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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Resolving the Democrats’ False Choice: How the party can win both the “missing Obama millions” and the Obama-to-Trump voters” at The New Republic, Joshua Mound writes, “Instead of pitting voters of color against white working-class voters in an imaginary election, Democrats should target their policy proposals and political appeals to voters who bridge the gap: the black working class…But the Democrats don’t have to choose between working classes of different colors. African Americans are to the left of whites on just about every economic issue. That means that in order to target the needs of the black working class, Democrats will have to adopt the type of populist economic policies that, many observers argue, are Democrats’ best hope of winning back some of the Obama-Trump voters that Cohn and others believe are necessary for the party to be competitive in presidential and congressional contests…The white voters for whom racism trumps all are lost to Democrats. So there’s no sense, morally or politically, in the Democrats’ returning to Sister Souljah–style racial pandering to whites. But by combining racial and cultural progressivism with an economic platform that’s equal parts Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter, Democrats can turn out Obama voters who stayed home in 2016 and win back some Obama-Trump voters.

From Jane Kleeb’s contribution to an intra-progressive debate on “Should We Primary Every Democrat? Three views on left electoral strategy ahead of the 2018 midterm elections” at In These Times: “Primarying conservative and moderate incumbent Democrats simply because they are not as progressive as other Democrats, as Dan advocates, has never made much sense to me. Call me whatever label you want, but I would rather have a Democrat who is with us 70 percent of the time than a Republican who is against us 100 percent of the time. Even more than that, I firmly believe that diversity is a strength—not just diversity of race, or religion, or nationality, but also of ideas. A Democratic Party that has both Elizabeth Warren and Heidi Heitkamp makes us stronger. For example, when a farmer with a rural perspective on how healthcare improvements could impact their community sat at the table with an economics professor, those perspectives joined together to make Obamacare stronger…But to primary people not as part of a well-thought-out strategy, but simply because they do not hold the progressive line 100 percent of the time, is short-sighted and ultimately weakens us as a national party. I prefer to walk the road of building the party so our bench is broad and we put an end to the current one-party rule governing many of our states and our country.” Kleeb Kleeb is the founder of Bold Nebraska, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, a member of the Democratic Party’s Unity and Reform Commission, and an Our Revolution board member. The other contributors include Dan Cohen, president of Blue Sun Campaigns and a pollster and strategist for progressive electoral and issue campaigns and Dayton Martindale, an assistant editor at In These Times.

In the same forum, Cohen writes, “We need Democratic elected leaders who will actually lead, and who embody a true commitment to social and economic justice, inclusion and respect. That means we need contested Democratic primaries: on every level of government, in nearly every district, as often as possible. We should be challenging not only conservative or centrist Democrats, but any Democrat failing to act so as to restore confidence in our party and in government…But there’s a caveat. If we are running to transform the party in a more progressive, inclusive direction, we must foster a culture of respect for those with whom we, at least for now, disagree…our primary opponents are not the enemy, nor are the voters who put them in office. We need not compromise our values, but there is a world of difference between saying, “My opponent is a corporate shill,” for example, and saying, “I respect my opponent and we agree on some issues, but we disagree on the need for a living wage now…We must remember that we build movements over a longer time frame than one election cycle. Many of our challengers will lose, at least their first run…What’s more, if we don’t beat them this time, it gives us leverage to hold them accountable. All of which helps move the party left, because when politicians publicly endorse progressive policies, it tells voters, “That’s what Democrats are about.”

Michael Tackett reports that “White Evangelical Women, Core Supporters of Trump, Begin Tiptoeing Away” at The New York Times. “While the men in the pulpits of evangelical churches remain among Mr. Trump’s most stalwart supporters, some of the women in the pews may be having second thoughts. As the White House fights to silence a pornographic actress claiming an affair with Mr. Trump, and a jailed Belarusian escort claims evidence against the American president, Mr. Trump’s hold on white evangelical women may be slipping…According to data from the Pew Research Center, support among white evangelical women in recent surveys has dropped about 13 percentage points, to 60 percent, compared with about a year ago. That is even greater than the eight-point drop among all women…“That change is statistically significant,” said Gregory A. Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, who also noted a nine-point drop among evangelical men. “Both groups have become less approving over time.”

If you noticed a recent diminishing of Republican candidate quality independent of ideological considerations, it’s not just a vague impression. As Paul Blumenthal notes at HuffPost, “Republicans Have 4 Convicted Criminals Running For Congress In 2018,”and notes that, in addition to Joe Arpaio’s Arizona campaign for U.S. Senator, “convicted criminals running for office as Republicans are Don Blankenship, the former head of the coal mining company Massey Energy who is running in the Republican primary to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.); former Rep. Michael Grimm, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) to reclaim the Staten Island congressional seat he once held; and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who is running for re-election.” Read the article for more details.

