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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

GOP Plan to Win Working-Class Voters Unveiled

It’s not exactly a hot flash that the GOP hopes to secure a permanent majority of white working-class voters, who are about 45 percent of America’s electorate, and that they have done well with this key constituency since 2016. But for Democratic oppo researchers who like details, Susan Davis has them in her article, “Top Republicans Work To Rebrand GOP As Party Of Working Class” at npr.org. As Davis writes,

A growing number of working-class voters were drawn to Donald Trump’s Republican Party, and now top Republicans are searching for ways to keep those voters in the fold without Trump on the ballot.

“All of the statistics and polling coming out of the 2020 election show that Donald Trump did better with those voters across the board than any Republican has in my lifetime since Ronald Reagan,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., told NPR. “And if Republicans want to be successful as a party, win the majority in 2022, win back the White House in 2024, I think we have to learn lessons that Donald Trump taught us and how to appeal to these voters.”

Since 2010, the most significant growth in the Republican coalition has been white voters without a college degree — an imperfect but widely used metric to quantify the working-class voting bloc — along with some marginal growth among similarly educated Black and Hispanic voters. Banks believes the only winning path forward for the GOP is to reimagine itself permanently as the party of working-class America.

Banks is the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative faction in the House long rooted in small government, low taxes and social conservatism, and he recently sent a six-page memo to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., making his case. For Banks, it means tougher immigration laws and cracking down on China, Big Tech and, perhaps most provocatively for the GOP, corporate America.

“For too long, the Republican Party fed into the narrative and the perception that the Republican Party was the party of big business or the party of Wall Street,” Banks said.

Davis shares the entire, 6-page GOP memo from Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Comittee to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In the memo, entitled “Cementing the GOP as the Working-Class Party.” Davis quotes John Russo, who has contributed to The Democratic Strategist:

“I think the claim that says the Republican Party is the party of the working class is at best, insincere, and more likely, political misdirection and rebranding exercises,” said John Russo, a visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University and a co-editor of the publication Working-Class Perspectives.

The working-class vote is complicated and too often confused with whiteness when about 40% of the working-class vote is people of color, Russo said. Their support also didn’t cut overwhelmingly toward Republicans in 2020. Biden still won a majority of voters who earn less than $50,000 year, while Trump won a majority of voters who earn over $100,000 a year.

Russo said about one-third of working-class voters are considered persuadable in elections, and it’s never reliable whether cultural or economic forces will drive their vote. “The working class, like all of us, carry multiple identities, race, class, gender, religious, geographic, and people may vote different parts of their identity as situations and moments change in their lives.”

Davis concludes, “The battle for the working class is even more urgent for the two parties because it’s a growing bloc of voters. Since the 2008 financial crisis, Russo said, more middle-class people have slid economically backward and are experiencing what he calls “the fragility of working-class life.”

Teixeira: How Moderate Democrats Can Take Advantage of a Republican Coalition in Crisis

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 at The Democratic Strategist takes a look at the latest Democracy Corps memo on “What Will Trump Loyalists’ Sensed Powerlessness Mean For Politics?“and considers how moderate Democrats can leverage the situation to improve Democratic prospects. Important stuff. As I have frequently noted, the ostentatiously progressive Democrats get the ink but the Democrats’ near-term fate depends much more on how moderate Democrats fare in coming elections.

“While it is almost impossible for many Democrats to seriously imagine that any white Americans could be genuinely afraid of this result, there is no question that it is felt by many white Republicans with complete sincerity. While Democrats envision a progressive future America as being an exciting, culturally and ethnically diverse, multiracial country in which there is general tolerance for diversity, white working class and small town people imagine an elitist society in which they have no place. To understand how this vision can seem entirely plausible, one has only to consider how rarely small town life or manual labor are portrayed positively in TV commercials and other media as part of the golden future that lies ahead. In slick advertisements and magazine spreads “the future” always looks like a world of gleaming office towers, bright young people in bustling urban centers and “country” as a place that people drive to in late model SUVs in order to go rock climbing or mountain biking.

The political implication of this is that moderate Democrats in Red State districts must very sincerely reassure Republicans that they genuinely value and respect the America of small towns, manual labor and the cultural traditions of that world and do not think it all an obsolete relic that should disappear. Moderate Democrats must make clear that the Democratic vision is for mutual tolerance and respect for different kinds of communities and not the ascendency of one group or community over another.

A related fact that emerges from the research is that many Republicans are seriously and deeply disturbed by what seems to them a Democratic indifference and even tolerance for social chaos. This extends across a wide range of social problems – from crime to urban decay to homeless vagabonds, illegal immigrants and failing schools. For Republicans, the common thread in all these problems is a Democratic failure to insist that rules should be followed and law and order firmly upheld.

The most powerful issue in 2020 was the specter of urban riots whose importance the GOP vastly exaggerated until many Republicans were sincerely convinced that it was totally out of control….Democrats must draw a clear line regarding what they view as genuinely unacceptable violations of social order. Among progressives there is tendency to resist endorsing slogans like “law and order” because they can sound like coded appeals to racial prejudice. But carried to an extreme this is profoundly counterproductive. Democratic voters do not actually support rioting of the type in which the Antifa protesters engaged in last year or passively accept street crime and other urban lawlessness. Democrats can be tough on riots and crime and actually win support from African-Americans and Latinos who drifted notably toward the Republicans in significant measure because in 2020 they also fear and reject chaos as much as whites….
Moderate Democrats will also have the opportunity to make inroads into the 30% who are somewhat or strongly opposed to him.

The Democracy Corps report says the following about this group: About 30 percent of Republicans are [either] non-Trump conservatives [or] the ideologically and religiously moderate —with the latter forming half of this bloc that vocally opposes Trump. …they are now much clearer where they differ with Trump and much more willing to express it, even in a room full of Trump loyalists. Trump’s CPAC speech — “that’s what I hate” says one. They called out the “nut jobs” and conspiracy theorists. They don’t understand their fellow Republican’s opposition to masks and health measures. They don’t think the 2nd Amendment is sacred, oppose the display of weapons in Michigan, and want to regulate guns. When others said they appreciated what the Proud Boys did, they called them out as “not patriots.” They seemed open to a much more expansive role for government.

