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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Marshall Cohen, Ellie Kaufman and Lauren Fox share “Five takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s bombshell testimony,” including: “US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland changed the course of the House impeachment inquiry Wednesday, over the span of several hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee with the television cameras rolling for a global audience…Sondland recounted several conversations between himself and Trump about Ukraine opening two investigations: one into Burisma, a company where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son was on the board, and another into conspiracies about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 US election…Up to this point, a key Republican argument has been that none of the witnesses spoke directly with Trump and they offered only secondhand information. Sondland’s testimony about his many conversations with Trump on the matter are crucial to Democrats countering that talking point…While Sondland said Trump had never expressly told him that US military assistance was contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, the ambassador said he was “under the impression that, absolutely, it was contingent.” As for strategic implications, the Democratic hope is that Sondland’s testimony will compel a few Republicans who value the Constitution and those who can smell an impending GOP disaster to re-evaluate the wisdom of party discipline at all costs.

Meanwhile, another trio of CNN Politics scribes reveals “8 takeaways from the November Democratic debate.” Among the insights explored by Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Gregory Krieg: “Democratic voters are overwhelmingly focused on finding a candidate they believe can beat President Donald Trump. In Wednesday night’s debate, the party’s leading contenders offered their clearest arguments yet about how they plan to do that…Subtly jabbing their rivals, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris said that Democrats can’t win without rebuilding former President Barack Obama’s diverse coalition of supporters…”The question black women voters have for us as candidates is: Where you been, and what are you gonna do?” Harris said.” Sen. Harris sparkled more than any of the other candidates in the debate. But Sen. Amy Kobuchar “made her most forceful case yet that her history of winning in red and purple portions of the Midwest — despite the reality that in politics, “women have to work harder” — give her a strong claim to the centrist lane in the 2020 primary field.”

In “Your blow-by-blow Twitter recap of the fifth Democratic debate, Jessica Sutherland’s exhaustive coverage of the debate at Daily Kos notes: “The debate’s all-woman moderation team featured Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, Ashley Parker of WaPo, and NBC White House Correspondent Kristen Welker…Maddow kicked things off with impeachment, of course, noting Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s bombshell revelations about the military aid-for-Biden investigation agreement Donald Trump sought from Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky…Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked if she would convict the president.Warren didn’t hesitate to agree, told people telling people to “Read the Mueller report.” Further she vowed to never take a big donation and give anyone an ambassadorship in exchange for it…Minnesota Sen. Klobuchar called out Trump’s “impeachable conduct,” vowing to look at each count and make a decision. She asserted that the impeachment is about saving democracy, noting that “This is a pattern with this man.” Quoting Walter Mondale’s “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace,” she declared that the minimum standard that Donald Trump is failing to meet…Next, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders almly called Trump “corrupt” before warning against becoming obsessed with him. He shifted to healthcare and wealth inequality, before demanding that legislators “walk and chew gum at the same time.”…South Bend Mayer Pete Buttigieg asserted that Trump’s conduct was appalling, before making a similar call for legislators to forward the impeachment inquiry while also legislating.

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s take on the Atlanta debate, in his Washington Post column: “Imagine a debate that drove the political pundits crazy and warmed the hearts of policy wonks and voters curious about how politicians might solve problems. What would it be like to have presidential candidates score few points against each other but lay out in some detail what they’d do about family leave, housing, climate change, voting rights and a slew of other issues?…You don’t have to imagine. That pretty well describes the fifth Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night. It covered a much broader range of concerns than the earlier encounters, including an extensive set of queries on foreign policy. While the contenders tangled over a few issues — notably, as always, health care — they avoided fireworks, cracked the occasional joke (Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota especially) and spent far more time in vehement agreement than they did in loud disagreement.”

