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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Limitations of the ‘Popularism’ Debate

At The Washington Monthly David Atkins explains why “Arguing About Popularism Is a Dead End. Fix American Democracy Instead: Why governing by polls cannot save the Democrats or the country” :

The hottest conversation in influential liberal punditry these days is about “popularism.” The basic idea is that Democrats should use survey data to find out what ideas and policies are most popular, then promote those ideas and policies while forcefully marginalizing unpopular ones. Adherents of this strategy believe that, because of the structural disadvantages Democrats face in gerrymandered legislatures, the Senate, and the Electoral College, it is necessary for the party to minimize messages that offend the largely rural and exurban white working-class voters who are overrepresented by these structures, as well as voters of color who bend more conservative.

Popularism says, in short, that Democrats should sideline activists pushing for more radical social change and prioritize the average voter in a Montana general election for Senate.

There are many reasons why this approach, currently in vogue in powerful liberal circles and even in the White House, is likely misguided. First, quantitative policy surveys are a terrible methodology to gauge what really motivates voters. Second, Republicans seem to have no trouble winning elections—even occasionally in blue areas—despite pushing for a host of deeply unpopular policies. Third, it’s impossible and unwise to tell unelected activists that they have to stop pushing for social changes unpopular with the broader electorate, much less the median rural, conservative, older white voter. Fourth, it’s not at all clear that if Democrats were to de-emphasize, say, police reform or climate change or antiracism that it would bring back any low-trust voters lost to Trumpism or Q-adjacent conspiracy theories. Finally, it’s likely that any potential voters won over by minimizing liberal priorities would crush the mobilization of progressives and younger voters who already feel desperate and marginalized by a climate-ravaged future and exorbitant housing, health care, and education costs.

But the real problem of our politics doesn’t come from the activists, or the legislators, or the strategists. It comes from the broken and anti-majoritarian structures of American democracy. Both the popularists and the anti-popularists are trapped in a cage bounded by an unrepresentative Senate, a gerrymandered House, and an increasingly unstable Electoral College. Both sides are fighting one another when they should be focused on how to escape the cage entirely.

Among Atkins’ strategic alternatives, “It may be time, then, to consider even more radical approaches to the problem. Blue counties already account for 70 percent of U.S. GDP, and that figure is growing. Might there be ways to leverage corporate and economic power to ensure that the areas on which the American economy depends receive the equal per capita representation they deserve? If it is impossible to alter the composition of the states in the Senate, might it be worth figuring out mechanisms to encourage more liberal voters to move to small red states?…Radical, wacky, and desperate as these ideas might seem, they are probably more productive conversations than endlessly arguing over the strategic value of popularism.”

Teixeira: ‘It’s the Working-Class, Stupid’

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Forward to the Working Class, Comrades!

I believe I’ve made this point before.

But it is good to see it underscored by a big data dump and analysis from Democracy Crops, Equis Strategies and HIT Strategies. I’m not crazy about all the data presented here and not sure the approach they recommend to the working class will be quite as efficacious as they think. But at least they asking the right question and have answers that are at least somewhat plausible.

“Policies that make families materially better off and tip balance of power to working people are the pathway to electoral success.

A sweeping nationwide study of working class voters shows Democrats can gain at the ballot box by emphasizing popular economic policies that help families thrive and make big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes….

One of the most important findings was the discovery that the Democrats’ diverse base and persuadable working class voters have similar priorities for government. A key driver is the popularity of the new expanded Child Tax Credit that is very important to parents and white working class voters under 50 years of age.

Communities remain worried about crime and support messages that favor funding and respecting the police, while also ensuring abusive officers will be held accountable for their actions.

These shared priorities come from recognizing the Democrats’ base is overwhelmingly working class. Fully 70 percent of Black voters in HIT’s battleground survey did not have a four-year degree; even more, 75 percent in EquisLabs’ battleground states. Two-thirds of millennials/Gen Z, 69 percent of unmarried women and 57 percent of white unmarried women also lack a four-year degree.

Stanley Greenberg, founder of Democracy Corps with James Carville, said, “I guess, it’s the working class, stupid! “

May I recommend here my recent piece on The Power of the Working Class Vote? Reading it in conjunction with these new data may be enlightening.

