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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Trump Draws Nikki Haley as First Challenger

The long-awaited first Republican challenger to Donald Trump for 2024 is apparently arriving shortly, and I wrote about her at New York:

Ever since Donald Trump formally announced a 2024 presidential comeback bid last November, the big question has been when, exactly, one of the large number of potential Republican rivals would jump into the turbulent waters with him. There were credible reports that potential candidates were afraid to draw Trump’s concentrated fire. But now the Charleston Post & Courier reports that Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, will take the plunge on February 15.

The timing of the Haley announcement is odd, coming right after a show of force by Trump in South Carolina. At his January 28 event in Columbia, he demonstrated his support from the state’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, senior U.S. senator, and three U.S. House members. Perhaps Haley is just playing catch-up or is concerned about preempting a rival presidential bid by the junior U.S. senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott (whom she appointed to the Senate). The Dispatch’s David Drucker believes she actually relishes the prospect of a one-on-one fight with Trump in the early going:

“What better way to distinguish herself versus Trump, DeSantis, and anyone else, than by becoming the second declared candidate in the primary? The contrast is stark. Republican voters can choose between a white, male, soon-to-be 77-year-old defeated former president who has led the GOP to three consecutive electoral disappointments, or a nonwhite woman in her early 50s, born of immigrant parents, with conservative bona fides on most critical issues that are unassailable.”

Being the first official Trump challenger will definitely provide priceless advertising for Haley’s on-paper credentials. In addition to the qualities Drucker mentions, Haley has checked the foreign-policy-qualifications box via her service at the U.N., something Ron DeSantis can’t match. She has shown excellent political instincts over her lengthy career (she got massive positive publicity for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds long after it had become a low-risk endeavor). Most of all, she has excelled in the essential Republican art of staying on good terms with Trump without looking like his toady.

Indeed, Haley’s odd relationship with Trump may soon be in a bright spotlight. She has offended him on multiple occasions, first by endorsing “L’il Marco” Rubio in 2016 while criticizing Trump, then by unsubtly letting it be known while serving in his administration that she was an independent player, then by harshly attacking his conduct on January 6. You can add to her sins against the 45th president that she is now breaking a promise to back him in 2024 if he ran. Yet he’s never gone medieval on her, and he seems strangely affectionate toward her even now, according to the Post & Courier:

“During his weekend campaign swing that included a stop at the S.C. Statehouse, Trump told national reporters he recently received a phone call from Haley. Trump said Haley told him ‘she’d like to consider’ a 2024 run of her own.

“’I talked to her for a little while. I said, “Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run,'” Trump told reporters, adding that he would welcome the competition.

“’She called me and said she’d like to consider it, and I said you should do it.’

“Trump then reportedly told Haley, ‘Go by your heart if you want to run.’”

It’s possible this last comment from Trump should be translated as “Go ahead! Make my day!,” suggesting that he is prepared to tear her a new one in the weeks and months ahead. Or maybe he’s simply not that worried about Haley compared to the bigger threat posed by DeSantis.

So what kind of threat to either of these men is Haley ’24? Yes, she is the sort of candidate that might have been thought up by central casting. Originally, she was a politician from the hard-core, Jim DeMint-Mark Sanford wing of the South Carolina GOP who fit the Tea Party mood like a glove. But then she gradually made herself into a national-media icon of what post-Trump Republicanism might look and sound like. To conservatives of every hue, she’s unimpeachable on cultural issues, unobjectionable on foreign policy, and especially distinguished in the evergreen hobby of union-hating (she anticipated DeSantis’s attacks on perfidious corporations back in 2014 by telling potential investors in her state that they could take their “union jobs” elsewhere).

Haley’s ultimate problem as a presidential candidate is that she’s from a crucial early primary state. As Tom Harkin (whose presidential candidacy in 1992 took Iowa right off the table) could tell her, you don’t get much credit for winning your home state. But if she loses South Carolina, her candidacy will be dead as a mackerel.

Haley’s other big challenge is to overcome the perception that she’s really running for vice-president. She has been regularly featured on veep lists for Trump (even back in the 2020 cycle, when there were reports that the then-president wanted to dump Mike Pence in favor of her). And there’s not much question that Republicans need help with women voters, having placed a woman on their national ticket only once. And maybe that is her goal, or at least an acceptable consolation prize; despite years of being treated as a Republican star, Haley is only 51. But she’d better not wind up looking too weak in her home state, or the largely superficial image she has built as a political world-beater could vanish like a rare snowfall in the Carolina sun.


Simon Rosenberg: With Democrats Things Get Better

The following article is cross-posted from Simon Rosenberg’s blog at ndn.org:

The new House Republican leadership has made it clear that we are going to be having a big economic and fiscal debate this year.  To help the center-left family prepare for that debate (and win it!) we will be updating and showing our influential With Democrats Things Get Better presentation throughout the year.  With Dems takes a deep dive into decades of data and finds when Democrats have been in power, things have repeatedly gotten better.  We’ve seen growth, lots of jobs created, lower deficits, progress.  With Republicans we’ve seen something very different.  The last 3 Republican Presidents have brought recession, spiraling deficits, decline.

