that the Republican candidates who are on the ballot this November are surrogates for the Great Orange Tyrant. And invoking the red-hat symbolism of MAGA is an efficient way to do that. “Ultra-MAGA” suggests there are Republicans who are Trumpier than Trump, like Scott. The whole GOP, we can expect Biden to regularly suggest between now and November, is crazier than a sack of rats and getting crazier by the minute. That’s more important than the price of gasoline at any given moment.
For similar reasons, in intra-Republican politics, the MAGA brand is legal tender among the majority of GOP voters who turn to Mar-a-Lago for direction the way that flowers turn toward the sun. Wearing the red hat or referring to themselves as “MAGA warriors” is a way for Republican politicians to show a particular attachment to Trump. And ultra-MAGA is essential for candidates like Barnette who follow the Trump agenda slavishly but don’t have the Boss’s actual endorsement for whatever reason. It’s also a handy way for ambitious right-wing politicians to suggest there is a cause that will survive Trump’s own career and will indeed flourish under their own leadership. MAGA works a lot better as a symbol of Trumpism Without Trump than such debatable and obscure terms as national conservatism or conservative populism. When he goes after Mickey Mouse with a claw hammer, Ron DeSantis is definitely ultra-MAGA, especially compared to such damaged goods as Mike Pence, who is merely MAGA or even ex-MAGA.
So get used to it. Until we get a better fix on how to describe the ideology of the followers of Donald Trump, both they and their political opponents are likely to keep relying on the MAGA brand, which now means more than the nostalgia for the white patriarchy of yore that Team Trump probably had in mind when it came up with the slogan to begin with. If Trump runs for president in 2024, he’ll have to decide whether his slogan will be “Make America Great Again, Again” (as he has already redubbed his super-PAC) or something else. But for now, everybody pretty much knows it means one person’s dream and another’s nightmare.