This is encouraging but it should not lead to misperceiving them as fully in agreement with moderates or liberals:

They do share with other Republicans an aversion to BLM and cancel culture; they too are looking for more law and order and seem uncomfortable with whites being on the defensive. They agreed that the elite media ignored the violence in the cities.

What this clearly indicates is that the same tactics that can reassure or partially neutralize the opposition of the Trump loyalists can also present an attractive alternative for these voters….

[M]oderate Democrats must recognize that they have to pre-empt the inevitable Republican distortions of their views by very clearly drawing certain “lines in the sand” about their firm opposition to rioting, crime, and allowing demands for “political correctness” to essentially require that average Americans completely adopt the language and culture of the university or face censure, contempt and condemnation.

A position of this kind will not only resonate with the 30% of non-Trumpist Republicans but will also “lower the temperature” of the Trumpist Republicans themselves and convince them that the elections of 2022 and 2024 are not apocalyptic battles against evil in which the future itself is literally at stake. To the extent that this can be achieved, it will reduce the turnout of low frequency GOP voters and enhance the likelihood of Democratic victories.”

Read all of Levison’s analysis and the original DCorps memo.

Political Strategy Notes

In “Economist: ‘Voter restriction bills will cost Texas billions‘,” at kvue.com, Ashely Goudeau reports “Two Republican-backed bills to make sweeping elections changes could cost Texas billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, according to local economists….Central Texas Economist Ray Perryman, Ph.D., analyzed data, studies and research of state economies correlation to voting access. His team found when voter access is restricted, business and the economy suffer due to the loss of business, jobs and major events and deals….Among other things, Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 ban drive-thru voting, limit voting hours and stop elections clerks from proactively sending out mail-in ballot applications to registered voters. Republicans say the bills will enhance voter integrity, but democrats and critics say the bills aim to suppress voters, particularly minority voters….”As of 2025, if a bill like this would come into effect and be in effect for about five years, we’ve found Texas could lose about $14.7 billion in GDP and roughly around 73,000 jobs,” Dr. Perryman said….Dr. Perryman also estimates Texas’ tourism and economic development would take a $16.7 billion hit in the first five years if one of the bills becomes law. And those figures only increase the longer the laws are in effect.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “The Supreme Court faces a legitimacy crisis not because progressives are complaining but because of what they are complaining about: a reckless, right-wing, anti-democratic court majority, and a conservative court-packing campaign marked by the disgraceful Republican blockade against President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 and the unseemly rush to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett just before President Donald Trump’s defeat last November….Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump were the court-packers. There would be far less talk of court enlargement if McConnell and Trump had not abused their power. Nor would enlargement be on the table if conservative justices had not substituted their own political preferences for Congress’s decisions, notably on voting rights and campaign finance reform, 5-to-4 rulings on which Breyer, rightly, joined the dissenters.”

Adie Tomer explains why “Biden’s infrastructure plan replaces federal cynicism with a sweeping vision” at Brookings: “Put it all together and the Biden proposal offers the most powerful ingredient when it comes to infrastructure reform: It sells a vision. The plan unapologetically calls out our next destination, whether that’s safer streets or cleaner power. It offers sweeping investments to make such a vision real, from replacing aging pipes to delivering rural broadband. And it brings people—especially our workforce—along for the ride….Biden has used the stump the way a forward-looking president should. The administration has delivered a vision to the American people—a promise of a new kind of country. And the country itself is responding, with polling that shows bipartisan support for the plan’s ideas….America was built for these kinds of grand visions. It is starting to feel like another one may soon come to life….Biden’s plan is an enormous bet on America—a bet that trillions of dollars of targeted investment can improve people’s lives, make our industries more globally competitive, and repair our fragile natural world. It’s also a major bet on the power of federal investment. Rather than asking states and cities to do more, as the Trump administration’s plan sought, the proposal recognizes the economic moment and essentially says that it’s time for the federal government to lead.”

Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic: “One asset Democrats have in this struggle is time. However successful Republicans are at tarnishing Biden’s programs at the outset among core GOP voters, Biden has an opportunity to change those perceptions through the actual implementation of his plans. Even during the putative honeymoon period at his presidency’s start, Biden’s approval rating among rural and non-college-educated white voters has remained stuck at only a little over one-third. But the stimulus package has drawn substantial support in polls even from Republican voters, and those numbers could rise even more as families feel the effects of the aid. Likewise, if Democrats can pass Biden’s infrastructure program this summer, that will leave plenty of time before the next two elections to start repairing bridges and roads, and to break ground on new water systems, new wind and solar installations, and new broadband facilities. Even small gains in nonurban areas from such initiatives would fortify Democrats’ position in states near the tipping point of American elections, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia, Hildreth told me. “I think we are maybe a decade from having a majority in critical rural counties, but we just need to cut margins right now,” he said. “Literally the motto is ‘Lose less.’”

Democrats Have a Clear National Position on Voting Rights. Republicans? Not So Much

Some of the contradictions in Republican talking points on election law and voting rights are becoming clear to me, so I wrote about it at New York:

During the intense controversy raised by Georgia’s new election law, which included a negative reaction from Major League Baseball and a number of corporations, many defenders of the law have played a game of whataboutism. What about voting laws in Colorado, the state to which the MLB’s all-star game has been shifted? What about liberal New York? A lot of these comparisons have been factually challenged, or have zeroed in on one benign feature of the Georgia law while ignoring others. But it does raise a pretty important question: What is the posture nationally of the GOP or the conservative movement on the right to vote and its limits?

