washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

August 24: Don’t Be Fooled By Kavanaugh’s Assurances on Roe v. Wade

The questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by senators is uncovering some allegedly reassuring, but not terribly revealing, statements, as I observed at New York:

The battle to nail down every Senate Republican vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation took a significant, albeit somewhat predictable, turn today, as the Washington Post reports:

“Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) told reporters on Tuesday that she asked President Trump’s pick about whether he considered Roe to be settled law. Collins said Kavanaugh told her he agreed with current Chief Justice John Roberts, who said during his 2005 confirmation hearing that Roe was “settled as a precedent of the court.” Collins and Kavanaugh met for more than two hours on Tuesday morning.”

This is likely the “cover” Collins sought and secured in order to square her own pro-choice position with the vote for Kavanaugh her party expects her to cast. But if she claims it means Kavanaugh won’t participate in an effort to overturn or significantly modify Roe, she’ll likely be cooperating with Kavanaugh — and with John Roberts — in more than a bit of a scam.

It’s actually a bit of a no-brainer to say that the constitutional right to choose, decided 45 years ago in Roe v. Wade and emphatically reconfirmed (not in every detail but in its constitutional fundamentals) by Planned Parenthood v. Casey 26 years ago, is “settled law.” That means lower courts must follow it as a binding precedent. But for SCOTUS itself it simply indicates a degree of deference unless some stronger constitutional consideration is found to override it. So it does not guarantee that the “settled law” will be respected by the justices that acknowledge it. And as Irin Carmon recently observed, that’s demonstrably true of Chief Justice John Roberts:

“Not necessarily. On favored causes such as money in politics and this term’s union-fees case, Roberts has helped leave precedents and principles in tatters. You don’t even have to look past abortion itself: In 2000’s Stenberg v. Carhart, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cast the deciding vote to strike down a state ban on “partial birth abortion,” citing the court’s precedent in Casey. By the time the federal version of the same law reached the court, in 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart, O’Connor had been replaced by Samuel A. Alito Jr., and with his help, the court’s conservatives, including Roberts, eagerly teamed up to overrule the precedent.”

And even if Roberts and Kavanaugh are reluctant to support the kind of frontal assault on abortion rights that, say, Clarence Thomas is eager to undertake, that hardly rules out an incremental gutting of Roe. As recently as 2016, Roberts was in the minority in a key decision protecting abortion rights from state laws aimed at driving abortion providers out of business. And as Carmon points out, Roberts patiently used two cases — one in 2009, another in 2013 — to wreck the “long-settled” enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The most important thing to keep in mind in parsing this carefully constructed assurance Kavanaugh offered to Collins is the broader context of Kavanaugh’s nomination (and before him, that of Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch): the iron determination of Republicans since at least the George W. Bush administration to atone for the GOP-appointed justices — the longest-lasting being Anthony Kennedy — who supported abortion rights. Uncertainty on this score was a major factor in the conservative uprisingagainst Bush’s second Court nominee Harriet Miers. And the search for certainty on hostility to the “liberal judicial activism” epitomized by Roe led eventually to Donald Trump’s smart decision to let conservative legal beagles vet his own SCOTUS list. It would be shocking if this process and the politics behind it produced a justice who looked at SCOTUS precedents on abortion and pronounced them unassailable.

Yes, Kavanaugh, like Roberts, might be inclined to undertake the project of overturning abortion rights carefully and with an eye to avoiding any open contempt for the eventual victims of a counter-revolution on this subject, particularly given strong public support for Roe. But no one should believe the precedent is safe.

 


Don’t Be Fooled By Kavanaugh’s Assurances on Roe v. Wade

The questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by senators is uncovering some allegedly reassuring, but not terribly revealing, statements, as I observed at New York:

The battle to nail down every Senate Republican vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation took a significant, albeit somewhat predictable, turn today, as the Washington Post reports:

“Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) told reporters on Tuesday that she asked President Trump’s pick about whether he considered Roe to be settled law. Collins said Kavanaugh told her he agreed with current Chief Justice John Roberts, who said during his 2005 confirmation hearing that Roe was “settled as a precedent of the court.” Collins and Kavanaugh met for more than two hours on Tuesday morning.”

This is likely the “cover” Collins sought and secured in order to square her own pro-choice position with the vote for Kavanaugh her party expects her to cast. But if she claims it means Kavanaugh won’t participate in an effort to overturn or significantly modify Roe, she’ll likely be cooperating with Kavanaugh — and with John Roberts — in more than a bit of a scam.

