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Teixeira: Trump’s Hill Gets a Little Steeper in 2020

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

States of Change data featured in the Wall Street Journal in an excellent article on Trump’s demographic challenge by Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni. Nice graphic (see below)

“President Trump’s 2020 election strategy relies largely on the white, working-class base that he excited in 2016. But he faces a demographic challenge: The electorate has changed since he was last on the ballot in ways likely to benefit Democrats.

Working-class, white voters are projected to decline by 2.3 percentage points nationally as a share of eligible voters, compared with the last election, because they are older and therefore dying at a faster rate than are Democratic groups. As those voters pass on, they are most likely to be replaced by those from minority groups or young, white voters with college degrees—groups that lean Democratic.

That means Mr. Trump will have to coax more votes from a shrinking base—or else find more votes in other parts of the electorate.

“Trump has a certain hill to climb, and this suggests that the hill gets a little steeper,’’ said Ruy Teixeira, a demographer with the States of Change project, which provided assessments of the 2020 electorate….

Projections by Mr. Teixeira and his colleagues find that the declining presence of working-class whites as eligible voters, if considered in isolation from other factors, would be enough to tip Michigan and Pennsylvania from narrow Trump wins into narrow Democratic wins, while producing the barest of margins in favor of Democrats in Wisconsin. Mr. Trump won each state by less than 1 percentage point, or a combined 77,000 votes.

Projected changes in the eligible electorate, holding other factors the same as in the last election, also narrow Mr. Trump’s winning 2016 margin in three swing states in the Sunbelt analyzed by States of Change: Arizona, Florida and North Carolina.

“Demographic change is making all six of these states closer,’’ Mr. Teixeira said.

If he were to rely on working-class, white voters to make up the ground he loses to demographic change, Mr. Trump would need to raise turnout among that group by 3 percentage points in Pennsylvania and Michigan and one point in Wisconsin, a Wall Street Journal analysis of the States of Change projections finds.”

Note that their analysis assumes no other group’s turnout increases from 2016 levels, which is of course unlikely. This is really telling you that white working class turnout in these states has to outrun turnout increases among the rest of the electorate in these states. Possible but definitely a challenge.


Winning Back Obama to Trump Voters at No Cost

In a New York Times opinion piece, Sean McElwee and How Democrats Can Win Back Obama-Trump Defectors” and argue that “They don’t have to lose their souls to do it. Just the opposite.” It’s a familiar theme for TDS readers, but McElwee and Schaffner make a fresh case for it:

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, analysts fiercely debated the role of the approximately six million voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but shifted their support to Mr. Trump in 2016. Democratic strategists also had to worry about their future behavior: Was 2016 a temporary blip or were these voters gone forever? With newly available data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey, the largest publicly-available election survey, we can now analyze what happened with these Obama-Trump voters in 2018 and what that might portend for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.

To understand the potential ramifications of Obama-Trump voters in 2020, it’s worth understanding how they voted in 2018. Among those who voted, three-quarters stuck with the Republican Party. But Democrats did win back about one-fifth of the Obama-Trump group in 2018, which would amount to a net swing of about 1.5 million votes. While the idiosyncratic governing style of Mr. Trump may have been one key factor in bringing Obama-Trump voters back into the Democratic fold, it wasn’t the only reason. It’s true that most Obama-Trump voters who stuck with the Republican Party in 2018 strongly approved of the job Mr. Trump was doing as president, but interestingly even half of those who flipped back to the Democratic side at least somewhat approved of Mr. Trump. Democrats won back a significant share of Obama-Trump voters not because those voters disliked Mr. Trump, but in spite of the fact that many actually approved of him.

Instead, these voters appeared to be drawn back toward the Democrats by some of the party’s bread-and butter-issues, and in spite of others. On issues like gun control, health care and the environment, these voters look remarkably like the Democratic Party’s base — those who voted for Obama in 2012, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and a Democratic House candidate in 2018. Eighty-four percent of Obama-Trump voters who voted for Democratic House candidates in 2018 want to ban assault rifles, compared to 92 percent of the Democratic base. By contrast, 57 percent of Obama-Trump voters who stayed with Republicans in 2018 support an assault weapons ban (which has far less support among the Republican base).

