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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: Obama’s Advice for Common Sense Democrats

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

Barack Obama: Common Sense Democrat

Tax the rich and don’t do dumb stuff. I like it!

“Democrats should focus less on the “tactical disagreements” among the candidates, Mr. Obama said, and avoid making false choices between appealing to white working class voters or minority voters, or between energizing the party’s base or reaching out to independents and Republicans….

Mr. Obama…warned against demanding that the party’s hopefuls meet inflexible standards.

“I’m always suspicious of purity tests during elections,” Mr. Obama said. “Because you know what? The country’s complicated.”…

“When you listen to the average voter — even ones who aren’t stalwart Democrats, but who are more independent or are low-information voters — they don’t feel that things are working well, but they’re also nervous about changes that might take away what little they have,” he said.

At the same time, Mr. Obama said he was open to the idea of higher taxes for the wealthy, adding that the conversation around the country has changed dramatically since his campaigns.

“I’ve got a lot of room to pay more taxes — and I already pay really high taxes,” he said. “That’s one area where I guarantee you where you will get Joe six-pack and the single inner-city mom agreeing. They would like to see a little bigger share of the pie and you know, the rent is too damn high.”…

“At the end of the day, we are going to need everybody,” Mr. Obama said. “We will not win just by increasing the turnout of people who already agrees with us completely on everything.”

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Marshall Cohen, Ellie Kaufman and Lauren Fox share “Five takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s bombshell testimony,” including: “US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland changed the course of the House impeachment inquiry Wednesday, over the span of several hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee with the television cameras rolling for a global audience…Sondland recounted several conversations between himself and Trump about Ukraine opening two investigations: one into Burisma, a company where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son was on the board, and another into conspiracies about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 US election…Up to this point, a key Republican argument has been that none of the witnesses spoke directly with Trump and they offered only secondhand information. Sondland’s testimony about his many conversations with Trump on the matter are crucial to Democrats countering that talking point…While Sondland said Trump had never expressly told him that US military assistance was contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, the ambassador said he was “under the impression that, absolutely, it was contingent.” As for strategic implications, the Democratic hope is that Sondland’s testimony will compel a few Republicans who value the Constitution and those who can smell an impending GOP disaster to re-evaluate the wisdom of party discipline at all costs.

Meanwhile, another trio of CNN Politics scribes reveals “8 takeaways from the November Democratic debate.” Among the insights explored by Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Gregory Krieg: “Democratic voters are overwhelmingly focused on finding a candidate they believe can beat President Donald Trump. In Wednesday night’s debate, the party’s leading contenders offered their clearest arguments yet about how they plan to do that…Subtly jabbing their rivals, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris said that Democrats can’t win without rebuilding former President Barack Obama’s diverse coalition of supporters…”The question black women voters have for us as candidates is: Where you been, and what are you gonna do?” Harris said.” Sen. Harris sparkled more than any of the other candidates in the debate. But Sen. Amy Kobuchar “made her most forceful case yet that her history of winning in red and purple portions of the Midwest — despite the reality that in politics, “women have to work harder” — give her a strong claim to the centrist lane in the 2020 primary field.”

In “Your blow-by-blow Twitter recap of the fifth Democratic debate, Jessica Sutherland’s exhaustive coverage of the debate at Daily Kos notes: “The debate’s all-woman moderation team featured Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, Ashley Parker of WaPo, and NBC White House Correspondent Kristen Welker…Maddow kicked things off with impeachment, of course, noting Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s bombshell revelations about the military aid-for-Biden investigation agreement Donald Trump sought from Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky…Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked if she would convict the president.Warren didn’t hesitate to agree, told people telling people to “Read the Mueller report.” Further she vowed to never take a big donation and give anyone an ambassadorship in exchange for it…Minnesota Sen. Klobuchar called out Trump’s “impeachable conduct,” vowing to look at each count and make a decision. She asserted that the impeachment is about saving democracy, noting that “This is a pattern with this man.” Quoting Walter Mondale’s “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace,” she declared that the minimum standard that Donald Trump is failing to meet…Next, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders almly called Trump “corrupt” before warning against becoming obsessed with him. He shifted to healthcare and wealth inequality, before demanding that legislators “walk and chew gum at the same time.”…South Bend Mayer Pete Buttigieg asserted that Trump’s conduct was appalling, before making a similar call for legislators to forward the impeachment inquiry while also legislating.

