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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Friedman’s Idea: Gimmicky or Good?

In his irresistibly-titled New York Times column, “Dems, You Can Defeat Trump in a Landslide,” Thomas L. Friedman argues that “Democrats have to do something extraordinary — forge a national unity ticket the likes of which they have never forged before. And that’s true even if Democrats nominate someone other than Bernie Sanders.”

Many left Dems will see Friedman’s column as a reflection of the panic of moderate Democrats, and indeed there is a fair amount of nail-biting about Sanders momentum out there, as Paul Waldman notes in “Democrats, stop freaking out about Bernie Sanders” at The Washington Post. Their concerns may be justified, as indicated by the available polling data, which has been well-analyzed by Ruy Teixeira and others at TDS and elsewhere. Should a moderate somehow win the Democratic nomination, the fallout could be equally-divisive, particularly if Sanders wins a plurality of the delegates, but not a majority.

Trump has screwed up once-predictable politics so bad that nobody really knows what is going to happen. Friedman notes that “Veteran political analyst E.J. Dionne, in his valuable new book, “Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country,” got this exactly right: We have no responsible Republican Party anymore. It is a deformed Trump personality cult.” Anyway, here’s the gist of Friedman’s idea:

“I want people to know that if I am the Democratic nominee these will be my cabinet choices — my team of rivals. I want Amy Klobuchar as my vice president. Her decency, experience and moderation will be greatly appreciated across America and particularly in the Midwest. I want Mike Bloomberg (or Bernie Sanders) as my secretary of the Treasury. Our plans for addressing income inequality are actually not that far apart, and if we can blend them together it will be great for the country and reassure markets. I want Joe Biden as my secretary of state. No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe. I will ask Elizabeth Warren to serve as health and human services secretary. No one could bring more energy and intellect to the task of expanding health care for more Americans than Senator Warren.

“I want Kamala Harris for attorney general. She has the toughness and integrity needed to clean up the corrupt mess Donald Trump has created in our Justice Department. I would like Mayor Pete as homeland security secretary; his intelligence and military background would make him a quick study in that job. I would like Tom Steyer to head a new cabinet position: secretary of national infrastructure. We’re going to rebuild America, not just build a wall on the border with Mexico. And I am asking Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, to become secretary of housing and urban development. Who would bring more passion to the task of revitalizing our inner cities than Cory?

Friedman goes on to suggest Admiral Andrew McRaven at the Pentagon, Sen. Romney for Commerce Secretary and Andrew Yang at Energy, with Ocasio-Cortez as our United Nations Ambassador. Also “I want Senator Michael Bennet, the former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, to be my secretary of education. No one understands education reform better than he does. Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna would be an ideal secretary of labor, balancing robots and workers to create “new collar” jobs.”

With a few tweaks, including more women in the cabinet, it’s a plausible enough ‘unity ticket’ and cabinet. Republicans will attack the idea as desperate. But it is certainly possible that polarization-weary voters might welcome such an approach. The specifics would be endlessly debatable. But the ‘Team of Rivals’ idea that Obama leveraged quite effectively could also help unify the party and impress some swing voters.

There’s lots to like in Friendman’s proposal. Quibble about the details, but what now seems inarguable is Friedman’s point that “if progressives think they can win without the moderates — or the moderates without the progressives — they are crazy.”


Political Strategy Notes

Looking at the contests for majority control of the U.S. Senate, Charlie Cook writes at The Cook Political Report: “With the Senate currently split between 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, this year the GOP has 23 seats to defend to only 12 for Democrats. It’s a plausible bet that Democrats come out of November’s election with either 48 or 49 seats in the Senate, a net gain of one or two. But another seat-or-two gain for Democrats and a majority is distinctly possible, particularly if college-educated suburban women are on fire for Democrats the way they were in 2018. The current generic congressional ballot test, a rough measure of what direction the political winds are blowing and whether the velocity is light, moderate, or heavy, shows Democrats ahead by about the same margin as they were in 2018…Two years from now in 2022, the GOP is playing more defense again. They’ll have 22 senators up for reelection to a dozen for Democrats. It isn’t until 2024 that the shoe is on the other foot, when Democrats will have 21 seats up to Republicans’ 10, pending the winners of this year’s special elections in Georgia and Arizona.”

In his article, “Sanders and the Senate” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman observe, “Bernie Sanders may be a poorer fit for the Democrats’ Senate targets than some other Democratic contenders if he wins the nomination…There are two Senate rating changes this week: Colorado moves from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, while Alabama moves from Leans Republican to Likely Republican…Republicans remain favored to hold the majority.”

Table 2: Biden and Sanders vs. Trump in RCP polling average

Note: States in bold also have a Senate race this year (or two Senate races, in the case of Georgia).

Source: RealClearPolitics as of the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 19.

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Why Trump is gloating about Nevada” in The Washington Post: “The Vermont senator’s sweep of Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday is no proof he can win in November. But it does reveal a campaign that can back what for many voters is a trusted brand with the political machinery to close the sale…While Sanders’ more moderate opponents wring their hands over what to do next, they might consider that Sanders built this brand in part through a series of specific promises: single-payer health care, free college, a Green New Deal, universal child care and much more…Sanders may not have explained in detail how he’d pay for all this, let alone, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pointed out on Saturday night, how he’d shepherd it through Congress. But Sanders understands the hunger for very specific forms of relief within a significant part of the Democratic electorate, particularly the young who suffered most from the fallout of the Great Recession.”

Dionne notes further, “Because so many Latinos think of themselves as moderates or conservatives — roughly 40 percent of them labeled themselves this way in Nevada, according to the Edison Entrance Poll — their strong support for expansive government programs and economic progressivism is often ignored. Sanders never made that mistake. He thus carried even self-described moderate and conservative Latinos by better than 2-to-1…A key test for Sanders will come on Super Tuesday in Texas, where Latinos rejected him in 2016 for Clinton. But here is the dilemma for the divided moderates: Roughly two-thirds of Nevada caucus-goers said their priority was to find a candidate who could beat Trump, and Sanders received less than a quarter of their preferences. But the rest of that beat-Trump-above-all crowd was relatively evenly scattered across the candidacies of Biden, Buttigieg, and then Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)…Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other.”

In his New York Times column, Thomas B. Edsall writes, “Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at Brookings and the author, with Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, of the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” was blunt in his assessment of the broad contemporary political environment. ‘Partisan polarization has become hard-wired in the American political system and is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. Our constitutional system is not well matched with our current party system. Partisan asymmetry makes it even worse. The GOP has radicalized into an anti-system party that does not accept the legitimacy of its opposition and enables a slide toward autocracy. Very dangerous times for American democracy.'”

Edsall adds, “It is an environment in which negative campaigning, on TV and on social media, has become the instrument of choice, not a tool, but the beating heart of political partisanship…Two political scientists, Gaurav Sood and Shanto Iyengar, describe this shift to antagonistic campaigning in “Coming to Dislike Your Opponents: The Polarizing Impact of Political Campaigns”…’Negative ads are especially effective in increasing partisan affect. A strong negativity bias influences information processing, making people more likely to attend to negative rather than positive appeals.'”…Sood and Iyengar see the use of divisive campaign tactics increasing in the future: ‘It is likely that as a consequence of the data revolution, and burgeoning social scientific research, campaigns will learn to target individuals better, and will be able to deliver more “potent” messages to them.'”

“Nonvoters lean slightly Democratic overall, but they favor President Trump in some key states,” Dhrumil Mehta writes at FiveThirtyEight.The poll also asked nonvoters who they would vote for if they were to vote, and found they were almost evenly split — 33 percent say they would vote for the Democratic nominee, 30 percent say they would vote for Trump and 18 percent say they would vote for someone else. However, this breakdown varied quite a bit in battleground states, which Knight sampled heavily. Nevada’s “chronic nonvoters,”1 for example, split evenly, but those in Pennsylvania and Florida skewed heavily toward Trump while those in Georgia would skew Democratic if they all voted.”