It’s actually a bit of a no-brainer to say that the constitutional right to choose, decided 45 years ago in Roe v. Wade and emphatically reconfirmed (not in every detail but in its constitutional fundamentals) by Planned Parenthood v. Casey 26 years ago, is “settled law.” That means lower courts must follow it as a binding precedent. But for SCOTUS itself it simply indicates a degree of deference unless some stronger constitutional consideration is found to override it. So it does not guarantee that the “settled law” will be respected by the justices that acknowledge it. And as Irin Carmon recently observed, that’s demonstrably true of Chief Justice John Roberts:

“Not necessarily. On favored causes such as money in politics and this term’s union-fees case, Roberts has helped leave precedents and principles in tatters. You don’t even have to look past abortion itself: In 2000’s Stenberg v. Carhart, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cast the deciding vote to strike down a state ban on “partial birth abortion,” citing the court’s precedent in Casey. By the time the federal version of the same law reached the court, in 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart, O’Connor had been replaced by Samuel A. Alito Jr., and with his help, the court’s conservatives, including Roberts, eagerly teamed up to overrule the precedent.”

And even if Roberts and Kavanaugh are reluctant to support the kind of frontal assault on abortion rights that, say, Clarence Thomas is eager to undertake, that hardly rules out an incremental gutting of Roe. As recently as 2016, Roberts was in the minority in a key decision protecting abortion rights from state laws aimed at driving abortion providers out of business. And as Carmon points out, Roberts patiently used two cases — one in 2009, another in 2013 — to wreck the “long-settled” enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The most important thing to keep in mind in parsing this carefully constructed assurance Kavanaugh offered to Collins is the broader context of Kavanaugh’s nomination (and before him, that of Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch): the iron determination of Republicans since at least the George W. Bush administration to atone for the GOP-appointed justices — the longest-lasting being Anthony Kennedy — who supported abortion rights. Uncertainty on this score was a major factor in the conservative uprisingagainst Bush’s second Court nominee Harriet Miers. And the search for certainty on hostility to the “liberal judicial activism” epitomized by Roe led eventually to Donald Trump’s smart decision to let conservative legal beagles vet his own SCOTUS list. It would be shocking if this process and the politics behind it produced a justice who looked at SCOTUS precedents on abortion and pronounced them unassailable.

Yes, Kavanaugh, like Roberts, might be inclined to undertake the project of overturning abortion rights carefully and with an eye to avoiding any open contempt for the eventual victims of a counter-revolution on this subject, particularly given strong public support for Roe. But no one should believe the precedent is safe.

 


August 23: Education on the Ballot in Arizona

With all the drama going on in Washington and New York this week, it’s easy to miss some important developments in the states. A dual fight over education policy is brewing in Arizona, which I wrote about at New York.

Arizona was one of the states that experienced serious teacher unrest last spring, with a six-day teachers’ strike that forced the Republican governor and legislature to make major concessions on pay and education funding. But in part because these wins did not satisfy all the strikers’ demands, the fight over public education in Arizona is (as is the case in other states) spilling over into the midterm elections. It is the central issue in the governor’s race where incumbent Doug Ducey faces both primary and general election opposition, and will feature heavily in many legislative contests as well. But beyond that, Arizona voters will have two major education-related measures on the ballot in November.

The one gaining headlines right now (because of an unsuccessful effort by conservative groups to keep it off the ballot because of allegedly misleading language) is called the Invest in Education Act, as explained by the Arizona Capitol Times:

“The proposal, dubbed the Invest in Education Act, would increase the state’s 4.54-percent personal income tax rate to 8 percent for those who earn more than $250,000 or whose household income reaches more than $500,000, and would double the rate to 9 percent for individuals who earn more than $500,000 or whose household income is greater than $1 million …

“The measure would also designate 60 percent of the revenue from the tax hike for teacher salaries and the remaining 40 percent for operations, including full-day kindergarten and pay raises for student support employees as applicable uses for the funds.”

The idea of highly targeted taxes on the very wealthy to fund education is getting traction in a lot of places, among them Arizona. A June poll showed65 percent of likely voters — including 43 percent of Republicans —supporting Invest in Education, although Republican politicians — notably Ducey — and business groups are opposing it on the usual anti-tax grounds. But opponents haven’t come up with any alternative ways to fund the teacher pay raises and other educational improvements the governor and legislature did accept earlier this year, which makes the tax measure look fiscally prudent by comparison.

There will be another measure on the ballot in Arizona this year that could be even more significant as a national precedent: a referendum on Republican-sponsored legislation that made the state’s no-strings-attached “empowerment scholarship accounts” available (in theory, at least) to the entire student population, instead of just students with disabilities. Ballotpedia explains:

“In 2011, Arizona became the first state to establish an Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program. The original program allowed parents or guardians of students with disabilities to sign a contract to opt out of the public school system and instead receive an ESA from the Arizona Department of Education (DEP). An ESA is funded at 90 percent of what the state would have paid for the student in a district or charter school. Parents or guardians use a prepaid bank card to pay for education-related tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring, educational therapies, and curriculum.

