washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

In his NYT column “Will Trump Ever Leave the White House,” Thomas B. Edsall addresses a question of growing concern, given the President’s penchant for increasingly unhinged rants. Edsall sides more with those who see trouble ahead. But he does quote the more optimistic Brookings scholar William Frey: “There is no doubt that Trump continues to fan the flames of racial anxiety for his perceived benefit. He tries to paint an America that has shifted from the white dominated 1950s when immigration was low and blacks were highly segregated…This is not the America of today and really only applies to a swath of the population ages 55 and above and in whiter parts of the country whose populations are increasingly diminishing…Now Trump is less popular in general and Republicans have done less well in the 2018 midterms including among whites, especially white women, and in nonurban areas…Yes, some people are afraid of a nonwhite takeover for America but they are a small and dwindling piece of the American electorate. Highlighting race as a primary campaign message will not work for Trump again.” A sober assessment, especially considering that Trump doesn’t have the backing of the modern, multi-racial military or the broad media control needed for such a coup. Nor would American business leaders, who are already skeptical about his disruption of international trade, welcome the domestic chaos it would bring.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. wonders “Will impeachment finally organize the Democrats?,” and observes: “Normally, Democrats wear their diversity as a badge of honor, even as they feud and scuffle. But with House Democrats in the heat of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the habits of political lifetimes collide with the imperatives of discipline and focus…And Democrats being Democrats, they are even arguing about who deserves credit for the decision to open an impeachment inquiry. When CNN posted a feature about how moderates moved the House to act, champions of the party’s outspoken progressives, who had long endorsed this step, asked why they did not get more credit for being there all along…Democrats are determined to challenge Trump every time he claims that impeachment is getting in the way of action on prescription drug prices, guns and other issues that helped elect the new moderates. Pelosi went out of her way to open the news conference by focusing on these questions, not impeachment. She said that if the president used the House’s investigation as an excuse for governing sloth, “the ball is in his court.”…Because things have suddenly become so serious, Democrats just might learn to behave differently. “We have this fragile majority and right now we are all that stands between these attacks by the president and his enablers across the aisle on the fundamentals of our democracy,” [vice chair of the House Democratic caucus Katherine] Clark said. If this responsibility doesn’t concentrate the mind of a party that adores brawling, nothing will.”

From Kyle Kondik’s “The Senate: Ratings Changes and the Shadow of Impeachment” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “We would be lying if we said we had a great sense as to how the Democrats’ drive to impeach Trump will impact the elections next year. There are just too many variables and moving pieces to feel strongly about it. But the potential for the battle to harden partisan attitudes may have down-ballot effects for some members of Congress, as noted above…But don’t be surprised if, for all the noise, the impeachment inquiry — and even a successful House vote for impeachment and subsequent Senate trial — does not lead to sharp changes in public attitudes. It is true from limited polling that, at the very least, Democrats are coalescing around impeachment after the revelation of the now-famous telephone readout between Trump and the Ukrainian president. What seems to be happening is that Democrats are taking their cues from party leadership, which has resisted calling for impeachment until now, and increasing their own support for impeachment as a result. There has been some movement in favor of impeachment among independents and Republicans, although one would have to cherry-pick data to argue that overall support for impeaching and removing the president is significantly more than mixed…Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating — as it seems to do — has remained largely fixed where it’s been, in the low-to-mid 40s, with disapproval over 50%. Could the Ukraine bombshell and subsequent discoveries from the impeachment process cause it to dip over time? Sure…But after years of observing the president’s durability in polls, thanks in large part to strong GOP support, it’s safer to expect continuity as opposed to change in the president’s standing.” Kondik notes, “There are two Senate ratings changes this week, one benefiting each side. The most vulnerable senator, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), moves from Toss-up to Leans Republican, while Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) moves from Leans Republican to Toss-up.”

Ronald Brownstein explains why “The Risks of Impeachment Are Overblown” at The Atlantic: “For months, the biggest hurdle for Democrats pushing the House to open impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump was the party leadership’s concern that such a process would politically endanger the members at the far edge of their majority, especially the 31 representing districts that voted for the president in 2016…But there’s considerable evidence—both in contemporary polling and the experience of former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment—that impeaching Trump might not be nearly as risky as it’s been portrayed for them…Despite the cascade of new revelations damaging to Trump, some Democratic strategists focused on holding the House still privately worry that impeachment could endanger too many of the members from districts that divide closely between the parties or lean Republican. That’s been the dominant perspective at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is chaired by Representative Cheri Bustos, who herself represents an Illinois district Trump won in 2016. Yet other party strategists now see a pathway to expanding support for impeachment, which a majority of Americans have consistently opposed in polls, or at least neutralizing any recoil against it.”

Brownstein continues, ““If voters see this as being about significant abuses of power and serious attempts to undermine the rule of law, then I don’t worry particularly about a backlash against Democrats who vote for impeachment,” says the longtime Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. “If it is seen purely as a partisan exercise, the answer may be different. But I have a good level of confidence that it will not be seen that way, that the moderates in the Trump districts who eventually support impeachment will be seen as having done so for serious and sober reasons.” Noting that “Clinton’s job approval rating about 20 percentage points higher than Trump’s is today,” Brownstein adds, “The other big difference is that, unlike Clinton, Trump will be on the ballot in 2020 (absent the unlikely event of enough Senate Republicans voting to remove him from office if the House does eventually impeach him.) “There is no escaping Trump,” says Sarah Binder, a senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings. “He is the 800-pound elephant … There is no escaping his relevance to this election. It just seems that might be quite different than what happened in 2000 once you had Clinton departing from the scene.”

Further, says Brownstein, “Other analysts point to Trump’s uncertain position even in the Democratic-held districts that he carried. Trump was hardly a colossus in those 31 seats in 2016: He exceeded 51 percent of the vote in only six of them, and reached 50 or 51 percent in just seven more. He beat Hillary Clinton while drawing less than half of the total vote in the other 18 of those seats…That distinction hasn’t escaped the Democratic members in those districts: By the time Pelosi made her announcement on Tuesday afternoon, 10 of the 18 Democrats from districts where Trump won with less than half of the vote had endorsed an impeachment inquiry. By comparison, at that point, only four of the members from the 13 Democratic-held seats where Trump did reach a majority had joined the call for impeachment proceedings, according to the tracker maintained by Politico…After starting in such an equivocal position in many of these districts, Trump’s position appears to have eroded since 2016. A recent round of polls conducted for a consortium of Democratic groups placed Trump’s approval rating below 45 percent in several of the Democratic districts he won, and above 50 percent in only one: the Oklahoma City seat of Representative Kendra Horn, according to figures provided to me.” Even better, “The upcoming debate could create risks for Republicans too, in the states and House districts trending away from Trump, such as the concentration of suburban seats in Texas that Democrats are targeting. If impeachment reaches the Senate, Republican incumbents such as Susan Collins of Maine, Martha McSally of Arizona, and Cory Gardner of Colorado may be unlikely to vote to convict the president—which will bind them to him more tightly in states where his position is equivocal at best.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Perry Bacon, Jr. explains why “Why Black Voters Prefer Establishment Candidates Over Liberal Alternatives,” and notes, “Black voters effectively delivered Hillary Clinton the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. She and Sen. Bernie Sanders ran about evenly among white voters, but black voters overwhelmingly backed Clinton. So did the Democratic establishment…That team-up — black voters and the more establishment candidate — is not unusual…We don’t have detailed exit polls of Democratic primaries for most other offices, but according to pre-election polls and precinct results in a number of high-profile House and gubernatorial primaries since 2016, black voters have tended to back the candidate from the party’s establishment wing over a more liberal alternative. And at least for now, we’re seeing the same pattern in the 2020 Democratic presidential race: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sanders are fairly competitive with Joe Biden among white Democrats, but trail the former vice president substantially among black Democrats…Why, though? After all, African Americans have dramatically less incomeand wealth than white Americans, so messages of “big, structural change” (Warren) or a “political revolution” (Sanders) should, in theory, be particularly appealing. Because a higher percentage of black Americans than white Americans don’t have health insurance, a program like Medicare for All, for example, would disproportionately benefit black people.”

