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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

It looks like neither Democrats nor the Office of Government Ethics are going to be hustled by the Team Trump/Mitch McConnell strategy of stampeding a bunch of his cabinet nominations through the confirmation process all at once without the traditional ethics review before the hearings. Now, Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, has released a statement saying that the rushed confirmation timetable is “of great concern to me” because of the attempt to skip the ethics review. Apparently, the Republicans don’t yet get that pretending they have a big popular vote mandate like Reagan 1980 is not quite the same thing as actually having one. Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan report on the controversy at the Washington Post, noting “Ethics experts from both political parties expressed dismay at the possibility that confirmation hearings would proceed before the OGE reviews are completed.” While it seems likely that nearly all of Trump’s nominees will eventualy be confirmed, Republicans are clearly concerned that many, if not most of them, have some potentially embarassing ethical issues, and they would like to minimize the damage.

Will Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was denied a federal judgeship decades ago because of his awful record on civil rights, get an easy ride through the confirmation process because he gets along well with fellow senators — despite his continued opposition to civil rights reforms? As Paul Kane notes at The Washington Post, Session’s supporters are playing the ‘collegiality’ card in hopes of distracting attention from his problematic track record. It’s up to Senate Democrats to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King writes in his column, “It was no small moment when NAACP protesters, led by their national president, Cornell W. Brooks, staged a sit-in and got arrested Tuesday at Sessions’s Mobile, Ala., office. Or when more than 1,100 professors from 170 law schools in 48 states wrote to urge the Senate to reject Sessions…Charging that Sessions can’t be trusted to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer for voting rights, Brooks said, “We have an attorney general nominee who does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud…Entrust Jeff Sessions to fairly, openly and impartially administer justice and protect the rights of all Americans? Not if his own public record is any guide.”

Post columnist and former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson does a nice job of describing the hypocrisy of noted Republican leaders on Julian Assange. “Donald Trump’s, Sarah Palin’s and Sean Hannity’s embrace of Julian Assange — who has made a career of illegally obtaining and releasing documents damaging to U.S. interests — is not just a puzzling policy shift. It is the triumph of political tribalism over, well, every other principle or commitment…All three leaders of right-wing populism once saw the risk. Not long ago, Trump recommended the death penalty for Assange. Now he publicly sides with him against U.S. intelligence services. Palin urged the United States to go after Assange “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda.” Now, we have seen her abject pleading: “Julian, I apologize.” Hannity once called for Assange’s “arrest.” Now he provides a sympathetic platform for Assange’s (and thus Vladimir Putin’s) views…Let’s be clear about what this means. The president-elect of the United States is elevating a man whom the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., holds responsible for putting the lives of operatives in direct danger. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is bowing and scraping to the man who materially aided the Taliban. Fox News is now an outlet for the Russian version of events…It does not require Aristotle to understand that this is a child’s view of ethics. The enemy of my enemy may be my friend. Or he may be an international fugitive who effectively exposed intelligence sources and methods and gave advantages to America’s enemies.”

Why It Will Be Hard to Repeal Obamacare” by NYT’s Haeyoun Park and Troy Griggs visually dissects the provisions of the ACA, which can be eliminated by either 60 or 51 votes in the U.S. Senate.

In his salon.com post “What went wrong with the Democratic Party? Three big failures that led to the current debacle,” Sean McElwee faults the Democratic party for failing “to run viable candidates” and he presents a worrisome litany to make his point: “It’s not just one cycle. There was the trucker with no political experience who ran for governor of Mississippi in 2015, or the unemployed army vet facing obscenity charges for showing pornography to a college student who ran against Nikki Haley in South Carolina in 2010. In 2016 Jeff Stein documented some of the more egregious Democratic recruiting failures in potentially competitive House seats. Candidates included Frederick Lavergne, whose website was “filled with amazingly bizarre rants in Latin” and “a little-known county commissioner who has barely raised any money” (with a broken website). In one Texas district that Hillary Clinton carried, Democrats failed to even put forward a candidate. In a Virginia district that went narrowly for Trump, Democrats didn’t have a primary because only one candidate filed, a woman who “has run for the Newport News City Council four times and has lost each time; most recently in 2010 when she finished in fourth place, out of four candidates…As Roll Call reported last year, “More than a year from Election Day, Democrats are without top-tier recruits in five of the 11 races rated Tossups by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call.” Democrats may claim these races are “unwinnable,” but Republicans have recently won gubernatorial elections in deep blue states like Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts. Ironically, Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, a state Hillary Clinton won by 26 points, is now considered by some Democrats to be “unbeatable.”

McElwee continues with another equally troubling insight: “In a recent piece, Andrew Prokop noted that the current Democratic situation looks much like the one Republicans faced in 2008. Yet on second consideration, this is deeply troubling. For one, Republicans were coming off a historically unpopular president (Bush had a 24 percent approval rating) while Obama has an approval rating of 58 percent. In addition, Republicans had just presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, while Democrats are running on an economy with sturdy income growth and an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. Finally, while Republicans were looking at a favorable electoral map in the 2010 midterms, Democrats are looking at an abysmal map in 2018. Their best chance to pick up Senate seats was squandered in 2016, when they were hoping to gain six to eight seats and instead picked up only two…These mistakes are more obvious in retrospect and many choices, at the time, seemed reasonable. The party in power often struggles down-ballot, and Democrats typically perform worse in low-turnout non-presidential elections. Furthermore, it’s difficult to recruit strong candidates when they don’t think they can win. But these defeats were not inevitable, and Democrats have shown only some signs they understand the depths of their plight.”

In a way, McElwee’s report provides at least a partial rebuttal to the meme that President Obama is at fault for the Democratic Party’s defeats during his administration. Jonathan Cohn writes in HuffPo that “…In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” the outgoing chief executive said he recognizes that the Democratic Party has lost a lot of power during his watch, and wishes he had done more to strengthen it….“I take some responsibility on that,” Obama said…The president was responding to a question from host George Stephanopoulos about the losses Democrats have suffered in Congress, where they have relinquished majorities in both parties, and in state legislatures, where they have lost more than 900 seats. As Obama said in the interview, “We did not begin what I think needs to happen over the long haul, and that is rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level.” Obama probably could have campaigned more for Democratic Senate and House candidates, where it could have helpted. And perhaps he could have been more of a “take charge” head of the Party, raising more funds for Democratic candidates and playing a louder “cheerleader” role in general. But McElwee demonstrates that the Democratic Party’s structure, projects and institutions, as well as the party’s other leaders, were woefully unprepared for party-building — in stark contrast to the GOP.

It seems only fair to comend state Democratic Parties in those instances when they do a good job of making room for exciting new leaders. In that regard, Brian Eason’s “Working-class mind-set fueled Duran’s historic rise to House Speaker” at The Denver Post profiles an impressive young elected official, Crisanta Duran, who at age 36 ascends to the speakership of the legislature of a pivotal swing state. The first Latina speaker of the Colorado state House, Duran, who addressed the Democratic National Convention last year, checks an array of demographic boxes, including Mexican, Indian and French ancestry and she is the daughter of a labor union leader and granddaughter of a steelworker, served as a union staff attorney herself, and enthusiastically champions a working-class agenda. She is described in the article as an “incredibly strategic,” skilled negotiator, as well as a “warrior.” Dems should more pro-actively do whatever is necessary to encourage more such young and dynamic leaders to emerge in the states.

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