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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Zack Beauchamp reports at Vox: “The Wisconsin Republican Party is nullifying the results of the 2018 election…On Wednesday morning, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill that would seize key powers from incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who defeated incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in November. Walker is expected to sign it in the coming days…The bill blocks Evers’s ability to change state welfare policy and withdraw from a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act — two things he campaigned on. It limits the state’s early voting period, a move that would make it harder for Democrats to win future elections. And this is all happening during the lame-duck session before Evers takes power, rushed through quickly in an explicit effort to weaken Democrats and prevent the new governor from doing what he was elected to do. In essence, Wisconsin Republicans are telling the state’s voters that their preferences will be ignored…This would be troubling enough if it were a one-off. But it’s not.” Beauchamp goes on to discuss similar GOP lame duck power grabs in Michigan and North Carolina, which “highlight one of the most disturbing facts about American politics today: The Republican Party has become institutionally indifferent to the health of democracy. It prioritizes power over principle to such an extreme degree that it undermines the most basic functioning of democracy.”

Ronald Brownstein weighs in on the GOP power grab at The Atlantic, and notes, “The naked power grab unfolding in Michigan and Wisconsin shows the urgency many in the GOP feel to block the priorities of a metro-based Democratic coalition that embodies and embraces the big cultural and demographic changes reshaping the country. The determination of a Republican Party rooted in rural America to shred the rule book is likely to only deepen as more population and economic power concentrates into the metropolitan centers hurtling away from the GOP in the Trump era…the sharp, and strikingly consistent, geographic and demographic contrasts between the Republican and Democratic coalitions in Michigan and Wisconsin make clear that these explosive fights are also something more. They represent just the newest front in a larger national confrontation: the struggle between metropolitan and nonmetro America for control of the country’s direction.”

Paul Waldman explains it well in his article, “Republicans Against Democracy” at The American Prospect: “Since Donald Trump became president we’ve heard a lot about norms, the informal expectations and patterns of behavior that govern much of the political world. We’ve discussed them because Trump so often breaks them, in ways small and large. There’s no law saying the president has to release his tax returns, or can’t publicly demand that the Justice Department investigate his political opponents—it’s just how everyone accepted that things would work…But it didn’t start with him. Republicans have been pushing against norms for years, in ways that have consistently demonstrated an undeniable creativity. They not only do what Democrats wouldn’t dare, they come up with new ways to distort the system that nobody had ever thought of…Which is what is happening right now in multiple states: a shocking and repugnant attack on the will of the electorate and on democracy itself, from a party that plainly believes it can get away with just about anything…This is a three-step maneuver: Gerrymander brutally when you have the chance; hold on to power even when you lose the vote; then hamstring the Democrat the voters elected. It’s the kind of thing that until a few years ago no one would have even contemplated…Put them all together and you have a meta-lesson that Republicans took to heart: We can get away with anything. It doesn’t matter whether we’re the target of a stern editorial from The New York Times, or whether Democrats squawk. What matters is winning.”

Politico’s David Siders likens the potential Democratic presidential field to “a big game of chicken,” noting the bailout of former MA Governor Deval Patrick, who the article concludes is on “everyone’s short and long list for V.P.” Also gone is Michael Avenatti, who flamed out before he got started. Siders notes new buzz for Sens. Michael Bennet and Bob Casey and Biden affirming his “most qualified” resume. Democrats also have abundant talent in the lower chamber, and at New York Magazine,  Ed Kilgore explores the possibilities of a candidate from the House winning the nomination. Perhaps the salient point at this juncture is that Dems have a bumper crop of highly-qualified, if not particularly charismatic potential presidential candidates. With just a little less voter suppression in TX and FL, the punditry would be all abuzz about a ticket featuring Beto O’Rourke and/or Andrew Gillum. Sigh.

No one should be shocked by Trump’s petulant behavior at the funeral for former President George H. W. Bush. But the photos and videos of the Trumps glowering during the Apostle’s Creed and other songs and prayers are quite striking. It may be that Trump’s remaining Evangelical support has already been whittled down to the hard core. But it is interesting to wonder how the photos will play with Evangelicals in a purplish state with lots of church-goers, like say, North Carolina.

Astead W. Herndon has a NYT update on the “controversy” surrounding Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage. It’s only news because Trump has repeatedly ridiculed Warren, who he fears might be a presidential candidate who could beat him. Some critics believe she lent support to the notion of genetic testing affirming racial distinctions. Yet, many Americans have taken genetic tests just to learn what they can about their family roots. One of the more sensible comments about the dust-up comes from Deb Haaland, newly elected Native American House member from New Mexico, who said “I absolutely respect tribes’ authority to determine who are tribal members,” Ms. Haaland said. “But I don’t think that’s what Elizabeth Warren was doing. She was merely looking to find a connection to her past and that’s exactly what she did.” In any case, Warren can always respond “I’ll let Trump and his followers worry about all that stuff. I’m more interested in advancing policies that can help make life better for Americans.”

In his New York Times op-ed, “Citizens United Is Still Doing the Dirty Work,” Thomas B. Edsall shares some lucid observations about the reverberating effects of the Citizens United ruling on American politics: “In the eight years since it was decided, Citizens United has unleashed a wave of campaign spending that by any reasonable standard is extraordinarily corrupt…Citizens United has turned campaign finance into a system universally disdained by the public, a system even more ethically unmoored than the one obtained before Watergate…The difference now is that the checks are bigger…How did this come about? Essentially, by legal fiat: a declaration by five Supreme Court justices that what looks, smells and feels like corruption is not in fact corruption…The American system of campaign finance, undergirded by a Supreme Court whose conservative members feign innocence, has become the enabler of corrosive processes of economic and political inequality.”

So, “How Much Was Incumbency Worth In 2018?” Nathaniel Rakich addresses the question at FiveThirtyEight, and observes, “For decades, running as an incumbent was undoubtedly a huge advantage in electoral politics. As recently as 20 years ago, holding office added an average of 8 percentage points to a candidate’s margin. But in this century, experts say, the incumbency advantage has significantly diminished. Now the verdict is in for the 2018 election: According to our method of calculating it (which is different from other researchers’, so keep in mind that these numbers can’t be compared directly to those from previous years), the electoral benefit of already being a member of Congress this year was down to less than 3 points.”

From “Trump to the rescue? Presidential campaigning and the 2018 U.S. Senate elections” by Alan I. Abramowitz at Sabato’s  Crystal Ball: “The evidence examined in this article suggests that President Trump’s attempts to intervene in the 2018 Senate elections had, at best, mixed results for the GOP. On average, Trump’s campaign rallies appear to have had a minimal impact on the outcomes of Senate contests. A few Republican candidates did better than expected based on “fundamentals” but others did worse than expected. Only one Republican candidate, Rick Scott in Florida, did substantially better than expected but that may well have been due to factors other than the president’s intervention. And while the president’s visits may have marginally helped GOP candidates in red states like Indiana and Missouri, they may have marginally hurt Republicans in swing states like Nevada and Arizona…The bigger picture here is that Republican candidates actually underperformed in the 2018 Senate elections. Given a map in which Democrats were defending 26 seats, including 10 in states carried by Donald Trump in 2016, Republicans might well have picked up six or seven seats in 2018 in a neutral political environment. But the political environment in 2018 was far from neutral, as can be seen in the results of the House and gubernatorial elections where the map did not give Republicans the same sort of advantage. And the fact that the overall political environment was toxic for Republicans in 2018 was due largely to the unpopularity of President Trump. That reality was far more important than the effects of the president’s campaigning for GOP candidates.”

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