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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In their The Harvard Business Review article, “What Trump’s Campaign Speeches Show About His Lasting Appeal to the White Working Class,” Michelle Lamont, Bo Yun Park and Elena Ayala Hurtado write of their study of Trump’s electoral speeches, “Our detailed, computer-assisted content analysis of 73 of Trump’s speeches, accessed through the American Presidency Project, sheds light on his overall communication strategy. We looked at the words he used most commonly and how he used those words positively or negatively. We then examined how Trump spoke (both positively and negatively) about various groups throughout the campaign…We focused on his references to groups such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, “legal” and “illegal” immigrants, Muslims, refugees, the poor, women, and the LGBTQ community.” The authors cite “three pillars of his rhetorical strategy,” including: Moral absolution for his base of supporters, white workers without college degrees; Clear “foes” that can be redefined on the fly; and An emphasis on specific, shared class values. Further, “The resonance of these speeches was also made possible by the declining influence of unions, which have lost their cultural impact in conveying to workers where their material class interest lies, as well as in anchoring their sense of belonging and pride in being “labor.” Trump provides these same workers alternative frames to make sense of their downward economic mobility and a blueprint for how to fight back against their sense of growing social marginality…The lasting loyalty of this group to Trump may be due in no small part to the continued resonance of Trump’s rhetoric with their current predicament, as their economic position remains weak and their social status even weaker.”

Democrats broke some new ground in terms of message discipline and coordination in the digital arena in the Virginia campaign, reports Eric Bradner at CNN Politics: “Democrats see Ralph Northam’s big win in the Virginia governor’s race as a breakthrough moment for the left’s digital efforts…A year after Republicans leapfrogged the Democrats’ digital capacities on the way to President Donald Trump’s election, progressive groups combined spent nearly $3 million on an innovative effort to modernize the party’s digital advertising…The effort, organized by Planned Parenthood and coordinated by veteran Democratic digital strategist Tara McGowan, reached 2.4 million Virginia voters without Northam’s campaign having to spend any money at all on digital advertising…The groups’ coordination included sharing creative resources — that is, the ads themselves, and the content that went into them — as well as voter targeting and audience information and data that detailed how effective each ad had been…The win in Virginia showed that “building a robust digital infrastructure to break through echo chambers and reach voters online is more vital than ever, and Priorities will be working to replicate our success in races around the country in 2018,” said Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil.”

Is it too much to hope that last week’s elections indicate Dems may have some prospects in the south? Gabriel Debenedetti explores the possibilities at Politico, and notes, “Democrats plainly smell opportunity. They are monitoring a crop of muddy GOP situations — like a South Carolina corruption scandal that’s seen six Republican lawmakers indicted — and national trends — like Trump-inspired primary fights in South Carolina’s gubernatorial race, Tennessee’s Senate race and, potentially, Mississippi’s Senate race…The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list now includes eight GOP-held seats in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, on top of 14 others in Virginia, Florida and Texas. Stronger-than-usual recruits have party operatives uncharacteristically hopeful about open gubernatorial races in Georgia and Tennessee, and others are working on recruiting former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Bob Corker.”

Ed Kilgore addresses the same topic at New York Magazine, and notes, “What makes Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida potentially winnable for Democrats is a combination of upscale suburban areas with college-educated voters and a relatively large minority vote. There is little in the Virginia numbers to reinforce any hopes of a Democratic resurgence among small-town or rural white voters. But Virginia’s 33 percent of the vote cast by nonwhite voters (in both 2016 and 2017) is exceeded by Georgia’s 40 percent (in 2016) and Florida’s 38 percent (also in 2016). North Carolina’s 30 percent is not far behind, either. And Texas, with 43 percent of voters being nonwhite, is potentially the sleeping giant for Democratic voters…and the most exciting thing about the Virginia results for Democrats in the South and everywhere else is that the Donkey Party may be overcoming its “midterm falloff” problem, wherein young and minority voters simply did not participate at rates commensurate with presidential contests.”

After reviewing a daunting litany of obstacles Democratic senatorial nominee Doug Jones faces in Alabama, despite the sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore, Perry Bacon, Jr. and Harry Enten observe at fivethirtyeight.com, “there are signs that some Republican voters may simply stay home in December. A Decision Desk HQ poll taken on Thursday (the day that the latest Moore news broke) showed a tied race in part because more than 10 percent of self-identified Republicans said they weren’t voting for either candidate, compared with fewer than 3 percent of self-identified Democrats who didn’t back Jones or Moore.”

