washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

A warning for Dems from Ronald Brownstein’s article, “The GOP Cheat Code to Winning Back the House: The stakes for Democrats’ election-reform plan couldn’t be higher” in The Atlantic: “Democrats face a daunting future of severe Republican gerrymandering that could flip control of the House in 2022 and suppress diverse younger generations’ political influence for years to come, according to a new study released today. Those findings underscore the stakes in Democrats’ efforts to pass national legislation combatting such electoral manipulation….The four big states to watch are Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, where the GOP enjoys complete control over the redistricting process, says Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and the author of the new report on how congressional redistricting could unfold following the 2020 census. “Those four states, which are seat-rich and where Republicans control the process, could decide who controls the next Congress,” he told me….The magnitude and speed of the GOP’s efforts since its 2020 losses to impose new state-level voter-suppression laws, even as it gears up for aggressive gerrymanders, have exceeded even the most alarmist predictions from Democrats and voting-rights advocates. If nothing else, the sudden and sweeping Republican efforts to tilt the rules of the game should leave Democrats with no illusions about the fate they can expect if they allow the filibuster to block new federal standards for redistricting, election reform, and voting rights. H.R. 1 and a new VRA represent the Democrats’ best, and perhaps only, chance to preempt the multipronged offensive Republicans are mounting to tilt the balance of national power back in their direction—and potentially keep it there for years.”

Reasonable Democrats disagree about the wisdom of the second Trump impeachment. But even among those who supported the 2nd impeachment, there is a lot of grumbling about the managers’ decision not to call witnesses. As Cameron Peters writes at Vox: “The move was widely criticized as an “an unbelievable cave by Democrats,” ” a “retreat,” and “a non-serious move.” Sunday, however, Democrats argued that they didn’t back down….“We could have had a thousand witnesses, but that could not have overcome the kinds of silly arguments that people like McConnell and Capito were hanging their hats on,” Raskin told NBC’s Chuck Todd Sunday on Meet the Press….Plaskett took a similar line with Tapper. “We didn’t need more witnesses, we needed more senators with spines,” she said Sunday….Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), one of the impeachment managers, also told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that “witnesses that were not friendly to the prosecution were not going to comply voluntarily, which meant that we were going to be litigating subpoenas for months and potentially years.”….As Neguse said Sunday: “I think it’s pretty clear, and lead manager Raskin touched on this, whether it was five more witnesses or 5,000 witnesses … it would not have made a difference to those senators.”

Another article by Brownstein, this one at CNN Politics, addresses a scary question, “Is the GOP’s extremist wing now too big to fail?” Brownstein observes, “Through their inactions on Trump and Greene, Republicans “are normalizing, they are mainstreaming, what counterterrorism experts would say is violent extremism: that it is acceptable to use inflammatory rhetoric and encourage violence to achieve your ends and … it is acceptable to engage in public life through conspiracy theories,” says Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary for threat prevention in the Department of Homeland Security for Trump who resigned and opposed his reelection….The exact share of the GOP coalition responsive to extremist White nationalist beliefs or the use of violence to advance political goals is impossible to measure precisely. But polling and other research suggests that the best way to think about it may be through concentric circles radiating out from hard-core believers willing to commit violence themselves to a much broader range of GOP voters who might not become violent personally but express sympathy or understanding for those who do….One-sixth to nearly one-fifth of Republicans have praised the January 6 attack in polling from PBS NewsHour/Marist and Quinnipiac. That’s a far higher percentage than among the public overall (just 8% in the Marist survey and 10% in Quinnipiac.) In the American Enterprise Institute poll, about 3-in-10 Republicans said they believed the QAnon conspiracy theory….The share of Republican voters who express support for the use of force to advance their political goals in general is considerably larger. In the American Enterprise Institute survey, 55% of Republicans agreed that “we may have to use force to save” the “American way of life.” Roughly 4-in-10 agreed with an even more harshly worded proposition: “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions….The share of Republicans who “strongly agree” with that sentiment — about 1 in 8 — is smaller and may be another measure of the share of the party coalition willing to personally consider violence. But even so, Republican opinion on these questions dramatically stands out from other Americans. Big majorities of Democrats and independents rejected both propositions….The institute’s results almost exactly mirrored the findings of a national 2020 survey by Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels. Bartels found 51% of Republicans agreed with the statement that “we may have to use force” to save “the traditional American way of life.” In his study, just over 4-in-10 backed an idea similar to the second American Enterprise Institute question: the belief that “A time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.”

Jeffrey M. Jones reports that “GOP Image Slides Giving Democrats Strong Advantage” at Gallup: “Americans’ opinions of the Republican Party have worsened in recent months, with 37% now saying they have a favorable view of the party, down from 43% in November. This decline, along with a slight increase in the Democratic Party’s positive ratings, to 48%, gives the Democrats a rare double-digit advantage in favorability….The Jan. 21-Feb. 2 poll was conducted in the weeks after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by people seeking to disrupt the counting of the 2020 presidential election electoral votes….Since November, the GOP’s image has suffered the most among Republican Party identifiers, from 90% favorable to 78%. Independents’ and Democrats’ opinions are essentially unchanged….Meanwhile, the slight increase in positive ratings of the Democratic Party is being driven by independents, who show a seven-percentage-point jump in favorability since November, 41% to 48%. Ninety-four percent of Democrats (compared with 92% in November) and 4% of Republicans (compared with 5% in November) rate the Democratic Party favorably….The tumultuous end to the Trump presidency appears to have harmed the image of the Republican Party. The GOP now faces a double-digit deficit in favorable ratings compared with the Democratic Party.”

