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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In “How Democrats Can Avoid Turning Their Presidential Primaries into a Circular Firing Squad” at The American Prospect, Steve Rosenthal offers four “Political Rules of Engagement,” which can help insure victory for Dems in 2020, including: Rule 1: Don’t try to stifle new ideas, new opinions, or new plans (“Trump, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and some in the media are painting new ideas from the Democratic camp as “socialist” and “fringe.” They will suggest that the views of every single elected Democrat represents the views of the entire party. This will only work if Democrats take the bait, turn on each other, and, so to speak, eat their young.”); Rule 2: Democrats need a robust debate on the issues instead of misleading or attack ads aimed at tearing each other down (“any debate or opposition should be primarily about the issues, not about attacking each other’s character or running misleading ads to score political points. It’s unhelpful, its counterproductive, and voters see right through it.”); Rule 3: “The Two-for-One-Rule” (“If a candidate spoke negatively about an opponent, people in the audience could remind her or him of the “Two-for-One Rule,” thus compelling the candidate to then say two positive things about their opponent”); and Rule 4: Every Democratic candidate should sign a pledge that they will give their wholehearted support to whoever eventually wins the party’s nomination (“Every Democratic candidate who doesn’t win the nomination should campaign full-time for the party ticket in the fall, as if they were the nominee.”)

At FiveThirtyEight, Perry Bacon Jr. explains why “Elizabeth Warren’s Ideas Could Win The Democratic Primary — Even If She Doesn’t.” Bacon writes that “Warren is likely to be at the forefront of the “policy primary,”– the one-time Harvard professor is perhaps the wonkiest person in the field. And Warren knows how to push her ideas onto the national agenda quite well…The Massachusetts senator appears poised to serve as a progressive policy anchor in the 2020 Democratic field, pushing the field — and the eventual nominee — toward aggressively liberal policy stands…How might Warren have such influence? Because the Massachusetts senator is planning to release detailed and decidedly liberal policy proposals on issue after issue. Her rivals, if past primary campaigns are any guide, will feel pressure to either “match” her on policy by coming up with their own proposals, say that they agree with Warren, or convince the party’s increasingly left-leaning electorate that Warren’s proposals are too liberal.”

At CNN Politics, Grace Sparks reports that “New research from Gallup released Tuesday reveals the party is getting less white, more educated, less religious and progressively more liberal since 2001. Notably, the party’s liberal shift is mostly driven by white Democrats, while nonwhite Democrats make up a larger share of the moderate and conservative wings of the party…In the last six years, more than half of white Democrats, 54%, identified themselves as “liberal.” That’s a 20-point jump from the average in 2001-2006. By comparison, the percentage of Hispanic Democrats and black Democrats identifying as liberal grew 9 points and 8 points, respectively, in that same time frame…College-educated Democrats have long been more likely to identify as liberal than those without college degrees, and the percentage of Democrats who reported having a college education grew 17 points from 2001-2006 to 2013-2018…Those educated groups have grown increasingly liberal over lime, with the percentage of Democrats with college degrees who identify as liberal jumping 16 points from 2001-2006 to 2013-2018. The percentage of Democrats with post-graduate degrees identifying as liberal also jumped 13 points in that time frame, outpacing the growth among people with some college education (12 points) and no college education (10 points).”

“The nascent 2020 campaign is shaping up to be all about radical ideas on the left, with candidates looking toward a populist, progressive agenda that’s distinct from the centrist politics of previous election cycles,” reports Lydia DePillis at CNN Politics. “Already, Democratic presidential contenders have proposed everything from requiring worker representation on corporate boards to strongly discouraging stock buybacks, along with almost uniformly agreeing with the need to provide some kind of public option for healthcare and invest in a “Green New Deal” to fight climate change. Free college, which Sanders floated in 2016, has become a litmus test; and this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed introducing free childcare starting from birth…That means that, all of a sudden, the academics who’ve been quietly working on those ideas for years now are finding an eager audience. Take University of Georgia law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, who has long advocated for allowing the US Postal Service to function as a bank in order to create a public option for financial services — an idea USPS has indicated it would be open to pursuing.”

