washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall has an important article, “Should Biden Emphasize Race or Class or Both or None of the Above?,” which merits the interest of Democratic political strategists, who are concerned about ‘message frames.’ Edsall writes, “Should the Democratic Party focus on race or class when trying to build support for new initiatives and — perhaps equally important — when seeking to achieve a durable Election Day majority?…The publication on April 26 of a scholarly paper, “Racial Equality Frames and Public Policy Support,” has stirred up a hornet’s nest among Democratic strategists and analysts. The authors, Micah English and Joshua L. Kalla, who are both political scientists at Yale, warned proponents of liberal legislative proposals that Despite increasing awareness of racial inequities and a greater use of progressive race framing by Democratic elites, linking public policies to race is detrimental for support of those policies….The English-Kalla paper infuriated critics who are involved in the Race-Class Narrative Project. The founder of the project, Ian Haney López, a law professor at Berkeley and one of the chairmen of the AFL-CIO’s Advisory Council on Racial and Economic Justice, vigorously disputes the English-Kalla thesis. In his view, “Powerful elites exploit social divisions, so no matter what our race, color or ethnicity, our best future requires building cross-racial solidarity….In an email, López wrote me that the English and Kalla study seems to confirm a conclusion common among Democratic strategists since at least 1970: Democrats can maximize support among whites, without losing too much enthusiasm from voters of color, by running silent on racial justice while emphasizing class issues of concern to all racial groups. Since at least 2017, this conclusion is demonstrably wrong.”

Edsall goes on to share the perspective of a host of other researchers, including: “A late February survey of 1,551 likely voters by Vox and Data for Progress produced similar results. Half the sample was asked whether it would support or oppose zoning for multiple-family housing based on the argument that It’s a matter of racial justice. Single-family zoning requirements lock in America’s system of racial segregation, blocking Black Americans from pursuing economic opportunity and the American dream of homeownership….The other half of the sample read that supporters of multiple-family zoning say that this will drive economic growth as more people will be able to move to high opportunity regions with good jobs and will allow more Americans the opportunity to get affordable housing on their own, making it easier to start families….The voters to whom the racial justice message was given were split, 44 in support, 43 in opposition, while those who were given the economic growth argument supported multiple-family zoning 47-36….After being exposed to the economic growth message, Democrats were supportive 63-25, but less so after the racial justice message, 56-28. Republicans were opposed after hearing either message, but less so in the case of economic growth, 35-50, compared to racial justice 31-60.”

Edsall adds, “López founded the Race-Class Narrative Project along with Anat Shenker-Osorio, a California-based communications consultant, and Heather McGhee, a former president of Demos, a liberal think tank and author of the recent book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”….I asked López about the English-Kalla paper. He was forthright in his emailed reply: As my work and that of others demonstrates, the most potent political message today is one that foregrounds combating intentional divide-and-conquer racial politics by building a multiracial coalition among all racial groups. This frame performs more strongly than a class-only frame as well as a racial justice frame. It is also the sole liberal frame that consistently beats Republican dog whistling….Unless Democrats explicitly address race, Shenker-Osorio wrote, millions of whites, flooded with Republican messages demonizing minorities, will continue to be primed to view government as taking from “hard working people” (coded as white) and handing it to “undeserving people” (coded as Black and brown). If we do not contend with this basic fact — and today’s unrelenting race baiting from the right — then Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” will simply continue to haunt us. In other words, if the left chooses to say nothing about race, the race conversation doesn’t simply end. The only thing voters hear about the topic are the lies the right peddles to keep us from joining together to demand true progressive solutions….The race and class message did substantially better than the class alone message among both base Democratic voters and persuadable voters.”

Edsall notes, further, “Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster who conducted much of the research for the Race-Class Narrative Project, was outspoken in her criticism of the English-Kalla paper, writing in an email: “There are huge flaws in their study and therefore in their conclusions. No candidate would run on what they put forward as the ‘race’ message.”…When I asked Kalla about these criticisms, he countered: The messages that we tested did come from the real world of politics. Our messages came from actual politicians. As we note in the paper: “To improve the external validity of these findings, we adapted the frames from real-world political sources.”….Elizabeth Suhay, a political scientist at American University, captured the complexity of the debate….Suhay’s caveat: Broad public approval is not the only thing politicians care about. From a strategic perspective, they must also be responsive to activists, interest groups, and donors. Given the intense focus on racial justice among some of the most active Democrats — including but not exclusively African Americans — Biden needs to not only deliver on this issue but also to tell people about it. Suhay went on: They face intense demands from Democratic activists for both policy and symbolic actions that address racial inequity; however, these actions do threaten to turn off many whites, especially those without a college degree. Biden, Suhay argues, “seems to have no choice but to find some middle road: focusing communication on how his policies benefit most Americans while also, more infrequently but unmistakably, making clear his commitment to racial equality” and, she added, “he seems to be walking the tightrope well.”