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s take on the Atlanta debate, in his Washington Post column: “Imagine a debate that drove the political pundits crazy and warmed the hearts of policy wonks and voters curious about how politicians might solve problems. What would it be like to have presidential candidates score few points against each other but lay out in some detail what they’d do about family leave, housing, climate change, voting rights and a slew of other issues?…You don’t have to imagine. That pretty well describes the fifth Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night. It covered a much broader range of concerns than the earlier encounters, including an extensive set of queries on foreign policy. While the contenders tangled over a few issues — notably, as always, health care — they avoided fireworks, cracked the occasional joke (Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota especially) and spent far more time in vehement agreement than they did in loud disagreement.”

“This was the debate that sent a signal that Democrats differ far more with Trump and the Republicans than they do with each other,” Dionne explains. “The question that came to mind after some of the harsh and more narrowly focused brawls earlier in the year was: How could this party possibly unite? The question that dominated on Wednesday was: Do these contenders really disagree all that much?…Of course, they do disagree, as Warren and Sanders especially wanted to make clear by way of contrast with their more moderate adversaries. But it was a salutary break from an all-Trump, all-the-time Washington to hear discourses on how to build houses, how to make college affordable and how to help families care for their kids. It offered hope that politics might, someday, be about more than the antics of a self-involved, corrupt and out-of-control chief executive.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was overshadowed in the debate by the fireworks between Sen Harris and Rep Gabbard and then Sen. Booker and former Vice President Biden. It was a rough day for Warren, who was also sharply criticized in Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT column, “The Danger of Elizabeth Warren: Even if she wins the presidency — hardly a sure bet — she may jeopardize Democrats in the House and the Senate.” As Edall writes, “Under pressure, Elizabeth Warren has retreated from the idea of immediate implementation of Medicare for All, but she remains committed to the progressive core of her candidacy.” However, notes Edsall, “polarizing candidates diminish turnout in their own party while boosting turnout among opposing partisans…Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, analyzed the pattern of Democratic victories in 2018 House races and found that “those who supported Medicare for All performed worse than those who did not, even when controlling for other factors…As much as the Warren program has mobilized many Democratic primary voters, polls show that significant numbers of swing voters — wavering Republicans repelled by President Trump and moderate to conservative Democrats — do not share Warren’s appetite for major structural change, preferring incremental change and the repair of existing programs, like Obamacare.”

Edsall continues, “Strategically, if Warren wins the Democratic nomination, the election would become not only a referendum on Trump — favorable terrain for Democrats — but also a referendum on Warren’s program, a far less certain proposition…A presidential campaign based on the set of proposals Warren has put forward faces not only an assault from the right, but a mixed reception from the extensive network of Democratic policy mavens, including a number of economists…“Many of Senator Warren’s proposals are indeed radical and could have unintended consequences,” Jeffrey Frankel, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, wrote by email. He added: ‘I fear that by far the worst of the unintended consequences of making these proposals during the campaign is to get Donald Trump re-elected.'”

“On Nov. 15, Warren announced that if elected, she would wait until her third year in office to “fight to pass legislation that would complete the transition to full Medicare for All,” Edsall notes. “Warren’s new stance appears to be an acknowledgment of the fact that her proposal to replace all health private coverage with Medicare for All does not carry majority support even among Democratic primary voters, a liberal constituency, much less the general electorate…In a survey released on Oct. 19, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that ‘more Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer voting for a candidate who wants to build on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in order to expand coverage and reduce costs rather than replace the ACA with a national Medicare-for-all plan…In addition, Kaiser ‘found broad support for proposals that expand the role of public programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as a government-administered public option. And while partisans are divided on a Medicare-for-all national health plan, there is robust support among Democrats, and even support among Republicans, for an expansion of the Medicare program through a Medicare buy-in or a Medicaid buy-in proposal.”

In closing this edition of Political Strategy Notes, Russell Berman warns at The Atlantic: “it was left to the two black candidates onstage last night, Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, to warn their fellow candidates—and voters watching at home—that they take black voters, and especially black women, for granted at their peril. The issue came up initially when Harris was asked about her criticism of Buttigieg’s campaign after it published a stock photo of two black people who were from Kenya, not the United States. Harris declined to re-litigate that mini controversy, instead using the moment to bring up the Democratic Party’s historic neglect of black women. “The larger issue,” she said, “is that for too long, I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party. And have overlooked those constituencies. And they show up when it’s, you know, close to election time, and show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before…Both Booker and Harris might fall short in their own candidacies for president, but they delivered a message last night that as they seek to energize black voters, Democrats still have more work to do.”

