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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Some perspective from “Go Local, Young Democrat: How nationalization of everything is widening the urban-rural divide, and what Democrats can do about it” by Robert Saldin and Kal Munis at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas: “The results of the 2020 election solidified the urban-rural divide as the defining heuristic of contemporary American electoral politics. But just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse for rural Democrats, the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election demonstrated that it was still somehow possible for Democrats to perform worse in rural areas than they had done during the previous five years, both in the commonwealth and beyond. Nationally, the Democrats’ density woes have hamstrung their ability to pursue their legislative agenda, as their now routine majorities in terms of raw vote totals are rarely distributed in such a way as to produce a governing majority. Democrats must find a way to disrupt the nationalized political narrative both for their own sake as well as that of American democracy more broadly….Many Democrats would prefer to ignore their rural problem since making a play for rural voters might require compromises in the pursuit of their progressive agenda….it’s not only dubious as a matter of civics to write off the nation’s rural voters—it’s a serious strategic error that imperils Democrats’ ability to hold the Senate, let alone dominate it. Democrats should also keep in mind that states are not uniformly “rural” or “urban”: Competitiveness in rural areas would enhance the party’s prospects in more populous states, too. If Democrats could avoid handing over so much of the rural vote to Republicans in key battlegrounds like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, they would have a near-lock on the Electoral College….There are two core approaches that they must take simultaneously to mitigate the nationalization that has rendered them noncompetitive in rural areas, one defensive and one offensive. First, Democrats running in these areas need to play a little defense in obvious ways, like actively rebranding themselves on mainstay political issues like the Second Amendment and abortion….The second and more important key is to go on the offensive to creatively localize their races by adopting popular positions on issues that don’t cleanly map onto national partisan cleavages. This offensive strategy allows candidates to offer tangible help to rural communities while also carrying the pleasant upside of facing far less intraparty pushback since focusing on these issues would not conflict with national Democratic priorities.” Read the article for more details.

Also at Democracy, Sarah Miller and Faiz Shakir write in “Politics: The Democrats Progress” that “The problem is that Democrats’ approach to politics has yet to adjust to its evolving embrace of populist policies. Our politics is largely stuck in a cautious, corporate-friendly frame that too often projects weakness and deference to bureaucracy instead of muscularity and confident leadership….On paper, Democrats offer much-needed policy prescriptions to tackle soaring drug prices, remediate the existential threats of climate change, and demand greater taxation of the wealthy and enforcement against tax cheats. In rhetoric and political action, though, Democrats have not animated those policies with corresponding fights against the corporate lobbyists and special interests who stand in their way. Whereas FDR proclaimed of his opponents, “I welcome their hatred,” the modern Democratic Party seems to intone, “Can’t we all just get along?”….It’s becoming clearer that, for some traditional Democrats, embracing the progressive populist direction—and the requisite political battles it entails—is like wearing an ill-fitting suit….There is an ongoing battle for the soul of the party. The good news is that it’s still possible for Democrats to revive their populist core and put up a fight. The bad news is that Donald Trump’s brand of faux populism has a head start. Democrats need to come to terms with the fact that the question voters in the coming years will resolve is not whether they will embrace populism—the question is whose version of populism will triumph?….Both the political and policy weaknesses of the party can be ameliorated by focusing on the economic interests of the working peoples’ votes we most need. Three critical course corrections are needed: 1) stand proudly and visibly on the side of a broad diversity of working people; 2) demonstrate that Democrats are boldly taking on political and economic concentrations of corporate power that abuse and control both workers and smaller businesses; 3) wield government power with a fervent desire for both competence and disruption.”

Nathan Robinson explains why “The Left Must Be Ruthlessly Strategic” at Current Affairs: “We are trying to achieve things that have never been done before, and there’s no playbook for how a leftist movement in this country can win….Nevertheless: we need to be aware of the dangers of symbolic or performative politics—that is, taking political actions because of what they mean or say rather than because of what they achieve. We have to adopt a strategic mindset, to think of political activity as an effort to secure particular outcomes, rather than an arena for the mere expression of our desires.” Robinson notes, further “it’s quite common to see people simply not asking basic questions like: “What are the predicted consequences of this action? How will the other side react? Will it have the ultimate effect of advancing or inhibiting our cause?”….We need to always check to make sure we’re asking the “consequences” questions. Why are we doing this? What will it cause others to do in response? How does it get us closer to or further away from the goal? Union organizers already think this way, because they have to: they’ll never win an election unless they take actions that change workers’ minds, so the effect of any action on the relevant desired outcome has to be considered. But elsewhere, the organizing mentality is often lacking….“What do we want?” and “When do we want it?” are questions that we have never struggled with the answers to. “How do we get it?” is a much tricker question, but the first step to finding the answer is to make sure we’re actually asking it.”

So, “Are We Overestimating Roe’s Impact on Politics?” At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook answers, “Everyone has their own take on what impact a reversal of Roe v. Wade will have on November’s midterm elections. Here’s mine: To the extent that overturning the 49-year old decision benefits Democrats at all, it won’t be nearly enough to make up for the substantial headwinds they were already facing. In short, it will help out less than they hope and far less than they need.” Cook cites data from polls by CNN, The Washington Post/ABC News and Fox News and writes, “As CNN polling director Jennifer Agiesta and polling and analytics editor Ariel Edwards-Levy wrote, “comparing the results of the new poll to one conducted immediately before the revelation of the draft opinion, the impact on the political landscape heading into the 2022 midterms appears fairly muted.”….They noted: “The share of registered voters who say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting this fall rose 6 points between the first survey and the second, but that increase is about even across party lines. Among Democrats, 43% now say they are extremely or very enthusiastic, up 7 points. Among Republicans, it’s 56%, up 9 points. And voters who say overturning Roe would make them ‘happy’ are nearly twice as enthusiastic about voting this fall as those who say such a ruling would leave them ‘angry’ (38% extremely enthusiastic among those happy, 20% among those angry).”….Another consideration is timing….When dramatic events occur in politics, it is human nature to assume that their significance will endure through the election. In reality, such events tend to dwindle in importance….Finally, this election will not be held in a vacuum. Other issues—the direction of the economy, the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border, the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and climate change—will compete for voters’ attentions and concerns, to say nothing of any October surprises that may roll down the pike….Bottom line: The political system will have plenty of time to process the developments surrounding Roe, leaving its impact falling short of expectations.”

3 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. pjcamp on

    The left must be ruthlessly strategic? Good luck with that. The left has never demonstrated the ability to do anything other than demand absolute ideological purity. That’s the reason they lose everything, something that does not seem to penetrate the rarified heights of Berniedom.

  2. Victor on

    Instead of denationalizing or localizing races, wouldn’t a less expensive, more simple and quicker strategy be to kick out unruly lawmakers on both the left and the right from the party (or at the very least warn them)? Define what core Democratic values can’t be questioned. If you aren’t going to actually govern, then at least talk about how you would govern if it wasn’t for these people.

    It is not just about guns and abortion. There are also major divides over taxation, domestic energy production, prescription price regulation and immigration. Military spending and Israel are additional examples.

  3. Martin Lawford on

    A good example of what Saldin and Munis are talking about would be the Virginia gubernatorial election, in which McAuliffe lost the rural vote by 27 points. McAuliffe would have narrowed that gap had he used the two offense-defense strategies they recommend.


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