“This referendum was initiated to overturn Senate Bill 1431 (SB 1431), which was designed to make all K-12 students eligible to apply for an ESA.”

The new law caps the number of ESA beneficiaries, but firmly plants the idea that parents can and should directly receive education funding and make a largely unconditional decision about where to spend it, at the expense of public schools. It’s the most aggressive step any state has taken to extend the national GOP’s efforts (strongly supported by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) to bypass schools with “backpack” funding that can follows kids wherever their parents choose to send them. The virtually complete lack of accountability for the educational results these private school (and homeschool) subsidies produce is another crucial feature of Arizona’s system.

The Republicans who have created and expanded the ESA program are defending it in this referendum fight, and there are rumors of a forthcoming Koch Network investment on their behalf. But so far the most visible activity has been by an anti-ESA-expansion group called Save Our Schools Arizona, which got the referendum on the ballot and protected it from efforts in the courts and the legislature to stop it.

Given Arizona’s status as an increasingly purple state, with a key Senate race this year and a potentially competitive presidential contest in 2020, the fight over these education initiatives could cast a long shadow over the state’s politics for some time to come.

And it could affect national politics as well.


Education on the Ballot in Arizona

With all the drama going on in Washington and New York this week, it’s easy to miss some important developments in the states. A dual fight over education policy is brewing in Arizona, which I wrote about at New York.

Arizona was one of the states that experienced serious teacher unrest last spring, with a six-day teachers’ strike that forced the Republican governor and legislature to make major concessions on pay and education funding. But in part because these wins did not satisfy all the strikers’ demands, the fight over public education in Arizona is (as is the case in other states) spilling over into the midterm elections. It is the central issue in the governor’s race where incumbent Doug Ducey faces both primary and general election opposition, and will feature heavily in many legislative contests as well. But beyond that, Arizona voters will have two major education-related measures on the ballot in November.

The one gaining headlines right now (because of an unsuccessful effort by conservative groups to keep it off the ballot because of allegedly misleading language) is called the Invest in Education Act, as explained by the Arizona Capitol Times:

“The proposal, dubbed the Invest in Education Act, would increase the state’s 4.54-percent personal income tax rate to 8 percent for those who earn more than $250,000 or whose household income reaches more than $500,000, and would double the rate to 9 percent for individuals who earn more than $500,000 or whose household income is greater than $1 million …

“The measure would also designate 60 percent of the revenue from the tax hike for teacher salaries and the remaining 40 percent for operations, including full-day kindergarten and pay raises for student support employees as applicable uses for the funds.”

The idea of highly targeted taxes on the very wealthy to fund education is getting traction in a lot of places, among them Arizona. A June poll showed65 percent of likely voters — including 43 percent of Republicans —supporting Invest in Education, although Republican politicians — notably Ducey — and business groups are opposing it on the usual anti-tax grounds. But opponents haven’t come up with any alternative ways to fund the teacher pay raises and other educational improvements the governor and legislature did accept earlier this year, which makes the tax measure look fiscally prudent by comparison.

There will be another measure on the ballot in Arizona this year that could be even more significant as a national precedent: a referendum on Republican-sponsored legislation that made the state’s no-strings-attached “empowerment scholarship accounts” available (in theory, at least) to the entire student population, instead of just students with disabilities. Ballotpedia explains:

“In 2011, Arizona became the first state to establish an Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program. The original program allowed parents or guardians of students with disabilities to sign a contract to opt out of the public school system and instead receive an ESA from the Arizona Department of Education (DEP). An ESA is funded at 90 percent of what the state would have paid for the student in a district or charter school. Parents or guardians use a prepaid bank card to pay for education-related tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring, educational therapies, and curriculum.

“This referendum was initiated to overturn Senate Bill 1431 (SB 1431), which was designed to make all K-12 students eligible to apply for an ESA.”

The new law caps the number of ESA beneficiaries, but firmly plants the idea that parents can and should directly receive education funding and make a largely unconditional decision about where to spend it, at the expense of public schools. It’s the most aggressive step any state has taken to extend the national GOP’s efforts (strongly supported by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) to bypass schools with “backpack” funding that can follows kids wherever their parents choose to send them. The virtually complete lack of accountability for the educational results these private school (and homeschool) subsidies produce is another crucial feature of Arizona’s system.

