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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Why Dems Need More Moderate Senators

Chris Cillizza writes at CNN Politics:

“On Thursday afternoon, barraged by reporters asking about criticism from the  left for his opposition to a $3.5 trillion budget package, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin offered progressives some advice:

If they want a bigger, more costly bill, they should “elect more liberals.”
Which is a good line! But Manchin misses the mark when it comes to the modern Senate, which has grown far more partisan and watched its moderate center erode away.
While the polarization has been asymmetric — Republicans in the Senate (and even more so in the House) have grown more conservative than Democrats have grown liberal — the results are the same: The ideological middle is no more.
According to GovTrack’s ideology ratings, there are only two sitting Democratic senators — Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — who rank more conservatively than the least conservative Republican. The middle is slightly more robust on the Republican side, with six GOP senators ranking more liberally than the least liberal Democrat.”
Cilliza concludes, “The issue is that there are so few moderates — especially on the Democratic side — that when the margin between the parties is narrow (as it is now), a single senator, like Manchin, has almost total power.”

In his article, “A big problem for Democrats is they need more Joe Manchins, not fewer,” at The Washington Post, Philip Bump agrees, and writes, “There is no scenario under which the Democrats should have a senator in West Virginia, but they do. It is mostly rural and heavily White in a way that has proved disadvantageous elsewhere. And, in fact, he’s a reminder that the party needs to figure out a way to get more senators like him, a way to win places that are more rural and more White, or risk permanent disadvantages in both the Senate and the electoral college….it’s hard to imagine a Democrat who could replace Manchin in West Virginia, particularly one who would vote any more to his left. It’s similarly tricky to figure out how the party holds seats in other heavily rural places with Democratic senators, like Montana, or gains seats in deep-red ones.”

Railing against Manchin doesn’t do liberal Democrats much good. If he wasn’t there, Mitch McConnell would be running the senate and no good legislation would pass. Moreover, if Democrats had a few more moderate senators, Manchin’s power would be diluted by more of a consensus of moderate and liberal Democrats. Democrats have to work with what they have, or heed Manchin’s advice to ‘elect more liberals,” a worthy, but tough challenge for 2022.

Behind the ‘Dems in Disarray’ Myth

Nathaniel Rakich shares some thoughts on “Why House Democrats May Be More United Than They Seem” at FiveThirtyEight:

Two factions of the Democratic Party in Congress are currently playing tug-of-war over the centerpieces of President Biden’s legislative agenda. Moderate Democrats have balked at the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation budget bill, attempting to delay a vote on it in the House and insisting that the price tag will have to come down in the Senate. At the same time, House progressives have threatened to block a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill unless the reconciliation bill passes first — with the current price tag intact. (The House is scheduled to vote on the infrastructure bill on Thursday.)

But it’s easy to blow these disagreements out of proportion. On one hand, they are certainly relevant in that they threaten to derail two potentially transformative pieces of legislation. But they do not mean that Democrats are a hopelessly — or even significantly — divided party. Instead, it’s really the narrowness of Democrats’ congressional majorities that makes passing big legislation difficult, as even a small number of defectors can make the difference in a bill passing or failing.

Rakich notes that “more stories will get written over the course of a long negotiation, which can lead to a media emphasis on the messy sausage-making process over the (often less acrimonious) outcome.” Further,

In fact, there’s good reason to think that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s current Democratic caucus is the opposite of in disarray….Democrats are (so far) the most united House caucus of the last three sessions of Congress. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Biden Score, which measures how often individual members of Congress vote in line with Biden’s position, 203 out of the House’s 223 Democrats1 have voted with Biden 100 percent of the time, and all but two have voted with him at least 90 percent of the time.