Political Strategy Notes

For  succinct take on President Biden’s first address to congress, try E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s “Biden’s speech was bipartisan and partisan at the same time,” in which he writes “President Biden on Wednesday night went big, populist, folksy, hopeful, urgent — and bipartisan and partisan at the same time. Addressing a pandemic-reduced gathering of lawmakers at the Capitol, Biden proposed a sweeping program of change that would create four more years of free schooling, expand child care and family leave, and attempt to beat back climate change through large infrastructure investments….He pressed for police reform — to “rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve” and “root out systemic racism” — as well as broad reforms to political and voting rights, big repairs to the immigration system, and new gun-control measures….Biden welcomed the help of Republicans again and again, but he took clear aim at their favored economic doctrines. “My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,” he declared. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle-out….And he took a victory lap on progress against covid-19, proclaiming that widespread vaccinations were offering “a dose of hope.”….This address wasn’t exactly the New Deal or the Great Society, but it was equally ambitious. Biden, reassuringly unradical with his plain, avuncular demeanor, is bidding to create a new common sense rooted in political lessons that Democrats have learned the hard way….Calling his American Jobs Plan “a blue-collar blueprint to build America,” he noted that nearly 90 percent of its infrastructure jobs “do not require a college degree” and that “75 percent don’t require an associate’s degree.”….And in a deft bit of political jujitsu, he touted his proposed investments in alternative energy to fight climate change as a form of economic nationalism. “There’s no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing. . . . No reason why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries.”

But Tim Nichols’s “Biden message to China and Russia: America is back, Trump is gone, the free ride is over” at USA Today focused on America’s more assertive role in the world under his administrion: “Joe Biden’s speech to Congress was the first time in four years that people who focus on foreign policy and national security have had to pay attention to a presidential address. There was actually a recognizable foreign policy in it, a statement of principles about democracy and America’s role as a global leader, from a functioning White House that seems to care about engagement with the rest of the world….Unfortunately, one of Biden’s clear themes on foreign affairs was his recognition of the destruction former President Donald Trump left in his wake and the need to restore American credibility. The past four years were good days for the world’s dictators and other miscreants, and Biden on Wednesday night began the job of making a case for restoring America’s alliances, of defending American ideals, and of warning off the various wolves that have circled the democratic camp while the American lanterns were dimmed….While Biden is concerned about China, he is openly angry about Russia and what Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin was allowed to get away with for the past four years. (Trump had only one truly consistent policy in his time in office, and it was to avoid antagonizing Moscow at all costs, a humiliating obsession that was driven by Trump’s obvious and paralyzing personal fear of Putin.)….Biden on Wednesday night began the job of making a case for restoring America’s alliances, of defending American ideals, and of warning off the various wolves that have circled the democratic camp while the American lanterns were dimmed.”

From “James Carville says Democrats ‘don’t have the votes’ to be ‘more liberal’ than Joe Manchin” by John L. Dorman at Business Insider: “The longtime Democratic strategist James Carville knows a thing or two about winning an election. As the chief strategist of former President Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 campaign, he helped the Democratic Party end a 12-year streak of GOP control of the White House….In a recent Vox interview, Carville pushed back against suggestions from some Democrats that the party, no matter the consequences, should be passing its highest-priority legislation since it has control of the House and Senate….Carville spoke of Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginian who opposes axing the filibuster and has called for more bipartisan cooperation on President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill, in arguing that the party currently has a limit for what it wants to pursue….”The Democratic Party can’t be more liberal than Sen. Joe Manchin,” he told Vox. “That’s the fact. We don’t have the votes.” Despite the disappointment of   more progressive Democrats in Manchin, he has recently affirmed his loyalty to the Democratic Party, which is good news for everyone who opposes restoring Mitch McConnell’s one-man veto of all legislation he dislikes.

Political Strategy Notes

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “A majority of Trump’s loyalists — the most fervent Republicans, ardent immigration foes, hard cultural conservatives, gun rights zealots, racial backlash voters — will never be available to Biden or the Democrats. But Biden is banking on his ability to use populist economics (relief checks, upward pressure on wages, a “Buy America” campaign to bring home more manufacturing work, confining tax increases to corporations and those earning more than $400,000 annually) to win back Trump voters whose dissatisfactions are primarily economic….Biden’s proposals have thus far won support in the polls from about a third of Republicans and a substantial majority of lower-income Republicans (in the case of the relief act). Their response has allowed Biden to challenge the traditional definitions of bipartisanship — House and Senate Republican votes for his bills — that hamstrung his predecessors. Instead, Biden argues that what he is doing is good for many Republican voters, and that a significant share of them agrees….As a result, Biden has contained hostility to his administration and left Republicans with few easy lines of attack. In polls conducted this month by Reuters/Ipsos, Economist/YouGov and Politico/Morning Consult, Biden’s approval rating averaged 54 percent. But perhaps more revealing, his disapproval rating averaged just under 40 percent. A Post/ABC News Poll released Sunday put approval of Biden at 52 percent, disapproval at 42 percent. In this very polarized era, not being hated is a major political achievement….Because Biden is focused on what pollsters see as less divisive “kitchen table” issues, he has been able, so far, to propose a great deal of spending and take steps progressives have long supported without running afoul of more moderate opinion….Republicans have challenged his broad definition of “infrastructure,” arguing that expanded child care and elder care do not fit into traditional definitions of the word. But, in both cases, Biden has again stressed the job-creating, income-generating aspects of his initiatives. They also happen to be popular with families with all manner of political views, particularly those with two earners working outside the home….Biden’s pandemic-plus-the-economy focus has had downsides, notably in his recent mishandling of caps on refugee admissions. He clearly fears that Republicans are gaining traction on immigration. Despite the political challenges, dealing with it comprehensively remains a far better course than a series of defensive postures. And progressives are looking for more from him on health care and a permanent child tax credit expansion….But the man who addresses the nation on Wednesday clearly knows what his presidency is about. And he can have confidence that his political strategy and the substance of what he is doing are mutually reinforcing.”

