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Beto O’Rourke’s Campaign Tests Power of Facebook in Elections

In most of the recent polls, Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke is running behind in his quest to win a U.S. Senate seat from incumbent Republican Ted Cruz. But, if O’Rourke wins next Tuesday, much of the credit will go to his unprecedented Facebook messaging. Alexis C. Madrigal explains at The Atlantic:

Through October 20, O’Rourke alone had spent $5.4 million advertising on the platform, according to Facebook’s Ad Archive Report. J. B. Pritzker, Kamala Harris, Andrew Cuomo, Claire McCaskill, and Heidi Heitkamp had spent $5.5 million total. O’Rourke’s opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, had spent only $427,000 on Facebook, about 1/13th as much as O’Rourke…Much of O’Rourke’s Facebook-ad buy seems to be going toward short videos of the candidate talking to crowds or directly to the camera.

Not that O’Rourke is neglecting TV and Google, as Madrigal notes:

The two Texas Senate hopefuls are relatively close in spending on television ads. While O’Rourke had spent more than $15 million on television ads through mid-October, Cruz and associated pacs had spent $12 million and were on pace to nearly catch up there. O’Rourke has also spent $1.3 million on Google ads, also top among all candidates, though by a much narrower margin (Rick Scott has spent more than $1 million). Cruz has spent little on Google—$181,000—according to the company’s political transparency report.

But O’Rourke’s online campaign has already proven to be a tremendous success in terms of fund-raising, and “his unexpected fund-raising success—pulling in $62 million through September 30—has catapulted the relatively unknown congressman from El Paso onto the national stage.”

Perhaps, even more importantly, O’Rourke’s campaign has also invested heavily in assembling a first-rate video production team.

But O’Rourke’s own video team has proved able to get and recognize hot footage, according to Kasra Shokat, a digital-media strategist at the consultancy Winning Mark. “He has invested a ton of infrastructure that can turn around and produce video on a dime and get those up quickly,” Shokat said. “That’s the kind of engaging content that works really well.”…Shokat said he’s begun to recommend that campaigns, especially those of charismatic talkers, hire full-time video help to create content.

Through widespread re-postings of his diverse videos, “it’s looking like O’Rourke’s total spending on Facebook has generated into the hundreds of millions of impressions,” notes Madrigal. It seems a wise bet. When a political campaign has a charismatic candidate, who is an underdog, maximizing face-time can only help.

“Facebook remains the primary platform for most Americans,” report Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson at pewinternet.org. “Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) now report that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of those users access Facebook on a daily basis. With the exception of those 65 and older, a majority of Americans across a wide range of demographic groups now use Facebook.”

“O’Rourke’s remarkable fund-raising might not be duplicative by candidates with less star power or in less contentious races, “warns Madrigal. “But if O’Rourke’s Facebook-heavy campaign surprises, even with a closer-than-expected loss, his approach could be a blueprint for state-level candidates devoting more resources to the platform.”


Did Facebook Just Cave to the GOP?

Yesterday J.P. Green noted an article in Campaigns & Elections underscoring the high regard Repubican party political operatives have for Facebook as a media outlet for their ads — despite the efforts of Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to discredit Facebook as tainted by liberal bias.
But Thune’s record suggests more than a little hypocrisy, as Steve Benen noted at Maddowblog:

…John Thune says he’s concerned about Facebook’s “culture” and the integrity of its mission statement, but again, how in the world is that any of his business? Isn’t the Republican model based on the idea that the free market should decide and if online consumers don’t like Facebook’s “culture,” we can take our clicks elsewhere?
But even more striking still is Thune’s uniquely weak position. When the South Dakota Republican became Congress’ leading opponent of net neutrality, Thune made the case that any political interference in how the Internet operates is inherently unacceptable.
Worse, in 2007, Thune railed against the “Fairness Doctrine,” arguing at the time, “I know the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I hear government officials offering to regulate the news media and talk radio to ensure fairness. I think most Americans have the same reaction.”

For the sake of argument, so what if Facebook had more “liiberal” content? Fox News, Breitbart and the Drudge Report display relentless conservative bias every day, and no Senators are trying to intimidate them to change their polices to reflect a more liberal point of view. Not all media has to be nonpartisan.
But Facebook has 1.6 billion “users,” and dwarfs all other websites in some key metrics that measure influence, which explain Thune’s meddling.
In reality, however, the political content of Facebook is mostly determined by the public, as its “users” choose which articles, videos and other content to share with their FB friends. It’s different for every user, from moment to moment. Liberals see mostly liberal content, and the same principle applies for both conservatives and moderates. Facebook does provide a powerful forum for peer-to-peer political education. But everyone can choose what to read and view and what to ignore, and that includes content spotlighted by Facebook’s administrators and staff.
But Brian Fung’s Washington Post article, “Facebook is making some big changes to Trending Topics, responding to conservatives” raises a disturbing possibility that facebook is caving to political pressure. As Fung reports,

Facebook said Monday it will stop relying as much on other news outlets to inform what goes into its Trending Topics section — a part of Facebook’s website that despite its small size has grown into a national political controversy amid accusations that the social network is stifling conservative voices on its platform.
Under the change, Facebook will discontinue the algorithmic analysis of media organizations’ websites and digital news feeds that partly determines which stories should be included in Trending Topics. Also being thrown out is a list of 1,000 journalism outlets that currently helps Facebook’s curators evaluate and describe the newsworthiness of potential topics, as well as a more exclusive list of 10 news sites that includes BuzzFeed News, the Guardian, the New York Times and The Washington Post.
…Facebook’s policy change Monday appears to be aimed at defusing the palpable tension between it and Republicans outraged over reports that Facebook’s Trending Topics could be biased against conservatives. Facebook’s announcement ending the scraping of news sites and RSS feeds for Trending Topics came in a response to Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the top Republican on the powerful Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Thune demanded on May 10 that Facebook answer a series of questions in light of the mounting outcry over the perceived bias.

