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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Rebecca Savransky writes at The Hill: “A HuffPost/YouGov survey finds 51 percent of Americans support the president’s decision to order the airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical attack last week that killed civilians in northern Syrian. Thirty-two percent of Americans are opposed to the strikes and 17 percent are uncertain…Among Trump voters, 83 percent support the president’s decision, while just 11 percent oppose it….About 40 percent of Americans think the strikes were an appropriate response, compared to 25 percent who think they were too aggressive and 10 percent who think they were not aggressive enough….Still, only about one-third of Americans though think the airstrikes will be even somewhat likely to deter the future use of chemical weapons…Slightly more than one-third of respondents think the president should not take additional military action, compared to 20 percent who believe Trump should. Another 45 percent were unsure of what the president should do regarding future military action.”

“Fifty-seven percent of Americans approve of the airstrike against Syrian military targets – calling immoral the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons that led to the strike – but most are leery of any military involvement beyond airstrikes, a CBS News poll shows,” report Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus, Kabir Khanna and Anthony Salvanto at cbsnews.com. Further, “President Trump’s overall approval rating edged up, though most respondents voice unease about his approach to Syria going forward, and say Congress must authorize further actions there…Seven-in-ten Americans think Mr. Trump needs to get authorization from Congress before any further action against Syria; more than half of Republicans agree…Since the strike. Mr. Trump’s overall job approval rating has seen an increase to 43 percent.  Slightly fewer now disapprove than did before. Forty-nine percent now disapprove of his performance. The increase in approval is driven mainly by independents, who are now at 42 percent approval up from 34 percent, while Republicans have held steady…Fewer Americans now see the president’s approach to Russia as “too friendly” than did in February. The drop is largely among independents.”

At The Guadian U.S. Edition, Owen Jones blisters some media for gushing about Trump’s order to bomb Syria: “So now we know what it takes for an unhinged, bigoted demagogue to win liberal applause: just bypass a constitution to fire some missiles. It had seemed as though there was consensus among those in the anti-Trump camp…Let’s examine what is being said about Trump now. A press he denounced as liars and “enemies of the people” are eating out of his hands, tiny or otherwise. “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States,” cooed CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria in response to the bombing. Trump “reacted viscerally to the images of the death of innocent children in Syria,” declared Mark Sandler in the New York Times. The original headline on that article, since amended? “On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First.”…So the man who once bragged to a baying audience that he would tell five-year-old Syrian refugees to their faces that the US would not offer them safety, is now driven by his heart. Touching indeed. The “moral dimensions of leadership” had penetrated Trump’s Oval Office, declared the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. MSNBC’s Brian Williams described the missile launches as “beautiful” three timesin the space of 30 seconds…History will ask: how did this man become president? And how did he maintain power when he did? Look no further than the brittle, weak, pathetic liberal “opposition”. The US deserves better, and so does the world.”

Weep not for the death of the judicial filibuster. Tom Donnelly and Jeffrey Rosen explain at The Atlantic why “Political Polarization Killed the Filibuster: The practice once promoted debate and compromise, but now, the 60-vote requirement is tantamount to a legislative death sentence.” The bottom line for Democrats is that Mitch McConnell easilly nuked the judicial filibuster, as he would have done for any Trump nominee, so it’s utility as a part of our ‘system of checks and balances’ is a sham. Good riddance.

At The Monkey Cage, John Sides offers a couple of notable insights about the ramifications of McConnell’s Garland blockade and deployment of the nuclear option, including “The confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court has left shattered political conventions in its wake: the refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, the first partisan filibuster of a high court nominee, and the demise of the Senate filibuster for judges altogether. All this smashed political pottery shows not only how polarized our politics have become, but how dramatically the stakes of filling a vacant Supreme Court seat have increased…the average tenure of a justice is much longer now. From 1941 to 1970, justices served an average of about 12 years. But from 1971 to 2000, they served an average of 26 years…In the first era, a two-term president typically would appoint four or five justices, or more than half the court. But since 1970, a two-term president would typically appoint two or three justices…the power of the Supreme Court has increased significantly. Over the 20th century, the court became more aggressive in declaring federal and state legislation unconstitutional. In the 1940s and 1950s, the court was invalidating about one act of Congress each year. In the 1990s, that number had become about four a year. Since 2010, it has been about three per year. And a bare count of numbers can’t capture the significance of key decisions: A decision that strikes down state laws that deny same-sex marriage has far greater resonance than a decision that strikes down one particular economic regulation…in our era of polarized and fragmented political parties, the court’s word is more often the last word. Congress is frequently too divided and paralyzed to reject the court’s interpretations of federal law…The Supreme Court confirmation wars will become less heated only if the stakes in individual appointments diminish. One way to bring that about would be a constitutional amendment limiting Supreme Court terms to 18 years, staggered so that vacancies would occur at regular two-year intervals. Academic authorities on the Court and others have been floating versions of such proposals for years, but they have gotten little political traction. Absent change of this sort, the confirmation wars are likely to grow hotter.” A promising idea, but it shouldn’t deflect history’s judgement on McConnell’s abuse of power, nor the GOP’s toxic embrace of politics as all-out warfare.