McElwee and Schaffner have some welcome poll numbers for Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in particular, noting that “Medicare for all is surprisingly popular among all Obama-Trump voters…especially those who voted for Democrats in 2018.” Further, “Eighty-three percent of those who switched back to the Democratic Party in 2018 support Medicare for all…”

Environmentalist Democratic candidates will be gladdened to note that “Seventy-three percent of Obama-Trump voters who came back to the Democratic Party in 2018 oppose the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.”

With respect to immigration reform, however, a majority of the Democratic 2018 returnees “support building a border wall and Mr. Trump’s ban on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.” But “two-thirds of these voters support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to receive deferred action on deportation.”

With respect to racial injustice, “less than half of these voters agree that whites have advantages because of the color of their skin.” In terms of gender justice, “an even smaller share think that feminists are making reasonable demands of men.”

McElwee and Schaffner say, “These are your classic cross-pressured voters, aligned with Democrats on many policies that are part of the progressive wish list but likely to be turned off by the party’s rhetoric on identity politics.” This is not to argue that Democrats should avoid racial and gender justice concerns and immigration reform — just that the best time to address them is after winning the 2020  elections.

The authors also address the problem of 2012 Obama voters who didn’t vote in 2016, and note, “In 2018, Democrats regained some support among this group as well. About one-third turned out for the 2018 election, and Democrats won them 4 to 1.” In addition,

Half of the remobilized Obama-nonvoters are people of color and more than 70 percent are women. Unlike the Obama-Trump voters who supported Democrats in 2018, the Obama-nonvoters appear to have been remobilized by their dislike of Trump — more than 80 percent reported that they strongly disapproved of the job he was doing as president. Strong disapproval of Mr. Trump was a strong predictor of Obama-nonvoters coming back into the electorate to vote for Democrats in 2018.

The story of Democratic success in winning back the House in 2018 seems to be driven by two patterns — the ability to win back some cross-pressured members of the Obama coalition who voted for Trump in 2016, while also remobilizing former Obama voters who failed to show up at the polls two years earlier. Progressive economic and climate views unite these two coalitions, while the groups are more divided when it comes to racial justice and gender equity. Both Obama-nonvoter-Democrats (92 percent) and Obama-Trump-Democrats (88 percent) support a $12 minimum wage and a millionaire’s tax (92 percent and 79 percent).

McElwee and Schaffner note that Clinton’s 2016 campaign “aired fewer issue-based ads than any other presidential candidate since they started collecting the data in 2000,” while “In 2018 the Wesleyan researchers found that Democratic campaign ads were “laser focused” on issues, especially health care, which was the focus of more than half of the advertisements run by Democratic candidates.”

Looking towards the November election, the authors conclude, “if Democrats continue to learn from these elections, they will focus this year’s campaign on their plans to address issues like health care, wages and the environment” — these are the leading priorities that will give Dems real traction in 2020.


Teixeira: Biden Ahead in Florida – But No One Else

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

Mason Dixon has released a new Florida poll that has trial heat numbers plus broad crosstabs for Trump vs. Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. Biden has a slim lead of 2 points, while the others lose to trump by 9, 5 and 4 points, respectively.

The internal comparisons are interesting (graphic below). Biden has Obama-level support among blacks (92-4) while Warren’s numbers look very similar to Clinton’s 2016 black support 87-8. And, while Biden leads Trump by 61-32 among Hispanics, Warren has a more modest 54-35 lead among this demographic–again, similar to Clinton’s performance in 2016.


Teixeira: Swinging Iowa

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

Is Iowa a Swing State Again?

An interesting new AP article by Thomas Beaumont makes the case, drawing on recent demographic and political trends.

“In [2018], Iowans sent the state’s first Democratic women to Congress: Cindy Axne, who dominated Des Moines and its suburbs, and Abby Finkenauer, who won in several working-class counties Trump carried.

Democrats won 14 of the 31 Iowa counties that Trump won in 2016 but Obama won in 2008, though Trump’s return to the ballot in 2020 could change all that.

“We won a number of legislative challenge races against incumbent Republicans,” veteran Iowa Democratic campaign consultant Jeff Link said. “I think that leaves little question Iowa is up for grabs next year.”

There’s more going on in Iowa that simply a merely cyclical swing.

Iowa’s metropolitan areas, some of the fastest growing in the country over the past two decades, have given birth to a new political front where Democrats saw gains in 2018.

