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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Just a couple of observations about Speaker Pelosi’s double-wammy victory strategy that left Trump and his whisperers grumbling. You could almost see the glee in the eyes of Pelosi and Schumer, when Trump doubled down on how proudly he would own the shutdown. But credit the Speaker with deftly leveraging her superior understanding of the process and rules, along with an impressive sense of timing. But she also displayed the “first-class temperament” that empowered FDR’s victories amid near-hysterical opposition: it’s about having the guts to stand firm and face down a bully, and to do it cooly and methodically, while everyone else is freaking out. It didn’t hurt that she had the experience of raising four toddlers into adulthood. An understanding of child psychology is an assett in dealing with egomaniacal politicians. I like how Eleanor Clift explained it at The Daily Beast: “Eyeing her favorite dark chocolates in a bowl next to the sandwiches and salads, she told how her husband likes hard chocolate and keeps it in the freezer. “I like to put it in the palm of my hand to soften it up,” she said, an apt metaphor I thought for how she had just handled President Trump over the five-week government shutdown…Not many politicians have gone up against Trump and emerged victorious, with their dignity intact. How did she do it? “First you start with a feather,” she said, “then you move to a sledgehammer.” Well-played.

After a suitable period of mass schadenfreude, it might be good to ponder what strategy will be needed, if Trump declares a national emergency and tries to use the military to build the wall. At The Pacific Standard, Emily Moon quotes  Andrew Boyle, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program, who explains what would happen: “Would he be able to declare a national emergency? The answer is absolutely. There is virtually no restriction on the executive’s ability to declare a national emergency, and that is a shortcoming of the [National Emergencies Act of 1976]…What avenues are there for pushback? One possibility—a weak possibility—is congressional override of the national emergency. That would require a veto-proof majority in the House [of Representatives] and Senate, and that’s a challenge…Another option is a lawsuit of some sort. Assuming [the declaration] goes forward, then any lawsuit would also have to deal with the specific language of those various provisions—language like “military necessity.” There would be arguments about whether building the wall is of “military necessity.” In other words, the whole mess would likely be decided in court,  which is not a particularly good look for the Prez and his party heading into the 2020 elections.

Speaking of schadenfreude, Democrats can be forgiven for marinating in it for a short while, with respect to Roger Stone’s indictment. The self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” has a history of involvement in nasty political shenanigans going back to Watergate, the “Brooks Brothers Riot” and a long history as a Trump operative — and that’s just the stuff we know about. If he is held accountable for his role in Putingate, it may put a damper on the GOP’s proclivity for illegal election games, at least for a while.

So how influential is Fox News in forming political attitudes? At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum takes a look at some data and studies, and makes the case that “Without Fox News, Republicans Would Be Toast.” As Drum concludes, “I’d guess that the real effect of Fox News is more likely something in the ballpark of one or two percentage points…Which is still a lot! Even a one percentage point influence would have been enough to swing both the 2000 and 2016 elections. I think it’s safe to say that the precise quantitative effect is hard to estimate precisely, but it’s still pretty clear that without Fox News the Republican Party would be in a world of hurt. Who knows? It’s even possible that they wouldn’t have won a presidential election since 1992.”

“National attention has focused on a handful of young, left-wing first-time members of Congress elected to safe seats. But realistically, the future of the House lies with a larger group of Democrats who eked out narrow wins in newly purple districts,” write Ella Nilsen and Dylan Scott at Vox. “Most of the freshmen come from swing districts,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), who beat four-term incumbent Republican Leonard Lance by 5 points in 2018. “We come from places where voters want us to focus on getting things done that can actually be achieved.”…Whatever you call it, these members are less interested in a 70 percent top tax rate or a Green New Deal than they are in passing targeted fixes to protect the Affordable Care Act and lower the cost of health care, promoting renewable energy, and maybe looking for an infrastructure deal to fix crumbling roads and boost rural broadband to speed up slow internet in their districts. They’re happy to discuss the more ambitious policy ideas animating the left, like Medicare-for-all, but they still have serious reservations.” However, “One unifying front among Democratic first-term House members, from the centrists in swing districts to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is cleaning up Washington. Many of them campaigned on that promise. House Democratic leadership is pushing a sweeping anti-corruption and voting rights plan, and first-term Democrats across the political spectrum want to see it passed.”