Facebook has reponded that “Suppressing political content or preventing people from seeing what matters most to them is directly contrary to our mission and our business objectives.” But the changes regarding the selection of ‘Trending Topics” content suggest otherwise.
Most Facebook users will probably not notice much change in political slant and tone. That will still be largely determined by user posts. But the possibility that Facebook’s content policy can be influenced by political intimidation, especially from the politician who leads the opposition to net neurtrality, is disturbing.


Halpin: Legacy Media and Political Polarization

The following article by John Halpin, president and executive editor of The Liberal Patriot. is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot: 

People often finger social media as the primary culprit in America’s increasingly bitter and divided politics. As the argument goes, corporate tech algorithms and consumer choices are forcing people into closed-looped information circuits full of misinformation, political self-righteousness, and acrimony toward others.

If you happen to spend any time on these social media platforms, you might agree with this assessment. However, the empirical question remains: Are the users of social media any more partisan or ideological than consumers of other types of media?

Looking at data from the recent TLP/YouGov polling of 3098 registered voters conducted in September 2023, the answer is not as simple as conventional wisdom dictates. It turns out, consumers of traditional media—mainly cable news, network television, radio, and national newspapers—exhibit far greater partisan imbalances than do consumers of the biggest social media platforms.

For context, the survey asked respondents, “In the past week, did you get any news from any of the following sources?” and allowed people to make multiple selections.

As the chart below shows, local television remains the most used media source for news information chosen by 41 percent of voters overall. News websites and apps come in second at 33 percent followed by a cluster of different sources including Fox News (28 percent), Facebook (28 percent), CNN (27 percent), and YouTube (26 percent). Notably, national print newspapers were selected by only 9 percent of voters—almost equal to those Americans getting news from the social media video platform, TikTok, at 10 percent. Seven percent of voters overall report not getting news from any of these sources.


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Looking at the crosstabs on media usage, the overlap in news consumption is interesting. For example, 54 percent of those who tune into CNN also get news from local television, and 40 percent get news from Facebook. Likewise, 53 percent of those who tune into Fox get news from local television, and 37 percent get news from Facebook. On the social media side, 52 percent of TikTok news consumers also turn to CNN for news, 54 percent watch YouTube, and 59 percent get news on Facebook.

To gauge the partisan leanings of different consumers, I examined the breakdown of media consumers on President Biden’s job approval, which stood at 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove among all voters in September. (Job approval and disapproval seems like a more representative measure of political beliefs than the national horserace at this stage, but the patterns are broadly matched in terms of Biden or Trump support.)

As the table below highlights, legacy media users emerge as the most skewed American consumers of media in terms of their approval or disapproval of President Biden—particularly cable news viewers.


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For example, among those who get news from CNN and MSNBC, Biden’s job approval is an impressive 72 and 78 percent, respectively—more than 25 points higher than his approval ratings nationally. Conversely, only one quarter or less of those who get their news from Fox, One America News Network, and Newsmax approve of the job Biden is going as president, around 20 points lower than the national average. Consumers of national newspapers and national network news also exhibit much higher approval of President Biden than voters nationally, and when compared to consumers of local newspapers or local television. On the flip side, radio news consumers exhibit higher than average disapproval of Biden.

In contrast, users of an array of social media platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and other social media (including LinkedIn and Instagram) appear more evenly split in their evaluations of the president. Among voters who get news from either Facebook or YouTube, an equal 49 percent approve and disapprove of Biden. And although both Twitter and TikTok users overall emerge slightly more pro-Biden than the national average, their approval or disapproval is much less pronounced than that among cable news viewers.

This is just one poll, of course. But these results cut against the grain of most commentary on America’s political divides.

If analysts are looking for the information roots of America’s most intense political polarization, they might want to examine the consumer bases and news content of legacy media sources as much as they scrutinize social media platforms.

The viewers of different cable news channels, and readers of national newspapers or listeners of radio, constitute vastly different (and more one-sided) partisan worlds than most people on social media platforms with a cacophony of voices and partisan inclinations.

Social media often gets dinged for partisan self-selection and ideological reinforcement, which certainly goes on to some extent, but these data show that the sharpest partisans splits are more prominently found among consumers of traditional cable, print, network news, and radio sources.


Political Strategy Notes

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “The GOP’s speaker chaos is a blessing in disguise,” and writes: “The chaotic Republican-led House of Representatives has a rather poor sense of timing. The United States is in the midst of two international emergencies and faces the threat of a government shutdown next month. President Biden’s prime-time speech on Thursday pressing for aid to Ukraine and Israel underscored the exorbitant costs of the GOP meltdown….But the embarrassing exercise could prove to be a blessing because it’s exposing a crisis in our politics that must be confronted. The endless battle for the speakership is already encouraging new thinking and might yet lead to institutional arrangements to allow bipartisan majorities to work their will….The House impasse was precipitated by both radicalization and division within the Republican Party. Narrow majorities in the House have enabled right-wing radicals to disable the governing system. Normal progressives and normal conservatives, in alliance with politicians closer to the center, are discovering a shared interest in keeping the nihilist right far from the levers of power….The GOP doesn’t want to recognize that McCarthy gave Democrats no reason to save him — he flatly refused to negotiate with them in his hour of need — and many reasons to believe he’d continue to kowtow to party extremists….The last straw came after Democrats gave more votes than Republicans did to pass McCarthy’s bill to avoid a government shutdown last month. The next day, McCarthy turned around and bizarrely claimed that Democrats “did not want the bill” and “were willing to let government shut down.” That dishonest nonsense sealed his fate.”