“Nationally and in every state the working class vote is far larger than the college-educated vote. Because of this, if education polarization increases in the manner it has recently, with the college-educated moving toward the Democrats while the working class becomes more Republican, equal-sized shifts favor the GOP. For example, looking first at the national distribution, since the working class share of voters is 70 percent larger than the college-educated share (63 percent noncollege/37 percent college, according to 2020 Catalist data), if a one point increase in Democratic support among college voters is counter-balanced by a one point shift in support against the Democrats among the working class, the net effect would be to reduce the Democratic margin in the popular vote by half a point. If there were 5 point shifts for and against the Democrats in these two education groups, the Democratic margin would shrink by 2.5 points; if 10 point shifts for and against, the result would be a 5 point shrinkage.

This is the national situation. But the power of the working class vote is just as strong in most swing states. According to AP/VORC VoteCast data (Catalist data not yet available on the state level), the working class/college disproportion is even higher than the national average in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This is perhaps as one might expect.

But consider a state like Arizona. We are used to thinking of it in terms of its increasing race-ethnic diversity, which is helping drive political change in the state. But that trend obscures another fact: it’s still a heavily working class state, significantly above the national average. That means that shifts among working class voters in Arizona are potentially even more powerful than those described for the nation as a whole.”

Brownstein: Midterms Will Likely Turn on How Voters Perceive the ‘Here and Now’ – a Year from Now

Some sobering insights from Ronald Brownstein’s latest article in The Atlantic:

Democrats must “recognize that the potential upside of [their economic] bills [is] limited for next year, regardless of how virtuous they are in the policy,” says Simon Rosenberg, the president of NDN, a Democratic research and advocacy group. “Joe Biden was elected to do one thing, which was to defeat COVID. And when he was defeating it, his numbers went way up, and when COVID started defeating him, his numbers went way down. The key to him getting his numbers going back up is he has to defeat COVID and get credit for it. This has to be the central governing and political priority for the Biden administration.”

Sarah Longwell, the founder of the Republican Accountability Project, an organization of Republicans critical of former President Donald Trump, likewise says that in recent focus groups she’s conducted in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, few voters were following the legislative maneuvering over the Democrats’ huge agenda. “The thing that people care about right now is getting COVID under control, and all of the attending economic consequences relating to COVID,” Longwell told me. Not all analysts agree that the Democrats’ legislative agenda is unlikely to affect the midterms. Many campaign aides and operatives at the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees are eagerly anticipating that if the party reaches agreement on its big economic proposals, candidates next year can run on the trinity of creating jobs (through the infrastructure bill), bolstering families (mostly by extending the Child Tax Credit) and reducing health-care costs (through increasing federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and authorizing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices). They are especially keen to highlight the lockstep Republican opposition to all of those measures.

The Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who was one of Biden’s lead polling advisers during the 2020 campaign, told me that many voters will view passing legislation that helps stabilize family budgets as an integral part of an effective COVID response. “I don’t think it’s a dichotomy,” she said. “We have got to deliver something to working- and middle-class families.” The emergence of the Delta variant, Lake said, surprised and dismayed many Americans who thought the country was on a steady path to recovery—one focus-group participant called it “a kick in the gut”—and now they worry that more unpleasant surprises will threaten their family’s health and finances. “For women in particular, we have to deliver something to their family, to their kitchen tables,” she said.

Brownstein adds that “the clearest rule might be that midterm elections turn less on assessments of legislation that may eventually affect people’s lives than on verdicts about the country’s condition in the here and now….An old political adage holds that presidential elections are always about the future; midterms seem to be more about today. As Bolger put it to me, voters “step outside and feel how the weather is, and if I feel uncomfortable with it, I take it out on the incumbent party.”

Shor’s ‘Popularism’ a Better Strategy for Midterms

A prescriptive nugget from Peter Grier’s “Why Democrats may be facing a generation in the wilderness” at The Christian Science Monitor:

The discussion about the Democratic Party’s future has been simmering for some time, but hit a boil last week when New York Times writer Ezra Klein published a lengthy interview with David Shor, a Democratic data expert whose electoral outlook for the party is particularly gloomy.

The bad news for Democrats is rooted in structural imbalance, in Mr. Shor’s view. The Senate privileges rural states – Wyoming has as much power in the chamber as California. The GOP created some Western states in the late 1800s, such as North and South Dakota and Montana, in part to provide reliable party votes, which they still do.

Overlaid on that today is a Democratic coalition that’s increasingly diverse and urban. In recent years, college-educated voters have moved toward Democrats, and non-college-educated voters – both white as well as some Black and Hispanic – have become increasingly Republican. The Trump era accelerated that movement, locking in the GOP’s ability to win national power with a minority of votes.