Political Strategy Notes

Will voters in the 2022 midterm elections remember and penalize Trump’s enablers in the Senate? Put another way, will Trump’s Senate trial have an effect on the midterms, whether he is convicted or not? If Trump is convicted, a long shot, the answer could be yes to some extent. Unfortunately, several of Trump’s most shameless Senate enablers, including Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell are are not running in 2022. Marco Rubio has announced that he is running for re-election in 2022. He will likely face a high-profile Democratic opponent, since popular Reps. Val Demmings and Gwen Graham and former Rep. David Jolly are reportedly interested in running against him. Rand Paul, another Trump apologist, could run for re-election in 2022. He has supported legislation limiting senators to two terms, which he will have completed by 2022, so he may retire, although nobody ever went broke underestimating the integrity of Republican senators. If there is a wild card, it’s Mitch McConnell who could influence other senators with a strong stand for conviction. But it has to happen very soon. More likely, Democratic Senate prospects in 2022 depend less on Trump’s fate than the course of the pandemic and the economy.

There is not much chance that Trump will be convicted, according to Manu Raju and Alex Rodgers at CNN Politics, who report: “But even after witnessing the deadly violence firsthand, and being reminded of it again at the scene of the crime, many Republican senators appeared no closer on Wednesday to convicting former President Donald Trump on the charge of “incitement of insurrection.”….While they were struck by the impeachment managers’ presentation, these Republicans said that the House Democrats did not prove Trump’s words led to the violent actions. They compared the January 6 riot to last summer’s racial justice protests and criticized how the trial is being handled….Sen. Lindsey Graham said he couldn’t believe “we could lose the Capitol like that” but added that it didn’t change his mind on whether to acquit Trump during the trial. “I think there’s more votes for acquittal after today than there was yesterday,” the South Carolina Republican said….”I think you get at best six Republicans — probably five and maybe six,” GOP Sen. Tim Scott told CNN when asked if the video and footage changed his mind on convicting Trump. Asked if he considers himself an impartial juror, the South Carolina Republican said: “I think I’m as impartial as the other 99….The six Republicans could be Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — the six Republicans who broke with their party Tuesday to vote that the impeachment trial was constitutional.”

With many rank and file Republicans walking away from their party in disgust, it should be a good time for Libertarians and other third parties to crank up their recruitment efforts. As regards a “Trump-Led third partty,” Geoffrey Skelley calls it “unlikely” at FiveThirtyEight. As Skelley writes, “On the one hand, this political calculation does make some sense. Many Americans (57 percent in 2020, per Gallup) think a third major party is needed. And there is some evidence that if there were more than two parties — for instance, if the Democratic Party and Republican Party each split in two — many Americans would identify with a new party.” However, Skelley notes that “many states have onerous ballot access lawsthat require large numbers of signatures or stringent filing fees. This makes things extra challenging for third parties as they have a harder time raising money, finding volunteers, paying workers and getting enough signatures to qualify to appear on a ballot than their Democratic and Republican counterparts….Voters’ strong attachment to the major parties has also limited the ability of third parties to grow. Although a huge share of voters claim they’re independent, the reality is that roughly nine in 10 Americans identify with one of the two major parties, and, by and large, that’s been the case for decades. Add in the deep divides in our current political environment, and the status quo doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon, especially as the risk of “wasting a vote” on a candidate with little chance of winning could actually help the party a voter dislikes win.”

In terms of formulating long-range strategy, Democrats would do well to heed the warning of Ronald Brownstein,  who writes at The Atlantic: “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week started running ads tying potentially vulnerable GOP House members to both QAnon’s rising presence and Trump’s role in provoking the riot….Yet most Republicans appear more comfortable weathering those attacks than confronting what McConnell has called the “cancer” of growing extremist influence in the party. Opening the door to radicals like Greene is part of a much larger shift: As I’ve written before, the GOP is morphing into a quasi-authoritarian party—one that’s becoming more willing to undermine democratic norms to maintain power. Its long-term evolution toward any-means-necessary militance is likely to only intensify as the nation’s growing racial and religious diversity, which triggers so many in the party’s base, unspools through the 2020s. This tug toward conspiracy-theory-laden, often-racist extremism “is in the Republican Party DNA,” [author of Rule and Ruin Geoffrey] Kabaservice told me. “If the party isn’t going to forcefully turn against QAnon and the Proud Boys and the neo-Nazis who invaded the Capitol … then that DNA is going to be passed along in an even more virulent form to the next generation of Republicans.”

Political Strategy Notes

In “The Democratic Party Has a Fatal Misunderstanding of the QAnon Phenomenon: Their belief that this surreal conspiracy has arisen because of the poor education of its adherents is based in classism, not reality,” Osita Nwanevu writes at The New Republic: “There were plenty of graduates and good students in the mob that day. Plenty of dropouts and poor students looked on in horror. And as much as the right’s critics might prefer an understanding of what’s happened to our politics that flatters their intelligence, the challenge we’re facing isn’t that millions of hapless and benighted yokels have been bamboozled by disinformation. It’s that millions of otherwise ordinary people from many walks of life—including many who went to and even excelled in college—have a material or ideological interest in keeping the Democratic Party and its voters from power by any means possible. And those means include the utilization of narratives, including conspiracy theories, that delegitimize Democrats and offer hope of their eventual comeuppance….Democrats should try campaigning on the truth: The Republican Party is controlled by intelligent, college-educated, and affluent elites who concoct dangerous nonsense to paper over a bigoted, plutocratic agenda and to justify attacks on the democratic process. That agenda and those attacks are supported by millions of reasonably intelligent voters who will believe or claim to believe anything that furthers the objective of keeping conservatives in control of this country forever. Simply pointing to figures like Greene and hoping the indignation of college graduates will do the rest is a mistake. Instead, Democrats should present voters with a material choice between a party that has nothing to offer the majority of Americans but abuse and conspiratorial flimflam and a party committed to building a democracy and an economy that work for all. If they don’t, the lizard people who run the GOP will be running the government again in no time.”