“Democrats are going out of their way,” Dionne adds, “to say they are ready to deal. “We are willing to find a bipartisan path forward so we can reopen the House,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference on Friday, after Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) went down in his third and decisive defeat in the speakership vote. Republicans, Jeffries said, had a choice: to “embrace bipartisanship and abandon extremism.”….The Democratic rank and file has quietly been working in this direction. Rep. Annie Kuster (N.H.), chair of the New Democrat Coalition, told me that moderate Democrats “were talking to any reasonable Republican we had a relationship with” in an effort to empower Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) to bring up bills that have broad support in both parties….She noted that the Democrats’ conditions were minimal and hardly left-wing: to agree to avoid a government shutdown; to pass spending bills along the lines of the fiscal accord McCarthy and McHenry themselves made with Biden in May to avert a debt default; and to provide military aid to Ukraine and Israel and humanitarian aid for Palestinians….All friends of democratic rule should be grateful. With a regiment of nine lesser-known Republicans pondering a now wide-open speaker’s race, a new version of the McHenry option might gain appeal….Bipartisanship is no magic elixir, but bipartisanship in pursuit of majority rule is a worthy cause. Pushing Republicans to confront extremism in their ranks is both good politics and essential for governing. The Democrats’ offer to help Republicans through their intraparty struggle will either hasten the day of reckoning or expose the GOP’s refusal to stand up to its nihilists.”

“Former President Obama issued a new statement Monday on the ongoing violence taking place in Israel and Gaza as the death toll continues to tick up,” Lauren Sforza writes in “Obama issues new statement on Israel and Gaza” at The Hill. “In a lengthy statement, Obama again condemned the deadly attacks launched by the militant group Hamas on Oct. 7 in what he called an “unspeakable brutality.” While he maintained Israel had a right to defend itself against the attacks, he reiterated the need to abide by “international law.”….“But even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight against Hamas matters. In particular, it matters — as President Biden has repeatedly emphasized — that Israel’s military strategy abides by international law, including those laws that seek to avoid, to every extent possible, the death or suffering of civilian populations,” Obama wrote….He said upholding international law is “vital for building alliances and shaping international opinion.”….The attacks on Israel have resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians across the region. More than 1,400 Israelis have been killed, mostly in the initial attack launched by Hamas on Oct. 7. The U.S. and other countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization….More than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed so far in the conflict in Gaza, including an estimated 2,055 children and 1,119 women, with more than 15,000 injured, the Gaza Health Ministry reported Monday….“The Israeli government’s decision to cut off food, water and electricity to a captive civilian population threatens not only to worsen a growing humanitarian crisis; it could further harden Palestinian attitudes for generations, erode global support for Israel, play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, and undermine long term efforts to achieve peace and stability in the region,” he wrote….He also recognized Israel has “every right to exist,” but Palestinians have “also lived in disputed territories for generations.”….“But if we care about keeping open the possibility of peace, security and dignity for future generations of Israeli and Palestinian children — as well as for our own children — then it falls upon all of us to at least make the effort to model, in our own words and actions, the kind of world we want them to inherit,” he concluded.”

You may not be shocked to learn that “Voters under 30 are trending left of the general electorate,” as Monica Potts and Holly Fuong report at FiveThirtyEight, via ABC News. “Voters under the age of 30 have largely been part of the Democratic camp since former President Barack Obama won two-thirds of them in 2008. That same age group may have helped put President Joe Biden over the top in 2020, and assisted Democrats in broadly overperforming expectations in the 2022 midterms. And there’s some evidence that these young voters are staying liberal even as they age, defying the trend of previous generations. That’s especially true of millennials, the now-27 to 42 year-olds who were so taken with Obama’s first campaign. (Throughout this analysis, we use the Pew Research Center’s definitions of millennials and Generation Z.)….Young voters are consistently more liberal than the general electorate is on a range of issues, according to a 538 analysis. We took a look at data from the Cooperative Election Study, a Harvard University survey of at least 60,000 Americans taken before the 2020 elections and the 2022 midterms, and found notable differences between younger voters and the general electorate on key issues like the environment, abortion and immigration. That could make a big difference in the general election — that is, if young voters actually show up to vote….In 2020 and 2022, voters under 30 made up 21 percent of the electorate, according to our analysis of the CES data. In both of those elections, the cohort of 18 to 29 year-olds was composed of a mix of millennials and Gen Z, those born after 1996. More of Gen Z will be eligible to vote next year than ever before, and so far, they seem to be voting like the millennials that came before them. If history holds, they are likely to become more politically active as they age, and if they keep the political preferences they exhibit now, then like millennials, they’ll have a bigger and bigger impact on elections to come. That impact may begin as soon as 2024….Turnout among millennials and Gen Z, many of whom will be voting in their first presidential election, will be key in 2024. The youngest voters in any given election year have historically been the least likely to vote, with around 46 percent in that age group voting in 2016, more than 15 percentage points lower than the general electorate. Turnout rose in 2020, as it did for all groups, when an estimated 50 percent of young voters and 66 percent of the general electorate voted, but declined some in 2022 compared to the previous midterm in 2018.”


Navin Nayak on Democratic Messaging

At The New Republic’s Soapbox, TNR Editor Michael Tomasky interviews Navin Nayak, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Here’s a cross-post of Tomasky’s introduction, followed by the video of the interview:

It’s one of the most frequent and familiar complaints of rank-and-file liberals: Democratic messaging, especially on the economy, stinks. A new poll from NBC News will surely only add fuel to the fire, as it shows the Republicans with the largest lead on the question of which party can better handle the economy since 1991—at 49 percent to 28 percent. Everybody has ideas and suspicions about why Democrats struggle to break through. Navin Nayak, the president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has studied the question intensely with his staff. And the situation is … not good.