Others have noted a similar downtick in the credentials of presidential appointees under Trump. Ryan Koronowski’s Think Progress article, “Trump’s new economic adviser is really bad at economics. Here are the receipts: Larry Kudlow has made some astoundingly bad predictions, even for a CNBC pundit,” points out that the President’s pick for director of the National Economic Council is much in keeping with his habit of making one of the worst possible choices. Along with a litany of Kudlow’s laughable predictions, Koronowski writes: “Past NEC directors have had law degrees from Yale or Harvard or Cornell, MBAs from Harvard or Wharton (not a bachelor’s with an economics major like the president), a Ph. D in economics from Harvard or MIT, decades of business experience, or taught at the London School of Economics..Kudlow has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and did not complete a master’s degree in economics at Princeton. He has worked at a junior level at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and also in the Reagan Office of Management and Budget. He worked at Bear Stearns from 1987 to 1994, until he was fired for cocaine abuse. After working for Arthur Laffer’s firm, he got into journalism, most notably hosting a business show on CNBC.”

At BuzzFeed News, Ryan C. Brooks writes that “Democratic strategists argue that there is a cost to the “churn-and-burn” fundraising strategy that outweighs the extra dollars it brings in. The cost of the spammy, fear-based communications, they say, is depressed and alienated voters and the public impression of the Democratic Party as just another arm of a cynical, dishonest establishment…“I think the DCCC’s email strategy is a wasted opportunity for Democrats. They have this expansive email list that they could be using to cultivate and motivate voters to flip congressional seats in 2018,” said Laura Olin, a Democratic digital strategist who’s worked with a host of progressives including Barack Obama’s digital team….“The thing is that fundraising campaigns from Obama, Warren, and Bernie showed us that we don’t need to use those scare tactics to raise money, and those tactics don’t make us lose our values by being inclusive, engaging, and honest rather than being alarmist and misleading,” said [Democratic digital strategist Matthew] McGregor.”

Jefferson Morley drops a political strategy nugget about the importance of personal contact with voters in his article, “The Democrats’ Sweet Spot: Diverse, Young, Working-Class People Who Didn’t Vote” at Alternet: In a large-scale study Sean McElwee, a co-founder of Data for Progress, Jesse H. Rhodes and Brian F. Schaffner of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Bernard L. Fraga of Indiana University  “studied the ballots of 64,000 voters in 2012 and 2016 and came away with a key finding: The number of voters who cast a ballot for Obama in 2012 and did not vote in 2016, or voted for a third-party candidate, outnumbered those Obama voters who pulled the lever for Trump…The Obama voters who stayed home, while generally liberal, were significantly less liberal on four of five key policy questions than the loyal Democratic voters who voted for both Obama and Clinton. In other words, more liberal policy positions were not sufficient to lure them to the polling booth…What made the difference for these non-voters was personal contact, or the lack thereof….“Only 43 percent of Obama-to-nonvoters reported being contacted by a candidate in 2016, compared with 66 percent of Obama-to-Clinton voters,” the authors say.”

Among the political campaign insights shared by long-time labor organizer Marshall Ganz in his article, “How to Organize to Win: Rebuilding the democratic infrastructure is too important to leave up to the consultocracy” in The Nation: “Organizing people is not only about solving immediate problems, like making sure your candidate gets the most votes or putting up a stop sign. It is about doing this and, at the same time, developing the leadership, organization, and power to take on structural challenges in the long run. It is not about fixing bugs in the system, like a safety net. It is about transforming the cultural, economic, and political features of the system. One of the main reasons I got hooked on organizing in the civil-rights movement was that it allowed me to work with people to find the resources within themselves and each other to create the power they needed to change the institutions responsible for their problems in the first place. That is what healthy democracy requires…This kind of organizing, however, is a far cry from the political marketing campaigns run by the electoral-industrial complex today…In a consultant-driven model, volunteers show up but get no training, receive slipshod or inaccurate materials, and are ignored by campaign higher-ups, who could care less about what they learned by talking with real voters. Who cares? It’s all taken care of by polling, targeting, and modeling. The role to which ordinary citizens are relegated in most campaigns is that of “real people”—RPs in campaign-speak—props for a photo op…Mobilizers only turn out people with whom they agree. Organizers engage these people in reaching out to other people with whom they don’t agree. Mobilizing spends down resources. Organizing generates new ones.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    This is the best collection of articles on strategy you have published in months.

    The most important one of course is the attack on the false dichotomy of choosing between different segments of Obama voters. The one about organizing is key as the “resistance” is mostly made up of undemocratic groups.

    Re: missing Obama voters…what were the five key policy questions asked of the Obama voters who stayed home? Can’t find them anywhere.

    Re: emails…How can Democrats rail against fake news when they also use it as fundraising strategy? Democrats should take a cue from the Five star movement in Italy and use technology to actually involve people in decision making.


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