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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

It looks like 2018 will be the year that the debate about revitalizing America’s infrastructure intensifies. For openers, read economist Jared Bernstein’s “Yes, this nation needs a real infrastructure plan. No, that’s not what President Trump offered tonight” at PostEverything. Bernstein, now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of ‘The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity,” writes “How can you tell when an infrastructure plan is not real? Here’s a three-part test: 1) does it provide a meaningful boost in our stock of public goods, 2) does its funding design shift the historical federal responsibility for public investment to states and private investors, and 3) when it includes “pay-fors,” are they budget cuts taken from programs that support low-income families?…We got almost no details in tonight’s State of the Union address, but based on what we do know, President Trump’s infrastructure plan handily fails this test…Ever since Trump took office, he has ignored the working-class voters who helped put him there and outsourced policy decisions to a Republican Party whose goal is to shrink government and return the proceeds to their wealthy donors. Though Trump’s sales job tonight tried to obfuscate this reality, his infrastructure plan perfectly fits this mode.”

See also “Trump’s $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Is Light on Federal Funds, and Details” by NYT reporters Jim Tankersly and Julie Hirschfield Davis, who note “The increased infrastructure spending would be offset by unspecified budget cuts. Officials would not detail where those cuts would come from, or how the proposal would effectively leverage at least $6.50 in additional infrastructure spending for every dollar spent by the federal government, a ratio many infrastructure experts consider far-fetched. The officials said Mr. Trump would leave it up to Congress — where there is little consensus about how to pay for such a plan — to figure out the details, giving lawmakers wide latitude in creating what would need to be a bipartisan bill against the backdrop of the midterm elections.”…“That’s not a plan. That’s a hope,” said Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which has lobbied for a large infrastructure bill. “It’s sort of pathetic.” Further, “The idea that a $200 billion federal investment would drive $1.5 trillion in total spending is “the great hocus-pocus,” said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. “There’s absolutely no evidence for that.”

In his FiveThirtyEight post “Five Blue States Could Determine Who Controls The House In 2018,” Harry Enten writes, “…whether Democrats manage to win the House in 2018 could come down to how many seats they pick up in the five most populous states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia…while California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia account for only a small percentage of Republican-held seats overall, they are home to a disproportionate share of vulnerable Republicans. According to the Cook Political Report, these five states are home to 38 percent of all the Republican-held seats that are truly in play in 2018... If you add them all up, a total of 25 Republican seats in these five populous Clinton states could flip to the Democrats. That’s one more seat than Democrats need to gain a majority. In other words, they could take back the House without flipping a single seat in a state that Trump came close to winning in 2016.

In his post  at The Upshot, “A ‘Blue’ Florida? There Are No Quick Demographic Fixes for Democrats,” Nate Cohn writes, “As many as 300,000 people have fled to Florida from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And a ballot initiative this November could return the vote to the state’s estimated 1.5 million discharged felons. At first glance, either tally of these two Democratic-leaning groups would seem to dwarf Donald J. Trump’s 113,000-vote margin of victory in the state in 2016…But the reality for Democrats is that neither development is likely to fundamentally alter Florida’s political character heading into the 2020 election…The main reason? The electoral effect dwindles after accounting for the relatively low turnout rates among these groups. More generally, even big demographic shifts that seem to favor Democrats could easily be swamped by other demographic shifts that do the opposite.”

“The network of organizations founded by the conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch is going “all in” to defend GOP majorities in Washington and around the country in 2018, planning an early investment in paid media to work against what they concede is a daunting political environment for their allies in government,” reports Mike Memoli at NBC News. “Top officials from Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch network’s chief political arm, made a half-hour presentation Monday to more than 500 donors at their semiannual “seminar,” outlining their $400 million strategy to protect like-minded incumbents while targeting vulnerable Democrats in key Senate races…Key to the strategy is going on the offensive now, particularly in Senate races with television ads to try and define the narrative early against Democratic targets…AFP has affiliates in 36 of 50 states — a list that doesn’t include deeply blue states where officials say their efforts have failed to move the needle in the past. In Florida alone they have 13 field offices, 33 paid staff members and more than 200,000 volunteer activists.”

