washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

July 4: Affirmative Action Restoration Leads California Ballot Initiatives

California ballot initiatives often set national trends and affect down-ballot races in the Golden State. I wrote about this year’s batch at New York:

California offers reasonably easy access to the ballot for groups wanting to change state policies, and requires public approval of constitutional amendments passed by the legislature. So it has a rich history of ballot initiative fights that sometimes overshadow elections for public office, from the tax revolts of the 1970s to the immigration backlash of the 1990s and beyond. 2020 is no exception, with 12 measures on the ballot in a year when California won’t be competitive in the presidential contest and has no Senate seats up for grabs.

Going into 2020, it was widely anticipated that a so-called “split roll” initiative removing strict limits on property tax increases from commercial property might blot out the sky and produce one of the most expensive and consequential battles ever. Long the apple of the eye of many public-sector unions and good government groups seeking a broader tax base, the initiative would limit the sacrosanct Proposition 13 protections against tax increases to (largely) residential real estate, exposing commercial property to tax assessments based on current market value rather than its value when the property last changed hands.

Backers of a “split roll” figured a presidential year with high Democratic turnout would be the best time to pursue this measure, but didn’t account for the arrival of the coronavirus and a deep economic recession, which may have made voters averse to major changes in the status quo. The defeat by voters of a statewide bond initiative for education in the March primary may indicate California’s entering a period of fiscal retrenchment, though the huge budget deficits the state is now facing could cut the other way. An April PPIC survey showed.a slim majority of voters then favoring the split roll initiative.

While Prop 209 won 55 percent approval from California voters, the state’s demographics have significantly changed since then. Additionally, past hostility to affirmative action among the state’s Asian-American leadership has abated; a majority of Asian-American legislators supported the repeal initiative on grounds that whatever losses their community might have in university admissions would be more than offset in gains in public employment and contracts, but there may be grassroots opposition among white and Asian-American voters. The repeal is being supported by Governor Gavin Newsom, the Regents of the University of California and most elected Democrats.

Two other ballot initiatives of note would be aimed at expanding voting rights. One would extend restoration of voting rights to parolees as well as the probationers who currently qualify. According to one study, about 40,000 Californians would benefit from this initiative if it passes. A separate amendment would allow those who will turn 18 by any general election date to vote in the preceding primaries (or special elections) at the age of 17.

An initiative relaxing state limits on local imposition of rent control was defeated in 2018. A narrower measure is back on the ballot this year that supplements a new state law limiting the size of rent increases generally.

Another initiative that could spur heavy ad spending is one backed by Uber and Lyft and some delivery services that would essentially exempt their drivers from a new California law designed to limit the classification of workers as independent contractors to avoid minimum wage and benefits obligations.

And in one other notable battle, “split roll” isn’t the only ballot initiative that would change the Prop 13 property tax system. Another backed by realtors (who failed with a similar initiative in 2018) would let homeowners over 55 keep Prop 13 protections when buying new properties. As a sweetener to progressives often hostile to Prop 13, the initiative would also eliminate the so-called “Lebowski Loophole” (so named because actor Jeff Bridges was a major beneficiary, though he is all for its elimination) whereby children can continue Prop 13 protections on expensive investment and rental properties they inherit.

The California airwaves will be busy with ads for and against initiatives in the fall, and could help goose turnout, affecting U.S. House and state legislative races if not the presidential contest.


Affirmative Action Restoration Leads 12 California Ballot Initiatives

California ballot initiatives often set national trends and affect down-ballot races in the Golden State. I wrote about this year’s batch at New York:

California offers reasonably easy access to the ballot for groups wanting to change state policies, and requires public approval of constitutional amendments passed by the legislature. So it has a rich history of ballot initiative fights that sometimes overshadow elections for public office, from the tax revolts of the 1970s to the immigration backlash of the 1990s and beyond. 2020 is no exception, with 12 measures on the ballot in a year when California won’t be competitive in the presidential contest and has no Senate seats up for grabs.

Going into 2020, it was widely anticipated that a so-called “split roll” initiative removing strict limits on property tax increases from commercial property might blot out the sky and produce one of the most expensive and consequential battles ever. Long the apple of the eye of many public-sector unions and good government groups seeking a broader tax base, the initiative would limit the sacrosanct Proposition 13 protections against tax increases to (largely) residential real estate, exposing commercial property to tax assessments based on current market value rather than its value when the property last changed hands.

Backers of a “split roll” figured a presidential year with high Democratic turnout would be the best time to pursue this measure, but didn’t account for the arrival of the coronavirus and a deep economic recession, which may have made voters averse to major changes in the status quo. The defeat by voters of a statewide bond initiative for education in the March primary may indicate California’s entering a period of fiscal retrenchment, though the huge budget deficits the state is now facing could cut the other way. An April PPIC survey showed.a slim majority of voters then favoring the split roll initiative.

While Prop 209 won 55 percent approval from California voters, the state’s demographics have significantly changed since then. Additionally, past hostility to affirmative action among the state’s Asian-American leadership has abated; a majority of Asian-American legislators supported the repeal initiative on grounds that whatever losses their community might have in university admissions would be more than offset in gains in public employment and contracts, but there may be grassroots opposition among white and Asian-American voters. The repeal is being supported by Governor Gavin Newsom, the Regents of the University of California and most elected Democrats.