This makes the current Democratic caucus far more cohesive than both the current Republican caucus and the Democratic caucus during the 115th Congress (based on the Biden and Trump scores2 of the median 90 percent of their members), when Democrats were last in the House minority. Rakich adds, “it’s likely that the opposition of moderate Sen. Joe Manchin will force Democrats to lop off a trillion dollars or two from the reconciliation bill. (Manchin, though known as one of the biggest internal thorns in Democrats’ sides, has a 100 percent Biden Score.) A similar dance occurred with Democrats’ voting-rights bill earlier this year: The For the People Act was too far-reaching for Manchin’s tastes, so it was pared down into the less ambitious Freedom to Vote Act, which Manchin helped craft and is now likely to support.”

….Republicans were a bit more cohesive when they had the majority than they are now — but Democrats are a lot more cohesive now than when they were in the minority.

Rakich explains that “an open negotiation process like the one Democrats are currently in can leave outside observers with the impression that a party is divided even if the legislation being debated ultimately succeeds….Media coverage of the negotiations usually doesn’t help matters, either; according to research by political scientist Mary Layton Atkinson, the press covers controversial legislation far more often than it does bipartisan legislation, and that coverage generally focuses on the conflict and drama of the negotiations over the substance of the bill.”

Rakich pays tribute to Speaker Pelosi’s deft navigation in building legislative consensus among Democrats and concludes, “Negotiations, by definition, highlight disagreements, but the final proof will be in whether Democrats pass the infrastructure bill on Thursday (and, on some later date, the reconciliation bill)….In other words, it’s possible for a party to have divisions but not be divided — and a strong congressional leader like Pelosi can make that happen. “

Teixeira: The Democrats’ “People of Color” Problem

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

Andy Levison has a new memo out at The Democratic Strategist that I strongly recommend; “Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People Of Color” Doesn’t Describe A Political Coalition That Actually Exists

He explains:

“The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy because it is described by its advocates as being the key part of a new majority coalition that Democrats could create if they would simply abandon their effort to regain the support of white working class voters.

In an Atlantic article, Ronald Brownstein quotes two advocates of this view:

“The electoral danger in Biden’s strategy of focusing so heavily on recapturing blue-collar voters,” says Steve Phillips, founder of the advocacy group Democracy in Color, is that “Democrats will be so focused on not alienating Whites that they will mute the policy agenda that could excite the sectors of the electorate which are much more receptive… People of Color and young people, [who] are also the growing parts of the population”.…the party would be better served by investing more “in efforts to increase turnout of People of Color especially across the Sun Belt.”

Similarly, Taifa Smith Butler, the new president of Demos, a liberal think tank focused on racial equity, told me, “As this nation becomes majority People of Color you will have to think about the broader coalition of the electorate.” Democrats, she said, “cannot kow- tow” to an older White electorate at the price of sublimating the priorities of “marginalized communities… that we could be lifting up and elevating rather than continuing to try to appease White moderates.”

Obviously, when the term , “People of Color” is discussed this way, it is not just being used as a neutral synonym for “non-white” or non-Caucasian.” It implicitly assumes that these groups actually do form a coherent political coalition that is united by common problems and common interests and that can consequently be counted on to act as a united political force in American politics….

[T]he difficult reality is that major social movements and powerful political alliances between ethnic groups do not arise simply because progressives wish that they would. They emerge because the very distinct historical experiences of different ethnic groups convince them to set aside their differences and work together in unity. This was the experience of the Trade Union movement in the 1930’s when the common brutal conditions in the factories of the era convinced Italian, Polish, East European and Slavic immigrants to mute the profound inter-ethnic conflicts that existed between them and join together to support the organization of trade unions.

In contrast, although both African Americans and Latinos suffered racial prejudice and discrimination, their historical experience since the 1960’s has been quite distinct and has shaped their political consciousness in profoundly different ways….

It was easy to ignore the fact that the majority of Latinos did not define themselves as “People of Color” so long as Latinos voted majority Democratic. In presidential elections since 1980 the GOP generally only won between 25 to 35% of the national vote.

But even long before 2016 a threat could be seen on the horizon. Aloof, rather patrician GOP establishment candidates like George Herbert Walker Bush and Mitt Romney only received 25-30% of the presidential vote but more “down to earth” candidates like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush received support ranging from the high 30s to as much as 40 percent support for Bush in 2004. George W. Bush had also been quite popular with Latino voters in Texas during his campaigns for governor. It was therefore clear that style and personality could make a significant difference.

