washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

Some scary nuggets from “Democrats Hispanic Peril” by Russell Contreras and Mike Allen at Axios: “A Wall Street Journal poll last week found that by 9 points, Hispanic voters said they’d back a Republican candidate for Congress over a Democrat….In November, the parties were tied….Democrats saw evidence of this shift in 2020 in House races in south Florida, Texas and southern New Mexico….Key factors, operatives say, include skepticism among Hispanic voters about programs they view as handouts. And many Hispanics are social conservatives, with what L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano has called a “rancho libertarianism streak.”….The national party also needs to do better with messages that distinguish among Americans whose families hailed from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico or Central America, several Democrats tell me…..Democrats talk about climate change, but dismiss the fact that many Latinos work in lucrative oilfield jobs in New Mexico and West Texas….Democrats talk about diversity. But by pleasing white progressives, they push out moderate Hispanic candidates….Democrats target Latinos by talking about immigration. But polls show immigration ranks 5th or 6th among the issues most important to these voters. The economy is usually the top concern.”

From Bill Scher’s “After Ukraine, Which Party Will Be the National Security Party? War changes history and politics. Putin’s bloody gambit could redraw the American political map” at The Washington Monthly: “‘We’re Zelenskyy Democrats. And they’re Putin Republicans’ would be my bumper sticker,” said Representative Sean Maloney, who heads the House Democratic campaign arm.” However, “After two massive wars and two American defeats, voters aren’t sold on either party regarding war and peace. What’s more, each party has its hawk/dove divisions.” In the optimistic scenario, Biden’s skill at building an international coalition for economic sanctions against Russia forces Putin to back off, and Biden emerges as the international leader of the ‘free world.’ That could win some swing votes, if inflation doesn’t get much worse. Biden will certainly accomplish his stated goal of making the invasion of Ukraine a painful economic disaster for Russia, if he hasn’t already achieved it. Even in the worst case scenario, Biden looks like a grown-up who can work with our allies on the international stage, in stark contrast to his petulant predecessor, who behaved like a sulking brat at the international meetings he attended.

We may be approaching the point where reasonable people can disagree about who is the head of the Republican Party. For now, however, Trump is the face in front, if not their 2024 front-runner. At Talking Points Memo, Editor Josh Marshall has a few choice words for political media that have given the GOP an easy ride for their refusal to hold Trump accountable for his disastrous coddling of Putin: “I must say that I am looking forward to the raft of articles in the works from the Times, WaPo, Politico and above all Axios about the GOP’s reckoning with the fact that their party leader (and most of his party) has spent the last several years toadying and obsequiously embracing Vladimir Putin and Russia. I jest of course since I have little hope that any of these pieces will be written. But the leader of this party has spent the last seven years fawning over the increasingly dictatorial leader of the country who has now tipped the world into the biggest international crisis in a generation and I guess we’re somehow not going to talk about that. I mean, he actually got impeached over it and for participating in a scheme to make the country Russia just invaded easier to invade.”

Eric Bradner’s “‘They got what they ordered, right?’: Democrats search for a midterm message at party gatherings” at CNN Politics noted some positive talking points for Democratic midterm messaging, including “The overall message of, yes, Biden has moved the country forward — shots in the arm, money in pockets, has improved unemployment numbers — all of that is true,” said Jane Kleeb, the Nebraska Democratic Party chair. “What’s also true is people like the concrete things that they can get their hands around at the national level as well as the local level.”…She pointed to the lapse in the $300-a-month child tax credit and rising gas prices as more tangible to voters….Kleeb said she has urged White House aides to take an “offensive message, not a defensive message” on gas prices, and particularly in defending Biden’s decision to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have used Biden’s move to argue that he is to blame for rising gas prices. Kleeb said Democrats need to make the case that Biden’s Keystone XL decision protected property rights and that its construction would not have changed gas prices.”

Rebranding the GOP After Putin’s Meltdown

In his article, “The Coming Republican Civil War Over Russia: The crucial debate goes on hold during the invasion of Ukraine, while Republican realists remain MIA” at The Nation, Jeet Heer shares his thoughts on Republican factions of the political moment:

In a Washington Post column, Amber Phillips provided a useful taxonomy of three primary types: the Hawks, the Putin Sympathizers, and the “Why Should We care?” Contingent. (For the sake of clarity, I’ve shifted the order of her listing.) To this list one could note there is a fourth ideological type that existed in the past but now is notably missing: the Republican Realists.

The Hawks are the most familiar of the four types. These are the unreconstructed Cold Warriors, the people who never trusted the Russkies and perhaps thought glasnost and perestroika were fake. Some of them still tend to refer to Russia as the Soviet Union. Mitt Romney is the emblematic figure here. The Hawks want a strict hard-line policy of containing and isolating Russia. They want NATO to act as the guard dog that makes sure Russia doesn’t dare cast a shadow outside its own borders.

The Putin Sympathizers are the traditionalist authoritarians who have come into prominence in the Trump era. They see Putin as a bulwark against global liberalism, someone who upholds gender norms and Christian values. Although often associated with Trump, this tradition can be seen earlier in Pat Buchanan.