At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook observes that “Democrats sense a key structural advantage that they hope has them set up for season after season of success: Their party is growing in precisely the sectors of the country that are prospering and best positioned for the future; by contrast, they see the Republican Party strongholds as scared of the future and shrinking in population, economic growth, and influence….Days after the November election, a Brookings study showed that the 2,586 counties that Donald Trump carried represented only 29 percent of gross domestic product, while the 527 counties that Joe Biden won made up the other 71 percent….The Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan think tank funded by Silicon Valley, found recently that those same Biden counties were home to 83 percent of the new firms started between 2010 and 2018, the longest period of sustained peacetime economic growth in U.S. history, and 73 percent of the employment growth during that period. Its report also found that “from 2010 to 2019, the number of people in counties won by Biden grew by an average of 3.1 percent over the period, while the counties won by President Trump averaged an increase of just 0.6 percent.””

In “Americans From Both Parties Want Weed To Be Legal. Why Doesn’t The Federal Government Agree?” at FiveThirtyEight, Dhrumil Mehta notes “Gallup has asked Americans about whether they support legalizing marijuana since 1969, when only 12 percent of Americans supported the idea. As of their most recent poll last November, that number has ticked up to 68 percent, the highest level of support on record. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of states where recreational marijuana is now legal has also steadily increased since the Obama administration announced in 2013 that it wouldn’t block state laws that legalized the drug, provided that marijuana was strongly regulated….Thirteen of the 18 states where marijuana is legal have done it via voter-driven ballot initiatives rather than legislation. That said, legalization is broadly popular even in more Republican-leaning states like Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas….More than one in three Americans live in states where marijuana is already legal for recreational use, and a sizable majority live in states where marijuana is legal for medical use.”

From  “Other Polling Bites,” also at FiveThirtyEight: “A special election in Texas’s 6th Congressional District will take place on May 1 to fill the seat of Republican representative Ronald Wright, who died from complications of COVID-19 in February. And a poll by Meeting Street Insights for the Washington Free Beacon shows no candidate anywhere close to the 50 percent needed to win outright, which means the race will likely go to a runoff. Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez leads in the poll with 20 percent of the vote, followed by Republican candidate Susan Wright, the widow of the congressman who previously held the seat, who received 17 percent. Two other Republican candidates polled in the double digits: Jake Ellzey, a current state representative, and Brian Harrison, a former Trump administration official, earned 16 percent and 12 percent support, respectively.”

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, Thomas B. Edsall probes the psychology of Trumpism that still rules Republican Party messaging and writes, “In a separate article, “The power of Trump-speak: populist crisis narratives and ontological security,” [Alexandra] Homolar and Ronny Scholz, a project manager at the University of Warwick’s center for applied linguistics, argued that Trump’s “leadership legitimation claims rest significantly upon ‘crisis talk’ that puts his audience in a loss frame with nothing to lose.” These stories serve a twofold purpose, instilling “insecurity among the American public” while simultaneously transforming “their anxiety into confidence that the narrator’s policy agendas are the route back to ‘normality.’”….At the heart of what the authors call “Trump-speak” is a “politics of reassurance, which relies upon a threefold rhetorical strategy: it tells audiences what is wrong with the current state of affairs; it identifies the political agents that are responsible for putting individuals and the country in a state of loss and crisis; and it offers an abstract pathway through which people can restore past greatness by opting for a high-risk outsider candidate”…..Once an audience is under Trump’s spell, Homolar and Scholz write: “Rational arguments or detailed policy proposals pale in comparison with the emotive pull and self-affirmation of an us-versus-them crisis narrative, which creates a cognitive feedback loop between individuals’ ontological insecurity, their preferences for restorative policy, and strongmen candidate options. In short, “Trumpspeak” relies on creating the very ontological insecurity that it promises to eradicate for political gain.”….The authors describe “ontological security” as “having a sense of presence in the world, describing such a person as a ‘real, alive, whole, and, in a temporal sense, a continuous person,’” citing R.D. Laing, the author of “The Divided Self.” Being ontologically secure, they continue, “allows us to ‘encounter all the hazards of life, social, ethical, spiritual, biological’ with a firm sense of both our own and others’ reality and identity. However, ontological security only prevails in the absence of anxiety and danger.”

Looking toward the next step in reducing violence in law enforcement, James D. Walsh writes in “The Most Powerful Weapon for Police Reform Is Back” in New York Magazine “On the heels of Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department is launching a “pattern or practice” investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. Pattern or practice probes are often a precursor to court enforced reform agreements between the DOJ and local law enforcement agencies, which require them to comply with a list of goals before federal oversight can be lifted. A court-appointed monitor, usually a DOJ attorney in its civil rights division, is responsible for overseeing the goals and evaluating the department’s progress. President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to revive pattern-or-practice investigations – as well as subsequent reform agreements – after the Trump administration suspended the program in 2017….Congress first gave the Justice Department the power to enter reform agreements in the 1994 crime bill drafted by Biden following civic unrest in Los Angeles two years earlier over the LAPD beating of Rodney King. Many police accountability experts say the reform agreements – both consent decrees and settlement agreements – are the most effective way to achieve long-term police reform.”