Skylar Baker-Jordan’s article, “I come from white Appalachia. Here’s the hard truth about Marjorie Taylor Greene and why you can’t stop her: Nobody in DC can realistically rid us of Greene. If you want to strategize, take a look at what people think on the ground” at The Independent provides sensible guidance about how to get rid of the latest looney Repubican. As Baker-Jordan writes, “You will never find enough Congressional Republicans to reach the two-thirds threshold needed to send her packing. The only way to get rid of Marjorie Taylor Greene is the same way she got into the Capitol in the first place: via the ballot box. To do that, we need to be fighting Taylor Greene not in DC, but in Dalton….Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, which Taylor Greene represents, borders my own district here in Tennessee and isn’t much different….Trump’s anointed candidate, Taylor Greene faced a comparatively poorly funded primary challenge which state GOP operatives blame McCarthy for stymying. Her Democratic opponent in the general was forced to drop out following a divorce which necessitated his move out of state, meaning she ran unopposed in the general election. Her victory is as much an accident of circumstance as it is a five-alarm fire of insanity….Democrats have long ignored the region and Republicans have long taken it for granted. So, the people of the Georgia 14th — faced with no real alternative — elected the South’s answer to the Mad Queen Cersei Lannister….Finding a local candidate with roots in the region to challenge her, either in the primary or in the general, could lead to her downfall. The Georgia Republican Party is in full-on civil war following its historic losses in the presidential and Senate races, but the Democratic Party — backed by an excellent ground game built and orchestrated by Stacey Abrams — is in a better position than it has been in decades….Focusing our efforts on expelling Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t only going to backfire. She raised $1.6 million off the efforts just last week, and the people of her district aren’t taking kindly to being told their choice isn’t good enough. If we want to extinguish this fire before it consumes us, we need to turn on the hose right now. But we need to fight this fire at its source, which means dousing the flames down in Georgia — not in DC.”

Marianne Levine reports on the “Democrats’ big shift in Trump’s second impeachment” at Politico: “Democrats made a push for witnesses central to President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial. But not this time….Senate Democrats are making it clear they’re taking a different approach than they did for Trump’s infamous Ukraine call. Now, they say their experience as witnesses to the Jan. 6 insurrection is enough….“This is based on a public crime,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “His intent was unhidden and so I think there’s a danger as there always is for a trial lawyer and prosecutor to over-try, to add more witnesses that prove the obvious.”….Some Senate Democrats have called for a prompt trial, citing other priorities like coronavirus relief and the extreme unlikelihood that 17 Republicans will join them in convicting Trump. Meanwhile, most Republicans are coalescing around the argument that impeaching a former president is unconstitutional.” While Democrats feel an obligation to do their duty and try to convict Trump, they don’t want to waste too much time on it — especially when all indications are that the GOP is not going to do theirs. The evidence and the case for conviction are overwhelming to honest people who have a conscience and care about democracy. Unfortunately, few of today’s Republican senators meet that standard.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. makes the case for conviction of Trump in his current Washington Post column, and his summation explains why Democrats had to do their duty: “He lied about the election — consistently, resolutely, systematically. He kept race in the forefront, regularly leveling his fraud charges against big Democratic cities in swing states where Black voters were a decisive force….And then he moved to replace democracy with mobocracy, gathering a throng in Washington and inciting it to march to the Capitol and sack it. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer, and the crowd threatened other elected officials, including Trump’s own vice president. This is the outrage that the House impeachment managers will describe in detail this week. The nation, and especially the Republican Party, cannot just walk away….The managers are expected to show video interviews of members of the rampaging horde making clear that they were doing what they were doing because Trump asked them to. And they will demonstrate that Trump himself welcomed the violence….We cannot have the national “unity” everyone claims to yearn for unless the president’s own party acknowledges that these were high crimes and misdemeanors of a fundamental sort. We’re talking about an attack on democracy itself through force and violence at the beckoning of a leader who sought to corrupt not only our political process but also our self-understanding as a nation of equals….The impeachment managers will be insisting that this can never be our “new normal.” Here’s wishing them Godspeed in their work.”

Time for Dems to Explore Realistic Filibuster Reforms

It’s now clear that killing the filibuster altogether is a non-starter, since several Democratic senators have already expressed opposition to the idea or are skeptical about it. The other non-starter is doing nothing, which would limit the potential accomplishments of the Biden Administration.  Michael Ettlinger, founding director of the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire discusses five alternative measures for filibuster reform at Vox. The first two proposals include,

1) The “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” rule

The current filibuster rules don’t require senators to hold the floor with uninterrupted oratory — the popular idea of a filibuster — to block action. If senators had to keep speaking to forestall a vote, gridlocking the Senate, it would make filibusters more painful and hence, presumably, less frequent. The bills that centrist Democratic senators most fear are those that Republicans most strongly oppose and would probably be blocked. Other needed legislation would, however, have a better chance.