And Democrats had also always had problems with the large Cuban exile population in Florida because of the deep anti-Castro sentiments in that community to which Republican candidates very successfully appealed.

Mexican Americans, on the other hand, have been consistently assumed to be “natural” Democrats. As an article in 538.com reported:8

Mexican Americans basically singlehandedly drive the narrative that Latinos are core Democratic voters thanks to their overwhelming numbers: 63 percent of the national Latino population is of Mexican descent, and that figure is even higher in swing states like Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

And they had generally voted more than 2 to 1 in favor of Dems.

But today the fact that Latino support for Trump actually increased in 2020 has profoundly shaken the “natural Democrats” assumption.

According to the Pew validated voter study, one of the most reliable measures of actual voting behavior, the Latino vote for the democratic candidate declined from 66% to 59% between 2016 and 2020 – a 7 point decline. The other most highly regarded source of demographic voting estimates, produced by the Catalyst Institute, used a slightly different calculation – the “two party vote share won by the Democrat” (i.e. excluding third party candidates) – and found that it declined from 71% to 63% – a nearly identical 8 point decline.

This was quite stunning because by 2020 Latinos had had four years to observe Trump’s demonization of Latino immigrants and barely concealed bigotry. Yet instead of voting more solidly Democratic, Latinos actually increased their support for Trump…..

Trump’s campaign recognized that working class Latinos could be successfully appealed to as working people using the same messages that had built Trump’s support among white workers.

As an NBC News postmortem noted:12

Although President Joe Biden won a majority of votes from Hispanics, 59 percent in the 2020 race to Trump’s 38 percent, there was a significant difference in preference based on education, Pew reported.

Biden won 69 percent of college-degreed Latino voters, compared to 30 percent for Trump, a 39 percentage-point advantage. But Biden’s advantage over Trump narrowed with Hispanics with some college or less, 55 percent to 41 percent, a 14-point advantage.

This presented a huge threat because, according to Pew estimates, Hispanics are the most heavily working class group among nonwhites , with 80 percent falling into that category. If future GOP candidates could exceed that 41% level with working class Latino voters, the entire group could essentially become a 50/50 swing voter category rather than part of the Democratic base….

Progressives are endlessly frustrated by the fact that Democratic candidates invariably offer programs that are objectively far more favorable to working class people than those of the GOP. But these arguments invariably run up against the fact that many working class people do not read policy papers or carefully listen to policy debates. They “vote for the candidate, not the platform” and tell pollsters that they base their choices on which candidate they think seems to “care about people like you,” “is on your side,” “will fight for you” or, in the commentator’s most recent cliché, “is someone you would like to have a beer with.”

And Trump, despite his privileged childhood and vast inherited wealth, displayed a blustering, Archie Bunker/Tony Soprano style that seemed more authentic to many working class people than that exhibited by many of the more “typical Washington politician” candidates and media commentators who criticized him.

The GOP also appealed to working class Latinos by focusing attention on the aspects of the Democratic platform that seemed unfavorable to working people or indifferent to their interests. Many working class Latinos in Texas, for example, have good, very high paying blue-collar jobs in the many oil and gas refineries and in pipeline construction and maintenance.

Democratic rhetoric about eliminating fossil fuels seemed to directly threaten their livelihood. A substantial number of Texas Latinos also work in law enforcement, including the Border Patrol, and view rhetoric about “defunding the police” or “open borders” with scorn. GOP commercials made these ideas appear to be the defining elements of the Democratic platform.

More broadly, GOP rhetoric that cast Republicans as “job creators” and defenders of small business seemed plausible to many working class Latinos when contrasted with what Republicans described as the “job-destroying” Democratic agenda. Had Democratic messaging been sharply focused on refuting these attacks they might have been blunted. But, in many cases across the country the primary Democratic appeal to working class Latinos was to emphasize instead Trump’s inhumane policies and disparaging remarks about immigrants.”