At medium.com Dr. Karin Temerius, a former psychiatrist, who is interested in political attitude change, probes how to “Flip Trump Voters the Easy Way: Leverage existing ambivalence with a few simple questions.” Temerius is more interested in peer to peer persuasion here than mass communications in a political campaign. Among her insights: “Most people are as ambivalent about politics as they are about changing bad habits. Even hardcore Trumpers will admit there are things they don’t like about the President — his use of Twitter, his disrespect of members of the military, his indifference to the ballooning national debt. But when they get into a conversation with a Trump opponent, they usually spend all their time thinking and talking about the ways in which Trump is great. As a result, they are likely to emerge from a transpartisan dialogue supporting the President even more strongly than they did before…So, how do we get people thinking and talking about what’s wrong with Trump instead of what they think is right?” She suggests “Use the commitment scale: On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being not at all and 10 being more than any other president ever, how strong is your support for President Trump?” It’s not easy to get a political conversation to this point, but if you can, “Then, when they answer, resist the urge to ask them what it is that they find so appealing about the President. (Trust me, that impulse will be strong and you will have to resist it.) Instead, nurture their ambivalence and support the part of them that wants to change with this response…When I use this approach with Trump supporters I am often shocked by how many aspects of the President they dislike. Things that — if I’d mentioned them in the form of an argument — would have triggered resistance and an unflinching defense of everything Trump stands for…As the French polymath Blaise Pascal once wrote, “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” The key to MI is giving people incentive and space to discover their own reasons for change rather than their reasons for staying the same.”


Political Strategy Notes – Vegas Debate Edition

At The Daily Beast, Justin Baragona saw it this way: “Moments after former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was absolutely savaged by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in his first Democratic presidential primary debate on Wednesday night, CNN political commentator Van Jones didn’t pull back any punches in his description of the billionaire’s performance….“Listen, this was a disaster for Bloomberg,” Jones exclaimed during CNN’s post-debate coverage. “Bloomberg went in as the Titanic — billion-dollar-machine Titanic. Titanic, meet iceberg Elizabeth Warren.”…Jones went on to say that despite the stop-and-frisk issue, which Warren also hit Bloomberg on at the debate, a lot of African-American voters were “placing great hope” and “trying to move over” to the ex-mayor but he showed “he just wasn’t ready.”…“He was tone-deaf on issue after issue, and the reason why — he’s not been in those living rooms, he hasn’t been doing those town halls,” the former Obama adviser noted.”

Julia Manchester observes at The Hill: “Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg swiped at progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg in his opening comments at Wednesday’s Democratic debate, saying primary voters don’t want the contest to come down to “one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out.”…“Most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks that money should be the root of all power,” the former South Bend, Ind., mayor said at the forum, hosted by NBC News, in Las Vegas. …”Let’s put forward someone who actually lives and works in a middle-class neighborhood in an industrial, midwestern city. Let’s put forth someone who is actually a Democrat,” he continued.”

At Politico, John F. Harris notes one of Mayor Buttigieg’s more impressive responses: “We’ve got to wake up as a party,” Buttigieg implored. “We could wake up two weeks from today, the day after Super Tuesday, and the only candidates left standing will be Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg, the two most polarizing figures on this stage. And most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks that money ought to be the root of all power.”

But The Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi was less impressed: “Pete Buttigieg’s performance was also noteworthy. The mayor may be able to read Norwegian but he can’t seem to read a room. Buttigieg’s constant attacks on Amy Klobuchar made him look like a mansplaining bully…“Mayo Pete” has been gliding through this election but I wouldn’t be surprised if more people start to find his patronizing demeanour a little hard to stomach.”

“Holy moly — what a debate for the Massachusetts senator. From the jump, Warren seemed to understand that she desperately needed a spark in the race. And she came out fighting — mostly against Bloomberg. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” Warren said moments into the debate. “A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians, and no I’m not talking about Donald Trump, I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.” But that wasn’t even the most savage hit Warren scored on Bloomberg! That came later, when she absolutely destroyed his equivocation on whether he would release women who had worked for his company from non-disclosure agreements they had signed. It was a takedown — aided by Bloomberg’s inability to mitigate the damage — that you rarely see at this level of politics. If debates matter, Warren should overperform her current polls in Nevada.” – from Chris Cillizza at CNN Politics.

Also at The Guardian, Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Cullen also credits Warren with a great debate performance, and notes thart she “said Pete Buttigieg’s healthcare plans boiled down to a Power Point presentation and that Amy Klobuchar’s could fit on a postage stamp [actually, she said “post-it note”]. Mike Bloomberg was awful. Klobuchar was on the defensive. And the elephant in the room, Bernie Sanders, was able to point out that Medicare for All will actually save $450bn – and universal healthcare is what put him at the front of the pack in the first place. He did not appear to lose stride. Warren saw Klobuchar’s breakthrough in the New Hampshire debate. She spared no one, and savaged Bloomberg. Everyone was throwing punches but nobody hit as hard as Warren. With Super Tuesday less than two weeks away, this raucous debate was a clincher, and Warren might have saved her struggling campaign with direct appeals to minority women so important in the Nevada caususes. Joe Biden, not so much.”

If you were wondering what the protesters were screaming when Biden began responding, Time Magazine’s Madeline Carlisle reports: “As former Vice President Joe Biden prepared his closing statement at the Nevada Democratic primary debate on Wednesday night, protesters began to yell “You deported 3 million people.”…The crowed booed as protested continued to yell, and Biden began speaking again once they left the room…The undetermined number of protesters seem to be referring to to Biden’s role in the Obama administration, which deported over 3 million people…The immigrant rights organization the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, took credit for the protest on social media…“BREAKING: We are interrupting @JoeBiden at the #DemDebate chanting #DontLookAway and #NoKidsInCages. We need a Democratic candidate to adopt the #MigrantJusticePlatform and commit themselves to improve the lives of migrants and refugees!” they tweeted.”

Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEight saw a good night for Biden: “Biden had a good debate. Like an actual good debate, not just a relatively OK one compared to his many mediocre showings this cycle. He came into tonight needing a good performance that could produce positive headlines, and he might have done that. Thing is, I wonder if Warren’s strong showing will get the “comeback” treatment more so than Biden’s. She was involved in a number of potentially viral moments, going after Bloomberg as well as other candidates, that might have resonated more. So Biden probably did what he needed to, and now it’s just a question of how things are portrayed going forward…I liked Nathaniel’s take that Bloomberg may be making Biden look more liberal to viewers. Bloomberg is doing the dirty work of attacking Sanders from the right, so Biden doesn’t need to fill that role, which may be freeing for him. For the most part, Biden has continued to look quite sharp tonight. He fumbled a bit on the question about climate change policies, but he was arguably smart later when he didn’t take the bait when Lester Holt asked him what he thought about “socialist candidates.” Instead, he talked about his background as “the poorest man in Congress” and the fact that he thought taxes should be higher on people like Bloomberg and that, in his classic way of saying it, “the middle class is getting killed.”

As for the immediate impact of the debate, James Pindell writes at The Boston Globe: “One weird thing about this NBC/MSNBC/Nevada Independent debate was it took place after four days of early voting had already ended, which meant that an estimated 70,000 people had already participated in the state’s Democratic caucuses. For context, in 2016, when there was no early voting, an estimated 84,000 people caucused, so a candidate doing well or flopping won’t impact a huge chunk of voters…A second weird thing about this debate: Bloomberg isn’t even on a ballot for another two weeks.” The question arises, will similar attacks against Bloomberg seem stale in his next debate?