2) 41 to block, instead of 60 to pass

Flip the way the Senate does business: Instead of requiring 60 votes to proceed on a bill, require 41 (or more) votes to block it. A bill could advance with a simple majority unless 41 senators were at hand to vote “no.” This would require 41 opponents to stay close to the Senate floor lest the bill slip through when their numbers are below the blocking threshold.

Both of these approaches are based on making the filibuster more of a hassle for senators and take time away from other work. Also, they may not work anyway, since the filibustering party should be able to find enough senators to hang around and obstruct the legislation. But the next three reform proposals Ettlinger discusses should have more appeal. They incude:

3) More exceptions to the filibuster rule

There are currently exceptions to the 60-vote requirement for budget reconciliation and, as of recently, presidential nominations. More exceptions could be added. The benefits of this approach, and the level of support for it, would depend on the breadth of the exceptions. Exceptions that have been suggested include votes to raise the debt limit, expand voting rights (HR1, for example) or fund the federal government.

This approach could also be tailored to deal with very specific concerns of senators; there could be an exception, for example, for “legislation that expands access to health care.” Another possibility would be to allow majority votes on statehood to make it possible for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to gain representation. Ad-hoc exceptions are an inelegant approach, but might be necessary.

4) Overcome the filibuster with a vote in two Congresses

Allow passage of bills that can currently be filibustered when a simple majority supports the legislation in two successive Congresses, with an intervening election. A number of states similarly require votes in successive legislative sessions for advancing state constitutional amendments. This approach would allow the will of the Senate majority to be expressed, ending the ability of a minority to perpetually block legislation, but with an opportunity for opponents to make their case, and voters to intervene.

This approach would also create an incentive to pass compromise legislation without waiting for the second vote: Each side has something to gain by coming to an agreement that provides the 60 votes needed for one-session passage in exchange for changes in the legislation. It would still be very hard to pass legislation, but a persistent, election-tested, majority could accomplish its goals, even in the face of a committed opposition.

5) Lower the filibuster threshold

The number of votes needed to break a filibuster was previously reduced from 66 votes to 60. It could be further reduced. If one thinks that there are Republican senators who might break from their party to support some Democratic priorities, reducing the threshold to 52 or 53 votes would address the concern of passing legislation with no Republican support, while not requiring more than the couple of centrist Republicans to join.

Yes, yes and yes — these are all good ideas. It should be possible to get Democratic senators who oppose killing the filibuster to support some combination of these three alternatives, with a little arm-twisting and positive inducements, if needed.

Political Strategy Notes

In her article, “The Challenge of Going It Alone” at The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter argues that “the problem with pushing through major legislation on a party-line vote is that it alienates not just those in the other party, but it may fail to attract independent voters. If only one side is willing to defend it — and the other side is busy trashing it — well, that law can become pretty unpopular, very quickly.” However, Walter adds, “If the economy recovers, vaccine production and distribution improve, and families can plan for summer vacations and schools back in session, process arguments about a lack of bipartisan outreach aren’t going to get much traction.” But, “if the next six months are messy, those attacks will likely carry more of a sting. Republicans will have an easier time making the case that Democrats, in their zeal to promote their own limited agenda, failed to fix the nations more serious problems.” On the other hand, “If things go well over the next six months, both sides can take credit. If things don’t go well — say the vaccine distribution is still not fixed or the economy is still sputtering or schools are still shuttered — it won’t matter that Biden was able to get a bipartisan bill to tackle these issues. The blame will fall squarely on him and his party.”

In Robert Kuttner’s “Student Debt Cancellation and the Working Class” at The American Prospect, he writes that “the optics of student debt relief raise issues of social class. Almost by definition, people who attend four-year colleges are better off than those who don’t…And the Democrats have a political problem with the non-college-educated, who voted disproportionately for Donald Trump. College student debt relief at government expense is not exactly popular with those who never got to attend college….For working-class kids, the most plausible ladder within near reach is community college. But even community college costs several thousand dollars a year, plus lost income if you attend full-time….So how about balancing the perceived class favoritism of student debt relief with a big aid package for community college? It could include having the federal government cover all tuition costs, plus a stipend, as the original GI Bill did….How about if we balance that with $20 billion for free tuition plus stipends for public community college students?”

At The L. A. Times, Laura W. Brill and Vicki C. Shapiro of The Civics Center offer some suggestions for increasing voter turnout among younger voters in California, and some of their ideas could be applied in other states. For example, Brill and Shapiro write, “Georgia showed the nation that it’s possible to do much more to encourage young people to support democracy. Through the work of community activists and groups, the share of voters under 25 more than doubled in the Georgia electorate between 2016 and 2020….California could learn from Georgia, a state where a strict voter ID law creates obstacles for young voters and does not allow people to preregister to vote until they turn 17½….In California, we have most of the technical apparatus that voting rights advocates champion. We have online voter registration and automatic voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as preregistration beginning at age 16. What we don’t have are the social systems we need to make these laws work….What is missing in California and most of its school districts is a requirement that high schools help their students register, provide a strong civics curriculum, train teachers in every high school, provide necessary funds and measure results, school by school….The state could streamline the online system (as Pennsylvania has) to allow people to upload a signature in the online registration process and confirm their citizenship by a sworn statement and the last four digits of their Social Security number. Paper voter registration forms in California do not require submission of a state ID, and the online system should not be more burdensome.”