Two other ballot initiatives of note would be aimed at expanding voting rights. One would extend restoration of voting rights to parolees as well as the probationers who currently qualify. According to one study, about 40,000 Californians would benefit from this initiative if it passes. A separate amendment would allow those who will turn 18 by any general election date to vote in the preceding primaries (or special elections) at the age of 17.

An initiative relaxing state limits on local imposition of rent control was defeated in 2018. A narrower measure is back on the ballot this year that supplements a new state law limiting the size of rent increases generally.

Another initiative that could spur heavy ad spending is one backed by Uber and Lyft and some delivery services that would essentially exempt their drivers from a new California law designed to limit the classification of workers as independent contractors to avoid minimum wage and benefits obligations.

And in one other notable battle, “split roll” isn’t the only ballot initiative that would change the Prop 13 property tax system. Another backed by realtors (who failed with a similar initiative in 2018) would let homeowners over 55 keep Prop 13 protections when buying new properties. As a sweetener to progressives often hostile to Prop 13, the initiative would also eliminate the so-called “Lebowski Loophole” (so named because actor Jeff Bridges was a major beneficiary, though he is all for its elimination) whereby children can continue Prop 13 protections on expensive investment and rental properties they inherit.

The California airwaves will be busy with ads for and against initiatives in the fall, and could help goose turnout, affecting U.S. House and state legislative races if not the presidential contest.


July 2: Imperial President Wants to Run For Reelection As Outsider

One of the odder takes on Trump’s reelection strategy drove me to a mocking response at New York:

You may have heard that Donald J. Trump is president of the United States. If you are inclined to forget it for a moment, he is ever ready to remind you by incessant tweets, abrasive public comments, loud rallies, expensive ads, and the hallelujahs of his chorus of supporters that he is the man. Not only is he the president, he is, he insists, the greatest president ever, whose administration is dizzy with success and muscle-bound with accomplishments. His midterm self-assessment was modestly entitled “500 Days of American Greatness.” Trump’s presidency is quite possibly the most imperial of imperial presidencies, characterized by contemptuous disregard for any constitutional limits on his power (“I have an Article 2 [of the Constitution] where I have the right to do whatever I want as president” he once said).

I reiterate these well-known attributes of our narcissistic chief executive by way of background for this astonishing Wall Street Journal story:

“President Trump’s case for re-election reprises his pitch for a first term in office, as he and his team try to portray presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden as an incumbent while accentuating his own outsider credentials.

“In advertisements, interviews and social-media posts, Mr. Trump is highlighting Mr. Biden’s four decades as a Delaware senator and vice president — the most consistent message among several the president has driven so far about his competitor.”

Now, it’s not surprising that an incumbent president running for reelection at a time when objective conditions in the country are dreadful — in part because of his own hubris, negligence, and, yes, narcissism — wants to avoid a “referendum” election. And that’s particularly true of an incumbent whose personal favorability indices are as horrible as Trump’s (about half the electorate has a very unfavorable opinion of him). Typically, a president in this sort of jam will try to engineer a “choice” election; when Jimmy Carter was in a world of hurt in 1980, his strategy was to frame the election as a “two futures” choice between him and his controversial challenger Ronald Reagan. It didn’t work, but it made sense.

“’Trump is the president, not simply a candidate,’ said Steve Bannon, the chief executive of the 2016 Trump campaign. ‘He is the protagonist in this drama. You drive action like a president, govern like a president, show leadership like a president and you will be re-elected. It really is that basic.’”

Sure, it’s possible, even credible, for Team Trump to treat Joe Biden as a figure from the past who would drag the country back into the swamp from which the 45th president has sought to rescue it. But that doesn’t absolve the president from what has happened since Biden returned to private life in 2017. The best Trump’s campaign can do is to beg for more time:

“Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, said the campaign plans to paint Mr. Biden as ‘part of every job-killing, failed policy decision of the past 40 years.’ The campaign wants voters to see the race as a choice between ‘President Trump’s record of success in less than four years versus Joe Biden’s record of failure over more than 40 years.’”

But even if you are willing, somehow, to describe the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations as a long saga of failure before the so-much-winning of the current regime — and blame it all on Joe Biden — the fact remains that Trump is responsible for where the country is today. A new Pew poll asked Americans if “in thinking about the current state of the country these days” they felt angry, fearful, hopeful, or proud. Only 17 percent answered “proud,” which is a terrible rebuke to a president who has made “America First” nationalism his central theme alongside hatred for those who dare to question his or the country’s divinely anointed destiny.

No, Trump isn’t going to get to proclaim his power and glory as president for three and a half years and then rerun his 2016 campaign as though his presidency did not exist. It is in fact the dominant reality of American political life — joyous for some and painful for many — and perpetuating or ending it is unavoidably going to be the big question for voters in November.