As we often say this story – repeated Dem economic success, repeated R economic failure – remains the most important, least understood story in American politics today.  It is a story that needs to be told in 2023, a story the center-left needs to be very very loud about.

You can watch the latest With Dems presentation from January 26th, 2023 here.

To learn more about the big arguments in With Dems start with our recently published analysis The Economy Remains Strong, 10.7 Biden Jobs, a related thread, and an essay, The Case for Optimism, Rejecting Trump’s Poisonous Pessimism, which was the basis of the earliest version of this presentation.  We have also frequently written over the past few years about the need for the center-left to get far more intentional about winning the economic argument with MAGA and the Republicans.  Given our repeated strong performance we shouldn’t be losing the economic argument to these guys.

We strongly recommend reviewing David Leonhardt’s NYT essay “Why Are Republican Presidents So Bad for the Economy?” It makes very similar arguments and has lots of terrific and useful charts.  Maria Cardona cites our research in her CNN column, as does David Rothkopf in this USA Today essay.   Mike Tomasky’s rave review of With Dems in a recent Daily Beast column is a great read.  Mike writes: “Simon Rosenberg heads NDN, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization. He has spent years advising Democrats, presidents included, on how to talk about economic matters. Not long ago, he put together a little PowerPoint deck. It is fascinating. You need to know about it. The entire country needs to know about it.”  We agree of course!

The deck has been revamped to include a new, longer section on the strong economic recovery under President Biden.  Some of the key stats from that section, and a graph:

  • GDP growth 3x Trump, 5x as many Biden jobs as last 3 GOP Presidents combined
  • best COVID recovery in G7
  • lowest unemployment rate in 50 yrs
  • lowest poverty/uninsured rates ever
  • very elevated wage gains/new business starts
  • 2 job openings per unemployed person, a record
  • real earnings up in 2022, trade deficit/deficit down
  • historic investments in our future prosperity (infrastructure, CHIPs, climate, health care)
  • domestic oil production on track to set records in 2023

Finally, our understanding of the American economy and the role of inflation was heavily influenced over the past year by the writings of our long time collaborator, Rob Shapiro. Rob wrote in January that employment was booming at historic levels, in May that inflation was having little effect on people’s incomes, in July that pundits’ talk about recession was flat-out wrong, in August that Americans were clearly better economically off under Biden, and in October that Democrats should tout their economic record.  Like the red wave, we think too many commentators in 2022 bought into the “inflation is killing the Democrats” narrative far too easily.

You can find even more background here.  Thanks for your interest, and we hope to catch you at one of our upcoming presentations!


Political Strategy Notes

Robert Reich’s “Republicans aren’t going to tell Americans the real cause of our $31.4tn debt” at The Guardian includes some message points Dems should find useful, including: “In the first full year of the Trump tax cut, the federal budget deficit increased by $113bn while corporate tax receipts fell by about $90bn, which would account for nearly 80% of the deficit increase….Meanwhile, America’s wealthy have been financing America’s exploding debt by lending the federal government money, for which the government pays them interest….As the federal debt continues to mount, these interest payments are ballooning – hitting a record $475bn in the last fiscal next year (which ran through September). The Congressional Budget Office predicts that interest payments on the federal debt will reach 3.3% of the GDP by 2032 and 7.2% by 2052….The biggest recipients of these interest payments? Not foreigners but wealthy Americans who park their savings in treasury bonds held by mutual funds, hedge funds, pension funds, banks, insurance companies, personal trusts and estates….Hence the giant half-century switch: the wealthy used to pay higher taxes to the government. Now the government pays the wealthy interest on their loans to finance a swelling debt that’s been caused largely by lower taxes on the wealthy….This means that a growing portion of everyone else’s taxes are going to wealthy Americans in the form of interest payments, rather than paying for government services that everyone needs….So, the real problem isn’t America’s growing federal budget deficit. It’s the decline in tax revenue from America’s wealthy combined with growing interest payments to them….Both are worsening America’s already staggering inequalities of income and wealth….What should be done? Isn’t it obvious? Raise taxes on the wealthy.”

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall addresses a pivotal question facing the Democratic Party, “How Much Longer Can ‘Vote Blue No Matter Who!’ Last?” and quotes University of Mississippi political scientist Julie Wronski, who who sees Democrats as “a coalition of racial minorities (especially Blacks) and whites who are sympathetic to the inequities and challenges faced by minority groups in America. Racial identities and attitudes are the common thread that link wealthier, more educated whites with poorer minority constituencies….The Democrats’ biracial working-class coalition during the mid-20th century, in Wronski’s view, “was successful because racial issues were off the table.” Once those issues moved front and center, the coalition split: “Simply put, the parties are divided in terms of which portion of the working class they support — the white working class or the poorer minority communities.” But do Republicans really “support” the white working-class in any substantial way? Edsall continues, “the level of educational attainment is the line of demarcation between the two groups of white voters….By 2020, the white working class — defined by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis as “whites without four-year college degrees” — voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden, 67 to 32 percent, according to network exit polls. In the 2022 election, white working-class voters backed Republican House candidates at almost the same level, 66 to 32 percent.” The Republican’s ability to win 2/3 of the white workers who actually show up to vote is unchanged.

