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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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The Right’s Embrace of Violent Revolution Is Becoming Routine

After reading about another of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s outrages, I wrote about what it really meant at New York:

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is occasionally useful for her habit of coming right out and saying things her extremist colleagues think and imply but don’t usually articulate. That happened this week during an interview MTG gave to a right-wing media outlet, as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reported:

“During an appearance on conservative outlet Real America’s Voice, Greene repeated a frequent GOP talking point that the real focus of congressional investigators should be violence at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. But while doing so, she essentially suggested the Capitol riot comported with our Founding Fathers’ vision.

“The racial-justice protest violence ‘was an attack on innocent American people, whereas January 6th was just a riot at the Capitol,’ she said. ‘And if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.'”

This is not a tossed-off comment or anything new for Greene, as the Post reported soon after the Capitol riot:

“References to the year 1776 and the American Revolution have grown substantially among the far right as Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists have hinted at the possibility of a revolution in the wake of Trump’s election loss, which they view, falsely, as illegitimate. Trump allies and surrogates, including first-term Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), referred to Jan. 6 as Republicans’ ‘1776 moment.'”

This is actually a sentiment that goes a bit deeper than its “my violence GOOOOD, your violence BAAAAAD” wrapping. In January and this week, MTG was almost certainly alluding to the time-honored right-wing extremist doctrine that whenever “patriots” decide the government is controlled by “tyrants,” they are entitled to pick up shooting irons and start trying to kill soldiers and cops and anyone else complicit in that tyranny. That is, after all, what the Founders did in 1776, right?

Indeed they did, but they did not purport to serve as leaders in the very government they were overthrowing and certainly didn’t intend to create some permanent right of violent revolution against the republic they created. To put it another way, you can choose to be a revolutionary or you can choose to be a member of Congress, but you can’t be both. Once you have deemed the government a tyranny (which MTG constantly does in conflating the “Democrat Party” with communism), you pretty much need to take to the hills and stop giving interviews in and around the U.S. Capitol. That’s particularly true when the “tyranny” in question is the result of a democratic election that every available nonpartisan institution has confirmed as fair.

The treatment of right-wing insurrectionism, actual or potential, as the work of patriots as blessed by the Founders is hardly original to Greene. It is intrinsic to the Second Amendment absolutism that is dangerously popular among conservatives these days. The doctrine holds that the ultimate purpose of the right to bear arms is to ensure a citizenry that is willing and able to “resist tyranny,” with the meaning of “tyranny,” of course, left up to those choosing violence to battle it. And it was also implicit in the tea-party-era movement known as “constitutional conservatism,” which argued that conservative policy prescriptions ranging from free-market capitalism to states’ rights to fetal personhood were eternally embedded in the Constitution in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence by the Founders, who themselves had divine sanction for their work. Thus any contrary policies imposed via democratic representative government were inherently illegitimate and warranted resistance. In unbalanced minds, that resistance would definitely justify terrorism.

The same anti-democratic creed is alive and well in MAGA circles, including the intellectuals of the Claremont Institute who serve as shock troops in the wider world, much as MTG does in Washington. “In March, one of Claremont’s senior fellows published an essay proclaiming the need for a counterrevolution against the American majority who didn’t vote for Trump,” Laura Field reports at The New Republic. “In late May, the think tank produced a podcast that gamed out how a future president might convert herself or himself into a new Caesar.”

Even absent any exotic constitutional theories, the idea that nothing must stand in the way of the correct people (i.e., Donald Trump) holding power is at the very heart of the Big Lie that inspired (and, some would say, incited) the Capitol riot. Unfortunately, MAGA folk seem determined to claim a permanent right to power, which in every important respect is a direct and permanent threat to democracy.