“This was the debate that sent a signal that Democrats differ far more with Trump and the Republicans than they do with each other,” Dionne explains. “The question that came to mind after some of the harsh and more narrowly focused brawls earlier in the year was: How could this party possibly unite? The question that dominated on Wednesday was: Do these contenders really disagree all that much?…Of course, they do disagree, as Warren and Sanders especially wanted to make clear by way of contrast with their more moderate adversaries. But it was a salutary break from an all-Trump, all-the-time Washington to hear discourses on how to build houses, how to make college affordable and how to help families care for their kids. It offered hope that politics might, someday, be about more than the antics of a self-involved, corrupt and out-of-control chief executive.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was overshadowed in the debate by the fireworks between Sen Harris and Rep Gabbard and then Sen. Booker and former Vice President Biden. It was a rough day for Warren, who was also sharply criticized in Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT column, “The Danger of Elizabeth Warren: Even if she wins the presidency — hardly a sure bet — she may jeopardize Democrats in the House and the Senate.” As Edall writes, “Under pressure, Elizabeth Warren has retreated from the idea of immediate implementation of Medicare for All, but she remains committed to the progressive core of her candidacy.” However, notes Edsall, “polarizing candidates diminish turnout in their own party while boosting turnout among opposing partisans…Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, analyzed the pattern of Democratic victories in 2018 House races and found that “those who supported Medicare for All performed worse than those who did not, even when controlling for other factors…As much as the Warren program has mobilized many Democratic primary voters, polls show that significant numbers of swing voters — wavering Republicans repelled by President Trump and moderate to conservative Democrats — do not share Warren’s appetite for major structural change, preferring incremental change and the repair of existing programs, like Obamacare.”

Edsall continues, “Strategically, if Warren wins the Democratic nomination, the election would become not only a referendum on Trump — favorable terrain for Democrats — but also a referendum on Warren’s program, a far less certain proposition…A presidential campaign based on the set of proposals Warren has put forward faces not only an assault from the right, but a mixed reception from the extensive network of Democratic policy mavens, including a number of economists…“Many of Senator Warren’s proposals are indeed radical and could have unintended consequences,” Jeffrey Frankel, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, wrote by email. He added: ‘I fear that by far the worst of the unintended consequences of making these proposals during the campaign is to get Donald Trump re-elected.'”

“On Nov. 15, Warren announced that if elected, she would wait until her third year in office to “fight to pass legislation that would complete the transition to full Medicare for All,” Edsall notes. “Warren’s new stance appears to be an acknowledgment of the fact that her proposal to replace all health private coverage with Medicare for All does not carry majority support even among Democratic primary voters, a liberal constituency, much less the general electorate…In a survey released on Oct. 19, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that ‘more Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer voting for a candidate who wants to build on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in order to expand coverage and reduce costs rather than replace the ACA with a national Medicare-for-all plan…In addition, Kaiser ‘found broad support for proposals that expand the role of public programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as a government-administered public option. And while partisans are divided on a Medicare-for-all national health plan, there is robust support among Democrats, and even support among Republicans, for an expansion of the Medicare program through a Medicare buy-in or a Medicaid buy-in proposal.”

In closing this edition of Political Strategy Notes, Russell Berman warns at The Atlantic: “it was left to the two black candidates onstage last night, Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, to warn their fellow candidates—and voters watching at home—that they take black voters, and especially black women, for granted at their peril. The issue came up initially when Harris was asked about her criticism of Buttigieg’s campaign after it published a stock photo of two black people who were from Kenya, not the United States. Harris declined to re-litigate that mini controversy, instead using the moment to bring up the Democratic Party’s historic neglect of black women. “The larger issue,” she said, “is that for too long, I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party. And have overlooked those constituencies. And they show up when it’s, you know, close to election time, and show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before…Both Booker and Harris might fall short in their own candidacies for president, but they delivered a message last night that as they seek to energize black voters, Democrats still have more work to do.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Candace on

    “Democratic voters are overwhelmingly focused on finding a candidate they believe can beat President Donald Trump. In Wednesday night’s debate, the party’s leading contenders offered their clearest arguments yet about how they plan to do that”

    How are these debates supposed to help Americans figure out who should replace the current president? The size of the group makes it impossible for a debate or for there to be any interesting discussions or answers.
    Having viral moments or failing to perform well says nothing about what kind of president they’d be. Sticking to their script isn’t much better.

    The entire thing feels more like some kind of pageant where Trump has already grabbed a few behinds. And really how could we possibly know who would be the best person to go against the Republican nominee until we see them in their evening wear? If no one looks good enough on this stage we need more candidates!

    Trump is one person, not 10.. 12 (?) None of them are like him. Republicans aren’t in the audience. Its nutty for anyone to think that what defines success in this environment would translate into a win against Trump (or whoever the Republican nominee is)


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