Bloomberg’s Pros, Cons and Role in 2020

Tonight’s televised debate in Nevada will be of special interest to voters who are looking for a presidential candidate who brings something new to the Democratic field. which is another way of saying that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will pump up viewership for the event.

Bloomberg’s strengths as a candidate are impressive: He brings unprecedented financial resources to the campaign and he likes to spend it at a record pace. There will be no worries about his “burn” rate. He appears to be spending wisely, as indicated by his campaign’s extraordinary number of high-quality ads which provide the most plausible explanation for his significant bump in polls during the last month. (although lately I’ve been wondering if his ads will eventually meet the point of diminishing returns).

His wealth will also give him a top-quality staff. He will have a solid management team and campaign staff and offices everywhere it counts, good speeches, thorough research and daily briefings. He will be well-prepared tonight and ready to rumble every day.

Bloomberg also radiates confidence and focus, perhaps more than any other candidate. He really is the highly-successful, self-made business leader Trump pretends to be. This clearly scares the hell out of Trump, who also knows that Bloomberg probably has enough inside skinny on Trump’s history to do major damage.

Being a former Mayor of New York City is a pretty big deal, since the city has more people than 40 states.  In terms of hands-on experience, Bloomberg has managed more budget dollars than all of his opponents.

Bloomberg will get lots of populist flack tonight for being a billionaire and for trying to ‘buy it.’  He will also get a lot of heat for comments he has allegedly made about women and people of color. Recordings of any such comments will have more impact than hearsay.

He will also be held to account for some of his policies as mayor, including ‘stop and frisk.’ This will be a test of how well he handles intense criticism, the sincerity of his apologies and how convincingly he articulates his capacity for positive change. His admirable support for gun safety reforms may end up hurting his campaign in key swing states.

Bloomberg’s most significant liabilities include his inexperience in connecting with working-class voters. As Harold Meyerson observed in the L. A. Times,

It’s hard to imagine a Democrat less able to win working-class votes — those of young black and Latino workers, and those of the white workers who swung the 2016 election to Trump. Minority voters are unlikely to look kindly on his mayoral record: intensifying stop-and-frisk, vetoing legislation that banned predatory lenders from doing business with the city, and opposing city legislation to raise the living wage. Now that he’s running for president he says he backs a minimum wage hike, but in 2014, he told Fox News, “I’ve always thought that this impetus to raise the minimum wage is one of the most misguided things we can do.”

For those white workers who pushed Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania into Trump’s column, Bloomberg is the personification of everything they can’t abide. On one hand, he’s perhaps America’s biggest-spending proponent of gun control and a prominent advocate for other socially liberal positions — those the right denigrates as heralding “the nanny state.”

Many white working-class voters gave Trump the benefit of the doubt in 2016, but it’s unclear if that pass is still good in 2020. There is also the thorny issue of globalized trade policy, which provides some ammo for Bloomberg’s opponents. As Meyerson notes, “he’s been a constant advocate for deepening economic globalization, for the very trade deals many American workers believed decimated manufacturing here. To this very day, he remains, with Henry Kissinger, the American public figure most supportive of the Chinese regime.” Further,

In each of the past two years, his company (Bloomberg LP) has hosted a conference highlighting China’s growing and indispensable role in the new world economy, and last year, the gathering was held in Beijing. Bloomberg has defended the Chinese Communist Party as quasi-democratic (“they listen to the public”) and when asked whether President Xi Jinping is a dictator, answered, “No, he has a constituency to answer to.”

Bloomberg’s interest in China is also financial. As Josh Rogin has reported in the Washington Post, Bloomberg LP doesn’t only sell its terminals there, but through the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index, it enables U.S. investors to buy Chinese bonds. Last year, Rogin noted, “the index began a 20-month plan to support 364 Chinese firms by directing an estimated $150 billion into their bond offerings, including 159 [companies] controlled directly by the Chinese government…This is the same government that subsidizes its steel industry, allowing it to undersell the American steel industry with devastating effect. It has done the same with solar panels, at a time the U.S. industry was gearing up…It’s Bloomberg, not Bernie, who’s the Manchurian candidate.”

It’s going to take some fancy footwork for Bloomberg to sidestep this minefield. How he handles this issue may determine his viability as a candidate.

Bloomberg will also take some heat for being a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ Democrat. But this hasn’t hurt Sen. Sanders much. Indeed, with the rising share of voters who self-i.d. as “independent,” it may be an asset for Bloomberg’s campaign.

All of this considered, Bloomberg may not have the right combination of assets needed to capture the Democratic nomination. But rest assured that he is all-in, if the trajectory of his career thus far is any indication. He will bring the fight to his adversaries, as well as Trump.

Meanwhile, Dems can take some comfort that Bloomberg has pledged to support the Democratic nominee after the convention, and hopefully that means financially, as well as verbally. And if his support extends generously to Democratic senate candidates, he may have a pivotal role in securing the 4 or more U.S. Senate pick-ups we need to prevent catastrophic Republican damage to the nation, regardless of who wins the White House. Whether he wins or loses the Democratic nomination, Bloomberg may have an historic contribution to make in redeeming our democracy.


Political Strategy Notes

For some timely Democratic presidential campaign horserace analysis, check out ricochet.com’s podcast interview, in which conservative Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen and TDS contributor Ruy Teixeira discuss in-depth the outcome of the New Hampshire primary and the possible trajectories of the candidates leading up to the contests in Nevada, South Carolina and beyond. Among Teixeira’s observations: “When you look at this budget, it’s a matter of political malpractice that the current candidates don’t seem to find much time to focus on it. But given the right candidate, I think the amount of ammunition here is enormous.”

“Despite all the democratic socialist hype, the moderates retain the edge inside the Democratic tent,” Bill Scher writes at Politico. “Moderate candidates gave Democrats the House majority in 2018. Single-payer health care has taken a beating on the debate stage over the past seven months—and coughing up the details of the proposal proved to be a political third rail for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. In fact, moderation may be on the rise with grassroots Democrats; comparing the New Hampshire primary exit polls four years ago to last night, the share of voters who identify as “moderate” went up 9 points to 36 percent, while those who see themselves as “very liberal,” went down 5 points, to 21 percent…So why are moderates struggling to unite? The big moderate divide in 2020 is not about any major policy dispute, but between those who respect insider experience and those who are inspired by outsider energy…Advocates of outsider candidates have the stronger electability argument, which Buttigieg regularly articulates: “Every single time my party has won the presidency in the last 50 years, it’s been with a candidate who was new on the national scene, hadn’t spent a lot of time in Washington, and represented a new generation of leadership.” This covers the last three Democratic presidents—Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Except for the “new generation” part, it applies to Donald Trump as well.”

“However, two factors complicate Buttigieg’s case,” Scher continues, “One, he is pushing the limits of what can constitute a credible outsider candidate. He’s not a southern governor, or a first-term senator, or even a businessman/TV star, but a small-city mayor. Two, as Klobuchar put it in the last debate, “We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us.” If Americans tend to elect the opposite of the sitting president, as many believe, does it make sense to put up another newcomer, when Democrats want to argue that Trump is in way over his head?…The insider-outsider divide helps explain why Klobuchar was the main beneficiary of the pummeling Biden took in New Hampshire. Compared to the final alignment totals in Iowa, Buttigieg’s share of the vote in New Hampshire (with 97 percent counted) was basically stagnant, ticking down 0.7 percent. Klobuchar, however, jumped almost 8 percent, suggesting a resistance among some moderates to an outsider candidate.”