The Republicans who have created and expanded the ESA program are defending it in this referendum fight, and there are rumors of a forthcoming Koch Network investment on their behalf. But so far the most visible activity has been by an anti-ESA-expansion group called Save Our Schools Arizona, which got the referendum on the ballot and protected it from efforts in the courts and the legislature to stop it.

Given Arizona’s status as an increasingly purple state, with a key Senate race this year and a potentially competitive presidential contest in 2020, the fight over these education initiatives could cast a long shadow over the state’s politics for some time to come.

And it could affect national politics as well.


August 20: Will White Working-Class Women Join Their Sisters in Turning AgainstTrump?

Ron Brownstein is a fine interpreter of election and public opinion numbers, and his latest column provided a key insight into the upcoming midterms, which I wrote about at New York.

[S]ometimes the breakdowns on this or that very large demographic group are so large and dramatic that paying attention to anything else may be a waste of time. And as Ron Brownstein explains in his latest number-crunching exercise, it’s not just the Year of the Democratic Woman in terms of candidates running for office: Women are the key to a Democratic win this year, and to its magnitude.

“Trump is exposing the GOP this fall to the danger of unusually high mobilization and margins among African American women. Trump also risks consolidating a historic realignment toward the Democrats among college-educated white women, many of whom have viscerally recoiled from his behavior and language — such as his tweet Monday about Manigault-Newman.

“[P]olling continues to send mixed signals on whether Democrats can expect substantial inroads among the third large group of female voters: white women without a college degree. Gains among those women could be the critical final piece to creating a secure path to a Democratic House majority — opening opportunities in districts beyond the urban and suburban areas where Republicans are most vulnerable.”

Yes, other differentiations between voters, such as education and race, remain important, but gender differences are pervasive:

“Over the past month in Gallup’s daily tracking poll, Trump drew much higher approval ratings from men than women. That was true among whites with a college degree, whites without a college degree, Hispanics, African Americans, and members of other racial groups, according to figures Gallup provided to The Atlantic. In this week’s national Quinnipiac University poll, college-educated and non–college-educated white men, as well as minority men, were considerably more likely than women in the same groups to say they like Trump’s policies.

“This isn’t just a “gender gap.” Men do not seem to be moving that much from their positions in 2016. But college-educated women are, and if white working-class women do as well, the Democratic “wave” would become much larger.”

Brownstein emphasizes the importance of non-college-educated white women because it was a pro-Trump demographic group in 2016 that seems finally to be souring on the president, but he documents the potentially seismic shift underway among their college-educated counterparts, too:

“[C]ollege-educated white women … typically lean Democratic, but usually by modest margins. Hillary Clinton carried 51 percent of them against Trump in 2016, and Democratic House candidates have not carried more than 52 percent of them in any election since 1992, according to exit polls; they only split them evenly with Republicans in 2016.

“But polling points to the possibility of unprecedented advantages for Democrats with those women this year. In Quinnipiac polling from March, about three-fourths of college-educated white women said Trump did not respect women as much as men, and in July, nearly three-fifths said he’s racist. In the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, exactly three-fourths said his behavior as president “embarrassed” them. Likewise, in this week’s Quinnipiac survey, two-thirds said they didn’t like Trump as a person, and more than three-fifths said they didn’t like his policies or approve of his job performance.

“Those attitudes suggest these women may tilt sharply toward Democrats in November; for months, many public polls have shown that about 60 percent — sometimes slightly more, sometimes slightly less — prefer Democrats for Congress. Such a movement could lastingly shift many white-collar suburban districts away from Republicans.”

White working-class women, on the other hand, could be the key to Democratic gains in those famous Rust Belt areas that won Trump the presidency in 2016. As Brownstein notes, as a group they seem torn between revulsion toward Trump’s style and behavior, and relative satisfaction with his policies and results. If, as we have every indication to believe, Trump plans to double down on his abrasive tendencies in hopes of energizing his base, he might pay a price with white working-class women, who could stay home even if they can’t bring themselves to vote for the Donkey Party.

It could matter a lot whether they turn out and also whether they are open to voting Democratic a bit more than in 2016:

“Working-class white women are so pivotal to shaping Democratic opportunities largely because blue-collar white men appear so immovably behind Trump and the GOP. To expand beyond purely urban/suburban districts, Democrats believe they must replicate the winning equation demonstrated by Conor Lamb in his March special-election victory for a House seat near Pittsburgh. His model was to max out his advantage in white-collar suburbs recoiling from Trump while narrowing his deficit in blue-collar and rural communities, almost entirely by improving among working-class white women.”

Depending on the district, a strong turnout among minority women — whose hostility to Trump is reaching record proportions — could make a big difference too.

“Exit polls showed Democrats carried 91 percent of black women in the Virginia governor’s race won by Ralph Northam, and an astounding 98 percent in the Alabama Senate race won by Doug Jones.”