Political Strategy Notes

In their post, “Democrats Worry A Lot About Policies That Win Elections. That’s Short-Sighted,” Lee Drutman and Meredith Conroy write at FiveThirtyEight: Democratic leaders, activists and strategists spend a lot of time discussing — and arguing about — policy under the assumption that the policies the party prioritizes affect whether they will win the next election. It’s been a big part of President Biden’s governing strategy so far, and one need look no further than Democrats blaming talk of defunding the police for losses in the House in 2020 or, conversely, citing health care in the 2018 midterm elections as the reason they did so well to understand the role they think policy plays in their electoral success….But the research on whether choosing the right policy actually helps parties win elections is far less clear. How Democrats talk in 2021 and 2022 and what they prioritize may — or may not — help them win the 2022 midterm elections, but it will shape the policy and political landscape for the future in potentially profound ways. And that, perhaps, is what Democrats should be more worried about….In political science, there’s a large body of research that examines how policy shapes politics. The broad takeaway is that policy matters — a lot — but not in the ways that political pundits often think it does. Rather than helping parties win the next election, research suggests that major policies remake the political landscape in ways that reverberate far into the future — including changing expectations of government and creating new voter constituencies. This, in turn, can shape future elections.”

Drutman and Conroy add “Of course, the shorter-term risk is that any new government program yields an immediate backlash. It’s far easier for opponents to play up the costs and demonize the program when no voters have come to rely on the benefits. Moreover, since many social spending programs are likely to benefit communities of color, Republican opposition is likely to play on racial tropes, as it did with the ACA and other social programs before that.” Further, “The potential electoral risk is why some Democrats and Democratic strategists want the party to focus more on bread-and-butter issues, like economic policy. The concern is that if Democrats make race and racial justice too much of their agenda, they risk alienating voters, especially white voters without a college degree, who are geographically important. But what this misses is that Republican messaging is going to focus on contentious conflicts over race and identity regardless of what Democrats do. So if the Biden administration and Democratic Party leaders think they can duck having these conversations, they are mistaken, especially given that a few outlets exercise a stranglehold over the media ecosystem on the political right. Moreover, spending on expanded social programs might actually help Democrats win over some of these voters in the long run, especially since they tend to be lower-income and are also more likely to be women, who would benefit most directly from free child care.” In their conclusion, however, the authors note that, “even policies that eventually poll well take time to become popular because voters must experience them and actually value them. Partisanship is also sticky and slow to change. Most voters evaluate policy and programs through partisan media and judge programs by whether the programs are Democratic programs or Republican programs. But on the margins — and especially over time — policies shape both identities and party coalitions.”

“If this were a poker game, it could be said that this year, with such a grand set of plans, they bet the house on a pair of 3’s,” Charlie Cook writes at the Cook Political Report. “Pushing a Franklin D. Roosevelt- or Lyndon B. Johnson-sized agenda—without the massive House and Senate majorities those two presidents’ parties enjoyed—is more than just a misreading….It is also hard to believe that FDR or LBJ would remain stymied as long as Biden has by a faction of their own party, holding legislative hostage one of the two signature spending packages that actually had a chance of being enacted as written. The AJA hard-infrastructure package, focused on concrete, steel, bricks, mortar, electric grid, and broadband, had (note past tense) a real chance of passing largely intact, and potentially with at least some support (at least initially) from a few Republicans. Now, no matter what its size and configuration, Democrats would be lucky to get more than a handful of GOP House and Senate votes, at best….It is a decent bet that the winning party next year will not be the party that the election is about….On the other hand, if this election is about Trump and a Republican Party seemingly obsessed by fighting culture wars—clashing with Democrats over symbols and engaging in proxy fights, appealing to a shrinking core constituency—Democrats can win….Midterms are about the president and party that is in power, not one that is no longer in charge. But these might be the only arrows in the Democratic quiver.”