The “Why Should We Care?” Contingent are the heirs of the older Robert Taft Republican isolationists. They insist that America needs to look after its domestic concerns first and foremost and avoid being drawn into foreign quarrels. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley gave voice to these sentiments by saying, “Sending new troops, expanding the security commitment and expanding NATO—I just think that’s a strategic mistake.” In terms of policy, this group aligns with the Putin Sympathizers.

The Republican Realists are the missing voices in the debate. These are national security types who prioritized advancing American business interests, which often meant making deals with hostile powers and finding a way to accommodate international differences. This is the tradition of James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. Unlike the Hawks, this group both understands and values diplomacy—especially when dealing with peer rivals like Russia and China. Unlike the Putin Sympathizers or the ”Why Should We Care?” Contingent, the Republican Realists were not unilateralists. They valued international agreements and building alliances.

For Democratic midterm candidates, the challenge is to benefit from the deepening GOP divisions. Yes, Dems must do a better job of promoting the Biden Administration’s real accomplishments. But Democrats, not just candidates, should also unite in branding the Republican party as elitists focused on: providing ever-larger tax cuts for billionaires, expressing contempt for democracy and having a high tolerance for bigots who trash our county’s best values (see Sasha Abramsky’s “Putin’s Republican Sympathizers,” also in The Nation).

Hit hard and often. Leverage the magic of repetition. That’s what Republicans do.

Political Stategy Notes

From “Republicans prove they are their own worst enemy in 2022” by Chris Cillizza at CNN Politics: “And despite a rocky start to the health care program — the failure of the initial website to sign up for coverage being the most obvious example — the public has warmed to the law, which is colloquially known as Obamacare. In an October 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, almost 6 in 10 (58%) of Americans said they had a favorable view of the law, while just 41% viewed it unfavorably….Taking the ACA away — or even talking about taking it away — then is politically unwise….Which may explain why [WI Republican Sen. Ron] Johnson, who faces re-election this year, released a statement Monday night, um, clarifying his position. “During a radio interview I used our failure to repeal and replace Obamacare as an example of how we need to be prepared to deliver on whatever agenda items we decide to run on,” said Johnson. “I was not suggesting repealing and replacing Obamacare should be one of those priorities. Even when we tried and failed, I consistently said our effort should focus on repairing the damage done by Obamacare and transitioning to a health system that works.”….Which, well, ok! But, the problem for Johnson — and for McConnell and other members of Republican leadership — is that Johnson initially said what he said, which sounded a whole lot like Republicans would work to repeal and replace Obamacare if they were in the Senate majority.” Cillizza also discusses deepening divisions within GOP leadership over Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) “policy agenda for America.” Here’s hoping Democrats will  emphasize such GOP divisions on the midterm campaign trail.

I like how Thomas B. Edsall put it in his column, “There Are Glimmers of Hope for Biden. Or Maybe Slivers” in The New York Times: “On the negative side for Republicans: Donald Trump’s admiration for and long courtship of Vladimir Putin has begun to backfire, causing conflict within Republican ranks; and these intraparty tensions have been compounded by Mike Pence’s growing willingness to challenge Trump, as well as by an internal strategy dispute between Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and Senator Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee….On the plus side for Democrats: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in February, employers added 678,000 new jobs and unemployment fell to 3.8 percent. Meanwhile, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection disclosed on March 3 that it has “has a good-faith basis for concluding that the president and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.” Edsall notes, however, that Democrats still face enormous obstacles in their struggle to hold their House of Reps majority in the midterm elections, inlcuding the weight of historical experience. But internal divisions in the GOP offer some hope that Dems can reduce the damage.

Edsall adds, “Steve Rosenthal, a former political director of the AFL-CIO who now heads The Organizing Group, a political consulting firm, contended in an email that the Biden administration has done a poor job promoting its successes:

We’ve been canvassing white working-class voters in Southwestern PA and in the Lehigh Valley. They have no idea what the president and the Democrats in Congress have already done that directly impacts the issues they raise. When they hear about Biden sending $7 billion to PA for their roads, bridges and schools, they’re moved by it. This isn’t rocket science.

….Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal-leaning think tank, made a similar case in his emailed response to my inquiries:

On the economic front, President Biden and the Democrats really need to up their game in pushing their record and their agenda. We have had record job growth since Biden took office, and somehow the economy is supposed to be a liability for the Democrats? If the shoe were on the other foot, the Republicans would be plastering the job numbers across the sky. This is the best labor market in more than half a century. Workers can leave jobs they don’t like for better ones, that is a really great story.

….“It’s a volatile environment,” Rosenthal adds: “Covid, war in Ukraine, inflation — and a lot can happen between now and November. But I definitely like the hand the Democrats are playing better this week than last. For now, let’s take it one week at a time.”