In his post, “There is hard data that shows that a centrist Democrat would be a losing candidate” at salon.com, Keith A. Spencer draws insights from Thomas Piketty’s paper, “Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (abstract here),” to explore the implications for the political moment in the U.S. As Spencer writes, “nominating centrist Democrats who don’t speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism’s ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a “bifurcated” voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between…Piketty’s paper is an inconvenient truth for the Democratic Party. The party’s leaders see themselves as the left wing of capital — supporting social policies that liberal rich people can get behind, never daring to enact economic reforms that might step on rich donors’ toes. Hence, the establishment seems intent on anointing the centrist Democrats of capital, who push liberal social policies and neoliberal economic policies.”

Memo to all those who are worried about Democratic candidates starting class warfare: That train has already left the station. See for example, “Trump Hires Union Busters to Oversee Unions” by Brian Young in Trades & Union Digest, which notes, “Within the Department of Labor, there is a section that is devoted to providing oversight to labor unions. It is responsible for auditing financial disclosures and investigating officer corruption…Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, has hired two new people to work in this oversight role who has a long history of working against unions. Rusty Brown, worked as a union-avoidance consultant. He helped to decertify a union of 27,000 home care workers in Minnesota and pushed the Labor Department to investigate a prominent Texas worker center that was a vocal critic of dangerous conditions in the construction industry. He will begin work in the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS)…The other hire, Trey Kovacs will work as a “special assistant” to OLMS. Kovacs previously worked at the Competitive Enterprise Institute where he advocated for treating worker centers more like labor unions, requiring them to file detailed financial statements and oversight. He has also accused the department of dragging their feet on expanding union financial disclosures. According to his bio, Kovacs writing focuses on the adverse effects of public sector unions. He has written in support of ending the Obama-era Joint-Employer Rule, advocated for the end to exclusive representation for public sector unions, and claimed that eliminating union time would save veterans’ lives at the VA.”

Democrats Who Use Twitter Are More Likely to Be Liberal: Pew Research Center found support for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders among that group,” David Cohen writes at AdWeek. Cohen reports that Pew surveyed 6,077 U.S. adults who identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning Independents, and he notes that “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who use Twitter are more likely to support Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) or Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), while former Vice President Joe Biden did not fare well among that group, according to Pew Research Center…However, it did not bode well for Sanders that 40% of Democrats on Twitter who said they are not registered to vote or unsure of their registration status tapped him as their first choice…”Sanders was the most-followed candidate among Democrats on Twitter, at 21%, trailed by Warren (16%), Biden (11%) and South Bend (Ind.) Mayor Pete Buttigieg (10%)…Former President Barack Obama was the most followed major political figure within this group, at 48% of Democrats on Twitter, followed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (21%) and President Donald Trump (13%).

Cohen notes further, “Pew found that 56% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents on Twitter described their political views as liberal or very liberal, compared with 41% of non-Twitter-using Democrats…The think tank said 65% of Democrats who don’t use Twitter believe it is more important for a Democratic candidate to seek common ground with Republicans, even if it means conceding on some issues, while just 54% of Twitter-using Democrats felt the same way, with 45% preferring a candidate who will push hard for the policies his or her party wants.”

Speaking of ads, the wizards at AdWeek should be agog at the embarrassment of riches placed at the feet of the Democratic party this year, especially in the ever-increasing tally  of video clips of Trump, McConnell and Lindsey Graham contradicting themselves to a ridiculous extent on a vast range of topics, including impeachment, pre-existing health conditions, Trump’s integrity, Russia, Social Security, Medicare and others. Dems seem to have a sort of laissez faire attitude about attack ads — leave it up to the individual campaigns, which is a pretty dicey approach. So far, Bloomberg alone has risen to the challenge of vigorous, high quality attack ads, and you may have noticed that it has served him well. No other candidates have the dough for such a commitment. But it would be good for Bloomberg and Steyer to support Democratic senate candidates by kicking in a couple billion for ads and front-porch canvassing, which has also proven effective. Maybe invite Soros, Turner, Lucas and Spielberg to do likewise.


Yglesias: Why Dems Should Stop Freaking Out About Sanders

Somebody had to do it, and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias rises to the challenge of confronting Sanders phobia head on in his article, “Mainstream Democrats shouldn’t fear Bernie Sanders: He’d be a strong nominee and a solid president.” Yglesias tries out a ‘calm down, let’s reason this out’ approach in discussing the very real possibility of Sanders winning the Democratic nomination for president, and writes:

Sen. Bernie Sanders’s win in New Hampshire following his quasi-win in Iowa dashes the Democratic Party establishment’s big hope of the past four years — that he’d just fade away…Alarm, clearly visible in a range of mainstream Democratic circles over the past several weeks, is now going to kick into overdrive.

But this frame of mind is fundamentally misguided. For all the agita around his all-or-nothing rhetoric, his behavior as a longtime member of Congress (and before that as a mayor) suggests a much more pragmatic approach to actual legislating than some of the wilder “political revolution” rhetoric would suggest…On the vast majority of issues, a Sanders administration would deliver pretty much the same policy outcomes as any other Democrat. The two biggest exceptions to this, foreign policy and monetary policy, happen to be where Sanders takes issue with an entrenched conventional wisdom that is deeply problematic.

Yglesias points out that “Sanders comes with a strong electoral track record in practice, and he brings some unique assets to the table as someone who appeals precisely to the most fractious elements of the anti-Trump coalition.” But Yglesias notes further,

The specter of “socialism” hangs over the Sanders campaign, terrifying mainstream Democrats with the reality that when asked about it by pollsters, most Americans reject the idea. Given that Sanders himself tends to anchor his politics in Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, it seems as though everyone involved would be better off if he labeled himself a New Deal Democrat and let us revert to the normal pattern where Republicans call mainstream liberals “socialists” and liberals push back rather than accepting an unpopular label.

It is remarkable that in 2020, the socialist boogeyman still has staying power. Certainly the fear-monger in-chief will make the most of it to crank up turnout. But are genuine swing voters really that gullible? Won’t the fear-mongering get stale after months of it? Is Sanders adept enough to confront the accusations and persuade enough voters to support his candidacy anyway?

Yglesias notes that, “in current head-to-head polling matchups with Donald Trump, Sanders does well and is normally winning. Skeptics worry whether that lead will hold up against the sure-to-come cavalcade of attack ads from Trump. It’s a reasonable concern.” Yglesias adds that Sanders has “separated that idealism from his practical legislative work, which was grounded in vote counts. He voted for President Barack Obama’s Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization bill in 2009, and again for the Affordable Care Act in 2010. He voted for the Dodd-Frank bill and every other contentious piece of Obama-era legislation.”

“It’s fine if you want to be annoyed that Sanders’s self-presentation as a revolutionary who will sweep all practical obstacles aside is at odds with his reality as an experienced legislator who does typical senator stuff in a typical way,” Yglesias writes. “But there’s no reason to be worried that Sanders is a deluded radical who doesn’t understand how the government works…Some of his ideas are not so good, but it’s important to understand that on the vast majority of topics, the policy outputs of a Sanders administration just wouldn’t be that different from those of a Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg administration. Whether a new president promises continuity with Obama or a break with neoliberalism, the constraints will realistically come from Congress, where the median member is all but certain to be more conservative than anyone in the Democratic field.”

However, “On foreign policy, by contrast, the president is less constrained, and Sanders’s real desire to challenge aspects of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus makes a difference. He’s much more critical of Israel than most people in national politics, he’s a leading critic of the alliance with Saudi Arabia, and he’s generally skeptical of America’s expansive military posture…These ideas are coded as “extreme” in Washington, where there’s significant bipartisan investment in the status quo. But polls show that most voters question the narratives of American exceptionalism, favor a reduced global military footprint and less defense spending, and are skeptical of the merits of profligate arms sales…Nobody should have illusions about Sanders somehow unilaterally ushering in a bold new era of world peace, but he is by far the most likely person in the race to push back against expansive militarism — and that’s worth considering.”