Imperial President Wants to Run For Reelection As Outsider

One of the odder takes on Trump’s reelection strategy drove me to a mocking response at New York:

You may have heard that Donald J. Trump is president of the United States. If you are inclined to forget it for a moment, he is ever ready to remind you by incessant tweets, abrasive public comments, loud rallies, expensive ads, and the hallelujahs of his chorus of supporters that he is the man. Not only is he the president, he is, he insists, the greatest president ever, whose administration is dizzy with success and muscle-bound with accomplishments. His midterm self-assessment was modestly entitled “500 Days of American Greatness.” Trump’s presidency is quite possibly the most imperial of imperial presidencies, characterized by contemptuous disregard for any constitutional limits on his power (“I have an Article 2 [of the Constitution] where I have the right to do whatever I want as president” he once said).

I reiterate these well-known attributes of our narcissistic chief executive by way of background for this astonishing Wall Street Journal story:

“President Trump’s case for re-election reprises his pitch for a first term in office, as he and his team try to portray presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden as an incumbent while accentuating his own outsider credentials.

“In advertisements, interviews and social-media posts, Mr. Trump is highlighting Mr. Biden’s four decades as a Delaware senator and vice president — the most consistent message among several the president has driven so far about his competitor.”

Now, it’s not surprising that an incumbent president running for reelection at a time when objective conditions in the country are dreadful — in part because of his own hubris, negligence, and, yes, narcissism — wants to avoid a “referendum” election. And that’s particularly true of an incumbent whose personal favorability indices are as horrible as Trump’s (about half the electorate has a very unfavorable opinion of him). Typically, a president in this sort of jam will try to engineer a “choice” election; when Jimmy Carter was in a world of hurt in 1980, his strategy was to frame the election as a “two futures” choice between him and his controversial challenger Ronald Reagan. It didn’t work, but it made sense.

“’Trump is the president, not simply a candidate,’ said Steve Bannon, the chief executive of the 2016 Trump campaign. ‘He is the protagonist in this drama. You drive action like a president, govern like a president, show leadership like a president and you will be re-elected. It really is that basic.’”

Sure, it’s possible, even credible, for Team Trump to treat Joe Biden as a figure from the past who would drag the country back into the swamp from which the 45th president has sought to rescue it. But that doesn’t absolve the president from what has happened since Biden returned to private life in 2017. The best Trump’s campaign can do is to beg for more time:

“Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, said the campaign plans to paint Mr. Biden as ‘part of every job-killing, failed policy decision of the past 40 years.’ The campaign wants voters to see the race as a choice between ‘President Trump’s record of success in less than four years versus Joe Biden’s record of failure over more than 40 years.’”

But even if you are willing, somehow, to describe the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations as a long saga of failure before the so-much-winning of the current regime — and blame it all on Joe Biden — the fact remains that Trump is responsible for where the country is today. A new Pew poll asked Americans if “in thinking about the current state of the country these days” they felt angry, fearful, hopeful, or proud. Only 17 percent answered “proud,” which is a terrible rebuke to a president who has made “America First” nationalism his central theme alongside hatred for those who dare to question his or the country’s divinely anointed destiny.

No, Trump isn’t going to get to proclaim his power and glory as president for three and a half years and then rerun his 2016 campaign as though his presidency did not exist. It is in fact the dominant reality of American political life — joyous for some and painful for many — and perpetuating or ending it is unavoidably going to be the big question for voters in November.


June 24: Polls Show Trump In Real Peril

A wave of new polling data has been coming out showing Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump growing larger and deeper. So I wrote up the implications at New York:

 [T]hree weeks ago, I concluded that Biden’s lead in horse-race matchups with the incumbent was getting “seriously large.” A barrage of new polling data confirms the trend. In the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Biden now has a double-digit (10.1 percent) lead, and has also breached the 50-percent barrier (he’s at 51 percent). FiveThirtyEight, which weights results for pollster accuracy and adjusts them for partisan bias, shows Biden with a slightly smaller 9.7 percent lead, but with the same 51 percent.

To put Biden’s lead into a historical context, the last time a presidential candidate actually won by that margin was 36 years ago, when Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale. And the only Democratic presidential tickets since 1976 to win a majority of the popular vote were the two Biden shared with Barack Obama.

Let’s take a look at the last two incumbent presidents to win reelection, and see if they were ever behind by anything like the margin by which Trump currently trails Biden. In 2012, Obama never fell behind Mitt Romney in the RCP averages by more than a single point. In 2004, George W. Bush’s maximum deficit against John Kerry was 2.7 percent.

Now it’s true that Hillary Clinton periodically held a double-digit lead over Trump in the RCP averages early in the 2016 race, when he was still struggling to consolidate Republican support. But by this point in the cycle, her lead had dwindled to 6.6 percent, and even in polling immediately after the Access Hollywood video scandal broke, which produced a vast wave of GOP repudiations of Trump, Clinton’s maximum lead in the RCP averages was 7.1 percent.

