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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

From “Stop calling it ‘meddling.’ It’s actually information warfare” by Brian Klaas, co-author of “How to Rig an Election” and a fellow in global politics at the London School of Economics: “I’ll admit — I, too, have used the phrase “election meddling” many times. My bad. Somehow, it became the default terminology for the deliberately destabilizing actions launched by the Kremlin to help Trump win and to sow chaos and division within the United States…But that phrase is woefully inadequate. These continuing attacks are neither meddling nor “interference,” another euphemism. They’re a part of gibridnaya voyna — Russian for “hybrid warfare.” The best term for what we’re talking about would be “information warfare…As Ofer Fridman points out in his book “Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’: Resurgence and Politicization,” the concepts behind Russia’s digital attacks are not new. They trace their origins to long-forgotten Russian military theorists, such as Evgeny Messner, who understood that conventional military operations had limitations that could be overcome if complemented by unconventional tactics that don’t involve bullets or bombs…Contemporary scholars such as Igor Panarin have channeled Messner’s ideas, arguing that it is easier to weaken the United States by dividing Americans against themselves or by manipulating American political dynamics than it is to beat the United States on the battlefield…This isn’t “meddling.” It’s information warfare. And the sooner we change the terminology, the faster we’ll treat the threat with the seriousness it deserves.”

Findings from the University of Virginia Center for Politics/Ipsos Poll, Just Half of Americans Believe Elections Are Fair and Open: New national survey shows Americans critical of big money in politics, supportive of disclosure, but skeptical of judicial intervention” note that “Only about half of American adults believe elections are fair and open, and large majorities of Americans express skepticism about big money in politics and favor disclosure of donations…By a 51%-43% margin, those surveyed agreed with the statement that “American elections are fair and open.” However, there was a partisan gap, as 68% of Republicans but just 43% of Democrats agreed with the statement. Couched opinions — those who just “somewhat” agreed or disagreed with the statement — were more common than strong opinions from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

President Trump’s endorsement of Brian Kemp for the Georgia GOP nomination for Governor may help Democratic nominee Stacy Abrams. Trump’s endorsement of Secretary of State Kemp over the   Republican establishment’s preferred candidate, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle accentuates the state GOP’s divisions. If it ends up giving Kemp the edge he needs for winning the nomination, Abrams may gain some entre with Georgia moderates, who are embarrassed by Kemp’s widely-ridiculed shotgun ad. But Trump’s endorsement may be based less on Kemp’s extremist vews on guns than his amenability to Russian meddling in Georgia’s elections — an issue Abrams can mine for still more unexpected votes.

For those who have wondered why Republicans hate financier George Soros so much, The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s James Salzer has an instructive article, “$1 million Soros gift gives Georgia Democrats advantage over state GOP.” As Salzer writes, “Thanks to a $1 million contribution from billionaire mega-donor George Soros, the Georgia Democratic Party began the second half of 2018 with three times as much money in the bank as the state’s majority Republican Party, according to new campaign finance reports.” But don’t worry about the Georgia Republicans being underfunded, since “millions of dollars are expected to pour in from donors once the GOP selects its nominees for governor and lieutenant governor on July 24. And legislative and independent Republican political action committees have built up war chests in anticipation of the races as well.”

Eugene Scott reports at The Fix that “Black and Latino voters are way more likely than white voters to report ballot problems.” Scott writes that “White Americans are much less likely than black and Latino Americans to express concerns about being denied the right to vote. About a quarter (27 percent) of white Americans say this is a serious issue. But at least 6 in 10 Latino (60 percent) and black (62 percent) Americans say this is an issue…While 3 percent of white Americans say they or someone in their household were told they lacked the correct identification the last time they tried to vote, the number of black (9 percent) and Latino (9 percent) Americans who say they or someone they know experienced this is three times higher…Four percent of white Americans say they were harassed or bothered while trying to vote during their most recent visit to the polls. That number climbs to 7 percent for black Americans and nearly 1 in 10 (9 percent) for Latino Americans…Five percent of white Americans said they or a household member were told their name was not on the rolls despite being registered the last time they tried to vote. The percentage of black (10 percent) and Latino Americans (11 percent) who had that experience was at least double.”