Not long ago you might have said that Republicans and conservatives were firmly committed to the view that rules governing voting and elections —even federal elections — were purely within the purview of state and local policy-makers. But that was before Donald Trump spent four years disparaging the decisions made by liberal and conservative jurisdictions on voting procedures whenever they contradicted his often-erratic but always forcefully expressed views. If, for example, voting by mail was as inherently pernicious as Trump said it was, almost daily from the spring through the autumn of 2020, allowing states to permit it was a Bad Thing, right? That simply added to the complaints made by Trump after the 2016 elections that California’s alleged openness to voting by noncitizens cost him a popular vote win over Hillary Clinton, and the widespread Republican whining after 2018 that the same jurisdiction had counted out Republican congressional candidates (whining that somehow subsided when Republicans did better in the exact same districts following the exact same rules in 2020).

And if the prevailing conservative idea is that decision-makers closest to the people should determine voting and election rules, then it’s hard to explain the provisions in the Georgia law (and in pending legislation in Texas) that preempt local government prerogatives decisively.

So what doctrine of voting rights does the GOP favor, other than whatever is necessary to produce Republican election victories? That’s hard to say.

Yes, at the Heritage Foundation you will find experts who more or less think everything other than in-person voting on Election Day should be banned everywhere. And now and then you will get someone like Kevin Williamson who will articulate the provocative old-school conservative case for restricting the franchise to “better” voters, which was pretty much the ostensible case for the poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow South. Unfortunately, snooty contrarianism isn’t a particularly helpful guide to the development of voting laws, and most Republicans (other than those caught in a gaffe) are unlikely to agree out loud with the Williamson proposition.

Until quite recently, most Republicans agreed that the jurisdictions that had for so many years discriminated against the voting rights of minorities deserved extra federal scrutiny and some additional hoops to jump through before changing their rules. In 2006, George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act that did just that, after it passed the Senate unanimously and the House with scattered opposition. Then a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key feature of the VRA, and now it’s almost exclusively Democrats (via the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) who want to restore it. Where are Republicans on that idea? With the states and localities, or just with the states and localities where federal intervention in voting and election practices doesn’t inconvenience Republicans?

Whatever you think of Democratic attitudes toward voting and elections, at least they can answer such questions coherently. They have united to an amazing extent around highly detailed legislation (the House and Senate versions of the For the People Act and the aforementioned John Lewis Act) that generally expands voting rights and sets clear federal standards for procedures in and surrounding federal elections. The Republican response to these proposals has been almost universally negative. But it’s unclear what, if anything, they would propose of their own accord.

If the implicit GOP position on voting and elections is simply that such rules are part of the give and take of partisan politics and that both sides are free to play fast and loose with the facts and get what advantages they can, then I can understand why they are loathe to make it explicit. But in that case, people who care about voting rights one way or the other should simply choose sides and have it out.

Juul and Katulis: Weaving a new liberal narrative – Why liberals need new institutions to tell a compelling political story

The following article by Peter Juul and Brian Katulis is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

As we’ve written before here at The Liberal Patriot, the center-left needs a new intellectual infrastructure to better disseminate its core principles and resist illiberal politics from all quarters. An important part of that effort involves building new sources of support that can yoke practical policies to broader principles. In other words, liberals need a new set of institutions, programs, and individuals that can tell a compelling story about their principles, politics, and policies.

Right now, however, this narrative infrastructure doesn’t exist – and it shows. The Biden administration has gotten off to a strong start on a number of fronts, from pandemic relief and economic rebuilding to pragmatic foreign policy decisions. But it’s struggled to tie its actions together in a coherent story that it can tell the American people and the world.

“Build back better” and “a foreign policy for the middle class” are slogans for a very ambitious and possibly historic policy agenda – one that could transform the country for the better. But don’t be mistaken: these headlines and the policy components don’t yet constitute a narrative, a story that connects with ordinary Americans and instills a sense of national purpose. As things stand, they remain skeletal notions, and the Biden domestic and foreign policy teams have yet to flesh them out in many ways.

Take two recent speeches by Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken – both lay out a number of good policy ideas but don’t go the extra mile and connect them to a persuasive political narrative. In her remarks on international economic policy, for instance, Yellen made important points about the need to help low-income nations vaccinate themselves and enact a global minimum corporate tax rate. But much of her speech remained standard technocratic boilerplate that could have been delivered at any point over the past thirty years without much alteration. That’s a missed opportunity on the narrative front given the historic, transformative times we’re living in right now.

Similarly, Secretary of State Blinken’s remarks on appointing former USAID director Gayle Smith as international COVID response czar put forward a number of compelling arguments. In language reminiscent of airline pre-flight safety notices to secure one’s own oxygen mask before helping others, Blinken noted that the United States rightly focused on beating COVID-19 at home before helping others do the same. But he also made the case that Americans wouldn’t be safe from COVID-19 or recover economically until the pandemic was beaten worldwide.

Blinken’s speech was cogent and competent, which in and of itself a marked improvement from most of what America saw on the foreign policy front during the previous administration. But like Yellin’s speech, it was not connected to a persuasive political narrative – one that helps move to the coming post-COVID recovery phase. The main challenge is that the story told is incomplete – it’s like a baseball pitcher on the mound who winds up and throws but doesn’t follow through completely. The ball is less likely to hit the glove in the strike zone.

This lack of a convincing center-left story results from a variety of causes, but it’s fundamentally rooted in the much broader collapse of liberal intellectual infrastructure in recent decades.

This collapse has 4 components:

1. Outsourcing narrative-building to academics, activists, and political journalists.

After the tumult of the 1960s, liberals in and around the Democratic Party outsourced the vital task of narrative-building to a random assortment of activists, academics, and political journalists. Anti-war activists, for instance, issue empty calls to “end endless wars,” while unpopular and unwise proposals to defund the police originated with small, unrepresentative far-left activist groups. When these parties are interested in constructing narratives, they’re likely to tell bleak and pessimistic stories about America itself – such as the factually-challenged 1619 Project published and heavily promoted by the New York Times. For their part, many politically-minded academics have spent the past many decades conjuring up what the late philosopher Richard Rorty called “dreams not of political reforms but of inexplicable, magical transformations” of a fundamentally corrupt society in thrall to mystical “preternatural forces.” To be clear, voices from a diverse range of experts and activists should be part of the mix when it comes to building an inclusive nationalism. But to succeed in building a narrative, the North Star should be about painting a hopeful vision of the future, rather than getting stuck in the current moment or wallowing in the past.