Edsall also quotes from a November 2021 study of the composition of the Democratic Party by Pew Research, which notes that “The progressive left makes up a relatively small share of the party, 12 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. However, this group is the most politically engaged segment of the coalition, extremely liberal in every policy domain and, notably, 68 percent white non-Hispanic. In contrast, the three other Democratic-oriented groups are no more than about half white non-Hispanic.” Edsall also quotes Lanae Erickson, a Third Way v.p, who observes, “Although the percentage of Democrats calling themselves liberal has grown over the past three decades, it still remains true that only about half of self-described party members identify that way — in contrast to Republican voters, about 80 percent of whom call themselves conservative. So Democrats have long had and continue to have a more ideologically diverse coalition to assemble, with nearly half of the party calling themselves moderate or conservative.” Erikson touches lightly a point that is too often glossed over – that a small but loud minority of self-identified Democrats support the most impractical and unpopular policies. Very few elected Democrats embrace politically toxic policies like defunding the police or ‘open borders.’ You can’t win in many districts with those views.

Looking toward the future, Edsall writes, “What, then, is likely to happen in the Democratic ranks?….The reality, as summed up by Ryan Enos, is that for all their problems,

The Democrats are clearly the majority party and may be experiencing an unparalleled period of dominance: Since 1992, a period of 30 years, Republicans have only won a majority of popular presidential votes once, in 2004, and that was during the extraordinary time of two overseas wars.

For the moment, the Democratic coalition — with all its built-in conflicts between a relatively affluent, well-educated, largely white wing, on the one hand, and an economically precarious, heavily minority but to some degree ascendant electorate on the other — remains a functional political institution….“ In this sense,” Enos told me, “it’s important not to overstate the damage that some perceive liberalism as having done to the Democrats’ electoral fortunes.” But Republicans are shrewd branders of the opposition, who know how to slime the entire Democratic Party because a small percentage of its rank and file embrace extreme cultural liberalism. Dems could learn a few things about how to brand the opposition from their opponents.


RNC Scolds Republican Pols For Cowardice on Abortion

The backlash to the Supreme Court’s abolition of federal constitutional abortion rights is having some interesting new consequences, as I explained this week at New York:

For decades, the Republican National Committee has staked out a hard-core anti-abortion position. So now that a Republican-controlled Supreme Court has abolished the federal constitutional right to an abortion, you’d figure the RNC would take a moment to relish its victory. But you’d be wrong.

Instead, the RNC is lashing out at apostates. In response to 2022 Republican candidates avoiding the topic of abortion and to signs of strife in the party’s alliance with the anti-abortion movement, the RNC has passed a resolution scolding its members and urging them to keep the faith. It concludes with marching orders:

“WHEREAS, The Democratic Party and its allies spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the issue of abortion during the 2022 midterms, concealing their extremism while mischaracterizing and vilifying pro-life Republican candidates; and

“WHEREAS, Instead of fighting back and exposing Democratic extremism on abortion, many Republican candidates failed to remind Americans of our proud heritage of challenging slavery, segregation, and the forces eroding the family and the sanctity of human life, thereby allowing Democrats to define our longtime position; therefore, be it

“RESOLVED, The Republican National Committee urges all Republican pro-life candidates, consultants, and other national Republican Political Action Committees to remember this proud heritage, go on offense in the 2024 election cycle, and expose the Democrats’ extreme position of supporting abortion on-demand up until the moment of birth, paid for by the taxpayers, even supporting discriminatory abortions such as gender selection or when the child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.”

In states where Republicans have the power to set abortion policy, the RNC doesn’t want any namby-pamby compromises allowing the majority of abortions to proceed (despite its characterization of Democrats as the real “extremists”):

“RESOLVED, The Republican National Committee urges Republican lawmakers in state legislatures and in Congress to pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible — such as laws that acknowledge the beating hearts and experiences of pain in the unborn — underscoring the new relics of barbarism the Democratic Party represents as we approach the 2024 cycle.”

If you aren’t familiar with the rhetorical stylings of the anti-abortion movement, the “relics of barbarism” business is an effort to tie legalized abortion to the slavery and polygamy condemned by the original Republicans of the 19th century (who would probably view today’s race-baiting GOP with a jaundiced eye). The “beating heart” reference is an endorsement of “heartbeat” bills banning abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detectable, roughly at six weeks of pregnancy or before many women even know they’re pregnant.

The resolution is really the announcement of a new hunt for RINOs on the topic of abortion. Some in the RNC worry that their politicians will become squishy on reproductive rights because their constituents (and many swing voters) don’t favor abortion bans and regret the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, as shown by 2022’s pro-choice winning streak on ballot measures and general Republican underperformance. This pushback by the RNC parallels the anti-abortion movement’s efforts to make extreme abortion positions (such as a national abortion ban) a litmus test in the 2024 Republican primaries, especially at the presidential level.

