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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Geoffrey Skelley explains why “Why Biden Probably Won’t Get A Serious Primary Challenger” at FiveThirty Eight: “….while Democrats remain concerned about Biden’s age, one ingredient is missing before there can be a significant primary challenge against him: unpopularity. The fact is, Democrats mostly approve of Biden’s performance as president. He has also made overtures to progressives, potentially stymieing a source of potential unrest — although the threat of former President Donald Trump’s return has helped maintain party unity, too. If we look back at incumbent presidents who encountered fierce opposition for renomination in the recent past, each faced substantial discontent over administration policies and/or ideological opposition from a frustrated party faction. Without such conditions, top-tier Democrats with White House ambitions are unlikely to risk upsetting leaders and donors in their party by launching a campaign against Biden. Time will tell whether Biden’s approval among Democrats will drop low enough to invite a serious primary challenge. But as of right now, Biden looks likely to avoid one….some of Biden’s hypothetically most compelling challengers, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, occupy roughly the same ideological zone as Biden, making it harder to differentiate themselves on issues besides age. (Whitmer is now national co-chair of Biden’s campaign.) Meanwhile, Biden has potentially avoided a notable challenge from his left: Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Biden’s two highest-profile progressive opponents in 2020, have backed his reelection bid….Across polls of Biden’s approval rating conducted in June that included crosstab data for Democrats, an average of 77 percent of Democrats approved of Biden’s performance.2 This puts him below Trump’s approval among Republicans in two polls from the summer of 2019, but almost exactly in line with former President Barack Obama’s among Democrats in two polls from the summer of 2011.”

In “The Emergence of the Anti-MAGA Coalition: There’s a voting bloc that hates Donald Trump, despises MAGA, and could help Democrats win the House and hold the White House next year,” Michael Podhorzer shares some insights about Democratic prospects at The Washington Monthly, including: “In 2016…Suddenly, white non-college voters became the “it” constituency for political analysts, an obsession that continued into 2022. Democrats must win over these voters, pundits proclaimed, or they had no electoral future….Seven years later, that advice seems misguided.” Podhorzer, former political director of the AFL-CIO and founder of the Analyst Institute, the Research Collaborative and the Defend Democracy Project, notes further “Since 2016, Republicans have lost 23 of the 27 elections in the five swing states Democrats need to win the presidency—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Such an outcome was hardly preordained. When Trump took office, Republicans held four of the five governorships in those states and six of their ten U.S. Senate seats….But Republicans haven’t just failed to make gains in those states. Last year, they were clobbered. It was a midterm where the out-of-power party, a party running against such an unpopular president, lost ground for the first time….Ignore those who complain that anti-MAGA rhetoric is “divisive” and might turn off swing voters. In the 2022 midterms, the expected “red wave” was blunted by what I call a “Blue Undertow”—but only in the 15 states where a MAGA candidate was in a competitive, big-ticket race, where MAGA’s dangerous agenda would have gotten more attention. That’s one likely reason Democrats faced such stunning losses in California and New York; it simply didn’t occur to Democratic base voters there that their ballots could be the difference between a MAGA-majority U.S. House and a chamber that could continue passing Biden’s agenda….Key purple state voters reject MAGA when the choice is clear because of the new anti-MAGA majority. Winning that majority over does not rely on finding a perch in the political center. On the contrary, victory for Democrats with these voters relies on making the choice of democracy versus fascism explicit.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. gets philosophical and ruminates on the power of hope in Democratic politics, and writes, “hope is a demanding virtue, not a sunny disposition. It accepts reality, acknowledges obstacles and insists, as the bard of hope Barack Obama put it, “that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.”….This aspiration became so central to Obama’s political life that the word itself came to be seen as partisan. Campaigning in the 2010 midterm elections, Sarah Palin, the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee two years earlier, coined a memorable dismissal: “How’s that hopey changey thing working out for ya?”  Dionne, continues, noting “the celebrated work of Anne Case and Angus Deaton on “deaths of despair” among working-class Americans from suicide, alcohol-related diseases and drug overdoses. The loss of hope typically followed the loss of well-paying jobs and the collapse of communities….Deaths of despair, Case and Deaton found, were especially common among lower-income Whites. Black Americans, perhaps from their long experience overcoming discrimination and oppression, showed measurably higher rates of resiliency. But Graham notes that in recent years, suicide rates have been rising sharply among young Black Americans, and deaths from drug overdoses among Black men have shot up, too. Restoring hope is a moral and policy imperative across racial lines….It’s also an imperative in our politics, as Wake Forest University scholar Michael Lamb argues in “A Commonwealth of Hope,” a fascinating revisionist view of the political thought of St. Augustine. Contrary to a popular perception of Augustine as an otherworldly thinker who accents “darkness and pessimism,” Lamb sketches a persuasive portrait of a thinker who “encourages a realistic hope for a better form of community not only in heaven but on earth….Lamb highlights the high cost of despair in politics, which he argues “can license apathy or fatalism, encouraging citizens to withdraw from politics rather than stretch toward difficult political goods.” Dionne concludes, “Democracy cannot work if citizens are demoralized and demobilized by such despair. You don’t have to be a sucker for the hopey changey thing to see why we need a rendezvous with hope — in our individual lives and in our common life, too.”

Yesterday TDS cross-posted an article by David French, regarding the ‘joy’ of community that unites MAGA America. French makes a strong case that MAGA culture creates a potent sense of belonging that can translate into voter solidarity. In last year’s midterms we saw a kind of community emerge among Democrats, a community based on fear in the wake of the Dobbs decision. Politics suddenly got real for a large number of women voters and their families, rooted in the realization that Republicans really do want to meddle in and limit the most personal decisions women can make about their own reproductive choices. It did not end particularly well for Republicans. But that doesn’t not mean that the same kind community can work as well again for Democrats, regardless of the economic and other realities we will be facing in November, 2024. Sure it can help, especially because Republicans seem to be doubling down on passing anti-choice measures in state legislatures across the nation. But, as Dionne suggests in the article noted above, Democrats can also benefit from advocating a more appealing vision of hope. It’s the vision thing that Republicans are just not very good at. They have understandable difficulty in painting a hopeful picture of a future based on tax cuts for the already rich,  deregulation, banning books and dubious justifications for Trump’s trashing democracy. Not a lot of material there for a Reaganesque ‘morning in America’ rant. President Biden and Democrats, on the other hand, now have a track record of leadership for bipartisan accomplishments, including major initiatives in re-industrializing America, which lend credibility to their “hopey-changey” vision. But Dems must spell out the details of a credible economic vision for the future, which includes more good jobs, thriving communities, expanded educational opportunities for all, a cleaner environment, safer communities and a foreign policy we can be proud of – in stark contrast to everything the Republicans have been doing. President Biden has genuine bragging points on some of these goals already. He and Democrats must make sure voters know exactly what they have accomplished, and what they plan to do in the next four years – and put it all in inspiring detail.

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