The once-GOP-leaning suburbs and exurbs, especially to the north and west of Des Moines and the corridor linking Cedar Rapids and the University of Iowa in Iowa City, swelled with college-educated adults in the past decade, giving rise to a new class of rising Democratic leaders.

“I don’t believe it was temporary,” Iowa State University economist David Swenson said of Democrats’ 2018 gains in suburban Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. “I think it is the inexorable outcome of demographic and educational shifts that have been going on.”

There’ much to agree with here but I do think the writer overestimates the centrality of the college vote and underestimates the challenge of the noncollege vote.

My take:

2018 was a surprising comeback election for the Democrats. They won the House popular vote by a stunning 10 points and flipped two GOP-held House seats in the state. The Democrats also gained a net of five state legislative seats. However, Republican Kim Reynolds beat Democrat Fred Hubbell for the governorship by 3 points.

The Democratic candidate in 2020 has a lot of ground to make up relative to 2016, but the 2018 results provide some reason to think that it may be possible. For Trump, he needs to simply approximate the voting patterns that brought him his solid 2016 victory. But one challenge for him is his current negative net approval in the state of -3 points.

Iowa is an exceptionally white state; nonwhites made up just 7 percent of voters in the state in 2016. These voters were divided up roughly 3-2-2 between Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/other races. Blacks and Hispanics supported Clinton by 76 points and 20 points, respectively. Asians/other races, however, were essentially tied between Trump and Clinton. Iowa’s white college graduates (31 percent of voters) gave Clinton a solid lead of 7 points, 50 percent to 43 percent. But among the enormous white noncollege group, 62 percent of voters, Trump ran up a 23-point lead, 58 percent to 35 percent. That was clearly the big story in the state.

White noncollege eligible voters in 2020 should decline by 2 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should increase by a little more than half a point. All nonwhite groups in the state should increase by small amounts relative to 2016: Blacks by 0.3 points; Hispanics by 0.6 points; and Asians/other races by 0.5 points. While these changes are all favorable for the Democrats, they will do relatively little to whittle their considerable 2016 deficit—a mere 0.6 points—if voting patterns by group in 2020 remain the same as in 2016.

Thus, if Trump can maintain or come close to his support among white noncollege voters in Iowa, he should carry the state easily again. A shift of 10 margin points against Trump among white college graduates, swelling the Democrats’ already solid advantage among that group, would still leave Trump about 6 points ahead in 2020.

For the Democratic candidate, his or her fortunes are clearly dependent on moving the very large white noncollege group in their direction. Indeed, if the Democrats could replicate Obama’s 2012 white noncollege margin in the state, they would actually carry the state by slightly less than 5 points, all else remaining equal. Even getting part of the way there could make the state competitive in 2020. That’s a tough challenge, but certainly the 2018 results in the state suggest this is possible.

So keep your eye on Iowa. It could be more in play than people have been thinking.


Teixeira: The 2020 Challenge in Wisconsin

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

Arguably there is no single state more important to beating Trump in 2020 than Wisconsin. J. Miles Coleman on Sabato’s Crystal Ball has a useful new article on election trends in Wisconsin 2016-2019. Note particularly the two very interesting maps. My take on what the Democrats will have to deal with and what they must do to win:

To carry the state again, Trump likely needs to increase his support among white noncollege voters from his 19-point advantage in 2016 and/or increase this group’s relative turnout. Alternatively, he could try to increase his support among the considerably less-friendly white college demographic. But the voting patterns from 2016 will likely not suffice for a Trump victory in 2020.

Demographic changes in the underlying eligible electorate would be enough for the Democratic candidate to barely carry the state in 2020, if voting patterns from 2016 remain the same. A safer strategy would be to change some key voting patterns from 2016 in Democrats’ favor. One obvious goal would be to increase Black turnout—which declined a massive 19 points in 2016—back to its 2012 levels. Doing so would add about a point and half to the Democratic margin in 2020.

Widening the Democrats’ already-healthy margin among white college graduates by 10 points would be more effective, adding 3 points to potential Democratic 2020 performance. But moving the Democrats’ white noncollege deficit back to 2012 levels would add 7 points to Democrats’ projected 2020 margin. White noncollege women are the clear target group here, since Clinton’s deficit among these voters (-16 points) was much less than her deficit among their male counterparts (-43 points).

It’s doable for Democrats to put together a package of electoral changes that will squeak out a victory. But it’s not going to be easy.


