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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares some short takes on the candidate strategies for the first Democratic presidential debates beginning this week. He cautions front-runner Biden that “Thursday night is now a big deal, thanks to Biden’s unforced error in hauling his relationships with onetime senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge out of the segregationist past…This was political malpractice. Biden’s lead in the polls is built on overwhelming support from African Americans, as my Brookings Institution colleague William Galston detailed. Yet it appeared more important to Biden to make his “I can work with everybody” point the way he felt like making it than to protect his greatest political asset: the trust and affection of black voters…He’ll have to work hard in the debate to reinforce his loyalists in the black community while showing all Democrats he has the discipline to go the distance.”

At Time, Jennifer Palmieri, a veteran Democratic debate coach, writes that “on the debate stage, the front runners will have to answer the moderators as well as face the specter of attacks from other candidates. Not that I recommend going after the other candidates in this first outing, particularly Biden. He’s the front runner for a reason–people like him. If attacks on him or his record aren’t delivered deftly, they will elevate him and make the attacker look desperate. Attacking front runners–particularly in early debates–is tricky to pull off…Start by using journalists’ interest in the lead-up to the debate to reset your message and rationale with the press. Second, lay down your best arguments in the debate, and plant some seeds for issues you want to come back to on the trail and in future debates. Third, pick a couple of moments coming out of the debate to capitalize on–great ones by you or openings from an opponent’s gaffe–to drive your message in the next few weeks. Fourth, come back in July and do it again.”

Anyone who is expecting an in-depth debate, however, is likely to be diappointed. As Peter Funt puts it in his article, “Impeachment, socialism and Biden-baiting: What to look for at the 2020 Democratic debates” at USA Today: “Fact is, the word “debate” is misappropriated in this event since genuine back-and-forth on key issues is virtually impossible with so many participants. A hint of what the mashup is likely to resemble came earlier this month at Iowa’s Hall of Fame gathering in Cedar Rapids. The 19 candidates were each given a carefully-timed five minutes to introduce themselves, and most mixed predictable anti-Trump rhetoric with a dash of progressive policy. The upshot: All 19 were in general agreement in what amounted to a lightning round. Or, as Carrie Ball of Cedar Rapids summed it up in the Des Moines Register, “It’s like a carnival.”

But the most important take-away from the debates this week may be what the debates do for the Democratic Party, not individual candidates. Although African and Latino Americans and women are not quite at parity level among presidential candidates, Dems have never had a broader showcase for the field, in stark contrast to the GOP.  Also, having  several impressive younger candidates is a big plus, even if one of the older candidates wins the nomination. As Oliver Darcy notes at CNN Politics: “”We’ll actually see all these candidates on stage together,” WaPo W.H. reporter Toluse Olorunnipa said on “Inside Politics” Sunday morning. “We’ll have a historic number of minorities, we’ll have veterans, people born in the 1940s all the way through the 1980s. It will be a very historic moment just to see that on the stage together…”Americans who tune in to the two-night debate will see something else unprecedented: multiple women candidates appearing on the debate stage at the same time,” Barbara Lee writes in an analysis piece for NBC’s Think vertical. “Research has shown that critical mass makes a difference in being taken seriously: Two or more women or minority candidates have a better shot at getting hired than one alone…”

Micah Zenko has “A Foreign Policy Cheat Sheet for the Democratic Debates” at foreignpolicy.com, in which he presents 12 questions with follow-ups, including some tough ones: “What is it exactly about these forever wars that you oppose? Is it their initial intervention decisions, how they have been conducted, that they have not been effective, that they are relatively open-ended, or something else?” and “What would be the expected roles and responsibilities of mutual defense treaty allies in your grand strategy? Would you expect they further increase their defense spending or enhance reimbursements to the United States? Would you commit to coming to a treaty ally’s defense during militarized disputes over territory that the United States does not recognize as belonging to that ally?”

Early though it is for Democrats to make hard and fast decisions about presidential campaign resource  allocation, Nathaniel Rakich’s post, “No, Florida is not redder than Texas” at FiveThirtyEight provides an instructive preview of one major choice Dems will have to make abut the southern states:

Florida is still bluer than Texas

How five presidential candidates performed against Trump in hypothetical general-election matchups in Florida and Texas vs. nationally

Biden D+13 D+9 R+4
Sanders D+9 D+6 R+3
Warren D+7 D+4 R+3
Harris D+8 D+1 R+7
Buttigieg D+5 D+1 R+4
Average R+4
Biden D+13 D+4 R+9
Sanders D+9 R+3 R+12
Warren D+7 R+1 R+8
Harris D+8 R+4 R+12
Buttigieg D+5 R+2 R+7
Average R+10


From Scott Bland’s “Democratic group’s poll shows Trump vulnerable with his base on health care: American Bridge is planning a $50 million advertising campaign targeting small-town Trump supporters and swing voters” at Politico: “The battleground-state polling is a new step in American Bridge’s plans to target Trump voters in small towns and rural areas with ads linking local events to unpopular Trump policies. The group’s president, Bradley Beychok, is not aiming to win a majority of those people in 2020. But even making modest inroads with these voters compared to 2016 would be a huge boost to the party’s hopes of beating Trump next year…“We’re trying to go from losing these segments [of voters] 85-15 to maybe 75-25,” Beychok said, acknowledging that, even if the project succeeds, the party will still likely lose that segment badly. “2018 gave us some good indications, and there’s data that these voters are attainable. But they want you to reach them and speak to them in a localized manner. You have to compete for these folks every day, and you can’t wait until the general…There’s this construct in the Democratic Party: focus on the base, or focus on white working-class voters,” Beychok said. “The idea you can’t do both is false.”

Are Democratic politicians too conflict-averse? Alex Pareene thinks so, and writes in his article “Give War a Chance: In search of the Democratic Party’s fighting spirit” at the New Republic: “The celebration of charismatic, conflict-averse uniters in Democratic-led White Houses omits a key, and punishing, shift in Democratic politics from anything resembling a viable effort to build a long-term majoritarian liberal coalition. Over the past two decades, Democrats steadily lost disaffected former supporters, while failing to consistently mobilize young or economically precarious people alienated from the entire political process, as the Republican Party increasingly became a nihilistic, anti-democratic machine designed to bamboozle a white elderly base and thwart the desires of the larger public for the sake of an entrenched oligarchy.
..All the while, Democratic leaders continue to campaign and govern from a crouched, defensive position even after they win power.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    The actual issues of the day on foreign policy are (in order):
    1. A strategy to remain more powerful than China
    2. Globalization and free trade
    3. Containing damage from Russia to liberal democracies all over the world (with a special focus on Eastern Europe and countries like Italy)
    4. How to relate to “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Turkey

    The Middle East wars are proxy fights over these bigger conflicts.


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