To break this cycle, Democrats need to win back states that lean Republican, according to Mr. Shor. But at its top levels, the party is dominated by a cosmopolitan, progressive elite that doesn’t understand rural and working-class voters.

Mr. Shor’s answer to this is something that, for lack of a better word, pundits call “popularism”: Find out what residents of GOP-leaning states want, and then talk mostly about those things. More “Add dental coverage to Medicare,” Less “Defund the police.”

Democrats have to correct the ‘structural imbalance’ the GOP enjoys before they can realistically fight for more controversial reforms – even if it takes a couple election cycles.

Teixeira: Demonizing Moderates Is a Really, Really Bad Idea

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

One more for the “what country do progressives think they’re living in?” file. Anne Kim at the Washington Monthly has the sad tale.

“As one of just seven Democrats from House districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, veteran Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin is exactly the sort of candidate Democrats need to keep their majority in next year’s midterms. A former college football star and an avid hunter, Kind is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a longtime chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, and a vocal champion of the dairy farmers in the sprawling, mostly rural district in western Wisconsin he represents.

But after 13 terms in Congress, Kind has called it quits. “Truth is, I’ve run out of gas,” the 58-year-old said when he announced his retirement earlier this summer. He described himself as someone who “tried to be reasonable, pragmatic, thoughtful” and “worked hard to try to find common ground with my colleagues.”

Kind also called himself a “dying breed in public service,” which could not be more apt.

The moderate Democrat’s likely successor is Trump-endorsed Republican Derrick Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL and café owner who challenged Kind in 2020 and lost by only about 10,000 votes….
Wisconsin’s Third District has grown more conservative. While its voters supported Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama, Trump has not only won it twice but also increased his margin in 2020. As a result, Van Orden will likely join a growing caucus of Trump loyalists in the House that includes Marjorie Taylor Greene (of Jewish space laser fame), Nazi-curious Madison Cawthorn, and gun-toting COVID denier Lauren Boebert. It’s hard to believe that Van Orden could occupy the seat once held by Republican Steve Gunderson, Kind’s predecessor, one of Congress’s first openly gay members, who was known for his bipartisanship.

The departure of a moderate like Kind might be cheered by some progressives. No doubt they’ve been frustrated, often with good cause, by moderates like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. “Manchema” have not only insisted on slashing President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion spending package, they’ve also been coy about their bottom line and demanded deal killers like the Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortion (Manchin) and no hikes in corporate income tax rates (Sinema).

Nevertheless, Kind’s retirement should be alarming to all Democrats, especially since he’s not the only swing-district Democrat bolting. In addition to Kind, the moderate Democrats heading for the hills in 2022 so far include Illinois’s Cheri Bustos, Texas’s Filemon Vila, and Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick. More are likely to come. Their departures show how miserable life has become for Democratic moderates—not just for the coy sorts like Sinema, but for head-down-sleeves-up sorts like Kind. They’re walking away from tough districts, expensive primaries from fellow Democrats, and a Republican Party that often seems to have purged its sane members. The result, however, is a Democratic majority at risk….

Democrats need to keep in mind that the stakes in 2022 are much bigger than the policy debates now dividing them, and that the preservation of the caucus should be their highest priority. Rather than vilifying the party’s moderates, Democrats should be working to grow their ranks.”

This seems stunningly obvious to me. But it does seem to have escaped the notice of many progressives, including politicians who represent +30 Democratic lean districts. Funny thing about that.

How Can Biden Restore His MoJo?

From “Biden’s approval rating has fallen. Pollsters say there’s one way to bounce back. Voters are looking for a return on what they were promised,” said Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster who co-conducts the NBC News poll” by Sahil Kapur at NBC News:

The honeymoon is over. And the fading Republican support was inevitable. But Democrats are alarmed by President Joe Biden‘s decline in job approval among groups central to his base — most notably Black voters, Hispanics and women.

Despite the slip in his job approval, Biden’s economic agendaremains popular in the same polls, which find that voters support his plans to overhaul U.S. infrastructure, expand Medicare, fund universal pre-K and put money into clean energy.

But the bills have been caught up in a complex legislative logjam for months. Since late June, Biden’s approval rating has fallen from 52.7 percent to 44.5 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average, with disapproval outstripping approval since the end of August.

Democratic pollsters say Biden needs Congress to pass his agenda for his approval to recover.

“Voters are looking for a return on what they were promised,” said Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster who co-conducts the NBC News poll….The good news for Democrats is that there’s time. But you need to have some wins.”

