A trio of nuggets mined from Charlie Cook’s “The Concrete Theory of Politics” at The Cook Political Report:
Cook writes that “like freshly poured concrete, the perceptions, impressions, and convictions of voters in a given election cycle are soft and somewhat malleable at first but gradually get harder and harder over time. With seven months until the general elections, Democrats will soon need a chisel to chip away at them.”
Put another way, Democratic campaigns should never count on voters being forgetful or forgiving. Positive accomplishments often have a short shelf-life in politics. But negative attitudes harden over time. I used to sometimes think, “Don’t worry about this or that particular screw-up – It’s along way until November.” Wrong. Voters do sometimes forgive and move on. But counting on it is a losing strategy.
Cook also writes, “This column has repeatedly argued that the political impact of inflation is far greater than of unemployment, or for that matter, interest rates or any other economic indicator. Since 1948, U.S. unemployment has averaged just under 6 percent, so let’s define a low unemployment rate as under 4 percent and a high rate as over 8 percent—a difference of about 4 percentage points. Yet when it comes to inflation, basically 100 percent of Americans are affected. One could say that inflation is 25 times more powerful than unemployment. While high interest rates hurt a lot of people—anyone with a credit card or who is borrowing money to buy a house or car—inflation still affects more people, and by a greater amount. That is why politicians ignore the threat of inflation at their own peril, particularly if they are perceived as having ignored, denied, or exacerbated it.”
Don’t even fantasize that the low unemployment rate or Biden’s adept handling of the Ukraine crisis is going to win any new votes in November. Voters are being hammered every day at the gas pump, supermarket and loan office. They need to blame someone. The party that occupies the white house and holds the House speakership and Senate majority leader’s office provides an awfully-convenient scapegoat.
In his third nugget, Cook notes, “Voters tell pollsters that they are mad at Democrats for not delivering on their promises. The reality was that the promises were never realistic and were never deliverable.”
To paraphrase a Cook nugget from another column, “You don’t bet the ranch on a pair of threes,” as Biden and Shumer did with their multi-tentacled social infrastructure delusions of grandeur. Pelosi actually had the votes. But 48 dependable Democratic Senators is not a working majority. True, this is a lot easier to say with hindsight. But Dems need to learn the lesson to avoid this booby trap in the future.
Instead, Dems would do well to emulate the post-it note a consultant friend used to put on her computer: “Underpromise, overdeliver.”
A frequently-heard Democratic lament goes something like “Jeez, how come Democrats get blamed for everything, while Republicans get away with murder?” Perhaps it’s because Republicans have a very limited vision – tax cuts and deregulation for the rich, deliverable promises made in closed-door meetings with lobbyists. They throw in a paltry tax cut for workers sometimes. But that’s the essence of their agenda, coupled with a disciplined echo chamber that effectively slimes Democrats as inflation-prone socialist spendthrifts who diss white working-class voters.
There is just not enough time between now and November for Dems to correct this toxic branding. That’s a multi-year project. But it’s not like a majority of voters are in love with Republicans. Dems may be able to reduce the damage in November with concerted, unrelenting attacks on specific Republicans for their financial ‘improprieties.’ Corruption is their genetic malady – it’s always there. And not just individual candidates. A fierce ad campaign should expressly target their party as well. It would have the virtue of being truthful.