Nayak has put together a PowerPoint presentation that is a hot commodity in progressive Washington. He’s been showing it to groups of insiders and elected officials, and here, in this edition of Tomaskycast,you’ll get to see some of the slides yourself. Nayak and his team looked at every press release, Facebook post, and tweet put out in 2022 by Democratic candidates for federal office—some 570,000 pieces of communication. And they found that, “to our surprise, only 5 percent mentioned the words ‘economy’ or ‘economics.’” Even including words like “workers,” “wages,” and “jobs” only raised the number to 11 percent. Small wonder the Republicans come out ahead in those polls.

There’s a feast of useful information in this interview for anyone who really wants to understand the details on the hole in which Democrats find themselves. The news isn’t all bad: By 68 percent to 32 percent, people say they do support the core Joe Biden message of investing in the middle class over the Republican message of investing in businesses and letting them spread the bounty. But as Nayak says, among Democrats there is “a real recognition that there isn’t message clarity, and there isn’t a simple thing that Democrats from across the country and from top to bottom repeat.”


Dems Should Emphasize GOP’s Embrace of Unamerican and Unpatriotic Values

Some excerpts from “For Biden, Republican Anti-Government Attacks Can Be a Campaign Strategy: While Trump believes the government exists to serve him, Biden has a strong case for a government for the people in 2024” by Chris Edelson at The Progressive:

Ironically, one of the most fervent Trump supporters—Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia—may have given Biden a ready-made campaign plank. In July, Greene warned that Biden is following in the footsteps of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson; that he is a “Democratic Socialist” committed to “big government programs to address education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, transportation, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare.”

Greene—known for promoting a “Jewish space laser” conspiracy by breathlessly (and incoherently) suggesting that California wildfires in 2018 might have had something to do with a “laser beam” somehow connected to “Rothschild, Inc”—doesn’t stand out as a deep, strategic thinker. So it’s no surprise that her effort to tar Biden with the frequently misused scare label of “socialist” could easily backfire. As one observer said of Greene’s “socialism” rant, “it strikes me as a curious political strategy to compare the legislation of a President [Biden] you despise and want to impeach with some of the most broadly popular legislation in American history.”

Biden seems to agree with this analysis: his campaign quickly responded with an ad that welcomed Greene’s comparison to FDR and LBJ as an indication that the Biden Administration is committed to helping middle class and working class people.

It was refreshing—but certainly not inevitable—to see Biden proudly embrace the idea that government can be a force for good in Americans’ lives.  In the past, other Democrats went into a defensive crouch when Republicans like Ronald Reagan described government as “the problem.” After Republicans hammered home their “big government attack” for more than a decade, Bill Clinton finally conceded in 1996 that “the era of big government is over,” seeming to accept the Republicans’ premise that government is the enemy, or, at best, “a necessary evil.”

Edelson adds, “The Biden ad suggests an alternative approach: seizing on overwrought Republican anti-government rhetoric as an opening for presenting an effective case for Biden and the Democrats in 2024 that contrasts their approach with Republicans’ cynical view of government….” Further, writes Edelson,

….Republicans see government as a force that serves them—that advances their specific world views at the expense of their perceived enemies. This view is represented in its purest form by the party’s leader, Donald Trump. For Trump, everything is about him, and the government exists only to serve his personal interests by lining his pockets (or his family members’ pockets), protecting his henchmen, punishing his perceived enemies, and consolidating personal power. This is a man so self-absorbed that he falsely insisted classified government documents were “my documents.”….If he is given a second term, Trump has made it brazenly clear that he will do all he can to make government officials personally loyal to him. At its heart, Trump’s vision of government is profoundly authoritarian: he sees government as a tool he can use to advance his interests and a weapon he can deploy to destroy his critics.

In contrast, Biden and the Democrats can argue that government exists to serve everyone. The point of government is to make life better—the preamble to our Constitution says as much. Where Trump’s view of government is deeply authoritarian and personal, Biden can embrace government as thoroughly democratic and aimed at public service. He could claim his presidency has been focused not on personal gain but rather on helping Americans burdened by student loans, inflation, worries about the pandemic, and economic uncertainty. On all of these fronts, Biden has standing to contend that peoples’ lives have been improved by government intervention, and that he can continue this approach in a second term.

Edelson concludes that “emphasizing a contrast between Biden’s and Trump’s approaches to government can give progressives an edge in an election that may be extremely competitive.” These opposing views of government provide an important distinction.

But it’s not just that Democrats have a genuine faith in government’s responsibility to serve the people, while Trump and his Republican lapdogs see government as a tool for their personal enrichment. Democrats should also not hesitate to ‘wave the flag’ and say clearly that Trump’s view of government, shared by his followers in his party, is deeply unamerican and unpatriotic. They have betrayed America’s — and Democracy’s — best ideals about freedom and fairness. That’s what voters who love America should take to the polls in 2024.


Political Strategy Notes

At floridapolitics.com, A. G. Gancarski reports that “DeSantis Under 30% Approval With Women,” and writes, “As the First Lady launches “Mamas for DeSantis,” new polling suggests the Governor’s got trouble with women nationally….A survey conducted by The Economist and YouGov shows fewer than 3 in 10 women nationally approve of Ron DeSantis, a sign he may face difficulties with the opposite sex if he should be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024….In a survey of 1,500 adult citizens, just 29% of women regard the Governor favorably. “Very favorable” respondents make up 10% of the sample, while “somewhat favorable” makes up another 19%….Meanwhile, 45% of women regard the Governor unfavorably, with a total of 37% of the sample regarding him in a “very unfavorable manner.”….he Governor has 35% approval against 43% disapproval overall, with 42% approval among men against 48% disapproval with that gender.” Further, “Just 27% of independent voters approve of DeSantis, against 49% disapproval. Among moderates, 29% approve of DeSantis, against 41% disapproval….DeSantis’ problems with female voters may drive a lot of this negativity; the crosstabs do not break it down to that degree. Consistent with that read, other polling shows the Governor struggling with women….A June Civiqs survey reveals that 63% of women disapprove of the Florida Governor, with 60% of female independent voters and 93% of Democratic women against him….A June poll by The Economist and YouGov, also illustrates DeSantis is dragging with women voters, and is stronger with men.” This is the Republican who is 2nd only to Trump among GOP presidential contenders. No matter who the GOP nominates, they are in trouble with women voters.