Kapur shares data from the Pew Research poll cited in TDS yesterday and adds, “But the same poll found 2-to-1 national support for the two pillars of Biden’s agenda: the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion package of economic and social programs.” Further,

Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster to co-conducts the NBC News poll, said Biden is stuck in a “negative loop” of setbacks and bad stories about them, from the Afghanistan withdrawal to missed deadlines on Capitol Hill to Democratic infighting over his domestic agenda….McInturff said passing the two bills would brighten the outlook for Biden, particularly with his base.

….Cornell Belcher, a pollster who worked for former President Barack Obama, said Biden has been through “a tumultuous period,” and he questioned whether passing his economic proposals would be enough to win back lost Democratic support.

….”Democrats are trying to put points up on a board passing legislation like Build Back Better and infrastructure, which are solid and popular pieces of legislation,” Belcher said. “But those kids and those young people, those progressives who gave Democrats a majority and gave Joe Biden a majority in this country — they were not marching for potholes.”….”In a nutshell, if Democrats are not giving their base something to be energized so we can mobilize and energize them around, we’re going to have 2010 and 2014 again,” he said.

Kapur concludes, “Horwitt took a more optimistic view, arguing that Biden is facing “a low point” in the polls and will bounce back as long as he gets his economic agenda passed….”If these bills fail, that’s a huge problem,” he said. “If you can’t pass these bills and demonstrate that you can deliver, then the rationale for voting Democrat is really called into question.”

So now there is sustantial agreement among pollsters and pundits about what Biden should do to get his groove back. A little guidance about how to do it would be even more welcome.

Teixeira: Hispanic Biden Job Approval Watch

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

As a sort of sequel to yesterday’s post on Democrats’ Hispanic voters problem, here are Biden job approval numbers among Hispanics in the latest Quinnipiac poll.

Overall job approval: 42 percent approve/51 percent disapprove
Coronavirus job approval: 48/50
Economy job approval: 39/54
Foreign policy job approval: 33/62
Taxes job approval: 28/64
Immigration job approval: 23/69
Situation at the Mexican border job approval: 24/68
Commander in chief job approval: 35/58

Addendum: Figures on Texas Hispanics from the latest Dallas Morning News poll

Overall job approval: 35/54
Immigration at Mexican border: 29/47

Note: this poll gives respondents a “neither” option.

Even making allowances for the Q poll running low on job approval relative to other recent polls, these are still pretty disturbing figures.

Political Strategy Notes

At Newsweek, Alexandra Hutzler reports that “Bookmakers currently have Republicans defeating Democrats to win control of Congress next year….The Republican Party is the favorite to take majority control of the Senate following the 2022 midterms, with their odds of winning the chamber at 5/6 (54 percent), according to betting aggregator US-Bookies….The GOP’s odds of capturing the House stand at 2/5, or 71.4 percent….The Democratic Party‘s odds of holding control of the Senate are 21/10, or roughly 32 percent. The party’s odds for keeping their majority in the House are slightly higher at 2/1, or 33 percent, according to the site….”While the odds favor Republicans winning control of Congress come midterms, their odds [to] take the House are stronger than the Senate,” a US-Bookies spokesperson said in a news release….Plus, for Democrats the 2022 map has dwindled following the redistricting process. Axios reported last month that Democrats have cut their list of Republican House seats to target from 39 to 21.” Lest we get too Chicken Little about the midterms, Hutzler also notes, “But polling has shown the competition to be close. FiveThirtyEight’s generic congressional ballot shows Democrats and Republicans less than 3 percentage points apart when voters are asked which party they will support in next year’s elections.” Hutzler adds that “Political betting is illegal in the United States but is popular in Europe and other areas abroad.”