Bacon elaborates, “So what gives? I’m going to offer some potential answers to that question, but let’s first get a couple caveats and complications out of the way…First, it’s hard to come up with a definitive explanation for the establishment-black voter alliance because the “establishment” is a fuzzy concept. Exactly which candidate is a center-left, establishment Democrat and which is anti-establishment or “the liberal alternative” is all a bit subjective…Second — and this is important — black Democrats are not a monolith and are divided in some of the same ways white Democrats are divided. Young black voters are less supportive of Biden (and were less supportive of Clinton in 2016) compared to older black voters. Similarly, black voters without college degrees are more supportive of Biden than those with degrees…That said, blacks of all demographics are more supportive of Biden than their white counterparts, according to Morning Consult polling data. Young black voters are more supportive of Biden (and were more supportive of Clinton) than young white voters. Older black voters were more supportive of Clinton than older white ones in 2016 and now are strongly behind Biden. Black college graduates are more supportive of Biden than white college graduates. Nuances aside, the weakness of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party with black voters is a well-known phenomenon that people in the Warren and Sanders camps and anti-establishment liberal activist groups are openly grappling with.”

Bacon provides five other factors, in order of importance: “1. Establishment candidates typically have existing ties to the black community; 2. Black voters are pragmatic; 3. Black leaders are part of the establishment and support its candidates; 4. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party appeals to the well-educated more than other groups, and the vast majority of black Democrats don’t have college degrees;5. The left wing isn’t running enough black candidates. In addition, Bacon writes, “We could come up with some other explanations, but I think those are the strongest. And this analysis points to a blueprint for the left wing of the Democratic Party if it wants to win more black votes:

  1. Align with black candidates or non-black candidates with strong ties to black voters and leaders
  2. Aggressively court black leaders for endorsements
  3. Directly address black voters’ concerns that more liberal candidates have a greater chance of losing races to Republicans
  4. And target black voters under 45 and those with college degrees, who might be less inclined to vote for establishment candidates.

Bacon concludes, “So could that approach work for Sanders and Warren against Biden? Maybe. You could imagine Warren in particular getting endorsements from younger liberal black figures like Gillum or Pressley (particularly if Warren wins one of the early primary states and Harris finishes far behind and is no longer viable). And maybe those endorsements and Warren’s campaigning then lead her to become the candidate of black voters under 45 and those with college degrees, even if Biden still gets most votes from older and less educated black voters…Remember, Sanders or Warren don’t necessarily have to win the black vote to become the Democratic nominee — they just can’t lose it by 60 percentage points, as Sanders did in 2016. (Biden is getting between 40 and 50 percent of the black vote in most polls now, so nowhere near Clinton 2016 levels. But Clinton was in a two-candidate field, and I would expect Biden’s support among black voters to go up as this gigantic field shrinks.)…But even if Sanders or Warren gets more support among black voters in 2020 than the Vermont senator did in 2016, I tend to think Biden will remain fairly popular with black voters overall — because of his ties to Obama and other black leaders and the perception that he can defeat Trump.”

Voter Registration Increase in GA Gives Dems Hope

Mark Niesse reports that “Voter registration surges in Georgia ahead of 2020 elections” in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and notes that “More than 352,000 people signed up to vote in the past 11 months, the vast majority of them automatically registering when they obtain a driver’s license, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. The influx has boosted Georgia’s voter rolls to a record high of nearly 7.4 million.” Even better, for Democrats:

Many of the new voters are racial minorities or under age 30, both groups that are more likely to support Democrats than Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

About 47% of the new voters who identified their race are minorities and 45% are age 30 or younger, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of a list of voters registered from Nov. 6 to Aug. 12. By comparison, 40% of all Georgia voters are minorities and 14% are age 30 or younger. The voter list was obtained from the secretary of state’s office and provided to the AJC by Fair Fight PAC, a political action committee that supports Democratic parties nationwide.

Niesse adds that “Registrations at driver’s license offices far outpaced voter registration drives, indicating that many of the new voters recently moved to Georgia or turned 18 years old,” which may bode well for Georgia’s Democratic Party. Georgia will elect two U.S. Senators, and every seat in the General Assembly is up for election. Although Trump bat Clinton by  percent in GA in 2016, Democratic candidate for Governor Stacy Abrams came within 1.4 percent (55,000 votes) of winning the governorship last year. Also,

“Rapid population growth and changing demographics in Georgia provide Democrats huge opportunities,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ former campaign manager and a senior adviser for Fair Fight PAC. “Each eligible Georgian who moves to Georgia and becomes a voter is more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.”

Niesse notes further that “About 365,000 new voters have registered each year at Georgia’s driver’s license offices since the beginning of 2017, for a total of 989,000 new voters, according to the secretary of state’s office.” But not all of the registration increase arises from population growth, as Niesse explains:

Meanwhile, traditional voter registration efforts are reaching hundreds of thousands more potential voters…The Voter Participation Center, a voter registration group that targets unmarried women, people of color and young people, sent registration forms to more than 560,000 Georgians last month.

…Of Georgia’s newly registered voters since Election Day 2018, more than 31,000 of them mailed their registration forms to election officials, which reflects some of the impact of voter registration drives such as those run by the Voter Participation Center. The center said more than 5,500 forms were returned to the secretary of state’s office as a result of its efforts last year.

ProGeorgia, a group that coordinates registration outreach with more than a dozen organizations, said it’s on track to register 21,000 new voters this year.

“Georgia’s population as a whole is aging,” Niesse notes, “but most older residents are already registered to vote, and new residents are more likely to be young or minorities.” All of which is good news for Georgia Democrats.

However, Georgia Democrats have had their high hopes dashed in recent statewide races, and the GA Republican Party has proven ruthless in suppressing voter turnout. Yet, Trump won Georgia’s 2016 electoral votes by a margin of less than 212,000 votes. With two U.S. Senate seats at stake and good prospects for Dems picking up a House of Representatives seat, turnout is likely to be higher than usual. Some additional resources for Georgia from the national Democratic Party and it’s contributors could prove to be a cost-effective investment.

Political Strategy Notes

In “Early polls show voter support for impeachment is growing,” Li Zhou writes at Vox: “Two new polls this week highlight the same trend: voter support for impeachment is growing. Both surveys were conducted amid a dizzying week of developments in Washington, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry as well as the emergence of a whistleblower report regarding a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky… According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll that was conducted between September 24 and 26, support for impeachment across party lines now stands at 43 percent, an uptick from 36 percent just last week. Similarly, a HuffPost/YouGov poll, also fielded between September 24 and 26, found that the margin between those backing impeachment and those who oppose it was expanding. In this week’s survey, 47 percent supported impeachment, while 39 percent opposed it, compared to 43 percent and 41 percent that felt the same way in a previous September poll. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll that was held on September 25 also found that 49 percent of voters favor impeachment proceedings.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Dhrumil Mehta adds, “Of the five polls from which we have data so far, one is from a high-quality telephone pollster — Quinnipiac. And their latest poll shows a 5-percentage-point increase in support for impeachment overall and a 12-percentage-point increase among Democrats since they were last asked the question in July. Keep in mind, too, this poll went into the field on Sept. 19 — a full day before The Wall Street Journal first broke the story of Trump’s call with Zelensky, and only stayed in the field through Monday, the day before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry…But, of course, it’s important to note that all of this polling is reallypreliminary. Even over the course of this week, a lot has happened that the polls don’t account for…Americans may still be digesting the flurry of news and deciding how they feel about it.”

Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe update the pro-impeachment tally at nbcnews.com: “By the weekend, as they headed out on a two-week congressional break, 225 of 235 House Democrats, had backed some form of impeachment action, according to NBC News’ latest count. One independent, Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., also backed impeaching Trump…That meant more than 95 percent of the caucus had voiced support for some type of action on impeachment, and only 10 holdouts like [NJ Rep. Jeff] Van Drew remained — the pressure on them from all sides increasing, with each of them now potentially decisive in any possible vote to actually impeach the president…Those holdouts all represented districts Trump won in 2016.”

Daniel Bush asks “Will Trump impeachment strategy help 2020 Dems – or backfire?” at pbs.org. Bush notes, “If they go forward with impeachment proceedings I think it completely changes the dynamic of the election,” said Joe Keefe, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party…Pelosi’s decision to publicly back the Democrats’ ongoing impeachment investigations may buoy progressive Democrats who support a more aggressive approach against Trump, Keefe said…But he argued a drawn-out, highly partisan impeachment fight could also energize Trump’s base in New Hampshire and elsewhere and motivate moderate Republicans who may not be ardent Trump supporters to come off the sidelines and support the president in the general election next year…“It’s a mixed blessing for Democrats,” Keefe said.”