In terms of new police reform legislation, “Here’s what the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would do” by Henry J. Gomez of NBC News provides a useful summary of the proposal: “The bill aims to end certain police techniques, including chokeholds and carotid holds, two forms of potentially deadly force. Such practices would be banned at the federal level, and federal funding for local and state police agencies would be conditioned on those agencies outlawing them. The bill also seeks to improve police training and invest in community programs designed to improve policing and promote equitable new policies….Other provisions in the bill would:

  • Ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and, as with chokeholds, encourage local and state agencies to comply by tying bans to federal funding. A no-knock warrant led to the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor by police last year in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • End “qualified immunity,” which protects law enforcement officers from most civil lawsuits.
  • Make it easier to prosecute police officers accused of misconduct by lowering the legal standard from willfulness to recklessness.
  • Prohibit racial, religious and discriminatory profiling by law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels and mandate training against such discriminatory profiling.
  • Require local and state police agencies to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of body cameras, require all federal uniformed officers to wear body cameras, and require all marked federal police vehicles to use dashboard cameras.
  • Create a national police misconduct registry to prevent police officers who are fired or pushed out for bad performance from being hired by other agencies.
  • Use federal grants to help communities establish commissions and task forces to study police reforms.
  • Address police militarization by limiting how much military-grade equipment is awarded to state and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Enhance “pattern and practice” investigations of police departments by granting the Justice Department subpoena power and establishing grant programs for state attorneys general to conduct their own probes.”

From “Checking in on Biden’s Approval Rating as Hundred Days’ Mark Nears: Steady on average, but individual pollsters vary greatly” by Kyle Kondik at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Biden’s actual level of popularity matters greatly for the 2022 midterm. If his approval rating eventually turns negative, the Democrats will be hard-pressed to hold their narrow edges in the Senate and especially the House. If Biden’s approval stays positive, Democrats might have a chance to buck the usual midterm penalty that is often inflicted on the presidential party. But the degree to which Biden is popular or unpopular likely matters too. We’ll see if individual pollsters come more into alignment on this as time goes on.” Kondik’s chart:

Political Strategy Notes

How pro-Democratic or pro-Republican is your congressional district? The Cook Political Report  survey is out with its “Partisan Voting Index” measurements. As David Wasserman and Ally Flinn note, “First introduced in 1997, the Cook PVI measures how each district performs at the presidential level compared to the nation as a whole. We have released new PVI scores following every election and round of redistricting since 1996, each time taking into account the prior two presidential elections. This time, we teamed up with Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections to calculate 2020’s results by district….A Partisan Voter Index score of D+2, for example, means that in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, that district performed an average of two points more Democratic than the nation did as a whole, while an R+4 means the district performed four points more Republican. If a district performed within half a point of the national average in either direction, we assign it a score of EVEN.” Check out how your congressional district leaned by clicking on this link and hovering your mouse over your district.

In his syndicated Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why there is growing support for higher taxes on top corporations: “Just how much have corporations shucked off their responsibility for sharing the load? As Steve Rattner, the economic commentator and chartmaker on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” pointed out, corporate taxes accounted for 23 percent of federal revenue in 1966 but just 7 percent in 2019. The previous year, 91 of the Fortune 500 companies paid an effective rate of zero — or less. That wasn’t a typo. Burdening middle-income taxpayers before asking more of corporations would be political and policy malpractice….The downward trend Rattner describes is a product of what Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called a “30-year race to the bottom” as globalization and the proliferation of tax havens made it ever easier for corporations to escape taxes. This is why one of the Biden administration’s most important long-term initiatives is its proposal for a uniform minimum corporate tax across national boundaries….In a speech this month advancing the idea, Yellen spoke of every democracy’s need for “stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Ryan P. Burge and Perry Bacon, Jr. share some data regarding public opinion about filibuster reform, which indicate that a majority of Americans [53 percent] favor either ditching the filibuster altogether, or reforming filibuster rules: “Opinions were more mixed on getting rid of the filibuster, as some Democrats are proposing,” Burge and Bacon write: “The Daily Kos/Civiqs survey found 39 percent support getting rid of the filibuster, 14 percent want it reformed but not eliminated, 38 percent want to keep the filibuster and 10 percent are unsure.”  Bacon and Burge did not provide the granular detail, but it’s likely some of that 38 percent believe that bipartisanship is still possible, and/or that the filibuster is a bipartisan tool that both parties can use to prevent wafer-thin majorities from enacting unwise policies, and/or that hefty majorities should be required to pass important legislation. Democrats who want filibuster reform apparently have to do more educational outreach to build public support for it.

Not that there is much chance of any reforms being enacted in the forseeable near future, but “Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. adults surveyed in a new poll said that they believed Supreme Court justices should face term limits and leave the court after a certain amount of time on the bench,” John Bowden writes at The Hill. “The Reuters-Ipsos survey conducted between April 15 and April 16 found that just 22 percent of respondents supported lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices, while 63 percent supported term limits. The remainder of respondents had no opinion or were unsure….While having new faces join the court was important for many Americans, doing it without a vacancy on the court at its current size was not nearly as popular. Just 38 percent said they supported court packing, or expanding the size of the Supreme Court and adding more justices to the bench, while 42 percent opposed such an idea. The remaining 20 percent of respondents were unsure.”