Steve Benen has a juicy contribution to the GOP’s ever-increasing annals of hypocrisy at MSNBC’s ‘MaddowBlog, where he writes  “In 2009 and 2010, Republicans who opposed the Democrats’ Recovery Act started showing up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, as if they deserved some credit for the economic package then-President Barack Obama used to help end the Great Recession. At one point, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put together a list of the House Republicans who tried to take credit for the investments, and the list included more than 70% of the House GOP conference….The phenomenon was so common, Democrats came up with a label for Republicans who condemned the Recovery Act, except when it helped their constituents: “Highway Hypocrites.”….to fully appreciate the scope of the GOP hypocrisy, look no further than the party’s approach to infrastructure investments that wouldn’t exist if Republicans had their way. AL.com had a reportyesterday, for example, with a succinct headline: “Tuberville praises $1.4 billion for broadband he voted against.”….The Alabaman has plenty of company. Some GOP members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation this week also celebrated broadband investments from the Biden administration, which they voted against. Republican Sen. John Cornyn yesterday touted federal funds to boost broadband expansion efforts in his home state of Texas, while neglecting to mention that those funds only exist thanks to legislation that he voted to kill…..Tuberville, for example, argued in his online missive yesterday, “Broadband is vital for the success of our rural communities and for our entire economy. [It’s] great to see Alabama receive crucial funds to boost ongoing broadband efforts.”….And therein lies the problem: If broadband is vital, and these funds are “crucial,” why did Tuberville vote against the investments?….I’ve lost count of how manycongressional Republicans have touted, celebrated, taken credit for, or some combination thereof infrastructure investments that they voted against — and in several instances, condemned as “socialism.”

“Among the additional conditions working to the advantage of Democrats are the increase in Democratic Party loyalty and ideological consistency, ” Thomas B. Edsall writes in his New York Times column. “the political mobilization of liberal constituencies by adverse Supreme Court rulings, an initial edge in the fight for an Electoral College majority and the increase in nonreligious voters along with a decline in churchgoing believers….These and other factors have prompted two Democratic strategists, Celinda Lake and Mike Lux, to declare, “All the elements are in place for a big Democratic victory in 2024.” In “Democrats Could Win a Trifecta in 2024,” a May 9 memo released to the public, the two even voiced optimism over the biggest hurdle facing Democrats, retaining control of the Senate in 2024, when as many as eight Democratic-held seats are competitive while the Republican seats are in solidly red states:

While these challenges are real, they can be overcome, and the problems are overstated. Remember that this same tough Senate map produced a net of five Democratic pickups in the 2000 election, which Gore narrowly lost to Bush; six Democratic pickups in 2006, allowing Democrats to retake the Senate; and two more in 2012. If we have a good election year overall, we have a very good chance at Democrats holding the Senate.

….Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, documents growing Democratic unity in two 2023 papers, “Both White and Nonwhite Democrats Are Moving Left” and “The Transformation of the American Electorate….As a result of these trends toward intraparty consensus, there has been a steady drop in the percentage of Democratic defections to the opposition, as the party’s voters have become less vulnerable to wedge-issue tactics, especially wedge issues closely tied to race….From 2012 to 2020, Abramowitz wrote in the “Transformation” paper, “there was a dramatic increase in liberalism among Democratic voters.” As a result of these shifts, he continued, “Democratic voters are now as consistent in their liberalism as Republican voters are in their conservatism.”….Most important, Abramowitz wrote, the

rise in ideological congruence among Democratic voters — and especially among white Democratic voters — has had important consequences for voting behavior. For many years, white Democrats have lagged behind nonwhite Democrats in loyalty to Democratic presidential candidates. In 2020, however, this gap almost disappeared, with white Democratic identifiers almost as loyal as nonwhite Democratic identifiers.

Edsall continues, “Three Supreme Court decisions handed down in the last week of June — rejecting the Biden administration’s program to forgive student loan debt, affirming the right of a web designer to refuse to construct wedding websites for same-sex couples and ruling unconstitutional the use of race by colleges in student admissions — are, in turn, quite likely to increase Democratic turnout more than Republican turnout on Election Day….Politically, one of the most effective tools for mobilizing voters is to emphasize lost rights and resources….This was the case after last June’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which eliminated the right to abortion and in the 2022 midterm elections mobilized millions of pro-abortion-rights voters. By that logic, the three decisions I mentioned should raise turnout among students, L.G.B.T.Q. people and African Americans, all largely Democratic constituencies….Kyle D. Kondik, the managing editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ballat the University of Virginia Center for Politics, published “Electoral College Ratings: Expect Another Highly Competitive Election” last week….“We are starting 260 electoral votes’ worth of states as at least leaning Democratic,” Kondik wrote, “and 235 as at least leaning Republican,” with “just 43 tossup electoral votes at the outset.”…In other words, if this prediction holds true until November 2024, the Democratic candidate would need 10 more Electoral College votes to win and the Republican nominee would need 35….The competitive states, Kondik continues, “are Arizona (11 votes), Georgia (16) and Wisconsin (10) — the three closest states in 2020 — along with Nevada (6), which has voted Democratic in each of the last four presidential elections but by closer margins each time.”….Among the key voters who, in all likelihood, will pick the next president — relatively well-educated suburbanites — Trump has become toxic. He is, at least in that sense, Biden’s best hope for winning a second term.”