There’s a lot more in the full memo. I recommend reading it.

Dems’ Midterm Strategy in FL Emerges Amid Tough Obstacles

At The Hill, Max Greenwood reports on the “bleak outlook” Democrats face in the Sunshine State, albeit with one ray of hope:

The list of concerns is long. The latest voter registration numbers out of Florida show Democrats’ long-held voter registration advantage over Republicans shrinking to less than 24,000, down from about 100,000 at the beginning of the year.

While many will be surprised that Democrats have an edge at all, that’s a significant decline in a short time, even for the third largest state. As for the ray of hope, Greenwood notes:

Recent polls show DeSantis’s approval numbers slipping amid a COVID-19 surge in his state. He has also faced backlash over his efforts to preclude school districts from requiring students to wear face masks, with officials in even some Republican-leaning parts of the state moving to buck the governor’s wishes.

If Covid crisis management is the top issue in Florida a year from now, Democrats should have a solid chance of defeating Governor DeSantis, who has implemented what is likely the worst set of pandemic policies of any governor. But the caveat here is that Dems must run a strong candidate. At present Democratic Rep. Chalrlie Crist is the best-known candidate running against DeSantis.

In early August, Matt Dixon reported at Politico:

A Quinnipiac University poll released this month had DeSantis’ approval rating dipping below 50 percent, with 47 percent approving of his job performance, and 45 percent disapproving. Those numbers dropped to 44-51 when asked about his handling of public schools. The Quinnipiac poll follows other public polling that shows a similar erosion to DeSantis’ approval rating. A St. Pete Polls survey earlier this month showed 43 percent approved of the job he was doing while 48 percent did not.

In the other major statewide race, Democratic Rep. Val Demings hopes to take Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat. Democrats also hope to retake two U.S. House seats they lost in south FL in 2020.

As for Demings chances, Greenwood reports in an August 18th article at The Hill:

One survey conducted by St. Pete Polls for the website Florida Politics shows Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and his main Democratic opponent, Rep. Val Demings, neck-and-neck. Rubio leads Demings by a scant 2 percentage points, 48 percent to 46 percent. That’s still within the poll’s 2.2-point margin of error. 

Another poll commissioned by the gaming company BUSR and fielded by Susquehanna Polling and Research shows Rubio leading in the race against Demings 50 percent to 39 percent, giving him an 11-point lead that sits well outside of the survey’s 3.7 percentage point margin of error….Both pollsters —Susquehanna Polling and St. Pete Polls — hold B-plus ratings from the data website FiveThirtyEight.

Democratic victories in FL are a made more problematic by the GOP’s edge in money. Greenwood reports that DeSantis has $53 million in his campaign war chest, while his two Democratic opponents each have less than $3 million so far. Worse, “the Florida Democratic Party had only about $406,000 in its federal account at the end of August, while the state GOP reported more than $6.3 million in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission filings posted on Monday.”

Much depends on the status of the pandemic in Florida a year from now. Also, if Demings has ‘coattails’ in terms of energizing a substantial increase in FL’s Black voter turnout, she could help Democrats in the other races. And Democrats must reduce the GOP’s edge in campaign funds to improve their prospects in the House, Senate and Governor races.

Edsall Explores the Roots of Discontent Among Working Class Males

In his essay, “‘It’s Become Increasingly Hard for Them to Feel Good About Themselves,’“New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall shares insights which shed light on the political attitudes of working class males.

Edsall quotes UCLA economist Melanie Wasserman, who notes,

Although a significant minority of males continues to reach the highest echelons of achievement in education and labor markets, the median male is moving in the opposite direction. Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.

He also interviews Berkeley sociologiest Arlie Hochschild, author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” who observes,

Since the 1970s offshoring and automation have hit blue collar men especially hard. Oil, coal — automating, manufacturing, off-shorting, and truck-driving about to go down. Non-BA males are in an especially vulnerable place. I saw it in Louisiana, and again where I’m interviewing in Appalachia. It’s become increasingly hard for them to feel good about themselves.