Among the ‘wild cards’ flagged by Edsall: “There are still major uncertainties to be resolved before Election Day on Nov. 8. These include the possibility that Trump will be further embroiled in criminal charges and the chance that Trump himself will become an albatross around the neck of the Republican Party….Trump’s legal status, in turn, will be determined by prosecutors in Georgia, New York and possibly the United States Justice Department…..The biggest unknown on the political horizon is the repercussions of the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies on Russia, which are certain to raise energy and food costs, exacerbating the administration’s continuing difficulties with rising prices….Finally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a wild card, giving rise, among other things, to mounting speculation about Trump’s judgment and his fitness for office.” In addition to Trump praising Putin’s “genius,” Edsall notes, “On March 5, speaking at a meeting of top Republican donors in New Orleans, Trump wandered further afield, suggesting, however insincerely, that the United States should paste Chinese flags on F-22s and “bomb the sh*t out of Russia.” Edsall notes “another explosive unknown, the possibility of the largest land war in Europe since 1945 metastasizing into a global conflict.” How is that going to play with suburban swing voters, if Trump is still the ‘leader’ of his party in November?

Political Strategy Notes

Is this the beginning of a Joe Biden comeback?,” Chris Cillizza asks at CNN Politics. Cillizza reports on a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll which found that “Biden’s overall job approval rating among Americans is at 47% in the survey, up 8 points from where he was in the same poll last month….That bump is reflected in individual issues too. A majority (52%) of Americans now approve of how Biden is handling the situation with Russia and Ukraine — up 18(!) points from last month. On Covid-19, 55% now approve of the way he is handling the pandemic, up 8 points from last month. And 45% approve of his handling of the economy, a 9-point increase.” Cillizza says “Some of that positive movement can be attributed to Biden’s State of the Union speech earlier this week. It was generally well-received, and anytime a president has the bully pulpit for an hour in prime time, it’s usually a good thing for him. But there are several other threads beyond a temporary State of the Union bump that suggest a Biden comeback could be in the works,” including “1) His handling of the Ukraine situation — leading an international coalition against Russia and imposing harsh economic sanctions all while refusing to commit American military forces — has won him positive reviews from Democrats and Republicans….2) The US economy is clearly moving in the right direction — and fast. An eye-popping 678,000 jobs were added in February alone. The unemployment rate is now down to 3.8%, the lowest it’s been in two years….3) Covid-19 is in retreat. Average daily case numbers are down to around 55,000 nationally, and a slew of states are getting rid of indoor mask mandates — making “normal” seem a whole lot more attainable.”

In case that poll is an outlier, Elena Schneider and Christopher Catelago report on “The Democratic Party’s emerging priority: Save the governors” at Politico: “Ahead of the midterm elections, Democrats are expanding their scope far beyond congressional contests and on to governor races in battleground states, seeing them as existential for the party’s presidential prospects, if not democratic governance itself….Party leaders, deep-pocketed donors and leading super PACS were already planning to prioritize November’s gubernatorial contests, which have long been an afterthought on national election maps. But their focus has intensified this past year after Republicans attempted to undermine and overturn the last election and Democratic-led federal voting rights legislation went up in smoke….Cooper Teboe, a donor adviser based in Silicon Valley, said he’s “seen a real shift” among major Democratic donors in their approach to state-based races. “Of the pool of major donors — of big, institutional donors behind the DNC and the DCCC — I’d say 50 to 60 percent of them are now putting that same effort into governors, and I expect that group of donors to only grow.”….Much of the focus from donors on down has centered on the governor races in key battleground states…“My entire donating life has always been centered around Congress, but I really think that if you care about democracy, you need to worry about these governors’ races,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic donor and lobbyist. “This is critical for us to win in 2024.”….Overall, 36 races for governor are happening this year….the contests in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia also coincide with marquee Senate and some battleground House races.”

“The ongoing war in Ukraine appears to have Americans in a bind,” Alex Samuels reports at FiveThirtyEight. “While roughly half of U.S. adults want to impose some type of punishment on or sanction against the Russian government for waging a war on Ukraine, another chunk of the country thinks it’s best for President Biden and others in power to stay out of European affairs….My colleague Geoffrey Skelley previously documented the sort of quandary many Americans are in regarding the war. And recent polling suggests that most voters are on the fence on where to go from here. That said, certain things are clearer based on recent polling: For starters, Americans are still somewhat dissatisfied with Biden’s response to the crisis….On imposing economic sanctions on Russia, a bare majority (50 percent) thought this was a good idea, while 20 percent disagreed….42 percent of citizens said they wanted the U.S. to send financial aid to Ukraine; 24 percent did not….On imposing additional sanctions against Russia, 69 percent of Americans said they were in favor, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that was conducted in the two days prior to the invasion on Feb. 24. But despite widespread support, only about half of the public said those sanctions were worthwhile if they led to more expensive gas prices. A CNN/SSRS poll fielded just after the invasion began found a similar result: Per the survey, 71 percent of Americans agreed that the U.S. should consider gas prices when deciding its actions toward Russia, a major oil and natural gas producer.”