Will this counterattack stem the panicky retreat of Republican politicians who care more about winning elections and cutting taxes than “saving the babies,” as the anti-abortion activists would put it? I don’t know. But at this point, it’s another sign that the Dobbs decision wasn’t quite the clear-cut victory for the forced-birth lobby that it initially appeared to be.

 


NC: Fool’s Gold for Dems, or Next Blue State?

Elena Schneider explains “How Democrats got sidetracked in their swing state of the future” at Politico, and writes:

“Republicans know that they have to win North Carolina in order to win a presidential race — there’s no other path for them. There are other paths for a Democrat to become president and not win North Carolina,” said [Roy] Cooper, who is now termed out of his governorship, in an interview with POLITICO.

Cooper argued that makes victories in places like Arizona and Pennsylvania in 2022 possible, as North Carolina soaks up resources that could go elsewhere. But Cooper said he’s still making the argument “to the president on down” that North Carolina should chart the top of their priority list in 2024.

However, Schneider notes,

Yet interviews with nearly a dozen North Carolina Democratic elected officials and strategists yielded a range of problems, including a weak in-state party infrastructure, a series of less-than-inspiring federal candidates and not enough investment from national Democratic groups. Unlike a number of other Sun Belt states, growth has not been driven by one major city but by a patchwork of regionalized metro areas, all with different media markets, and North Carolina’s urban and non-white populations have not grown at the same lightning speed as cities like Atlanta or Phoenix.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the next domino that will make it blue, on a presidential level, forever in the way we see in Virginia, Arizona and even Georgia, where the demographics and population changes are truly driving this,” said Corey Platt, a Democratic strategist who served as the Democratic Governors Association’s political director. “It’s a purple state that’s center-right on economics and a bit more center-left on social issues, and so it takes the right Democrat or the right Republican to win, and federally, we haven’t been able to thread that needle.”

And then there is the problem of money. Schneider quotes former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who said that electoral victory in NC frequently “comes down to who has more money, and the stats show it….Both parties can be accused of misreading North Carolina, but I would be shocked if Democrats leave it uncontested,” McCrory said, who lost a Senate GOP primary bid in 2022. “North Carolina can swing back and forth.” Schneider continues,

It all has big implications for 2024, as Cooper drives to make it a top priority for a Biden reelection and state Attorney General Josh Stein launches bid to succeed Cooper in what could be the most expensive gubernatorial race next cycle. A potential redrawn congressional map later this year could also pad the GOP’s slim edge in the battle for the House next year, now that the state Supreme Court leans conservative.

The size of North Carolina’s swings back and forth has shrunk, meanwhile, into a smaller and smaller pool of truly independent voters, making the days of backing President George W. Bush by 12 points — even with then-Sen. John Edwards on the Democratic ticket — and Democratic Gov. Mike Easley by 13 points in 2004 feel like ancient history. Mirroring national trends, North Carolina’s urban-rural divide reveals a stark partisan split — an intractable problem for Democrats, as the state boasts the second largest rural population, behind just Texas.

When Democrats fail to turn out their core base in urban corridors, Republicans’ rural edge becomes insurmountable. In 2022, Democrats struggled with just that, despite a history-making candidate on the ballot in Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court justice who is a Black woman. Instead, Democrats saw significant dropoff with young voters, urban voters and Black voters.

Statewide, African American turnout dropped by 6 points compared to 2018, another midterm year when there wasn’t a major statewide race atop the ticket. Voters over 60 made up a far larger share of the electorate  compared to millennials and Gen Z, while urban voters lagged behind the statewide turnout average, according to an analysis by Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College.

That turnout drop off, some Democrats argue, came down to cash. Republican outside groups significantly outspent their Democratic counterparts, giving now-Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) about a $50 million spending edge over Beasley. Republicans, meanwhile, note that Beasley outraised Budd in candidate cash by $24 million, which should’ve helped close some of that gap, since candidates get better rates on TV ads than outside groups.

“It’s almost impossible to overcome a $53 million outside spending gap that depresses votes for the Democratic candidate,” Cooper said. “I do think resources play a huge role and will play a huge role in 2024.”

It’s the “money is the mother’s milk of politics” argument, that has also been made to explain Democratic losses of strong, qualified candidates in senate races in Ohio and Florida in 2022. But NC, FL and OH have about half the percentage of eligible Black voters as Georgia, where Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock was re-elected. Yet racial demographics fail to explain why Democrats do so poorly in the state with the highest Black population percentage, Mississippi, where systemic black voter suppression is a Republican art form.

Schneider also writes that “Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel still believes that what works in North Carolina is to reach into that middle”:

“There’s a vast group of voters in the middle, and they don’t want people on the far right and they don’t want people on the far left,” said Nickel, who won an evenly divided congressional seat against former President Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Bo Hines. “Anyone who watched our race knows that we were running against extremism in both parties and on the issues that mattered to most folks in the middle.”

Looking forward, perhaps the winning Democratic formula for NC and other states looks something like: energized Black turnout +more money +smarter persuasion = Victory. There is substantial room for improvement in all three factors.


Teixeira: Biden’s uphill battle with working-class voters

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Washington Post,  where he is a new columnist. His forthcoming book with John B. Judis is “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?