2. Positioning through polling rather than staking out clear positions based on ideas and values linked to a story.

Starting in the 1970s, moreover, politicians themselves turned to political consultants and pollsters rather than intellectuals and wordsmiths to shape and guide their policies. Since its advent, modern polling has always been an important factor in politics and policy. But the ever-increasing contemporary reliance on consultants have left liberals with plenty of messaging but not a whole lot of actual message. As a result, the narrative infrastructure on the left is more about positioning – reacting to the political winds that blow – rather than generating a new breeze in a narrative that stakes out principled positions based on values and advancing those positions.

3. The rise of the technocratic and bureaucratic wonks.

In the 1990s, a new class of technocratic policy experts rose to dominate political and policy discussions on the center-left. Ensconced in universities and think tanks interspersed with a couple of years of government service, these policy wonks tend to focus narrowly on their areas of expertise and specialization. It’s assumed that technical proficiency of the sort possessed by economists and foreign country specialists scales up and allows a mastery of generalist subjects, but it’s not at all clear that that’s the case either in theory or in reality. Liberals have a cadre of highly-educated experts to manage government bureaucracies and execute complicated programs, but few have the skills to tell a compelling story about liberal politics and policies. Some of the most agonizing meetings that take place in Washington are the ones involving foreign policy or economics specialists struggling to cobble together a convincing political narrative. It’s like a cello player in an orchestra trying to tell the conductor how the overall piece of music should be put together: sometimes it works, but most times it is off-key.

4. The quest for echo chambers.

On top of these developments, transformations in the media landscape over the past fifty years – and especially over the past decade – have made it more difficult to inject a coherent narrative into the national political bloodstream. It’s not impossible, but the days when FDR or JFK could set the terms of the national debate with fireside chats or televised press conferences have been long gone for a while now. In their place, liberals belatedly and without much success attempted to replicate the echo chambers like Fox News that conservatives have deployed to great political effect. More recently, left and right have built echo chambers on social media platforms like Twitter that encourage the most extreme and Extremely Online voices. In recent years, some elements of the so-called “progressive” left have used these platforms more to beat others up on the left and fragment coalitions and relationships, rather than use them to build coalitions and relationship capital to achieve shared, common goals.

As a result, the broad center-left is not structured to tell a coherent story about its politics and policies. Their programs and messages amount to less than the sum of their parts. Administration communications gurus and activist networks organize pop-up echo chambers to push particular policies, but they don’t invest in the making of big-picture narratives that put these policies into perspective in ways that ordinary people can easily understand. Smart and dedicated people waste their time and energy on what remain fundamentally tactical issues – leaving wider strategic questions unattended and unanswered in the process.

To its credit, the Biden administration has avoided many of the worst mistakes made by present-day progressives. Biden and many of his key aides are terminally Offline, and his administration has wisely focused on bread-and-butter issues like the pandemic and economic recovery more than the culture war issues beloved by both the progressive left and conservative right. “Build back better” and “a foreign policy for the middle class” may not pop as slogans and remain ideas that need further development, but they’re a decent starting point. What the Biden administration needs moving forward aren’t echo chambers that repeat its talking points on, say, its infrastructure package or its Iran policy – it needs generalists that build on and expand the themes it’s sketched out in very rough terms and helps carry those narratives to the broader American public in a way that seeks to advance a more inclusive nationalism.

That’s easier said than done, as President Obama learned when his “New Foundation” formula failed to gain traction during his time in office. While his administration found its attention repeatedly diverted by crises and emerging challenges, it also lacked the sort of external intellectual support to reinforce and elaborate on the themes it tried to surface. Obama’s eight years resulted in many important accomplishments such as an effective response to the 2008 Great Recession, health care reform, and steps forward on climate change. But towards the end of two terms in office, the sum total of the foreign policy narrative was “don’t do stupid shit” and this left many Americans asking: what’s the big idea?

Think tanks once might have served this function, but too often they have become either waystations for mid-level technocrats going into and coming out of government or activist operations fueled by funding from elite foundations – and increasingly they’re both at the same time.

Instead, liberals need to invest in big-picture, meaning-making institutions and outlets outside government, academia, existing think tanks, and major media outlets. They cannot outsource their narratives to academics, activists, and political journalists, or rely on think tanks that exist to shelter technocrats and increasingly see unrepresentative activists chart their courses to do the job. Looking forward, a new breed of institution that can see and describe the whole picture from an outside perspective will be necessary to build new liberal political narratives that connect particular policies and programs with underlying principles in a compelling and easily comprehensible way.

These narratives can’t be reduced to mere messaging or communications, either. As the scholar Lawrence Freedman noted in the conclusion of his history of the subject, strategy is as much about stories as anything else. Accordingly, these new narrative-building institutions will have much to say about political strategy and big-picture policy questions. They’ll help tell liberals where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going – and, crucially, why. Moreover, they’ll provide a sanctuary for liberals who don’t see mid-tier government positions as their primary way to advance good ideas as well as academics who wish to constructively contribute to the common good.

It’s as good a place as any for liberals to start rebuilding their once-formidable intellectual infrastructure.