In his concluding summation, Yglesias writes that “Sanders’s record is not nearly as scary as many establishment Democrats fear. His “revolution” rhetoric doesn’t make sense to me, but he’s been an effective legislator for a long time, and he knows how to get things done — and how hard it is to get them done.” Also,

Some of his big ideas are not so hot on the merits, but it’s not worth worrying about them because the political revolution is so unrealistic. And on a couple of issues where the next president will probably have a fair amount of latitude, Sanders breaks from the pack in good ways. He’s perhaps not an ideal electability choice, but his track record on winning elections is solid and his early polling is pretty good. There’s no particular reason to think he’d be weaker than the other three top contenders, and at least some reason to think he’d be stronger.

A Sanders presidency should generate an emphasis on full employment, a tendency to shy away from launching wars, an executive branch that actually tries to enforce environmental protection and civil rights laws, and a situation in which bills that both progressives and moderates can agree on get to become law…That’s a formula the vast majority of mainstream Democrats should be able to embrace.

Yglesias doesn’t address some legitimate concerns, such as Sanders’s’ policies on fracking, which won’t help Dems in the pivotal swing state of Pennsylvania. Sanders also embraces voting rights for all incarcerated people, which Trump-heads will spin into ‘Look, he wants to give terrorists and killers voting power.’ Then there is the equally-distorted ‘open borders’ meme, in which Sanders and other liberal Democrats are characterized as strewing welcoming roses in the paths of undocumented hordes crosssing our southern borders. But it may be that those who buy into these two exaggerations are probably not going to vote for the Democratic nominee anyway.

Yglesias’s strongest argument is that any Democratic nominee, not just Sanders, is going to present some serious problems, and Democrats are going to have to prepare for vicious attacks from Trump’s campaign regardless of who leads our ticket. Whoever Dems nominate is going to face a relentless and unprecedented assault, including nasty personal accusations. Our 2020 nominee has to be tough and well-prepared, and so far, Sanders looks like he can handle it.


Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Trump’s Biggest Vulnerability” His lies about health care at the State of the Union signal just how weak he is on the issue” at The Atlantic, Ronald Browstein writes, “he repeatedly lied about his administration’s unrelenting efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act. To Democrats, Trump’s determination to surround his health-care record with what Winston Churchill once called a “bodyguard of lies” clearly signaled that the president recognizes how vulnerable his record could prove this fall…Because people see health care as so central to both their personal well-being and their financial well-being, health care stands out as Trump’s No. 1 vulnerability,” says the longtime Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. “The simplest way for people to understand the Trump economy is that whatever wage increases they are getting are smaller than the increases in their health-care premiums and out-of-pocket health-care costs.”

Brownstein continues,  In an Associated Press/National Opinion Research Center survey last month, just 38 percent of Americans said they approved of his record on health care—a grade that has stayed relatively stable since he took office—compared with 56 percent who approved of his handling of the economy, the highest of his presidency…The latest monthly health-care poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation drilled down further into those views. In the survey, just about a third of adults gave Trump positive marks for dealing with preexisting conditions, the ACA, and prescription-drug costs. Detailed results provided to me by Kaiser showed that two key groups of swing voters shared this deep skepticism of Trump’s health-care record. A majority of college-educated white men disapproved of how Trump has handled each of the three issues. And while white women without a college degree—a group that could decide the Rust Belt states that tilted the 2016 election to Trump—broke against him more narrowly on the ACA and preexisting conditions, just 31 percent of them gave him positive marks on prescription-drug costs.”

“The Republican pollster Gene Ulm told me,” Brownstein notes, “that easing those doubts about his handling of health-care issues is crucial for Trump’s reelection prospects. “No president would be in the game without people believing the economy is getting better than it was,” Ulm said. But for “the next cluster of voters” beyond those immediately drawn to him, “it’s the cost of health care, prescription drugs, and the whole cluster of premiums, co-pays, [and] out-of-pocket expenses” that matter most…And on those fronts, the best measure of Trump’s anxiety was his mendacity in describing his record on Tuesday night…Trump, not for the first time, flatly lied about his efforts to revoke the ACA’s protections for those with preexisting conditions. Not only is his administration currently in federal court seeking to invalidate the entire ACA, but in 2017 he endorsed Republican proposals in Congress to effectively erase those protections by allowing insurance companies to charge people who have greater health needs more. “It’s notable that the president feels the need to say he’s protecting people with preexisting conditions,” Levitt says, “but the facts just don’t back that up.”

“Trump has talked about confronting prescription-drug costs since his 2016 campaign,” Brownstein adds, “when he embraced the long-standing Democratic idea of allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices with drug companies. But amid opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, and Republicans leery of an aggressive federal role in health care, he renounced that proposal…Democrats, meanwhile, have picked up the mantle, putting it at the center of the H.R. 3 legislation that the House passed in December. (That was the bill House Democrats were alluding to when a group of them rose to chant “H.R. 3” during Trump’s State of the Union address.)..The GOP-led Senate hasn’t taken up the bill, but the public’s intense focus on drug costs makes it possible that Trump will offer some proposals on the issue before Election Day. That’s why it’s so essential for Democrats to more sharply define the terms of debate right now. “It is really important for Democrats to set the bar on the drug-pricing issue at whether someone supports or opposes giving Medicare the power to negotiate,” Garin warns.”

“Trump’s religious supporters, most of whom preach the most conservative versions of Christianity, either don’t realize or don’t care that they are ratifying what so many young people have come to believe about religion: that it is nothing but a cover for conservative politics,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated Washington Post column, “Political idolatry is the enemy of religious faith.” Dionne adds that “it is far more about identity than faith, that it upholds a static traditionalism rather than a living tradition…Thus do 4 in 10 Americans under 40 declare that they have no religious affiliation whatsoever. They are far from devoid of profound moral commitments, and some of them still think of themselves as spiritual. But organized religion just doesn’t speak to them anymore…I acknowledge you have every right to be suspicious that I’m as inclined as anyone to see faith as blessing my own politics. Nonetheless, Romney showed us how religion is most usefully invoked in public life: when it prompts self-doubt rather than self-celebration, when it encourages us to build solidarity with those unlike us and when it promotes dissent rather than conformity.”

So, given the current political landscape, “Was Impeachment a Mistake?” Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect addresses the question: “There is no evidence that the impeachment will hurt Democrats in November, and some evidence that it helped. During the entire investigation, polls scarcely moved. To the extent that public opinion shifted at all, it moved very slightly in the direction of favoring Trump’s removal from office, especially among independents…As a sheer matter of politics, there is one strong benefit. Depending on whom you include, between seven and eleven Republican Senate incumbents are up for re-election in swing states next November…Their vote to excuse Trump’s dictatorial behavior by refusing to convict will force them to answer extremely damaging questions during the campaign. These include Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Susan Collins of Maine. McConnell himself, up for re-election, has approval ratings in his home state of Kentucky of just 37 percent…Whether or not Trump is re-elected, Democratic control of the Senate is crucial for maintaining a semblance of democracy in America. So no, impeachment did not remove Trump, and may not even have damaged him. But it had to be done, and could yet produce major benefits for the Democrats and the country.”