Since November’s elections, President Biden has been in Michigan, Arizona, Kentucky and Ohio, touting the job-creating wonders of three big bills he has signed: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; the Chips and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. And he has been at pains to emphasize the blue-collar benefits of these bills: “The vast majority of [the] jobs … that we’re going to create,” he said, “don’t require a college degree.”

There’s a good reason for Biden to try this tack. Despite Democrats’ unexpectedly good performance in the midterms, there were abundant signs of continued weakness in an absolutely vital part of their coalition: working-class (noncollege) voters. Democrats’ weakness among White working-class voters is well known. According to AP/NORC VoteCast data, Democrats lost the White working-class vote by 25 points in 2020 and 33 points in 2022.

Less well-understood is Democrats’ emerging weakness among non-White working-class voters. Between 2012 and 2020, Democrats’ advantage among these voters declined by 18 points, with a particularly sharp shift in 2020 and among Hispanics. VoteCast data indicates that Democrats’ margin among non-White working-class voters declined 14 points between 2020 and 2022.

Democrats lost the overall working-class vote by a solid 13 points in 2022. When Republicans claim they are becoming the party of the multiracial working class, this is less far-fetched than most Democrats think. In fact, by this data, the GOP already is. No wonder Biden is worried — and he’s right to be.

But will Biden’s turn to the working class work?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. It is an uncomfortable fact that, despite the very tight labor market of the past two years, most workers have lost ground relative to inflation. And, while the administration touts the projected openings of semiconductor, battery and electric-vehicle plants tied to provisions of the administration’s semiconductor and climate bills, manufacturing today employs less than one-tenth of the country’s services-dominated working class. That is unlikely to change.


Political Strategy Notes

At Politico Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris report that “Rebranding rift guts Blue Dog Dem ranks: Nearly half the members of the influential centrist coalition are letting themselves out after a failed push for a name change designed for a new era.” As Mutnick and Ferris explain,  “Congress’ influential Blue Dog Coalition is getting chopped nearly in half after an internal blow-up over whether to rebrand the centrist Democratic group….Seven of the 15 members expected to join the Blue Dogs this year, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), are departing after a heated disagreement over a potential name change for the moderate bloc. For now that’s left the Blue Dogs with seven, all male members — their smallest roster in nearly three decades of existence. One freshman member remains undecided….At the core of some of the breakaway Blue Dogs’ demands was a rechristening as the Common Sense Coalition that, they argued, would have helped shed the group’s reputation as a socially moderate, Southern “boys’ club.” Blue Dogs have long stood for fiscal responsibility and national security, issues with broad Democratic appeal, but some members felt the name had a negative connotation that kept their colleagues from joining. A majority of other members disagreed, saying they saw no reason to toss out a longstanding legacy….Those tensions came to a head earlier this month as Blue Dog members met for a lengthy debate over the reboot that culminated in a secret-ballot vote to reject the new name, according to interviews with nearly a dozen people familiar with the situation, on both sides of the dispute. Shortly after that vote, Reps. Ed Case (D-Hawaii); David Scott (D-Ga.); Rep. Brad Schneider(D-Ill.); Lou Correa (D-Calif.), Spanberger and Sherrill all left the group.” Here’s hoping the moderates will still be able to work together to insure their influence helps create the mix of policies that can lead Dems to a stable majority.

Speaking of political branding, I was among those who relished the ‘GOP in disarray’ theme the media amped up during the House speakership follies. Turns out, however, that the Republican brand wasn’t all that popular even before McCarthy and Santos became their new poster boys. As Nathaniel Rakich reports at FiveThirtyEight, “Twenty-one percent of respondents said Republicans exhibited stronger leadership than Democrats in Washington in a November 2022 Ipsos poll. And the same pollster showed no significant change after the speaker vote: Nineteen percent said the GOP showed stronger leadership in January 2023….Civiqs maintains a running tracker of whether registered voters have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, and it has remained steady at 64 percent unfavorable, 26 percent favorable since Dec. 22, 2022….Similarly, every week, YouGov/The Economist asks Americans whether they have a favorable or unfavorable view of Republicans in Congress. Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 9, their favorable rating barely changed (from 37 percent to 36.5 percent), and their unfavorable rating slightly ticked up (from 56.7 percent to 58.9 percent)….Finally, Republicans in Congress remained a net of 15 percentage points underwater with registered voters before and after the speaker vote, according to Morning Consult. Interestingly, though, opinions of McCarthy got worse after the vote. His net favorability rating was -20 points on Dec. 29 and -26 points on Jan. 8, even as his name recognition improved slightly between the midterm elections and the speaker election….According to Ipsos, almost half of adults (49 percent) did not follow the speaker election news at all or followed it “not so closely.” A similar 42 percent felt that the fight over the speakership had very little to do with their daily lives….Another reason could be that Americans were already so cynical about Congress that the chaos of early January made them nod and say, “Yup, sounds about right.” In the HarrisX/Deseret News survey, 56 percent of registered voters thought that the dispute was just “politics as usual.””