The Trump GOP’s deepening fractures

From a new DCorps/Greenberg Research memo by Stanley Greenberg and Chad Arthur:

President Donald Trump has a loyal base of support among the Evangelicals, Observant Catholics, and Tea Party who form 70 percent of the party, and only a few brave elected Republicans are likely to oppose him. But strong anti-Trump fractures run through the remaining blocs of McCain conservatives and moderates, both those who identify with the party and those who have left it, and even some Trump loyalists. So, it should not be surprising that 10 to 15 percent of Republicans in current polls support impeachment or vote for a 2020 Democratic candidate or a third party candidate. And if that endures or grows, these trends represent a mortal threat to President Trump in 2020.

While Trump has pushed the proportion of McCain conservatives and social liberal moderates in the party down from 41 to 35 percent, the remaining GOP voters have become much more assertive about their doubts about the president. After three years of President Trump’s tweets and perceived impulsiveness and divisiveness, Republican doubters are much more willing to raise and defend their criticism, even in a small room with fellow Trump voters. It is as if their doubts have been building through three years of watching President Trump and uncomfortable conversations in their families and at work – and suddenly, they say, “don’t get me wrong,” and blurt out their issue.

They also watched long segments of the president’s rallies, press availabilities outside the White House, and the State of the Union only affirm what they already thought. He talks nobody back from their doubts, but instead, confirms that the polarization will only continue. Watching Trump leaves even his supporters worried, not excited, about the next stage of the Trump project.


Dems Face Challenge in Western PA

Salena Zito’s column, “Pennsylvania 2020: It’s Complicated,” quoted here from the Danville Register and Bee, provides some insights for Democratic prospects in the state. Noting that “The Democrats have gone from a 13-5 minority in the House to a 9-9 split” in PA’s congressional delegation, Zito adds,

But if the Democrats want a victory, they must hone their message. Because here’s the other takeaway from last week’s statewide elections: The western suburbs around Pittsburgh are deepening their allegiance to the GOP.”

As Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist in western Pennsylvania, puts it: “Philadelphia got bluer, and western Pennsylvania got redder.” In short, not all suburban voters are alike.

“Go too far left on policy positions like banning fracking or Medicare for All or taking people’s guns away anywhere outside of the counties of Philadelphia and they might repeat the same mistakes of 2016,” says G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College.

Zito also quotes Jeff Brauer, political science professor at Keystone College, who explains that “The big question will be the extent of enthusiasm of his [Trump’s] nonsupporters in the state,” Brauer added. “If that outweighs his base support, that will swing the election against him. It’s something he shouldn’t underestimate.” Further, Zito notes,

This year, Democrats crushed Republican candidates in suburban Philadelphia’s Delaware, Chester and Bucks counties. But Democratic municipal officeholders in the traditionally blue suburban counties around Pittsburgh, such as Beaver, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene, were swept out of county government in favor of Republican candidates. And in commissioners races across the state, Republicans actually flipped more counties than Democrats: Six went from Democrat to Republican, while five went from Republican to Democrat.

Zito adds that, “In 2016, Hillary Clinton did what all Democratic presidential nominees have done since 1992: creamed the Republican opponent in Philadelphia and its suburbs. She even flipped then-Republican stronghold Chester County by over 20,000 votes, a spot Barack Obama was unable to win in 2012.” However, “she essentially lost the rest of the state.” Zito concludes,

This deepening Republican support outside of the Philadelphia suburbs remains a threat to the Democratic nominee, a threat that many political professionals ignored in 2016 and continue to ignore to this day.

“The Democrats still have to choose a palatable presidential candidate who has a measured message as an alternative,” Brauer said. They must “appeal to working-class Trump voters in order to win the state in 2020.”

Some Dems argue that a big turnout in Philly and its ‘burbs should be adequate to win the state’s electoral college votes. That strategy requires a massive mobilization of African-American and progressive women voters. But if Dems rely on eastern PA alone, they may be inviting another disaster.