Edsall notes, further,”In a 2018 essay in The New York Review of Books, “Male Trouble,” Hochschild described the predicament of less well educated men:”

Compared to women, a shrinking proportion of men are earning BAs, even though more jobs than ever require a college degree, including many entry-level positions that used to require only a high school diploma. Among men between twenty-five and thirty-four, 30 percent now have a BA or more, while 38 percent of women in that age range do. The cost of this disadvantage has only grown with time: of the new jobs created between the end of the recession and 2016, 73 percent went to candidates with a BA or more. A shrinking proportion of men are even counted as part of the labor force; between 1970 and 2010, the percentage of adult men in a job or looking for work dropped from 80 to 70 while that of adult women rose from 43 to 58. Most of the men slipping out lack BAs.

“While many of the men Hochschild writes about see a future of diminished, if not disappearing,” Edsall writes, “prospects, men in elite professions continue to dominate the ranks of chef executives, top politicians and the highest paying professorships.”

Edsall reviews some of the science regarding developmental differences of males and females, then quotes from a paper by Wasseerman and M.I.T. economist David Autor, which notes “Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.” Looking toward the future, they write,

The stagnation of male educational attainment bodes ill for the well-being of recent cohorts of U.S. males, particularly minorities and those from low-income households. Recent cohorts of males are likely to face diminished employment and earnings opportunities and other attendant maladies, including poorer health, higher probability of incarceration, and generally lower life satisfaction.

…A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that the erosion of labor market opportunities for low-skill workers in general — and non-college males in particular — has catalyzed a fall in employment and earnings among less-educated males and a decline in the marriage rates of less-educated males and females. These developments in turn diminish family stability, reduce household financial resources, and subtract from the stock of parental time and attention that should play a critical role in fomenting the educational achievement and economic advancement of the next generation.

Edsall adds, “They warn that “a vicious cycle” may be emerging, “with the poor economic prospects of less-educated males creating differentially large disadvantages for their sons, thus potentially reinforcing the development of the gender gap in the next generation.” Also,

Another reflection of this pattern, according to Autor and Wasserman, “is the growing divergence in high school girls’ and boys’ expectations of obtaining a four-year college degree.” Among cohorts of high school seniors interviewed between 1976 and 2006, “a gap opens between boys’ and girls’ expectations for BA attainment starting in the early 1980s and cumulates thereafter.” They add that “growing up in a single-parent home appears to significantly decrease the probability of college attendance for boys, yet has no similar effect for girls.”

In addition, Edsall quotes University of Louisville political science professor Adam Enders, who “sees the troubles of young white men in particular as an outcome of their partisan resentments.” Enders notes, “My take is that lower class white males likely have lower trust in institutions of higher education over time. This bears out in the aggregate,” he wrote, citing a Pew Research Survey.

Part of the reason for this — at least among some conservative males — is the perception that colleges are tools for leftist indoctrination — a perception increasingly fueled by the right, including top Republican and conservative leaders. Indeed, there is a hefty split between Democrats and Republicans in their orientations toward the education system. Republicans became more negative than positive about education since around 2016.

Edsall concludes that the key issue “is how the country should deal with the legions of left-behind men, often angry at the cataclysmic social changes, including family breakdown, that have obliterated much that was familiar. In 2020, white men voted for Trump 61-38. Many of these men have now become the frontline troops in a reactionary political movement that has launched an assault on democracy. What’s next?”

Teixeira: Midterm Electorate Composition in 2022 – Who Will It Help?

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

This is a solid data analytic article by Lakshya Jain on Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Jain uses Catalist data to simulate the partisan lean of recent midterm and presidential electorates if they had voted by demographic group as they did in 2020. This indicates some possible shifts in the traditional relative Republican lean of midterm electorates due to the shifting loyalties of the white college graduate demographic. Jain’s key tables are below.

His overall conclusions:

— “Midterm electorates are typically whiter and more educated than presidential electorates.

— At one time, this sort of change from the presidential to the midterm electorate might have made midterm electorates worse for Democrats. But given changes in the electorate, this midterm turnout pattern may actually aid Democrats, or at least not hurt them as much as it once did.