Dick Polman explains why “Democrats Are Newly Emboldened on Gun Control” at The Atlantic. Polman explains, “it appears that the ever-mounting national casualties—from Sandy Hook to Parkland to the Pittsburgh synagogue, with 116,000 shooting victims annually, 35,000 deaths annually, and historically high gun violence in schools—have undercut the NRA’s power and its purist defense of the Second Amendment…And Democratic confidence is abetted by the recent rise of the well-funded gun-reform movement helmed by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, and Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was seriously wounded in a mass shooting. Democrats are clearly more comfortable talking reform, knowing that the NRA is getting pushback at the grassroots level. Indeed, the NRA (which has its own problems right now, reportedly with Special Counsel Robert Mueller) and other gun-rights groups were actually outspent by gun-reform groups during the 2018 campaign, by roughly $2.4 million—a heretofore unthinkable development.”

Sen. Kamala Harris had the most impressive announcement roll-out of all the  presidential candidates thus far. Her charismatic gifts and skill set were displayed at the well-staged announcement event in Oakland, and the media coverage was broad and positive. Her “America, we are better than this” message recalls Jimmy Carter’s call for a government “as competent, as compassionate, as good” as the American people,” which resonated well in the wake of the Ford Administration and seems even more appropriate for our times. Some are skeptical about her rep as being a little too ‘tough on crime’  for many Dems. But that may prove to be an asset in the general election. One question mark is how well she learned the lessons of the 2016 Clinton campaign’s failures regarding the Electoral College and the Rust Belt. Even if she fails to capture the Democratic presidential nomination, however, she will likely be high on the winner’s short list for a running mate.

Besides Kamala Harris, California may soon have other credible presidential candidates, including Governor Gavin Newsome and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. In his article, “California: The State of Resistance” in The New York Review of Books, Michael Greenberg chonicles the rise of the Golden State as locus of progressive reforms and the political transformation that made it possible. Greenberg says “The California legislature’s rebellion against President Trump’s polices may be the most serious one that an individual state has mounted against the federal government since South Carolina threatened to secede over cotton tariffs in the 1830s…Democrats now hold every congressional seat, some of them in districts a Democrat had never won. Only seven of the state’s fifty-three congressional seats are now held by Republicans. (It’s worth noting that Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, and Devin Nunes, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee—both Californians and two of the most fanatical Trumpists in Congress—were reelected.) Today only 25.3 percent of registered voters in California are Republicans, a new low.” Greenberg notes that California also has the highest poverty rate of the 50 states, and a host of difficult social problems related to housing, immigration.

In “Why Are Democrats Freaking Out About “Electability?”Alex Shepard shares good news at The New Republic: “While Democrats are understandably scarred by 2016, the party has learned its lesson: There will be no coronation this time around, no stark contrast between two candidates representing their respective wings of the party. And while the 2020 primary thus will be crowded, it will be a marked contrast to the “clown car” Republican primary of 2016. For the next year, the Democrats will showcase a party that looks and sounds very different not only from the GOP, but from the Democratic Party of just a few years ago. Rather than a moment of anxiety, this should be a moment of hope and pride—and Republicans should be the ones feeling queasy…There’s no reason to believe that a lengthy debate about ideological differences in the party will be harmful. Democrats have been engaged in exactly that for the past two years, and they have paid little to no political price. They won 40 House seats in a historic midterm election, and every well-known Democrat currently leads Trump in early 2020 polling.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    Not surprising that this site is already endorsing centrism in the form of Kamala Harris, even going back to defending tough on crime triangulation.

    Hillary too argued that America was better than Trump and this site went along with the notion that her election was assured.

    Trump now made have made basically any Democrat electable, but the record of electing a centrist like Obama only to see them lose Congress two years later is very problematic.

    It led to the election of Trump.

    Why do the choices have to be between deranged GOP and status quo Democrats? It was not always like this.


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