Teixeira: Only progressive economics can stop future Trumps

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 Washington Post magazine’s package on the Democrats’ move to the left included a piece I wrote. I featured that the other day but there were some other pieces that I wanted bring to people’s attention. I particularly liked this take by Dani Rodrik, who puts Trumpism and the response of the left in its proper, big picture context. Rodrik’s (short) piece in its entirety:

“Somewhat less than a third of likely voters say they will support President Trump in the 2020 election regardless of the Democratic Party nominee, according to the annual American Values Survey, conducted in recent months by the Public Religion Research Institute. This leaves more than two-thirds of the electorate up for grabs.

Whether progressive candidates on the left — Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — can claim a large enough share of these potential swing voters will depend less on inherent ideological predispositions than on the framing of the policy issues. True, the term “socialism” evokes mostly negative connotations among Republican-leaning voters. At the same time, according to the PRRI survey, nearly half (47 percent) of Republicans think “progressive” describes them somewhat or very well. And health care and jobs are two of the top three critical issues for uncommitted Americans. (The other is terrorism.)

Academic studies show that the disappearance of good jobs and attendant economic anxieties are key drivers behind the rejection of centrist politicians at the polls in both the United States and Europe. The areas of the country that went for Trump in 2016 after having voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 lagged significantly behind the rest of the country in expanding employment and economic opportunity. Their relative position has continued to deteriorate in the first two years of Trump’s administration.

Trump won in those “flipped counties” by wrapping a nativist narrative around their residents’ discontent. A progressive Democratic candidate would instead offer remedies that directly treat the causes — by redressing fundamental power imbalances in the economy and through public investment in education, social programs, infrastructure and job creation financed by more-progressive taxation.

The choice that the Democratic Party faces is this: It can treat Donald Trump as an aberration and prop up an economic regime that reproduces the status quo ante with cosmetic fixes. Or it can treat Trump as a symptom of an unsustainably unjust economic system that needs to be reformed at its core. Only the latter path will prevent the emergence of future Trumps.”

That’s a key point about the long game on Trumpism. It’s not just a matter of winning the 2020 election, as important as that is.

Teixeira: The Wisdom of Crowds (of Democrats)

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

Far be it from me to interrupt the ongoing weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among many Democrats about the current conflicts within the party. But it’s worth pointing out: some of these debates are actually winding up in the right place!

Perry Bacon Jr. at 538 has been following these internecine debates closely and has attempted a typology of the different kinds of Democrats fighting it out. In his most recent piece, he takes stock of which wings of the party seem to be faring the best on the various issues under discussion. On two key ones, health care and wealth/corporate power, it seems to me that the winners in his scrupulously fair assessment also correspond to the positions the Democrats would do well to advocate in the general election against the Evil One. So that’s a good thing!

Health care:

“On M4A, I would argue that the more moderate wings have the upper hand for now. You can see that in the Buttigieg and Harris campaigns, in which both felt the need to shift their rhetoric away from M4A. Polling suggests Democratic voters have fairly positive views of M4A, but Democrats also really like more incremental approaches (like building on Obamacare or “Medicare for all who want it”). And full-fledged M4A is fairly controversial with the broader electorate.

If Sanders or Warren makes it to the general election, he or she will face a lot of pressure from the broader Democratic Party to soften his or her health care stands. In fact, Warren is already doing so, putting out a plan last week that essentially would put off a full push to put all Americans under Medicare for All until her third year in office.”

Wealth/corporate power

“If the more progressive wings of the Democratic Party have lost ground on health care, I think they might be winning the intra-party debate over how Democrats should approach the wealthy and corporations….

We don’t have a lot of polling on say, whether voters want their candidates to attend big-dollar fundraisers. But a number of polls, like the Marist one above, suggest the wealth tax is fairly popular. And the broader concept that the wealthy have too much power is even more popular — basically unifying Democrats and even getting some Republican support. And politically it’s hard to really defend the wealthy. No candidate wants to say, “If I am president, I guarantee my big donors will have special access to me.”

So in terms of taking on wealthy individuals and big companies, the center-left is generally moving toward the left’s positions (at least publicly).”

Maybe Democrats aren’t so dumb after all!