SemDem probes “What Florida Democrats can learn from Virginia … and why they need to” at Daily Kos and offers some strategy suggestions, including, “Long-term investments in pink and red counties can make a dent in Republican dominance in those areas, and they will be critical for victory in 2020… Florida will be lost again if red counties, like Pasco County, are allowed to drive up 50,000 vote margins…Look at Virginia: Just a few years ago, as one candidate put it, the rural western region was written off as hopeless by the state Democratic Party. That started changing in 2015, thanks to the work of several groups. One such group, 90 for 90, was organized by lawmakers and the Chesterfield County Democrats to register voters, encourage voter participation, and recruit candidates outside of the Democratic strongholds. Another initiative, started by Sen. Tim Kaine in 2017, banded multiple rural candidates together to pool resources, share consultants, and create operational support for campaigns across the rural districts. One of these candidates was Daily Kos’ own Beverly Harrison. Although she lost her election, Harrison found success in her work on the successful state campaign to get Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment…The goal was to build relationships within rural areas, and identify and focus on issues those communities care about, like broadband access and farming. The renewed care that the Virginia Democrats showed these neglected areas paid dividends right away: The GOP suddenly realized that it could no longer rely on these areas it had formerly depended on to retain its majority.”

SemDem notes also that “The Haitian American population in South Florida has grown to over 300,000 strong, expanding their political clout. Scott appeared at a major Haitian American religious event, the Haitian Evangelical Crusade, in Greenacres, Florida; he ran ads in Haitian Creole. Never mind that Rick Scott strongly supports a president who called Haiti a “shithole.” All any of the Florida Democratic candidates had to do was make an effort—at least show up. They didn’t, and we lost every major race by razor-thin margins…Contrast this with the new East Asian and Indian immigrants in Virginia. The situation there was reversed: The Virginia GOP had a tremendous opportunity to get a foothold in these immigrant communities, as these voters spoke positively about the GOP’s rhetoric on taxes and on family values. Yet the Virginia Republicans made very little effort to reach out and counter Trump’s constant, vile attacks on immigrants. That got noticed…It was the Virginia Democrats who welcomed them, visited year-round, and listened to their needs. They didn’t just assume that immigrant communities would fall in line behind Democrats because of Trump’s hatred. It’s as if the Florida Republicans and the Virginia Democrats are following the same playbook, and it’s working for both. In Virginia, immigrant communities turned out in droves and helped Democrats capture the trifecta.” Democrats should also note that Florida has more eligible African-American voters than any other state. Even a modest increase in Black turnout in Florida can make the difference on November 3rd.

To close out this edition of Political Strategy Notes, Nancy LeTourneau reports some good news for Democrats at The Washington Monthly: Although the “Democrats in disarray” crowd is having a field day. As someone who tends to chafe at conventional wisdom, I thought I’d go against the grain and bring you some good news about Democrats. Almost no one is noticing that the party has successfully implemented a 50-state strategy when it comes to fundraising…Howard Dean is the one who popularized the idea of a 50-state strategy back in 2005. What most people don’t know is that in promoting that idea, he was posing a direct challenge to the Democratic “establishment” of his day. Prior to his chairmanship of the DNC, the party was the focal point for fundraising and its leadership doled money out to candidates in a top-down strategy based on who they thought would be viable. Very little of that money was spent to support state parties or candidates in red states or districts that were deemed to be unviable.” Citing “the emergence of ActBlue as the powerhouse of online grassroots fundraising,” LeTourneau writes, “What we have is a Republican Party that has become increasingly dependent on large donations from outside groups and a Democratic Party fueled by grassroots donations directly to candidates. That is how a 50-state strategy is attempting to level the playing field in the era of Citizens United.”


Political Strategy Notes

In “What Is Next for the Democrats” at The Hill, Former DCCC Chairman Steve Israel writes, “The question for Democrats becomes what next? Should they keep driving down the twisting path of investigations and spurned subpoenas? Or should Democrats slam the brakes on their constitutional responsibility, two words Senate Republicans can no longer say with a straight face, to conduct real oversight of the administration?…The answer is to keep exposing the misdeeds of Trump, while opening a new front on the kitchen table issue of health care in Congress and on the campaign trail. It seems counterintuitive, but Democrats are in a decent, though imperfect, strategic political environment. They have thoroughly discredited acquittal…But harping on inappropriate, impeachable, and illegal behavior will not be enough for Democrats. They will have to exploit one of the greatest electoral vulnerabilities of Trump, which is health care. In a recent poll by Navigator Research, 56 percent of the voters surveyed trust Democrats in Congress over Trump when it comes to health care. This is the largest gap so far in this poll. A poll by Fox News Channel found 54 percent of voters disapprove of how the president is doing on the key issue of health care.”…Maintaining protections for people with preexisting conditions has been a relatively strong platform for Democrats. A poll by the Kaiser Foundation last November found that 62 percent of the public opposed the Supreme Court overturning the protection. In the same poll, conducted just before the 2018 midterm elections gave Democrats a House majority, 75 percent of Americans surveyed thought it was “very important” for the Affordable Care Act to maintain protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

From “What Swing Working-Class Voters in Battleground States Are Thinking” by Marcia Brown at The American Prospect: “Almost half of “persuadable” voters think that President Donald Trump has made no difference in their lives since his term began, according to new survey results of working-class communities in the battleground states of Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin released today by Working America, an advocacy arm of the AFL-CIO…The report also indicated that those who voted third-party in 2016 are now “more than twice as likely to pick the Democratic nominee as they are to stick with a third party.” Also notable is that 86 percent of those who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 say they will support the 2020 Democratic nominee, but only 77 percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016 will vote for him again…The survey turned up pervasive cynicism toward the president’s tax plan passed in 2017. Working America says this shows “surprising potential for voter persuasion against him.” Even among the Republicans whom the group interviewed, only 40 percent had a positive view of Trump’s tax legislation. Writing Monday in the Financial Times, liberal pollster Stanley Greenberg noted that “slashing tax rates for corporations and the top 1 per cent was the last straw” for many such voters. The disfavor toward the tax cut crossed the urban-rural divide: “Regardless of the type of community where voters live,” the report states, “the tax law is overwhelmingly unpopular…In his column, Greenberg observed that “the shift against Mr. Trump among working people [in the 2018 midterm election] was three times stronger than the shift in the suburbs, where the Democrats were poised to flip seats.”

The Democratic response to Trump’s SOTU:

In Thomas B. Edsall’s New York Times column, “If Bernie Wins, Where Will He Take the Democratic Party?,” he writes, “The next step is the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, where Sanders currently has a strong 8.6 percentage point lead, according to RealClearPolitics. If Sanders wins New Hampshire, there will almost certainly be an establishment-led drive to block him from the nomination.” Edsall cites “Republican efforts to demonize Sanders, which are certain to start in earnest if he becomes the nominee,” and adds, “Sanders stands out among the leading Democratic presidential candidates in that none of the others have accumulated as many potentially debilitating liabilities as he has over 50 active years in politics…Sanders’s positioning on the far left has been crucial to mobilizing pluralities of Democratic primary and caucus voters. But many studies show that in general elections, the nomination of more extreme candidates has alienated moderates and driven up voting for the opposition — in this case the Republican Party…

However, notes Edsall, “Sanders’s ascendancy in the nomination fight places the Democratic Party in a double bind. Not only is he potentially a dangerously weak general election candidate but, if an Anybody-But-Bernie movement materializes and successfully defeats him at the convention, Sanders supporters — more than backers of any other major candidates — are likely to bolt on Election Day and vote for either a third-party candidate or even Trump (as many Sanders supporters did in 2016), or sit out the contest altogether. In 2016, more than 7 million votes were cast for third-party candidates, more than enough to have given the election to Hillary Clinton…A January 22-23 Emerson College survey asked Democratic primary voters “will you vote for the Democratic nominee even if it is not your candidate?” 87 percent of Joe Biden supporters said yes, as did 90 percent of those backing Elizabeth Warren and 86 percent of those aligned with Pete Buttigieg. 53 percent of Sanders supporters said yes, 16 percent said no, and 31 percent said they were undecided.”