Political Strategy Notes

From “Democrats to introduce bill to expand Supreme Court from 9 to 13 justices: President Joe Biden announced the formation of a commission last week to study the court’s structure, including the number of justices and their length of service.” by Sahil Kapur at nbcnews.com:  “Congressional Democrats will introduce legislation Thursday to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices, joining progressive activists pushing to transform the court. The move intensifies a high-stakes ideological fight over the future of the court after President Donald Trump and Republicans appointed three conservative justices in four years, including one who was confirmed days before the 2020 election….The Democratic bill is led by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. It is co-sponsored by Reps. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mondaire Jones of New York….The Supreme Court can be expanded by an act of Congress, but the legislation is highly unlikely to become law in the near future given Democrats’ slim majorities, which include scores of lawmakers who are not on board with the idea. President Joe Biden has said he is “not a fan” of packing the court….”This bill marks a new era where Democrats finally stop conceding the Supreme Court to Republicans,” said Brian Fallon, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide and a co-founder of Demand Justice, who described the court as “broken and in need of reform.”….”Our task now is to build a grassroots movement that puts pressure on every Democrat in Congress to support this legislation because it is the only way to restore balance to the court and protect our democracy,” he said.”

The next time you hear an argument about the wisdom of President Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. ground forces from Afghanistan, calmly ask those criticizing his decision, “How many troops are we talking about?,” and see how close they get to the actual number, 2,500 — down from over 100,000 during the Obama Administration. A good follow-up question might be, “Can 2,500 troops really accomplish our primary strategic objectives?” That will spark a wide-ranging discussion of our strategic objectives, prompting critics of Biden’s decision to call for an increase in U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan, a pricey option for a nation that is assuming a couple trillion dollars in expenses we didn’t forsee a year ago. “The simplest explanation of the US goal in Afghanistan is to keep it from again becoming a hotbed for terror groups like al Qaeda. When the US left Iraq, for instance, the power vaccum helped lead to the rise of ISIS there,” Zachary B. Wolf writes at CNN Politics. “But what the US has been trying to accomplish in Afghanistan, and the strategy to do it, has changed with each president.” There are some strong arguments for a continued and increased military forces in Afghanistan, most of them rooted in human rights, particularly for women. But, Biden, a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has carefully weighed the cost/benefit ratio, after consulting with the top military and economic analysts. The U.S. D.O.D. estimates that the U.S. has spent $778 billion in Afghanistan from Oct. 2001 to Septmeber 2019. The New York Times reported that “the cost of nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan will amount to more than $2 trillion.” The human toll includes, 2,300 American soldiers killed, and many more wounded. That’s a lot of heartbreak, with few measurable accomplishments. When it comes to military budget cuts, Afghanistan looks like low-hanging fruit.

In his article, “Few Americans Who Identify As Independent Are Actually Independent. That’s Really Bad For Politics,” Geoffrey Skeeley writes at FiveThirtyEight: “The share of Americans who say they’re independent has climbed considerably, according to Gallup’s quarterly party affiliation data. In the late 1980s, roughly one-third of Americans identified as Democratic, Republican or independent. Now, 40 percent or more identify as independent, while the share who identify as Democrats or Republicans has fallen to around 30 percent or lower, as the chart below shows….The problem is that few independents are actually independent. Roughly 3 in 4 independents still lean toward one of the two major political parties, and studies show that these voters aren’t all that different from the voters in the party they lean toward. Independents who lean toward a party also tend to back that party at almost the same rate as openly partisan voters….The abandonment of voters openly identifying with one of the two parties has led to less political engagement, which means Americans are exerting less influence on what the parties look and sound like. That’s a real problem since the parties are still the fundamental building blocks that organize our politics. But with party building left to more stringent partisans, the parties’ bases have largely cultivated candidates who tend to be more ideologically extreme than the voters they seek to represent.” We know that Republicans are stuck in an inflexible commitment to Trumpism. Democrats also have room to strengthen their party’s image and brand, far more flexibility than the GOP — and much to gain by doing so.

“Without a dramatic change in the rules governing the filibuster,” Walter Shapiro writes in “The Case for the Talking Filibuster” at The New Republic. “Democrats have no chance of passing the ambitious voting rights bill known as the “For the People Act” that has already won approval in the House. The same is true for legislation that would enact gun control and raise the minimum wage….The C-SPAN cameras are the biggest X-factor in assessing the strategic merits of a talking filibuster. The first few days of a talking filibuster—especially if you add the drama of an all-night session or two—could attract a sizable audience. And if the Republicans were opposing a voting rights bill, it would be instructive to hear their arguments as fatigue stripped away their masquerade that they are defenders of election integrity….Let’s be honest—there are no guarantees that McConnell can be defeated as long as it takes 60 votes to shut off Senate debate. But the other options open to the Democrats are bleak in a 50–50 Senate. That is true whether the legislation is to protect voting rights, promote gun safety, or provide a $15-an-hour minimum wage. A talking filibuster may not be a panacea. But at least it would require Republicans to put their mouths where their money is.”

