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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times op-ed article, “Presidential Small Ball,” Thomas B. Edsall nicely sums up the key demographic components of Clinton’s supporters: “Clinton held an 80-point advantage among African-Americans, but was unable to match Obama’s 87-point edge in 2012 or his 91 points in 2008. She won 65 percent of Latino voters, compared with the 71 percent who voted for Obama in 2012. She won 28 percent of non-college white voters to Trump’s 67 percent, the largest gap in this demographic since the early 1980s, according to Pew. Moreover, she lost whites with college degrees 49-45. Among millennials, she won 54 percent of voters aged 18 to 29, compared with 60 percent for Obama in 2012…Clinton’s heavy investment in building support among women produced a one-point improvement on Obama’s 2012 record: according to exit polls, she won women by 12 points (54-42), compared to Obama’s 11 points (55-44). Obama lost men by 7 points in 2012, 52-45, while Clinton lost them by 12 points, 53-41.”

Does the second popular vote win/electoral college defeat for Democrats in presidential elections in 16 years mean Dems should make direct popular vote election a priority? In a close popular vote presidential election like 2016, Democrats could just as likely have benefitted from the electoral college, and, in 2000 the Florida vote count and Supreme Court decision muddied the effect of the electoral college. So there is probably no built-in advantage for Republicans in the electoral college. The best argument for direct popular election of the President is a moral one: Majority rule should mean majority rule. We don’t need an 18th century filter to protect us from the will of the voters, and you could argue that in 2016 the electoral college actually served the worst instincts of the rabble the founders feared. For a good backgrounder/update on the movement for direct popular election, check out James Lartey’s post, “Hillary Clinton poised to win popular vote despite losing presidential race” at the Guardian.

Does the 2016 election indicate that voters want to reign in ‘free trade’ and globalism? When you look at the arc of rust belt states for Trump stetching from PA to WI, it’s hard to avoid that conclusion. Whatever the actual economic benefits to the U.S. of ‘free’ trade, NAFTA, TPP and the free ride for runaway plants, it is a very tough sell, which defies credible explanation and makes it’s proponents sound like elitists. Hillary Clinton’s inability to shake off the globalist stigma of her husband’s administration, Trump’s free trade-bashing and Bernie Sanders’s primary/caucus wins in 22 states as a critic of unbalanced trade agreements provide ample testimony that many voters believe trade has in recent years been more of a job-killer than a job creator. Be sure to read Edward McClelland’s Washington Post article on the topic, “The Rust Belt was turning red already. Donald Trump just pushed it along.” In one key graph, McClelland explains, “Clinton, on the other hand, seemed to take the Upper Midwest for granted, never campaigning in Wisconsin and finally making a panicky visit to Detroit on the Friday before the election. In the 1980s, Michigan was the forging ground of the Reagan Democrats: hawkish, socially conservative, suburban, blue-collar workers who ignored the United Auto Workers’ entreaties to vote for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. (Their heartland, Macomb County, just north of Detroit, voted for Obama in 2012 but gave Trump 54 percent of its vote on Tuesday.)”

In his article, “How the Rustbelt Paved Trump’s Road to Victory” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein observes “those who did vote stampeded to Trump in insurmountable numbers. In particular, Trump beat Clinton among white voters without a college education by an astonishing 39 percentage points—a margin larger than Ronald Reagan’s against Walter Mondale in his 1984 landslide. Trump not only beat her by nearly 50 points among blue-collar white men, but by almost 30 points among non-college-educated white women. (Trump is president largely because white working-class women gave him double-digit margins in key states—a development that may occupy gender studies scholars for years.) Similarly, Trump captured more than three-fifths of rural voters nationwide; in the decisive Rustbelt states—Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and possibly Michigan—Clinton suffered death by a thousand cuts, as Trump improved over Mitt Romney’s 2012 performance almost everywhere outside the biggest cities.”

But don’t be fooled by the vast swatchs of red ink on election maps, which have more to do with geography than political preferences of voters. As L.A. Timess reporter Cathleen Decker puts it desribing Hillary Clinton’s electoral college shortfall, “A switch in three states of only about 50,000 votes out of some 120 million cast nationwide would have been enough to give her the victory.”

As you scan the post-mortems on the 2016 election, also have a gander at Naomi Klein’s critique, “It was the rise of the Davos class that sealed America’s fate,” also at The Guardian, which begins, “They will blame James Comey and the FBI. They will blame voter suppression and racism. They will blame Bernie or bust and misogyny. They will blame third parties and independent candidates. They will blame the corporate media for giving him the platform, social media for being a bullhorn, and WikiLeaks for airing the laundry…But this leaves out the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves wide awake: neoliberalism. That worldview – fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine – is no match for Trump-style extremism. The decision to run one against the other is what sealed our fate. If we learn nothing else, can we please learn from that mistake?…The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned. From Elizabeth Warren to Nina Turner, to the Occupy alumni who took the Bernie campaign supernova, there is a stronger field of coalition-inspiring progressive leaders out there than at any point in my lifetime.”