Politifact’s Allison Graves shares a couple of statistics about deployment of the filibuster that put Republican obstructionism in revealing perspective: “Less than one nominee per year was subject to a cloture filing in the 40 years before Obama took office. From 2009-13, the number of nominees subject to a cloture filing jumped to over seven per year…By our calculation, there were actually 68 individual nominees blocked prior to Obama taking office and 79 (so far) during Obama’s term, for a total of 147…By our count, cloture was filed on 36 judicial nominations during the first five years of Obama’s presidency, the same total as the previous 40 years combined.”

Greg Grandin argues at The Nation that “Obsession With the Russia Connection Is a High-Risk Anti-Trump Strategy: It lets Democrats off the hook for their own failures—and betting the resistance on finding a smoking gun is a fool’s game.” As Grandin writes, “I’m in favor of anything that undermines, or brings about the downfall of, Donald Trump. He’s a monster. And to the degree that focusing on his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia to game the 2016 election helps with this, then fine. The Senate should investigate and independent journalists should look for more damning information. But it’s high risk to bet the resistance on finding a smoking gun, proving that Donald Trump—not an associate, not some weird hanger-on, not even an in-law—knowingly worked with Putin to hack the DNC, or offered some back-channel dollars for a détente deal. Anything short of tying it to Trump means Trump survives. Tim Weiner, a former New York Times national security journalist and Pulitzer Prize–winning author, says the investigation of the Russian story could last years…As many others have pointed out, an obsessive focus on Putin absolves the Democratic Party from having to reckon with their own failings, as if it was Moscow that tricked Hillary Clinton to not campaign in Wisconsin, or to spend the whole month of August (after Bernie Sanders’s gracious call on his supporters to back her campaign) courting neocons.” Grandin is surely right that Dems must focus more on repairing their own failings, but letting Trump and Putin off the hook would likely green-light further Russian meddling to the dedytriment of Democrats.

In his syndicated column, Nicholas Kristof warns Democratic rank and file about the folly of stereotyping all working-class Trump voters as moral cretins and imbeciles: “Hatred for Trump voters also leaves the Democratic Party more removed from working-class pain. Democrats didn’t do enough do address this suffering, so Trump won working-class voters — because he at least faked empathy for struggling workers. He sold these voters a clunker, and now he’s already beginning to betray them. His assault on Obamacare would devastate many working-class families by reducing availability of treatment for substance abuse…So by all means stand up to Trump, point out that he’s a charlatan and resist his initiatives. But remember that social progress means winning over voters in flyover country, and that it’s difficult to recruit voters whom you’re simultaneously castigating as despicable, bigoted imbeciles.” Further, adds Kristof, “The blunt truth is that if we care about a progressive agenda, we simply can’t write off 46 percent of the electorate. If there is to be movement on mass incarceration, on electoral reform, on women’s health, on child care, on inequality, on access to good education, on climate change, then progressives need to win more congressional and legislative seats around the country. To win over Trump voters isn’t normalizing extremism, but a strategy to combat it.” And once again, Democrats don’t need to win all of the white working-class, just a slightly larger share of it. The view here is that this would not require a change in Democratic policies, and a more inclusive tone in political speech could help.

Robert Borosage’s article in the L.A. progressive, “Don’t Let Trump’s Bedlam Distract from Betrayals,” provides a well-stated analysis of the political challenge currenty facing Democrats: “Trump’s betrayals come less because he is ignorant than because he is cynical. He promises are written in the wind of his rhetoric. He is and always was a con man. His faux, right-wing populism can’t be answered with politics as usual. It must be answered with people’s movements and political leaders exposing the con and putting forth clear, bold reforms to make this economy work for working people…Our Revolution, People’s Action, Moveon, Democrats for America, Credo and others are right to build an independent capacity, fueled by small donations, to recruit, train and run progressives who can challenge our corrupted politics and its compromised politicians. A peace and justice movement will be needed to challenge the endless wars and global policing embraced by the national security elite of both parties…Resistance can’t be about restoration. It must be about fundamental reform. There are a lot of sophisticated, experienced Clinton and Obama people wedded to defending the old order. And too many Democratic politicians and political operatives are comfortable with the big money politics that corrupts our politics.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Rick B on

    MSNBC spent half an hour showing Navy pictures of the tomahawk pictures blasting off from the ships at night, and as an ex-artilleryman myself, I will admit that I enjoyed the spectacle.

    But I will never forget the artillery demonstration at Fort Sill one morning when they fired a similarly very dramatic time-on-target demonstration of a massive number of weapons on a targeted ridge. The entire ridge from end to end suddenly rose up in dirt and smoke; And as it was falling back to ground, the announcer excitedly said “As you can see, nothing could survive that!”

    Just as he said that, perfectly timed, two frightened deer ran out of the smoke down into the valley.

    The Syrian attack is similarly over-estimated!


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