Teixeira: Paging Elizabeth Warren – Yet More Evidence That Medicare for All Is a Loser

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

Paging Elizabeth Warren: Yet More Evidence That Medicare for All Is a Loser

Reminding folks of earlier poll data:

The latest CBS News poll finds that a 66-30 majority would like to see a Medicare-type health insurance plan available to all Americans. But among that two-thirds who want to see Medicare availability for all, it’s 2:1 against having all private insurance replaced by the Medicare-type plan. That leaves the hardcore Medicare for All/the hell with private insurance crowd down to a little over 20 percent.

Typical result; there’s lots more. Medicare for All is a loser with the general voting public.

And now we have additional evidence from Alan Abramowitz’ analysis of 2018 election results. The very short summary:

“A regression analysis comparing the performance of 2018 Democratic House candidates shows that those who supported Medicare for All performed worse than those who did not, even when controlling for other factors.”

He concludes with these words of wisdom:

“It is possible that the estimated effect of Medicare for All was a byproduct of other differences between supporters and non-supporters. For example, supporters might have taken more liberal positions on a variety of other issues as well as Medicare for All. Even if that is the case, however, these findings are not encouraging to supporters of Medicare for All. They indicate that candidates in competitive races who take positions to the left of the median voter could get punished at the polls. Democratic presidential candidates would do well to take heed of these results, particularly as the eventual nominee determines what he or she wishes to emphasize in the general election.”

Table 1: Support for Medicare for All among Democratic House candidates by district partisanship

Notes: District Partisanship based on 2016 presidential vote margin. A handful of districts were not included because there either was no Democratic nominee or the Democratic nominee had not yet been determined at time of survey release.

Source: Survey of Democratic House candidates by National Nurses United and data compiled by author.

Teixeira: The Fight for the Suburbs

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

Here is a representative take on the 2019 election from Ron Brownstein, highlighting the movement of the suburbs away from Trump and the GOP.

“When Trump was elected, there was an initial rejection of him in the suburbs,” says Jesse Ferguson, a Virginia-based Democratic strategist. “We are now seeing a full-on realignment.”

In that way, the GOP’s losses again raised the stakes for Republicans heading into 2020. In both message and agenda, Trump has reoriented the Republican Party toward the priorities and grievances of non-college-educated, evangelical, and nonurban white voters. His campaign has already signaled that it will focus its 2020 efforts primarily on turning out more working-class and rural white voters who did not participate in 2016.

But yesterday’s results again suggested that the costs of that intensely polarizing strategy may exceed the benefits. Republicans again suffered resounding repudiations in urban centers and inner suburbs, which contain many of the nonwhite, young-adult, and white-collar white voters who polls show are most resistant to Trump. If the metropolitan movement away from the Trump-era GOP “is permanent, there’s not much of a path for Republican victories nationally,” former Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee about two decades ago, told me.”

This is fine as far as it goes but it’s important to stress that the battle for the suburbs is not over. The battle will continue into 2020 and is likely to be decisive to the outcome. That’s because the suburbs where the Democrats have been cleaning up tend to be suburbs that are fairly close to the city–“inner-ring” suburbs. But beyond the inner ring suburbs lies a vast amount of suburbia–“outer ring” suburbs, where the Democrats are not doing so well.

Robert Gebeloff explains in an excellent piece in the New York Times, where he analyzes all census tracts in the US and categorizes them on a 1-10 scale based on population and development density.

“We categorized the tracts that scored 1 or 2 as rural, and those that scored 9 or 10 as urban.

Everything in between was suburbia, although we eventually divided the suburbs into two groups as well. The reason? When we started running the numbers for demographics and 2016 election results, we realized that the more-dense suburban tracts were, as a group, far different from the less-dense tracts.

We called less-dense suburbs “outer ring,” and denser suburbs “inner ring.”…

There is a distinction within the suburbs. All of suburbia has grown more diverse, but inner-ring neighborhoods have a much higher share of nonwhite residents than outer-ring neighborhoods do.

And the inner ring is more likely to support Democratic candidates; the outer more likely to vote Republican. Our analysis jibes with what some others have pointed out, there is a relationship between density and political preference.

“Majorities tend to flip from blue to red roughly where commuter suburbs give way to ‘exurban’ sprawl,” wrote Will Wilkinson, a researcher at the libertarian Niskanen Center, in a recent report. “That’s where the political boundary of the density divide is drawn.”
If 2016 is an indication, the battle lines are clear for 2020. Hillary Clinton dominated the inner-ring suburbs, and Donald J. Trump was dominant in the outer ring.”