“However the revelations of Trump seeking to leverage military aide to Ukraine in return for the latter investigating Joe Biden changes the calculus.  It does so for several reasons.  One, the gravity of the problem is greater with apparently clearer evidence of the president inviting a foreign government to interfere in US elections.  Two, it involves direct abuse of power by the president to leverage US military aid for personal partisan purposes.  Three, for Democrats, it is direct attack by Trump on a presidential front runner and if the former is not sanctioned or punished for that, who knows what ever other dirty tricks might occur…But additionally, two other variables come into play.  The first is that now a majority of House Democrats support impeachment.  Two, it is the issue of time. Timed precisely, a Senate trial would get maximum political payoff for Democrats.  This is why Pelosi is reconsidering impeachment now.” – from “The 2020 Democratic Impeachment Strategy and Why it Makes Sense Now” by David Schultz at Counterpunch.

David de la Fuente, senior political analyst at Third Way, identifies “The 99 House Districts That Will Determine Dems’ Fate,” with respect to the presidency and Senate, as well as in the House. “There’s a lot on the line in 2020,” de la Fuente writes, “but 99 seats now held by House Democrats will likely determine who occupies the White House, sits in the Senate Majority Leader’s office, and holds the gavel in the House of Representatives’ chamber. Some are nail-biter swing districts, and some are cakewalks where the outcome of the race is not in doubt. But each in their own way has an outsized influence on the contests that will shape America’s immediate political future. That is to say, all House districts are about equal in population but not in electoral relevance. In this paper, we rank the 99 districts on a five-point political Richter scale that measures how much these races can potentially shake up the political landscape…In our current system, there are places where structural realities make getting more Democratic votes fruitless in the big scheme of creating a Democratic federal government trifecta. If you want to see Democrats make progress on anything at the federal level in the next decade, you should pay close attention to the ninety-nine districts where gaining votes will deliver greater victories.”

Froma Harrop writes at CNN Politics that “Democrats might ask themselves why President Donald Trump is so intent on smearing former Vice President Joe Biden with phony scandals. Why isn’t he doing the same to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s been climbing in the polls and has a shot at becoming the Democratic nominee for president?…The clear answer is that Biden, in his own words, could “beat him like a drum” — and while Warren could win against Trump, her victory does not look like a resounding one, according to recent polls. In Trump’s view, Biden poses the greatest threat and must be destroyed. And what better way than to wound Biden to the point that Democrats might think he’s more trouble than he’s worth?…Biden is still a stronger bet against Trump in crucial swing states like Wisconsin and Ohio, compared to Warren. The most recent Wisconsin poll pitting Democrats against Trump has Biden winning by 9 points, while Elizabeth Warren is tied with the President. In Ohio, Biden is the only Democrat who can beat Trump. According to the most recent Quinnipiac pollfrom July, Biden leads Trump by 8 points, while Sanders and Warren both trail the President by 1.”

In her Washington Monthly article, “How 2020 Democrats Are Missing the Message on the Economy: The candidates have yet to tackle the growing problem of regional inequality,” Anne Kim observes, “The 2020 Democratic primary has seen no shortage of big, ambitious ideas—the nationalization of health care via “Medicare for All,” free college, free child care, and the cancellation of student debt, just to name a few…But there’s one big idea still missing: how to fix the stark and growing disparities between the parts of the country that are prospering and those that are falling behind. Regional inequality is perhaps the greatest challenge to America’s economic and political future, but 2020 candidates have yet to tackle, let alone acknowledge, the problem. It’s an omission that could have long-term substantive consequences for Democrats…But so far, the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have stuck to universalist policy ideas like Medicare for All, while discussions of inequality have centered on race or class, but not on geography…None of the candidates have put forth signature policy priorities that would rejuvenate the moribund economies of the industrial Midwest, or help heartland economies generate the kind of prosperity that their coastal neighbors enjoy…The absence of a credible Democratic agenda on regional prosperity is one reason Trump has had free rein to exploit and magnify the economic discontent in large parts of the country for his political gain. As wrong-headed and destructive as his policies have been, his supporters can rightly say that Trump has at least acknowledged the significance of their economic decline…Democrats shouldn’t continue to leave the field to Trump to romp at will…As the Monthly’s Daniel Block has argued, the emerging geography of this divided America means Democrats must broaden their appeal and reach heartland voters if they want to win in 2020 and beyond. Democrats don’t have the luxury of writing off “flyover country” to rely solely on their base in major coastal cities.”

Political Strategy Notes – Impeachment Edition

WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares some insights on impeaching Trump: “There is nothing positive for Trump in the readout, which ratified House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to open a formal impeachment inquiry. “It’s interesting that the White House would release this thinking it would help the president,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said in an interview. “They’re so far down the path of corruption that they wouldn’t see how it implicates the president.”…That the Ukraine allegations abruptly and fundamentally altered the politics of impeachment means that House Democrats need to act in a precise, expeditious and disciplined way. Battles over who has jurisdiction over what, lengthy arguments over what should and should not be included in the articles of impeachment, personality clashes — none of these should complicate action on what is now a clear-cut case involving a deplorable abuse of power…This is why many swing-district Democrats who had been reluctant to endorse a path to impeachment are now open to acting…This new clarity of mission is why Pelosi’s announcement Tuesday came as such a relief. Democrats on both sides of the impeachment question were never in doubt about the depth of Trump’s venality, but they did not expect him to hand them so much ammunition to make their case. They dare not let internal politics get in the way of performing their duty.”

In his post, “If This Is Trump’s Best Case, The Ukraine Scandal Is Looking Really Bad For Him” at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver writes, “As far as polling evidence for how the public feels about Ukraine, there isn’t much of it, but there is some, and it isn’t great for Trump. A YouGov poll on Tuesday asked voters how they’d feel about impeachment if Trump “suspended military aid to Ukraine in order to incentivize the country’s officials to investigate his political rival”; 55 percent of voters supported impeachment in that case, 26 percent opposed it. The problem is that, so far, the delay in military aid has not been proven to be related to Trump’s requests of Zelensky on Biden.1 We don’t know how much that matters to the American public. Hopefully, pollsters will ask voters different versions of questions about impeachment over Ukraine that can test the importance of the quid pro quo. Meanwhile, polling from Reuters/Ipsos suggests that while relatively few Americans knew much about the Ukraine scandal before today, those who had heard of it were more supportive of impeachment.”

More than half the House of Representatives support impeachment inquiry,” CNN Politics reports. “There are at least 218 House Democrats — according to a CNN count — who publicly stated support for impeachment proceedings. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican who has since become an independent, has also called for an impeachment investigation, bringing the total number of representatives to 219, or just over half of the 435-member chamber…Reaching the halfway mark on this issue is a significant development as a majority of the House would be needed to vote to impeach the President in order to send the process to the Senate…there has been a surge in support — more than 75 House members in about three days — of launching such an inquiry… However, CNN’s count includes many Democrats who say they support an impeachment investigation but are still waiting for the results of the probe before deciding whether to finally vote to impeach Trump.”

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall makes the case that “economic decline was — and is — a compelling factor in generating conservative hostility to social and cultural liberalism.” Edsall mines data from scholars writing at Brookings, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and the European Journal of Social Psychology, to conclude that “The relative material deprivation of many Republican voters that continued into the first two years of the Trump administration reinforces their sustained dedication to Trump, even as the regions of the country where they disproportionately live fall further behind.” In addition, “Conversely, the exceptional success in 2018 of Democratic House candidates in well-to-do, highly educated, formerly Republican districts suggests that Democrats gain from prosperity.” And “As the 2020 election approaches, we can expect Trump not to be deterred by the prospect of impeachment. He will embrace it…he is willing to gamble on his ability to profit from a climate of chaos and threat, to rely on ever-present sense of crisis to fortify and expand his base.”

Sean Collins has “5 questions Attorney General William Barr should answer about Trump’s call with President Volodymyr Zelensky” at Vox. Collins writes that “Barr’s statements to Congress, particularly those he gave during May testimony about his handling of the release of the Mueller report, have many Democrats concerned the attorney general will attempt to shield the president from inquiries — including a recently launched impeachment inquiry — into potential wrongdoing and that he will refuse to investigate the allegations Trump faces.” The questions include: “1. Did President Trump discuss a Biden-Ukraine investigation with Barr?…2. Did William Barr mislead Congress?…3. Is the Department of Justice protecting Trump?…4. Does William Barr believe a president is above the law or immune to outside scrutiny?…5. Will William Barr recuse himself from upcoming DOJ investigations?”