March 29: Here Comes the Tea Party Strategy on Retirement Programs Again

If you are feeling a sense of deja vu about where the current budget debate in Congress is headed, you aren’t alone, and I offered an explanation at New York:

In the partisan messaging battle over the federal budget, Joe Biden seems to have Republicans right where he wants them. Beginning with his State of the Union Address in early February, the president has hammered away at GOP lawmakers for plotting to gut wildly popular Social Security and Medicare benefits. This has driven Republicans into a defensive crouch; they can either pretend their proposed cuts aren’t really cuts or forswear them altogether. It’s a message that Democrats would love to highlight every day until the next election, or at least until Republicans figure out a better response than lies, evasions, and blustery denials.

But as Ron Brownstein points out in The Atlantic, there is a logical path Republicans could take to counter Democrats’ claims that GOP policies threaten popular retirement programs. It’s based on pitting every other form of federal domestic spending against Social Security and Medicare, and on making Democratic support for Big Government and its beneficiaries a political problem among seniors:

“Republicans hope that exempting Social Security and Medicare [from cutbacks they are demanding for raising the federal debt limit] will dampen any backlash to their deficit-reduction plans in economically vulnerable districts. But protecting those programs, as well as defense, from cuts—while also precluding tax increases—will force the House Republicans to propose severe reductions in other domestic programs … potentially including Medicaid, the ACA, and food and housing assistance.

“Will a Republican push for severe reductions in those programs provide Democrats with an opening in such places? Robert J. Blendon, a professor emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health, is dubious. Although these areas have extensive needs, he told me, the residents voting Republican in them are generally skeptical of social-welfare spending apart from Social Security and Medicare. ‘We are dealing with a set of values here, which has a distrust of government and a sense that anyone should have to work to get any sort of low-income benefit,’ Blendon said. ‘The people voting Republican in those districts don’t see it as important [that] government provides those benefits.’”

And so Republicans will very likely return to the messaging they embraced during the Obama administration. Back then, self-identified Tea Party conservatives constantly tried to convince elderly voters that the real threat to their retirement programs stemmed not from GOP budget cutting, but from Democratic-backed Big Government spending on younger people and minorities, with whom many conservative voters did not identify. Then as now, a partisan budget fight — and the threat of a debt default of government shutdown — let Republicans frame funding decisions as a competition between groups of beneficiaries, rather than a debate over abstract levels of taxing or spending.

The big opening shot in the anti-Obama campaign was Sarah Palin’s wildly mendacious but highly effective September 2009 Facebook post claiming that the Affordable Care Act would create “death panels” that would eliminate Medicare coverage for seniors or disabled children deemed socially superfluous (the barely legitimate basis for the attack was an Affordable Care Act provision to allow Medicare payments to physicians discussing end-of-life treatments with patients).

Soon Republicans would come up with slightly more substantive claims that Obamacare threatened Medicare. In 2011, House GOP budget maven Paul Ryan, whom Democrats hammered for his proposals to partially privatize both Social Security and Medicare, claimed that Obama administration projections of health cost savings in Medicare represented a shift of resources from Medicare to Obamacare. By 2012, when Ryan became Mitt Romney’s running mate, Ryan was campaigning with his mother in tow, claiming that Republicans wanted to protect her from raids on her retirement benefits by the redistributionist Democrats.

Romney and Ryan didn’t win, of course, but they did win the over-65 vote by a robust 56-44 margin, a better performance in that demographic than Trump registered in 2016 or 2020. As Thomas Edsall explained in The New Republic in 2010, the Tea Party–era Republicans understood they had to mobilize their federal spending constituents against alleged competitors:

“Republicans understand that one axis of the resource war will be generational. All of their vows to defend Medicare are coupled with attacks on Obama’s health care reform. They implicitly portray Democrats as waging an age war—creating a massive new government program that transfers dollars to the young at the expense of the elderly. Republicans have cleverly stoked the fear that Obama is rewarding all his exuberant, youthful, idealistic supporters by redistributing resources that are badly needed by the old.”

In a 2024 campaign in which Democrats are going for the jugular with seniors, a reprise of the GOP’s 2012 Medicare counterattack, dishonest as it was, might make sense.

During this year’s budget skirmish in Congress, House Republicans are expected to take a claw hammer to domestic spending outside Social Security and Medicare, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports:

“This spring, House Republicans are expected to release an annual budget resolution that calls for large health care cuts, and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplace coverage are likely to be prime targets. House Republican leaders are calling for cutting the deficit and making the Trump tax cuts permanent, while saying they will shield certain areas of the budget (Medicare, Social Security, and military spending) from cuts. To do all these things at once, it is highly likely they will propose cuts in health programs that provide coverage to millions of people.”

The House GOP has also already called for deep cuts in nondefense discretionary spending, including food stamp and nutrition programs. It’s likely the GOP’s state-based crusade against “woke” public education will lead to a renewal of ancient conservative demands to deeply cut or kill the U.S. Department of Education. Maybe those representing energy-producing areas will go hard after EPA or the Department of the Interior’s programs. Almost certainly, the GOP as a whole will embrace across-the-board cuts in federal employment or federal employee benefits under the guise of “draining the swamp.” Any and all such cuts can also be rationalized as necessary to avoid reductions in spending for Social Security, Medicare, and national defense, not to mention tax increases.

Whatever formula they adopt, there’s little doubt Republicans will find ways to present themselves the true defenders of Social Security and Medicare, just as many of them will always keep scheming for ways to damage or destroy these vestiges of the New Deal and Great Society. Biden seems committed to his effort to make seniors fear the GOP, and this is the only way Republicans can counter-punch.


Here Comes the Tea Party Strategy on Retirement Programs Again

If you are feeling a sense of deja vu about where the current budget debate in Congress is headed, you aren’t alone, and I offered an explanation at New York:

In the partisan messaging battle over the federal budget, Joe Biden seems to have Republicans right where he wants them. Beginning with his State of the Union Address in early February, the president has hammered away at GOP lawmakers for plotting to gut wildly popular Social Security and Medicare benefits. This has driven Republicans into a defensive crouch; they can either pretend their proposed cuts aren’t really cuts or forswear them altogether. It’s a message that Democrats would love to highlight every day until the next election, or at least until Republicans figure out a better response than lies, evasions, and blustery denials.

