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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

A FiveThirtyEight.com chat session responds to the question, “Will Voters Give Trump Credit For North Korea?” Among the possibilities, as Perry Bacon, Jr. sees it: “I don’t think the agreement reached this week means a ton. If there are no North Korean nuke tests between now and Election Day 2018 but also no big deal between Trump and Kim, then North Korea is not a real Election Day factor. It recedes from the news. I don’t think this summit itself changes the midterm dynamics that much….The media will move on from this issue back to Mueller/Pruitt/Trump scandals/tweets, etc. People just don’t think about foreign policy that much in general.” Micah Cohen adds, “How’s this for a starting point: Voters will view Trump’s North Korea policy through their normal partisan lens … unless (i) it very clearly goes south and a substantial portion of elected Republicans begin to criticize it, or (ii) it very clearly goes well and even the commenters in the media are praising it?…But the 90 percent confidence interval of likely outcomes probably fails to break partisan biases….And you can see those biases in the pre-summit polling:” Clare Malone suggests, “I agree about the midterms. It could affect 2020 more, or at least play a part.”

I’m a fan of both Robert DeNiro and Samantha Bee. But Frank Bruni makes a good point in his ‘open letter’ column, “How to Lose the Midterms and Re-elect Trump” at The New York Times: “I get that you’re angry. I’m angry, too. But anger isn’t a strategy. Sometimes it’s a trap. When you find yourself spewing four-letter words, you’ve fallen into it. You’ve chosen cheap theatrics over the long game, catharsis over cunning….Many voters don’t hear your arguments or the facts, which are on your side. They just wince at the din…It’s about maturity, pragmatism and plain old smarts — and the necessity of all three when the stakes are this high…“When they go low, we go high,” said another first lady, Michelle Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. It’s a fine set of marching orders, disobeyed ever since.” Of course actors and entertainers should have their say, like everyone else. But Bruni’s column should be a keeper for all public figures who want their comments to be strategically-sound.

Vox’s Dylan Scott says polls indicate “Democrats have a good shot at turning Ohio blue again in 2018,” and notes that, “Brown, a popular two-term incumbent, should already be viewed as the favorite, but both polls showed him running far ahead of Renacci:…Quinnipiac: Brown leads Renacci, 51 percent to 34 percent…Suffolk: Brown is again way ahead of Renacci, 53 percent to 36 percent…DeWine had been considered the slight favorite in a state that has been trending red, with no statewide elected Democrats except Brown, and where Donald Trump won by 8 points in 2016. But both surveys actually found Cordray ahead:…Quinnipiac: Cordray narrowly led DeWine 42 percent to 40 percent…Suffolk: Cordray had a bigger lead over DeWine, 43 percent to 36 percent…But the findings were striking enough that after their release, the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball said it was shifting the Ohio governor’s race from Lean Republican to Toss-Up and the Senate race from Lean Democrat to Likely Democrat.”

At The Upshot, Neil Irwin addresses a question of enormous consequence that doesn’t get enough coverage, “If the Robots Come for Our Jobs, What Should the Government Do?” Trump’s antagonistic trade policies are a distraction from more immediate, real-world causes of job loss. It’s less about the role of tariffs than automation and U.S. industry’s investing too much in other countries. Regarding automation, Irwin writes that “Some of the potential answers are big, bold ideas that have gained traction in particular ideological circles. A universal basic income — the idea that the government simply give each citizen enough money every month to support basic needs — has fans among both free-market libertarians and socialists….But other ideas starting to percolate in economic policy circles may have advantages in terms of cost and political viability.” Irwin flags several other ideas emerging from think tanks, including shorter terms for patents and trademarks, shorter work-weeks (work-sharing), expanding subsidized re-training and “life-long learning accounts,” greater ‘portability’ of benefits, and expanding the earned-income tax-credit. It would be good to see more Democrats developing proposals that include some of these measures and addressing the rvages of automation more directly.

Robert Atkinson argues in “The Pro-Growth Minimum Wage” at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, however, that automation is a desireable consequence of raising the minimum wage, in part because somebody has to make and service the new machines. But mostly Atkinson is concerned with better progressive messaging in support of the minimum wage. “If progressives want to break through this frustrating stalemate and get a higher minimum wage over the finish line—at least in more states, if not in Congress—it’s time for them to make the case for a higher minimum wage on the grounds of growth first, and fairness second. In other words, not only should progressives stop ceding ground to opponents when it comes to jobs and GDP growth, they should rightly assert that a higher minimum wage would actually improve both. In other words: If we want to grow the U.S. economy, not just redistribute more of its fruits to low-income workers, we need to raise the minimum wage. This argument is much more likely to prevail…what’s truly important is how many jobs there are in the U.S. economy after raising the minimum wage…There are too many low-wage, low-skill jobs, too little investment by companies in new machinery and high-performance work organizations, and too little support by government for those organizations, including skills development. Getting out of this trap will require a wide range of policies, including better programs to boost worker skills. But no policy change is more vital here than a higher minimum wage. And, as such, progressives will need to champion such a move, by highlighting the essential role it will play in creating a robust economy and growth for all.”

