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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Democrats should not be disapointed by the African American activists who refused to attend President Biden’s voting rights speech in Atlanta. Many civil rights leaders did attend and praise the President’s remarks and his strong criticism of Republican opponents of voting rights reform. But some of Georgia’s core activist leaders declined to attend. As they put it, their job is not to participate in photo ops, but to serve as the cutting edge force for voting rights. Some of them felt the President should have spoken out more forcefuly earlier and should bring more pressure on Sens. Manchin and Sinema to support the filibuster reform needed to pass the Freedom to Vote and John Lewis Voting Rights legislation. As former NAACP president Ben Jealous put it, “History makes it clear that, while [President Lyndon B.] Johnson was a supporter of civil rights, it took some effort to move him to make voting rights a top priority. He was lobbied by King and other civil rights leaders. And a few days before Johnson addressed Congress, voting rights activists engaged in a sit-in inside the White House. To his credit, Johnson acknowledged those who engaged in direct action. “The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro,” he told Congress. “His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this nation.” Of course, Biden doesn’t have the leverage LBJ had to get the legislation passed. But today’s Georgia voting rights activist leaders, most of whom were trained by MLK’s lieutenants, mobilized the voter education and turnout campaigns that helped elect Sens. Warnock and Ossoff. Without their tireless efforts, Biden wouldn’t be able to pass anything.

At FiveThirtyEight, Kaleigh Rogers underscores the severity of the threat to American democracy posed by the wave of state legislation to suppress voting rights and politicize the counting of votes: “This is probably the most widespread and sustained wave of voter restriction legislation since the Voting Rights Act,” said Alexander Keyssar, a professor of history and social policy at Harvard University….But what’s troubling to Keyssar is not the number of bills, but the type of legislation being proposed and passed. In particular, he is concerned about bills that strip authority from election officials and grant it to partisan legislative bodies….“This is something different,” he said. “If your completely partisan state legislature is going to end up counting the votes, that’s a lot more efficient than voter suppression….The possibility of election subversion — where one party overrules the results of an election through these newly created legal levers — is of particular concern to several experts. Last September, Richard Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote a paper outlining the risk of election subversion. In it, Hasen makes the case that the Big Lie itself is a powerful enough force to open the door for election subversion, even without new laws in place….It has already led to the harassment of election officials, who are quitting their positions around the country. In their place, Big Lie-believing Trump loyalists are running for their jobs, and some have already won. It opened the door for multiple partisan “audits,” which stoke the fires of distrust while putting election infrastructure at risk. It creates an appetite and acceptance among the public and politicians to use existing means to overturn election results, just as Trump attempted to do following the 2020 election. When combined with the new laws passed to give greater partisan influence over election administration, Hasen says it creates a dangerous environment. (Hasen also outlined what he believes to be guardrails against this kind of subversion, including the universal use of paper ballots and federal rules limiting the over-politicization of election administration.)…“I never thought I’d be writing a paper like this about the United States,” Hasen told me. “I’m very worried. It’s like being an epidemiologist right as a pandemic is starting to emerge.”

In “Bernie Sanders has a plan to boost the Democrats before the midterm elections: Sanders thinks Democrats can win working-class voters by forcing Republicans to vote against progressive policies,” Zeeshan Aleem writes at msnbc.com that “The Vermont independent appears to be growing impatient, and is thinking about how Democrats are better off trying and failing to pass a bunch of popular and virtuous policies, regardless of how remote their chances of passing them are, to showcase who the Democrats and Republicans really are. While he “called for reviving a robust version of Build Back Better,” which could circumvent a filibuster, he also wants to try to get Democrats voting on individual components of the bill that progressives have tried to get into that legislation.” Sanders believes that Democrats taking a stand in support of the child tax credit, cutting prescription drug prices and a $15 federal hourly minimum wage, for example, would help Dems in the midterm elections. Aleem quotes Sanders, who explained “People can understand that you sometimes don’t have the votes. But they can’t understand why we haven’t brought up important legislation that 70 or 80% of the American people support.” Aleem quotes political analysts who see believe the idea is too risky, and concludes that “Sanders’ agenda might have its merits, but it might be better to pursue it after other options to pull in Manchin and Sinema on big-ticket items are exhausted.”

At Bloomberg Businesweek, Joshua Green writes in “How Democrats Could Hold On to the House and Defy the Pundits” that “The most common prediction among political pundits for 2022 is that Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives in November….Any upset would be predicated on one thing: a return to normalcy. Insiders agree that inflation would have to fall and Covid subside to the point where schools stay open and masks are an afterthought. “It needs to feel like 2019, not 2021,” says Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist….Since midterm performance is closely tied to the president’s approval rating, Biden would also have to lift himself out of his slump in the low 40s—particularly with independent voters. Gallup polls show his approval dropped sharply among independents from February to September, then ticked up slightly to 40% in December. Independents, unlike hardened partisans, are apt to change their minds in response to changing conditions….Indeed, even as polls show broad dissatisfaction, there are hints that better days may lie ahead. A November YouGov poll found that 74% of Americans said their lives had returned to “normal” almost two years into the Covid pandemic. If omicron and future variants don’t plunge the U.S. back to the dark days of 2020, Democrats think more people will come to share that feeling and vote accordingly….The good news, says AFL-CIO strategist Mike Podhorzer, is that the surge in Democratic votes during the Trump era was so large that the party doesn’t have to rely on persuading Republicans to defect….“The Democrats’ way out of this is to get people who didn’t show up to vote for Hillary, but did vote for Biden, to show up in November,” says Podhorzer.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. pjcamp on

    It’s nice that lots of people have strong opinions of what voting rights legislation has to do. But unless they also have a strategy to move Manchin and especially the hammer-headed reflexive opposition Sinema, they’re just pissing in the wind.

    The party gave up the leverage of the infrastructure bill in exchange for nothing. Now what? Those two got what they wanted. Let’s hear the story about how you move them now.


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