Political Strategy Notes

In “Economist: ‘Voter restriction bills will cost Texas billions‘,” at kvue.com, Ashely Goudeau reports “Two Republican-backed bills to make sweeping elections changes could cost Texas billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, according to local economists….Central Texas Economist Ray Perryman, Ph.D., analyzed data, studies and research of state economies correlation to voting access. His team found when voter access is restricted, business and the economy suffer due to the loss of business, jobs and major events and deals….Among other things, Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 ban drive-thru voting, limit voting hours and stop elections clerks from proactively sending out mail-in ballot applications to registered voters. Republicans say the bills will enhance voter integrity, but democrats and critics say the bills aim to suppress voters, particularly minority voters….”As of 2025, if a bill like this would come into effect and be in effect for about five years, we’ve found Texas could lose about $14.7 billion in GDP and roughly around 73,000 jobs,” Dr. Perryman said….Dr. Perryman also estimates Texas’ tourism and economic development would take a $16.7 billion hit in the first five years if one of the bills becomes law. And those figures only increase the longer the laws are in effect.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “The Supreme Court faces a legitimacy crisis not because progressives are complaining but because of what they are complaining about: a reckless, right-wing, anti-democratic court majority, and a conservative court-packing campaign marked by the disgraceful Republican blockade against President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 and the unseemly rush to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett just before President Donald Trump’s defeat last November….Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump were the court-packers. There would be far less talk of court enlargement if McConnell and Trump had not abused their power. Nor would enlargement be on the table if conservative justices had not substituted their own political preferences for Congress’s decisions, notably on voting rights and campaign finance reform, 5-to-4 rulings on which Breyer, rightly, joined the dissenters.”

Adie Tomer explains why “Biden’s infrastructure plan replaces federal cynicism with a sweeping vision” at Brookings: “Put it all together and the Biden proposal offers the most powerful ingredient when it comes to infrastructure reform: It sells a vision. The plan unapologetically calls out our next destination, whether that’s safer streets or cleaner power. It offers sweeping investments to make such a vision real, from replacing aging pipes to delivering rural broadband. And it brings people—especially our workforce—along for the ride….Biden has used the stump the way a forward-looking president should. The administration has delivered a vision to the American people—a promise of a new kind of country. And the country itself is responding, with polling that shows bipartisan support for the plan’s ideas….America was built for these kinds of grand visions. It is starting to feel like another one may soon come to life….Biden’s plan is an enormous bet on America—a bet that trillions of dollars of targeted investment can improve people’s lives, make our industries more globally competitive, and repair our fragile natural world. It’s also a major bet on the power of federal investment. Rather than asking states and cities to do more, as the Trump administration’s plan sought, the proposal recognizes the economic moment and essentially says that it’s time for the federal government to lead.”

Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic: “One asset Democrats have in this struggle is time. However successful Republicans are at tarnishing Biden’s programs at the outset among core GOP voters, Biden has an opportunity to change those perceptions through the actual implementation of his plans. Even during the putative honeymoon period at his presidency’s start, Biden’s approval rating among rural and non-college-educated white voters has remained stuck at only a little over one-third. But the stimulus package has drawn substantial support in polls even from Republican voters, and those numbers could rise even more as families feel the effects of the aid. Likewise, if Democrats can pass Biden’s infrastructure program this summer, that will leave plenty of time before the next two elections to start repairing bridges and roads, and to break ground on new water systems, new wind and solar installations, and new broadband facilities. Even small gains in nonurban areas from such initiatives would fortify Democrats’ position in states near the tipping point of American elections, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia, Hildreth told me. “I think we are maybe a decade from having a majority in critical rural counties, but we just need to cut margins right now,” he said. “Literally the motto is ‘Lose less.’”

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, “The Fear That is Shaping American Politics,” Thomas B. Edsall notes, “Robert Griffin, research director of the nonpartisan Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, wrote by email that he expects “the national environment to be worse for Democrats in 2022 than it was in 2020.” The shift, he continued, will almost certainly include a loss of support among white voters who — if history is any guide — will represent a larger share of the electorate in 2022 because of midterm turnout dynamics….Griffin wrote that “it’s not obvious to me that this shift will be dependent on Biden’s ability or failure to overcome white racial resentment,” because “these midterm dynamics are pretty baked in and it would be shocking to see them defied.”….On the plus side for Democrats, Griffin noted: The growing educational divide among white Americans does present an interesting opportunity for the Democratic Party. One of the things most people don’t appreciate is that white overrepresentation among voters is driven almost entirely by white college voters. This overrepresentation of white college voters is even greater in midterm elections. The growing educational divide among white voters — with Biden viewed much more favorably by white college voters — potentially blunts some of those midterm dynamics I described….I asked Griffin what the prospects are for Biden to build a stronger and more durable Democratic coalition. He is doubtful: If you had to pick one group that would do the most to solidify the democratic coalition electorally, it would be white non-college voters. They make up more than 40 percent of voters and are exceptionally well represented in the Electoral College, the House and the Senate….Biden, Griffin continued, improved slightly on Hillary Clinton’s margin among these voters, but it wasn’t anything massive. Given the long-term trends away from the Democratic Party among these voters, even holding onto his 2020 margins would likely represent an achievement.”

At Slow Boring, Matthew Yglesias makes a pretty convincing case that, contrary to popular beliefs, America’s transportation infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, is not all that bad. Yglesias writes that “the existing surface transportation funding levels in the United States are inadequate. We have some of the best commute times in the world in an international context; our road quality is improving under current funding levels; and the biggest practical problem we have — endemic congestion in a few key metro areas — is not really amenable to being addressed with a big surge of funding.” Yglesias acknowledges that there is room for imrovement in mass rail transit in cities like New York, and notes, “What America’s bad traffic cities really need is congestion pricing, zoning that allows more people to live in convenient locations, and selective investments in improving mass transit capacity.” Yglesias would like to see more infrastructure investment on other more urgently-needed priorities, and notes “the same low population density that generally makes our commutes good has left us with subpar levels of mass broadband adoption. The challenge of moving electricity around is very real. Lead in water pipes is really bad. These infrastructure challenges are huge and much more important than roads and bridges. If the bill gets changed, it’s important to keep that stuff.”

