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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “The Tool That Joe Biden Refuses to Use: The president’s speech about the sanctity of the vote did not go far enough” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains, “That relative emphasis on infrastructure over voting rights may reflect several calculations in the White House. One is the belief, as officials have described to me, that the best way for Biden to prevent Republicans from stealing future elections is for Democrats to maintain control of the House and Senate in 2022—and the best way to ensure that is for him to pass the bread-and-butter agenda he ran on (which includes, in their view, working with Republicans)….Others see in Biden’s approach an implicit acknowledgment that he is highly unlikely to persuade the Democratic holdouts—led by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—to change the Senate filibuster, the necessary precondition to passing any new federal voting-rights legislation. By that analysis, the White House is modulating Biden’s engagement in a fight that he is very unlikely to win. “I believe they have decided that Manchin, and maybe others, are unmovable on the filibuster, and if they are unmovable, let’s focus on what we can do and not beat our heads against a wall that is simply never going to crack,” Matt Bennett, the executive vice president for public affairs at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, told me….A third possible factor in the White House ranking may be the most confounding to voting-rights groups. In his speech yesterday, Biden, like Vice President Kamala Harris in an address last week, seemed to suggest that Democrats could overcome the recent red-state moves with sufficient on-the-ground organizing. A top White House official had first made that argument to me in May in response to the initial wave of criticism from civil- and voting-rights groups that the administration was not adequately engaged in this fight.” Further, ” The late-June ruling by the six GOP-appointed Supreme Court justices further weakening the Voting Rights Act diminished the odds that the Justice Department or civil-rights groups can block these new state laws in court….With the Democratic options narrowing, the one lever the party possesses is federal legislation establishing a nationwide floor of voting rights, including guaranteed access to early and mail voting, as well as automatic and same-day voter registration. After a Republican filibuster blocked Senate debate on such a bill last month, Democrats have been attempting to negotiate a scaled-down version of the legislation based on the principles that Manchin indicated last month he could support.”

Also at the Atlantic, Edward-Isaac Dovere writes that President Biden “gripes privately about the filibuster, aware that the parliamentary procedure is, in many minds, what’s standing between him and the FDR-size agenda he now aspires to accomplish. He looks at next year’s midterms and sees that historical trends, supercharged by gerrymandering and new red-state voting restrictions, threaten not just whatever legacy he hopes to build for his own presidency, but democracy itself….Still, the president doesn’t want to throw all his energy into a fight with Trump, or a fight over an initiative like the For the People Act, the Democrats’ favored election-reform bill. Many top White House aides (as well as more Democratic senators than have said so publicly, despite voting for it) see the legislation as full of problems that wouldn’t hold up to a Supreme Court challenge. Plus, the votes aren’t there for it to pass in the Senate. As for the filibuster, Biden believes that not only would coming out against the bill publicly be counterproductive, but that doing so would end all hope of getting any other legislation through the Senate….Biden believes that this is precisely the kind of elitist trap Democrats fall into time and again, to their own detriment. The more energy and airtime Democrats devote to eliminating the filibuster, the less energy they’re putting into talking up the expanded child tax credit or working toward the passage of a historic infrastructure bill. He believes voters are going to care much more about the money in their pockets than the less tangible issues of government reform….“What I’ve learned in my entire career in politics, you can do anything with somebody and get them to move as long as you don’t change their standard of living downward,” he told me….Scrapping the filibuster won’t matter if nothing else can pass the Senate and Biden has a failed presidency; protecting small margins in elections won’t matter if Democrats don’t deliver on other priorities and lose House races next year by 5 or 10 percent.”

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik notes in the first part of his new series on redistricting that “there are 10 states that use a commission to draw the lines: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington. If those commissions did not exist, and redistricting power was instead given to the state legislature with the possibility of a gubernatorial veto, Democrats would have the power to draw the maps in six of these 10 states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington), Republicans would have the power in three (Arizona, Idaho, and Montana), and there would be divided government control in Michigan (Democrats hold the governorship, Republicans hold the state legislature). Instead of Republicans holding a 187-75 edge, their advantage would be a more modest 200-170 under this scenario, with the remaining 65 districts either in one-district states or in ones with divided government….So in some states, Democrats may be, or are, kicking themselves for backing redistricting commissions. Both parties supported a 2018 Colorado ballot issue that created an independent redistricting commission for congressional maps. Had it not passed, Democrats now would have gerrymandering power in the Centennial State and drawn themselves a better map than a draft the commission released a few weeks ago, which likely will result in a 5-3 Democratic delegation but could split 4-4 in a strong Republican year. “We’re (expletive) idiots,” said one anonymous state lawmaker, as quoted by the Colorado Sun.”

The Nation’s Elie Mystal makes a compelling argument that pretty much all voting rights reform legislation is doomed because the current U.S. Supreme Court majority is already in the pocket of the GOP, when it comes to voting rights. Further, argues Mystal, “There is something the Democrats could do to restore the Voting Rights Act. Expand the Supreme Court. It’s actually the only reasonable thing Democrats can do. The Supreme Court has made it clear that there are not five votes to support the notion that nonwhites should have equal access to the ballot box. If Democrats do not expand the court, then they accept that premise and leave Black people—their actual base of electoral support—to fend for themselves against whatever ideas Republican governors can come up with to discourage them from voting….But to expand the court, you first need to break the filibuster….Even if the filibuster is somehow defeated, it’s pretty clear that Biden would want to use that power to pass an infrastructure bill as well as these well-intentioned voting rights protections that will be easily overturned by the Supreme Court in a few years time. The will to do what is necessary to protect Black people from Republicans simply doesn’t exist in the current Democratic Party….So they feed us this lie, this falsehood that a carefully tailored voting rights restoration bill will be above constitutional reproach, even though the conservatives on the Supreme Court have literally already told us precisely how they will strike down any new voter protection bill should they have to. Democrats are trying to wish a better Supreme Court into existence, because they don’t have the political strength to use their constitutional powers to make one….I know this isn’t what most liberals want to hear, but it is the truth. Bills promising federal oversight of state elections are dead on arrival at the conservative Supreme Court. The only way to fix that problem is to fix that court. Everything else is a pointless show, a cacophony of sound meant to distract people from the cold reality that democracy is sinking.” All of which underscores the importance of Democrats breaking the historical pattern of the president’s party losing seats in the House and Senate in its first midterm elections, and even more challenging — picking up two or three Senate seats needed to shred the filibuster and increase the size of the Supreme Court.

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. pjcamp on

    Focusing on the mechanics of voting is a mistake. Voter ID, poll closings, restriction of early voting have had no significant impact on turnout. Restricting vote by mail probably will, but it will be on the elderly that supply the bulk of Republican support.

    What is truly frightening, and what should be the focus of attention, is Republican legislatures giving themselves the power to overturn elections if they don’t come out right. THAT’S what you should be shouting about daily. And yet here come Democrats focusing on the wrong thing again.

    Reply

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