At The American Prospect, Paul Starr probes a question of growing consequence for Democrts, “Is It Too Late to Impeach Trump?” Starr writes, “Even now, Democrats do not have strong electoral reasons to impeach Trump. Impeachment may not work out to their political advantage; a failed impeachment is not necessarily a good start to an election campaign to oust an incumbent. But, come what may, they have to proceed for the only reasons that truly justify impeaching and convicting a president—the defense of America’s constitutional system and its national security…By attempting to use a foreign power to win election a second time, Trump has forced even reluctant Democratic congressional leaders to move ahead on impeachment. It was bad enough that Trump escaped consequences for the efforts in his 2016 campaign to secure help from Russia and for his solicitousness as president to Vladimir Putin. Another such failure of our constitutional system, this time in connection with Ukraine, would only further embolden Trump to use the formidable powers of the presidency to entrench himself in office…If it becomes standard procedure in the United States, this will be a very different country from what we thought it was.”

Also at The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner writes, “The people who said that impeachment would be a distraction from the 2020 election were wrong, both before Trump’s Ukraine gambit, and even more so now. The 2020 election is about many things, but foremost among them are Trump’s abuse of office and the rule of law. Impeachment brings that front and center…Skeptics also argued that the Republican-controlled Senate would never vote to convict, so why bother? This is also wrong. As public opinion moves, so does Senate opinion. It will be very salutary for Democrats to put Senate Republicans on the defensive, as they try to excuse the indefensible…Republicans were contemptuous of Trump in 2016, and their loyalty to him is purely expedient and transactional. If he becomes seen as fatally damaged goods, that loyalty could evaporate…We are into a new act of this farce. It took Trump to give Democrats a backbone, but we will now see a newly emboldened Democratic House and a whole new dynamic.”

However, in his Daily Beast post, “Dems Worry Rudy Would Send Impeachment Hearing Off the Rails,” Sam Brodey warns that Giulani’s likely appearance before congress could create a circus-like distraction. “If Congress is to get to the bottom of President Trump’s efforts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Rudolph W. Giuliani is an obvious choice for the witness list…But Democrats are split as to whether he would do more harm than good to their nascent impeachment inquiry and some expressed concern that hauling a loose cannon like Giuliani in front of a committee would risk a replay of the circus-like atmosphere created by Trump loyalist and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski—a scene few Democrats are eager to recreate…Democrats are already well aware of the challenge presented by a loose cannon Trumpworld figure, and they still feel burned by Lewandowski. The former Trump campaign manager’s combative five-hour session before the House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 17 amounted to a massive middle finger to Democrats, who afterward privately panned the hearing as a disaster…Given Giuliani’s track record of theatrics and his fierce loyalty to the president, some Democrats worry that his testimony wouldn’t contribute to legitimate fact-finding but rather turn Democrats’ sober-minded mission into a complete circus—as well as slow down an impeachment proceeding that nearly all Democrats believe needs to be completed with the utmost speed.”

At The Nation, Jeet Heer presents “The Case for Keeping Impeachment Clean and Simple: Though Donald Trump has committed many crimes, best keep the focus tightly on the Ukrainian scandal,” and observes, “A quick impeachment is likely to be followed by the Republican Senate’s deciding Trump should not be removed. There might be a few GOP defections: Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado are the most likely to turn against Trump. Not nearly enough to reach the steep threshold of 67 votes. Still, such an impeachment would have made the essential point: Trump overstepped the rules of democracy…After a quickly executed impeachment, Democrats can return to other urgent political matters: choosing a presidential nominee and defeating Trump. The impeachment, if done narrowly and in a focused way, will then serve the cause of making the political case against Trump. A lengthy impeachment that looks at all his offenses could have the opposite impact: It might drain the political oxygen out of the presidential nomination process and impede the task of building an anti-Trump majority…Impeachment is both a legal and a political process. To have a politically effective impeachment, Democrats need to keep it clean, simple—and quick.”

Political Strategy Notes

“Younger voters have typically turned out at lower rates than other demographic groups in elections, but they defied expectations in the 2018 midterms, with a 16-point jump in voting by 18- to 29-year-olds compared to the 2014 election, according to census data,” , report Julia Manchester and Rebecca Klar at The Hill. “Overall, 36 percent of voters in that age group cast a ballot last year, compared to 20 percent in 2014. Analysts believe a similar number or higher during a presidential year could make the difference in a race that President Trump won last time around by just a few percentage points in several key battleground states…Democratic presidential contenders have thus ramped up their pitches to young voters through frequent visits to college campuses and an increased presence on social media. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, kicked off a tour of universities at historically black colleges this week.”

“These groups believe this time around it could be different, potentially changing the scope of elections because of the sheer size of the groups being targeted,” Manchester and Klar note. “More than 75 million people are considered millennials, according to Brookings, while around a quarter of the U.S. population is seen as belonging to Gen Z, or roughly 82 million…That makes them a potentially powerful electoral force and a boon to Democrats — should they succeed in winning them over…“Millennials and Gen Z will comprise nearly 40 percent of the electorate next year,” DeWitt said, “which is incredible power to decide who wins elections, both at the local level and at the federal and presidential level as well.”

James Arkin writes at Politico, “To take back the White House, Democrats only need to win back three key Rust Belt states. But if they want to move a president’s agenda through the Senate, they have to flip the Sun Belt…From Arizona to North Carolina to a pair of seats in Georgia, Democrats have to clean up in that stretch of the country to have any chance of taking the chamber…”I think there’s both a Rust Belt and Sun Belt strategy that are not incompatible at all,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential and Senate campaigns. He pointed to the party’s gains among suburban women, in particular, as something that occurred across regions. “There are several places in both the Sun Belt and Rust Belt where they could make the difference…Priorities USA, a top Democratic Super PAC, lists the three Rust Belt states as among their core battlegrounds for 2020, and has Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina among possible expansion states. Guy Cecil, the group’s chairman, pointed to the overlap between expansion states and Senate races at a briefing for reporters Monday and said they would take a “serious look” at potentially investing in these states because of the Senate. He said North Carolina and Arizona should be on “everyone’s target list,” and that there would be “robust conversations” around Georgia.”

Some stats on the “middle class” from Kathleeen Elkins at cnbc.com: “According to a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center, 52% of American adults live in “middle class” households. The median income of that group was $78,442 in 2016…Pew defines the middle class as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median. That’s after incomes have been adjusted for household size, since smaller households require less money to support the same lifestyle as larger ones…About one-fifth of American households, 19%, are considered upper class, while 29% are lower class. The median income of upper class households was $187,872 in 2016. For lower income households, it was $25,624…These numbers are in 2016 dollars and scaled to reflect a three-person household…Use Pew’s income calculator to find out which group you are in, compared to other adults in your metro and among American adults overall. It also lets you find out which group you’re in compared with other adults similar to you in education, age, race or ethnicity and marital status” and size of household. “The metro with the highest share is Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where 65% of adults are considered middle class.”

Also at The Hill, Chris Mills Rodrigo reports, “Progressive organization Way to Win plans to invest $50 million to help the Democratic Party in the Sun Belt, the Associated Press reported Sunday…An advance copy of the group’s blueprint obtained by AP details a strategy to help Democrats in Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, where the party hopes to make inroads with people of color, women and young people…Way to Win previously spent $22 million during the 2018 midterm season…“2020 is a race to drive up the most new voters possible. Our job is driving forward the new electorate in the South and Southwest.”

It looks like Elizabeth Warren going to  avoid HRC’s mistake of not showing up in white working-class communities in the midwest. As Natasha Dado reports in “Elizabeth Warren protests with striking UAW members at GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant” at clickondetroit.com: “Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, protested with General Motors workers Sunday, expressing solidarity with them…Warren participated in a “Solidarity Sunday” protest at the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant. Large crowds packed the Detroit-based plant Sunday and marched alongside Warren…She thanked UAW members for standing up for the rights of workers. “I know this is hard to do without your paycheck. This is the time when we find out who people are. You do well, American workers do well across the country. Lets be clear, unions built America’s middle class,” Warren said.”