The focus on health-care issues among so many Democratic candidates regardless of gender is a tribute to their salience among women voters generally. And in 2016 pro-Trump districts, reminders of the president’s many broken economic promises are well-designed to bring non-college-educated white women over the line or leave them so discouraged that they abstain.

In any event, the nomination of so many women as Democratic congressional candidates this year is exquisitely timed. Unless Republicans can find a way to regain ground among college-educated women, keep white working-class women engaged, and rev up MAGA men, their odds of hanging onto the House or increasing their margins in the Senate are limited. To put it another way, the final accounting for the grossly porcine qualities Trump displayed so graphically in the Access Hollywood videos, and that the GOP accepted so cravenly when those videos didn’t kill his candidacy, hasn’t occurred just yet. Trump and his party richly deserve a Year of the Woman that makes all their sexist slurs about Hillary Clinton (and Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters and Elizabeth Warren) turn bitter in their mouths. And they may well be steadily losing women one vote at a time.


Will White Working-Class Women Join Their Sisters in Turning Against Trump?

Ron Brownstein has a mastery of election and public opinion numbers second to none, and his latest column provided a key insight into the upcoming midterms, which I wrote about at New York.

[S]ometimes the breakdowns on this or that very large demographic group are so large and dramatic that paying attention to anything else may be a waste of time. And as Ron Brownstein explains in his latest number-crunching exercise, it’s not just the Year of the Democratic Woman in terms of candidates running for office: Women are the key to a Democratic win this year, and to its magnitude.

“Trump is exposing the GOP this fall to the danger of unusually high mobilization and margins among African American women. Trump also risks consolidating a historic realignment toward the Democrats among college-educated white women, many of whom have viscerally recoiled from his behavior and language — such as his tweet Monday about Manigault-Newman.

“[P]olling continues to send mixed signals on whether Democrats can expect substantial inroads among the third large group of female voters: white women without a college degree. Gains among those women could be the critical final piece to creating a secure path to a Democratic House majority — opening opportunities in districts beyond the urban and suburban areas where Republicans are most vulnerable.”

Yes, other differentiations between voters, such as education and race, remain important, but gender differences are pervasive:

“Over the past month in Gallup’s daily tracking poll, Trump drew much higher approval ratings from men than women. That was true among whites with a college degree, whites without a college degree, Hispanics, African Americans, and members of other racial groups, according to figures Gallup provided to The Atlantic. In this week’s national Quinnipiac University poll, college-educated and non–college-educated white men, as well as minority men, were considerably more likely than women in the same groups to say they like Trump’s policies.

“This isn’t just a “gender gap.” Men do not seem to be moving that much from their positions in 2016. But college-educated women are, and if white working-class women do as well, the Democratic “wave” would become much larger.”

Brownstein emphasizes the importance of non-college-educated white women because it was a pro-Trump demographic group in 2016 that seems finally to be souring on the president, but he documents the potentially seismic shift underway among their college-educated counterparts, too:

“[C]ollege-educated white women … typically lean Democratic, but usually by modest margins. Hillary Clinton carried 51 percent of them against Trump in 2016, and Democratic House candidates have not carried more than 52 percent of them in any election since 1992, according to exit polls; they only split them evenly with Republicans in 2016.

“But polling points to the possibility of unprecedented advantages for Democrats with those women this year. In Quinnipiac polling from March, about three-fourths of college-educated white women said Trump did not respect women as much as men, and in July, nearly three-fifths said he’s racist. In the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, exactly three-fourths said his behavior as president “embarrassed” them. Likewise, in this week’s Quinnipiac survey, two-thirds said they didn’t like Trump as a person, and more than three-fifths said they didn’t like his policies or approve of his job performance.

“Those attitudes suggest these women may tilt sharply toward Democrats in November; for months, many public polls have shown that about 60 percent — sometimes slightly more, sometimes slightly less — prefer Democrats for Congress. Such a movement could lastingly shift many white-collar suburban districts away from Republicans.”

White working-class women, on the other hand, could be the key to Democratic gains in those famous Rust Belt areas that won Trump the presidency in 2016. As Brownstein notes, as a group they seem torn between revulsion toward Trump’s style and behavior, and relative satisfaction with his policies and results. If, as we have every indication to believe, Trump plans to double down on his abrasive tendencies in hopes of energizing his base, he might pay a price with white working-class women, who could stay home even if they can’t bring themselves to vote for the Donkey Party.