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, “The Fear That is Shaping American Politics,” Thomas B. Edsall notes, “Robert Griffin, research director of the nonpartisan Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, wrote by email that he expects “the national environment to be worse for Democrats in 2022 than it was in 2020.” The shift, he continued, will almost certainly include a loss of support among white voters who — if history is any guide — will represent a larger share of the electorate in 2022 because of midterm turnout dynamics….Griffin wrote that “it’s not obvious to me that this shift will be dependent on Biden’s ability or failure to overcome white racial resentment,” because “these midterm dynamics are pretty baked in and it would be shocking to see them defied.”….On the plus side for Democrats, Griffin noted: The growing educational divide among white Americans does present an interesting opportunity for the Democratic Party. One of the things most people don’t appreciate is that white overrepresentation among voters is driven almost entirely by white college voters. This overrepresentation of white college voters is even greater in midterm elections. The growing educational divide among white voters — with Biden viewed much more favorably by white college voters — potentially blunts some of those midterm dynamics I described….I asked Griffin what the prospects are for Biden to build a stronger and more durable Democratic coalition. He is doubtful: If you had to pick one group that would do the most to solidify the democratic coalition electorally, it would be white non-college voters. They make up more than 40 percent of voters and are exceptionally well represented in the Electoral College, the House and the Senate….Biden, Griffin continued, improved slightly on Hillary Clinton’s margin among these voters, but it wasn’t anything massive. Given the long-term trends away from the Democratic Party among these voters, even holding onto his 2020 margins would likely represent an achievement.”

At Slow Boring, Matthew Yglesias makes a pretty convincing case that, contrary to popular beliefs, America’s transportation infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, is not all that bad. Yglesias writes that “the existing surface transportation funding levels in the United States are inadequate. We have some of the best commute times in the world in an international context; our road quality is improving under current funding levels; and the biggest practical problem we have — endemic congestion in a few key metro areas — is not really amenable to being addressed with a big surge of funding.” Yglesias acknowledges that there is room for imrovement in mass rail transit in cities like New York, and notes, “What America’s bad traffic cities really need is congestion pricing, zoning that allows more people to live in convenient locations, and selective investments in improving mass transit capacity.” Yglesias would like to see more infrastructure investment on other more urgently-needed priorities, and notes “the same low population density that generally makes our commutes good has left us with subpar levels of mass broadband adoption. The challenge of moving electricity around is very real. Lead in water pipes is really bad. These infrastructure challenges are huge and much more important than roads and bridges. If the bill gets changed, it’s important to keep that stuff.”

In ‘keep doing what you’re doing, Mr. President’ news,  Chelsea Cox reports at USA Today, “More Americans identify as Democrats than Republicans by a margin that hasn’t been seen in a decade, according to a report released by Gallup on Wednesday…An average of 49% of adults age 18 and older reported Democratic Party affiliation or said they are independent with Democratic leanings throughout the first quarter of 2021, the pollster reported. The survey was conducted by phone from January-March.  In comparison, 40% of adults identified as Republican or Republican-leaning. The 9% difference is the Democrats’ largest advantage since the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the report. The remaining 11% of respondents were political independents with no partisan leanings….Democrats have typically held a 4 to 6 point advantage over Republicans.  Shortly before the first quarter of the year, the gap in affiliation was virtually nonexistent before Democrats’ advantage widened by 9%….The report also noted a 6% increase in independents; from 38% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 44% in the first quarter of 2021. It’s the highest percentage since 2013, when 46% of survey respondents identified as independents. The rise correlates with the decline in Republican Party identification, just as in 2013, when the GOP saw a drop in the popularity during the government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act.”

Democrats pondering a response to Mitch McConnell’s sanctimonious comments urging corporations to “stay out of politics” should check out former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s zinger: “Mitch McConnell continued his tirade against businesses who have spoken out against Georgia’s egregious voter suppression bill today, telling reporters that corporations should “stay out of politics.” Yes, you read that right….That’s rich, coming from one of the most outspoken supporters of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed corporate cash and big money to flood unabated into our democracy. I suppose McConnell has no problem with “corporate free speech” when it’s benefiting him personally — he was, after all, the top recipient of corporate cash in the 2020 election cycle. And he even took a case all the way to the Supreme Court in 2003 because he was so determined to bring more corporate money into our political process. Republicans love corporations in politics when it means they’re bankrolling Republican campaigns — but as soon as corporations stand up against Republican hatred and bigotry, it’s time for them to be silent. The hypocrisy is staggering.”

Explaining Republican Optimism

I tried to put myself in Republican shoes for a moment, and explored at New York why so many of these elephants think their current path is a winner.

At FiveThirtyEight this week, Perry Bacon Jr. explores a very important political mystery: why a Republican Party that lost control of the White House and Congress over the last four years — and that is at the north end of a south-bound brontosaurus when it comes to demographic trends — seems so completely happy with standing pat on its ideology and leadership.

Bacon goes through multiple theories for this resistance to introspection, including activist and media love for Trump and Trumpism; rank-and-file complacency with the current direction of the GOP; Trump’s own refusal to go away; and perhaps most important, the realization that this is an old story by now, that we are looking at a “[c]ollective decision of conservative activists and Republican elected officials to stay on the anti-democraticracist trajectory that the GOP had been on before Trump — but that he accelerated.”

Since we are talking about people operating in what is largely a winner-take-all political system, who are following a leader who professes to be all about “winning,” perhaps the most interesting reason for the manifest Republican complacency is the belief that an immediate comeback is not simply possible but likely. Some of this is a matter of degree, says Bacon:

“Historically, parties have done more self-reflection and been more likely to change course when they’ve hit electoral low points….

“In contrast, Trump would have won reelection had he done only about 1 percentage point better in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and about 3 points better in Michigan. Republicans would still control the Senate had Republican David Perdue won about 60,000 more votes (out of nearly 4.5 million cast) against Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s Senate runoff. A slew of court rulings that forced the redrawing of House district lines in less favorable ways to the GOP helped the Democrats win several seats — otherwise, Republicans might have won back the House. Add all that up, and 2020 wasn’t that far from resulting in a Republican trifecta.”