Talking Points Memo Editor Josh Marshall puts it all into a clarifying perspective: “Democrats appear to be limping their way toward passing a slimmed down version of the President’s agenda. I don’t think we should be overly distressed that the final number is around $2 trillion as opposed to $3.5 trillion. You never get everything you want. And we can’t run from the reality that Democrats control Congress by the most tenuous of margins – in fact, no margin at all in the Senate. But Democrats should be asking themselves why it is that over the last three to four months the President’s public approval has fallen roughly ten points. In a highly partisan and polarized age that is simply a massive drop….As I and many others have argued, the clearest explanation is the summer resurgence of COVID. Or more specifically, the whipsaw realization that COVID wasn’t done….Combined with that you have various economic knock on effects – high prices for a number of important consumer items, at least the appearance (the reality is less clear) of a lagging job market, and all manner of shipping delays and shortages of all manner of things people want to buy….But most of the public doesn’t have a clear sense of what those things even are. And to the extent they do, they’re not what most people are focused on. They’re mostly focused on COVID and getting out of the hole we collectively fell into almost two years ago. Popularity isn’t the same as saliency….The only way forward is to pass the bill. Give Democrats something to be enthused about, show everyone else the President is able to get things done and then get about selling what’s in the bill and working and being seen to work nonstop on bringing the Pandemic to heel.”

Study: Democrats Can Win by Emphasizing Working Class Issues

From Democracy Corps:

A sweeping nationwide study of working class voters shows Democrats can gain at the ballot box by emphasizing popular economic policies that help families thrive and make big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.

The interim findings, released at a critical juncture in the Build Back Better legislative debate, result from a cross-racial project of Democracy Corps, Equis Labs, and HIT Strategies, supported by funding from the American Federation of Teachers.

The research points to an effective strategy for President Biden and Democrats to corral voter support and raise enthusiasm and turnout ahead of pivotal midterm elections that could shape the future of the country for decades to come.

Black, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters prioritize, above all, policies that make their families materially better off and tip the balance of power to working people and away from the biggest corporations who call the shots. They are united behind labor protections starting with federal contractors paying $15 an hour; expanding Medicare and maintaining insurance subsidies that lower premiums; the child tax credit; and infrastructure jobs. They prioritize corporations finally paying their fair share of taxes.

“To be successful Democrats need to focus on making families’ lives better through the eyes of the multi-racial working class,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “The study shows by creating good jobs and economic mobility we can demonstrate that a better life and a vibrant democracy is both achievable and a bulwark against right-wing authoritarians threatening to tear our country apart.

“This study comes at a crucial moment for Congress and I hope lawmakers take these insights seriously and use them to champion the working class who are sick and tired of being sick and tired and increasingly think their country and its institutions have failed them.”

The group conducted a battleground web survey with all registered voters, concentrating on the white working class (those without a four-year college degree). EquisLabs conducted an online survey with Hispanic registered voters in eleven states, with Texas and Florida heavily represented. HIT Strategies conducted an online survey with Black registered voters in ten battleground states and a mixed-mode survey with Asian and Pacific Islanders in Orange County, CA. The surveys were completed in late July and August.

While racial equity is a top tier issue for Blacks and immigration reform is crucial for key segments of the Hispanic community, they share a desire for working people to have tangible relief and more power at a time when the top one percent has tightened its grip on the nation’s economic levers. “At a time where Black voters are growing impatient with what they perceive as a lack of progress on their top issue priorities, Build Back Better addresses many of their economic concerns with an emphasis on equity that President Biden and Democrats promised during the 2020 election,” said Terrance Woodbury, CEO and founding partner at HIT Strategies.

Stephanie Valencia, Co-Founder of Equis Research and Equis Labs, a polling and innovation hub focused on studying and reaching Latino voters, stated, “What keeps a majority of Latinos on the Democratic side is that they believe Democrats care more about people like them while Republicans favor the rich and big corporations. The danger for Democrats is when that feeling of ‘cares about us’ doesn’t translate into action of ‘delivers for us.’ Whether it is on the economy or immigration, Dems are then open to the attack that they’re taking our votes for granted. To bounce back from the shift we saw in 2020, Democrats are going to need to become the party of action again and deliver results for Latinos that they can feel in their everyday lives.”

