washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

John A. Farrell’s Politico post, “What Today’s Democrats Can Learn From Tip O’Neill’s Reagan Strategy: In deciding to work with, rather than obstruct, the president, the wily House Speaker came out on top” is certain to generate buzz inside Democratic circles. Among Farrell’s several instructive paragraphs: “And the results of Nov. 8 brought nothing if not a lesson in humility to scribes who draw conclusions from insufficient or misread data. Yet, given the tides of politics and business, Democrats may have the opportunity to saddle Trump with all the ills he railed against—and much of what his white working-class constituency voted against…And the world, they are already discovering, is an unwieldy place. Wall Street banks won’t yield the Treasury Department to right-wing populists. Manufacturers won’t stop seeking low-wage workers because President Trump was elected. Immigrant women won’t stop bearing children. Health care costs won’t plummet. Powerful special interests won’t stop trying to rig the system. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News won’t stop finding cause to complain. Trade wars won’t bring on economic bliss. The planet won’t stop cooling. Tea Party Republicans won’t suddenly become reasonable, nor will Middle Eastern fanatics. American soldiers won’t stop dying. Hurricanes and microbes won’t stop at borders. Roads and bridges won’t repair themselves.”

In his WaPo column “For Democrats, the Road Back,” Conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer accuses Dems of marinating in short-sighted identity/tribal politics at home, while naively embracing universalist values in foreign policy under President Obama. Both accusations are characteristically  overstated, as is often the case with conservative commentators. And, reasonable people can disagree about whether Dems failed to include one of the largest tribes, the white working-class, in their big tent. But there is no question as to whether Trump’s noxious brand of “tribal” politics includes a comfy seat at the head table for white supremacists — and that is completely ignored by the columnist. Krauthammer also takes a shot at  Vladimir Putin, who “thinking tribally, renewed the savage bombing of Aleppo and then moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad to remind Europeans of the perils of defying the regional strongman,” while failing to acknowledge that Putin is Trump’s most fervent supporter abroad.

Nora Kelly notes at The Atlantic that five presidents have ben elected with smaller popular vote percentage leads than Clinton’s popular vote lead: James Garfield in 1880: 0.09 percentage points; John F. Kennedy in 1960: 0.17 percentage points; Grover Cleveland in 1884: 0.57 percentage points; Richard Nixon in 1968: 0.7 percentage points; and James Polk in 1844: 1.45 percentage points. Further, adds Kelly, “If the final vote count does, indeed, put her roughly 2 percentage points ahead of Trump, her margin would edge up against those of winning presidential nominees Jimmy Carter in 1976 (2.07 percentage points) and George W. Bush in 2004 (2.47 percentage points). And all this is not to mention the presidents who’ve been elected without winning the popular vote at all. That’s a list that includes Bush in 2000, and will soon include Trump. As my colleague Ronald Brownstein put it, Trump “is on track to lose the popular vote by more than any successfully elected president ever.”

Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane addresses a question that has preoccupied numerous writers posting at TDS over the years in his article, “What will it take for Democrats to woo the white working class?” Lane sees Democrats caught in a dilemma, and frames it tis way: “The Democrats’ dilemma, then, is this: They can make only limited political gains with an economic pitch to the white working class, unless they adjust on immigration and other issues of identity too, probably…Yet this would require compromising on what the party defined as matters of basic justice and tolerance, and turn off voters from their racially and ethnically diverse “coalition of the ascendant.” Lane does suggest a path forward, though in vague terms: “The alternative, of course, is to appeal to the public on the basis of our common American identity, and aspirations, rather than our overlapping grievances — cultural, racial, economic or otherwise.”

At The Wall St. Journal Democratic activist Ted Van Dyk has an article, “How Democrats Can Win Again: Develop a new vision now, and inspiring leaders to implement it will come later.” van Dyk observes, “The path to Democratic recovery does not lie with ever-shriller denunciation of Republicans as alleged racists, enemies of women, or allies of the wealthy. Democrats must demonstrate ourselves capable of growing a fair economy and keeping the country safe. Today, given our party’s and candidates’ ties to big money and finance, we are not credible as populists or allies of the common man. Millions of voters think we are committed to our own political success but not necessarily to the national welfare…Democrats should not worry about their current shortage of leaders. More will emerge. Better to ask: What are the country’s big problems? What are our plans to address those problems? How can we persuade a majority to support those proposals?”

At The Week Scott Lemieux writes on “The Democrats’ postmortem problem,” comments that “In retrospect, for example, it seems like the campaign made a mistake in making so much of its advertising negative attacks on Donald Trump’s character. Given that Trump always had high personal negatives these attacks had diminishing returns, and Clinton missed an opportunity to highlight economic policy differences where public opinion favored her position. While it was not unreasonable to think Trump’s particular unfitness for office created an opportunity to peel off suburban Republicans, it didn’t work.“… Be wary of assertions that there was One Magic Trick a candidate could have used to win an election, and be doubly wary when this magic bullet is an argument that the candidate advancing the policy ideas the pundit agrees with is also by remarkable coincidence always the best political strategy as well.”

Nobel Prize laureate and NYT columnist Paul Krugman remains skeptical about the media’s commitment to adequately cover political policies of candidates: “Any claim that changed policy positions will win elections assumes that the public will hear about those positions. How is that supposed to happen, when most of the news media simply refuse to cover policy substance? Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to Mrs. Clinton’s emails…Beyond this, the fact is that Democrats have already been pursuing policies that are much better for the white working class than anything the other party has to offer. Yet this has brought no political reward.”

At Vox Timothy B. Lee explores the Jill Stein recount idea and sheds some interesting light on the process. Lee notes that “someone — likely the Russian government — tried to hack voting infrastructure in Ukraine to change the outcome of the election there. And a skillful attacker could alter the results of a vote without leaving any obvious fingerprints.” Lee explains what could be revealed by one kind of recount technology. But home-grown voter suppression, both “legal” and illegal, may be the more significant factor in the electoral vote outcome.

Yeah, everybody is sick of polls and skeptical about their value as a result of the election. But this one merits thoughtful consideration, because crafting an immigration policy that is just, economically-wise and politically-feasible is an imperaive for the incoming president. The central finding, that 60 percent of respondents “would like to see undocumented immigrants stay in the country and get a chance to become citizens” provides a sobering counerpoint to the cheap-shot immigration-bashing that characterized the GOP primary season.


3 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Al on

    The article forgot to point out that Tip O’Neill was the Democrat Speaker of the House who controlled the agenda there. Today, Trump will be dealing with a Republican Speaker Ryan. Where is the comparison to that?

  2. Jack Olson on

    J.P. Green wrote, “As my colleague Ron Brownstein put it, “Trump ‘is on track to lose the popular vote by more than any successfully elected President ever.'” Cook’s Political Report says that Trump’s share of the popular vote in the 2016 election is 46.5%. That would exceed Bill Clinton’s share of the popular vote in 1992, which was 43%.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.