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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein has some insights about the reasons for Trump and McConnell’s continued refusal to acknowledge Biden’s victory: “Most Democrats I’ve spoken with believe that Trump will be pushing against an open door if he demands blanket Republican opposition to the incoming president. Biden has mostly shrugged off congressional Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge his victory or to call for the transition process to begin, insisting that he can still work with those legislators later. But other Democrats see a resemblance between the GOP’s recent actions and the scorched-earth resistance Mitch McConnell pursued against Obama for eight years. “As someone who spent a long time in the Senate, I see a poison coursing through the body and the Republican Party that is going to be very difficult to get out,” Jim Manley, who served as a top communications aide to the former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, told me. “I think we are in this for the long term.” Another high-ranking Democrat in close touch with Biden’s transition team, who asked for anonymity to discuss his advice, told me he worries that McConnell is supporting Trump’s stonewalling of the transition process because he believes it will cause Biden to stumble out of the gate, weakening Democrats for the 2022 elections. Yet as much as the GOP’s continuing deference to Trump constrains Biden’s options, it also limits the ability of congressional Republicans and potential 2024 candidates to question, or even just recalibrate, the outgoing president’s polarizing direction for the party.”

In “Biden reaches out. The GOP slaps him in the face,” Washington Post syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes that Biden “can take no comfort if Republicans who stayed mum during Trump’s attempted election theft turn around later and pretend that they had nothing to do with this. Their silence is complicity….This presents a challenge to those of us on the progressive side who in the past respected conservatism as a coherent and morally serious worldview. We saw it as a set of ideas, advanced by thinkers such as Edmund Burke and Robert Nisbet, dedicated to preserving what is good in our institutions and traditions. Even when we emphatically disagreed, we could understand why they might be skeptical of the unintended costs of some of the reforms we might put forward….But now we confront a form of conservatism that openly disdains democracy, its rules and its obligations. In his book “Democracy and Tradition,” the philosopher and religion scholar Jeffrey Stoutargues that “one thing a democratic people had better have in common is a form of ethical discourse, a way of exchanging reasons about ethical and political topics.”….Those who lack the conviction to sustain that tradition by defending rationality and the democratic rules of engagement forfeit their standing to ask the rest of us to believe that they are operating in good faith.”

Kyle Kondik ponders the 2022 U.S. Senate races and observes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball:”Democrats may have a better chance of winning the Senate in 2022 than holding the House, even if Democrats lose both Georgia special elections in January…The president’s party often struggles in midterms, which gives the GOP a generic advantage in the battle for Congress…The Republicans’ three most vulnerable Senate seats may all be open in 2022….Democrats may have a better chance of winning a Senate majority than a House majority in the next national election….That is not to say Democrats have a great chance of winning a Senate majority — they don’t, particularly if Republicans hold the two Georgia Senate seats in a Jan. 5, 2021 runoff. Rather, it suggests that the Democratic Senate path might be more plausible than the Democratic path in the House, given looming redistricting and reapportionment and the history of presidential party House losses in midterm elections….Of course, we know little about the Senate candidates, national environment, and other factors that will determine the outcome of the next cycle. Nor do we even know what the Senate will look like next year, thanks to the Georgia runoffs….Biden is not guaranteed to suffer down-ballot losses in the House and Senate, even though that is the usual midterm pattern. That Biden does not enjoy big majorities to start his presidency may make it less likely for him to agitate the opposition through the divisive, one-party legislating that helped cost the Democrats and the Republicans the House majority in 2010 and 2018 respectively….Based on the history, we should presume Republicans will have an edge in the 2022 midterm, but there are no guarantees.”