From “Biden’s Supreme Court Pick Faces Little Opposition From Voters” by Eli Yokley at Morning Consult:

Political Strategy Notes

In their article, “If Congress Can’t Boost Workers’ Rights, the Administration Will Go It Alone: A new report lays out ways that federal agencies can increase worker power” at The American Prospect, worker rights advocates Deborah Greenfield and Lance Compa write, “The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, passed by the House and pending in the Senate, would dramatically improve protections for workers who try to form unions. The task force report notes that support for unions runs high, both in the general public (68 percent) and especially among Black women (82 percent), Black men (80 percent) and Hispanics (75 percent). But now and for the foreseeable future, 41 U.S. senators who might represent less than 20 percent of the American population can block passage of the PRO Act—unless, as appears highly unlikely, there are 51 senators willing to scrap the filibuster….Facing this reality, the only way for the Biden administration to amplify workers’ bargaining power is through executive orders, with the hope that they can later be codified in filibuster-proof legislation. This is how President Kennedy’s 1962 executive order granting collective-bargaining rights to federal employees became law under President Carter in 1978….The White House ordered the 20 executive branch agencies in the task force to dig into their governing legislation, rules, regulations, and practices to identify changes that would help workers organize and bargain. Their prospecting developed recommendations for actions spanning the many roles that federal agencies play—as employers, as contractors that hire private-sector providers, as grant-givers, and as models of healthy labor-management relations.” The article also details findings from the Administration’s Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment report.

Some good message points from “Biden soars abroad while he rebuilds at home” by WaPo’s E. J. Dionne, Jr.: “Like President George H.W. Bush, who quietly but persistently rallied allies to support reversing Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in 1991,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told me. “President Biden’s quiet diplomacy has been effective in rallying the West against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But Biden will probably not get the credit Bush did because American troops are not directly involved in Ukraine.” In his SOTU address, Biden “reminded Americans of the record economic growth  he presided over in his first year and then outlined how his approach to battle inflation differed from conservative economic doctrine….“One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer,” he declared. “I have a better idea to fight inflation. Lower your costs, not your wages. … Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America.”….he ended his speech by outlining an entirely different, bipartisan “Unity Agenda” that might serve as an alternative focus of action in an election year if his earlier proposals stall again. His new emphasis was on the opioid crisis, mental health, care for veterans and curing cancer. One can imagine moderate Democrats in swing districts embracing his unity theme with relief.”

How will the January 6th ‘insurrection’ investigation affect the midterm elections? Even if it shows the most damning evidence that Trump and his associates were guilty of a ‘criminal conspiracy’ and that Republican leaders did their best to distract voters from it, will that affect enough swing voters to make a difference in the outcome of the elections? An NBC News Poll conducted by Hart Research Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R). Aug. 14-17, 2021 asked 1000 adults “”Would you say, yes or no, that the protests that led to rioters overtaking the U.S. Capitol was an act of terrorism?” 52 percent said “yes,” 47 percent said “no.” A Quinnipiac University poll conducted July 27-August 2 asked “Which comes closer to your point of view: the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th was an attack on democracy that should never be forgotten, or too much is being made of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th and it is time to move on?” 57 percent said it “should never be forgotten,” while 38 percent said it was “time to move on.” In light of such findings, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Democrats don’t have much to gain by making Republican complicity in Trump’s attempt to void the 2020 election a major midterm campaign issue, although a couple of reminders in campaigns where specific Republican candidates went too far in supporting the “insurrection” might help.

At The Washington Monthly, Chris Matthews makes the case “Memo to Democrats: Tie Putin to Trump: The carnage in Ukraine must be laid at the former president’s doorstep.” As Matthews writes, “Pretty smart,” Trump said of Vladimir Putin’s stark aggression. “He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions, taking over a country—really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people—and just walking right in.” Yes, that’s what the Manhattan developer said about the most significant war in Europe since 1945….The Democrats, if they still know how to play political hardball, should make Trump wish he’d never said such words, as he did again at the recent CPAC conference, calling Putin “smart.” His toady Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has offered similar words of praise for Putin. Fawning international felons is really a thing with these guys….In black-and-white partisan terms, it’s time for the Democrats to nail Trump for his grotesque cozying up to Putin. Now that Moscow’s murderous intent is apparent, now that the problem with Ukraine is no longer an impossible-to-follow flowchart of Paul Manafort’s crimes and Alexander Vindman’s whistle-blowing, the Democrats can say, “Look at what Trump and Putin wrought.” It’s time to tie Trump to Putin’s attack on women and children instead of ignoring the connection….It’s a different world now, a united world. Democrats and Republicans, all Americans, now see Putin for who he is, and the Democrats must remind the country who was the strongman’s ally and dupe. They should plaster Trump-Putin posters on every telephone pole, cascade them on every social media site. They should rub that picture of the two wanna-be strongmen—showing off Trump’s hairdo and Vlad’s bare chest—for every American voter to see and never forget.” Matthews is focused mostly on 2024. But the argument also has merit for this year’s mideterm elections, since so many Republican incumbents and candidates have bet their electability on their association with Trump — a bet that doesn’t look quite as smart today as it did last week.

A Peek at Some Midterm Indicators

Since there were no major surprises in the President’s State of the Union address or the Texas primary results, I’ll go with some insights from Charlie Cook’s “Foreign Policy Unlikely To Save Democrats in the Fall” at The Cook Political Report:

Given how monolithic partisans are in their approval ratings and actual voting, it is always useful to look only at independents, the ‘jump ball’ Americans. Biden’s overall rating among them was 35 percent (5 points below his approval among all adults). His best marks were on dealing with the coronavirus (45 percent approval), followed by foreign policy (37 percent), Russia (35 percent), and the economy (30 percent). It is pretty clear the president and his administration’s denial of the threat of inflation and slow reaction to it was exceedingly damaging to him. (While we are on the subject, it is fascinating to see Senate Democrats, after so passionately advocating for more infrastructure spending this past year, propose suspending the gasoline tax for the rest of the year, no matter that the gas tax is the primary regular funding source for transportation infrastructure. Panic is never pretty.)