It could matter a lot whether they turn out and also whether they are open to voting Democratic a bit more than in 2016:

“Working-class white women are so pivotal to shaping Democratic opportunities largely because blue-collar white men appear so immovably behind Trump and the GOP. To expand beyond purely urban/suburban districts, Democrats believe they must replicate the winning equation demonstrated by Conor Lamb in his March special-election victory for a House seat near Pittsburgh. His model was to max out his advantage in white-collar suburbs recoiling from Trump while narrowing his deficit in blue-collar and rural communities, almost entirely by improving among working-class white women.”

Depending on the district, a strong turnout among minority women — whose hostility to Trump is reaching record proportions — could make a big difference too.

“Exit polls showed Democrats carried 91 percent of black women in the Virginia governor’s race won by Ralph Northam, and an astounding 98 percent in the Alabama Senate race won by Doug Jones.”

The focus on health-care issues among so many Democratic candidates regardless of gender is a tribute to their salience among women voters generally. And in 2016 pro-Trump districts, reminders of the president’s many broken economic promises are well-designed to bring non-college-educated white women over the line or leave them so discouraged that they abstain.

In any event, the nomination of so many women as Democratic congressional candidates this year is exquisitely timed. Unless Republicans can find a way to regain ground among college-educated women, keep white working-class women engaged, and rev up MAGA men, their odds of hanging onto the House or increasing their margins in the Senate are limited. To put it another way, the final accounting for the grossly porcine qualities Trump displayed so graphically in the Access Hollywood videos, and that the GOP accepted so cravenly when those videos didn’t kill his candidacy, hasn’t occurred just yet. Trump and his party richly deserve a Year of the Woman that makes all their sexist slurs about Hillary Clinton (and Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters and Elizabeth Warren) turn bitter in their mouths. And they may well be steadily losing women one vote at a time.


August 15: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Following primary returns from four states on Tuesday evening, I saw a news flash from a fifth that was a pretty big deal, which I wrote up immediately at New York:

Ending what many observers expected to be a long, long dispute over the Kansas GOP gubernatorial nomination, perhaps including a recount, incumbent Jeff Colyer abruptly conceded [Tuesday] evening to secretary of state and Trump favorite Kris Kobach.

Kobach led at the end of the regular vote count by a spare 191 votes. Some minor adjustments didn’t change a lot, and the major drama was over the conflicts of interest arising from Kobach’s role as the state’s election chief (he recused himself from the process, but only after issuing some questionable guidance to county officials).

But as provisional ballots rolled in this week, Kobach gradually increased his lead. And what seems to have convinced Colyer to throw in the towel were the final ballots from Johnson County, the state’s largest. He carried it on Election Day but the provisional ballot count there didn’t cut Kobach’s lead at all.

So with a booming 345 vote lead, Kris Kobach became the GOP nominee for governor.

We can expect a gloating tweet from President Trump, who (with some justice) can claim his late endorsement of Kobach put him over the top. But his happiness may be matched by that of Kansas Democrats, who are betting that in the end the voters of their state don’t want to return to the nightmarish fiscal policies of former governor Sam Brownback with a big side order of voter suppression and anti-immigrant histrionics.

The Democratic nominee, State Senator Laura Kelly, will remind a lot of voters of former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who similarly took advantage of a bout of GOP hyperextremism to offer calm, reasonable leadership to her state. A complication in the race will be self-funding independent candidate Greg Orman, who won over 40 percent of the general-election vote in a Senate race against Pat Roberts in 2014 — after the Democratic candidate withdrew. Maybe Orman will return the favor to Democrats this time around.

In any event, a gubernatorial election involving Kobach will have high dramatics and probably a few moments of low comedy.


Something Wicked This Way Comes

Following primary returns from four states on Tuesday evening, I saw a news flash from a fifth that was a pretty big deal, which I wrote up immediately at New York:

Ending what many observers expected to be a long, long dispute over the Kansas GOP gubernatorial nomination, perhaps including a recount, incumbent Jeff Colyer abruptly conceded [Tuesday] evening to secretary of state and Trump favorite Kris Kobach.

Kobach led at the end of the regular vote count by a spare 191 votes. Some minor adjustments didn’t change a lot, and the major drama was over the conflicts of interest arising from Kobach’s role as the state’s election chief (he recused himself from the process, but only after issuing some questionable guidance to county officials).

But as provisional ballots rolled in this week, Kobach gradually increased his lead. And what seems to have convinced Colyer to throw in the towel were the final ballots from Johnson County, the state’s largest. He carried it on Election Day but the provisional ballot count there didn’t cut Kobach’s lead at all.

So with a booming 345 vote lead, Kris Kobach became the GOP nominee for governor.

We can expect a gloating tweet from President Trump, who (with some justice) can claim his late endorsement of Kobach put him over the top. But his happiness may be matched by that of Kansas Democrats, who are betting that in the end the voters of their state don’t want to return to the nightmarish fiscal policies of former governor Sam Brownback with a big side order of voter suppression and anti-immigrant histrionics.