The Washington Monthly’s David Atkins notes that “the slow demographic death spiral of the GOP is still continuing apace. Donald Trump embodies the Republican Party’s doom: older, mostly white, mostly male voters yearning for the imagined cultural dominance of decades past and increasingly divorced from the reality of America today….Yes, the Emerging Democratic Majority has been long promised without overwhelming success–so much so that it is now often widely mocked as a fallacy. But it is still very real. The oldest Millennials are now turning 40, and they haven’t gotten any more conservative with age. Zoomers, once hoped by conservatives to be a new vanguard for them, are even more progressive than Millennials (despite a very loud and obnoxious fascist minority of young white men.) Generation X has turned into a surprisingly conservative bastion for Trumpism, but Generation X is also smaller than the Baby Boom or the Millennials. The country gets less white every year. Women are becoming more hostile to conservatism….The greatest political divides in America outside of generation, race and gender are education and geographic polarization. There again, the trends are very much against conservatives. Americans are becoming more educated than ever, and moving away from rural areas and small towns into cities and suburbs. The greatest bulwark against white racism is a college degree, and as younger whites become better educated the overall percentage of the white population becomes more immune to the appeal of Trumpist demagoguery. And, of course, there is the fact that the suburbs are trending rapidly blue…If Trumpism can continue to pull strong numbers even without Trump himself on the ballot, the country (and the world) will be in for a very difficult next decade or two. But if it can’t, generational trends will compound the interest on a bad demographic deficit for the GOP that will overwhelm even its artificial geographic advantages. And if Democrats manage to change even a few of the rules, from the electoral college to adding states to reversing gerrymandering, the disaster for the GOP may be irreversible.”

3 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Martin Lawford on

    Victor, I suppose an example of the “message mismanagement” you cite is the “defund the police” slogan. Many Democrats in the 2020 elections claim this slogan, generally announced in Democrat-run cities, hindered their campaigns or even lost them their elections. Then, how can the Democrats replace “message mismanagement” with effective message management? Wouldn’t that require the party to practice solidarity which it evidently lacks? To continue the example, the Democrats going around using that slogan, “defund the police”, would have to refrain from doing so. How can the rest of the Democratic Party persuade them that their favorite cause is hurting the party’s electoral chances?

    • Victor on

      There are many instruments to impose party discipline. The softer one is about messaging from the top, which Biden did but was both insufficient in tone as well as insufficient in itself given the divisions inside the party. The most extreme one is of course expulsion, which can take several forms, from suspension, suspension of voice, suspension of vote in the several caucuses and party structures to outright expulsion from the party.

      I think the best way to show what Democrats are for is to pass clear legislation that is easy to explain (something which Pelosi is completely terrible at) and to clearly reject positions outside that legislative or explain how positions outside that legislative framework would be tolerated at the local and state levels. In general I think voters are pretty smart, which is why they rewarded Biden and punished congressional Democrats (though the punishment wasn’t uniform across the country or even inside states and cities).

      Then following up on that legislation there needs to be engagement all the way from the DNC down to state and county Democratic parties and even neighborhood associations and activist groups (including Democratic clubs and local elected officials). There is very little dialogue inside the party and dialogue must precede discipline.

      A lot of people think this issue of defund is going away on its own, just like abolishing ICE was backtracked in a way by AOC and the Squad barely taking any legislative steps. But I think defund is different because the Squad expanded its seats and because of mixed results in places like New York State where Democrats achieved a state legislative supermajority.

  2. Victor on

    1. Republicans are not conservatives. The dominant ideology in the party on governance (ie federalism, taxes, guns, the obligations between the state and individuals in general) are libertarian. If Democrats don’t start talking head on about what issues they agree and disagree on with libertarians it is a lot harder to reach a lot of moderates because libertarianism is popular with many people in the center (either for economic, for social or for historical -eg the Founders’ attitude to many issues- reasons).

    2. The Democratic party establishment (including analysts) needs to put a forceful stop to the wishful thinking about winning the Senate. Same with controlling the House past 2022. Regaining control of the Supreme Court any time soon and winning in states like Kentucky are also part of the delusional thinking that proves many on the left are just as out of touch and fanatical as the most rabid GOP and Trump supporters. This wishful thinking leads to tolerance to messaging mismanagement and flawed analysis like the non-stop online spurious electoral correlations between progressive congressional wins and support for issues like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and defunding the police. Biden’s down ballot performance needs to be given intense focus if we are to continue controlling the Electoral College and House, much less win the Senate.


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