There is still, of course, a lot of time before November. Joe Biden could in theory make a spectacular mistake, though as time goes by his soundness as a candidate is becoming very apparent. Perhaps improving conditions in the country will give the incumbent a late lift, though you’d have to say right now that the odds of the coronavirus going away or the economy sharply recovering are getting lower every day, and in any event, Trump’s perpetually underwater job approval rating seems impervious to anything he does or fails to do.

The famous enthusiasm of Trump voters is also in question after they failed to fill even half an arena in Tulsa when Trump held his first post-pandemic rally. Additionally, Trump is inspiring a sort of negative enthusiasm boom. According to the latest high-quality national poll, from New York Times/Siena College, fully one-half of registered voters have a very unfavorable opinion of the president, as opposed to just over a quarter with a very favorable opinion. If, as is the case with most elections involving an incumbent president, Election 2020 is a referendum on Trump, this sort of finding could represent the greatest obstacle of all to his reelection.

There remains the possibility that Trump could make even a fairly sizable national popular vote loss irrelevant by again squeaking out a narrow electoral college win. But again, the polls aren’t looking so hot for him in the battleground states. According to current RCP averages, Biden is leading Trump by 8.0 points in Michigan, 7.0 points in Wisconsin, 6.2 percent in Florida, 5.6 points in Pennsylvania, and even by 4.0 points in Arizona.

It could in theory all change, or at least get a lot more interesting, but right now Donald Trump has become a clear 2020 underdog, and his situation could just as easily get worse instead of better. In the end we may realize that Trump’s mojo depended on his ability to pose as an insurgent outsider, and wasn’t transferable to an environment in which he was called upon to govern. And he may yet try, somehow, to run against the status quo for which he is now responsible. His 2016 upset is going to be a very tough act to follow.


Polls Show Trump In Real Peril

A wave of new polling data has been coming out showing Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump growing larger and deeper. So I wrote up the implications at New York:

 [T]hree weeks ago, I concluded that Biden’s lead in horse-race matchups with the incumbent was getting “seriously large.” A barrage of new polling data confirms the trend. In the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Biden now has a double-digit (10.1 percent) lead, and has also breached the 50-percent barrier (he’s at 51 percent). FiveThirtyEight, which weights results for pollster accuracy and adjusts them for partisan bias, shows Biden with a slightly smaller 9.7 percent lead, but with the same 51 percent.

To put Biden’s lead into a historical context, the last time a presidential candidate actually won by that margin was 36 years ago, when Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale. And the only Democratic presidential tickets since 1976 to win a majority of the popular vote were the two Biden shared with Barack Obama.

Let’s take a look at the last two incumbent presidents to win reelection, and see if they were ever behind by anything like the margin by which Trump currently trails Biden. In 2012, Obama never fell behind Mitt Romney in the RCP averages by more than a single point. In 2004, George W. Bush’s maximum deficit against John Kerry was 2.7 percent.

Now it’s true that Hillary Clinton periodically held a double-digit lead over Trump in the RCP averages early in the 2016 race, when he was still struggling to consolidate Republican support. But by this point in the cycle, her lead had dwindled to 6.6 percent, and even in polling immediately after the Access Hollywood video scandal broke, which produced a vast wave of GOP repudiations of Trump, Clinton’s maximum lead in the RCP averages was 7.1 percent.

There is still, of course, a lot of time before November. Joe Biden could in theory make a spectacular mistake, though as time goes by his soundness as a candidate is becoming very apparent. Perhaps improving conditions in the country will give the incumbent a late lift, though you’d have to say right now that the odds of the coronavirus going away or the economy sharply recovering are getting lower every day, and in any event, Trump’s perpetually underwater job approval rating seems impervious to anything he does or fails to do.

The famous enthusiasm of Trump voters is also in question after they failed to fill even half an arena in Tulsa when Trump held his first post-pandemic rally. Additionally, Trump is inspiring a sort of negative enthusiasm boom. According to the latest high-quality national poll, from New York Times/Siena College, fully one-half of registered voters have a very unfavorable opinion of the president, as opposed to just over a quarter with a very favorable opinion. If, as is the case with most elections involving an incumbent president, Election 2020 is a referendum on Trump, this sort of finding could represent the greatest obstacle of all to his reelection.

There remains the possibility that Trump could make even a fairly sizable national popular vote loss irrelevant by again squeaking out a narrow electoral college win. But again, the polls aren’t looking so hot for him in the battleground states. According to current RCP averages, Biden is leading Trump by 8.0 points in Michigan, 7.0 points in Wisconsin, 6.2 percent in Florida, 5.6 points in Pennsylvania, and even by 4.0 points in Arizona.

It could in theory all change, or at least get a lot more interesting, but right now Donald Trump has become a clear 2020 underdog, and his situation could just as easily get worse instead of better. In the end we may realize that Trump’s mojo depended on his ability to pose as an insurgent outsider, and wasn’t transferable to an environment in which he was called upon to govern. And he may yet try, somehow, to run against the status quo for which he is now responsible. His 2016 upset is going to be a very tough act to follow.


June 19: Making Juneteenth a National Holiday: the MLK Precedent

There is significant momentum for creating an important new national holiday, and I reviewed the situation at New York:

Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has repeatedly offered legislation in Congress to make June 19, or Juneteenth – the celebration of slavery’s end that originated in her state – a federal holiday. As Fabiola Cineas explains at Vox, it’s an event with a long history:

“A portmanteau of ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth,’ Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery….