But as Ron Brownstein points out in The Atlantic, there is a logical path Republicans could take to counter Democrats’ claims that GOP policies threaten popular retirement programs. It’s based on pitting every other form of federal domestic spending against Social Security and Medicare, and on making Democratic support for Big Government and its beneficiaries a political problem among seniors:

“Republicans hope that exempting Social Security and Medicare [from cutbacks they are demanding for raising the federal debt limit] will dampen any backlash to their deficit-reduction plans in economically vulnerable districts. But protecting those programs, as well as defense, from cuts—while also precluding tax increases—will force the House Republicans to propose severe reductions in other domestic programs … potentially including Medicaid, the ACA, and food and housing assistance.

“Will a Republican push for severe reductions in those programs provide Democrats with an opening in such places? Robert J. Blendon, a professor emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health, is dubious. Although these areas have extensive needs, he told me, the residents voting Republican in them are generally skeptical of social-welfare spending apart from Social Security and Medicare. ‘We are dealing with a set of values here, which has a distrust of government and a sense that anyone should have to work to get any sort of low-income benefit,’ Blendon said. ‘The people voting Republican in those districts don’t see it as important [that] government provides those benefits.’”

And so Republicans will very likely return to the messaging they embraced during the Obama administration. Back then, self-identified Tea Party conservatives constantly tried to convince elderly voters that the real threat to their retirement programs stemmed not from GOP budget cutting, but from Democratic-backed Big Government spending on younger people and minorities, with whom many conservative voters did not identify. Then as now, a partisan budget fight — and the threat of a debt default of government shutdown — let Republicans frame funding decisions as a competition between groups of beneficiaries, rather than a debate over abstract levels of taxing or spending.

The big opening shot in the anti-Obama campaign was Sarah Palin’s wildly mendacious but highly effective September 2009 Facebook post claiming that the Affordable Care Act would create “death panels” that would eliminate Medicare coverage for seniors or disabled children deemed socially superfluous (the barely legitimate basis for the attack was an Affordable Care Act provision to allow Medicare payments to physicians discussing end-of-life treatments with patients).

Soon Republicans would come up with slightly more substantive claims that Obamacare threatened Medicare. In 2011, House GOP budget maven Paul Ryan, whom Democrats hammered for his proposals to partially privatize both Social Security and Medicare, claimed that Obama administration projections of health cost savings in Medicare represented a shift of resources from Medicare to Obamacare. By 2012, when Ryan became Mitt Romney’s running mate, Ryan was campaigning with his mother in tow, claiming that Republicans wanted to protect her from raids on her retirement benefits by the redistributionist Democrats.

Romney and Ryan didn’t win, of course, but they did win the over-65 vote by a robust 56-44 margin, a better performance in that demographic than Trump registered in 2016 or 2020. As Thomas Edsall explained in The New Republic in 2010, the Tea Party–era Republicans understood they had to mobilize their federal spending constituents against alleged competitors:

“Republicans understand that one axis of the resource war will be generational. All of their vows to defend Medicare are coupled with attacks on Obama’s health care reform. They implicitly portray Democrats as waging an age war—creating a massive new government program that transfers dollars to the young at the expense of the elderly. Republicans have cleverly stoked the fear that Obama is rewarding all his exuberant, youthful, idealistic supporters by redistributing resources that are badly needed by the old.”

In a 2024 campaign in which Democrats are going for the jugular with seniors, a reprise of the GOP’s 2012 Medicare counterattack, dishonest as it was, might make sense.

During this year’s budget skirmish in Congress, House Republicans are expected to take a claw hammer to domestic spending outside Social Security and Medicare, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports:

“This spring, House Republicans are expected to release an annual budget resolution that calls for large health care cuts, and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplace coverage are likely to be prime targets. House Republican leaders are calling for cutting the deficit and making the Trump tax cuts permanent, while saying they will shield certain areas of the budget (Medicare, Social Security, and military spending) from cuts. To do all these things at once, it is highly likely they will propose cuts in health programs that provide coverage to millions of people.”

The House GOP has also already called for deep cuts in nondefense discretionary spending, including food stamp and nutrition programs. It’s likely the GOP’s state-based crusade against “woke” public education will lead to a renewal of ancient conservative demands to deeply cut or kill the U.S. Department of Education. Maybe those representing energy-producing areas will go hard after EPA or the Department of the Interior’s programs. Almost certainly, the GOP as a whole will embrace across-the-board cuts in federal employment or federal employee benefits under the guise of “draining the swamp.” Any and all such cuts can also be rationalized as necessary to avoid reductions in spending for Social Security, Medicare, and national defense, not to mention tax increases.

Whatever formula they adopt, there’s little doubt Republicans will find ways to present themselves the true defenders of Social Security and Medicare, just as many of them will always keep scheming for ways to damage or destroy these vestiges of the New Deal and Great Society. Biden seems committed to his effort to make seniors fear the GOP, and this is the only way Republicans can counter-punch.