John Nichols writes at The Nation: “Just as there was in the 1930s, and in the 1960s, there is now an opening for the Democratic Party to fill a void in our politics and policy-making. But to fill that void, the party must be willing to embrace at least some ideas that have been labeled as “socialist”—and to maintain the embrace even when a Herbert Hoover or a Barry Goldwater or a Donald Trump attacks. Social Security was described as a “socialist” program, but FDR fought for and implemented it. Medicare was attacked as a “socialist” program, but LBJ fought for and implemented it. Major strides on behalf of racial justice, gender equity, disability rights, and environmental protection, to implement fair taxation and to provide a safety net, were often decried by the right as “socialist” initiatives—as backers of a Green New Deal are now learning—but, as these policies have been advanced, society has come to the point even centrists and some conservatives recognize their value.”

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait has a salient comment on the Republicans’s resurrected Socialist Bogeyman: “Possible Democratic presidential nominees Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Beto O’Rourke have all explicitly disavowed the socialist label. Last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bluntly told one questioner that the Democratic Party is capitalist…I am old enough to remember when Pelosi was the prototype of the far-left ideology that would make Democrats radioactive in swing districts. (That was less than three months ago.) It is actually a form of progress that the liberal bogeyman has been replaced by the socialist bogeyman. For one thing, it’s much easier for Democrats to triangulate against socialism than it was for them to triangulate against liberalism. Trump’s campaign has given Democrats an easy way to position themselves in the center. All they need to do is say they believe in a role for free markets and reject socialism.”

Also at New York, Ed Kilgore weighs in on the socialism vs. capitalism hoo-ha with another sobering observation: “No, the term “socialism” doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of Americans the way it did during the Cold War, and that’s a good thing for anyone who believes the promise of this country requires a less neurotically intense allergy to government activism in the national interest. But Democrats are making it clear that support for social democratic staples like single-payer health care or aggressive bank regulation are drawn from the practical needs of the citizenry, not perusal of dusty pamphlets from the early-20-century British Fabian Society or any other ideological template. Perhaps Sanders and AOC will yet make American politics safe for socialism writ large. But in the meantime, a progressive take on democratic capitalism is likely to prevail in the marketplace of ideas.”

Even as a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. in the wake of McCarthyism, I became aware that the Socialist Bogeyman was weaponized to bash liberals, smother free speech and destroy lives. Back then, many Republicans preferred to trot out the Communist Bogeyman, but today’s Republicans are mostly content to conflate the terms. My hunch is that most voters who would be receptive to such smear campaigns in 2020 are going to vote Republican anyway. One swing constituency I would worry some about is the estimated 120 million small business operators and their employees, some of whom may associate the term with high taxes and burdensome regulations. Small businessmen and women have much to gain from being relieved of health insurance headaches by a more accessible government alternative, and that’s a net plus for Democrats. But it might help if Dems offered them some additional tax incentives and relief from over-regulation. It can’t hurt to make the Democractic ‘brand’ more small business-friendly in any case.

Kevin Drum reports that “North Carolina Vote Fraud Case Takes a Dramatic Turn Against Republican Candidate” at Mother Jones. Drum notes that “Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th district, has a son. And that son, John Harris, is an attorney. Not just any attorney, either: he’s an assistant US attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina. Today he testified about McCrae Dowless, the campaign operative hired by his father to get out the Republican vote: …First in a phone call and then in subsequent emails, the younger Harris warned his father of both political and legal ramifications of hiring Dowless….He spoke to his parents on April 7, 2017, a day after the candidate met with Dowless. “I told him that collecting absentee ballots was a felony,” John Harris said, “and I would send him the statute that collecting ballots was a felony.”…This certainly seems to change things from “poor Mark Harris was duped by McRae Dowless” to “Mark Harris knowingly hired a guy to perform ballot harvesting.” Stay tuned.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Martin Lawford on

    “Small businessmen and women have much to gain from being relieved of health insurance headaches by a more accessible government alternative…”

    We promised them that in 2010, remember? President Obama predicted that the Affordable Care Act would save the average small business $3,000 a year in employee health insurance expenses. Instead, two out of three small businesses saw their medical insurance premiums rise (source: CMS). Now the Democrats who have announced for President are promoting platform planks such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and mandating paid parental leave for employees. Senator Clinton gained just 40% of the small business owner vote in 2016. Her successors who have announced for President are promoting so many policies to the detriment of small business owners that the next Democratic nominee is unlikely to do even that well in this bloc of voters.


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