“Newly freed black people celebrated the first Juneteenth in 1866 to commemorate liberation — with food, singing, and the reading of spirituals — and take pride in their progress. But a century and a half later, Juneteenth is still not taught in most schools, nor is the event a federal holiday despite decades of pushing from activists.”

This year, amid a national wave of outrage and awakening over racial injustice, Juneteenth has seen wider national observance than ever before. Lee’s resolution to recognize the historical significance of Juneteenth has gathered 200-plus cosponsors, and on Thursday Senator John Cornyn said he will introduce bipartisan legislation to make it a federal holiday. In the last week the governors of Virginia and New York announced that they will observe Juneteenth as an official holiday with paid time off for state workers (joining Texas, which took the step in 1980). A growing list of corporations have made Juneteenth a paid day off for employees, including the NFL, Twitter, Nike, Uber, and Target, along with media companies such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Vox Media (New York Magazine’s parent company).

The easiest “dodge” for those resisting an official holiday is to offer less significant forms of recognition that do not command general attention, much less the widespread discussion of racial justice issues that both the MLK and Juneteenth commemorations are intended to promote. Currently 42 states “recognize” Juneteenth, but do not offer time off for public employees or close state offices. That was a problem in the early days of the drive for an MLK holiday, too.

Michigan’s John Conyers made the first congressional call for a federal holiday to honor Dr. King just four days after his assassination in 1968. But the original Senate bill, sponsored by Massachusetts Republican Senator Ed Brooke (at that point the only African-American in the chamber) simply called for a “national day of commemoration,” and Republicans in both chambers frequently sought to substitute less significant forms of recognition.

Conyers and other key sponsors never accepted half a loaf. Support for the holiday by President Jimmy Carter and congressional Democrats gave it near-success in 1979, but it took a sustained public campaign in the early 1980s to make it a reality despite Republican control of the White House and the Senate, as the Constitution Center explains:

“Musician Stevie Wonder helped in 1981 by releasing the song ‘Happy Birthday’ to promote the holiday. (He would later sing it at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication in 2011).

“The King Center kept up its efforts. It organized a march on Washington that included an estimated 500,000 people. Coretta Scott King, along with Wonder, presented a petition signed by 6 million people to House leader Tip O’Neill.”

Finally Republicans began to come around to support for the holiday, with Representatives Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich, and even Senator Strom Thurmond speaking out for it during the next push in 1983. After proponents finally overcame a filibuster by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina (a bitter opponent of the holiday who was forever trying to draw attention to scurrilous smears of Dr. King cooked up by the FBI at J. Edgar Hoover’s direction), it passed both houses and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law.

One key moment in the House debate involved one of the most common objections to a MLK holiday: its cost in lost federal worker hours. As Don Wolfensburger observed years later:

“Republican manager [William] Dannemeyer complained in his opening statement about the cost of a paid federal holiday. Congressional Black Caucus Member Parren Mitchell (D-Md.) retorted, ‘What do you mean ‘”cost?”’ What was the cost of keeping us blacks where we were? All these extraneous things do not mean a thing to me. I am talking about what is the right and decent thing to do, and to urge a vote for this bill in the form that it is.’”

It took even longer to secure full recognition of the holiday at the state level. As of 1986, when the federal MLK holiday took effect, only 17 states had done likewise. In addition to the usual efforts to dilute the holiday, it became popular in southern states to incongruously draft it onto commemorations of Confederate generals. Notably, Virginia combined the MLK holiday with recognition of both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson until 2000. To this day Alabama and Mississippi honor Lee and King together.

All told, it took 15 years from the time of Dr. King’s assassination for the federal holiday to be enacted, and then another 17 before all 50 states acknowledged it. That fight yielded three major lessons: (1) don’t accept some watered-down observance; (2) seek enough bipartisan support to overcome conservative opposition; and (3) mobilize the public and link the holiday to the eternal causes of equal rights and racial justice.

Advocates for a federal Juneteenth holiday have already made progress on each of these fronts, so hopefully its path to recognition can be shortened.


Making Juneteenth a National Holiday: the MLK Precedent

There is significant momentum for creating an important new national holiday, and I reviewed the situation at New York:

Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has repeatedly offered legislation in Congress to make June 19, or Juneteenth – the celebration of slavery’s end that originated in her state – a federal holiday. As Fabiola Cineas explains at Vox, it’s an event with a long history:

“A portmanteau of ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth,’ Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery….

“Newly freed black people celebrated the first Juneteenth in 1866 to commemorate liberation — with food, singing, and the reading of spirituals — and take pride in their progress. But a century and a half later, Juneteenth is still not taught in most schools, nor is the event a federal holiday despite decades of pushing from activists.”