“Biden’s approval rating has failed to improve even as Afghanistan has faded from the headlines,” Nate Silver writes at FiveThirtyeight. “According to closed-captioning data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive, from Aug. 12 through Sept. 1, the three major cable-news networks (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) mentioned Afghanistan in an average of 1,320 15-second clips per day. From Sept. 2 through Sept. 30, however, they mentioned the country in an average of only 403 clips per day. (This is, however, still more often than Afghanistan was in the news before the Taliban’s takeover. From Aug. 1 through Aug. 11, the three networks mentioned Afghanistan in an average of just 56 clips per day.)….This is consistent with the argument that the decline in Biden’s approval rating was never just about Afghanistan. The timing of it suggested it was also driven by the resurgent pandemic, dissatisfaction with the economy, or even natural post-honeymoon reversion to a mean that is more realistic in these polarized times. In other words, a myriad of factors….Of course, case counts remain quite high in absolute terms (higher than at any point in the pandemic other than last winter), so Americans may not quite be in a mood to give Biden credit just yet. It doesn’t mean, however, that Biden won’t receive a political boost if and when the pandemic truly ends….Other news developments could help or hurt Biden politically as well, such as whether Democrats in Congress pass their infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills or if the government defaults on its debt. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens to Biden’s approval rating going forward — which will be important for, among other reasons, assessing how big of a shellacking Democrats will receive in the 2022 midterm elections (or if they will receive one at all).”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall probes the authoritarian politics of ‘true believers,’ and notes that “David C. Barker, Morgan Marietta and Ryan DeTamble, all political scientists, argue in “Intellectualism, Anti-Intellectualism, and Epistemic Hubris in Red and Blue America” that epistemic hubris — the expression of unwarranted factual certitude — is “prevalent, bipartisan and associated with both intellectualism (an identity marked by ruminative habits and learning for its own sake) and anti-intellectualism (negative affect toward intellectuals and the intellectual establishment).” Edsall quotes barker in a follow up interview: “The populist right hates the intellectual left because they hate being condescended to, they hate what they perceive as their hypersensitivity and they hate what they view as an anti-American level of femininity (which is for whatever reason associated with intellectualism)….the intellectual left really does see the G.O.P. as a bunch of deplorable rubes. They absolutely feel superior to them, and they reveal it constantly on Twitter and elsewhere — further riling up the “deplorables.”….The populist/anti-intellectual right absolutely believe that the intellectuals are not only out of touch but are also ungodly and sneaky and therefore think they must be stopped before they ruin America. Meanwhile, the intellectual left really do believe the Trumpers are racist, sexist, homophobic (and so on) authoritarians who can’t spell and are going to destroy the country if they are not stopped.”

Campaigns & Elections has a post on “Finding TV Ad Efficiencies In the Midterm Year,” which adds some insight into the relative efficiency of the ad campaigns that elected Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Osoff to the U.S. Senate in January, and Dems can hope will bode well for Warnock’s re-election next year: “Midterm ad spending next year is projected  to top $9 billion, which will exacerbate the issue of clutter that political media buyers are already struggling with….In fact, maneuvering through the ad saturation of voters’ screens may be a greater challenge for the Republican side, which hasn’t been as effective as Democrats in channeling donor money to candidates who get the lowest unit rate when buying TV time, according to Adam Wise, VP of client strategy at National Media….He pointed to the Georgia Senate runoff where $520 million was spent in a 45-day  period from Election Day 2020 to Jan. 5….“Republicans held a significant linear spend advantage, but candidate dollars, when you go back and look at purchasing power parity, [Democrats] actually outspent Republicans by $45 million because their dollars went 4.4 times further and 75 percent of their spend was with Warnock and Ossoff,” Wise said Sept. 9 at C&E’s Reed Awards Conference in DC…..“Really that’s going to be a big challenge for the Republicans going into next cycle. [Last cycle] on the Senate map, we were outspent by an effective dollar amount of $298 million dollars, he added. “How we can get that money to candidates and how candidates can function smarter and bigger is going to be a really big challenge for the party.”….Getting the money into candidates’ hands is one thing, spending it efficiently is another.”

How Dems Can Still Win ‘Historic Reforms,’ Despite ‘Hard Choices’

Fom “Biden and the Democrats Need to Make Hard Spending Choices: Historic reforms are possible if the Party can agree on its priorities” by John Cassidy at The New Yorker:

“The first decision facing the White House now is a strategic one. Should it try and squeeze as many programs as it can into a smaller reconciliation bill, using delayed implementation dates, early sunsets, and other accounting ploys to hold down the over-all price tag? (During the Administrations of George W. Bush and Donald Trump, Republicans successfully employed similar tactics to pass hefty tax cuts that primarily benefitted large corporations and the rich.) Or should Biden try to focus the bill on a handful of his top priorities, insuring that these programs get adequately funded for longer, an approach that would make it harder for Republicans to roll them back in a future Congress? The first option may well be the easiest to sell to individual Democrats on the Hill, who each have their own priorities, and it appears to be the favored option of some prominent progressives. The second option, by providing more clarity to voters, could conceivably work out better for Biden and the Party as a whole going into the 2022 midterms and the 2024 Presidential election, and it could also make it more likely that the policy changes stick.