“Nationwide, Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters saw a 71 percent increase in turnout in 2020 in part to repudiate the Trump agenda but also to stand for much-needed action on economic and COVID-19 recovery. At this time, AAPI voters in key swing districts in Orange County feel that Democrats aren’t doing enough to address their key issues, and we could see a decline in turnout in 2022. That could be the margin in some of the closest races around the country,” said Roshni Nedungadi, COO and founding partner of HIT Strategies.

One of the most important findings was the discovery that the Democrats’ diverse base and persuadable working class voters have similar priorities for government. A key driver is the popularity of the new expanded Child Tax Credit that is very important to parents and white working class voters under 50 years of age.

Communities remain worried about crime and support messages that favor funding and respecting the police, while also ensuring abusive officers will be held accountable for their actions.

These shared priorities come from recognizing the Democrats’ base is overwhelmingly working class. Fully 70 percent of Black voters in HIT’s battleground survey did not have a four-year degree; even more, 75 percent in EquisLabs’ battleground states. Two-thirds of millennials/Gen Z, 69 percent of unmarried women and 57 percent of white unmarried women also lack a four-year degree.

Stanley Greenberg, founder of Democracy Corps with James Carville, said, “I guess, it’s the working class, stupid! They need to be seen. They need to hear we want change. We need to deliver the transformative change before the Congress and level the playing field.”

Download the key findings slides here →

Download the Democracy Corps white working class slides here →

Download the EquisLabs Hispanic working class slides here →

Download the HIT Strategies African American working class slides here →

Download the HIT Strategies AAPI working class slides here →

Limitations of the ‘Popularism’ Debate

At The Washington Monthly David Atkins explains why “Arguing About Popularism Is a Dead End. Fix American Democracy Instead: Why governing by polls cannot save the Democrats or the country” :

The hottest conversation in influential liberal punditry these days is about “popularism.” The basic idea is that Democrats should use survey data to find out what ideas and policies are most popular, then promote those ideas and policies while forcefully marginalizing unpopular ones. Adherents of this strategy believe that, because of the structural disadvantages Democrats face in gerrymandered legislatures, the Senate, and the Electoral College, it is necessary for the party to minimize messages that offend the largely rural and exurban white working-class voters who are overrepresented by these structures, as well as voters of color who bend more conservative.

Popularism says, in short, that Democrats should sideline activists pushing for more radical social change and prioritize the average voter in a Montana general election for Senate.

There are many reasons why this approach, currently in vogue in powerful liberal circles and even in the White House, is likely misguided. First, quantitative policy surveys are a terrible methodology to gauge what really motivates voters. Second, Republicans seem to have no trouble winning elections—even occasionally in blue areas—despite pushing for a host of deeply unpopular policies. Third, it’s impossible and unwise to tell unelected activists that they have to stop pushing for social changes unpopular with the broader electorate, much less the median rural, conservative, older white voter. Fourth, it’s not at all clear that if Democrats were to de-emphasize, say, police reform or climate change or antiracism that it would bring back any low-trust voters lost to Trumpism or Q-adjacent conspiracy theories. Finally, it’s likely that any potential voters won over by minimizing liberal priorities would crush the mobilization of progressives and younger voters who already feel desperate and marginalized by a climate-ravaged future and exorbitant housing, health care, and education costs.

But the real problem of our politics doesn’t come from the activists, or the legislators, or the strategists. It comes from the broken and anti-majoritarian structures of American democracy. Both the popularists and the anti-popularists are trapped in a cage bounded by an unrepresentative Senate, a gerrymandered House, and an increasingly unstable Electoral College. Both sides are fighting one another when they should be focused on how to escape the cage entirely.