But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Republicans have now lost three of the last four presidential elections, and have won the national popular vote just once in the last eight presidential elections. They are still getting clobbered among the younger voters (61 percent of under-30 voters preferred Biden to Trump, according to a Tufts study) who will increasingly dominate elections. Trends among the youngest voters, from increased diversity to decreased church attendance, are not friendly to the GOP.

So where does the Republican optimism come from? There are several factors, as I explore below:

The 2022 midterms look sunny

The over-performance by Republicans in 2020 House races gives them what is historically a very good chance to retake that chamber in 2022, as Kyle Kondik recently noted:

“Since the Civil War, there have been 40 midterm elections. The party that held the White House lost ground in the House in 37 of those elections, with an average seat loss of 33. Since the end of World War II, the average seat loss is a little smaller — 27 — but still significant.”

Based on the House as it was shaped after November 2020, Republicans would only need to flip five net seats to regain the majority. The Senate is iffier thanks to a landscape dotted with GOP retirements. But busting up the Democratic trifecta would have a massive effect on the Biden administration’s ability to enact legislation.

Redistricting will beef up Republican gains

The decennial process of reapportioning and redistricting congressional and state legislative seats will soon be underway. And thanks to what one analyst called “an abysmal showing by Democrats in state legislative races” in 2020, Republicans are in a good position to reinforce their advantage over the next decade.

At the congressional level, reapportionment of seats between the states will give GOP-controlled state legislatures new seats to play with (especially in Florida, which will gain two seats, and in Texas, which will gain three). Redistricting is harder to predict, but as Geoffrey Skelley noted in November, it will likely favor Republicans:

“The GOP is set to fully control redistricting for about two-fifths of all House seats, while Democrats will only hold sway over one-tenth of them, with the remaining seats are in states with divided governments or where redistricting is done by a commission system. The Republican line-drawing advantage should help the party draw favorable maps that could help the GOP win more seats than we might otherwise expect.”

Republicans will do more with less popular support

The redistricting factor is one of several examples of the GOP’s willingness and ability to counter Democratic popular support with institutional arrangements that magnify minority power, from gerrymandering to the Electoral College to the Senate filibuster to voter suppression efforts. Perhaps Republicans didn’t get close enough in 2020 to convert such bonus points into trifecta control, but they understand that actual popular majorities are not the point.

They think Trumpism is a strategy for party expansion

While most Democrats tend to think of Trumpism as the last-gasp effort of a reactionary party to hold onto power by polarizing the country and eking out narrow electoral victories by mobilizing culturally threatened voters with hate and rage, Republicans naturally don’t see it that way. As Representative Jim Banks illustrated in his recent memo to Kevin McCarthy about GOP messaging in 2021 and beyond, they think Trumpism is about making a country-club party the “party of the [white] working class,” which can appeal to a growing segment of minority voters as well. This notion is mostly based on the theory that cultural conservatism is more powerful among white working-class voters and Black and Latino men than the more tangible economic offerings of Democrats.

It’s an approach which Republicans have been pursuing since the days of Richard Nixon, when the white working-class portion of the population was vastly larger, but it’s still exciting to those who think Trump invented it.

Many of them think they really won in 2020

While those of us in the reality-based community scoff at the claims of the MAGA wing of the Republican Party that Democrats stole the 2020 election (and presumably control of Congress along with it), the fact remains that it’s an article of faith among many of the rank-and-file Republicans (55 percent of them, according to a recent Reuters-Ipsos survey) who are the most important consumers for GOP messaging going forward. Accordingly, the current crusade in Republican-controlled state governments in key battleground states to restrict voting rights isn’t viewed by them as a matter of vengeance or of panic-striken authoritarianism, but as a blow to fraudsters that is likely to produce or expand Republican victories in the near future.

This factually-challenged but emotionally powerful perspective, which has been reinforced constantly by Trump-aligned media, a big share of Republican elected officials, and state and local party leaders, also explains the strong interest in a Trump comeback in 2024.

In the bloody-shirt campaign so many Republicans think they are now waging, the alleged “victim” of the “rigged election” is an indispensable figure, even though no defeated incumbent president has successfully staged a comeback since 1892. And that is why even if Trump decides against running again in 2024, Trumpism in all its particulars will very likely remain dominant until the stain of 2020 is erased.

And if you are a follower of the man who said over and over again that “we can’t lose unless it’s rigged,” victory is always just over the horizon.

Maybe winning isn’t everything after all

Perry Bacon offers one more angle on Republican optimism that’s worth pondering: there’s an ““own the libs’ bloc exemplified by many Fox News personalities and elected officials such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene:”

“For the ‘own the libs’ bloc, winning elections isn’t that important anyway — they aren’t really invested in policy or governing and will be fine if Republicans remain out of the White House and in the minority on Capitol Hill.”

Maybe Democrats and these happy losers can both get their way.

Brownstein: For Dems, It May Be the Last Chance to Secure Voting Rights

Ronald Brownstein warns “Democrats’ Only Chance to Stop the GOP Assault on Voting Rights: If the party doesn’t pass new protections, it could lose the House, Senate, and White House within the next four years” at The Atlantic. As Brownstein sets the stage:

“The most explosive battle in decades over access to the voting booth will reach a new crescendo this week, as Republican-controlled states advance an array of measures to restrict the ballot, and the U.S. House of Representatives votes on the federal legislation that represents Democrats’ best chance to stop them.

It’s no exaggeration to say that future Americans could view the resolution of this struggle as a turning point in the history of U.S. democracy. The outcome could not only shape the balance of power between the parties, but determine whether that democracy grows more inclusive or exclusionary. To many civil-rights advocates and democracy scholars I’ve spoken with, this new wave of state-level bills constitutes the greatest assault on Americans’ right to vote since the Jim Crow era’s barriers to the ballot.

“This is a huge moment,” Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, told me. “This harkens to pre-segregation times in the South, and it goes to the core question of how we define citizenship and whether or not all citizens actually will have access to fully engage and participate.”

