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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Amid all of the downer reports on voting rights, there is a bit of good news, as reported by Matt Robison at Newsweek: “On Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court threw out the Republican legislature’s ludicrously gerrymandered congressional maps. It wasn’t the final word—but the final result is going to be a lot fairer than if self-serving politicians had had their way….If Democrats can pick their chins up and pause outrage-tweeting for a moment, they will see that the Ohio win didn’t just fall out of the sky. It will make a meaningful difference in making elections actually reflect the will of the voters, and can be replicated around the country. The Democrats may not be able to pass a big, sweeping federal law to comprehensively stop abuses. But that doesn’t mean they can’t grit and grind their way to achieve many similar protections in the states….What exactly did Democrats in Ohio do? “This happened because of five years of work by a lot of people,” says former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who helped orchestrate the effort. “Grassroots groups, good government groups, the party, we all worked together to fight back.”….As Pepper chronicles in his book Laboratories of Autocracy, a small group started out with a meeting in 2017 to devise a detailed roadmap. They recognized that by so flagrantly gorging on political gerrymandering, state Republicans had angered and energized a cadre of activists, and made moderate voters more receptive to a message of clean, fair elections….But how to leverage that? It’s hard to overcome the Catch-22 of election reform. After all, how can you pass anti-gerrymandering law in a gerrymandered legislature? How do you win races to end the rules that are designed to keep you from winning races? So the group worked around the legislature by drafting a constitutional amendment. In six months, a volunteer army gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures and forced a measure onto the ballot….They didn’t just win; they crushed. The new constitutional language, which voters ultimately approved in 2018 in a 75-25 landslide, was straightforward, clear, and fair. It required both parties to have a say in new maps, and that “the general assembly shall not pass a plan that unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents.”….But that’s not the end of the story. It’s one thing to write a law, another for courts to enforce it. Ohio is a state that elects its Supreme Court Justices. So the coalition honed in on those races to make sure the new law would have a fighting chance. In 2018 and 2020, Democratic-endorsed candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court won three out of four statewide elections, moving the court from 7-0 Republican-favored judges to 4-3, even as Ohio went for Donald Trump by 8 points in 2020. And it was that new court makeup that last week upheld the ballot measure, preventing an obscenely rigged and undemocratic result.”….”We got those wins by doing what the Right does all the time, focusing on where the power was, and aggressively explaining the stakes to voters,” says Ohio-based Democratic consultant Cliff Schecter, who advised independent efforts to boost those campaigns.” More here.

In his article, “The false “trap” of bipartisanship: Fix the Electoral Count Act if you can; worry about the rest later” at Slow Boring, Matthew Yglesias writes: “Republican members of Congress seem to be increasingly interested in reaching a deal on reform of the Electoral Count Act. This is good news on several fronts….A bill with Republican Party support can pass the United States Senate, whereas a purely partisan bill will die via filibuster. It’s also good news because ECA reform is good on the merits — it won’t fix American political institutions or “save democracy,” but it will reduce the odds of a collapse, and reducing those odds is important. Passing and signing bipartisan bills also tend to be at least a little bit popular and make the president who’s doing it look good.” Yglesias notes that “This study — published in Foreign Affairs this month — says: “Put simply, there is no evidence that turnout is correlated with partisan vote choice” (Sens. Warnock and Ossoff would likely point out that there are, ahem, important exceptions). Yglesias adds, “The government should pass laws that make life easier and more convenient. Republicans are making life harder and less convenient out of a mistaken belief that this gives them a partisan advantage. But when Democrats say that a federal requirement for more early voting is necessary to “save our democracy,” Republicans hear that making it convenient to vote early helps Democrats and dooms Republicans….The way forward here is to turn the temperature way down and have some people sit in a quiet room with experts and work out a list of things that everyone can agree are pro-convenience and don’t advantage anyone. It really should be doable since there is no clear advantage here.” At The American Prospect, however, co-founder and co-editor Robert Kuttner doesn’t buy it, and writes “Sorry, but this kind of “reform” is worse than nothing. It is bipartisanship on Republican terms and it fails to address the real threats to American democracy….the last thing we need is sham reform.”

Also at The American Prospect, Editor at large Harold Meyerson argues in “How Democrats Can Dig Themselves Out of Their Current Hole” that “It will be no easy task for Joe Biden and the Democrats to extricate themselves from this hole. Certainly, passing a scaled-back Build Back Better bill would help. As for the elements left out of that bill, House Democrats in swing districts have an interesting proposal: Bring them each to a separate vote. If, as appears likely, the ultimate BBB fails to include such items as the Child Tax Credit and reducing drug prices, bring those up for votes, so at least Democrats can highlight their support for them, and Republicans’ opposition, before the November election….The Washington Post reports that House Democrats would like to begin that process ASAP, but I think the better course of action would be to let Senate Democrats winnow down BBB so that it can pass through reconciliation first, and only then take votes on its omitted popular particulars. Getting BBB enacted in any form has proved to be such a maddening, Herculean task that distractions like side votes might become just more obstacles to enactment. Once the bill is enacted, however, Democrats all but have to do what their swing-districters recommend. To not put themselves on the side of, say, reducing drug costs, while putting Republicans on the record opposing such actions, would amount to political malpractice of the highest order. The Democrats should enact what’s enactable and demand a division of the House on what’s not. Otherwise, the division of the House in the next Congress will be lopsidedly worse than Democrats currently fear—and avoidably so.”

“People feel tired and dispirited and when that happens a “throw the bums out” attitude often takes hold,” Heather Digby Parton explains at Salon. “The Washington Post’s Philip Bump argues that this shift proves the Democratic Party’s focus on Republican anti-democratic behavior has failed as a political message and that any thoughts the GOP might be permanently harmed by its complicity in January 6th simply haven’t resonated:…The polling to which he refers shows that it’s actually Republicans who believe that democracy is in danger more fervently than Democrats —because they believe Trump’s Big Lie. That doesn’t, however, mean that the Democrats’ argument isn’t landing. It just means that Democratic voters still have some faith that the system will hold. That isn’t a rejection of the argument that the Republican Party has become a toxic force. In fact, it may just mean that many voters accept that they are and simply believe that American democracy is strong enough to withstand it. (That may be naive, but it strikes me as quintessential American optimism.)…In any case, there is some other polling that seems to contradict all the agita over the Gallup findings, evidence that the media overlooked. USA Today reported this just a couple of weeks ago:

Republicans lost their lead on a generic congressional ballot, according to a new USA Today-Suffolk University poll, a red flag for the party ahead of this year’s midterm elections.The poll found Democrats leading Republicans on a generic ballot 39% to 37%, within the poll’s margin of error of 3.1 percentage points but a significant drop from Republicans’ 8-point lead in the same poll in November.

This is hard to reconcile with the reaction to the Gallup numbers and it’s impossible to know exactly what might have precipitated the drop. But these findings are no less determinative than Gallup’s, and none of it can accurately predict what’s going to happen next November….If Bump is correct and the Democrats’ legitimate alarm about the anti-democratic behavior of the GOP has been falling on deaf ears, there’s one thing that will almost certainly get the public’s attention: Donald Trump’s return. There’s no one in the country who makes that argument for the Democrats more clearly than he does.”

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