In ‘keep doing what you’re doing, Mr. President’ news,  Chelsea Cox reports at USA Today, “More Americans identify as Democrats than Republicans by a margin that hasn’t been seen in a decade, according to a report released by Gallup on Wednesday…An average of 49% of adults age 18 and older reported Democratic Party affiliation or said they are independent with Democratic leanings throughout the first quarter of 2021, the pollster reported. The survey was conducted by phone from January-March.  In comparison, 40% of adults identified as Republican or Republican-leaning. The 9% difference is the Democrats’ largest advantage since the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the report. The remaining 11% of respondents were political independents with no partisan leanings….Democrats have typically held a 4 to 6 point advantage over Republicans.  Shortly before the first quarter of the year, the gap in affiliation was virtually nonexistent before Democrats’ advantage widened by 9%….The report also noted a 6% increase in independents; from 38% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 44% in the first quarter of 2021. It’s the highest percentage since 2013, when 46% of survey respondents identified as independents. The rise correlates with the decline in Republican Party identification, just as in 2013, when the GOP saw a drop in the popularity during the government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act.”

Democrats pondering a response to Mitch McConnell’s sanctimonious comments urging corporations to “stay out of politics” should check out former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s zinger: “Mitch McConnell continued his tirade against businesses who have spoken out against Georgia’s egregious voter suppression bill today, telling reporters that corporations should “stay out of politics.” Yes, you read that right….That’s rich, coming from one of the most outspoken supporters of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed corporate cash and big money to flood unabated into our democracy. I suppose McConnell has no problem with “corporate free speech” when it’s benefiting him personally — he was, after all, the top recipient of corporate cash in the 2020 election cycle. And he even took a case all the way to the Supreme Court in 2003 because he was so determined to bring more corporate money into our political process. Republicans love corporations in politics when it means they’re bankrolling Republican campaigns — but as soon as corporations stand up against Republican hatred and bigotry, it’s time for them to be silent. The hypocrisy is staggering.”

Political Strategy Notes

Harry Enten notes some worrisome stats for Democrats at CNN Politics: “Democrats represent a mere five seats of the 65 districts (8%) that have a higher proportion of Whites without a college degree in their ranks. All of those Democratic representatives were incumbents heading into the 2020 elections (i.e. no non-incumbents like Hart won in these districts). Going further, a mere two of the top 50 districts with Whites without a college degree have a Democratic representative and none of the top 10 do….After the 2006 elections, Democrats controlled 44% of the districts with as many or more White non-college graduates as Iowa’s 2nd District. They held 23 of the top 50 districts matching this description, or 21 more than they do now. Additionally, Democrats held five of the top 10 of these districts compared to zero today.”

In his article, “Why Democrats Might Need to Play Dirty to Win: The party is trying to ban partisan gerrymandering nationwide, but aggressively redrawing districts in blue states like New York might be the only way to preserve its House majority,” Russell berman writes at The Atlantic: “To hear democratic leaders decry gerrymandering as part of their current bid to enact landmark voting-rights legislation, you’d think the centuries-old practice was a mortal threat to the republic. But political necessity could soon demand that Democrats drop their purity act. To keep their narrow House majority, they might have to deploy the tactic everywhere they can, and every bit as aggressively as Republicans do….Nationwide, the challenge for Democrats is formidable: The shuffling of House seats as a result of the decennial census is expected to shift power from mostly Democratic states like California, New York, and Illinois to states like Texas, Florida, and North Carolina—all of which will have legislatures controlled by Republicans who will be in charge of drawing new districts. “The bottom line is: If this becomes an arms race, and both parties maximize their advantage in the states that they control, Republicans will come out ahead,” David Wasserman, an analyst for the nonpartisan newsletter The Cook Political Report, told me. The GOP needs to flip just five Democratic seats to recapture the House majority in 2022, and conceivably, the party could gain all of those seats through gerrymandering alone. Wasserman projects that Republicans could net anywhere from zero to 10 seats from redistricting.”

Joe Biden’s first set of judicial nominations this week is the beginning of something big: almost certainly by the end of this Congress, the majority of lower court seats will be filled by Democratic appointees,” Bill Scher writes at The Washington Monthly. “That may surprise you, considering the breathless coverage Donald Trump received for his four-year judicial confirmation blitz. We were constantly told he was transforming the judiciary for a generation. With Sen. Mitch McConnell’s help, the Senate became a judicial confirmation factory. Not counting the Supreme Court, Trump got 231 judges with lifetime appointments confirmed. No president got more lower court judges confirmed in a single term since Jimmy Carter….the Republican grip on the lower courts is tenuous. Just one circuit court has to flip for Democrats to hold the majority of circuits again. Just nine seats have to flip for Democrats to hold the majority of seats again….Securing those flips shouldn’t be too hard. Despite Trump’s torrid pace, he left some judicial seats empty, and more vacancies have been announced since Biden’s inauguration. At present, the federal judiciary has 97 currentand future vacancies for seats with lifetime appointments. Fifty-two of those vacant seats were last held by Republicans….Trump was able to move faster than most presidents because the filibuster for lower court judges was nuked by Democrats in 2013 (with Republicans finishing the job regarding Supreme Court nominee in 2017). Now it’s Biden who gets to take advantage of the easier rules, so he will at least partially offset Trump’s gains.”