Where exactly the line in suburbia is drawn between Democratic and Republican strength will probably determine the outcome in 2020.

Teixeira: Reading the Tea Leaves from 2018 and 2019

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

My friend and frequent co-author, demographer Bill Frey has a good, data-packed article up on the Brookings sifting through data from 2018 and 2019 and assessing what signals there may be there for the 2020 election. He’s pretty bullish on the Democrats.

“In 2018, 83% of voters resided in counties that increased their D-R margins since 2016, including 26% that increased their D-R margins by more than 10, and 57% that increased their margins by 0 to 9. Increased D-R margins were prominent among voters in counties that voted both Democratic and Republican in 2018.

Counties with sharply increased D-R margins tend to have “Republican-leaning” attributes, when compared with all counties: greater shares of noncollege whites and persons over age 45, and smaller shares of minorities and foreign-born persons. This occurs among both Democratic-voting and Republican-voting counties, suggesting there was a shift toward Democratic support for groups in counties that helped to elect Donald Trump in 2016….

Clearly, this week’s results for Kentucky governor and Virginia statehouse seats are positive signs for Democrats, especially when viewed on top of the heft and breadth of Democratic-leaning voting trends from the 2018 midterms. The latter strongly suggest movement toward increased Democratic or reduced Republican margins for large swaths of the country, across regions and especially in the suburbs. There appears to be reduced Republican support among white voters without college degrees—especially males—along with increased Democratic support among white, college-educated women. Moreover, both the 2018 midterms and this week’s off-year elections underscore the fact that turnout in 2020 is likely to be higher than in recent elections, rising especially among Democratic-leaning groups such as the young, minorities, and highly educated.

Of course, a lot can happen in the next year, especially with a still-undecided Democratic candidate and the potential impeachment and trial of President Trump. However, several underlying forces revealed in the 2018 and 2019 November elections suggest a swing toward Democrats is possible—assuming they are able to capitalize on it.”

Teixeira: Propositions for Common-Sense Democrats

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

Can the Democrats Walk Down the Street and Chew Gum at the Same Time?

We shall see. John Cassidy, in a recent New Yorker column, partly based on my research, makes the case that they must do so.

“The Democratic candidate, whoever it is, needs a convincing strategy for winning at least some of the battleground states that Trump carried last time. Failing to focus on this goal relentlessly would be inviting a repeat of 2016.

At least mathematically, the elements of a successful battleground-state strategy are clear. The Democratic candidate needs to excite voters in the Democratic base, particularly minorities and highly educated whites, while also trying to appeal to as many people as possible in Trump’s core demographic, which consists of whites who don’t have a four-year college degree. Contrary to some analyses, both of these things are necessary: it isn’t an either-or choice. The Democrats need a dual strategy….

In 2016, about a third of Hispanics and Asians voted for Trump, according to Teixeira and Halpin’s figures, and so did more than four in ten college-educated whites. Conversely, even as Trump racked up a huge margin among white non-college-educated voters—thirty-two percentage points—almost a third of the people in this category voted for Hillary Clinton.

Regional differences also complicate things. In much of the Midwest, which has long been a key electoral region, non-college-educated whites still constitute a majority of the voters, or close to it. Teixeira and Halpin project that in 2020 this group will make up roughly fifty-six per cent of the eligible electorate in Wisconsin, fifty-two per cent in Michigan, roughly forty-nine per cent in Pennsylvania, and fifty-two per cent in Minnesota, which Trump lost narrowly in 2016 and is targeting again.

Because candidates can’t rely on monolithic voting patterns, they can’t rely on monolithic electoral strategies either. Successful Presidential candidates, even as they target their core supporters, somehow manage to limit their losses among groups that aren’t inherently favorable to them. That is what Barack Obama did in 2012, when he held Mitt Romney’s victory margin among white non-college-educated voters to twenty-two per cent, while racking up big victory margins among minorities and highly educated whites. This two-step garnered him three hundred and thirty-two votes in the Electoral College.

Given Trump’s popularity among working-class whites, and the emphasis that he and his campaign are placing on their vote, it would be very difficult for any Democrat in 2020 to match what Obama did in 2012. But this doesn’t mean that the Democrats should give up on this demographic. Even just preventing Trump from expanding his 2016 margin among non-college-educated whites could be sufficient to deny him a victory in key battleground states, and in the election over all, Teixeira and Halpin argue….