In his Wall St. Journal article, “U.S. Voters Support Expanding Medicare but Not Eliminating Private Health Insurance” John McCormick reports: “Two-thirds of registered voters support letting anyone buy into Medicare, similar to an idea that former Vice President Joe Biden and some other Democratic candidates have proposed. Two-thirds say that young adults brought to the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay, an idea broadly supported by the party’s presidential field. Nearly 60% of registered voters support making tuition free at state colleges and universities…But several other ideas backed by majorities of Democratic voters and some of the party’s 2020 candidates draw significant opposition from the electorate overall, the new poll finds…Some 56% of registered voters oppose a Medicare for All plan that would replace private insurance, as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and some others have proposed, while 57% oppose the idea of immediately canceling student-loan debt for all borrowers. Mr. Sanders also has proposed the latter, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren backs it with limits…government-sponsored health care to undocumented immigrants was the least popular among the broader electorate, with 62% rejecting it.”

“Asked about two leading health-care proposals that have divided the Democratic presidential field,” McCormick continues, “the party’s primary voters mostly favored the idea of allowing people under age 65 to buy into Medicare, just like they might buy private insurance. Some 78% supported that idea, while 63% backed Medicare for All, which would replace private insurance with a government plan…Of three proposals to make college more affordable, the most popular in the survey was the idea of income-based repayment, a policy in existing law and backed by former President Barack Obama in which borrowers devote a fixed amount of their income to student-debt repayment, with the unpaid balance forgiven after a certain number of years…Just 15% of registered Democrats in the poll say their economic situation is getting better, while 68% of Republicans feel that way. Half of those in rural areas say they’re gaining economically, compared with just over a third of urban residents.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “Why Trump gets away with everything” in his syndicated WaPo column: “Here we have a whistleblower from the intelligence community who, as The Washington Post reported, found a “promise” that President Trump made to a foreign leader “so alarming” that the “official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community.”…the White House and Justice Department are stonewalling, thus ripping apart systems of accountability that were put in place to prevent the abuse of the substantial powers we have given our intelligence services. This is part of a larger undertaking by Trump and his minions to block Congress from receiving information or hearing from witnesses, which is part of Congress’ normal and constitutionally sanctioned work of keeping an eye on the executive branch…You might think that Republicans who have made national security their calling card since the Reagan era might finally hit the limits of their cravenness in the face of a whistleblower’s bravery. But the party, our politics and our media system are too broken for the old norms to apply.” American presidents have evaded accountability before, but never to this extent. Perhaps it was inevitable that a president would push the evasion to the limit and play the ‘deny and delay’ card as often as he could get away with it. Consequently, the fate of American democracy now depends on swing voters in a handful of states.

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall flags an ominous trend for Democrats: “First: Heading into the 2020 election, President Trump is on track to far surpass President Barack Obama’s record in collecting small donor contributions — those under $200 — lending weight to his claim of populist legitimacy…Second: Democratic candidates and their party committees are making inroads in gathering contributions from the wealthiest of the wealthy, the Forbes 400, a once solid Republican constituency. Democrats are also pulling ahead in contributions from highly educated professionals — doctors, lawyers, tech executives, software engineers, architects, scientists, teachers and so on…These knowledge class donors, deeply hostile to Trump, propelled the fund-raising success of Democratic House candidates in 2018 — $1 billion to the Republicans’ $661 million…While there are advantages for Democrats in gaining support from previously Republican-leaning donors, this success carries costs. In winning over the high-tech industry, the party has acquired a constituency at odds with competing Democratic interest groups, especially organized labor and consumer protection proponents. Picking up rich backers also reinforces the image of a party dominated by elites.”

A chart to ponder from Philip Bump’s “A central 2020 question for Democrats: How critical are working-class white voters?” at The Washington Post:

(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Bonnie Chiu reports at Forbes, “The 2018 midterm elections in the U.S. saw an unprecedented number of women of color being elected to office–bringing their total number at the Congress (both House and Senate) to an all-time high, at 47. A new reporthelps us to understand how this was achieved, suggests that this was not an accident and will likely define 2020 elections…2018 marks the watershed moment in political mobilization of women of color in U.S. history. A new report, published by the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Civic Engagement Fund and Groundswell Fund, examines the unprecedented and often ignored role of women of color in the 2018 Midterm elections. The report highlights that the increase of non-white congresswomen correlates with a rising turnout of non-white female voters…“When you look at turnout as a percentage of the citizen voting age population in previous midterms, the numbers for 2006, 2010, 2014 were 39%, 39%, and 35%, respectively. In 2018, the figure was 48%,” says Taeku Lee, Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of California, Berkeley and principal researcher for this report. This represents a 37% increase among women of color voters compared to 2016. This huge uptick has not been found among other groups…The report finds that turnout was fuelled by women of color talking to and encouraging their friends and family to vote. Black women led the way with 84% mobilizing friends and family, followed by 76% of AAPI women, 72% of Native American women, 70% of Latinas, and 66% of white women.”

At Salon.com, Igor Derysh writes, “Republicans are expected to win 65 percent of close presidential races in which they lose the popular vote as a result of the Electoral College and the blue-state concentration of Democrats, according to a new working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research…Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin looked at the probability of “inversions” in presidential elections, where the popular-vote winner loses the electoral vote. These inversions happened in 2000 and 2016 and twice in the 1800s, meaning that the candidate with the most votes has lost 8 percent of the time in the last 200 years…Using statistical models that predicted an inversion in the 2000 and 2016 races, the researchers found that the probability of the popular vote winner losing the electoral vote is about 40 percent in races decided by 1 percent (about 1.3 million votes) and roughly 30 percent in races decided by 2 percent (2.6 million votes) or less…But these probabilities are “not symmetric across political parties,” the researchers say. Over the past 30 to 60 years, this asymmetry has favored Republicans. The statistical models used in the research predict that in the event of an inversion, “the probability that it will be won by a Republican ranges from 69 percent to 93 percent.”

From E. J. Dionne, Jr”s “Striking workers are the ones who saved GM” at The Washington Post: “Unions get knocked for being unconcerned about the health of the companies they organize. The UAW showed how untrue this is. It made sweeping concessions to management to persuade federal officials to undertake the investment of public money — and to keep the companies alive…The bottom line is that the strikers are fighting not only for greater fairness and a larger share of the company’s success but also for work itself. Too late to avert the strike, GM finally put an offer on the table to begin addressing some of these issues. But the rank and file are restive for more, and for good reason. Those of us who supported keeping GM alive a decade ago — and put our wallets where our mouths, pens and votes were — didn’t do so to make it easier for management to outsource jobs or hold down pay and benefits forever. Every Democratic candidate for president should be joining the UAW’s picket lines to drive that point home.”

From Kyle Kondik’s “The Electoral College: Expanding the Map” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball:
Map 1: Crystal Ball Electoral College ratings

Stanley Greenberg writes in his memo, “Sharp anti-Trump reaction consolidates and grows Democratic bloc” at Democracy Corps: “The public push back against President Trump has produced a level of political engagement the country has never seen before, an elevated anti-Trump Democratic Party consolidated to support the Democratic nominee, whether it is Vice President Biden or Senator Elizabeth Warren. They are defeating Trump by 9 and 7 points respectively, with the president stuck at 41 percent, his approval rating. Democrats are poised to push up the 8.6 percent Democratic margin in the 2018 mid-terms – a shattering result if achieved…The percent who say they are “extremely interested” in the election (the percent choosing 10, the top point on a 10-rung ladder) has reached 80 percent, the highest point in the history of our polling. That is what is actually most interesting about the finding. In all prior cycles, interest in politics drops sharply and grows over the election cycle, put political engagement has jumped 10 points since the mid-terms…Virtually, every registered voter now meets our criteria as “likely,” meaning this election will bring inmillions of new voters…With President Trump nationalizing the election around himself, he has gotten the result you would expect. Fully 85 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Trump’s performance as president, 20 points higher than the proportion of Republicans who strongly approve of the president. That drives the Democratic vote to 87 percent with the two leading candidates, with just 2 percent voting for Trump. Republicans are not as consolidated, with 11 percent voting Democratic if Biden and 6 percent, if Warren.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the televised September Democratic debate. But she proved once again that she knows how to skewer an opponent, this time with her comment on Trump’s embarrassingly obsequious tweet that his white house is “waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Gabbard’s reply: “Trump awaits instructions from his Saudi masters. Having our country act as Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not “America First…”It’s a huge disgrace to hear our commander-in-chief basically put us in a position… where we are servants of the Saudi Kingdom,” she said.”