Political Strategy Notes

At Vox, Nicole Narea gathers comments from four political strategists/pollsters in response to a question of current speculation: “Would Trump’s indictment help or hurt his 2024 campaign?” Some excerpts: GOP pollster Whit Ayers – “I am skeptical that a charge about a years-old event that everybody has already known about for years is likely to have much impact on anything, other than it will probably rally Republicans and supporters of Trump around him, at least in the short term. This would be a very easy case to frame as a partisan political indictment. Much easier to frame that way than, say, the Georgia voting case or the classified documents or January 6.” Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg – “I think it will help [Trump] in the Republican primary, but will continue to degrade him with the broader electorate. MAGA has underperformed in three consecutive elections, and we know it doesn’t work in the battlegrounds. And if the Republicans present themselves as the party all for MAGA in 2024, they’re gonna have a very, very hard time winning the presidency….Trump coming in as the nominee, having been indicted potentially two or three times — there’s no scenario where that’s helpful to him in a national election. It perhaps will help him crowd out DeSantis and other challengers in the primary. But of course, that would be a disaster for the Republican Party. I’d much rather be us than them heading into this next election.” Matt Dole, Ohio Republican strategist: “Trump faced an uphill battle before this for the nomination. I think [his indictment] probably just adds to that. A lot of folks in the Republican coalition want an option that espouses [Trump’s] policies without bringing the antics. Ron DeSantis, obviously, is the model for that….Over the long term, I think this probably helps Trump’s opponents in the Republican primary. There’s certainly a lot to be said for political attacks on President Trump. But I think throughout the entire Republican coalition, this probably hurts him more than it would help….There is a subset of Republicans who are going to support Donald Trump to the very end. And they are loud. And they are well-covered by the media. There will certainly be blowback. But again, all of this is feeding into the fatigue about Donald Trump.”

Pranab Bardhan shares some perceptive insights in “What Will It Take to Save Democracy?,” his review of Martin Wolf’s The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism at The Boston Review. Bardhan, author of  “A World of Insecurity: Democratic Disenchantment in Rich and Poor Countries,” notes that “the cultural narratives used by the right have been more effective in influencing public opinion than the economic narratives of class politics used by left-liberals. Survey results have shown that people tend to vastly overestimatethe size of immigrant and minority populations but dramatically underestimate the extent of wealth inequality and the racial wealth gap. The narrative of a besieged cultural majority and the spell of white nationalist conspiracy theories like the Great Replacement are difficult to break, fueling a victimization complex and toxic cultural forms of status anxiety. The whole situation is exacerbated by social media, where the right seems to have an advantage in spreading falsehoods; the more outrageous they are, the more viral they are likely to go (and the more profits the social media companies make). There is evidence that in the three months before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, false stories on Facebook favoring Trump were shared about 30 million times, whereas false stories favoring Hillary Clinton were shared about 8 million times….The decline of unions has hollowed out a shared sense of meaning and identity among workers. Into this cultural void the demagogues have stepped with their racist, xenophobic culture war agenda. In a world of virulent disinformation and fake news and with social media amplifying anger and resentments and creating echo chambers of extremism, labor unions—in collaboration with other community organizations—can try to be active in providing links to public information services and news provided by demonstrably independent agencies.”

Biden kicks off ‘Invest in America’ tour next week,” Jeremy Diamond reports at CNN Politics: “As he gears up for a likely reelection campaign, President Joe Biden on Tuesday will kick off a three-week tour to highlight the impact of his signature legislative accomplishments as the impacts of those laws begin to be felt around the country, according to a White House official….The “Invest in America” tour will see Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and nearly a dozen Cabinet members hit more than 20 states – including key battleground states like Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania – over the next three weeks….The tour is the White House’s most coordinated, concerted push to date to accomplish what White House officials see as their central task this year: implementing legislation and making sure Americans know what Biden has accomplished. Polling published last month indicated the White House has its work cut out: 62% of Americans said they believe Biden has accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing,” according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll….Biden will make his first of multiple stops on Tuesday with a visit to a semiconductor manufacturer in Durham, North Carolina, which has announced plans to build a $5 billion chips manufacturing facility that will create 1,800 new jobs, spurred on by passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, which incentivizes domestic semiconductor manufacturing….Biden will head to North Carolina a day after convening a meeting of his “Invest in America” Cabinet, which is comprised of key Cabinet officials working to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan….Biden and his Cabinet will highlight the direct and indirect impacts of those laws – including private sector investments spurred on by pieces of legislation – and the impact on state and local economies at each stop.” Sounds like a good plan. But I hope these Democrats will also share some soundbites showing that Republicans are more committed to supporting investments in other countries.

Sherrilyn Ifill reports at slate.com on “The Republican Plan to Make Voting Irrelevant,” and writes, “The ability of the governor to appoint a nominee to fill the unexpired term of a senator without restrictions is the law in 35 states….This effort—to remove powers from elected representatives who are Democrats—has become the new method of disenfranchising voters and maintaining perpetual Republican political power. And it is being undertaken with alarming frequency and speed across the country,” Ifill warns. Further, “This may be the most dangerous and efficient structural attack on our democracy. Its threat, and pernicious ingenuity, lies in its ability to make voting itself irrelevant. Voters may turn out in high numbers and elect their candidates of choice, but if the official is not one whose views align with those of the Republican Party, they may find that their powers of office are removed by antagonistic GOP-controlled legislatures.” Ifill notes “Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, not widely regarded as a reform prosecutor, made the presumably unpardonable decision to convene a grand jury to investigate the effort of Donald Trump to compel Georgia officials to fraudulently award him votes he did not win in the 2020 election. In the wake of what were reported to be “imminent” indictments resulting from Willis’ investigations, the Georgia Legislature passed a legally dubious bill that would create commissions empowered to remove elected prosecutors from office….It was [Sen. Mitch] McConnell who, in essence, removed the power of a sitting president to fill an open seat on the United States Supreme Court when he refused to allow hearings and consideration of President Obama’s nominee, then-Judge Merrick Garland. In essence, the Republicans declared that a Democratic president would be denied the constitutional power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court as long as the GOP controlled the Senate….This is an efficiently sinister effort to solidify one-party rule. Its geographic breadth and reach to offices both high and low requires a national legislative response….this should be powerful motivation for congressional Democrats—and, indeed, for all Americans who wish to live in a democracy—to turn out and vote this year and next, in essence to save the framework of democracy while there’s still time. It should be clear now that for the foreseeable future, democracy remains on the ballot.”