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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times opinion essayist Thomas B. Edsall provides some insightful commentary that should be of interest to Democrats who are doing ‘oppo’ analysis to better formulate their own strategy. Edsall’s latest essay reads like it was written just before the Republicans confirmed Mike Johnson as the new Speaker, but his take on the Republicans’ floundering is still instructive. For example, “There are 18 Republicans who represent districts President Biden carried in 2020. These members, more than others, were forced to choose between voting for Jordan and facing sharp criticism in their districts or voting against him and facing a potential primary challenger. This group voted 12 to 6 for Jordan, deciding, in effect, that the threat of a primary challenge was more dangerous to their political futures than the fallout in their Democratic-leaning districts from voting for Jordan….Or take the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which describes its members as “tired of the obstructionism in Washington where partisan politics is too often prioritized over governing and what is best for the country.” Jordan’s approach to legislation and policymaking embodies what those members are tired of….Despite that, the Republican members of the caucus voted decisively for Jordan, 21 to 8, including a co-chairman of the caucus — Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania — and Tom Kean, the son and namesake of a distinctly moderate former governor of New Jersey….Each time the Republican Party has had an opportunity to distance itself from Trump, Brownstein continued, “it has roared past the exit ramp and reaffirmed its commitment. At each moment of crisis for him, the handful of Republicans who condemned his behavior were swamped by his fervid supporters until resistance in the party crumbled.”

Further along, Edsall writes “There is little doubt that the three-week struggle, still unresolved, to pick a new speaker is quite likely to inflict some costs on Republicans….First and foremost, if, as appears possible, the government is forced to shut down because of a failure to reach agreement on federal spending, Republicans have set themselves up to take the fall when the public decides which party is at fault….Previous government shutdowns, especially those in 1995 and 1996, backfired on Republicans, reviving Bill Clinton’s re-election prospects to the point that he won easily in November…I asked Kevin Arceneaux, a political scientist at Sciences Po Paris and the lead author of the 2021 paper “Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn: The Prevalence, Psychology and Politics of the ‘Need for Chaos,’” about the role of Gaetz and his seven allies. Arceneaux emailed back that he has no way of knowing, without conducting tests and interviews, how the eight “would answer the need for chaos survey items.”….But, Arceneaux added, “their behavior is certainly consistent with the burn-it-all-down mentality that we found associated with the need for chaos.”….He continued: “We also found that a drive to obtain status along with a sense that one’s group has lost social status increases one’s need for chaos. It would be interesting to study whether Freedom Caucus members are more preoccupied with concerns about status loss relative to other Republicans. If so, that would offer some circumstantial evidence that a need for chaos could at least partly explain their willingness to damage their own party.”

If you have friends or associates who like to get on the high horse about liberals smothering free speech on college campuses and elsewhere, give a read to Edsall’s previous column, in which he points out: “These civil libertarian claims of unconstitutional suppression of speech come from the same Republican Party that is leading the charge to censor the teaching of what it calls divisive concepts about race, the same party that expelled two Democratic members of the Tennessee state legislature who loudly called for more gun control after a school shooting, the same party that threatens to impeach a liberal judge in North Carolina for speaking out about racial bias, the same party that has aided and abetted book banning in red states across the country….In other words, it is Republicans who have become the driving force in deploying censorship to silence the opposition, simultaneously claiming that their own First Amendment rights are threatened by Democrats….One of the most egregious examples of Republican censorship is taking place in North Carolina, where a state judicial commission has initiated an investigation of Anita Earls, a Black State Supreme Court justice, because she publicly called for increased diversity in the court system….At the center of Republican efforts to censor ideological adversaries is an extensive drive to regulate what is taught in public schools and colleges….In an Education Week article published last year, “Here’s the Long List of Topics Republicans Want Banned From the Classroom,” Sarah Schwartz and Eesha Pendharkar provided a laundry list of Republican state laws regulating education: “Since January 2021, 14 states have passed into law what’s popularly referred to as “anti-critical race theory” legislation. These laws and orders, combined with local actions to restrict certain types of instruction, now impact more than one out of every three children in the country, according to a recent study from U.C.L.A.”

“In a February 2022 article, “New Critical Race Theory Laws Have Teachers Scared, Confused and Self-Censoring,” Edsall continues, “The Washington Post reported that “in 13 states, new laws or directives govern how race can be taught in schools, in some cases creating reporting systems for complaints. The result, teachers and principals say, is a climate of fear around how to comply with rules they often do not understand.”….From a different vantage point, Robert C. Post, a law professor at Yale, argued in an email that the censorship/free speech debate has run amok: “It certainly has gone haywire. The way I understand it is that freedom of speech has not been a principled commitment but has been used instrumentally to attain other political ends. The very folks who were so active in demanding freedom of speech in universities have turned around and imposed unconscionable censorship on schools and libraries. The very folks who have demanded a freedom of speech for minority groups have sought to suppress offensive and racist speech.”….“Post makes the case that there is “a widespread tendency to conceptualize the problem as one of free speech. We imagine that the crisis would be resolved if only we could speak more freely.” In fact, he writes, “the difficulty we face is not one of free speech, but of politics. Our capacity to speak has been disrupted because our politics has become diseased.”….We cannot now speak to each other because something has already gone violently wrong with our political community,” Post writes. “The underlying issue is not our speech, but our politics. So long as we insist on allegiance to a mythical free speech principle that exists immaculately distinct from the concrete social practices, we shall look for solutions in all the wrong places.”

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