“It should be easy for Democrats to make sure that whenever Americans hear Trump’s name, “crook” is the first word that comes to mind,” Amanda marcotte writes in “Fighting Trump on corruption is a winning strategy — but Democrats must lean into it” at Salon.com. “But Democrats lack message discipline, so much so that they can’t even decide if this is a real impeachment inquiry or just some vague exercise in impeachment-curiosity. Meanwhile, Trump — with his stupid aptitude for blunt repetition as a rhetorical strategy — has turned “no collusion, no obstruction” into a literal catchphrase, even though there was both collusion and obstruction. Lewandowski spouted that motto like a robot on Tuesday, even though he literally testified to the obstruction under oath…Trump’s popularity is stuck around 42% in most polls, while his disapproval rarely dips below 52%. His only pathway to victory in 2020 lies in confusing voters about his corruption and likely criminality just enough so they momentarily forget how much they dislike him. Democrats can fight back, but only if they’re willing to organize around a strategy to keep Trump’s corruption front and center. So far they have failed. If they don’t catch up soon, there’s a real risk Trump wins another term — and stays away from indictment, prosecution and prison time.”

Assessing 2020 Senate Majority Targets for Dems

Charlie Cook writes in The National Journal, via The Cook Political Report, “while the odds are better that Republicans hold onto, rather than lose, the Senate, there is at least a 30 percent chance the Senate flips.” Noting that “Democrats need a three-seat gain to win a Senate majority if a Democrat wins the White House—four seats if they don’t,” Cook explains “if Trump loses, the GOP chances of retaining control drops to just 55 or 60 percent, or maybe even less.” Further,

…In this new hyper-partisan political climate, with very little ticket-splitting taking place, more people than ever before are voting straight-line Republican or Democrat. The 2016 election was the first in American history in which every single Senate race was won by the same party as that state voted for President. In fact, 88 out of 100 Senators are now from the same party as their state’s most recent presidential victor.

However, Cook asks, “do Democrats really need only three or four seats based on the presidential outcome, or do they need to gross four or five seats in order to net three or four?” The latter scenario makes sense, because:

It’s hard to see how Democratic Sen. Doug Jones wins reelection in a presidential year with presidential-level turnout, even if Republicans nominate their worst possible candidate, former judge Roy Moore. The accusations about Moore and young women were fresh at the time of the December 2017 special election, but it’s old news now and likely to have less saliency.

If Democrats need to win at least four seats, where do they get them? Most would put GOP incumbents Martha McSally in Arizona and Cory Gardner in Colorado at the top of the Democrats’ target. My guess is that both have about a 50-50 chance, at best, particularly if a Democrat is prevailing at the top of the ticket.

My National Journal colleagues Drew Gerber and Kyle Trygstad presented their latest Hotline’s Senate Power Rankings, sequencing the top 10 seats in order of vulnerability. More or less, I agree with their rankings and analysis, but where I most disagree is Maine, where Susan Collins is seeking reelection. Drew and Kyle put Maine behind North Carolina; I would put it ahead in vulnerability.

My view is that Collins’s chances put her just barely behind McSally and Gardner. Yes, Collins was last reelected with a very impressive 67 percent of the vote, normally a sign of great strength even six years later. But, consider first that the 67 percent was in 2014, a fabulous year for Republicans up and down the ballot. Second, Collins did extremely well among groups with whom she is unlikely to do even remotely as well this time, particularly given her support of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and vote for President Trump’s tax cuts.

The 2014 exit polls showed that Collins carried 37 percent of the vote among self-described liberals and 39 percent from Democrats. Anybody think she will remotely do that again? What about winning 69 percent of independents and 72 percent of moderates. This is not to predict that she will lose, just that this is likely to be an extremely difficult race and that it has a higher chance of going Democratic than several others.

Cook argues further,

After Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, Democrats are likely to need at least one more, and that would require a fairly substantial wave. Democrats need the suburbs to move in their direction, particularly among college-educated women, as strongly next November as last November. They need to pick up one or both of the Georgia seats—incumbent David Perdue and a seat expected to be vacated by Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down for health reasons—and/or beating Thom Tillis of North Carolina. That means suburban voters outside of Atlanta, Charlotte and the Research Triangle being as angry at Republicans as we saw in so many Southern Congressional races last year.

Or, they could pick up Iowa or an open seat in Kansas, but the latter is likely possible only if controversial former Secretary of State Kris Kobach wins the GOP nomination. Beyond that, beating John Cornyn in Texas and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky seem a bit too far for Democrats to win this time.

Here’s a 2020 Senate Race Ratings map from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, updated August 28th.


Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Dixie Is (Still) Done: The author revisits his 2006 argument that the Democrats should forget the South—and finds that the non-Southern strategy still holds” at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Tom Schaller doubles down on his ‘skip the South’ strategy for Democrats. Schaller writes that “Democrats in “new South” states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida with liberal “ideopolises”—as John Judis and Ruy Teixeira termed them in their book, The Emerging Democratic Majority—can cobble together winning statewide coalitions comprised of black voters, the Latino community, and white liberals clustered around major cities and university towns. Sometimes that’s enough to deliver Democratic presidential electors.” Yet, Schaller notes, “Setting aside the difference between the states Obama and Clinton won, the important and oft-ignored parallel between their two winning coalitions matters more: Both won some Southern states, yet both amassed more than 270 non-Southern electors. Dixie was vital to none of their four combined victories.” Schaller also provides data on southern office holders to support his contention.

However, Schaller explains, “Virginia excepted, the South is even more Republican than when my book first published. In the past decade, an increasingly progressive Democratic Party has proven that it could win both congressional majorities and the presidency with a non-Southern strategy. Although the party has by now likely reached its electoral rock-bottom in the former Confederacy, Democratic revival in post-Donald Trump America necessarily begins outside Dixie.” Schaller concludes, “Thirteen years after publication of Whistling Past Dixie, white Southerners’ partisan reversal continues to have vast and seismic implications for both parties, and for state and national policy. Long before Donald Trump glided down that escalator in June 2015 to announce his candidacy, the South’s partisan and policy legacy was evident for all to see. In that sense, the South continues to serve as the vanguard for the preservation of white power in the United States. Whether they whistle or shout, Democrats invested in the political-electoral potency of an inclusive coalition derived from an increasingly mixed-race American populace have little reason to invest precious resources in Dixie.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares his take on the Democratic presidential  candidate debate: “After spending the first half-hour of Thursday’s debate tearing each other apart over health care — which happens to be their party’s strongest issue — the Democratic presidential candidates realized that their opponent is President Trump and acted accordingly…As a result, despite jabs and disagreements throughout a three-hour marathon, they offered a far less divisive performance than they (and an additional 10 contenders) turned in during the first two debates…And they underscored the degree to which they broadly agree on issues ranging from gun control, climate change, immigration — and even, despite their fierce disputes on Medicare-for-all, on the need to guarantee health insurance to all Americans…It was the best debate so far, partly because the ABC News moderators did not focus quite as much as earlier questioners did on inspiring conflict…”

At Vox, Dylan Scott and Tara Golshan focus on the differences between the trade policies of the Democratic presidential candidates revealed in the Houston debate: “On Thursday, the divide was roughly exemplified by Sanders targeting Biden’s record of voting for free-trade agreements over the years in the Senate. Biden, meanwhile, sought a middle ground, dismissing concerns about a trade deficit with China while trying to focus on alleged IP abuses instead. Warren largely sidestepped the Sanders-Biden fray while signaling her intention to implement a much more muscular trade agenda than the free-trade-friendly centrist consensus of the last few decades. Meanwhile, Harris, who has occupied fourth place in the polls, cautioned that she’s not some “protectionist Democrat.” “We’ve got to sell our stuff,” she said, seemingly defending Obama’s approach to free trade…In the 2020 field, Warren and Sanders make up the vocal trade skeptics. There are the trade-friendly Democrats like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden who stake out more of a Clinton/Obama-esque free-trade position. Going into Thursday night’s debate, candidates like Harris and Buttigieg were kind of stuck in between.”

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted Sept. 6-10 finds that “Nearly 6 in 10 Americans…believe immediate action is necessary on climate change, while over two-thirds said humans are capable of taking action against it,” Zack Budryk reports at The Hill. The poll, which has a 2.2 percent margin of error, “found 56 percent of respondents in favor of immediate action, with 7 in 10 saying human activity contributes to climate change and 67 saying we can do something about it. More respondents — 48 percent — said humans can slow climate change than the 19 percent who said they can stop it entirely…Ninety-one percent of respondents acknowledged climate change is occurring. About 80 percent said they trust scientists a lot or somewhat on climate…The poll also found a partisan split on belief in the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity. A majority of self-identified Democrats agreed with the scientific consensus while a majority of Republicans said they believed there is disagreement among scientists.”