In “What the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party Has Planned Next,” Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America, DNC member and Board Chair of Our Revolution, writes at In These Times: “While Republicans now control the U.S. House, which stifles prospects for any major Democratic legislation over the next two years, progressives are not slowing their efforts to transform U.S. politics. Both in Congress and through internal Democratic Party decision-making, progressives are building on lessons learned during the first years of the Biden administration to grow their power. This effort includes using their expanding congressional ranks to push progressive policy and when necessary challenge Democratic Party leadership, build progressive majorities in state-level parties and change internal rules to ban dark money in primaries….The most dramatic changes in progressive party reform over the past year can be seen in the growth of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). After the November 2022 midterms, the caucus now claims an all-time high of 103members — nearly half of all House Democrats….In the past, the CPC has been criticized for failing to deliver on progressive goals and including members not fully committed to achieving them. However, since reforming internal CPC rules in 2020 to create more unity and enforce members voting as a bloc, the caucus has proven to be increasinglyinfluential in the party. Along with such policy wins as including $1,400stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits in 2021’s American Rescue Plan, the CPC has helped shape the Democrats’ national priorities and economic playbook under the leadership of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).” Cohen goes on to share more successes and note a couple of failures, and adds: “What happens inside the Democratic Party and inside party caucuses of elected Democrats is frequently ignored by progressives, who are generally more comfortable protesting and working solely outside the party. Of course, protest is essential, and new party-building is fine. But for those of us who believe we must fight in every possible way to advance progressive issues and win real power, we ignore party reform at our peril, even as we demand broader electoral reforms, such as fusion and ranked-choice voting, proportional representation and more.”

Lest progressive Dems get too optimistic, however, Kyle Kondik shares “Initial Senate Ratings: Democrats Have a Lot of Defending to Do” at Crystal Ball, and explains: “How we see the Senate to start – Democrats have considerably more exposure than Republicans in this cycle’s U.S. Senate races — a point made plainly clear in our initial ratings of the 2024 Senate races….First of all, there’s just the basic math. There are 34 Senate races slated for next year so far — 33 regular contests, plus a special election in Nebraska, where newly-appointed Sen. Pete Ricketts (R) will be back on the ballot to defend the unexpired term left behind by Ben Sasse (R), who resigned to become the president of the University of Florida….Democrats are defending 23 of these seats, while Republicans are defending just 11. That Democratic tally includes the 3 states with independents who caucus with the Democrats: Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Angus King of Maine, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The races for next year are shown in Map 1:

Kondike concludes, “Democrats overcame a difficult environment in 2022 and netted a Senate seat in large part because of their ability to court persuadable voters and turn races that could have been referendums on Democrats into, instead, choices between candidates. They will need to do that again in a presidential year, particularly in the otherwise unfavorable states of Montana, Ohio, and West Virginia.”


2024 California Senate Race Gets More interesting With Schiff’s Entry

Like most California political junkies, I’m already looking forward to a vibrant 2024 Senate race. I wrote up the latest development at New York:

In the conservative imagination, California is sort of an evil empire of leftism. It’s where white people have been relegated to a minority for decades; where tree-hugging hippies still frolic; where Hollywood and Big Tech work 24/7 to undermine sturdy American-folk virtues; where rampaging unions and arrogant bureaucrats make it too expensive for regular people to live.

But in truth California’s dominant Democratic Party has as many mild-mannered moderates as it does fiery progressives. One of them, Dianne Feinstein, has held a Senate seat for over 30 years. As the 89-year-old political icon moves toward an almost certain retirement in 2024 (though she now says she won’t announce her intention until next year), another ideological moderate has just announced a bid to succeed her. Los Angeles congressman Adam Schiff, though, has an asset most centrist Democrats (those not named Clinton or Biden, anyway) can’t claim: the rabid hatred of Donald Trump–loving Republicans, giving him the sort of partisan street cred even the most rigorous progressives might envy.

It’s why Schiff begins his 2024 Senate race with something of a strategic advantage. The first-announced candidate in the contest, Congresswoman Katie Porter (also from greater L.A.), is a progressive favorite and more or less Elizabeth Warren’s protégé as a vocal enemy of corporate malfeasance. Another of Schiff’s House colleagues, Oakland-based Barbara Lee, has told people she plans a Senate run as well; Lee is a lefty icon dating back to her lonely vote against the initial War on Terror authorization following September 11. And waiting in the wings is still another member of California’s House delegation, Silicon Valley–based Ro Khanna, who is closely associated with Bernie Sanders and his two presidential campaigns.

Obviously, in a Senate race featuring multiple progressives, the national-security-minded Schiff (who voted for the Iraq war authorization and the Patriot Act early in his House career) might have a distinct “lane,” particularly if he draws an endorsement from Feinstein. (Schiff is already suggesting his campaign has her “blessing.”) But he may poach some progressive votes as well by emphasizing the enemies he’s made. Indeed, his campaign’s first video is mostly a cavalcade of conservatives (especially Donald J. Trump) attacking him.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Schiff is announcing his Senate bid immediately following his expulsion from the House Intelligence Committee by Speaker Kevin McCarthy for his alleged misconduct in investigating Russia’s links with Trump and his campaign (and in making the case for Trump’s impeachment). Schiff was also a steady prosecutorial presence on the January 6 committee that McCarthy and most Republicans boycotted).