Rob Stein’s article, “Biden’s Key to Success: Majorities of Expediency” at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, makes a case for “the conscious, purposeful will by leaders inside and outside government to do all in their power to build the alliances, issue by issue, that are necessary to govern effectively on behalf of the American people.” Stein rolls out the particulars of this strategy for Dems and concludes, “Two months before the shameful siege of the Capitol by MAGA followers, incited by the President himself and his congressional allies, 81 million Americans voted for Biden/Harris. These generally are Americans committed more to country than to party and who champion democratic institutions and norms. They span the ideological spectrum from some on the progressive left to some on the conservative right, and of course everyone in between….What makes the next months and years so exceptional and the potential for forging majorities of expediency so possible is the elegant alignment of the man, the moment, and this remarkably broad electoral majority. We are not in another FDR or LBJ moment, and Biden is neither of those men. Rather, he has come to power just as our nation has been awakened to the profound dangers of our fragility. We understand, perhaps as never before, that failure to govern is not an option. It is an incitement to chaos…A Biden Administration that is fortified by the broadest, deepest, and largest coalition of voters in recent times, led by one of this era’s most skilled relationship builders, and a nation in desperate need of problem solving is perhaps our last, best chance for governing our republic in order to create a more just society and erect a bulwark against the ravages of authoritarian populism.”

Political Strategy Notes

“In his first week in office, Biden announced at least 33 new policies that he will implement through the executive branch, according to a count from CNN. Polls conducted by Morning Consult and Ipsos since Biden’s first day in office have assessed public opinion on 14 of these policies. In all cases, more of those polled favor the policies than oppose them, and a majoritysupport nearly every policy,” Perry Bacon Jr. reports at FiveThirtyEight. “The popularity of these policies is notable for a few reasons. First, Biden’s emphasis on trying to unify the country in his inaugural address has created a debate in political circles about exactly what constitutes “unity.” These early executive orders meet one definition — adopting policies that a clear majority of Americans support, which necessitates that at least some Republicans back them. In fact, a few of these policies, such as requiring people to wear masks on federal property, have plurality support among Republicans. (On the other hand, many of Biden’s policies, such as trying to make sure noncitizens are counted in the U.S. Census, are extremely unpopular with Republicans.)….You might be skeptical of polling that seems favorable to Democrats after many polls in 2016 and 2020 underestimated GOP strength. But there are a number of recent examples of liberal policies being supported by voters who also back Republican candidates. This happened last fall in Florida, where a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour got 61 percent support, but the presidential candidate in favor of that idea, Biden, received only 48 percent. So I tend to think these numbers are reliable and that a bloc of Trump voters agrees with many of Biden’s new policies.”

Was the Georgia flip in the 2020-21 elections a rare clusterfuck for Republicans, or is it an indication of a more durable trend?  At The Hill, Tal Axelrod notes (via MSN News), “Democrats are significantly outpacing Republicans in their approval ratings in Georgia in a sign of the party’s burgeoning strength in the Deep South state, according to a new poll from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The poll, conducted by the University of Georgia and released Saturday, shows the state’s two newly elected Democratic senators and President Biden with net positive approval ratings, while Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and former President Trump have approval ratings that are underwater and sinking….Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, who just unseated former Sen. David Perdue (R) in Georgia, had an approval rating of about 50 percent, while just 40 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of him. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D), who flipped Georgia’s other Senate seat in a special election and will have to run for a full term in 2022, has a net positive approval rating at 54-37….Another 52 percent of voters had a favorable view of Biden, compared with just 41 percent who had an unfavorable view. Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee who is expected to run for that post again in 2022, has a similarly positive 51-41 approval rating….Fifty-seven percent disapprove of the job Trump did in office. By comparison, 48 percent of voters approved of the job Trump was doing last year….Fifty-seven percent of voters also said Trump is responsible for a “great deal” or a “good amount” of blame for egging on the deadly mob on Jan. 6, and 51 percent of voters said the House was right to impeach him over it.”

Is it time for political analysts to ditch the “bellwether” term? Ryan Matsumoto makes a good case for it with respect to counties, in his post “Where Did All The Bellwether Counties Go?,” also at FiveThirtyEight. As Matsumoto notes, “From 1980 to 2016, 19 counties voted for the winner of the presidential election every single time. The most impressive of those was Valencia County, New Mexico, which voted for the victor in every presidential election from 1952 to 2016….But in 2020, 18 of these 19 “bellwether counties” voted for former President Donald Trump. Just one — Clallam County, Washington — voted for President Joe Biden….like so many electoral trends, demographics play a major role in explaining why these once-bellwether counties finally missed the mark in 2020.” However, a ‘bellwether’ county is different from a ‘swing’ county, which has a habit of close popular vote margins in presidential elections. There are still plenty of those, depending how you define a close margin. But they have also been declining, as Matsumoto notes: “…according to David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report, just 303 counties were decided by single-digit margins in 2016, compared to 1,096 counties that fit that description in 1992.” There are states which have picked presidential winners in recent elections, but Trump’s disruptive politics, the pandemic and accelerating demographic changes complicate any attempt to peg a ‘bellwether’ state in 2024.

Democrats have different opinions about exactly what they should to do about the filibuster. But doing nothing about it is clearly the road to ruin, as Washington Post columnist E, J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his current syndicated column: “The Democrats can use their House and Senate majorities to reform our politics, guarantee voting rights and enhance our democracy. Or they can surrender to an anti-majoritarian, money-dominated system, and allow the more accessible approach to voting created during the coronaviruspandemic to be destroyed….This means that the party must recognize that the Senate filibuster, contrary to happy myth, does not promote bipartisanship or constructive compromise by requiring most bills to get 60 votes. No, in the face of a radicalized Republican Party, maintaining the current filibuster rules means abandoning any aspirations to a legacy of genuine achievement….Sorry, there is no third way here. Yes, Democrats could avoid a complete repeal of the filibuster by getting rid of it only for certain categories of bills — for example, those related to voting rights and democratic reforms. But living with the status quo means capitulating to obstruction. Democrats have only 50 votes plus Vice President Harris’s tie-breaker. They will never get 10 votes from a GOP that can’t even find a way to exile white-supremacist extremists from its ranks.”