So how did Democrats do in the battles to win majorities of state legislative chambers? According to the National Conference of State legislatures, “Four chambers switched from Republican to Democratic control: New Mexico House; Nevada Assembly; Nevada Senate; and Washington Senate (Republicans, however, will have functional control as one Democrat will caucus with the Republicans.)…Three chambers switched from Democratic to Republican control: Kentucky House; Iowa Senate; and Minnesota Senate. …Two chambers will be tied: Connecticut Senate and Delaware Senate.”

The Center for American Women in Politics notes that, despite Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win/electoral college loss, women do have some encouraging election gains, including: “Nine new women of color, all Democrats, will enter Congress: three in the Senate and six in the House. A total of 37 women of color will serve in the 115th Congress…A total of six women have won Senate races. The totals include four newcomers, all Democrats, and two incumbents (1D, 1R) winning re-election…The newcomers include two women who won open seats: Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV); and 2 women who defeated incumbents: Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH)…A total of 10 new women (8D, 2R) have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, joining 73 incumbents who won re-election.” However, there will be one less woman in the House than the number currently serving.”

Lastly, presidential election post-mortems are understandably hard on the losing candidate. Putting her candidacy and career in politics in perspective, Hillary Clinton’s achievements and conributions are extraordinary. As a social change activist, First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has earned high praise for her tireless commitment to public service, her work ethic, policy acumen and genuine decency as a human being. The Republicans threw everything they had at her for decades, including the ugliest lies and innuendo any political figure has had to endure in our times, and she never flinched or retreated. And let’s not forget two of her historic accomplishments — as the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major political party and the first woman to win the popular vote in a presidential election. If she never did anything else, her accomplishments so far provide a source of inspiration and encouragement — to young women in particular, who are considering a career in politics and public service — and to all American progressives.

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Chris on

    I posted without re-reading to edit and rewrite. Which it needs.

    I forgot to mention. Right now, I’m in small-town Texas visiting family. Neighboring houses, for block after block, are flying flags. More flags than I’ve ever seen on Memorial Day or Independence Day. One guy had at least 30.

    As if America’s going to be okay because the good guys are coming.

    Two Americas.

  2. Chris on

    A better way to think about the anti-NAFTA feelings driving many Trump voters is that they suffer all the pain and hardships while the benefits go to America’s credentialed elite whose degrees, tenure, licenses (and sufficiently well-off parents and inherited money) effectively immunize them from third world competitors with cheaper prices.

    I took price theory from a man who later won an econ Nobel. In class one day, he told us that any competition that isn’t about prices isn’t worth talking about. I think about him every time one of my Wall Street friends tells how me competitive his job is. But when they pitch their firm’s services to a potential client, they’ll tout everything that makes them better than a rival. (I once heard an investment banker claim his firm attracted the best looking girls to closing dinners. Seriously.) But they never offer to undercut a rival’s price. (What passes for competition on Wall Street is often just stress.)

    Blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt lost their jobs when they couldn’t match prices offered by Third World rivals. Their jobs were all about price competition and with NAFTA, they got obliterated. Then, too, unionbusting destroyed the only halfway effective countervailing power that might have restrained corporate power.

    America never took care of citizens who lost their jobs to NAFTA-created competition.
    How about immediate eligibility for social security benefits to anyone whose job got outsourced, paid for by higher taxes on people like me? Nothing like what the Germans do protect blue-collar jobs. The best we did was half-hearted and half-assed job retraining.

    That the credentialed elite, however individually decent, cares more about social issues than economic issues suggests that America’s social contract has been torn up. That, to me, is Reagan’s lasting impact. Thirty years ago, his policies set into motion the destruction of the American middle and working classes. At the same time, people like me, our jobs safe from compeitition, worked long long hours but made lots of money, with some of us making absurd amounts. Anyone who questioned the social ethic of such economic arrangements was advised to read Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose.

    Now we have Trump. In the early post-mortems, the most interesting thing I’ve seen says a meaningful number of Trump voters voted for Obama in 2008. Lots of Americans are desperate to see their lives improved and if means putting liberal democratic institutions at risk, so be it. If there’s anything that should scare elites, that’s it. As if the Tocqueville we need to have read is no longer Democracy in America but the Ancien Regime.

    As for Hillary, this time she ran a tactically competent campaign. Thematically, it was a mess, as is now apparent. She didn’t notice America’s tectonic plates shifting under her feet. After the rage that Wall Street walked away unscathed and unindicted from the carnage of 2008-2009 means you don’t let Goldman pay you big bucks to give secret speeches. In hindsight, Hillary 2016 will be considered the worst presidential campaign ever.

    A fitting subject for the next Great American Novel might be our 30-year decline that began under Reagan or perhaps Carter. An American Buddenbrooks.


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