Teixeira: Some Things That Biden Is Getting Right

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

I thought Biden had a solid debate, which should help him, as did Klobuchar, which may help her in Iowa, her make-or-break state.

538 released some pre-debate polling and Biden already looked–at least on the national level–to be in very good shape. He had the highest favorability rating of the candidates on stage and had a strong lead on the candidate likely primary voters were at least considering voting for. Likely primary voters also said, by a lopsided 64-36 margin, that they preferred a candidate who had a good chance of beating Trump over a candidate who agree with them on the issues (see graphic below). And Biden had a strong lead over the other candidates on who would be most likely to beat Trump if he or she were the nominee (see graphic below).

Today also saw the release of a lengthy Politico profile by Ryan Lizza on Biden’s advisers. The piece provides useful information on some of the things Biden seems to be getting right about this campaign.

“A year ago, Biden’s retro campaign, with its retro staff and retro view of who Democratic voters are, was predicted to have a swift demise. It didn’t happen. And it if it succeeds in the coming months, Biden and his team will have challenged everything people thought they knew about the Democratic Party in the age of Trump….

Two dominant storylines had emerged from the 2018 midterm elections. In several safe districts, mostly in in urban areas, a number of younger, more left-wing candidates had defeated incumbent Democrats in primaries and then retained the seats for the party in the general election. The most notable example was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the then 28-year-old former Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer who defeated Joe Crowley, a 20-year incumbent twice her age, in a New York City primary. AOC beat Crowley by 4,100 votes. She now has almost 6 million Twitter followers.

At the same time in 2018, in a number of Republican-held swing districts, moderate Democrats defeated liberal primary opponents and went on to flip the seat for Democrats. Perhaps the best example was Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer from Northern Virginia who first beat a progressive challenger in the primary, then defeated Dave Brat, one of the most conservative House Republicans and a Tea Party celebrity.

Both AOC and Spanberger represented a major political disruption, but in the media, and especially on Twitter, which is not used by 78 percent of Americans, AOC came to define the purported direction of the Democratic Party. The issues of the AOC left soon defined the early months of the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination as candidates outbid each other with calls to abolish ICE, decriminalize the border, embrace the most robust version of the Green New Deal and, most of all, support “Medicare for All.”…

Biden had campaigned around the country in 2018. Spanberger was one of his major primary endorsements that year. Not only could he not AOC-ify himself, he was convinced he didn’t need to.

He had what now seems like a profound insight. “Everyone is misreading the electorate,” he told his guest. “I campaigned in swing places, and the candidates who are winning are people who can get the middle.”…

Biden and his longtime advisers, see the moment as calling for a new kind of triangulation, one that co-opts much of the left’s modern agenda, but sands down its most electorally unpopular edges—decriminalizing the border, banning private health insurance, eliminating all college debt—which they see as key to winning over those Democrats who defected or didn’t vote in 2016…..

The campaign developed a three-pronged message: that the election was about the “soul of the nation”; that the threatened middle class was the “backbone of the nation”; and that what was most needed was to “unify the nation.” Only Biden could restore the nation’s soul, repair its backbone, and unify it.

Donilon and Biden loved it. The only problem? A lot of other Biden advisers hated it. It seemed corny and tone-deaf. “Biden was totally in on it at the outset of this campaign and no one else was—no one,” said the adviser. “They said that’s not where people’s heads are at, because obviously there’s a big debate swirling on the left.”

Ignoring the noisy activist left and its megaphone on social media was perhaps the most consequential decision Biden made at the start of the campaign.”

That last sentence tells you a lot about what Biden has gotten right in this campaign. And about how, while he is endlessly derided by many pundits, activists and, yes, people on Twitter, he’s actually got some serious political smarts that some of other candidates seem to lack.


Why Dems Have Become More Progressive on Racial Justice

If you were wondering “Why The Democrats Have Shifted Left Over The Last 30 Years,” Maddie Sachs explores some answers at FiveThirtyEight:

To answer this, we looked at data from the General Social Survey1 that tracks public opinion on the role of government in a variety of different policy areas between 1986 and 2018…First, the data shows that Democrats have indeed become more liberal over time, particularly on questions related to race and immigration. For instance, the share of Democrats who think the government has a special obligation to help improve black people’s standard of living due to past discrimination increased by over 20 percentage points between 1986 and 2018, while the share who think the number of immigrants to the U.S. should increase rose from 10 percent in 2004 to 35 percent in 2018.

