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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

A lot of Democrats are worried about political backlash in response to protest violence, particularly in Portland, Oregon. At CNN Politics, Paul LeBlanc reports on Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s counter-attack to Trump’s efforts to gin up backlash, and Wheeler’s blistering indictment provides a pretty good messaging template for progressives to tweak as needed: “The Democratic mayor of Portland, Oregon, said Sunday it is President Donald Trump who “created the hate” in an unyielding attack on the White House following a shooting at a protest that left one person dead…Speaking at a news conference, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked, “Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?”…It’s you who have created the hate and the division. It’s you who have not found a way to say the names of Black people killed by police officers even as people in law enforcement have. And it’s you who claimed that White supremacists are good people,” he continued. “Your campaign of fear is as anti-democratic as anything you’ve done to create hate and vitriol in our beautiful country.”

Not bad. But Wheeler brings even more heat, as LeBlanc notes: “Addressing Trump personally, Wheeler lamented that “for four years we’ve had to live with you and your racist attacks on Black people.”…”We learned early about your sexist attitudes toward women. We’ve had to endure clips of you mocking a disabled man. We’ve had to listen to your anti-democratic attacks on journalists. We’ve read your tweets slamming private citizens to the point of receiving death threats, and we’ve listened to your attacks on immigrants,” he said….”We’ve listened to you label Mexicans ‘rapists.’ We’ve heard you say that John McCain wasn’t a hero because he was a prisoner of war. And now, you’re attacking Democratic mayors and the very institutions of Democracy that have served this nation well since its founding.”…”President Trump, you bring no peace. You bring no respect to our Democracy. You, Mr. President, need to do your job as the leader of this nation and I, Mr. President, will do my job as the mayor of this city,” he said…”And we will both be held accountable, as we should.”

We are also seeing some sharp counter-attacks to Trump’s GOP convention whining about how things are gonna get really bad if Biden wins. Wheeler’s inarguable point that “this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence” warrants disciplined repetition from Democrats and progressives. Place the blame where it belongs, on Trump, because if Dems don’t do so, he will win the messaging war. But Democrats must also highlight Trump’s failed economic leadership, including his threats to gut Social Security and Medicare, in clear contrast to Biden’s plan to strengthen these critical programs, as well as Biden’s plan to address the Covid-19 pandemic, put 12 million Americans back to work revitalizing America’s infrastructure and make it possible to re-open schools safely. As Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics puts it, “The goal of the next president will be to get back to full employment as fast as possible…Biden will get there a lot faster than Trump will.”

Nathaniel Rakich reports at FiveThirtyEight that “Biden’s Voters Appear Far More Likely To Vote By Mail Than Trump’s. That Could Make For A Weird Election Night.” As Rakich writes, “amid saturation coverage of problems with the U.S. Postal Service, new polling from CNBC/Change Research suggests that the number of Americans planning to vote by mail has ticked down. In early August, 38 percent of voters in six battleground states1 said they planned to vote by mail. But in the pollster’s just-released Aug. 21-23 poll, the number of voters in those states saying they planned to vote by mail was down to 33 percent. Among all voters nationwide, the share planning to vote by mail went from 36 percent to 33 percent — although that drop was within the poll’s margin of error…Other recent polls agree that about a third of voters intend to vote by mail this year…Democrats are much likelier than Republicans to say they will vote by mail…”

In Other Polling Bites, Rakich notes, “According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.1 points). At this time last week, 41.8 percent approved and 54.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -12.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.8 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.6 points.”

In his article, “Many Are Afraid To Say It, but This Is Not a Close Race,” Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report calls out “political analysts, pollsters, and pundits who refuse to state publicly what the data plainly show: that it is very, very unlikely Trump will win 270 electoral votes and the election…Go through the top-line results of high-quality polls such as those from ABC News/Washington PostCNNFox News, and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, to name just four, and you’ll find that majorities of voters do not like Trump personally, they do not approve of his handling of the job overall, and they disapprove of his entire approach to the coronavirus. When asked about personal attributes, Trump fares poorly in most surveys and trails Biden in most of the categories when the two are compared. He trails Biden by about 10 percentage points nationally in the higher-quality surveys and is behind by at least 5 points in all 20 states that Hillary Clinton carried (plus D.C.), as well as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those states alone total 307 electoral votes.”

Cook concedes, “Yes, there are things that could tilt this race: shenanigans at the Postal Service, voter confusion about how to vote, states’ inability to process and count ballots on time, to name a few. But the race has to get much closer before these can possibly make a difference in a few key states…Trump was the candidate of change in 2016. Now, Americans are very unhappy with where the country is and how he has handled his tenure. How does an incumbent prevail in the face of this? I just don’t see how the reasons why Trump was underestimated then still apply now. This shoe is on a different foot. So I am going to be like the kid saying that the emperor has no clothes…A focused and disciplined incumbent president could climb out of this hole. But not one who too often seems to be his own worst enemy.”

However, Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. warns, “Don’t let Trump’s distractions bury his record,” and writes, “The post-2016 language about liberals, Democrats, “elites” and the media “not understanding” the “values” of White working- and middle-class class Americans in the Midwest is back in force. The disorder in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake and now the killing in Portland over the weekend are assumed to be helpful to Trump, even though Biden pointed out, rather logically, that this mayhem is happening on Trump’s watch…On Sunday, Biden unequivocally condemned “violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right,” and also denounced Trump for “fanning the flames of hate and division in our society and using the politics of fear to whip up his supporters…

Dionne adds, “The Biden camp needs to show persuadable Trump voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania just how little the president has achieved for them. (A good start: a Biden ad that aired during the last night of the GOP convention showing Trump in the gold-gilded cage of one of his properties.) There should be more focus on issues that appeal across racial lines: jobs, wages, mobility, education and dignity…Of course, Biden has some careful lines to walk on the ongoing violence. But his strong statement over the weekend showed that this is something he doesn’t need to be told…What he can’t do is give in to narratives that cast advocates of civil rights as being on the defensive, which would force him to run a campaign on Trump’s turf. Right now, it’s Trump who looks exhausted by his job, over his head, and scrambling for excuses and diversions. Biden must keep things that way.”

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