This year, amid a national wave of outrage and awakening over racial injustice, Juneteenth has seen wider national observance than ever before. Lee’s resolution to recognize the historical significance of Juneteenth has gathered 200-plus cosponsors, and on Thursday Senator John Cornyn said he will introduce bipartisan legislation to make it a federal holiday. In the last week the governors of Virginia and New York announced that they will observe Juneteenth as an official holiday with paid time off for state workers (joining Texas, which took the step in 1980). A growing list of corporations have made Juneteenth a paid day off for employees, including the NFL, Twitter, Nike, Uber, and Target, along with media companies such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Vox Media (New York Magazine’s parent company).

The easiest “dodge” for those resisting an official holiday is to offer less significant forms of recognition that do not command general attention, much less the widespread discussion of racial justice issues that both the MLK and Juneteenth commemorations are intended to promote. Currently 42 states “recognize” Juneteenth, but do not offer time off for public employees or close state offices. That was a problem in the early days of the drive for an MLK holiday, too.

Michigan’s John Conyers made the first congressional call for a federal holiday to honor Dr. King just four days after his assassination in 1968. But the original Senate bill, sponsored by Massachusetts Republican Senator Ed Brooke (at that point the only African-American in the chamber) simply called for a “national day of commemoration,” and Republicans in both chambers frequently sought to substitute less significant forms of recognition.

Conyers and other key sponsors never accepted half a loaf. Support for the holiday by President Jimmy Carter and congressional Democrats gave it near-success in 1979, but it took a sustained public campaign in the early 1980s to make it a reality despite Republican control of the White House and the Senate, as the Constitution Center explains:

“Musician Stevie Wonder helped in 1981 by releasing the song ‘Happy Birthday’ to promote the holiday. (He would later sing it at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication in 2011).

“The King Center kept up its efforts. It organized a march on Washington that included an estimated 500,000 people. Coretta Scott King, along with Wonder, presented a petition signed by 6 million people to House leader Tip O’Neill.”

Finally Republicans began to come around to support for the holiday, with Representatives Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich, and even Senator Strom Thurmond speaking out for it during the next push in 1983. After proponents finally overcame a filibuster by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina (a bitter opponent of the holiday who was forever trying to draw attention to scurrilous smears of Dr. King cooked up by the FBI at J. Edgar Hoover’s direction), it passed both houses and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law.

One key moment in the House debate involved one of the most common objections to a MLK holiday: its cost in lost federal worker hours. As Don Wolfensburger observed years later:

“Republican manager [William] Dannemeyer complained in his opening statement about the cost of a paid federal holiday. Congressional Black Caucus Member Parren Mitchell (D-Md.) retorted, ‘What do you mean ‘”cost?”’ What was the cost of keeping us blacks where we were? All these extraneous things do not mean a thing to me. I am talking about what is the right and decent thing to do, and to urge a vote for this bill in the form that it is.’”

It took even longer to secure full recognition of the holiday at the state level. As of 1986, when the federal MLK holiday took effect, only 17 states had done likewise. In addition to the usual efforts to dilute the holiday, it became popular in southern states to incongruously draft it onto commemorations of Confederate generals. Notably, Virginia combined the MLK holiday with recognition of both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson until 2000. To this day Alabama and Mississippi honor Lee and King together.

All told, it took 15 years from the time of Dr. King’s assassination for the federal holiday to be enacted, and then another 17 before all 50 states acknowledged it. That fight yielded three major lessons: (1) don’t accept some watered-down observance; (2) seek enough bipartisan support to overcome conservative opposition; and (3) mobilize the public and link the holiday to the eternal causes of equal rights and racial justice.

Advocates for a federal Juneteenth holiday have already made progress on each of these fronts, so hopefully its path to recognition can be shortened.


June 18: Exploring Republican Over-Confidence About Trump’s Reelection

Sometimes you see a political phenomenon so often that you can forget to look into what it means. I chose one to write about at New York this week:

By any objective standard, the president’s prospects for reelection are looking down. Joe Biden is continuing to lead him in trial heats nationally (by 8.1 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics averages) and in most battleground states. The president’s job approval numbers are lower than they’ve been since last December. People are still very afraid of COVID-19, and despite one good monthly jobs report, the economy is still in the ditch, with unemployment higher than at any time since the 1930s.

There’s tons of time between now and November, the economy could somehow turn around and that second “wave” of the coronavirus could fail to appear, and Joe Biden could do or say something self-destructive. But the possibility of a Trump revival is not the same thing as its probability, much less certainty. Yet as Politico notes, there’s little doubt in MAGA-land that Trump will win in November, and maybe win big:

“Interviews with more than 50 state, district and county Republican Party chairs depict a version of the electoral landscape that is no worse for Trump than six months ago — and possibly even slightly better. According to this view, the coronavirus is on its way out and the economy is coming back. Polls are unreliable, Joe Biden is too frail to last, and the media still doesn’t get it….

“’The more bad things happen in the country, it just solidifies support for Trump,’ said Phillip Stephens, GOP chairman in Robeson County, N.C., one of several rural counties in that swing state that shifted from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. ‘We’re calling him “Teflon Trump.” Nothing’s going to stick, because if anything, it’s getting more exciting than it was in 2016.’

“This year, Stephens said, We’re thinking landslide.’”

