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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Here’s a Smarter Way for Biden to Attack Trump: Don’t just call him a bad person (that’s old hat). Call him a bad populist,” at Bloomberg Opinion, conservative pundit Ramesh Ponnuru has a messaging tip for Biden: “Trump poses an unusual problem for his opposition. He’s “a target-rich environment,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He has befuddled his opponents by giving them too much to react to. It keeps the Democrats from having a disciplined message about why Trump sucks.”…Depending on the news cycle, the anti-Trump message may be that he is a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or a racist, or a threat to democracy, or a failure, or a bad person, or a golfer. His Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, seems convinced much of the time that most voters have already rejected Trump as unfit for the presidency and that he need only establish himself as a decent alternative. He may be right. A similar campaign strategy might have worked in 2016, too, if the Democratic nominee that year, Hillary Clinton, had not been so widely disliked.”

“If the race gets tight, though,” Ponnuru continues, “Biden may have to tighten his focus, or find himself wishing that he had done it earlier. Already each sign that Trump is closing the gap in the polls, especially in swing states, is giving panic attacks to Biden supporters who don’t want to relive the surprise of election night four years ago…Biden will have to continue to make the case that Trump has failed the country: That’s part of any challenger’s campaign against an incumbent president. And while voters generally have firm views on how well Trump has performed, it is more plausible that some of them will change their views on that question than on his basic character in the remaining weeks of the campaign. But such changes in opinion are more likely to result from changes in condition — in the state of the economy, and in the course of the coronavirus — than from anything either campaign says…What might make a difference, though, would be for Biden to make the case that Trump’s populism is a scam: that he says he’s fighting for Americans, but is really in it only for himself and his friends. The night he was elected he promised to stand for “the forgotten men and women of our country,” but then immediately surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs alums.”

“This type of criticism overlaps with some of the other attacks on Trump,” Ponnuru adds, “It touches on his dishonesty and his failure to deliver on promises. Without being narrowly addressed to white working class voters in the Midwest, it speaks directly to some of the people who backed Trump last time after having voted for Democrats previously. It takes their concerns seriously, and gives them a reason to change their minds instead of trying to shame them for giving Trump a chance. At the same time, it doesn’t alienate other types of voters that Biden needs, such as those who voted for third parties last time…And if that’s not enough to appeal to Biden and his aides, they should reflect that criticizing Trump this way is sure to drive him to new heights of rage.”

From “Biden outlines post-Labor Day strategy to win White House” by Amie Parnes at The Hill: “Joe Biden’s campaign plans to double-down on its strategy in the final two months of the campaign, ramping up the argument that President Trumpowns the coronavirus response and record-high unemployment facing the nation…During the all-important post Labor Day stretch, Biden plans to hit the road, as he has started to do in recent days, traveling to key swing states to hammer home those arguments…They also want to underscore a message casting Trump as a reprehensible president unfit to lead the country or command the troops…Another Biden ally close to the campaign put it this way: “Our message is working. We are systematically addressing the biggest problems on people’s minds,” including the pandemic, the economy and racial inequality…Another “longtime Biden ally” said “We need to keep saying ‘Look at Trump’s America. Look what’s happened during his time in office.’ This isn’t some mythological time. This is his mess.”

Parnes writes, further, “Democrats have done a good job of telling voters why we should fire Trump. Now we need to go further and persuade them to hire us,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party…But the Biden campaign also needs to play defense at the same time. Smikle said the Democratic ticket needs to “counterpunch daily and paint a rich vision of the future under Democratic governance.”…“Biden and Harris need to keep Trump from having the last word,” he said…Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton who experienced what it’s like to oppose Trump in 2016, said Biden “should leave nothing unanswered.”

At The Cook Political Report, David Wasserman explains why “For Biden to Prevail, He’ll Need to Survive a Trump Onslaught Targeted to Working-Class Whites,” and argues, “So far this summer, Biden has polled spectacularly in suburbs — even historically GOP ones in the Sun Belt — thanks to his strength among college-educated whites. In an average of live-interview polls taken in August, Biden led Trump among that group 56 percent to 39 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 50 percent to 38 percent lead in final 2016 polls. But he’s also polling impressively among whites without college degrees: August polls show Biden trailing Trump 35 percent to 57 percent among that group, narrower than Clinton’s 30 percent to 58 percent deficit in 2016…However, against the backdrop of civil unrest in Kenosha and Portland, Biden’s support in the latter group is more fragile. Although Biden, a Catholic from Scranton, has long been considered something of a patron saint of blue-collar Democrats, blue-collar whites tend to pay less attention to politics per day than others and live in pro-Trump settings where the local news and information ecosystem, driven by Facebook and other social media sites, is much friendlier to Trump’s view of the world.”

But Wasserman also warns, “As Labor Day approaches, Biden remains very much on offense but is entering a phase when he’ll need to play “prevent defense” against Trump’s increasingly bellicose attacks. Without the kind of door-to-door field effort the Trump campaign has proven willing to undertake, Biden will likely have no choice but to air swing state ads forcefully confronting Trump’s assertions about riots and police funding…On the current trajectory, Biden has outstanding chances to flip traditionally GOP-leaning states like Arizona, Florida and perhaps even Georgia and Texas. But if he were to fail to effectively counter Trump’s appeals to working-class whites, Minnesota and Wisconsin could turn into the next Iowa and Ohio.”

The overall trend line in House of Reps races favors Democrats on this Labor Day, as Kyle Kondik notes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which has an impressive track record in prediction accuracy: “We are making 14 House rating changes, 10 in favor of Democrats and four in favor of Republicans. The changes don’t really impact our overall House assessment, which is that we are not expecting much net change in the makeup of the House…Overall, we now have 232 districts at least leaning to Democrats, 192 districts at least leaning to Republicans, and 11 Toss-ups. If we split the Toss-ups roughly down the middle (6-5 Republican), we’d be looking at a 237-198 Democratic-controlled House, or a two-seat gain from the 235-200 Democratic House elected in 2018.”

“So how is the heartland doing?,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. asks in his latest Washington Post column. “How much has Trump done for the working people whose votes he needed to carry states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio?…Precious little. Even before the economic downturn induced by the pandemic, the areas that were crucial to Trump’s electoral college victory lagged behind the rest of the country…A Wall Street Journal study published last September found that in 77 “blue-collar and manufacturing-reliant counties across the Midwest and Northeast” that swing heavily to Trump, employment “grew by 0.5% in 2017 and 0.6% in 2018, lower than the 1% job growth in the prior two years, before Mr. Trump took office.” The counties also trailed the national growth rate of 1.5 percent in 2017 and 1.3 percent in 2018…Similarly, a New York Times study published in December found that Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan were among the 10 lowest-ranking states in the nation for job growth during Trump’s tenure. Pennsylvania, along with closely contested Minnesota, ranked in the bottom half of states for employment expansion…ratio of CEO compensation to worker compensation — which was “only” 21 to 1 in 1965 — has continued to rise. The ratio was 293 to 1 in 2018. It was 320 to 1 in 2019. Happy Labor Day!”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    The strategy has to focus on how he didn’t get anything achieved even when Republicans were in full control of Congress. Otherwise many Obama-Trump voters feel like the media and the Democratic House are responsible, just as responsible or at least partially responsible for his failures. Trump can own a “good economy” and deflect on almost every other issue.


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