Among Atkins’ strategic alternatives, “It may be time, then, to consider even more radical approaches to the problem. Blue counties already account for 70 percent of U.S. GDP, and that figure is growing. Might there be ways to leverage corporate and economic power to ensure that the areas on which the American economy depends receive the equal per capita representation they deserve? If it is impossible to alter the composition of the states in the Senate, might it be worth figuring out mechanisms to encourage more liberal voters to move to small red states?…Radical, wacky, and desperate as these ideas might seem, they are probably more productive conversations than endlessly arguing over the strategic value of popularism.”

Teixeira: ‘It’s the Working-Class, Stupid’

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

Forward to the Working Class, Comrades!

I believe I’ve made this point before.

But it is good to see it underscored by a big data dump and analysis from Democracy Crops, Equis Strategies and HIT Strategies. I’m not crazy about all the data presented here and not sure the approach they recommend to the working class will be quite as efficacious as they think. But at least they asking the right question and have answers that are at least somewhat plausible.

“Policies that make families materially better off and tip balance of power to working people are the pathway to electoral success.

A sweeping nationwide study of working class voters shows Democrats can gain at the ballot box by emphasizing popular economic policies that help families thrive and make big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes….

One of the most important findings was the discovery that the Democrats’ diverse base and persuadable working class voters have similar priorities for government. A key driver is the popularity of the new expanded Child Tax Credit that is very important to parents and white working class voters under 50 years of age.

Communities remain worried about crime and support messages that favor funding and respecting the police, while also ensuring abusive officers will be held accountable for their actions.

These shared priorities come from recognizing the Democrats’ base is overwhelmingly working class. Fully 70 percent of Black voters in HIT’s battleground survey did not have a four-year degree; even more, 75 percent in EquisLabs’ battleground states. Two-thirds of millennials/Gen Z, 69 percent of unmarried women and 57 percent of white unmarried women also lack a four-year degree.

Stanley Greenberg, founder of Democracy Corps with James Carville, said, “I guess, it’s the working class, stupid! “

May I recommend here my recent piece on The Power of the Working Class Vote? Reading it in conjunction with these new data may be enlightening.

“Nationally and in every state the working class vote is far larger than the college-educated vote. Because of this, if education polarization increases in the manner it has recently, with the college-educated moving toward the Democrats while the working class becomes more Republican, equal-sized shifts favor the GOP. For example, looking first at the national distribution, since the working class share of voters is 70 percent larger than the college-educated share (63 percent noncollege/37 percent college, according to 2020 Catalist data), if a one point increase in Democratic support among college voters is counter-balanced by a one point shift in support against the Democrats among the working class, the net effect would be to reduce the Democratic margin in the popular vote by half a point. If there were 5 point shifts for and against the Democrats in these two education groups, the Democratic margin would shrink by 2.5 points; if 10 point shifts for and against, the result would be a 5 point shrinkage.

This is the national situation. But the power of the working class vote is just as strong in most swing states. According to AP/VORC VoteCast data (Catalist data not yet available on the state level), the working class/college disproportion is even higher than the national average in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This is perhaps as one might expect.

But consider a state like Arizona. We are used to thinking of it in terms of its increasing race-ethnic diversity, which is helping drive political change in the state. But that trend obscures another fact: it’s still a heavily working class state, significantly above the national average. That means that shifts among working class voters in Arizona are potentially even more powerful than those described for the nation as a whole.”