Brownstein adds, “In Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, and Montana, Republican governors and legislators are moving forward bills that would reduce access to voting by mail, limit early voting, ban ballot drop boxes, inhibit voter-registration drives, and toughen identification requirements—measures inspired by the same discredited claims of election fraud that Donald Trump pushed after his 2020 loss.”

Worse, “The Supreme Court’s 6–3 conservative majority is unlikely to block many, or perhaps any, of these state laws. Also, “Federal courts are unlikely to step in: Although the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the far-fetched efforts of Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election, under Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative Court majority has consistently refused to block state limits on voting access or to prevent partisan gerrymanders. Critics argue that in the Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision, Roberts fired the starting gun for the current barrage of voter-suppression measures—by eviscerating the provision of the original VRA that required states with a history of discrimination to receive “preclearance” from the Justice Department for changes in their voting laws.”

Further, “Democrats may have a single realistic opportunity to resist not only these proposals, but also GOP plans to institute severe partisan congressional gerrymanders in many of the same states. That opportunity: using Democrats’ unified control of Washington to establish national election standards—by passing the omnibus election-reform bill known as H.R. 1, which is scheduled for a House vote today, and the new Voting Rights Act, which is expected to come to the floor later this year.” Also,

Democrats may have only a brief window in which to block these state-level GOP maneuvers. Typically, the president’s party loses House and Senate seats in the first midterm election after his victory. Democrats will face even worse odds if Republicans succeed in imposing restrictive voting laws or gerrymandering districts in the GOP’s favor across a host of red states.

If Democrats lose their slim majority in either congressional chamber next year, they will lose their ability to pass voting-rights reform. After that, the party could face a debilitating dynamic: Republicans could use their state-level power to continue limiting ballot access, which would make regaining control of the House or the Senate more difficult for Democrats—and thus prevent them from passing future national voting rules that override the exclusionary state laws.

“There’s an increasing appreciation,” Democratic Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland, H.R. 1’s chief sponsor, told me, that “if we can’t get these changes in place in time for the 2022 midterm election, the efforts that Republicans are taking at the state level to lock in this voter-suppression regime” and maximize their advantage via partisan gerrymanders “will reshape the environment in a way that makes it impossible to get this, or frankly many other things, done.”

Democrats have the votes to pass the House version of the legislation. But the Senate will be a closer vote, with the fate of the filibuster as the pivotal factor. “Senate Republicans are likely to try to kill these bills with a filibuster,” Brownstein writes. “Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the principal sponsor of H.R. 1’s Senate analogue, has been urging his colleagues to consider ending the filibuster for these bills alone, even if they are unwilling to end it for all legislation. But so far, at least two Democrats remain resistant to curtailing the filibuster in any way: Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.”

“If nothing else,’ says Brownstein, “the GOP’s boldness can leave Democrats with little doubt about what they can expect in the years ahead if they do not establish nationwide election standards. “This is a very brazen effort by lawmakers across the country to enact provisions that make it harder for Americans to vote,” Eliza Sweren-Becker, a counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice who is tracking the GOP’s state-level measures, told me. “There is no subtlety and no attempt to obfuscate what is going on here.” In addition, “In its latest tally, the Brennan Center counts 253 separate voter-suppression proposals pending in 43 states. That’s significantly more than the number of bills it tracked after the 2010 election—180 bills, in 41 states—when significant GOP gains in the states triggered a similar wave of laws.”

But “H.R. 1 would reverse many of the restrictive policies advancing in red states. As I wrote recently, the bill would require all states to provide online, automatic, and same-day registration; ensure at least 15 days of in-person early voting; provide all voters with access to no-excuse, postage-free absentee ballots; and offer drop boxes where they can return those ballots. It would also end gerrymandering by requiring every state to create independent commissions for congressional redistricting and by defining national criteria to govern the process.” Additionally,

Against the backdrop of the red-state voting offensive, the fate of H.R. 1 looks like a genuine inflection point. If Democrats can’t persuade Manchin, Sinema, and any other filibuster proponents to kill the parliamentary tool, Senate Republicans will be able to shield their state-level allies from federal interference. And that could produce a widening divergence between elections in red and blue states—as well as a lasting disadvantage for Democrats in the battle for control of Congress. Such a chasm will fuel “competing narratives that are inherently corrosive and destructive,” Sarbanes told me. “The more you have this bifurcated system of how elections are conducted in this country, the more oxygen you are going to give to some of the conspiracy theories that come from the other side.”

Yet even that equilibrium—with blue states expanding the franchise and red states restricting it—might not be stable. First, voter-suppression laws and gerrymanders in red states could help Republicans regain one or both congressional chambers in 2022. Then, efforts to restrict the vote could help Republicans recapture the presidency in 2024. Today, Democratic governors in key swing states—Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—can block any restrictive laws, but if the party loses any of those governorships in 2022, it’ll be virtually powerless to stop new voter-suppression efforts from the Republican-controlled state legislatures.

In that nightmare scenario for Democrats, new laws across the Rust Belt, combined with what’s already happening in Arizona and Georgia, would put enough states at risk to seriously endanger Democratic hopes of holding the White House in 2024. If Republicans win unified control of the White House and Congress that year, they could try to set national voting standards that impose the red-state voting rules on blue states. Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, for instance, has already proposed legislation that would bar all states from offering automatic voter registration and using drop boxes, and would require them to adopt stiff voter-ID rules. In his speech to CPAC on Sunday, Trump also called for establishing a national voter-ID requirement, as well as rules banning early voting and most mail balloting.

Brownstein concludes, quoting Sen. Sarbanes: “This isn’t just about trying to do something now that we can do later. This is about doing something now that we may not get the chance to do again for another 50 years.” Democrats face an unforgiving equation: a fleeting window in which to act, and potentially lasting consequences if they don’t. “If you look at all the stakes that are involved,” Sarbanes continued, “the notion that you would miss this opportunity becomes incomprehensible.”