Political Strategy Notes

“More than 30,000 voters who had been registered members of the Republican Party have changed their voter registration in the weeks after a mob of pro-Trump supporters attacked the Capitol — an issue that led the House to impeach the former president for inciting the violence,” Reid Wilson reports at The Hill. “The massive wave of defections is a virtually unprecedented exodus that could spell trouble for a party that is trying to find its way after losing the presidential race and the Senate majority….It could also represent the tip of a much larger iceberg: The 30,000 who have left the Republican Party reside in just a few states that report voter registration data, and information about voters switching between parties, on a weekly basis….Nearly 10,000 Pennsylvania voters dropped out of the Republican Party in the first 25 days of the year, according to the secretary of state’s office. About a third of them, 3,476, have registered as Democrats; the remaining two-thirds opted to register with another party or without any party affiliation….Almost 6,000 North Carolina voters have dropped their affiliation with the GOP. Nearly 5,000 Arizona voters are no longer registered Republicans. The number of defectors in Colorado stands north of 4,500 in the last few weeks. And 2,300 Maryland Republicans are now either unaffiliated or registered with the Democratic Party….In all of those areas, the number of Democrats who left their party is a fraction of the number of Republican defectors….Only a small handful of states report voter registration data on a weekly basis. Others report monthly activity, and many states do not report granular details about those who leave one party or the other. Once more states report party registration data, the true number of Republicans who have re-registered in recent weeks may prove to be much higher.”

However, Chris Cillizza notes at CNN’s The Point that, “before you start writing the political obituary for the Republican Party in Washington, you need to consider this oft-ignored but critically important card that the GOP still has in hand: The Republican Party will control the bulk of the redistricting processes in the country….Wrote David Wasserman, The Cook Political Report’s House editor, in his big look at the state of redistricting on Tuesday: “Republicans may not be as dominant as they were in 2011 when they redrew nearly five times as many congressional seats as Democrats. But they still hold far more raw power. They fared well in 2020’s state legislative elections and maintained control of several huge prizes: Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, which are collectively poised to gain six seats from the Census.” (Remember that following the census every decade, all state legislative and congressional lines are redrawn based on population gains and losses.)…Wasserman added that, based on his initial calculations, Republicans could gain as many as 10 seats solely from the number of map-drawing processes in key states they will control over the next 18 months. (Republicans need a net gain of only six seats to retake control of the House in November 2022.)”

Amy Walter shares this note on the fragility of the Democratic Party’s senate  ‘majority’ at The Cook Political Report: “The last time we had a 50-50 Senate, it ended five months later with Vermont’s Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords’ defection….in the event of a tragedy, the death or sudden resignation of a Senator, control of the body (and with it prospects for a Biden agenda), could be altered immediately….There are currently 15 Democratic senators who sit in states with a Republican Governor: Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (Georgia), Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (Maryland), Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Jon Tester (Montana), Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Joe Manchin (West Virginia). Five Republican senators sit in states with a Democratic Governor: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Burr and Thom Tillis (North Carolina), Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania), and Wisconsin (Ron Johnson). …However, while most states allow a governor to fill the vacancy immediately with a candidate of their choosing, other states have more specific rules about when and how a vacancy is filled. For example, in Arizona, North Carolina and Maryland, the governor must appoint a senator from the same party as the senator he/she is replacing. In Wisconsin, the senate seat remains vacant until a special election is held to fill the seat. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a list of rules for each state here.”

It looks like filibuster foes just don’t have the votes to end it. But there some potential reforms that could make it less of an obstruction. As Alex Pereene explains one of the ideas at The New Republic: “Norm Ornstein has proposed simply placing the onus on the minority to make a filibuster rather than on the majority to break one. “Instead of 60 votes required to end debate,” he suggested last year, “the procedure should require 40 votes to continue it. If at any time the minority cannot muster 40 votes, debate ends, cloture is invoked, and the bill can be passed by the votes of a simple majority….This is far from ideal, which is precisely why hidebound senators ought to approve of it. It could be paired with other tweaks (former Senator Tom Harkin has proposed lowering the vote threshold each day a piece of legislation is debated, which may be a bridge too far for the filibuster enthusiasts), but it would be a good start on its own. It would allow senators like Manchin to brag that they saved the filibuster, assuming that their stubborn devotion to the rule stems from some belief that their constituents approve of it.” Also, why not just lower the filibuster threshold from 60 votes to 55?