— Minority turnout has fluctuated and is a wild card that plays a big role in determining baseline partisan leans and advantages — presidential-level turnout means Democrats enjoy the advantage, whereas dips favor Republicans.

— The outcome in key swing states whiter than the national average, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, may be influenced heavily by educational turnout differential. In states with large nonwhite cores, such as North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, minority turnout will play a more critical role.”

How Educated Whites May Influence Midterm Elections

From “How the Electorate Changes from Presidential to Midterm Years: A higher share of white college graduates could help Democrats, but a decline in nonwhite voters could hurt themal Ball:” by Lakshya Jain at Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

— Midterm electorates are typically whiter and more educated than presidential electorates.

— At one time, this sort of change from the presidential to the midterm electorate might have made midterm electorates worse for Democrats. But given changes in the electorate, this midterm turnout pattern may actually aid Democrats, or at least not hurt them as much as it once did.

— Minority turnout has fluctuated and is a wild card that plays a big role in determining baseline partisan leans and advantages — presidential-level turnout means Democrats enjoy the advantage, whereas dips favor Republicans.

— The outcome in key swing states whiter than the national average, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, may be influenced heavily by educational turnout differential. In states with large nonwhite cores, such as North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, minority turnout will play a more critical role.

Jain provides several interesting charts, including this one:

Figure 1: Demographics of key 2022 Senate states

Jain notes further:

Above, we show the demographic splits for several key swing states with contested Senate elections in 2022, sorted from left to right in order of the white population share per state, with the U.S. national average provided for comparison’s sake. These are the seven races that the Crystal Ballrates as either Toss-ups or just leaning one way or the other: Republicans are defending North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, while Democrats are defending Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

In states with lower minority populations, it is likely that the previously-noted Democratic educational advantage among whites is magnified, and that the degree of influence minority turnout has upon the electorate is relatively blunted. This may be the case in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all of which are significantly whiter than the nation as a whole. Extrapolating from past electora

tes, Democrats may begin with an electorate that is anywhere between 1-3 points more favorable than 2020 in terms of presidential lean in these states. For instance, New Hampshire, which was Biden +7.2 in 2020, could see a Biden +9 electorate, given that state’s exceptionally large share of white voters.

In contrast, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, and Georgia all have significant blocs of nonwhite voters, and it is here that the outcome of the Senate races may rely more heavily than usual on the turnout of minority groups. Arizona and Nevada, in particular, have heavy concentrations of Hispanic voters, while Georgia and North Carolina have high Black populations. If Democrats replicate their 2018 minority turnout operations in these states, they would go a long way towards avoiding another 2014-esque red wave; however, if those turnout efforts fall short, these states would become prime pickup material for Republicans.

Jain concludes:

From the analysis, we can see that midterm electorates, in general, have higher levels of four-year college attainment than the presidential electorates, which might actually help Democrats given their recent improvements with these voters. However, the volatility of minority turnout in non-presidential elections makes the overall midterm turnout advantage unclear. If nonwhite turnout stays at presidential levels, it is likely that Democrats begin with an electorate whose baseline presidential lean is more Biden-voting (in terms of 2020 presidential vote cast) than in the 2020 electorate itself, whereas if it dips in the way it did in 2014, Republicans would be advantaged on the whole.

Determining which of the pictures is more likely between 2014 and 2018 is a tall order, especially given the amount of time to go until the 2022 environment. However, whatever happens, it is clear that the midterm and presidential electorates are likely to vary significantly in composition — it is just the areas in which the change is greatest that will play a large role in deciding the electorate’s baseline lean in 2022.

While most pundits say Republicans will likely win a House majority in the 2022 midterm elections and they have a good chance in the senate as well, it’s clear that Democrats best strategy is investing resources in mobilizing turnout of nonwhite voters and educated whites.

