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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

George Packer has the sobering read of the day in his New Yorker article, “All That’s Left Is the Vote: The midterm elections are the last obstacle to Trump’s consolidation of power—and the greatest obstacle to voting is the feeling that it doesn’t matter.” Among Packer’s observations: “The institutional clout that ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon no longer exists. The honest press, for all its success in exposing daily scandals, won’t persuade the unpersuadable or shame the shameless, while the dishonest press is Trump’s personal amplifier. The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, are rapidly becoming instruments of partisan advocacy, as reliably conservative as elected legislatures. It’s impossible to imagine the Roberts Court voting unanimously against the President, as the Burger Court, including five Republican appointees, did in forcing Nixon to turn over his tapes. (Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to succeed Anthony Kennedy, has even suggested that the decision was wrong.) Congress has readily submitted to the President’s will, as if legislation and oversight were burdens to be relinquished. And, when the independent counsel finally releases his report, it will have only the potency that the guardians of the law and the Constitution give it.” While Democrats can draw some cautious optimism from the polls, the  questions that beg for an answer include what more can be done to mobilize low-turnout, but pro-Democratic voters in the 98 days until the midterms and how can Dems win or neutralize Trump’s wobbly 2016 voters?

At vox.com, Tara Golshan notes, “A new poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday put O’Rourke just 6 points behind Cruz. Cruz drew the support of 49 percent of registered Texas voters; 43 percent of registered voters backed O’Rourke. The poll, which has a 3.5-point margin of error, shows the Texas Senate race tightening since an earlier poll in May when O’Rourke was 11 points behind Cruz…Another poll from Texas Lyceum, with a slightly smaller sample size, had Cruz up by just 2 points — a statistical dead heat. Cruz had the support of 36 percent of registered voters, and O’Rourke had the support of 34 percent…Put simply: It’s becoming a very real possibility that Cruz could lose reelection to a Democrat — an upset that would seriously imperil Republicans’ hold on the Senate majority. Texas has not had a Democratic senator in more than 20 years.”

Sabato’s Crystal Ball associate editor Geoffrey Skelley provides an update on the likeliest outcomes for the contest for a U.S. Senate majority: “Historical midterm results suggest that we are in for a bounce-back year for split-ticket outcomes in Senate elections as they relate to the previous presidential election. This is good news for Democrats because they are defending one of the largest number of seats on record for any party in a midterm. Conversely, the GOP has few vulnerable seats to defend but may find itself limited by the electoral environment as the presidential party. Looking back at the historical success or failure in midterm contests based on incumbency and partisan lean, we have good reason to expect only a small change to the partisan makeup of the Senate, but those shifts could slightly favor the Republicans at the end. The GOP remains favored to retain the Senate, but the fact that Democrats have any chance at all at capturing a majority speaks to the benefit of being the non-presidential party, having so many incumbents seeking reelection, and of having a relatively friendly electoral environment.”

Burgess Everett and Elana Schor take apeak “Inside Democrats’ strategy to defeat Kavanaugh” and report at Politico, “While his red-state members stall in the face of attacks from their GOP challengers, Schumer hopes to place massive pressure on moderate Republicans by raising damaging questions about Kavanaugh’s views on abortion, health care and presidential power. His top GOP targets are Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska…Schumer’s strategy starts like this: Hold his caucus in line and force Republicans to cough up 50 votes on their own…he’s counting on Manchin and a half-dozen other vulnerable Democrats to keep any hint that they might support the high court nominee to themselves.”

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore shares a hopeful comment in his post, “The GOP Sets Up Narrow Window for Kavanaugh Confirmation” about the problematic clock management Senate Republicans face: “As we learned with the Clarence Thomas saga, strange, unexpected developments have been known to come up during SCOTUS confirmations. Republicans have not given themselves any margin for error in the timing of their drive to place Kavanaugh on the Court, and if the process drags on until just before — or even after — the midterm elections, the political dynamics could change. Assuming Senate Republicans continue to fall into line on this critical appointment, an October Surprise may be the best hope Democrats have for derailing Kavanaugh’s nomination.”

In addition to the encourging polls of recent weeks, Nate Silver makes a couple of good points in the chatfest on “Who Are The Most Important Swing Voters In This Year’s Midterms?” at FiveThirtyEight: “So far, Democrats have gotten very good results in special elections — which consist of, you know, actual voters. And they also look pretty good, as Nathaniel said, in district-by-district polls, which are mostly conducted among likely voters rather than registered voters. Those could be signs of a turnout advantage…it’s noteworthy that Trump’s lowest approval ratings came while Republicans were trying to pass major policy initiatives such as the tax cut (successful) and their Obamacare repeal (not successful)…So I think a message framed around maintaining a check on Trump and the excesses of the Republican Congress would make sense. That’s classic midterm strategy, since midterms are all about balancing.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall offers this observation about the damage horse-race reporting can do: “In a paper published in February, “Projecting Confidence: How the Probabilistic Horse Race Confuses and Demobilizes the Public,” Sean Westwood, Solomon Messing and Yphtach Lelkes of Dartmouth, Pew and the University of Pennsylvania, write: “Horse race coverage in American elections has shifted focus from late-breaking poll numbers to sophisticated meta-analytic forecasts that often emphasize candidates’ probability of victory…These improvements, in turn, “lower uncertainty about an election’s outcome, which lowers turnout under the model.” The effect, then, is that, “when one candidate is ahead, win probabilities convey substantially more confidence that she will win compared to vote share estimates. Even more importantly, we show that these impressions of probabilistic forecasts cause people not to vote in a behavioral game that simulates elections. In the context of the existing literature, the magnitude of these findings suggests that probabilistic horse race coverage can confuse and demobilize the public.”

“Two years after Russia interfered in the American presidential campaign, the nation has done little to protect itself against a renewed effort to influence voters in the coming congressional midterm elections, according to lawmakers and independent analysts…They say that voting systems are more secure against hackers, thanks to action at the federal and state levels — and that the Russians have not targeted those systems to the degree they did in 2016. But Russian efforts to manipulate U.S. voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect, and there is not a sufficiently strong government strategy to combat information warfare against the United States, outside experts said.” — From “As midterm elections approach, a growing concern that the nation is not protected from Russian interference” by Ellen nakashima and Craig Timberg.

But really, it’s even worse than that. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his column, “Trump is working with the trolls” at The Washington Post: “In the face of active measures by our adversaries to widen our nation’s social gulfs, one might imagine a more responsible leader trying to bring us together, to ease our anxieties about each other and to stand against endless cycles of recrimination….Instead, Trump is working in tandem with these outside trolls to aggravate resentment, stoke backlash and incite his opponents…It’s an established fact that the Kremlin and Trump were on the same side in the 2016 election. And so far, the online activity in connection with the 2018 elections — some of which has been linked to the Kremlin’s Internet Research Agency — rather consistently plays into right-wing propaganda and targets Democrats such as Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri…The online meddling has a broader objective as well: to divide our country even more sharply than it already is and to weaponize racial and ethnic divisions.”

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