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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Joseph O’Neill’s review article “No More Nice Dems” at The New York Review of Books provides an insightful exploration of the GOP’s domination of state governments. A nugget: “And it’s not as if red-state governments have been better. For at least a quarter-century, GDP growth in blue states has exceeded that in red states. Living standards—educational attainment, household income, life expectancy, tax equity—tend to be distinctly higher in blue states. These disparities are mitigated by what economists call “fiscal flows”—blue staters subsidizing red staters in the form of federal taxes. When states go all-in on Republican economic strategies, not even fiscal flows can avert disaster, as the fates of Kansas and Oklahoma have revealed. Some red states even reject fiscal flows: fourteen have refused the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, with predictable consequences. If you wanted to tank the country, or part of it, your best bet would be to get Republicans to run things.”

O’Neill continues: “Republican dominance represents an extraordinary political overperformance. Republican state governments strongly align themselves with the national party leadership—and by conventional measures, and certainly by comparison with the Clinton and Obama administrations, the national GOP has long been a disaster. Every Republican administration from Reagan onward has crashed the economy and exploded deficits. (Trump has already achieved the latter.) Their track record on health care is one of failure. Their handling of national security has been catastrophic (see the September 11 attacks, the rise of ISIS, Trump-Russia, climate change). Their criminality and corruption is scandalous: fraud, perjury, bribery, Boland Amendment violations during the Iran–contra affair, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, theft, and misuse of public funds are just some of the crimes committed by Republican administration officials and operatives—and that’s without counting those chalked up under Nixon and Trump.”

O’Neill, quotes from Meaghan Winter’s  All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States and observes, “As David Callahan, founder of Inside Philanthropy, said, most foundation grant makers end up “thinking like a social worker instead of thinking like a Bolshevik,” the very opposite of the approach taken by those doling out the Koch and Mercer fortunes…Thus the problem isn’t money: “The annual spending of centrist and left-leaning foundations far exceeds the annual spending of the conservative Heritage Foundation or the Scaife Family Foundation.” The problem is that, for around half a century, right-wing donors have spent their money more productively. They have created and supported entities (the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the State Policy Network, Americans for Prosperity, the Federalist Society, etc.) dedicated to developing durable structures of power and fanaticism. Most significantly, they have gradually taken control of state offices—the offices responsible not only for redistricting but for elections and voter registration, for state jurisprudence, and for the local regulation of abortion, health care, workers’ rights, and gun safety.

As for Republican strategy at the state level, “It can’t be disputed that this effort has worked,” O’Neill adds. “Indeed, it has produced a kind of Bolshevik dreamland in which a few billionaire hypercapitalists and libertarian extremists oversee a sizable cadre of professional ideologues and organizers who do the boring, technical, and persistent work of radicalizing, training, rewarding, and controlling conservative legislators, policy theorists, media figures, propagandists, administrators, evangelists, and judges. This produces a self-sustaining vanguard with real power, real expertise, and a ferocious dedication to victory that increasingly surpasses any allegiance to the ethical and civic norms associated with a modern democracy. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, intellectually dishonest judicial rulings, and systematic disinformation are now essential Republican tactics. There’s a reason why the GOP, for all its substantive uselessness, is such a formidable political foe. It plays to win.”

Tom Dickinson notes at Rolling Stone, “Republicans currently hold a three-seat edge in the Senate, 53 to 47. At first glance, the 2020 electoral map looks favorable to Democrats. Republicans must defend 23 seats to the Democrats’ 12. But the terrain is challenging: 20 of the GOP incumbents hail from states Trump carried in 2016…In 2016, every Senate contest went in the direction of the presidential vote…Still, nonpartisan analysts like Democratic chances. “The Senate’s in play,” says Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, which handicaps federal races. “Democrats have enough takeover opportunities to get there without having to win everything on the table.”