On the other hand, Edsall adds, “There are election analysts, including a number of conservatives, who say that they believe that Sanders would be a credible nominee with a good chance of beating Trump.” He quotes Matthew Yglesias, who says “The Vermont senator is unique in combining an authentic, values-driven political philosophy with a surprisingly pragmatic, veteran-legislator approach to getting things done. This pairing makes him the enthusiastic favorite of non-Republicans who don’t necessarily love the Democratic Party, without genuinely threatening what’s important to partisan Democrats…At the end of the day, Sanders’s record is not nearly as scary as many establishment Democrats fear. His ‘revolution’ rhetoric doesn’t make sense to me, but he’s been an effective mayor and legislator for a long time” Edsall concludes, “Now it may be that the country is ready to elect as president a 78-year-old angry democratic socialist calling for revolution. But if I were a partisan whose top priority was to bring the Trump presidency to an end, I would not bank on it.”

Nate Silver shares some insights from FiveThirtyEight’s post-Iowa forecast: “Now that we finally have some clarity on Iowa’s results — with 86 percent of precincts reporting — we’ve turned our primary model back on, including its estimates of the potential fallout from Iowa…The model shows former Vice President Joe Biden’s chances of winning a majority of pledged delegates being halved — from 43 percent before Iowa to 21 percent now…Who gains from Biden’s decline? Well, a little bit of everyone. The model thinks Iowa was more good news than bad news for Sen. Bernie Sanders…His chances have advanced to 37 percent, from 31 percent before Iowa, making him the most likely person to achieve that majority…Pete Buttigieg’s chances are also up, to 6 percent from 4 percent before…Buttigieg still has his work cut out for him in building a broader coalition; it’s going to require a big bounce in states and among demographic groups where the former mayor is not currently strong…Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s majority chances are also slightly up, according to our model, having improved to 10 percent from 5 percent before. That’s because in a more chaotic field, with at least one of the front-runners (Biden) potentially falling back into the pack, her roughly 15 percent of the vote in national polls could eventually give her some opportunities, even though none of the next three states look especially promising for her.”

Janell Ross reports “Tidal wave of voter suppression’ washes over states, lawyer says” at nbcnews.com: “States across the country have, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, moved swiftly and repeatedly to reshape almost every element of voting. Lawmakers are using a variety of race and age-neutral measures with explanations as pragmatic as cost and as prudent as election security. Now, with Election Day less than 10 months away, a range of lawsuits are pending or have recently been resolved challenging what Marc Elias, a lawyer working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, described as “nothing short of a tidal wave” of voter suppression targeting black and young voters…“We are seeing stark levels of voter suppression efforts,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said. “In a post-Shelby world, the burden falls to citizens and civil rights groups to monitor and challenge all that is going on. But what’s really made this worse is what’s happening at the Justice Department. “…States are engaging in aggressive voter roll purges, polling site closures and uneven voting resource allocations that, in some cases, violate the law, Clarke said.”

Ross provides detailed updates on current voter suppression campaigns underway in a number of states: “In Texas, officials in mostly white Waller County, citing cost concerns, announced that they would not make an early voting site available on the campus of a historically black university. Then the state passed a law effectively requiring other communities to take similar action…A Tennessee law threatens third-party groups that register citizens to vote with criminal penalties if they make mistakes on forms or the forms arrive incomplete. The state’s governor, a Republican, said the law will make elections fairer…And in Florida, state lawmakers overrode the results of a ballot initiative restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Lawmakers who opposed the initiative insisted it was up to them to define what constitutes a completed sentence…months after more than 1.6 million Florida residents with felony convictions regained the right to vote, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislatureimplemented a law requiring that individuals pay fines and fees associated with their convictions before being able to vote.”


Iowa Mess Robs Winner – Whoever That Is – of Election Night Victory Buzz

From “Vote-reporting mess leaves Iowa with no victor on caucus night” by Stephen Collinson at CNN Politics:

Amid anger, chaos and confusion, candidates took to the stage at their caucus headquarters one by one — at a time when the victor would normally be expected to bask in the spoils — to give versions of their stump speeches before heading on to the next contest, in New Hampshire next week…The logjam threatens to rob the eventual winner of the caucuses of some of the early bounce from their victory and is a poor look for a party trying to prove it is up to taking on Trump’s fearsome political machine. It might offer candidates who do worse than expected some cover and is already raising questions about Iowa’s place at the front of the presidential calendar…The campaigns are livid.

So much for the town hall glorification vibes Iowa has milked so enthusiastically in recent years — a much tougher sell going forward. Presidential candidates, their staffs and media have roamed the state for the last year, spending millions of dollars and boosting the state economy enormously. That tradition may now be toast, if future Democratic presidential candidates have their wits about them. Ditto for the Democratic Party.

The top Democratic candidates gave variations of their stump speeches to fill the dead time while the TV networks were caught flat-footed. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the first to seize the opportunity to grab some freebie national publicity. She rose to the occasion and delivered a pretty good speech. The other candidates followed Klobuchar, but struggled to match her energetic delivery.

As Collinson writes, “One candidate, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, made a shrewd move to fill the political vacuum and gave a pseudo-victory speech — grabbing the television spotlight in the absence of results giving other more favored candidates the win…We know there are delays, but we know one thing — we are punching above our weight!” Klobuchar said.”

All in all, whoever did worse than expected in the caucuses won the night, because their loss and their opponent’s victory will be overshadowed by reportage of the Iowa mess, and much of the public will likely shrugg off the tally as tainted by incompetence. Somewhere, former Mayor Bloomberg is glad he didn’t waste time in Iowa.

The explanations for the screw-up, including a knee-jerk quick denial of outside interference, were nearly as lame as the vote and delegate counting process. With benefit of hindsight, the whole process was way too complex, with its metrics for “viability,” “preference cards,” “re-alignment” and “state delegate equivalents” — requiring lots of ‘splaining. Dems should not overlook one obvious lesson: keep it simple.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called it a “Rube Golberg machine.” Esquire’s Charles Pierce said the disaster ought to be the “death knell” for Iowa’s caucus, which is inherently anti-democratic. Even before the vote count mess, former Senator Clare McCaskill criticized the caucus as “designed by Republicans” and discouraging participation. CNN commentator Ronald Brownstein said it shows that “caucuses have outlived their usefulness.”

Republicans, of course, will be piling on with the snarky one-liners. Dems will remind them that they  won’t even hold primary elections in many states, denying some of their presidential candidates any consideration at all.

But the unavoidable question for other state Democratic parties this morning: Would it be wise to adopt a hand-count ballot system pretty damn quick?

All of the candidates were surely glad to close their election night speeches with “On to New Hampshire” — and they really meant it.


Political Strategy Notes

Stephen Collinson explains why “A week like no other looms in American politics” at CNN Politics: “After a brief respite over the weekend, senators will return to President Donald Trump’s Senate trial on Monday to hear closing arguments from Democratic House impeachment managers and the President’s legal defense team…Hours later, and after months of exchanges on the campaign trail, Democratic voters finally begin their search for a candidate to make Trump a one-term President in Monday night’s Iowa caucuses…The commander-in-chief will hit back the next night, weaving a narrative of prosperity at home and strength abroad, as his reelection pitch reaches new intensity in his annual “State of the Union” address…And then after finally breaking their own enforced silence with speeches from the floor, senators will Wednesday undertake their gravest possible duty in voting on whether to make Trump the first impeached President to be ousted in US history. Spoiler: Republicans will ensure that Trump is acquitted of high crimes and misdemeanors and will leave it up to voters to decide his fate.”…“But it is unusual for three events with the potential to set the tone of a crucial campaign and the political year ahead to unfold in such a compressed time frame — one that encapsulates the sense-scrambling reality of Washington in the bewildering Trump era…The next three days will reveal the political forces shaping the nation’s present — like Trump’s relentless dominance of the Republican Party and the desperation of Democrats to consign him to a single term…They will also unleash chain reactions that will shape the run up to November’s election and will reflect divisions widened by impeachment.”