Politico found that if you ask Republicans why Trump’s going to win, they generally offer explanations ranging from the hyper-optimistic (everything will be back to normal any day now and a happy back-at-work electorate will reward Trump for saving them), to the aggressively ignorant (all polls showing Biden ahead are fake, because they were dead wrong last time —well which they actually weren’t), to pure disinformation (Democrats are throwing away the election by calling for the abolition of police departments and confiscation of private property, beginning with guns).

So why are Trump-supporting Republicans so relentlessly upbeat, and dismissive of objective evidence that points in the direction of defeat? Here are five theories:

1. They’re drinking his own Kool-Aid

Trump supporters are by definition big fans of a man who never admits mistakes or weaknesses, expresses narcissistic, self-congratulatory hubris every other hour, and hates “losers” as much as Jesus Christ loved them. Perhaps they are simply following the leader, who appears to systematically block out any source of information that doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear.

2. They believe “enthusiasm” is the ball game

As is well known, Trump’s reelection strategy, and his behavior in office, have been heavily oriented towards “base mobilization,” to the extent of sometimes excluding any serious effort to identify or persuade swing voters, much less Democrats. To the extent that mobilization is facilitated by enthusiasm, getting the MAGA faithful to believe they are marching in a perpetual victory parade is presumably valuable. It’s possibly relevant that polls show a majority of Republicans are motivated by a desire to support Trump, while a majority of Democrats are more focused on beating Trump than on electing Biden. Trump voters want to know they are part of a historic reelection campaign that will take America another step closer to the paradise of the 1950s, not into some socialist nonwhite dystopia.

3. They want to “own the libs”

One bond Trump has with his supporters is in deeply enjoying the discomfort of their common enemies. They are aware that the vast majority of left-of-center Americans don’t simply dislike the president, but dislike him intensely. Many view the prospect of this strange “accidental president” serving another four years with genuine horror. So it’s great sport for Trump supporters to confront them with this possibility, raised to the level of certainty. It’s mass schadenfreude, with a dollop of Trump’s own signature cruelty.

4. They truly despise the “elite” sources of adverse information

If you are convinced that polls are all “fake” and most of the media — including Fox News on occasion — just systematically lie, all to benefit Trump’s enemies, then it’s a short leap to assume that the “truth” they are hiding is MAGA-rific or even glorious. Similarly, once one is convinced that “real Americans” are in the president’s corner, then anything (like a bad poll or mockery of a self-destructive Trump video clip) emanating from sources that either “don’t get it” or are actively hostile to this country and its interests simply cannot be credited as “real.” Believing that Trump might lose, therefore, can become an anti-patriotic act, or a sign of being duped by contemptuous wrong-doers.

5. They are preparing to contest any defeat

The most troubling possibility is that Trump supporters understand the president is laying the groundwork for contesting a defeat, and want to help him do so. Here’s how I recently described Trump’s efforts to undermine, in advance, the legitimacy of the November election in case he happens to lose it:

“Trump is now regularly claiming that voting by mail is inherently illegitimate, except for grudging exceptions for people who can’t make it to the polls. So, presumably, states that allow for no-excuse voting by mail in November are holding ‘substantially fraudulent’ elections. That’s 34 states who do so by law (including battleground states Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), 11 more that so far are waiving excuse requirements this pandemic year (including New Hampshire), and another that may be forced to do so by a lawsuit (Texas).

“So in a very real sense, unless Trump backs off his claims that voting by mail means a ‘rigged election,’ he’s letting us know that he and his supporters will be justified in challenging any adverse results in states that allow this terrible practice to take place.”

Keep in mind that Trump went to a lot of trouble to claim he was robbed of a popular-vote majority in 2016 (thanks to “millions of illegal votes” for Hillary Clinton for which he offered not a shred of evidence), even though it didn’t ultimately matter. One possible rationale was to convince his followers Democrats always cheat, meaning their victories should prospectively be discounted or challenged. If on Election Night 2020, Donald Trump claims victory on the basis of early returns, is there any doubt his fans and media allies will join him in crying out “fraud!” to the high heavens should late mail ballots drift in and reverse the results? I don’t think so. And either consciously or unconsciously, some of them may be anticipating that fraught scenario already. To a significant number of the faithful, Trump is not just a president, but an embodiment of America, and even God’s Annointed. He can’t fail. He can only be failed.


Exploring Republican Over-Confidence About Trump’s Reelection

Sometimes you see a political phenomenon so often that you can forget to look into what it means. I chose one to write about at New York this week:

By any objective standard, the president’s prospects for reelection are looking down. Joe Biden is continuing to lead him in trial heats nationally (by 8.1 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics averages) and in most battleground states. The president’s job approval numbers are lower than they’ve been since last December. People are still very afraid of COVID-19, and despite one good monthly jobs report, the economy is still in the ditch, with unemployment higher than at any time since the 1930s.