Scott also shares concerns about the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court from Ari Berman, author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” who tweeted that “Obama DOJ blocked South Carolina voter ID law that would’ve disenfranchised “tens of thousands” of minority voters. Then Brett Kavanaugh wrote opinion upholding it. His nomination very bad sign for voting rights.” Also, “Leslie Proll, former policy director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, tweeted that voting rights in particular could be under threat with Kavanaugh on the bench, in part based on his response to the Obama Justice Department blocking a voter identification law it found discriminatory.”

As a presidential candidate, Trump’s protectionist threats had understandable resonance with rust belt workers who felt something needed to be done to protect further erosion of jobs in their communities, a valid concern shared by America’s labor movement. Now Trump hopes to reinvigorate his fading working-class support with a whole-hog trade war. Democratic candidates in the rust belt who have to grapple with Trump’s trade policy must be able to articulate the distinction between responsible and carefully-targeted protectionist measures, on the one hand, and Trump’s reckless trade war on the other. Dems can note  the “infant industries” argument that tariffs are needed to help new American businesses become competitive in the world market. In addition, Paul Krugman argues that tariffs are best deployed when unemployment is high, not at 4 percent, and can be counter-productive in times of high employment. Democrats can add that some imports can be fairly targeted because they violate principles of fair trade, such as using child labor or violating health safety standards. But all Democrats should feel comfortable in calling out Trump’s trade policies as reckless, ill-considered overkill, way too broad, and designed more to put on a big show than to help anybody. Dems should always emphasize the difference between lazer-targeted trade restrictions by experts and a sledge-hammer wielded by a clumsy ignoramous.

In his New York Times op-ed, “Why Real Wages Still Aren’t Rising,” Jared Bernstein makes some sobering points that Democrats should take into account in their messaging. Bernstein notes that  “stagnant wages for factory workers and non-managers in the service sector — together they represent 82 percent of the labor force — is mainly the outcome of a long power struggle that workers are losing. Even at a time of low unemployment, their bargaining power is feeble, the weakest I’ve seen in decades. Hostile institutions — the Trump administration, the courts, the corporate sector — are limiting their avenues for demanding higher pay…The next recession is lurking out there, and when it hits, whatever gains American workers were able to wring out of the economic expansion will be lost to the long-term weakness of their bargaining clout. Workers’ paychecks reflect workers’ power, and they are both much too weak.”

So how much negative freight does the term “socialist” carry nowadays? The question has particular relevance for Sen. Bernie Sanders and his followers who are often hassled by the media and conservatives about it. Sanders just shruggs it off, secure in the knowledge that polls indicate the term just doesn’t have as much stigma as in the past. At The New York Times Magazine, Yale professor Beverly Gage describes an amusing scene in which a Sanders supporter puts it in down-home perspective: “In a notorious 2018 interview, an Infowars reporter cornered a woman outside a Sanders appearance to ask, “Why is socialism good?” Soon the reporter was warning that in Venezuela, “a majority of the country is currently eating rats,” while the perplexed interviewee maintained that “I just want people to have health care, honey” — not a bad response.

3 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Matthew Smith on

    Thank you for the note about “meddling.” I don’t know why Democrats are so timid about messaging. “Information warfare” is better, until it inevitably gets shortened to “info war,” which currently has another meaning. Here are a few other possibilities Democratic spokespeople are free to use:

    Election sabotage
    Attack on American democracy

  2. Victor on

    Dear Democrats, give Blacks and Latinos ids…is that so hard?

    Oh, it is hard? Work harder. You control most state or local governments where we live.

    Anyone who doesn’t have an id to vote, doesn’t have an id to do a lot of other things. Id is a basic human right.

  3. Victor on

    Wow, Krugman is really making an absurd argument regarding tariffs. If any President started a trade war while unemployment was high they would be accused of repeating the mistakes of the Great Depression.


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