While we don’t know the trajectory that the Russia/Ukraine crisis will take, and there are many factors that can impact on midterm elections, we do know that in the absence of a large number of U.S. military deaths, Americans rarely vote on foreign-policy issues, particularly in midterms. The state and direction of the economy, particularly change in real disposable personal income, is far more determinative.

Turnout and the relative levels of enthusiasm between the two parties’ bases is key. There was a big gap heading into the 2018 midterm elections with, as usual, the party out of power much more motivated going into the fall of that year—though the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination did a lot to close the gap in predominantly rural areas, which helped Republicans actually score a net gain in the Senate while getting hosed (a political science term) in the House. Right now, Democrats are the party suffering from a lack of motivation among their base.

If someone wanting a read on a midterm is only going to watch two things, it should be a president’s approval rating and the generic congressional ballot test, both pretty good barometers of which way the wind is blowing and whether it’s light, moderate, or heavy.

In my view, Biden and his team are handling this incredibly challenging crisis far better than many other things over the last year. But this is unlikely to save Democrats from what is increasingly looking to be a pretty horrible midterm election.

In short, none of the relevant data indicators are looking very good for Dems at this political moment. But Dems who want a little more hope should check out Andrew Prokop’s analysis of “The Presidential Penalty“at Vox, which Cook cites. As Prokop concludes, “Considering how historically difficult it is for a president to even get a draw in the midterms, Biden will probably need not just one but several things to break his way — an improving approval rating, growing real incomes, and an improving pandemic. And he likely needs both turnout and persuasion to break in his favor: He has to give sporadic Democratic voters a reason to cast ballots this year, and to win back some voters who initially approved of him but who have since soured on his presidency.”

That’s asking a lot. But another factor to chuck into the hope bucket is the deepening Republican split, which could become worse by election day, in light of Republican divisions on Russia’s Ukraine invasion. And Democrats do have a +3 point lead in the latest “generic congressional ballot” indicator. If the primaries in the months ahead help Dems to run the strongest House and Senate candidates – another big “if” – the midterm outcome may not be so bad.

Political Strategy Notes

How Will Americans Grade Biden’s Handling Of The Crisis In Ukraine?” Nathaniel Rakich addresses the question at FiveThirtyEight and observes: “According to a Feb. 18-21 poll from The Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Americans disapproved of Biden’s handling of “the U.S. relationship with Russia” by 56 percent to 43 percent. Meanwhile, a Feb. 1-17 Gallup poll found that Americans disapproved of his handling of “the situation with Russia” by 55 percent to 36 percent. And in a Feb. 10-14 Quinnipiac University poll, Americans disapproved of his handling of “tensions between Russia and Ukraine” by 54 percent to 34 percent. These figures were all within a few points of his approval numbers on foreign policy more generally in those polls. (In addition, a Feb. 19-22 Fox News poll found that 56 percent of registered voters thought Biden had not been tough enough on Russia, virtually identical to the share who disapproved of his foreign-policy performance.)….These numbers were also within a few points of his overall approval rating, suggesting that Americans may not yet know how to judge Biden on the crisis and have simply retreated to their partisan corners when answering this question. That’s consistent with findings from political science research that Americans don’t have strongly held opinions on foreign policy and look to signals from political elites to tell them how they should feel about it.’

Further, Rakich writes, “a separate Morning Consult survey conducted Thursday — the only poll asking about Ukraine conducted entirely since Russia’s invasion so far — told a different tale. In it, registered voters gave Biden a positive net approval rating on his handling of foreign policy in Ukraine and Eastern Europe: 48 percent to 43 percent. This could reflect what will happen to Biden’s approval ratings on Ukraine (and perhaps overall) once the public hears more about the crisis and has new information on which to base their opinions — such as Biden’s televised announcement on Thursday that he would impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia and not send U.S. troops to Ukraine. As my colleague Geoffrey Skelley wrote at the time, both of those positions are popular among the public.”

Rakich also warns about “potential downsides for Biden,” including “the Morning Consult/Politico poll, 58 percent of registered voters would hold Biden very or somewhat responsible if gasoline prices increased as a result of the conflict.” Rakich concludes, “For now, though, this is all speculation. A wide range of outcomes are still possible. Ukraine could dominate the headlines for the next several months — or some other major event could take place and overshadow it. U.S. involvement in the conflict could prove to be minimal — or the nation could end up getting dragged into war (a lot of this, of course, depends on what Russian President Vladimir Putin does, which is even less predictable). And Biden could prove a deft negotiator of the situation — or he could bungle it.” The great wild card in all of this speculation is the intensity and durability of protest inside Russia. There is no reliable polling data explaining how Russians feel about Putin’s invasion. But Dasha Litvinova reports at Time that “From Moscow to Siberia, Russian anti-war activists took to the streets again Sunday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the arrests of hundreds of protesters each day by police…According to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests, police detained at least 2,710 Russians in 51 cities for anti-war demonstrations Sunday, bringing the total of those detained over four days to nearly 6,000.”