Political Strategy Notes

At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley writes that “the past two elections reveal a potential long-term problem for Democrats, especially if we continue to have close, competitive elections: “wasted” votes. That is, Democrats seem to be disproportionately running up the score in some large, blue-leaning states, which helps with the national popular vote but provides no benefit in the Electoral College. Take a state like California: Biden would have won its 55 electoral votes whether he won by 5.1 million votes, as he did, or by just 1 vote. In other words, that’s a lot of wasted Democratic votes. If we expand this out to the 50 states and Washington, D.C., Democrats “wasted” 15.1 million votes compared to the GOP’s 8 million, a difference of 7.1 million votes — about the same as Biden’s 7-million-vote national margin, and roughly his combined margin of victory in California and New York….Given America’s increasing urban-rural divide, this inefficient distribution of Democratic-leaning voters could continue to hurt Democrats electorally and help the GOP, as the Electoral College and other institutions, such as the Senate, are biased toward small states. Those less populous states — especially more rural ones — are more likely to lean Republican….But if the Frost Belt states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin continue to lean somewhat to the right of the country, that will benefit the GOP in the Electoral College — unless there is a counter-shift elsewhere in the Democrats’ favor. In 2020, for example, Biden narrowly carried traditionally Republican states like Arizona and Georgia. Those two states alone can’t make up for Democrats losing that Frost Belt trio, but Democratic improvement in those states and other places in the Sun Belt (whither “Blue Texas?”) could undo the Republicans’ current edge in the Electoral College.”

Kyle Kondik notes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “From a historical perspective, just an average midterm performance by Republicans would be more than enough to flip both chambers of Congress next year. Republicans will need to net just a single seat in the Senate and a half-dozen or so in the House. Since World War II, the president’s party has lost an average of 27 House seats and 3.5 Senate seats in midterms, although individual yearly results have varied widely….Joe Biden, as president, could end up presiding over a strong economic recovery as the nation (we hope) eventually leaves COVID-19 in the rearview mirror. A divided GOP with Trump remaining a major and divisive figure could lead to outcomes like we saw in the Georgia Senate runoffs, with an engaged, united Democratic Party fending off a slightly less engaged and united GOP. That is one midterm possibility; there are others that would be better for the GOP.”

“By defining with clarity why he was elected and the obligation he has assumed,” Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “Biden pointed the country and his presidency toward its most important task: the revival of the democratic spirit and the protection and expansion of democracy itself….From his very first words, he underscored why this was no normal Inauguration Day and why the 2020 election was anything but a routine exercise. Democracy itself had been challenged for four years, and violently so during the spasm of disrespect at the nation’s Capitol only two weeks ago….Biden took aim, indirectly but unmistakably, at the dishonesty of the Trump years, particularly the former president’s Big Lie casting Biden’s own election as illegitimate, which led to the desecration of the very building before which he took his oath. The new president’s words could also be read as a sally against right-wing media that fed and amplified his predecessor’s mendacity….Of course, unity will not come easily. The country still faces, as Biden noted, the dangers of “political extremism, white supremacy” and “domestic terrorism.” Biden’s program has already come under Republican attack….But suddenly, the nation faced at least the possibility of having normal arguments over normal issues. And it will be a nation, as Biden insisted, that appreciates far more than it did four years ago that democracy is a gift that must be defended, nurtured and treasured.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall notes that “Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard, wrote in an email: The invasion of the Capitol gives Biden an opportunity to reach out to Republicans who expressed their unease with Trump after Jan. 6, including Mitch McConnell. I expect Biden to be very effective legislating. Biden knows how to get things done, based on his experience in the White House as vice president and on the Hill as a senator….Biden, in Ansolabehere’s view, does have one significant weakness: His Achilles’ heel is communication. He has a great personal style, but that can fall flat and he is prone to snafus. He has a history of being baited in public and a bit too quick, resulting in misstatements. It’s unclear if he has adapted fully to the social media age. Communications might be a struggle, especially compared to the always entertaining Donald J. Trump….If Biden remains committed to a restoration of bipartisanship in Congress, his administration, in Ansolabehere’s view, will face an ongoing struggle as it attempts to balance the demands of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party while recruiting at least a few Republicans. “I would not be surprised to see a big infrastructure bill with a lot of money for roads, airports and energy,” Ansolabehere said. “That is the kind of measure that would get everybody on board.”

Political Strategy Notes

Matthew Yglesias explains how “On Day One, Biden Can Start Winning the Midterms” at Blooomberg Opinon: “Job No. 1 (and 2, 3 and 4) is delivering a rapid economic recovery. A big, quick Covid relief bill such as the one Biden unveiled last week would go far toward achieving that, which in turn underscores the need to get something done fast rather than advance ideological pet projects. As negotiations proceed over what and how much to include in this and future relief bills, Democrats should favor easily understandable policies — like sending $1,400 checks to everyone — rather than convoluted and opaque measures…. instead of being coy about it as they were during the 2020 campaign, Democrats should be loud and proud about the fact that the state and local financial assistance they are pledging to deliver in the next relief package is funding the police —and that, by opposing state and local aid, Republicans are in effect defunding the police….Biden cannot afford to settle for a slow recovery. He needs to break 21st century growth records in 2021 in order to position workers for strong wage gains in 2022….Biden also needs to do everything in his power to center the national political agenda on popular progressive ideas such as raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana and investing in clean energy. Progressives often tell themselves that this is exactly what they intend to do before getting derailed by things like linking Covid relief to immigration amnesty….For Democrats, the key to success in 2022 is a disciplined agenda in 2021.”

The Des Moines Register editorial Board offers “6 priorities Joe Biden should pursue immediately through executive action to undo the damage done by Trump” including: Restoring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; return the U.S. to the Iran nuclear deal; Reinstate regulations and repair the nation’s framework of environmental protections; Hold for-profit colleges accountable foer their abuses of federal aid programs; and Revoke the gag on health providers, which prevents physicians from making referrals to abortion providers; Shoring up the Affordable Care Act – Trump’s “administration slashed funds to promote Obamacare insurance, shortened the open enrollment period to buy private coverage, welcomed back junk health “plans” that do not cover essential health services, and cleared the way for states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients.,,,,We should say goodbye to all of that….The Biden administration can also refuse to allow states to privatize Medicaid programs, which could finally put an end to the costly privatization mess in Iowa, with its record of eroding service and delaying payments to providers.”