“Hispanic Democrats and independents who had lost homes or home equity were less likely to vote in 2016, compared with Hispanic Democrats and independents who did not experience such losses, according to the study, “Vanishing Wealth, Vanishing Votes? Latino Homeownership and the 2016 Election in Florida.” Hispanic Republicans, on the other hand, showed up at the polls, regardless of any lost wealth…“The housing crisis made Latino Democrats and independents stay home,” explains [the study’s author, Jacob] Rugh…The share of Hispanics who voted Republican was larger in 2016 than it had been in 2012 while the share of Hispanics who voted as Democrats or independents fell — helping shift Florida from a blue state in 2012 to a red one in 2016…“Results from 2016 and 2018 strongly suggest that a more entrenched pattern of partisanship has taken hold among Florida voters, including Latinos,” Rugh writes. “In Florida, there are relatively few Mexican origin Latinos, yet a disproportionately higher share of Puerto Ricans (more Democratic yet less active), and Cubans and South Americans (more Republican and more active). This mix of Latino nationalities, partisanship, and voter activity … informs the future of elections elsewhere because the century-long wave of Mexican immigration is over and the U.S. Latino population is becoming more native born and less Mexican with each passing year.” – from “Drop in voter turnout among Hispanic Democrats linked to home foreclosures” by Denise-Marie Ordway at Journalist’s Resource.

“Regarding presidential elections, voter turnout for the U.S. population has stayed relatively stable since 1980 (with the exception of a slightly higher turnout in 1992 and a dip in 1996 and 2000),” Rashawn Ray and Mark Whitlock write at Brookings. “While whites traditionally have the highest voter turnout relative to other racial groups, Blacks have higher voter turnout than Hispanics and Asians. In fact, Black voter turnout was within 1 percentage point of whites in 2008 (65.2% compared to 66.1%) and was actually higher than whites in 2012 (66.6% compared to 64.1%). In 2016, voter turnout for Blacks dipped to 59.6%. While that number was lower than whites (65.3%), it was still higher than Asians (49.3%) and Hispanics (47.6%)…Some city and state elections further debunk the stereotype that Blacks don’t vote. Cities electing their first Black mayors, such as Little Rock’s Frank Scott and Birmingham’s Randall Woodfin, had high voter turnouts, particularly among Blacks. In fact, Brookings’s Andre Perry reported that the high turnout of Black voters, especially Black women, in Birmingham actually propelled Doug Jones to the Senate. In the governor races in Georgia and Florida, involving candidates Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, respectively, voter turnout among Blacks was also high. Noting this in Florida is particularly relevant since an amendment restored voting rights to over 1 million state residents. Nearly one-quarter of Blacks in Florida could not vote before the November 2018 midterm elections. Research notes that incarceration for Blacks has also been used as a form of voter disenfranchisement.”

Ray and Whitlock note that “Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp put over 50,000 voter registrations on hold, 70% of which were from Black residents. (Considering that Kemp was running for governor, this seemed like a clear conflict of interest.) Regarding voter disenfranchisement, several states with large and growing Black and Hispanic populations closed polling places: Texas closed over 400 polling places, Arizona closed over 200, and the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina collectively have closed over 250 polling places. These closings are a direct result of the Supreme Court choosing not to hold the Voting Rights Act intact. The stripping of the Voting Rights Act has led to more discrimination regarding voter identification, poll closures, and gerrymandering at state and local levels.”

Writing at The Washington Monthly, Suzanne Gordon and Jasper Craven  explain how “The Trump Administration Is Sabotaging Veterans’ Access to Health Care,” and note: “The VA Mission Act is widely considered the most significant—and ideologically motivated—veterans’ law in a generation. Passed by a GOP-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, it established a sweeping new private sector healthcare program, the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) and granted the Veterans Affairs Secretary, Robert Wilkie, with wide latitude to set eligibility criteria that determines when veterans can use private-sector care…The law garnered significant support from powerful healthcare interests, and savvy conservative veterans’ groups who have a great deal of influence in Trump’s Washington. But it was also supported by traditional veterans’ service organizations and some Democrats. This is largely because it expanded services to disabled veterans, but also because the final text contained stringent requirements that veterans could only be moved into private facilities for legitimate clinical needs, or if they faced burdensome wait or drive times at their nearest VHA clinic, assuaging the concerns about VA privatization. (Care inside the VHA, while often maligned in the media, is generally cheaper and better, with shorter wait times than what’s offered in the private sector.)”

Rambling Thoughts on the Houston Debate

Most of the rave reviews of candidates in last night’s debate in Houston I’ve seen point towards Beto O’Rourke, for his impassioned advocacy of reforms to check gun violence. O’Rourke also got some welcome praise  from his fellow Democratic presidential candidates, and he came off as sincere and authentic. He may get a modest bump in the polls.

O’Rourke’s comment, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” got a huge applause, but it will be distorted by the NRA/GOP into “see, the Democrats really are going to confiscate your guns.” It also sets up a “weathervane” ad against him if he advances, contrasting his comment with his previous assurances to the contrary. That blunder notwithstanding, all in all, a good night for O’Rourke.

As a presidential candidate, however, I think O’Rourke could use some ‘seasoning.’ I would rather see him run for senate at this point. Dems need the pick-up, and a Senate term could add some cred to a future White House run.

Warren and Sanders also provided solid presentations and fielded probing questions and comments about their embrace of ‘Medicare for All’ with impressive reponses. Unfortunately, however, their Democratic opponents also make a strong argument that the public option is what most Americans want. Even though the other candidates are grossly exaggerating the real costs of Medicare for All, while neglecting the offsetting out-of-pocket savings to consumers, Sanders and Warren have a very tough sell in arguing against giving health consumers a choice. There may not be adequate time for them to educate enough voters and make the ‘sale.’

I thought Biden did well enough to remain a front-runner, though he bristled at some of the criticism directed his way, including Castro’s shots about his memory, which is understandable. My hunch is that Castro’s attack against the former Vice President won’t hurt Biden’s chances much, and might even gain him some sympathy. Biden also did very well in the foreign and trade policy part of the debate.

Castro may indeed have damaged his candidacy with his sharp-edged criticism of Biden. I do wonder how high-turnout senior voters, in particular, will react. On the other hand, Castro showed that he can bring the fight and he could no doubt give Trump a proper blistering.

Sen. Cory Booker was impressive. He seems to be gaining confidence and eloquence with each debate. If he doesn’t win the nomination, he will certainly be on the veep short list. In post-debate comments, Booker defended Julian Castro’s much-criticized attack against Biden, calling Castro’s questioning Biden’s memory a ‘legitimate concern.’ But more instrucrive was Booker’s comment that “I do think that tone and tenor is really important. We can respect [Vice] President Biden and disagree with him.… We shouldn’t do things that at the end of this, when you demonize somebody and create bad blood, it’s hard to unify afterwards.”

Sen. Klobuchar provided a reassuring voice in behalf of Democratic moderates. More than any of the other candidates, she has staked out the political center of the Democratic spectrum. Like Harris, she has a gift for zingers, but bringing a little more vision might serve her well. Even if she doesn’t win, I could see her as a bad-ass Attorney-general.

I thought Sen. Harris made a good comeback in Houston. She may be the most agile debater of the candidates and she has a nimble wit that comes in handy in heated exchanges. She finessed the transition from Medicare for All supporter to public option advocate effectively. Like Warren, she has a talent for distilling the crux of an issue. She is also pretty good at the ‘vision thing.’ I hope she stays in the mix.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg also earned a repeat performance in my view. It wasn’t his best debate, but he continues to bring perceptive observations, including his criticisms of the Democratic debate process, as well as attacks against Trump and the GOP. All Democratic candidates could learn something about how to tell their personal stories from Buttigieg’s remarks in Houston.

If I could cut one candidate from the next presidential debate, it would have to be Andrew Yang, who reportedly supports keeping the Electoral College and has expressed doubts about a federal minimum wage hike. I didn’t much care for his gimmicky and possibly illegal offer: “My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families.” Gross.