“In Monday’s contest,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic, “the Democratic candidates will be more reliant on metro areas—particularly those with large numbers of young adults and white-collar suburbanites—than even four years ago: Among the state’s 99 counties, just seven will award 53 percent of the delegates at stake…These changes create the most obvious challenge for former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who are relying heavily on older and more establishment voters based in rural communities and smaller cities. Bigger turnout in college towns like Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa, will benefit Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont—though critics complain that the rules of the caucus are designed to undercut the clout of college towns. Bigger turnout in the white-collar suburbs around Des Moines, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids could primarily benefit Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg—though both Biden and Klobuchar are hoping to remain competitive in those areas too.”

Brownstein adds, “None of the cities in Iowa is that large by national standards: The Des Moines metro area has about 650,000 residents. Still, the trends in the state are familiar in two ways: First, the largest urban areas are fueling its population growth. The seven Iowa counties that will award the most delegates at the caucus are Polk (Des Moines), Linn (Cedar Rapids), Johnson (Iowa City), Scott (Davenport), Black Hawk (Waterloo), Story (Ames), and Dubuque. But the big three—Polk, Linn, and Johnson counties—are the ones most propelling the state’s growth: Since 1990, they have accounted for fully two-thirds of Iowa’s modest total population increase of 375,000…The second trend is a growing urban-rural divide: Like elsewhere, Iowa Democrats are losing ground in rural areas, even as they pick up voters in metro areas.”

Brownstein notes further, “With the latest Iowa polls indicating a close contest, the result on caucus night may come down to whether turnout is close to the roughly 170,000 who voted in 2016 or whether it matches or even exceeds the record 240,000 who voted in 2008. Among Iowa observers, the general consensus is that Biden, who is dependent on more moderate, older Democrats who regularly attend the caucuses, has his best chance to prevail if turnout falls on the lower end of that range. But if the total vote surges, Biden “could just get swamped,” Rynard told me…A big turnout on Monday will almost certainly underscore how thoroughly the Democratic center of gravity in Iowa has shifted toward the state’s largest population centers. But how such an elevated turnout divides between young people and college-educated suburbanites could ultimately decide which candidate leaves the state with the most powerful tailwind.”

Regarding the Iowa caucuses, Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has been moving up in Iowa polling, is closing out with a pragmatic pitch to voters: “Klobuchar can unite our party and perhaps our nation…She knows how to get things done.”…Primary voters, however, rarely reward the ‘practical’ choice. What gets someone to the polls — especially to a caucus on a Monday night in the dead of winter — is passion. But, we also know that Democratic primary voters have been telling us for months that their number one priority is beating Trump. Iowa has always prided itself on its sophisticated voting electorate. Woe to the candidate who thinks he or she can drop into Iowa unprepared for serious discussions about ethanol or the cost of soybeans. But, go there today, and you’ll hear voters discussing which Democrat is best positioned to win Pennsylvania or Michigan more than you will overhear talk about which one best understands Iowa issues. We will learn on Monday night if Trump — and the prospect of beating him — will supply the energy and passion that biography or policy once did.”

In his column, “Bloomberg’s Moment May Arrive,” Charlie Cook observes, also at The Cook Politial Report: “In my mind Joe Biden is still a fragile front-runner, with somewhere between a 40 and 50 percent chance of winning the nod. There are those who would bestow the title of front-runner on Bernie Sanders, who currently is polling in first place in both Iowa and New Hampshire. My hunch, however, is that he would have a hard time going the distance, for reasons I’ll get to in just a moment. My odds for Michael Bloomberg are in the 20-25 percent range, with the remaining 30-35 percent spread out between Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or someone else. To be clear, these aren’t shares of the vote, but chances to win. I know I’m bullish on Bloomberg; this is definitely a contrarian view, but one that might make some sense…The profile of Bloomberg voters is that they’re 50 or older, college-educated, and somewhat centrist. Well, you have just defined the supporters of Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar as well. If none of those three are thriving, what do you think will happen?”

Kyle Kondik takes a look ahead at “The Road to Milwaukee: How the Democratic Primary Will Unfold” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and writes, “These early contests will get loads of attention throughout the month, although the dirty little secret is that, together, they only account for a pittance of the delegates that will be awarded in the primaries and caucuses. There are 3,979 of them up for grabs in 57 contests, with 1,991 required for a majority…Every year, there is a Super Tuesday, this year on March 3. But it may be more appropriate to look at the March 3-March 17 span as “Super Two-weeks.” A flood of contests bookended by two ethnic holidays — Illinois’ Casimir Pulaski Day (celebrated in honor of a Polish Revolutionary War hero the day before Super Tuesday on March 2) and St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 — may effectively decide the nomination…By the end of the Super Two-weeks, more than 60% of all the delegates will have been awarded. There may be a clear leader at that point who could be effectively impossible to catch given the Democrats’ proportional delegate allocation rules, or no clear leader at that time, making it hard for any candidate to capture a majority of the delegates by the end of the nomination season.”

At Daily Kos, Chris Reeves writes, “As the Iowa caucus comes to a close on February 3, we begin to really gear up for New Hampshire on Tuesday, Feb. 11. Eight days doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but eight days can make a huge difference in where campaigns are and what potential resources are available to them. Campaigns leaving Iowa without delegates will be seen as wounded, mortally so. While some campaigns—thinking specifically of Bloomberg and Steyer—could proceed as long as they wish as vanity campaigns from those who can self-fund, other candidates will find that fundraising and staff support will quickly fade post-Iowa if they do not perform well…The story out of Iowa will happen in a few stages. First, we’ll get the results, but then we will find out which candidates can hold together enough staff and donors to stay active. Some campaigns will absolutely close down. Some will thin themselves, focusing whatever they have left on New Hampshire. Others will just wait and see. Winning campaigns will staff up and start to push more chips into the table to try and play to win.”

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Progressives and moderates: Don’t destroy each other” at The Washington Post: “The Democratic campaign was destined to entail an argument about the party’s direction for the next decade. Is this election about restoration, after the madness of Trump’s time in office? Or should the accent be on transformation, to grapple with the underlying problems that led to Trump’s election in the first place?…Like so many of the binaries in politics, the restoration/transformation optic captures something important but is also a false choice. The country can’t simply pick up where it left off before Trump took office. The radicalized conservatism that dominates the Republican Party will not go away even if he is defeated. The inequalities of class and race that helped fueled Trump’s rise have deepened during his presidency. You might say restoring the norms that Trump threatens requirestransformation. And the majority that opposes Trump is clearly seeking a combination of restoration and transformation…What should bring moderates and progressives together is an idea put forward long ago by the late social thinker Michael Harrington: “visionary gradualism.” The phrase captures an insight from each side of their debate: Progressives are right that reforms unhinged from larger purposes are typically ephemeral. But a vision disconnected from first steps and early successes can shrivel up and die. Vision and incremental change are not opposites. In our nation’s history, the two have reinforced each other — for example, in protecting the environment, achieving social security for the elderly and assistance to the unemployed, protecting civil rights, and expanding health insurance coverage. This lesson will apply for any new Democratic president, no matter which wing of the party she or he represents.”