At U.S. News, Susan Milligan writes in “The Benefit of a Crisis: As global conflicts go, Russia’s threatening posture toward Ukraine is one that could actually work in Joe Biden’s favor” that “as crises go, experts say, this is one that could work to Biden’s benefit….While senators in Biden’s own party are denying his domestic wish list, the question of how to handle Russia will not involve arm-twisting the likes of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona….”I think this is a defining moment, not just in the Biden presidency but in Joe Biden’s long political life,” says Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank. “To his credit, in his campaign and afterward, he has defined this moment as an inflection point in the systemic struggle between democracies and autocracies. Now he has the challenge to execute against that diagnosis.”….”This is an opportunity for President Biden to show what he’s made of on the foreign policy front. He knows his stuff inside out,” Fiona Hill, a former official at the U.S. National Security Council specializing in Russian and European affairs, said during a recent webinar sponsored by The Common Good…..And unlike some domestic issues or more nuanced foreign policy questions, Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine is an easily digestible matter for Americans, especially those with a memory of the Cold War, says Jeffrey Engel, founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University….”He can talk about traditional tropes of American foreign policy rhetoric that are impossible to refute. He can say, ‘You can’t appease dictators,'” Engel says.”

Political Strategy Notes

Daniel Cox explores the question, “Why Are White Liberals So Pessimistic About Politics?” at FiveThirtyEight, and writes: “A new survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life, which I lead, found that less than half the American public felt optimistic about the country’s future. But there is a fairly stark divide among Americans on this question, with white Americans expressing far more pessimism about our country’s direction than members of other racial groups….White evangelicals were the most pessimistic group we surveyed, but I found in follow-up analysis for FiveThirtyEight that there was a notable racial divide among Democrats as well.1 More than 6 in 10 Black Democrats (68 percent), and 62 percent of Hispanic Democrats said they were somewhat or very optimistic about the country’s future but white Democrats were much more divided — roughly as many said they felt optimistic (53 percent) as pessimistic (47 percent) about where the United States is headed.” Among the reasons this pessimism is politically consequential is “A greater share of Americans identify as liberals today than at any point in the past 30 years or so, according to polling from Gallup, even if they are still significantly outnumbered by self-identified moderates and conservatives.” It seems worth investigating, at what point does liberal pessimism turn into a decision not to vote?

Cox notes that “Eitan Hersh, a political scientist at Tufts University, argued in 2020 that college-educated white Americans — a group that has trended leftward in recent years — tend to engage in politics very differently from Black and Hispanic Americans. In his research, Hersh found that “white people reported spending more time reading, talking, and thinking about politics than black people and Latinos did, but black people and Latinos were twice as likely as white respondents to say that at least some of the time they dedicate to politics is spent volunteering in organizations.” There are reasons to be skeptical about ‘reading, talking and thinking’ data. But Cox notes a more consequential difference: “Hersh suggested that white, college-educated, left-leaning voters are much more likely to engage in “political hobbyism” than in building coalitions to address social problems. These efforts often require sustained energy and investments, which for many left-leaning hobbyists is likely a less attractive way of participating in politics, though it may prove more effective in the long run.” Cox adds that “a new study by the Knight Foundation shows that Democrats are already paying far less attention to national news today than they were just a few months earlier. Taking an interest in politics is an important part of being an engaged citizen, but for liberals, greater participation in local affairs and organizations may ultimately prove more personally rewarding.”

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walker writes “Democrats like NDN’s Simon Rosenberg urge the president to acknowledge the challenges the country has been through over the past couple of years and “to make the grit, resilience, ingenuity, can do spirit of the American people the hero our story in 2022.”….But, Rosenberg also wants to see Democrats selling their successes. “As the incumbent party, Democrats will be judged this fall largely on whether voters think we’ve done a good job, that things are better. Things are better, and we should spend the next 10 months relentlessly making the case that they are.”….In a slide deck released this week, the Democratic research organization, Navigator, made a similar argument. When voters are presented with the tangible economic gains made during the Biden era (such as “more than 6 million jobs created last year,”), the presentation shows, opinions about the state of the economy improve….”The story Dems have to show is that the economy is back up off the mat,” Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson (and adviser to Navigator Research) told me. “That doesn’t mean everything is fixed or everything is better, but just that it’s heading in the right direction. This can’t be mission accomplished, but it does need to be mission underway….But, former Obama White House senior advisor David Axelrod warns Biden not to overdo it on the happy talk. In a New York Times op-ed this week, Axelrod writes that “[Y]ou simply cannot jawbone Americans into believing that things are better than they feel.”