Teixeira: Revisiting The Emerging Democratic Majority

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

In 2002, John Judis and I published The Emerging Democratic Majority. I think it’s fair to say that our book had some influence on political thinking. So…how does it hold up almost 20 years later?

Matt Yglesias does a nice job on his substack–fair and balanced!–looking back on our book and seeing where we were prescient and where we failed to anticipate important changes.

“The Emerging Democratic Majority”…is one of those books that’s widely referenced years after publication but typically in a kind of caricature form. Obviously, the Democratic majority that Teixeira and Judis forecast — driven by the growing nonwhite share of the electorate and the increasing liberalism of college-educated professionals and big metro areas — did not exactly emerge.

Nevertheless, the big demographic trends that the book is about did emerge, and they played out roughly the way they forecasted.
Some other things broke less favorably. But broadly speaking, I want to defend the relevance of the book’s main ideas…..

Judged by how many people voted for whom [the popular vote for President, Senate and House], it’s a decent Democratic majority that emerged:

Now of course that’s not the system we have, so Democrats’ actual results are less impressive. But to me, this looks like the Judis/Teixeira thesis ended up wrong for a mostly unexpected reason — the growth in the geographic skew of the electoral system.

That’s especially true because policy has been evolving to the left during this period…..

To me, one big lesson of revisiting the book is that it’s a reminder of just how difficult it is to make accurate forecasts about politics.

I think Judis and Teixeira got so many big analytic points right. But their book is mostly remembered as wrong because its topline forecast was, in fact, wrong, and it was wrong for two subtle, interrelated reasons. One is they didn’t appreciate the extent to which the growing liberalism of college-educated professionals living in big metro (one of the big things they predicted correctly) areas would, over time, actually change Democratic Party ideology in a way that repelled non-college white voters who’d been okay with Al Gore. The other is they didn’t account for how this would intersect with the skews of the electoral maps.”

Very interesting assessment. I recommend it. You also might want to take a look at the essay I wrote on The Emerging Democratic Majority thesis for Persuasion. There’s some overlap with Yglesias but also some differences.

Political Strategy Notes

Harry Enten notes some worrisome stats for Democrats at CNN Politics: “Democrats represent a mere five seats of the 65 districts (8%) that have a higher proportion of Whites without a college degree in their ranks. All of those Democratic representatives were incumbents heading into the 2020 elections (i.e. no non-incumbents like Hart won in these districts). Going further, a mere two of the top 50 districts with Whites without a college degree have a Democratic representative and none of the top 10 do….After the 2006 elections, Democrats controlled 44% of the districts with as many or more White non-college graduates as Iowa’s 2nd District. They held 23 of the top 50 districts matching this description, or 21 more than they do now. Additionally, Democrats held five of the top 10 of these districts compared to zero today.”

In his article, “Why Democrats Might Need to Play Dirty to Win: The party is trying to ban partisan gerrymandering nationwide, but aggressively redrawing districts in blue states like New York might be the only way to preserve its House majority,” Russell berman writes at The Atlantic: “To hear democratic leaders decry gerrymandering as part of their current bid to enact landmark voting-rights legislation, you’d think the centuries-old practice was a mortal threat to the republic. But political necessity could soon demand that Democrats drop their purity act. To keep their narrow House majority, they might have to deploy the tactic everywhere they can, and every bit as aggressively as Republicans do….Nationwide, the challenge for Democrats is formidable: The shuffling of House seats as a result of the decennial census is expected to shift power from mostly Democratic states like California, New York, and Illinois to states like Texas, Florida, and North Carolina—all of which will have legislatures controlled by Republicans who will be in charge of drawing new districts. “The bottom line is: If this becomes an arms race, and both parties maximize their advantage in the states that they control, Republicans will come out ahead,” David Wasserman, an analyst for the nonpartisan newsletter The Cook Political Report, told me. The GOP needs to flip just five Democratic seats to recapture the House majority in 2022, and conceivably, the party could gain all of those seats through gerrymandering alone. Wasserman projects that Republicans could net anywhere from zero to 10 seats from redistricting.”

Joe Biden’s first set of judicial nominations this week is the beginning of something big: almost certainly by the end of this Congress, the majority of lower court seats will be filled by Democratic appointees,” Bill Scher writes at The Washington Monthly. “That may surprise you, considering the breathless coverage Donald Trump received for his four-year judicial confirmation blitz. We were constantly told he was transforming the judiciary for a generation. With Sen. Mitch McConnell’s help, the Senate became a judicial confirmation factory. Not counting the Supreme Court, Trump got 231 judges with lifetime appointments confirmed. No president got more lower court judges confirmed in a single term since Jimmy Carter….the Republican grip on the lower courts is tenuous. Just one circuit court has to flip for Democrats to hold the majority of circuits again. Just nine seats have to flip for Democrats to hold the majority of seats again….Securing those flips shouldn’t be too hard. Despite Trump’s torrid pace, he left some judicial seats empty, and more vacancies have been announced since Biden’s inauguration. At present, the federal judiciary has 97 currentand future vacancies for seats with lifetime appointments. Fifty-two of those vacant seats were last held by Republicans….Trump was able to move faster than most presidents because the filibuster for lower court judges was nuked by Democrats in 2013 (with Republicans finishing the job regarding Supreme Court nominee in 2017). Now it’s Biden who gets to take advantage of the easier rules, so he will at least partially offset Trump’s gains.”

Despite the raised eyebrows about the size of President Biden’s infrastructure upgrade proposals, it looks like he has the support of the public. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes at The Washington Post, “And yes, big infrastructure investments of the sort President Biden has proposed (and that Republicans seem ready to oppose en masse) are broadly endorsed by the public; so are Biden’s proposed ways of paying for them….The Morning Consult/Politico poll, for example, found that 54 percent of registered voters — including 32 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of conservatives — favored infrastructure improvements financed by taxes on those earning more than $400,000 annually and increases in the corporate tax rate. (Another 27 percent of registered voters favored infrastructure spending without the taxes.)”