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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Paul Kane’s “For Democrats, special elections may be preview of 2018 campaigns” at PowerPost provides an overview of the Democratic strategies being deployed in three House elections in GA, MT and SC and sees a common thread, keeping it local. As Kane writes, “…In all three races, Democrats have made a tactical decision not to turn the contests into a referendum on Trump’s alleged scandals and instead are focusing on policy decisions by the president and congressional Republicans…Democrats say that they have learned a lesson from the 2016 elections, in which House Democratic candidates relentlessly focused their campaigns on trying to tie Republican incumbents to the personal scandals of Trump or some of his more outlandish policy statements…That strategy failed in almost spectacular fashion, providing a net gain of only six seats when, just two weeks before Election Day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was predicting gains of more than 20 seats and possibly winning the majority…The danger for Democrats is that they might be overlearning the lesson of the last war, applying the 2016 mind-set to what could be a different environment in 2018.”

Despite the ‘keeping it local’ strategy, “The Democratic Party’s chance to win back the House of Representatives next year, considered a long-shot only a short while ago, is soaring thanks to a crack recruiter: President Donald Trump,” writes  Albert R. Hunt at Bloomberg View. “Dave Wasserman, a political analyst for the Cook Report and a leading expert on House elections, now puts prospects of a Democratic takeover at between 40 percent and 50 percent. Democrats are quick to credit Trump for encouraging candidates to step forward. “If you don’t get good candidates you won’t benefit much even from a wave,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who was the architect of the party’s last midterm triumph in 2006, when he was a congressman…To date, an unusual number of Democratic women and veterans have announced bids for office. A smaller-than-usual proportion of the new candidates already hold elected office.”

In his NYT Politics article, “Outside Washington’s ‘Blazing Inferno, Democrats Seek an Agenda,” Jonathan Martin cites the difficulty Democrats have generating public interest in issues in the long media shadow of Trump’s latest debacle. But Martin, covering the Center for American Progress “ideas conference” for Democrats, also notes that health care is the top issue cited by Democratic office-holders and campaign workers: “There’s this Washington narrative, and then there’s a voter narrative,” said Anita Dunn, a longtime Democratic strategist. “Significant parts of our base are following the Washington narrative very closely, but for voters who voted for Donald Trump or voters who didn’t vote at all, I think Democratic candidates are going to have to make the election meaningful to those voters’ lives…The more effective way to do that, in the eyes of many Democrats, is to draw more attention to the repeal of the health law than to the investigation of Mr. Trump’s campaign…“The Trump story happens without us,” said Ms. Dunn, noting that the leaks will keep coming and Democrats have little control over the F.B.I. inquiry; the investigation by the newly named special counsel, Robert Mueller; or the inquiries being led by the congressional Republican majorities….“But the health care contrast, which is a very, very powerful one if you look at the polling, is where we can draw a sharp contrast…”

Martin’s article also quotes Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz, who note two other issues that worry their constituents, along with health care: “Ms. Warren, while insisting that Democrats could link the Trump campaign inquiry and his policy agenda under the rubric of accountability, acknowledged that she did not hear much from voters about Russia-related matters…“The two issues people raise the most with me are health care and student loans,” she said in an interview. “And both of them make people cry.”…Some in the party are gamely trying to break through on the policy front, as Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii demonstrated on Friday shortly after yet more developments related to Mr. Trump were reported. In an all-caps Twitter post, Mr. Schatz wrote, in part, that in the middle of the White House’s troubles, “they are still trying to take away your healthcare and ruin the internet.”

At The Nation, Robert Borosage noted that Sen. Bernie Sanders was not invited to the ‘ideas conference,” but “The first sessions of the day on the economy revealed that Bernie Sanders’s agenda is gaining ground among mainstream Democrats. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti described his success in passing a $15 minimum wage, a large infrastructure program, and tuition-free community college. Senator Jeff Merkley, the sole senator to support Sanders in 2016, indicted the trade and tax policies that give companies incentives to move jobs abroad, and called for major investments in infrastructure, renewable energy, and education. Medicare for All still appeared to be off the table, however, with most speakers focused on defending Obamacare against the Republican assault.”

Also at NYT Politics, Robert Pear provides an update on the ways that that Trump and his Administration and other Republicans sabotage Obamacare. Pear notes “The administration’s refusal to guarantee payment of subsidies to health insurance companies, the murky outlook for the Affordable Care Act in Congress and doubts about enforcement of the mandate for most people to have insurance are driving up insurance prices for 2018, insurers say in rate requests filed with state officials…The cost-sharing payments are only part of the problem. Insurers said the Trump administration was also destabilizing insurance markets by indicating that it would loosen enforcement of the mandate for people to have coverage or pay a penalty.”…“The Trump administration is paying the subsidies, but is trickling them out one month at a time,” as part of a “very cunning’’ strategy to undermine the health care law, said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut…In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold subsidy payments from insurers as a way to induce Democrats to negotiate with him on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.” Democrats clearly need some sharply-worded soundbites to hold Republicans accountable for their refusal to enforce the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats also need some better memes to brand the Republicans in a way that gets voter attention. Paul Krugman’s column, ‘What’s the Matter with Republicans” offers this insight: “It has become painfully clear, however, that Republicans have no intention of exercising any real oversight over a president who is obviously emotionally unstable, seems to have cognitive issues and is doing a very good imitation of being an agent of a hostile foreign power…There is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand…The G.O.P…is one branch of a monolithic structure, movement conservatism, with a rigid ideology — tax cuts for the rich above all else.”

“With a horde of vocal Trump supporters cheering on every inane statement, delusion, lie and bad act, the majority of the American people can be forgiven for thinking the GOP as a whole has lost its mind. The Republicans may soon lose a generation of voters through a combination of the sheer incompetence of Trump and a party rank and file with no ability to control its leader…Trump still thinks he stands in contrast to Clinton, when in reality, for voters watching the chaos unfold, he stands in contrast both to a more level-headed Vice President Pence and an unknown generic Democrat — neither of whom constantly reminds people of their incompetence. Unless Republican leaders stage an intervention, I expect them to experience a deserved electoral blood bath in November 2018.” — from arch-conservative Erick Erickson’s Washington Post op-ed, “Here Comes the GOP Bloodbath.”

“Morning Joe” Scarborough, a vocal Republican critic of Trump and his inner circle, has been trying again to rebrand Trump as a Democratic creature — a tough sell, considering that Trump was the overwhelming winner of most of the GOP primaries, has appointed only Republicans to top posts in his administration and only 13 percent of Democrats approved of Trump’s first 100 days in a WaPo/ABC News poll reported April 23rd. If Trump is still around in 2020, I wouldn’t be shocked if Scarborough himself runs in the GOP primaries and caucuses.

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