Walker continues, “All of this advice is coming up on a pretty hard economic reality. Americans’ views of the economy aren’t likely to get better until they see that inflation improves. I’ve yet to sit in a focus group where the issue of the rising costs of groceries, rent or gas didn’t come up. In fact, many of the participants can tell you, to the dollar, how much more they spent at the gas station or the grocery store this week than they did a year ago.”….The Brooking’s Institution Bill Galston pointed to a recent Economist/YouGov survey showing that inflation has become the dominant factor determining voters’ view of the economy. Asked to identify the “best measure” of how the economy is doing, 52 percent pointed to the cost of goods and services, compared to 17 percent for unemployment and jobs and just 6 percent for the stock market. As such, writes Galston, while “the Biden administration wants Americans to focus on rapid job creation and the sharp decline in unemployment, it seems that the people are more likely to emphasize rising prices until the pace of inflation abates.” Walker adds that Biden does not have Trump’s gift for bragging and getting away with it. Instead Biden’s strong card is his ability to convey real empathy for struggling Americans. That alone won’t inspire the needed uptick in his approval ratings that can help Democrats in the midterm elections. For that he’s going to need a downtick in Covid and inflation — or at least some credible executive action on both fronts.

Media Should Call Out ‘Putin’s Puppies’

It’s eight plus months till election day. But former President Trump’s coddling of Russian President Putin’s Ukraine policy during his Administration and now the invasion of Ukraine may turn into a midterm campaign issue benefitting Democrats.

Stephen Collinson reports at CNN Politics, ” It took only 24 hours for Donald Trump to hail Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dismembering of independent, democratic, sovereign Ukraine as an act of “genius.”….The former President often accuses his enemies falsely of treason, but his own giddy rush to side with a foreign leader who is proving to be an enemy of the United States and the West is shocking even by Trump’s self-serving standards.”

It gets worse. Trump also said, “So Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force,” Trump said. “We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. … Here’s a guy who’s very savvy. … I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Collinson notes, further, “Trump’s latest idolization of Putin is likely to widen the growing divide in the GOP between traditional hawks, who have sometimes praised Biden for standing up to the Russian leader, and pro-Trump lawmakers – and conservative media stars like Tucker Carlson – who have sided with Putin….The House Republican leadership, which is in Trump’s pocket, accused Biden of “appeasement” on Tuesday – the same day that their de facto leader described Putin as a “genius.”

No doubt many Republican candidates for the Senate and House are squirming today. But former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Putin for being an “elegantly sophisticated.” Mitch McConneell, along with some G.O.P. House members tried to deflect criticism to President Biden. Representing the sane wing of the G.O.P., Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted “Former President Trump’s adulation of Putin today – including calling him a “genius” – aids our enemies. Trump’s interests don’t seem to align with the interests of the United States of America.”

Bill McCann put it well at The Austin-American Statesman:

When Trump cozied up to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Trump’s allies, including members of Congress, mostly were mute. When Trump blabbed classified information about ISIS to Russian officials in the Oval Office, his supporters sat silent. When Trump took Putin’s word over that of his own intelligence experts regarding Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election, his supporters mostly kept quiet. But while hardline Republicans held their tongues as Trump regularly coddled Putin, they had no problem defending Trump’s often outrageous behavior or comments, including his dangerous downplaying of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MSNBC commentator and former Republican Congresman Joe Scarborough said “House Republicans, you should bow your head in shame as we move into one of the greatest crises on the global stage since World War II,” Scarborough said on the set of Morning Joe Wednesday morning. “You should bow your head in shame. You are a disgrace to America….Now that NATO is united, you have Trump Republicans actually elevating and lifting up Vladimir Putin in this time of crisis,” Scarborough said, “It is absolutely disgusting….We now have useful idiots on the trump right that are apologizing for Vladimir Putin. The term fits them tightly, like a glove.”

In their first presidential debate, presidential candidate Biden called Trump “Putin’s puppy,” and now that zinger looks even more accurate. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to describe Trump’s Republican supporters as ‘Putin’s puppies.’

Political Strategy Notes

At Bloomberg, Mike Dorning explains why “Democrats’ Muscle-Flexing on Inflation Meets Reality and There’s No Easy Fix“: “Democrats have been searching for tools to ease inflation as price increases continued and worsened, with a January inflation report showing consumer prices rose 7.5% from a year earlier, the steepest climb in almost four decades….A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows inflation as the most urgent issue for 36% of Republicans, 32% of independents and 13% of Democrats….Congressional Democrats’ strategy to address rising costs through a gas-tax holiday and other legislation are shaping up as more of a political crutch than an inflation cure ahead of the midterm elections….Several of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats are spearheading a proposal to suspend the federal 18-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax until next year and others are drafting a bill to lower insulin prices….Though the federal government could act quickly to lower gasoline taxes, the savings at the pump would likely be disappointing, said Gilbert Metcalf, a Tufts University economics professor who specializes in energy tax policy. What’s more, suspending the federal gas tax would siphon off a source of funding from badly needed highway construction and maintenance that Congress only months ago sought to address with a historic bipartisan infrastructure bill….Several studies have shown savings from a gasoline tax reduction, especially a temporary one, are usually split between consumers and sellers. When Illinois and Indiana suspended a 5% gasoline tax in 2000, retail prices only dropped 3%, according to an analysis by MIT economist Joseph Doyle and Krislert Samphantharak of the University of California San Diego….The Federal Reserve holds the most powerful tool to bring down inflation, by raising interest rates, as the central bank is expected to do when it meets in mid-March. And rate increases typically take six to 18 months to deliver their full effect on the economy….Democrats are also considering pulling out popular pieces of President Joe Biden’s stalled economic agenda addressing prescription drug and child care costs..” In November, Biden released 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. There are still over 500 million barrels left in the S.P.R. If Biden plans another release, it should be perfectly-timed.