“But for progressives in 2020,” Dickinson says, “Mitch McConnell’s seat in Kentucky is the holy grail. Trump took the state by 30 points in 2016, but a Democrat claimed victory in the governor’s race in November. The senator’s approval rating in the state — 33 percent — is nearly as bad as defeated incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin’s. McConnell’s opponent, retired Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a former F/A-18 fighter pilot, is fresh off a competitive 2018 House race and raising money like a presidential candidate — $10.7 million in the third quarter. McGrath is casting McConnell as a creature of Washington, bought by special interests, who has “turned his back on the people of Kentucky” and failed to deliver on bread-and-butter issues from infrastructure to the opioid crisis. “The guy’s been around 34 years,” she tells Rolling Stone. “If he cared about this stuff, something would have been done already.” McConnell runs strong campaigns and won’t lack for resources, but in a recent survey he was up by just one point, within the margin of error.”

In his Monday campaign round-up, Steve Benen notes at Maddow Blog: “Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the only 2020 Democratic candidate to have won a statewide election in a red state, ended his presidential campaign this morning. His departure means that former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is the only current or former governor in the race…former Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania ended his Democratic campaign yesterday…the party’s 2020 field now stands at 16 candidates…The Associated Press reported over the holiday weekend that a super PAC formed to support Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential campaign is shutting down. The report added, “The group’s founder, San Francisco lawyer Steve Phillips, indicated in a news release Wednesday that Dream United had struggled to raise money.”…Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign picked up a new congressional supporter over the weekend with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) endorsing the senator, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose Democratic presidential bid has struggled badly to earn support from minority communities, worshiped yesterday at North Carolina’s Greenleaf Christian Church, which is pastored by the Rev. William J. Barber II.”

At Roll Call, Nathan Gonzales explains “House ratings changes: A dozen races shift toward Democrats,” and observes, “With a combination of Republicans’ self-inflicted wounds, slow recruiting, or suburbs continuing to shift against the president, Democratic chances of winning improved in a dozen House races in recent weeks.” Gonzales bullet-points individual House races, and adds, “the 2020 House battlefield now includes 39 vulnerable Democratic seats, 30 vulnerable Republican seats, and former Republican/independent Justin Amash’s district in Michigan…There’s still time for Trump’s standing to improve enough to boost lower-tier House GOP candidates, for a significant backlash to develop against Democrats for pursuing Trump’s impeachment, or for GOP House candidates to strengthen their campaigns. But right now, Democrats are most likely to maintain their majority in the next Congress.”

Ronald Brownstein addresses a critical question at The Atlantic,”Will John Roberts Constrain Trump? “Few questions may shape the president’s remaining tenure more than how often the chief justice steps in to limit executive powers.” Brownstein writes, “whether Trump stays in office for one more year or five, one of the key variables will be whether Roberts’s ruling in the census case was an exception or a signal of his determination to limit presidential authority. Most observers consider it unlikely that any of the four other Republican-appointed justices—including Trump’s two nominees—will break from the president on many, if any, big cases.” Loyola Law professor Jessica Levinson notes that “Roberts has far more often expressed support for broad executive authority of the sort Trump is asserting, she says. Asked how much of an impediment she expects Roberts to pose, she said, “Based on his public comments and his writings in other previous cases, I think the indication is not that much.”…The one countervailing force, Levinson and other experts noted, is Roberts’s reluctance to have the Court viewed as simply another extension of the partisan conflict between Republicans and Democrats. His attempt to avoid that characterization led Roberts to publicly rebuke Trump last summer for insisting that there are “Obama judges” and “Trump judges.”…But that consideration was not enough to dissuade Roberts from participating in other five-four party-line decisions that have dealt with Trump’s powers. “We are kidding ourselves that he is a moderate,” Levinson said. “Let’s none of us pretend that he doesn’t have a view of broad executive power.”..Still, Roberts could ultimately be the last man standing in the GOP with the ability to say no to a president who barrels through law and custom. Few questions may shape Trump’s remaining tenure more than how often Roberts steps into the breach.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    The reason Republicans are coherent is because primarying from the right is accepted.

    On the left the vast majority of Democrats abhor primary challenges.


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