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait flags “4 New Trump Corruption Stories From the Last Day Alone.” The stories include: Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control after revelations of her stock purchases after she took office; reports that “Health and Human Services Secretary Ben Carson’s son, Ben Carson Jr., participated in his father’s work in ways that may have benefited his son’s businesses”; “A report yesterday found that Trump’s infrastructure council is filled with business owners who stand to benefit from the policies Trump is advancing.”; and “reports that Trump Realty is expanding its operations in southern Florida. The ongoing business by Trump’s business empire is a massive corruption risk, as Trump and his family can benefit from the publicity conferred by his public office, and stand to benefit by anybody who wants to curry favor throwing business their way.” CHait ads, “These stories are merely the news of the last 24 hours, a day in the life of self-dealing in the Trump administration…But from a political standpoint, his greatest liability may be more ordinary. Trump is a rich man whose policies have benefited himself and other rich people. He promised to raise his own taxes and shake up the status quo, but he has done the opposite. Does he have any greater vulnerability than that?”

Democrats will be glad to note the announced retirement of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), one of the nastier critics of Hillary Clinton. Elise Viebeck and David Weigel report at PowerPost that, so far, “More than 40 House Republicans have decided to step down this cycle. Some received jobs in the Trump administration; others are leaving to seek higher office or because they were accused of sexual misconduct or harassment. Still others faced tough reelection campaigns or blamed the divisive political climate.” His district, however, is solidly Republican, and unlikjely to be seen as a potential pick-up for Democrats. Also Gowdy’s statement, expressing his yearning for a return to practicing law, may indicate that he is in line for an Appeals Court apointment, as one of Trump’s favored apple-polishers. “It was unclear what role Gowdy might seek in the justice system,” noter Viebeck and Weigel. “One of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit took “senior status” Tuesday, creating a vacancy on the bench.”

Some revealing statistics from “The Working Class and the Federal Government’s Social Safety Net,” a study by the American Enterprise Institute, Oportunity America and Brookings Working Group on the Working Class, as reported by AEI’s Angela Rachidi:  “Approximately one-third of working-class people in America (defined by income between the 20th and 50th percentile with no college degree) receive government safety-net benefits…Since 1998, an increasing share of working-class people have received government safety-net benefits. In 1998, one in five received assistance; in 2014 it was almost one in three…This increase was driven almost entirely by Medicaid, food assistance, and disability assistance…Unsurprisingly, the share of working-class people who receive benefits falls below that of lower-income people and above that of higher-income people, but the increase since 1998 is unique to the working class.”

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, has an update on “The Districts That Will Determine the Next House Majority.” Kondik writes that “as of this moment, the race for House control is about a coin flip. Democrats should gain seats, but on the face of the seats currently available to flip, we’re unsure if they can net the 24 seats they need to win control.” Kondik takes a look at dozens of specific races and concludes, “It seems highly likely that there will be at least one more, and perhaps several more, key retirements from swing seats that move ratings in the Democrats’ favor. Again, we just had two more over the last week: Republicans Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) and Meehan (PA-7). The more retirements there are, the fewer incumbent-held seats listed above are required to flip the House, and the better the Democrats’ chances become.”

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Candace on

    I remember hearing about Saudi Arabia donating 20 billion to Blackstone for US infrastructure after Trump made that dances with swords and orb touching trip to Saudi Arabia with Kushner and Bannon, but I hadn’t hear anything more about it. Apparently Trump’s infrastructure plan is Pence’s?

    How could anyone think this is a good idea?


    “Soon after his inauguration, Daniels’s administration announced it had given a contract to Goldman Sachs to begin soliciting bids to manage the highway. Goldman Sachs would go on to reap $20 million in fees from Indiana taxpayers for its work there.

    Daniels faced staunch opposition from Democrats in his state legislature. “This is a 75-year surrender of an interstate highway and all the [toll] revenue we could have brought in,” House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said at the time. “If there is any ‘wow,’ it’s the new sign that says ‘Indiana for sale or rent.”’

    And like Indiana so goes all of America? 🙁

  2. Victor on

    Republicans will go as far as voter suppression but Democrats won’t even go for voter registration in key places like Florida.


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