Democrats have been gifted ample material for a powerful ‘weathervane’ ad in the Trump Administration’s decision to gut the highly-popular pre-existing health care provision of the Affordable Care Act. WaPo’s Fact Checkers Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly document the history of Trump’s comments supporting pre-existing condistion coverage on at least ten occasions — in stark contrast to his recently authorizing the gutting of the measure. As the authors conclude, “With no explanation or warning, the president now supports an effort to nullify the provisions that make it possible for millions of people to purchase affordable insurance. Thus this new position, directly contradicting his repeated stance as a candidate and as president, qualifies as a flip-flop.”

Some insights from Meredith Ferguson’s “Cracking the Code of Young Voter Turnout” at Campaigns & Elections: “Consider who young people are today, and for whom they’re being asked to vote. They’re the most racially and culturally diverse generation in American history. Forty-six percent identify as a race or ethnicity other than white. Yet, women and minorities each make up less than 20 percent of lawmakers in the 115th Congress. According to the CDC, eight percent of high schoolers identify as LGBTQ, while only one percent of Congress does. The average member is 57 years old — that’s among the highest average in recent history…Young people also refuse to be bound by the traditional ideological boxes. The plurality — 46 percent — of our survey respondents said they identify as independent or unaffiliated and 50 percent view themselves as moderates. While young people may be considered liberal on many social issues, those positions reflect more of a societal shift than a political philosophy…For example, even a majority of our respondents who identify as conservative support universal background checks for gun purchases and believe that the government has a responsibility to ensure health coverage for all.”

In his Washington Post column, “Trump’s America goes full Charles Dickens,” Dana Milbank spotlights the glaring contradiction between GOP elected officials mouthing of cliched concern for opiate addicts and migrant children and their failure to support anything resembling substantial legislation to address the  crises. “This is why the show of compassion rings hollow: Republican lawmakers aren’t willing to stand up to the source of their Dickensian dilemma. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) spoke out against Trump — and lost his primary Tuesday. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) once expressed concern about Trump — and was forced into a runoff. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is retiring, complains his GOP colleagues won’t defend their own trade principles because they don’t want to “poke the bear…Republicans may be afraid voters will see them as heartless — but they are more afraid of crossing Trump.”

“The problem with this administration is that everything it does is a distraction from everything else it does,” writes Eric Alterman at The Nation. “Trade? Immigration? Economic equality? Education? Environmental protection? Workers’ rights? Women’s rights? Diplomacy? Whatever it is, to borrow from Groucho Marx, they’re against it. And they will also lie about it. And they will complain about being asked about it…Trump’s genius for distraction, self-pity, and entertaining idiocy succeeds not only in normalizing his psychopathic behavior and malevolent prejudices but also in hiding the fact that institutions that protect our freedom and democratic rights are teetering beneath a ferocious assault…Trump supporters and their media apologists complain that news coverage of this administration is overwhelmingly negative. In fact, it’s nowhere near negative enough. That’s because it is piecemeal and professional, and cannot help itself from trying to be fair to “both sides,” bending over backward to treat Trump as somehow normal.” Well put. Now Dems could use some fresh ideas for addressing the media coverage problems associated with Trump’s distractions and false equivalency journalism.

6 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. R on

    Want a suggestion for journalists? Glad you asked.

    Journalists need to think ahead, hours, days, or weeks ahead, before asking any question of any Trump official. The journalists are winging it all the time. You see it with the modern movie actors, too. They never study their lines, or memorize their lines in order to turn them over in their minds. No depth.

    Take Acosta and Sanders at the press briefing today. Acosta pressed back over the separation of kids from their parents, and the incarceration of the kids and the parents, but he didn’t have a plan for engaging Sanders on that subject. Karem jumps in with moral outrage, which is fine, but the outrage was not decisively targeted onto a conclusion which can be attached to the outrage. Atmospheric outrage is fine, but everybody breathes it, so it means nothing. Paula Reid did better, but got no meaningful support from anybody else. One person can always be knocked down, ignored, ridiculed, or deflected. The environment was uncontrolled by the journalists due to lack of planning, by the group, or internally as individuals.