Complicating the contest immeasurably is California’s Top Two primary election system. Schiff and his Democratic rivals will not be battling for a party primary win but for a spot in the 2024 general election, given to the top two primary finishers regardless of party affiliation. The Golden State’s Republican Party is so weak that it might not be able to find a candidate able to make the top two in a Senate primary; two Democrats competed in two recent competitive Senate general elections in California (in 2016, when Kamala Harris defeated Loretta Sanchez, and in 2018, when Feinstein trounced Kevin DeLeon). If that’s the case, though, it’s unclear which Democrat might have the edge in attracting Republicans. Porter’s campaign is circulating a poll showing she’d beat Schiff in a hypothetical general election because Republicans really hate Schiff despite his more moderate voting record.

For all the uncertainties about the 2024 Senate field, it is clear that the two announced Democratic candidates will wage a close battle in one arena: campaign dollars. Both Schiff and Porter are legendary fundraisers, though Porter had to dip deeply into her stash of resources to fend off a tougher-than-expected Republican challenge last November. Big remaining questions are whether Lee can finance a viable race in this insanely expensive state with its many media markets, and whether Khanna, with his national Sanders connections and local Silicon Valley donor base, enters the contest. There are racial, gender, and geographical variables too: Until Harris became vice-president, California had long been represented by two Democratic woman from the Bay Area. With Los Angeles–based Alex Padilla now occupying Harris’s old seat, 2024 could produce a big power shift to the south and two male senators.

In any event, nobody is waiting around for Feinstein to make her retirement official before angling for her seat, which means a Senate race that won’t affect the partisan balance of the chamber at all (barring some wild Republican upset) will soak up a lot of attention and money for a long time. At this early point, Schiff’s positioning as the moderate that Republicans fear and despise looks sure to keep him in the spotlight.


23 Comes Before 24

You can thank us later for the hot flash in the title. But there are some important elections this year that merit attention and thoughtful analyses. Geoffrey Skelley has the skinny at FiveThirtyEight, and flags “a bevy of fascinating contests on the ballot this calendar year that will affect the lives of millions of Americans.” Skelley notes further,

“Three states will hold gubernatorial elections, four will decide the makeup of their state legislatures and two will vote for potentially critical seats on their supreme courts. Additionally, a host of large cities will cast ballots for mayor. With so much on the docket in 2023, we decided to take a look at the high-profile races you should be watching….Three southern, Republican-leaning places are voting for governor this year. However, Democrats currently control the governorships in Kentucky and Louisiana, while the GOP holds Mississippi via Gov. Tate Reeves. Republicans are hoping to flip the other two, as Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana is term-limited and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky is likely to face a formidable Republican opponent. Victories in these gubernatorial races would give the GOP full control of state government — a “trifecta” — in Kentucky and Louisiana (and maintain it in Mississippi).

Now, Beshear does have a decent chance of bucking Kentucky’s red lean to win a second term. In the last quarter of 2022, Beshear’s 60 percent approval rating made him the most popular Democratic governor in the country, according to Morning Consult….But Beshear is far from a shoo-in considering Kentucky ranks as the reddest state in the country with a Democratic governor, based on the 2020 presidential vote. And an array of Republican candidates are champing at the bit to take him on.

Republicans have a clearer shot of capturing a Democratic-held governorship in Louisiana, where Edwards is leaving office after two terms….no major Democrat has yet entered. But that could soon change….Democrats will need some things to go their way if they want to replicate Edwards’s success.

In Mississippi, “Reeves could face both a serious primary challenge and just about the strongest potential candidate the Democrats could have in the general election. …But considering Reeves fended off a popular statewide-elected Democrat in 2019, it will still be a tall order for Democrats to win this race.

Looking at the state legislatures, Skelley writes:

Four states have elections for their state legislatures this year, with Louisiana and Mississippi holding them in tandem with their gubernatorial elections, and New Jersey and Virginia holding legislative midterms. The dominant party in three of those states — Republicans in Louisiana and Mississippi, Democrats in New Jersey — are likely to retain full control, though there’s a question of whether the GOP can hold onto or win veto-proof majorities in Louisiana and Mississippi, in case a Democrat manages to win either governorship.

Skelley notes that Virginia is ” one of the only states where each party controls one legislative chamber. And with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin in office, the results will determine whether Republicans can capture full control of state government….Thanks to redistricting, Virginia’s elections will take place on new maps, which should produce a number of highly competitive races — although each party may have a slim edge in the chamber it already controls.1 The November environment is difficult to know, but Democrats did claim a pivotal 2-point victory in a Jan. 10 special election for a Senate district that Youngkin had carried by 4 points, in a race that centered largely on the future of abortion rights in Virginia.