“After a year of self-flagellation and angst, Democrats finally got some good news last week,” Lee Drutman, senior fellow at New America, writes in his New York Times article, How Democrats Can Extend the Winning Streak Into 2018. “But they shouldn’t get carried away: They also got some bad news…First the bad news: Rural America still really dislikes Democrats. But that wasn’t a surprise. The good news came in increasingly affluent and diverse Virginia: In the age of Trump, well-educated suburbanites like Democrats considerably more than they used to. And voters are, overall, quite energized (turnout was at a 20-year high for the Virginia governor’s race) — especially younger voters, who supported the Democrat, Ralph Northam, overwhelmingly as compared with the Democratic nominee in 2013 and turned out at much higher rates…the better bet for Democrats would be to present a sharper economic message, which offers at least some possibility of gain among Obama-Trump voters and Obama-Other voters, with little risk of alienating Romney-Clinton voters.

More and more House Republicans are deciding they want no part of the 2018 elections: And that will help Democrats,” argues Andrew Prokop at Vox. Prokop explains, “Last week, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) all announced they would retire from Congress rather than run for reelection. This makes 12 House Republicans and two senators who are calling it quits, not counting several more who are stepping down to run for another political office…So far, that number of GOP retirements isn’t outside the historical norm. But reports have suggested that this is just the start, and that several more Republican House members — perhaps many more — will also soon announce they’ll head for the exits. And revealingly, only two House Democrats and zero Democratic senators have so far made the same choice. That’s a dramatic discrepancy.”

“…The principal engine of the Democratic sweep was a suburban tsunami in white-collar communities in Northern Virginia, Northern New Jersey, and even the suburbs of Seattle, where Democrats convincingly captured a state Senate seat that flipped control of that chamber to themt…A suburban recoil from Trump in places like New Jersey; the Philadelphia suburbs in Pennsylvania; and Orange County, California, can propel Democrats to the brink of a U.S. House majority: Eighteen of the 23 House Republicans holding seats that Clinton carried in 2016 represent districts with more white college graduates than the national average. And Republicans hold another 30 House seats with higher-than-average numbers of white college graduates where Clinton improved over Obama’s showing in 2012. Tuesday’s blowout is also likely to encourage more retirements among House Republicans in white-collar districts, increasing Democratic opportunity. Still, relying only on white-collar places would leave Democrats very little margin for error.” — from Ronald Brownstein’s “Democrats’ Narrow Path to Winning the House: The party’s suburban sweep in Virginia and New Jersey offers one template for 2018. But Democrats will have little room for error if they don’t expand their coalition.” at The Atlantic.

Following up on the suggestion of one of his readers, New York Times economist/Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman suggests the Republican Tax bill “be renamed the Leona Helmsley Act, after the New York hotelier convicted of tax evasion, who famously declared that “only the little people pay taxes.”…That, after all, is the main thrust of the bill. It hugely favors the wealthy over the middle class, which is pretty much always true of Republican proposals. But it’s not just about favoring high incomes: It also systematically favors people who live off their assets, especially inherited wealth, over the little people — that is, poor shlubs who actually have to work for a living.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. William R. Delzell on

    Phil Bredesen who is running in a red-state thinks that all he needs to do is to out-Republican his opponent, Marsha Blackburn. While he obviously needs to take away votes from her, he cannot afford to simultaneously afford to alienate the core members of Tennessee’s Democratic Party that have some liberals/leftists, blacks, blue-collar and poor people, environmentalists, gays/lesbians, etc. If they stay home due to Bredesen’s arrogance toward them, Bredesen could still barely lose as his fellow blue-dog Democrat, Harold Ford, Jr., did to Bob Corker 12 years ago and as Jere Cooper did in a landslide to Fred Thompson in 1994. Yes, try to get some conservative votes, but do the successful 1982 Jim Sasser strategy of staking out several liberal/progressive positions. That strategy enabled Sasser to clobber his Republican opponent, Robin Beard in every Congressional District and in all but five counties.

    Don’t take progressives for granted in Tennessee. The state’s main-stream media is ignoring this simple fact.


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