Despite the raised eyebrows about the size of President Biden’s infrastructure upgrade proposals, it looks like he has the support of the public. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes at The Washington Post, “And yes, big infrastructure investments of the sort President Biden has proposed (and that Republicans seem ready to oppose en masse) are broadly endorsed by the public; so are Biden’s proposed ways of paying for them….The Morning Consult/Politico poll, for example, found that 54 percent of registered voters — including 32 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of conservatives — favored infrastructure improvements financed by taxes on those earning more than $400,000 annually and increases in the corporate tax rate. (Another 27 percent of registered voters favored infrastructure spending without the taxes.)”

Political Strategy Notes

So why is it good strategy for a Democratic campaign not to contest a House of Reps. election lost by just 6 votes, one of the closest federal elections in history? At FiveThirtyEight Geoffrey Skelley explains: “Democrats were reportedly worried at the prospect of having to vote on whether to unseat Miller-Meeks, especially considering how loudly they protested former President Trump and Republicans’ attempts to overturn the 2020 election earlier this year. Additionally, there were concerns it would undermine Democrats’ efforts to pass a massive voting rights and election reform bill. That, along with the Democrats’ narrow majority, suggested it was going to be very challenging for Democrats to reverse the outcome — even if they felt Hart had a valid case….Moreover, Republican messaging had put Democrats on the defensive. For instance, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed they were trying to “steal” the election, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly asked major businesses and organizations that were critical of GOP objections to the Electoral College on Jan. 6 to hold Democrats to “the same standard” for contesting the Iowa result….In the end, the math wasn’t there for Democrats to reverse the outcome, and the potential fallout doesn’t seem to have been worth it, either.” Sounds like a good argument for a automatic recounts whenever elections are decided by less than one tenth of one percent of all votes cast.

Also at FiveThirtyEight, Perry Bacon, Jr. has a good article exploring Sen. Joe Mancin’s role as a Democratic Senator. Among Bacon’s observations: “However he is doing it, though, Manchin’s winning a very red state gives him incredible power. He is a lifelong Democrat and seems committed to the party. But he doesn’t really owe Biden, his fellow Senate Democrats or the formal Democratic Party much of anything — his political brand is really separate from theirs….So Democrats don’t have much, if any, leverage over the West Virginia senator. Prominent Democrats are surely aware that Manchin could switch parties and join the GOP and that that might help his political career, so they can’t really attack him too harshly when he takes more conservative stands. Also, there is virtually no chance that a Democrat to the left of Manchin could win a general election in West Virginia, so Democrats can’t really keep Manchin in line with the threat of a primary challenge, either….Manchin, as I noted earlier, seems deeply committed to the Democratic Party. But he might disagree with the dominant electoral thinking in the party. After all, emphasizing bipartisanship is Manchin’s strategy, and he’s the one winning in a super-Republican state.” I would add that, overall, Mancin is a big net plus for the Democratic Party, as its most vocal advocate of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate, and there is no equivalent in the G.O.P. Even left Democrats who think strategically should agree that lends credibility to the Democratic brand with swing voters. In January, a Monmouth University poll noted that “The desire for bipartisan cooperation is higher than it was just after the November election (62%), and includes 41% of Republicans (up from 28% in November) as well as 70% of independents (68%) and 94% of Democrats (92%).”

President Biden also sees value in bipartisanship in the Democratic Brand. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his Washington Post column: “Biden’s big new infrastructure program involves far more than roads, bridges and mass transit, but he hopes to remind Republicans that once upon a time, in a Washington of long ago, the two parties were capable of coming together to build stuff….“Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans,” Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh outlining the plan. “There’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again. The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”….As a result, said Molly Murphy, a Democratic pollster, “Republicans will face a tough challenge in trying to make something like infrastructure into something radical.” Which is why, she added, the GOP will try to focus their attacks on other aspects of the plan. “Polling,” she said, “has consistently shown broad support for the idea that rebuilding infrastructure is the best way to create jobs and get the economy moving.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall notes, “At the moment, Democrats control the House by a slim 219-211 majority, with five seats vacant. The loss of just five seats in 2022 would flip control to the Republican Party, which would then be empowered to block President Biden’s agenda….In 2020, white men without college degrees voted 60-35 for Trump and similarly educated white women voted 54-40 for Trump, according to survey data from the Cooperative Election Study….Republican efforts to claim the mantle of “the party of the working class” may be at cross purposes with the drive to enact voter suppression laws that will fall heavily on the working class….The enactment of Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus bill has increased his popularity, but voters’ memories are short. At the same time that he retains high favorability ratings on his handling the economy and the pandemic, voters surveyed in a NPR/Marist March 22-25 Poll, registered unfavorable views of his handling of immigration (34 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove), and a March 20-23 Economist/YouGov survey found voters split on Biden’s handling of crime (39 approve, 40 disapprove)….Without approval of the kind of election reform the voting rights bill seeks, the odds will shift further against continued Democratic control of the House and Senate and possibly result in another Democratic president ground down by gridlock.”