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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Incumbent politicians are rightly nervous about inflation, particularly rising gas and grocery prices, even when accompanied by low unemployment and rising wages. Some new polling data suggests the concern is well-founded. “With ongoing labor and transportation constraints affecting the supply chain, many grocery stores have a limited supply of products — and Americans are feeling it at the kitchen table. Most Americans (65 percent) said they thought grocery availability was worse now than before the pandemic, according to an Ipsos poll released this week. And while COVID-19 still topped concerns for Americans (18 percent), the cost of everyday expenses, like bills and groceries, and inflation were the second- and third-highest concerns, according to a recent Monmouth University poll. The poll found that 15 percent of Americans thought everyday bills and groceries were the biggest concerns facing their families, which marked a 4-percentage-point increase from July. Meanwhile, inflation concerns jumped 9 points, from 5 percent in July to 14 percent in December.” – From “Other Polling Bites” by Alex Samuels and Mackenzie Wilkes at FiveThirty Eight.

At CNN Politics, John Harwood explains “How Larry Summers makes sense of confusing economic signals,” and shares the Democratic economist’s views on the dangers of inflation in context: “In May, he warned that Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan risked over-stimulating the economy and sparking inflation; Republicans have invoked those warnings ever since….Yet Summers also says Congress should pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion Build Back Better Plan over GOP opposition because it would boost long-term growth without significantly increasing inflation. Democratic leaders have crossed their fingers that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin listens….Lately, economic data offers cross-cutting superlatives nearly every day. Last week, new unemployment claims fell to a 50-year low — just before data releasd on Friday showed monthly inflation for November registered a 40-year high.…Summers, a former top economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, sees neither unalloyed prosperity nor dangerous decline. Instead, he acknowledges immense uncertainty that allows for either outcome or something in between….But the economy has also shown important strengths in its recovery from the coronavirus calamity. The Federal Reserve projects 2021 growth at 5.9%, the highest since 1984, as the US became the first advanced industrial economy to return output to pre-pandemic levels. Employers have added 6 million jobs, more than in any other president’s first year….Currently, Summers pegs chances at 50% that inflation will settle in at perhaps twice the Fed’s 2% target — for years. If the problem snowballs anything like it did in the 1970s, when expectations of higher prices became self-fulfilling, taming it could force an excruciating downturn….Summers sees a 30% chance that Fed tightening will trigger another recession, just three years from the last one, within the next 18 months. His least likely scenario — a 20% chance — is that the Federal Reserve pumps the brakes skillfully enough that demand and supply resolve imbalances harmoniously enough to sustain growth….Summers allows that economic good fortune could render his warnings overblown. “I don’t want to over-argue my case,” he said.”

In his Washington Post column, “Can Germany’s new leader teach Democrats to stop feuding?,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “A bit of free advice to the feuding factions blaming each other for the Democrats’ falling polling numbers: Parties that are bitterly and openly divided rarely win. And a friendly hint to Biden: Both ends of your coalition need a talking to — and a coherent approach to coming back together….For intimations of what that might look like, Democrats might learn from what just happened in Germany, a country where the major center-left party was widely seen as out of touch and doomed less than six months ago. In becoming only the fourth Social Democratic chancellor since the end of World War II, Olaf Scholz defied the premature obituaries. In the process, he gave center-left parties, including the Democrats in the United States, not only hope but a philosophical game plan…Scholz’s own obsessions in recent years have been concerns that ought to animate Democrats: how to protect democracy by turning back a rising far right; how to reconnect with a working class that often perceives educated progressives as belittling them; and how to offer realistic paths for economic advancement to left-out people and regions….Progressives, he said, needed to persuade voters that they sought a society in which “we are acting on the same level” and “not looking down on each other.” Respect is the virtue linking progressive imperatives that should not be in conflict: achieving racial justice and healing the injuries of class….Scholz’s success in building a heterogenous government is also a lesson to fractious Democrats. Progressive parties just about everywhere must win younger environmental and culturally liberal voters, but also parts of a more socially conservative working class and elements of a striving middle class as well….Before they can recapture the initiative, Democrats need a politics of forbearance, an understanding that neither the party’s center nor its left can win and govern alone. They also need a larger purpose. Scholz’s sermons about a society built upon mutual respect suggest a good place to discover it.”

Charlie Cook considers “The Possible Electoral Impact of a SCOTUS Abortion Ruling” at The Cook Political Report, and writes: “The Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case last week got political minds wondering whether the abortion issue would make the midterm elections about anything other than what they normally are: a referendum on the incumbent president and his party. Cook shares the insights of several political analysts of both parties, including, “One key Democratic strategist saw a risk in his party seeming to be too focused on abortion to the exclusion of other issues: “I do worry that even if there is unrest toward Republicans on this front, that voters will still primarily be focused on more economic matters—cost of living/wages and whatever effects of COVID we are still seeing that are disrupting life. And if Democrats seem more exercised about an abortion Supreme Court decision than they do about high prices, workers’ paychecks not going as far as they used to, businesses struggling to hire/survive … then that could be a problem for Democrats.”…It is entirely possible that the abortion issue triggers a shift in focus of this election. But it is also possible that it boosts turnout among both bases, mirroring the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, creating what I called at the time a “color enhancement event.” That is, blue areas got bluer and red areas redder. Conservative turnout increased, particularly in rural, small-town, and heartland areas, enabling the GOP to hold onto the Senate, while simultaneously amplifying more liberal voting in the suburbs and cities, helping Democrats win a majority in the House….One Republican operative concluded, “I may be an island on this one, but I really do believe 2022 will be more of a persuasion campaign than we’ve had in a while. It worked in VA and NJ, and there is a lot (on both sides) to work with.”

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