There’s tons of time between now and November, the economy could somehow turn around and that second “wave” of the coronavirus could fail to appear, and Joe Biden could do or say something self-destructive. But the possibility of a Trump revival is not the same thing as its probability, much less certainty. Yet as Politico notes, there’s little doubt in MAGA-land that Trump will win in November, and maybe win big:

“Interviews with more than 50 state, district and county Republican Party chairs depict a version of the electoral landscape that is no worse for Trump than six months ago — and possibly even slightly better. According to this view, the coronavirus is on its way out and the economy is coming back. Polls are unreliable, Joe Biden is too frail to last, and the media still doesn’t get it….

“’The more bad things happen in the country, it just solidifies support for Trump,’ said Phillip Stephens, GOP chairman in Robeson County, N.C., one of several rural counties in that swing state that shifted from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. ‘We’re calling him “Teflon Trump.” Nothing’s going to stick, because if anything, it’s getting more exciting than it was in 2016.’

“This year, Stephens said, We’re thinking landslide.’”

Politico found that if you ask Republicans why Trump’s going to win, they generally offer explanations ranging from the hyper-optimistic (everything will be back to normal any day now and a happy back-at-work electorate will reward Trump for saving them), to the aggressively ignorant (all polls showing Biden ahead are fake, because they were dead wrong last time —well which they actually weren’t), to pure disinformation (Democrats are throwing away the election by calling for the abolition of police departments and confiscation of private property, beginning with guns).

So why are Trump-supporting Republicans so relentlessly upbeat, and dismissive of objective evidence that points in the direction of defeat? Here are five theories:

1. They’re drinking his own Kool-Aid

Trump supporters are by definition big fans of a man who never admits mistakes or weaknesses, expresses narcissistic, self-congratulatory hubris every other hour, and hates “losers” as much as Jesus Christ loved them. Perhaps they are simply following the leader, who appears to systematically block out any source of information that doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear.

2. They believe “enthusiasm” is the ball game

As is well known, Trump’s reelection strategy, and his behavior in office, have been heavily oriented towards “base mobilization,” to the extent of sometimes excluding any serious effort to identify or persuade swing voters, much less Democrats. To the extent that mobilization is facilitated by enthusiasm, getting the MAGA faithful to believe they are marching in a perpetual victory parade is presumably valuable. It’s possibly relevant that polls show a majority of Republicans are motivated by a desire to support Trump, while a majority of Democrats are more focused on beating Trump than on electing Biden. Trump voters want to know they are part of a historic reelection campaign that will take America another step closer to the paradise of the 1950s, not into some socialist nonwhite dystopia.

3. They want to “own the libs”

One bond Trump has with his supporters is in deeply enjoying the discomfort of their common enemies. They are aware that the vast majority of left-of-center Americans don’t simply dislike the president, but dislike him intensely. Many view the prospect of this strange “accidental president” serving another four years with genuine horror. So it’s great sport for Trump supporters to confront them with this possibility, raised to the level of certainty. It’s mass schadenfreude, with a dollop of Trump’s own signature cruelty.

4. They truly despise the “elite” sources of adverse information

If you are convinced that polls are all “fake” and most of the media — including Fox News on occasion — just systematically lie, all to benefit Trump’s enemies, then it’s a short leap to assume that the “truth” they are hiding is MAGA-rific or even glorious. Similarly, once one is convinced that “real Americans” are in the president’s corner, then anything (like a bad poll or mockery of a self-destructive Trump video clip) emanating from sources that either “don’t get it” or are actively hostile to this country and its interests simply cannot be credited as “real.” Believing that Trump might lose, therefore, can become an anti-patriotic act, or a sign of being duped by contemptuous wrong-doers.

5. They are preparing to contest any defeat

The most troubling possibility is that Trump supporters understand the president is laying the groundwork for contesting a defeat, and want to help him do so. Here’s how I recently described Trump’s efforts to undermine, in advance, the legitimacy of the November election in case he happens to lose it:

“Trump is now regularly claiming that voting by mail is inherently illegitimate, except for grudging exceptions for people who can’t make it to the polls. So, presumably, states that allow for no-excuse voting by mail in November are holding ‘substantially fraudulent’ elections. That’s 34 states who do so by law (including battleground states Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), 11 more that so far are waiving excuse requirements this pandemic year (including New Hampshire), and another that may be forced to do so by a lawsuit (Texas).

“So in a very real sense, unless Trump backs off his claims that voting by mail means a ‘rigged election,’ he’s letting us know that he and his supporters will be justified in challenging any adverse results in states that allow this terrible practice to take place.”

Keep in mind that Trump went to a lot of trouble to claim he was robbed of a popular-vote majority in 2016 (thanks to “millions of illegal votes” for Hillary Clinton for which he offered not a shred of evidence), even though it didn’t ultimately matter. One possible rationale was to convince his followers Democrats always cheat, meaning their victories should prospectively be discounted or challenged. If on Election Night 2020, Donald Trump claims victory on the basis of early returns, is there any doubt his fans and media allies will join him in crying out “fraud!” to the high heavens should late mail ballots drift in and reverse the results? I don’t think so. And either consciously or unconsciously, some of them may be anticipating that fraught scenario already. To a significant number of the faithful, Trump is not just a president, but an embodiment of America, and even God’s Annointed. He can’t fail. He can only be failed.