At The Hill, Amitai Etzioni urges, “Invoking the War Powers Act (WPA) would enable President Biden to use unique capacities provided in the act to accelerate the vaccination of Americans, without waiting for Congress to confirm his Cabinet members, hold hearings on the needed budget and so on. (The Washington Post reports that “Biden’s incoming administration is in danger of not having a single Cabinet official confirmed on Inauguration Day, upsetting a tradition going back to the Cold War of ensuring the president enters office with at least part of his national security team in place.”)….Drawing on the WPA (as well as on the Defense Production Act, which Biden is already planning to invoke) would allow for rapid, effective, multifaceted domestic mobilization. The statutes enable the president to order corporations that manufacture vaccines to increase their production. If they need additional resources that are not available through the marketplace, the president can order these materials to be turned over to these corporations, compensating those that will be forced to give them up.”

David Roberts aregues that “Joe Biden should do everything at once: How to succeed in hyperpolarized politics: run a blitz” at Vox: “The only thing Biden will have real control over is his administration and what it does. And his North Star, his organizing principle, should be doing as much good on as many fronts as fast as possible. Blitz….Biden’s best chance is to try to overwhelm the system the way Trump did, by doing so much that it’s impossible to make any one thing into a lasting story. He should launch so many simultaneous reforms that there’s no time for right-wing media to make up lies about all of them or for the Supreme Court to hear them all. He should ignore bad-faith attacks and stay relentlessly on message about what’s gotten done and what’s getting done next. He should, at every juncture, get caught trying to make government work better for ordinary people….To succeed, all this must happen alongside Democratic Party efforts to improve messaging and media, get persistent party infrastructure on the ground in communities the party has neglected, and innovate on voter outreach and persuasion. (Aaron Strauss has some good ideas on that front.)”

Political Strategy Notes

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to flip the hourglass and put impeachment on rapid track in the House is a done deal, and now impeachment papers will reportedly be sent to the senate very soon. Majority Leader McConnell’s choice about his personal support for convicting, or merely barring him from holding office (14th amendment, section 3) is still pending as of this writing. It’s a trickier call for Republican leaders. who have to decide not if, but how they want to divide their party, in favor of the voices for moderation and dignity restoration vs. more red meat for Trump’s trogs. In any case, President-elect Biden should refrain as much as possible from even mentioning Trump’s name going forward. He should focus instead on taking charge, and putting pandemic vaccinations and economic stimulus to help working Americans front and center. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to shrink inauguration festivities even further in the name of containing pandemic exposure and enhancing security.

Now that Trump has been impeached, it’s all about Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and whether he will lead his party toward Trump’s conviction or not. As Nick Niedzwiadek notes in “McConnell says he hasn’t ruled out convicting Trump in Senate trial” at Politico, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican colleagues on Wednesday that he had yet to make up his mind on the fate of President Donald Trump, ahead of a House vote to impeach the president later in the day…..“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote in a letter.” As of this writing, it’s unclear whether McConnell is doing a media strip-tease and knows exactly what he is going to do, or if he is truly undecided, which would be understandible, consideing the consequences. It’s essentually a choice between pisssing off the energetic pro-Trump base, or restoring a semblance of credibility and dignity to his party to win back some centrist voters. It’s all about which path gives him power. Expect drama. Regardless of McConnel’s choice, Democrats should stay focused on what the Biden Admonistration should do to check the pandemic, rebuild the economy and brand Democrats as the party of all working Americans.

Some good news from the Institute of Politics Civility poll, conducted by Republican pollster and former GU Politics Fellow Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake between January 4, 2021 and January 7, 2021: “Despite deep political polarization and levels of civil and political unrest not seen in a generation, American voters are cautiously optimistic about the future of our politics, according to the most recent Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) Civility Poll…..Just one week ahead of the Biden-Harris Inauguration (with its stated theme of “America United”), more than half (56%) of Americans are at least somewhat optimistic President-Elect Joe Biden can restore civility and unity in our politics, an issue at the forefront of his campaign. A full 9 in 10 Americans (92%) want the President and Congress to work together to solve our most important problems, and 63% think President-Elect Biden and Congress will be at least somewhat successful in this effort, including 44% of Republicans….The poll asked voters to rate on a scale of 0-100 the level of political division in America, with 100 being the highest level. Asked their view of the level of division now, the mean response was 76. But when asked to consider where their view will be in one year, the mean response was 65, an improvement of more than ten points.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the Georgia senate flip is how pro-Democratic activists got fierce about challenging the state’s voter suppression practices. Sam Levine rolls it out in “They always put other barriers in place’: how Georgia activists fought off voter suppression” at The Guardian: “Suppression has become more brazen in Georgia, overcoming it has become a core part of the work that Abrams and other organizers have done to mobilize the new electorate in the state. This work is not glamorous, focused on helping new voters navigate a bureaucracy designed to make it more difficult to vote. It’s making calls to voters to ensure they know their polling place, explaining how to fill out a mail-in ballot, and making sure they aren’t wrongly purged from the voter rolls. But the multi-year investment in overcoming voting barriers significantly contributed to organizers’ success in Georgia this year.” Looking ahead, Georgia GOTV activists will face a new challenge. ” Georgia Republicans have already signaled they plan to move ahead with new restrictions on vote-by-mail after an election in which a record number of people used the process.”