Tomasky: Why Democratic Moderates Should Support the Reconciliation Bill

In his article, “Why Moderate House Democrats Torture Their Colleagues—and Why They’re Wrong: They’re Going to be smeared as socialists no matter what size the reconciliation bill is. The only option here is to pass the bill and play offense,” Michael Tomasky, the new editor of The New Republic makes the case for a bold strategy for Democratic moderates in the weeks ahead:

I have more sympathy than most coastal liberals for the plight of the swing-district Democratic House member. I guess that comes from being from West Virginia. I know what those places are like, and I understand the pressures that moderate Democrats can face. As I’ve written many times, it’s exactly those purple districts that Democrats have to win to get to 218 seats. Nancy Pelosi is right to keep them top of mind, because without Democrats representing districts like Iowa’s 3rd and Wisconsin’s 3rd and Arizona’s 1st and Virginia’s 7th, the Democrats are in the minority. And then the debate isn’t between $3.5 trillion and $1.5 trillion. It’s between zero and zero.

Tomasky reasons, “Swing-district moderates worry that if they vote for $3.5 trillion, they’re going to spend all of next year getting tagged as socialists in grossly distorted 30-second attack ads. They’re not wrong. But guess what? They’re going to spend all of next year getting tagged as socialists in grossly distorted 30-second attack ads if they vote for $1.5 trillion, too. No one should be surprised if they get attacked as socialists even if they block every dollar from being spent. That’s the nature of politics these days.” Further,

“And so midterm elections now are just like presidential elections: The same issues are at stake. Turnout may be lower, but not by much. Turnout in 2018 was almost 50 percent—the highest in a midterm since 1914. We’ll see next year if that was a one-off. I’d wager not.

What this means for moderates, I believe, is two things. First, like it or not, it’s a lot harder now to distance oneself from the national party. The whole country watches the same cable news shows. Voters know more than ever about what the parties stand for. Whatever the national party does, the local member of Congress is going to be tagged with it, for good or ill.

Second, I’d argue that there is far less benefit to distancing from the party than there used to be. There are fewer true swing voters. But there are a lot of potential base voters out there to be registered and urged to the polls. And the best way to get those people to register and vote is, without question, to be able to go to them next year and say: Look, I got you paid family leave! Dental coverage in Medicare! Free community college! Child tax credit! I voted for these things. My opponent would have opposed them.

I understand that moderates want to negotiate the number down a little, just so they can go home and say, “Hey, I negotiated it down a little.” But they have to commit to a yes vote, and then they have to go back to their states and districts and spike the damn football. They need to boast about what they voted for, show some pride, and play offense. This applies even to Manchin. He’s a special case because he’s not just in a swing state; he’s in the Trumpiest state in the country. But the people of West Virginia can make great use of the things in these bills as much as people from anywhere else. Perhaps even more so.”

Tomasky concludes, “Hopefully, moderates will cotton on to these new political realities and join a unified Democratic team. Otherwise, this is going to be four or however many weeks of torture, inflicted on the party by moderates who are operating according to a model that I believe no longer applies. Keeping the Republicans from winning the House may be a long shot. But we’ve entered a new era of hypernationalization, when distancing from one’s party is impossible and even inadvisable. The things in that bill are very popular, so pass it, and own it. It’s the Democrats’ only shot at keeping their majorities.”

Teixeira: Let’s Make a Deal!

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

Here are some interesting new data from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation gauging the popularity of 28 different aspects on the proposed reconciliation budget. All are at least somewhat popular but some are a lot more popular than others. Not all will make it into the final bill of course. Time to make a deal based on some combination of popularity and importance. And that will involve some tough choices. From Politico Playbook:

“They started off with a jaw-dropping $6 trillion price tag, then lowered it to $3.5 trillion.

Now, there’s reporting suggesting Sen. JOE MANCHIN wants the total for Democrats’ reconciliation plan to drop as low as $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion (though some people close to him say his comfort zone is probably closer to $2 trillion).

So what exactly will Democrats’ topline number be?

Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER and Speaker NANCY PELOSI are both proceeding as if $3.5 trillion is the magic number, at least for now. Then there’s Sen. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.), who says progressives have given enough ground already: “That $3.5 trillion is already the result of a major, major compromise,”

But talk to senior Democratic congressional aides and you get a more realpolitik answer — one that’s closer to Manchin than Sanders. Some predict the bill will end up at about $2 trillion, which is significantly less than even President JOE BIDEN wants.

If those aides are right — and there’s reason to think they might be, given how much leverage Manchin has — that means a whole host of items on the party’s wish list will have to be scaled back dramatically or dropped.

The posturing over the price tag is a reminder of how much work the party has to do as it seeks to craft their behemoth bill by the end of September. The process will kick off in earnest today as the House Ways and Means and Education and Labor committees begin marking up their proposals.

Already, there are tensions over the issues being voted on in committee today. For example, we’re told the $762 billion envisioned for education — which includes more than $450 billion for child care and universal pre-K, and hundreds of billions more for school infrastructure and free community college — won’t likely make it to the White House intact. (Our higher ed reporter Michael Stratford has more on Education and Labor Chair BOBBY SCOTT’s bill.)

Likewise, a battle for limited resources is driving the fight over which health care proposals to include, pitting the House against the Senate and White House. (Read Heather Caygle and Alice Miranda Ollstein here for the latest.)

Of course, the dollar total will be dictated by how much Democrats can generate with tax hikes and other revenue raisers — a huge area of contention itself. Democrats could find themselves with between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in revenue depending on how much they scale back the Trump tax cuts. They’ll also net a large chunk of change from the prescription drug overhaul, though they’re sparring over details of that plan as well.

After that, the real fight will commence: How to spend the money . Pelosi acknowledged the coming battles over limited dollars: “Where would you cut? Child care? Family medical leave paid for? Universal pre-K? Home health care?”

As two senior Democratic sources put it to us recently, the more Manchin talks, the better. Right now, most negotiations are taking place between House and Senate leadership and the White House. But the real veto power lies with Manchin and Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.). So the more they communicate about what they will or won’t accept, the better, per these aides: It will force Democrats to come to grips with reality of having too few dollars to do what they want — and start having the tough conversations they’ve only begun to broach.”

Trying to think this through in a productive manner would be more useful than incessant denunciations of Joe Manchin, over whom the left has zero leverage. $3.5 trillion is a pipe dream. Time to get real.

Galston: In Marking 9/11, the U.S. Must Refocus on Protecting Our Domestic and Global Interests

As the nation prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attack on America, most of the media coverage will address the tremendous human costs of the 9/11 atrocity and the U.S. response to it. In one section of his Brookings article, “How America’s response to 9/11 contributed to our national decline,” William A. Galston also summarized the economic and political costs of America’s longest war:

The opportunity costs of our post-9/11 policy choices have been enormous. Since 2001, the United States has spent about $2 trillion in direct warfighting costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. One estimate places the total cost at $4 trillion, not counting the “long tail” outlays for treating the physical and mental damage these wars have inflicted on thousands of the best men and women our country has to offer.

It would be naïve to suggest that all this money would otherwise have been put to productive use in domestic public policy or the private sector. But one thing is clear: During years of fiscal restraints on discretionary spending during the past decade, our wars in the Middle East received funding from accounts to which the official budget limits did not apply.

Because domestic policy had no such safety valve, important government functions suffered, including the emergency health stockpile that was all but empty when we needed it the most in the early months of the pandemic.  At the same time, our failure to raise taxes to fund our post-9/11 military engagements wars guaranteed steady upward pressure on the national debt. A more measured response to the attack on our homeland would have made us stronger at home, with no loss of security. This alternative course, moreover, would have given the Department of Defense more bandwidth to focus on the military modernization needed to counter the great-power threats we now face.

Galston is critical of “manner of our withdrawal from Afghanistan,” but concludes that “we cannot afford to squander our energy in endless “Who lost Kabul?” debates. We should close the book on the 9/11 era, confine our policies in the Middle East to defending our friends and our essential interests, and focus instead on the task before us—doing what is necessary at home and abroad to arrest our decline and remain fully competitive in the struggle to define world order in the 21st century.”