washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his latest email blast, Matthew Yglesias takes on “Trump’s middle class tax hike,” and writes, “Most people think (and I agree) that Trump flip-flopping the GOP away from its Reagan-Bush-Bush free trade positions helped him pick up votes in the Midwest. So Joe Biden has mostly kept Trump trade policies in place, which has induced Trump to raise his ambitions in an effort to outflank Biden. And what he’s stumbled on is an idea that, if explained properly to the American people, would be politically toxic. This isn’t a huge regressive tax increase that will finance useful public services — it’s a huge regressive tax increase that will partially offset the cost of tax cuts for the rich….But I worry that because a lot of progressive intellectuals are so invested in the industrial policy debate, they aren’t going to want Democrats to talk about why a 10 percent across the board increase in tariffs is bad….So it’s really worth saying that whatever you make of industrial policy, what Trump is suggesting is not a remotely strategic approach to national economic development. If anything, Trump’s entire trade agenda — not only these tariffs, but things like his 2020 effort to score a giant sale of soybeans to China — is geared around de-industrializing the United States and turning us into a primary commodity exporter….The right’s intellectual trajectory on these topics is somewhat alarming. Everyone in DC understands that Trump did not come up with this policy proposal based on any kind of detailed study of the issue. Unless it benefits him personally, Trump just pulls ideas out of his ass because he likes the vibe. Most professional conservatives have realized that the best way to wield influence in a Trump-dominated party is to say nice things about him and try to work behind the scenes. But the MAGA faithful don’t see the machinations behind the scenes. All they see is Miller talking about how amazing it will be for South Carolina to tumble backward to a more primitive state of development.”

Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid and Doug Jones’s two Senate campaigns in Alabama, told me in a phone interview that his major concern is that the Biden campaign should take the threats posed by third-party candidates “more seriously,” Thomas B. Edsall writes in his latest NYT opinion essay. “If Trump wins in November, it will be because of third parties getting a significant number of people,” Trippi argued. “No one who is a MAGA Trump supporter is going to vote for a third party. Most of it comes off Joe Biden.”….Polling supports Trippi on this score….In the RealClearPolitics compilation of recent polls pitting Trump against Biden, Trump led by 2.1 points, 46.7 percent to 44.6 percent….In the RealClearPolitics compilation of polls that add Robert Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein to the mix, Trump’s lead over Biden more than doubles, to 4.8 points, 41.6 to 36.8 percent. Kennedy gets 13 percent, and West and Stein each get 2.1 percent….Along with the threat posed by third-party candidates, two major crises — immigration and the Israeli assault on Hamas in Gaza — have become significant liabilities for the Biden campaign….Voters, as I mentioned earlier, overwhelmingly favor Trump over Biden to handle immigration and the southern border. Biden’s backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war against Hamas in Gaza has weakened Democratic support, especially among young voters who were crucial to Biden’s 2020 victory….The Dec. 10-14 New York Times/Siena poll found that young voters, aged 18 to 29, favored Trump over Biden 49-43. These voters said they trusted Trump over Biden “to do a better job on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” 49-30. In the 2020 election, Biden beat Trump among 18-to-29-year-old voters by 24 points, 60-36, according to exit polls, by far his biggest margin in all age groups.”

Edsall continues, “Even so, Biden has the potential to regain ground on both immigration and the Gaza war….In the case of immigration, Biden has endorsed a hard-line, bipartisan border security bill — backed by most Democrats and some Republicans — that may be voted on in the Senate later this week, emphasis on “may.”….Many of the provisions of the act have been endorsed by conservative Republicans in the past, but the bipartisan measure is opposed by Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson, on explicitly political grounds. They want to keep public anxiety over immigration festering through Election Day and they do not want to give Biden a victory on the issue….Trump and his allies have provided Biden the opportunity to counter the Trump-Johnson strategy by portraying himself as a proponent of vigorous border enforcement and Trump as a politically motivated politician who doesn’t actually care about the border….According to Jonathan Cowan, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, Biden’s current strategy on immigration is a step in the right direction….“To win in 2024, Biden will need to convince voters that he is still the proud moderate they voted for in 2020,” Cowan wrote by email. “He has a lot of evidence on his side, but he still has a lot of convincing to do.”….The opening to win over swing voters, in Cowan’s view, “is there, including the blocs of soft Republicans and gettable independents we saw looking for someone else other than Trump in the New Hampshire G.O.P. primary.”….Douglas Schoen, a center-right Democratic operative and frequent critic of his own party, wrote in the Feb. 2 edition of The Hill that “evidence is beginning to emerge that Biden has at the very least, stabilized the race and that the ‘Trump surge’ has cooled off.”….Schoen concluded: “As for Biden’s chances one month into this election year, there is a lot of work to be done. However, if I were the Biden campaign, I’d be more pleased with the road ahead than just a few months ago.” Edsall concludes, “The biggest danger facing the Biden campaign is the possibility that Trump reins himself in. The chances of that happening, however, are virtually nil.”

In “The GOP Owns the Border Now. Here’s How Democrats Make Sure of It. Hard-right Republicans killed the Senate immigration deal out of fealty to Trump. That’s the perfect opening for Biden to go on the attack,” Michael Tomasky argues at The New Republic, “The GOP killed the border deal. The party that has been caterwauling for months—years—about the porous border dispatched one of its most conservative members, James Lankford of Oklahoma, to negotiate a bill. They had Democrats over a political barrel. President Biden was willing to sign a bill that included plenty of stuff that’s hard for many Democrats to swallow, but it’s an election year, and there’s Arizona to think about. They had a bill the likes of which they won’t see for another 15 years….So how can the Democrats be sure that voters get the message that the Republicans now own this chaos? Obviously, for starters, just say it and say it and say it. The Republicans blocked a bill because they and Trump want to run on the issue. They’d rather have the issue than fix the problem. Whatever Democrats settle on as the best way to say it, just say it over and over and over. They’ll never persuade MAGA voters, but that isn’t the point. The point is persuading the voters who’ll decide the election: the 20,000 in Wisconsin, the 15,000 in Michigan, and so on….Besides which, they may even persuade some Republicans voters of the merit of their message. They’re not all MAGA. A significant minority don’t love Trump. They won’t vote Biden, but they may stay home—and some of them may lose their ardor for Senate and House candidates who so cravenly kowtowed to Trump on this….Biden needs to rise up here. The State of the Union address will take place March 7. That’s the biggest audience he’ll have until his convention speech this summer, and he needs to use the occasion to drive home the Republicans’ naked hypocrisy. He should spell out all the strict provisions of the bill that made it a very tough sell to many members of his own party. He was willing to take some political heat to accept a compromise—one that included a number of Republican priorities—just to do something about the problem. And the Republicans killed it. They’ll boo him. Let them. It’ll be great theater, and to those few thousand Great Lakes voters, the Republicans will look ridiculous….How many times do swing voters need to see this movie before they understand the moral? Apparently a lot of times. Democrats: Remind them.”

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