Political Strategy Notes

Matthew Yglesias brings the a central argument about Democratic strategy up to date in his post, “The debate over swing voters versus mobilizing the base, explained” at Vox. Yglesias writes, “Tory Gavito and Sean McElwee warned in a spring GQ article that “in chasing a narrow swath of white swing voters, [Democratic Party] leadership has ignored a broader coalition of voters who have delivered blue victories time and time again.”…John Long in the New Republic, similarly, describes swing voters as “a persona from a political landscape that simply no longer exists.” Instead of chasing these mythical beasts, he says, Democrats should see that “mobilizing more Democratic voters is the key to the 2020 election.”…Absolutely nothing about this argument is new…The truth, however, is while mobilization is unquestionably important to winning elections, so is flipping swing voters. Activists who want to push Democrats to the left while still winning can do so by identifying popular progressive ideas to run on. But the notion that there’s some mobilization strategy that will eliminate the need to cater to the median voter is a fantasy.”

Yglesias continues, noting that “Harry Enten writes for FiveThirtyEightthat “Trump probably would have lost to Hillary Clinton had Republican- and Democratic-leaning registered voters cast ballots at equal rates.”…Nate Cohn at the New York Times offered the superficially opposite thesis that “turnout wasn’t the driver of Clinton’s defeat.” He points, instead, to white voters who went for Trump after having voted for Barack Obama four years earlier…Enten and Cohn are working with the same numbers. The real debate is what the implications are for 2020…The notion that swing voters — voters who back one part in some elections and the other party in others — are mythical is itself a myth…Yair Ghitza of the Democratic data firm Catalist estimates that while Democrats did make significant turnout-related gains in 2018, about 89 percent of their improvement vote margin is attributable to swing voting.”

“Of course, Yglesias adds, “when it comes to certain kinds of resource allocation questions — where do you run ads, whose doors do you knock on, whose social media feeds do you target — there is a zero-sum tradeoff between trying to mobilize non-voters and trying to persuade swing voters. Any prudent campaign would want to do some of both, but decisions need to be made at the margin about where to spend money…One reason that taking popular positions is smart politics is that it works as a mobilization strategy as well as a persuasion one…Politics matters because policy matters, and a political party that never takes a righteous stand on anything is worth very much. But while centrist types can be wrong about which kinds of policy stances will be popular, there’s fairly overwhelming evidence that popular stands are better than unpopular ones — both because swing voters matter but also because taking popular positions is better from a strict mobilization standpoint.”

David Wasserman shares “Five Takeaways from Republicans’ Narrow NC-09 Escape” at The Cook Political Report, including this one, which shows how a “wild card” factor can make a defference in a  congressional race: “4. The key to Bishop’s victory may have been a local Native American tribe. One of the most economically distressed places in North Carolina is Robeson County, home to the Lumbee Tribe and a sixth of NC-09’s population. By party registration, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a massive 60 percent to 13 percent. But in 2016, Trump’s appeal to “forgotten” America helped him carry the county by four points…In 2018, Robeson County reverted to form, voting for McCready by a healthy 15 points. According to one local source, McCready benefited from a Lumbee Democrat running for state House on the same ballot last fall. But on Tuesday, McCready won Robeson County by just one point, potentially costing him victory. An analysis by J. Miles Coleman showed the biggest swing occurred in heavily Lumbee precincts…So how did Bishop, whose state Charlotte area senate district is nowhere near Robeson County, do so well there? It turns out that in March, when Bishop was just launching his bid for the do-over congressional election, he sponsored a bill to open more grant opportunities for the Lumbees by clarifying state recognition of the tribe. Bishop’s picture appeared in the Robesonian, and it likely paid off on Tuesday.”

One final point about the NC-9 congressional seat from this reminder by John Nichols in his article, “We Can Have Free, Fair, and Secure Elections—if We Demand Them” at The Nation: “If Republican operatives had not cheated last year, it’s likely that Don McCready would be sitting in the US House today as the Democratic representative from North Carolina’s 9th congressional district. Their cheating was exposed and it forced a new election, which was good. But that new election, which was held yesterday, in the gerrymandered district saw massive spending by Republican-aligned groups, a presidential visit on the eve of the vote, and, ultimately, a narrow defeat for McCready in the last contest of the 2018 election cycle.” Nichols goes on to argue for electoral reforms being advocated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and writes, “after the mangled mess we’ve seen play out in North Carolina…It is time to make high-quality voting in the greatest democracy in the world easy, convenient, and professional. It’s time to secure our elections from all threats, foreign and domestic. It’s time to address election security, administration problems, and voter suppression.”

Charlie Cook offers some answers to the question, “Just Who Are These Undecided Voters, Anyway?,” also at The Cook Political Report: Commenting on Kaiser Family Foundation May 30-June 4 and July 18-23 national health tracking polls, Cook writes, “Swing voters tend to be younger, more moderate, and less engaged in politics compared to those who have decided and to the overall electorate. While 72 percent of voters who are 65 years of age or older have decided for sure, just 47 percent of 18-29-year-olds have decided…Ideologically speaking, 56 percent of all swing voters identify themselves as moderates, compared to 38 percent of all voters. Just 16 percent of swing voters called themselves liberal, while 26 percent self-identified as conservative. Eleven percent of all voters are “pure independents”—that is, they don’t identify with or even lean toward either major party—but 18 percent of swing voters are pure independents…When asked, “How much attention do you normally pay to what is going on in national government and politics?” 57 percent of voters and 68 percent of decided voters said they pay a lot of attention, but only 39 percent of swing voters said so. Twice as many swing voters said they pay only a little attention or none at all—17 percent, compared with just 8 percent of those who are decided.”

Could targeted digital Content Persuade Trump Voters to Jump Ship?,” asks Colin Delaney at Campaigns & Elections. Delaney’s responds, “Trump’s team mastered the art of social-media ad outreach on a vast scale in 2016, often reaching small segments of the electorate with messages designed to appeal just to them…This time around, Trump’s reelection campaign has spent at least $5 million on Facebook just since the beginning of June, buying ads designed to rile up his base and build his grassroots donor list…The thought that Trump’s paid messaging might go unanswered for an entire year has driven Democratic organizations including Priorities USA and American Bridge to launch the kind of large-scale, multi-state digital advertising campaigns we usually expect from political parties and presidential campaigns. Priorities plans to spend $100 million between now and next summer, with American Bridge chipping in another $50 million…if an Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden locks it all up early, the campaign will have the time to indulge in persuasion ads designed to dampen Trump’s support on his own ground…If Democrats really want to make serious inroads in Trump country, though, they’re looking at a battle that would last for years, not just a few months before an election. Whether the party or any PAC  could take on a task of that magnitude is an open question, but it’s one that Democratic activists should be asking.”

In his NYT column, “No One Should Take Black Voters for Granted,” Thomas B. Edsall notes that “The African-American electorate has been undergoing a quiet, long-term transformation, moving from the left toward the center on several social and cultural issues, while remaining decisively liberal, even radical, on economic issues, according to a series of studies by prominent African-American scholars…“There has been a shift in the attitudes of black masses about the extent to which systematic discrimination and prejudice are the primary reasons blacks continue to lag behind whites,” Candis Watts Smith, a political scientist at Penn State, wrote in a paper published in the Journal of Black Studies in 2014, “Shifting From Structural to Individual Attributions of Black Disadvantage: Age, Period and Cohort Effects on Black Explanations of Racial Disparities.”…Now, on some of the most controversial issues currently under debate, African-Americans — who make up an estimated 25 percent of Democratic primary voters — have emerged as a force for more moderate stands as white Democrats have moved sharply left.”…While less committed to many of the broad social and cultural issues important to white liberals, black Democrats remain more committed than their white counterparts to progressive stands on economic issues of the type that characterized the New Deal coalition of the last century that also established the Great Society programs of the 1960s like Medicare and Medicaid.”

Edsall concludes, “At the same time, the contemporary multiracial, multiethnic Democratic Party needs more than vigorous black mobilization; it also needs high turnout from constituencies with conflicting agendas — radical and progressive millennials, the “creative class,” suburban women, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Muslims and those working and middle class whites who still count themselves Democrats…To deal with all this, Democrats will need an overarching message broad enough to bring together its entire coalition in a political uprising against Trump’s presidency at the same time that it will need to rely on the tools of narrowcasting: hyperpersonalization of campaign messages, segmented appeals to dedicated niches, slipping voters into discrete “bubbles.” They will need a firm grasp of America’s disparate, conflicted and warring center-left alliance. Without an ingenious campaign, even widespread hatred of Trump will not be sufficient to dislodge him from the White House.”