As for the state courts, Skelley reports:

….”two states — Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — also have elections for state supreme court in 2023″ and “12 of the nation’s 25 largest cities by population have mayoral elections this year. Most of these cities employ a “strong mayor” form of government — where the mayor is the city’s chief executive and can veto actions by the city council — so these elections could have major repercussions for millions of Americans….Chicago’s race is probably the headliner. There, Mayor Lori Lightfoot faces a difficult reelection battle amid high crime rates, and she has also faced potentially sexist criticism over her combative personal style.”

These are some of the important scheduled elections this year. Skelley has lots more to say about these races, and ballotpedia.org has more as well.


Republicans Can’t Specify a Debt-limit Ransom

It’s one of the more comical aspects of the deadly serious game of chicken that House Republicans are playing on the debt limit, but it’s worth pointing out, as I did at New York:

As the United States lurches toward a possible debt default thanks to House Republican hostage-taking on legislation needed to extend or suspend the debt limit, it’s increasingly evident that (as my colleague Jonathan Chait observed) the hostage-taker is strangely reluctant to name a ransom. Indeed, the initial Democratic strategy in this complicated chess game was simply to force House Republicans to say exactly what kind of spending cuts they propose to make in exchange for allowing a debt-limit measure to wobble its way to Joe Biden’s desk.

It’s easy to mock GOP lawmakers for the brainlessness, or maybe cowardice, of their effort to make Democrats identify the spending cuts their opponents want. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell tans the elephant’s hide with considerable panache:

“Republicans have Very Serious budget demands. Unfortunately, they can’t identify what any of those demands are.

“They say they want to reduce deficits — but meanwhile have ruled out virtually every path for doing so (cuts to defense, cuts to entitlements, wiping out nondefense discretionary spending, or raising taxes). …

“Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut ‘wasteful spending’ … but can’t agree on what counts as ‘waste.’”

In so quickly reaching this predictable dead end in answering the world’s easiest math problem, Republicans have one plausible line of defense: It’s how much of the public feels about fiscal matters as well. They really don’t like deficits and (especially) debt. But they really don’t like the kind of spending cuts that Republicans are talking about either (tax increases, of course, are categorically off the table for the GOP and have been since the George H.W. Bush “Read my lips: No new taxes” debacle).

September 2022 poll from the deficit scolds of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that Americans are up in arms about all the borrowing:

“A 31-month high of 83% of voters are urging the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the national debt, with the biggest jump among those under age 35 (8 points to 85%).

“More than eight-in-ten voters (81%) also said that their concern about the national debt has increased. Nearly three-in-four voters (74%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 65% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 86% of Republicans.”

From 40,000 feet, all that red ink looks pretty alarming, it seems. More recently, this very week, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal found a majority of Americans stamping their feet about it:

“Most Americans oppose raising the federal debt ceiling without accompanying cuts to federal spending, a new RMG Research poll finds.

“Sixty-one percent of 1,000 registered voters in the survey said Congress should either raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts (45%) or refuse to raise the ceiling at all (16%). Only about a quarter (24%) said Congress should raise the ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.”

To House Republicans, the great symbol of runaway spending is the “monstrous” $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December. Many of them claimed during the fight over Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership bid that “the American people” were outraged by the measure despite the fact that it cleared the Senate, House, and White House. Perhaps they were thinking of a Twitter poll conducted by Elon Musk that showed that 75 percent of respondents opposed the omnibus bill.

The sad truth is, however, that the more specific you are in identifying items in one of those “monstrous” bills, the more support they command from the public. In 2021, Gallup published a summary of public-opinion research on what was then a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Democratic budget-reconciliation proposal (soon whittled way down to $2.2 trillion and then to a net-negative figure in the ultimately enacted Inflation Reduction Act) and found that its provisions were very popular despite the debt they required:

“[S]everal recent polls … ask about the bill in a broad, umbrella fashion, and all find majority support. A Quinnipiac poll conducted July 27-Aug. 2 asked, ‘Do you support or oppose a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors?’ and found 62% support, 32% opposition. A Monmouth University poll conducted July 21-26 asked about both the initial infrastructure bill and the new $3.5 trillion bill, describing the latter this way: ‘A plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support.’ The results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll, with 63% in favor and 35% opposed …

“A progressive think tank, Data for Progress, conducted an online poll among likely voters July 30-Aug. 2, with a much more detailed 130-word description of the bill, including in the question wording a bulleted list of six specific proposals in the plan, the $3.5 trillion price tag and even a description of the ‘reconciliation’ procedure necessary to pass it. All of this (and the online mode, and the sample of likely voters as opposed to national adults) also didn’t seem to make much difference; 66% of likely voters in their sample supported the plan as described, while 26% opposed it — similar to the Quinnipiac and Monmouth results.”

So the minute you get into the particulars of Democratic-proposed spending bills, public concerns about debts and deficits tend to fade. And oh — there’s another problem for Republicans on the fiscal front: voters like the idea of higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations to pay for popular spending measures.

The lesson for Republicans is clear: Their crusade for fiscal discipline is popular, so long as it is very general and you exclude higher taxes on the rich as a possible solution. No wonder politicians like McCarthy want Democrats to be the ones who name the GOP’s price for letting the U.S. economy get through the year without calamity.