The Democratic nominee, State Senator Laura Kelly, will remind a lot of voters of former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who similarly took advantage of a bout of GOP hyperextremism to offer calm, reasonable leadership to her state. A complication in the race will be self-funding independent candidate Greg Orman, who won over 40 percent of the general-election vote in a Senate race against Pat Roberts in 2014 — after the Democratic candidate withdrew. Maybe Orman will return the favor to Democrats this time around.

In any event, a gubernatorial election involving Kobach will have high dramatics and probably a few moments of low comedy.


August 10: Intra-Democratic Labels Are Using Their Usefulness in This Primary Season

Reading and watching coverage of the August 7 primaries led me to a meditation on how confusing and unhelpful intra-party labels have become this year, which I wrote up at New York:

It is reasonably clear that Bernie Sanders and his distinct movement (joined on the campaign trail by the new Democratic Socialist megastar from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), had a rough night on Tuesday, when candidates they had backed in person, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed and Kansas congressional aspirant Brent Welder, both lost races many expected them to win, against (respectively) Gretchen Whitmer and Sharice Davids. But were those defeats for “progressivism” or victories for “centrism”? That depends on whom you ask.

The Third Way organization, an influential think tank that doesn’t do actual campaigns, was quick to get on speed-dial with political reporters and pundits and claim victory, as reflected in this quote from a piece by the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel:

“‘This is a fantastic night for centrist Democrats,’ said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the center-left Third Way think tank. ‘We nominated the right candidates who can win House seats and governor’s mansions for the Democratic Party. There’s a quiet enthusiasm in the middle. There’s a quiet voice that people are not hearing in the media, but it’s loud at the ballot box.'”

A piece on the Democratic primaries by influential New York Times columnist Tom Edsall similarly described the primaries as pitting “Sanders-style policies” against the “centrist” advice of Third Way.

But The Nation’s Joan Walsh — a self-conscious “progressive” who is not, however, exactly enamored of the Bernie Sanders movement — pushed back on the whole narrative with gusto:

“I’m not aware of Third Way, a centrist think tank, actually lifting a finger for any of Tuesday’s candidates, by the way. I’m not sure either Whitmer or Davids would label themselves Third Way centrists.

“The real story is that progressives won big on Tuesday might, because by only the most cramped and divisive standards would Davids and Whitmer be considered ‘centrist.’ Both are open to Medicare for All as an end goal but favor Medicaid expansion in the meantime. Both are staunchly pro-choice and pro–Planned Parenthood funding, favor gun-safety reforms and protections for DACA youth as well as comprehensive immigration reform. Whitmer supports a $15 minimum wage.”

So how do you define Democratic candidates like Whitmer and Davids? They aren’t from Bernieland, and would actually fail some lefty litmus tests (like immediate and unqualified support for single-payer). But nor are they out there objecting to “class warfare” or criticizing teachers unions or separating themselves from their party on controversial positions.

Part of the definitional problem is the long war over ownership of the word “progressive.” During the 1990s, when after decades of demonization by the right the term “liberal” fell into disrepute, “progressive” more or less became a default term of self-identification for nearly all left-of-dead-center folk. It’s no accident that the think tank of the quintessential (if now defunct) “centrist” organization the Democratic Leadership Council named itself the Progressive Policy Institute (which is not at all defunct). And very term Third Way, in both the U.S. and U.K., originally connoted an effort to “modernize the progressive tradition,” not just to move the traditional left parties “to the center” (hence the names New Democrats and New Labour).

That all seems to be ancient history at this point, but the idea that “progressive” means following Bernie Sanders or espousing democratic socialism is most definitely disputed, as Joan Walsh’s argument shows.

Some prefer distinctions like “Establishment Democrats” versus “Insurgent Democrats.” That may be useful temporarily in primaries where one can track where official party and elected official money and endorsements are and are not going. Trouble is, though, that once primaries are over, the “Establishment” almost invariably backs Democratic nominees regardless of any prior “insurgent” labels. And in this particular election year, that sort of dichotomy (and for that matter, the “progressives versus centrists” framing) collides with the reality that a large number of “Establishment-backed” women are winning primaries with substantial help from EMILY’s List, a cause-oriented pro-choice group. Some critics claim that this powerful organization doesn’t like risk-taking progressivism these days, or is too beholden to rich donors, or is too close to the Democratic Party itself. But it has its own criteria for picking candidates (early, as its name suggests), and only someone who thinks “progressive” means “Bernie Sanders supporters” would call EMILY’s List “centrist.” It has supported all sorts of pro-choice Democratic women, including, as it happens, Gretchen Whitmer and Sharice Davids.