    Nazified people wing it all the time. They have to. The way to beat them is to get in front of them.

    Plan ahead.

    • Victor on

      Democrats are being pushed to the wall with activists and liberal society demanding reforms that in their essence mean open borders.

      Activists think that with DACA in the judicial pocket now is the time to push about the children issue in order to push congressional negotiations on what are actually unrelated issues (ie visa lottery and family reunification).

      The Trump administration seems to see things different and are therefore resisting on all issues.

      Trump is focused on the wall and catch and release plus not further expanding the definition of persons eligible for asylum.

      Common sense reforms are now impossible with this polarization.

      When the electorate actually gets a chance to see debates (as opposed to partisan media reporting) on the immigration issue Republicans will in fact have to respond on why the keep children detained, but Democrats will have to respond why they want parents to be able to abscond or if they would support whole/family detention facilities.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    Robert Atkinson argues that liberals should present raising the minimum wage as a means of promoting economic growth. Now consider the cases of the USA, the UK, Germany and France. USA minimum wage $7.25/hr and GDP growth, 2.9% as of 2018. UK: $10.49 and GDP growth 1.6%. France: $11.49 and 2.1%. Germany: $9.97 and 2.5%. The country with the lowest minimum wage also has the higher GDP growth and the country with the next-lowest minimum wage has the next-highest rate of GDP growth. There is no clear evidence from these examples that a higher minimum wage will stimulate economic growth, although there are other arguments for raising the minimum wage.

    • Martin Lawford on

      Sources of above figures: Minimum wage rates from the United Nations and economic growth rates from the International Monetary Fund.

    • Victor on

      Even the figures you present are inconsistent internally. Externally there are many ways to prove they are proof of very little.

      I would agree that Democrats are doing a lousy job of explaining the minimum wage issue.

      Outside the biggest cities a $15 or even $12 minimum needs to be explained in terms of phasing in. Preferably the federal government would allow and encourage differentiated minimums in rural, suburban and urban areas.

  3. Victor on

    The Nation article is a disgrace. When are Democrats going to stop psychoanalyzing Trump and pathologizing his voters?

    Libya, Cuba, Burma/Myanmar, Iran and North Korea have all made significant progress in normalization thanks to the bipartisan efforts of many administrations.

    Americans are so polarized they can’t see success even when it hits them in the face.

    The reasons for the United States taking different approaches to negotiations with allies, non-allies and competitors should be obvious.

    North Korea is not a competitor and improving relations with it allow to neutralize it in the international scene and move it a bit away from China. Diplomacy needs to be careful and probably slow.

    The G-7 countries are supposed to be allies and therefore negotiations can be hostile without creating lasting hostility. Diplomacy can be messy and quick.

    Iran is competing for influence in the Middle East and being a spoiler in Syria, Yemen and the Middle East peace process while not being particularly positive in Irak, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Diplomacy with Iran already produced results with Obama, so now the strategy is to pressure to get additional results.

    Russia and China can be spoilers in all these negotiations and in the meanwhile they are subject of separate negotiations regarding other domestic and global issues.

    Why can Trump meet with China but not Russia?

    Until the Special Counsel wraps up his work? It seems Trump is actually respecting this as he has refused to schedule summits with Putin.

    Where is the scandal?

    And why are people rejoicing at the speculative conclusion that the Korea summit didn’t produce enough?

    Trump derangement syndrome is exactly the same as with every President.

    Liberals don’t have the grasp about the facts or about the history.

    The US periodically recalibrates foreign trade when it gets out of control.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with this.

    The US runs a trade deficit, a remittances deficit and a foreign aid deficit.

    It is also a military and energy security provider, albeit a very imperfect one.

    Anti-Americanism may be popular but it is not exactly grounded in realities.

    The fact that American elites are so unaware of facts and history that it leads them to be against US interests shows the problems with globalized cosmopolitanism.

    The US can’t lead in fixing the world’s problems if its own house is a mess.

    Overblown differences inside the liberal G-7 and Democrats messing up their rhetoric.

    Will Democrats ever learn that you don’t oppose American interests in international negotiations regardless of who is the President?

    Why are so many people giving in to the temptation to backing the Europeans against Trump when this is exactly the political framework he desperately needs?

    If the US is in a trade war the very least Democrats can do is hope Trump, not Merkel, wins.

    This is a complete do over of the many times liberals have sounded unpatriotic instead of using the power of Congress to shape debates.

    So weird seeing Germany’s Merkel portrayed as leader of the free world when she insists on buying ever increasing quantities of gas from Putin’s Russia and on dumping half of Europe into austerity.


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