None of this means that the Democrats should limit efforts to mobilize minorities, college graduates, and other Democratic-leaning groups. To the contrary, it is absolutely imperative that they continue, for example, launching enrollment drives in black neighborhoods in Milwaukee and taking steps to cement their 2018 gains in affluent districts north and west of Philadelphia. That is what it means to follow a dual strategy of attacking Trump’s weaknesses and trying to neutralize his strengths.

And paying attention to working-class white voters doesn’t necessarily mean tempering progressive policy proposals like raising taxes on the rich, tackling political corruption, providing universal day care, and guaranteeing health care to everyone….

The fundamental point is that the Democrats need to lay out a policy platform that appeals to a wide range of Americans, regardless of their race, location, and educational background, while also hammering home the message that Trump is divisive, fraudulent, self-dealing, and dangerously erratic. Among white non-college-educated women, if not their male counterparts, there is already some evidence of a willing audience for this narrative….

Even if the Party’s 2020 candidate falls short of drawing even with working-class women, significantly reducing Trump’s advantage among these voters would go a long way toward assuring his defeat. Above anything else, that has to be the goal.”

Yes indeed, that does have to be the goal–which calls for the chewing gum and walking down the street trick. Put more broadly, let me reintroduce my concept of Common Sense Democrats, which I motivate and explain as follows.

Looking forward to 2020, Democrats have a lot of very important questions that can reasonably be debated, from the specific candidate to nominate to which issues to emphasize to the best campaign tactics. But there is a need for political common sense to undergird these debates. If polling, trend data, campaign history and/or electoral arithmetic make clear that certain approaches are minimum requirements for success, they should be front-loaded into the discussion. That way discussion can focus on what is truly important instead of endlessly relitigating questions that are essentially settled.

In other words, start with common sense and then build from there. There will still be plenty of room for debates between left and right in the party, but matters of common sense should be neither left nor right. They are simply what is and what anyone’s strategy, whatever their political leanings, must take into account.

Let’s call practitioners of this approach “Common Sense Democrats”. Here are 7 propositions Common Sense Democrats should agree on.

1. Of course, Democrats need to reach persuadable white working class voters. There is abundant evidence that such voters exist, that they were particularly important in the 2018 elections, that such voters have serious reservations about Trump and that they are central to a winning electoral coalition in Rustbelt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Shifts among such voters do not have to be large to be effective.

2. Of course, Democrats need to target the Rustbelt. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were the closest states in 2016, gave the Democrats big bounceback victories in 2018 and, of states Clinton did not win in 2016, currently give Trump the lowest approval ratings.

3. Of course, Democrats need to promote as high turnout as possible among supportive constituencies like nonwhites and younger voters. But evidence indicates that high turnout is not a panacea and cannot be substituted for persuasion efforts.

4. Of course, Democrats need to compete strongly in southern and southwestern swing states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Recent election results, trend data and Trump approval ratings all indicate that these states are accessible to Democrats though less so than the key Rustbelt states. As such, they form a necessary complement to Rustbelt efforts but not a substitute.

5. Of course, Democrats need to run on more than denouncing Trump and Trump’s racism. One lesson of the 2016 campaign is that it is not enough to “call out’ Trump for having detestable views. That did not work then and it is not likely to work now. Democrats’ 2018 successes were based on far more than that, effectively employing issue contrasts that disadvantaged the GOP. Trump will be happy to have an unending conversation about those he loves to denounce—criminal immigrants, radical Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, etc–and those who denounce his denunciations. Don’t let him.

6. Of course, Democrats should not run against Trump with positions that are unambiguously unpopular. These include, but are not limited to, abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency), reparations for the descendants of slaves, abolishing private health insurance and decriminalizing the border with Mexico. Whatever merits such ideas may have as policy–and these are generally debatable–there is strong evidence that they are quite unpopular with most voters and therefore will operate as a drag on the Democratic nominee.

7. Of course, Democrats should focus on what will maximize their probability of beating Trump. By this I mean there are plenty of strategies that have some chance of beating Trump–if such and such happens, if such and such goes right (cutting-edge progressive positions produce high turnout among Democratic voters but not among Republicans). You can always tell a story. But the important thing is: what maximizes your chance of victory, given what we know about political trends and the current state of public opinion. In this election, Democrats can afford nothing less.