The bottom line is that left-of-center folk probably need a new vocabulary, or at the very least a clear and thorough debate over what the terms they actually use–actually mean. It would probably be wise to undertake that debate after the November midterms. At that point they may be in a better position to determine whether voters even care about all these labels.


Intra-Democratic Labels Are Losing Their Usefulness in This Primary Season

Reading and watching coverage of the August 7 primaries led me to a meditation on how confusing and unhelpful intra-party labels have become this year, which I wrote up at New York:

It is reasonably clear that Bernie Sanders and his distinct movement (joined on the campaign trail by the new Democratic Socialist megastar from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), had a rough night on Tuesday, when candidates they had backed in person, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed and Kansas congressional aspirant Brent Welder, both lost races many expected them to win, against (respectively) Gretchen Whitmer and Sharice Davids. But were those defeats for “progressivism” or victories for “centrism”? That depends on whom you ask.

The Third Way organization, an influential think tank that doesn’t do actual campaigns, was quick to get on speed-dial with political reporters and pundits and claim victory, as reflected in this quote from a piece by the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel:

“‘This is a fantastic night for centrist Democrats,’ said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the center-left Third Way think tank. ‘We nominated the right candidates who can win House seats and governor’s mansions for the Democratic Party. There’s a quiet enthusiasm in the middle. There’s a quiet voice that people are not hearing in the media, but it’s loud at the ballot box.'”

A piece on the Democratic primaries by influential New York Times columnist Tom Edsall similarly described the primaries as pitting “Sanders-style policies” against the “centrist” advice of Third Way.

But The Nation’s Joan Walsh — a self-conscious “progressive” who is not, however, exactly enamored of the Bernie Sanders movement — pushed back on the whole narrative with gusto:

“I’m not aware of Third Way, a centrist think tank, actually lifting a finger for any of Tuesday’s candidates, by the way. I’m not sure either Whitmer or Davids would label themselves Third Way centrists.

“The real story is that progressives won big on Tuesday might, because by only the most cramped and divisive standards would Davids and Whitmer be considered ‘centrist.’ Both are open to Medicare for All as an end goal but favor Medicaid expansion in the meantime. Both are staunchly pro-choice and pro–Planned Parenthood funding, favor gun-safety reforms and protections for DACA youth as well as comprehensive immigration reform. Whitmer supports a $15 minimum wage.”

So how do you define Democratic candidates like Whitmer and Davids? They aren’t from Bernieland, and would actually fail some lefty litmus tests (like immediate and unqualified support for single-payer). But nor are they out there objecting to “class warfare” or criticizing teachers unions or separating themselves from their party on controversial positions.

Part of the definitional problem is the long war over ownership of the word “progressive.” During the 1990s, when after decades of demonization by the right the term “liberal” fell into disrepute, “progressive” more or less became a default term of self-identification for nearly all left-of-dead-center folk. It’s no accident that the think tank of the quintessential (if now defunct) “centrist” organization the Democratic Leadership Council named itself the Progressive Policy Institute (which is not at all defunct). And very term Third Way, in both the U.S. and U.K., originally connoted an effort to “modernize the progressive tradition,” not just to move the traditional left parties “to the center” (hence the names New Democrats and New Labour).

That all seems to be ancient history at this point, but the idea that “progressive” means following Bernie Sanders or espousing democratic socialism is most definitely disputed, as Joan Walsh’s argument shows.

Some prefer distinctions like “Establishment Democrats” versus “Insurgent Democrats.” That may be useful temporarily in primaries where one can track where official party and elected official money and endorsements are and are not going. Trouble is, though, that once primaries are over, the “Establishment” almost invariably backs Democratic nominees regardless of any prior “insurgent” labels. And in this particular election year, that sort of dichotomy (and for that matter, the “progressives versus centrists” framing) collides with the reality that a large number of “Establishment-backed” women are winning primaries with substantial help from EMILY’s List, a cause-oriented pro-choice group. Some critics claim that this powerful organization doesn’t like risk-taking progressivism these days, or is too beholden to rich donors, or is too close to the Democratic Party itself. But it has its own criteria for picking candidates (early, as its name suggests), and only someone who thinks “progressive” means “Bernie Sanders supporters” would call EMILY’s List “centrist.” It has supported all sorts of pro-choice Democratic women, including, as it happens, Gretchen Whitmer and Sharice Davids.

The bottom line is that left-of-center folk probably need a new vocabulary, or at the very least a clear and thorough debate over what the terms they actually use–actually mean. It would probably be wise to undertake that debate after the November midterms. At that point they may be in a better position to determine whether voters even care about all these labels.