For now, however, the Biden Administration is focused on executive action to help unclog bottlenecks in supply chains to ease inflation. Congressional action on inflation is mostly a non-starter because of Republican roadblocks. The Republican midterm strategy is anchored in the assumption that voters will blame the party in the White House for inflation, regardless of what the other party does or does not do. Pundits, and to some extent history, say they are likely correct in that assumption. Unclogging bottlenecks may not help in time to make much of an impression in the midterm elections, but Biden has to try. There is also increasing talk of “strategic price controls” to quell inflation, and President Biden seems open to using the tool for prescription drugs. You may have seen ads attesting to how much the pharmaceutical industry, and really industry in general, hates that idea. It’s hard to assess how much it would help Democrats in the midterm elections, but it’s certainly a good idea that would help Americans who are struggling with prescription drug price-gouging. Inflation in gas and meat prices the two expenses that likely have the most immediate political consequences, since consumers confront them on a regular basis. Biden is expected to take more executive action to alleviate bottlenecks leading to rising meat and gas prices, along with jawboning about excess profits paired with price gouging. Unfortunately, big media is distracted by culture war side-shows, which makes it hard to get voters to see how much the Biden Administration is doing to stem  inflation, while Republicans do nothing. regarding the application of price controls more broadly, Economist Isabella Weber has written, “Today, there is once more a choice between tolerating the ongoing explosion of profits that drives up prices or tailored controls on carefully selected prices. Price controls would buy time to deal with bottlenecks that will continue as long as the pandemic prevails. Strategic price controls could also contribute to the monetary stability needed to mobilize public investments towards economic resilience, climate change mitigation and carbon-neutrality. The cost of waiting for inflation to go away is high. Senator Manchin’s withdrawal from the Build Back Better Act demonstrates the threat of a shrinking policy space at a time when large scale government action is in order. Austerity would be even worse: it risks manufacturing stagflation.”

Michael Sokolove’s New Republic article, “The Losing Democrats Who Gobbled Up Money” is generating buzz in Democratic campaign circles. Sokolove provides some instructive examples of bad campaign finance management, which merit consideration as cautionary tales. You can read his article for the dish about specific Democratic candidates, and I’ll just share a couple of his general observations: “Even in the digital age, local broadcast TV still accounts for the biggest share of campaign advertising, as high as 60 percent. It’s the most expensive use of funds, and, after a certain point, the least effective. But campaigns fat with cash have only so many ways to spend it. Especially in the final stretch, all they can do is throw it at more TV….David Hopkins is an associate professor of political science at Boston College who has written extensively about the American electoral system. “What we know from the academic study of campaign finances is that money is subject to a threshold effect,” he said. The threshold, he explained, is the point at which the money allows a candidate to run a “visible” campaign that establishes close to 100 percent name recognition, broadcasts a message, answers the other side’s attack ads, and deploys an effective field operation….“Once you are past that point,” Hopkins explained, “the marginal return on additional dollars becomes very small. It may be helpful for a voter to see an ad three times rather than once. Or even 10 times. Once you are seeing it 25 times instead of 20, it probably won’t make a difference.”….Late money—meaning dollars that gush in during the final weeks of a campaign—is particularly hard to make good use of, because it usually just buys more ads after all but a tiny number of voters have tuned out.” Absent a crystal ball, it’s not clear what can be done to prevent placing big, wasteful bets on doomed candidates, but maybe, by some kind of party-wide agreement, a small percentage of all large campaign contributions could be set aside for underfunded Democratic Senate and House candidates.

Jon Steinman of Project Democracy shares some insights at Talking Points memo regarding “The RNC’s Complicity In Trump’s Attacks On Democracy,” which merit repeating by Democratic midterm campaigns: “Acknowledging the truth of what actually led up to and occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, after all, might expose the RNC to genuine civil penalties….Indictments from the U.S. Department of Justice and evidence from the House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6 are painting a fuller picture of the attempted heist of our democracy….Whether the RNC will be named in any future civil suits is an open question. Less of an open question is the notion that the party’s behavior demands some kind of accountability — from its voters, donors, and electeds who still believe in democracy. The RNC was instrumental in helping some of the worst promoters of the Big Lie flood the zone with falsehoods, distract voters from reality, and secure a nation’s angry attention. Our democracy is built on the rule of law, and one can’t simultaneously demand “law and order” while seeking to overturn the will of the voters….As with a bank, there is money in the Big Lie and, like any self-respecting get-away driver, the RNC got a cut of the take. Let us not forget that vast sums were raised by amplifying and recirculating the claims of election fraud. Tucked within the attack on our democracy was a cynical money-making machine, as misled supporters continue donating to fund this destructive lost cause. By driving anger in their base against our democracy and the valid winner of the presidential election, Big Lie flamethrowers like Powell raised millions of donor dollars for themselves as well as Trump and the RNC, as the RNC received 25% of the post-election WinRed donations to Trump….The RNC helped create this monster, raised money off of it, and shares responsibility for the damage done. The question is whether the party will face any true accountability for its actions.”