…on the question of whether the government has a special obligation to help black people as a result of past discrimination, we saw a distinct gap in opinion when breaking down respondents by race. Far more black Democrats were in favor. White Democrats, on the other hand, have historically been less liberal on this question. The majority of the movement we saw in recent years was among white Democrats, who got closer to black Democrats on issues of race, as well as liberal Democrats, who broke away from conservative and moderate Democrats.

…Andrew Engelhardt, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University, found in a forthcoming paper that while Democrats’ movement on race in the 1990s was largely driven by more socially conservative Democrats leaving the party, the Democrats surveyed in the 2000s were updating their opinions to become increasingly liberal.

Put another way, the Democratic Party is the only national political community that increasingly prioritizes racial justice and honors diversity. Sachs notes further that “this trend has held up in other research as well. Dan Hopkins, a FiveThirtyEight contributor and professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania who studies racial politics and political behavior, interviewed the same group of 500 Americans multiple times from 2007 to 2018 and found that racial prejudice has decreased among white Americans, particularly among white Democrats.”

As for why this trend has accelerated in recent years, Sachs writes, “On the one hand, the fact that race and immigration played such a central role in the 2016 election was certainly a contributing factor. A 2018 study by Peter Enns at Cornell University found that rather than voters choosing a candidate who matched their views on controversies like the Black Lives Matter movement, they actually changed their own views to match those of their preferred candidates.”

In addition, “there is evidence that Trump is continuing to drive some of this — although, perhaps not in the way one might expect. There isn’t evidence, for instance, that his rhetoric has contributed to an uptick in racist and sexist attitudes among white voters; instead, as FiveThirtyEight contributor Matt Grossmann has written, “the evidence shows that liberal-leaning voters moved away from [Trump’s] views faster than conservatives moved toward them.”

This is all good news for the Democratic Party. However, Sachs warns “But although the Democratic Party has moved to the left in recent years, a continued leftward trend is not inevitable…while the share of liberals in the Democratic Party is certainly growing, 53 percent of Democrats still identify as moderate or conservative, according to data from Pew.” Yet, “it’s hard to imagine Democrats making a dramatic departure on issues of discrimination and immigration, so if Democratic Party elites continue to direct voters’ attention toward these issues, Democratic voters may move even more to the left.”

MLK once said that “we have to be together before we can learn how to live together.” Ironically, only a landslide defeat of the GOP in 2020 can force them to reassess their racial isolation, and begin to rebuild as a party of reasoned conservatism, instead of racial phobias.


Teixeira: Biden, Sanders, Warren and White Noncollege Voters

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

The latest Quinnipiac national poll shows Biden with a comfortable lead over Sanders and Warren, consistent with other recent polling. But what really caught my eye was the white noncollege breakdown on these three candidates. As shown below, Biden and Sanders draw equally from white noncollege voters (24 percent support each) while Warren gets only a pathetic 9 percent. This is the kind of thing that really worries me when I think about her as a general election candidate.


Teixeira: Economic Dynamism = Democrats

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

Economic Dynamism = Democrats

Yes, there is a magic formula for generating Democrats. It’s called economic dynamism. And the formula for generating Republicans, particularly Trumpian ones, is exactly the reverse: economic stagnation and decline.

Ron Brownstein picks up on a just-released report by Brookings and the /Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on innovation jobs and economic growth. “Just 20 large metropolitan areas now account for a clear majority of the nation’s jobs in the 13 high-productivity industries that the authors identify as the nation’s most innovative.”

Brownstein connects this development to recent political trends:

“Correlating the study’s findings with the results of the 2016 presidential election captures the enormity of that shift. In the 5% of metropolitan areas that have attracted the largest number of these cutting edge jobs — a list of 20 communities that includes New York, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle — Hillary Clinton won 59% of the vote and routed Trump by 11.5 million ballots, according to calculations provided by Brookings. Just those 20 thriving metropolitan areas provided her over 28 million votes — more than two-fifths of her total.

In the next 5% of metro areas that have attracted the most of these high-innovation jobs — a group that includes Pittsburgh, Orlando, Charlotte, Nashville, Austin and Portland — Clinton beat Trump by about eight percentage points, or roughly 1.2 million votes. In all, these two groups of thriving urban areas — the 40 communities that comprise the 10 percent of American metros that have generated the most of these highly-innovative jobs — provided Clinton over 36 million votes, fully 55% of her total.