“I think some of my fellow progressives who want to do everything for a few years are making a big mistake,” Robert Greenstein, a veteran budget analyst who has worked with Democrats and is now at the Brookings Institution, told me on Monday. “The idea that all this stuff will be so popular that the Republicans will roll over and extend everything is extremely naïve—and dangerous. Trying to do everything for a short time is a recipe for ending up with little that is enduring over the long term.”

Cassidy urges Biden and Democrats to focus on thr Child Tax Credit, “paid medical and family leave for all American workers, affordable child care, and universal preschool for all three-year-old and four-year-old children,” pared-down ‘green proposals,” community college support, expanding Medicaid and “shaming Manchin and Sinema into supporting a long-overdue measure to allow Medicare to negotiate the prices that it pays for prescription drugs.”

Acknowledging that “There are other ways to do the math and split the pot, of course,” Cassidy argues, “But, if the White House is now fully committed to a much smaller total spending cap, choices have to be made. By centering the reconciliation bill on five or six key elements of the original Build Back Better Plan, Biden could argue to voters that he was fulfilling his electoral promises. To progressives, he could say that, despite the lower cap, he was still making some transformative reforms.”

Teixeira: What Country Does the Left Think It’s Living In?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

The Congressional left probably feels pretty good after their apparent victory, with Biden’s backing, in delaying the infrastructure bill vote until there’s…..well, something on the reconciliation bill. Of course, this whole process increases the likelihood Democrats manage to do nothing at all in the end. Moreover, it’s been blindingly clear for some time that Democrats will not be able to forge agreement on the full $3.5 trillion Building Back Better bill. It will have to be cut down considerably–Manchin’s at $1.5 trillion and Biden has floated $2.3 trillion–and this delay changes that not at all. Indeed, it is not clear that the entire refuse to vote on the infrastructure bill ploy has really accomplished much other than to delay the necessary and inevitable work to cut down and compromise on a smaller reconciliation bill. What’s to stay and what’s to go–what are the core commitments to be put into the bill and communicated to the public?

Perhaps the left wishes to avoid these questions because they misunderstand the country they live in and the actually existing political situation. They think they’re on the verge of Something Big. In reality Democrats are in a very tenuous situation and cannot accomplish what they want in just this Congress given the scale of the problems to be solved and the thinness of their margins. It will take years and more electoral success over larger areas of the country. That’s the long game they should be playing instead of pretending that the only obstacle to the maximum left program is the unaccountable failure of politicians to be bold enough.

David Von Drehle has it right:

“The left lost ground among Latino voters [in 2020] — the fastest-growing slice of the electorate. Sanders and Warren failed to connect with key Black communities in the Democratic Party’s stalwart base. Republicans strengthened their hold on state government, now controlling 30 state legislatures and 27 governorships. This edge can be felt in today’s redistricting battles, which will shape the next 10 years.

With so much handwriting on the wall, progressives have dug in their heels for maximum spending. They professed shock when news broke that Manchin wanted to cap the reconciliation bill at $1.5 trillion, an amount that Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) dismissed as “crumbs.” Deep down, Bush and others on the left may know that an awful lot of voters think $1.5 trillion is more than crumbs.

In hopes of moving President Biden in their direction — though, honestly, no one has any idea where Biden might be, on spending or any number of other issues — progressives have been cooing to him about the New Deal. Biden’s legacy, they purr, could be the greatest since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s.

But Roosevelt did not become the most successful Democratic politician of modern times by holding popular bills hostage to unpopular ones. Today’s progressives misunderstand FDR and his New Deal, and they would have a more promising future if they were to study the example more closely.

Some of the most ambitious progressive legislation of the New Deal — for example, Social Security and the pro-union Wagner Act — did not pass Congress in 1933, immediately after Roosevelt won his first presidential election. These laws passed two years later, after Democrats picked up seats in the midterm election. FDR allowed the public to deliver its verdict on his governing approach. Only then, after voters approved what they had seen so far, did Roosevelt give them more.

If progressives truly want to expand on FDR’s legacy, they will follow in his footsteps. They will take the mountain of money that Manchin is offering to support, add the long-promised infrastructure bill (giving Biden that rarest of talking points, a bipartisan win), stack the cash atop the $1.9 trillion in pandemic relief from last winter and get busy showing what they can deliver if given a chance.

Voters will reward them at the next election if their plans work as well as they say. Instead of finding themselves on the downslope of power, they’ll be strengthened to climb some more.”