In the metros that ranked between the 10th and 25th percentile for the number of these high-innovation jobs, Trump squeezed out a narrower advantage of about 200,000 votes, or half a percentage point. He beat Clinton soundly by 3.4 million votes in the remaining 75% of metro areas with the smallest numbers of these coveted jobs. Trump also won comfortably in the smaller communities that are not included in the nation’s roughly 400 metropolitan areas.

These stark findings reinforce the results of other studies over the past few years that show Democrats growing stronger in the places generating the most economic growth and Republicans solidifying their hold on the places displaying less dynamism. Brookings had found that although Clinton won fewer than a sixth of the nation’s counties in 2016, her counties generate almost two-thirds of the nation’s GDP.

Another recent Brookings study found that the average Congressional district held by Democrats now generates 50% more economic output than the typical district held by Republicans. Productivity per worker and the median income is now also substantially higher in the Democratic than the Republican districts.”

So there you have it. Want more Democrats? Figure out how to spread economic dynamism beyond the large metro areas where it is currently thriving. If not, Democrats will win some elections but they will not achieve the governing majorities they really need to move the country forward.


Why USMCA Is a Big Win for Dems

At Vox, Jen Kirby reports, “On Tuesday, House Democrats announced that they’d back the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), the updated version of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the Trump administration renegotiated last year…Democrats are supporting the agreement now that they’ve secured changes to the deal, achieving concessions on labor and environmental rules and enforcement, prescription drugs, and other provisions that had long been sticking points between House Democrats and the administration.”

Free traders are grumbling, predictably enough, and so are a few progressives, who see any cooperation with Trump as a gift to him, a counter-narrative to impeachment. But Pelosi and other Democratic leaders see a significant upside for their party, because it shows Dems are capable of bipartisanship — when the cause is good. Also, Democrats won major pro-labor concessions few thought would be possible earlier this year.

“Make no mistake, we demanded a trade deal that benefits workers and fought every single day to negotiate that deal; and now we have secured an agreement that working people can proudly support,” Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president, said on Twitter,” notes Kirby.

As Pelosi explained, ““There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference Tuesday. “But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.”

Kirby notes some of the major improvements in USMCA from the points of view of pro-labor progressives:

They said they’d strengthened rules for workers, including additional protections to make sure Mexico is meeting these standards. As part of USMCA, Mexico agreed to pass new workers’ rights laws, including guaranteeing the right to unionize and negotiate labor contracts. The updated USMCA will establish a committee to monitor Mexico’s progress and benchmarks for Mexico to meet. If it does not, it could lead to penalties.

Another big win for Democrats was the removal of a certain rule involving pharmaceuticals. The original USMCA extended the period that certain drugs (known as “biologics”) can be protected from generic competition to 10 years (it’s already 12 years in the US). Democrats objected to this provision, saying it could potentially thwart future efforts to lower the cost of some prescription drugs. That provision has now been removed from the USMCA.

…Already included in the USMCA were new rules that said cars must have 75 percent of their components manufactured in Mexico, the US, or Canada to qualify for zero tariffs (up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA) and provisions that 40 to 45 percent of automobile parts must be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023. (Now with increased enforcement, per the Democrats.)

The USMCA also adds a 16-year “sunset” clause — meaning the terms of the agreement expire, or “sunset” after 16 years. The deal is also subject to a review every six years, at which point the US, Mexico, and Canada can decide to extend the USMCA.

Among the purely-political benefits of USMCA for Dems, noted by Kirby: “Democrats in more moderate districts were reportedly particularly nervous about leaving USMCA unresolved before the end of the year, and now they’ll have a legislative victory to take home, showing that they can still work with the administration on issues that benefit the American people — even as they’re holding the president accountable for his conduct.”

Going forward, “The House will vote on the USMCA legislation before Congress breaks for recess for the holidays, probably around the same time it votes on impeachment. The Senate must also take up the USMCA — though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the body won’t consider it until after Trump’s impeachment trial in January.”

Sure, the timing of the USMCA deal may not be optimum. But legislative timetables can’t always be controlled, especially toward year’s end. There should be no doubt, however, that USMCA is a big plus for American workers and their unions, and that fact will not be lost on working-class swing voters in the Rust Belt. Pelosi and House Democrats seized the moment, and got it done when they could. That’s what real leadership is all about.