Political Strategy Notes

Stephen Collinson reports at CNN Politics that “Joe Biden is tantalizingly close to fulfilling what supporters see as the historic promise of his presidency in the coming days, at a critical moment for his social policy transformation at home and his hopes of reclaiming US leadership overseas….After weeks of feuding between moderate and progressive Democrats and his agenda’s several brushes with extinction, the President’s double play of social spending and a bipartisan infrastructure program may finally come to fruition this week. Democrats hope to agree on a framework on a trimmed down package of social, health care and education programs in order to lift a House progressive blockade on a vote on the bipartisan bill fixing roads, bridges and railroads….”I think we’re pretty much there now,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” on Sunday. A Democratic source told CNN’s Manu Raju the goal is now for the House to have a vote on the infrastructure package on Wednesday or Thursday and send it to Biden’s desk. The exact content of the final social spending bill is not yet known, since negotiations on paring back a more ambitious program to win moderate votes have been taking place behind closed doors. But Democrats still appear to be determined to provide free pre-kindergarten education, an extension of Medicare, home care for seniors and more affordable child care.”

At The Hill, however, Lexi Lonas reports that “Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Saturday that the expansion of Medicare to include dental, hearing and vision coverage is staying in the human infrastructure bill despite doubts from President Biden….Biden said Thursday during a CNN town hall that it would be a “reach” for the spending bill to include the Medicare expansion due to opposition from moderate Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (Ariz.)….“The expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision is one of the most popular and important provisions in the entire reconciliation bill,” Sanders tweeted on Saturday….“It’s what the American people want. It’s not coming out,” he added….Biden said Thursday during a CNN town hall that it would be a “reach” for the spending bill to include the Medicare expansion due to opposition from moderate Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (Ariz.).” The Kaiser Family Fund reported in September that “Results from a recent KFF poll indicate that 90% of the public says expanding Medicare to include dental, hearing, vision is a “top” or “important” priority for Congress.”

As for lowering prescription drug costs, “Democrats have been at an impasse for weeks as a small handful of House and Senate centrists continue to push back on the planned sweeping system for negotiating drug prices, ” Jennifer Scholtes, Marianne Levine and Alcie Miranda write at Politico. “Now lawmakers acknowledge they will end up with a far narrower drug pricing bill, if they can secure one at al l….Fallback plans include negotiating a smaller set of drugs under Medicare Part B, which covers drugs people usually wouldn’t self-administer, like vaccines and IV fluids. Lawmakers are considering leaving out drugs covered under Medicare Part D, which covers other prescriptions. They are also mulling negotiation only for the cost of drugs with expired patents and setting prices based on a U.S. standard, rather than an international baseline….Other options for scaling back the plan include applying the lower prices in Medicare and not private insurance plans, or phasing in the changes more slowly to give corporations time to adjust.” The KFF poll reports that 83 percent of respondents favor “Allowing the gov’t to negotiate with drug companies to get a lower price on Rx drugs that would apply to both Medicare and private insurance (Oct. 2021).”

Geoffrey Skelley addresses a question of increasing concern “Could Manchin Actually Leave The Democratic Party?” at FiveThirtyEight, and writes, “Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters Wednesday that suggestions he would leave the Democratic Party were “bullshit” with a “capital B.” He’d previously told Democratic leaders that he’d consider becoming an independent if they felt it would help them explain to the public why the party was having such a hard time coming to an agreement on its social spending plans, but he denied that he’d made threats about leaving the party.” In an extensive study, political scientist Antoine Yoshinaka “found party-switchers performed 4 to 9 percentage points worse in their next general election than non-switchers between 1952 and 2010.” Skelley adds, “Yet while one can make a fairly convincing electoral case for why Manchin should consider switching parties, it’s most likely he’ll stay where he is considering the enormous amount of leverage he has. He essentially can veto any proposal he disagrees with while also working within his party to adjust legislation to better reflect what he wants. And because Democrats have full control of government, he’s more likely to get laws passed that are agreeable to him….if Manchin were part of a 51-member Republican caucus, he would wield a similar amount of veto power. But outside of that, it’s unlikely he would be as influential as he is right now….And he’d also be unlikely to influence the trajectory of GOP legislation in the way he does as a longstanding member of the Democratic caucus.”

“Red Dog” Democrats Shouldn’t Expect Big Policy Concessions

While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:

For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.

So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:

“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …

“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …

“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”

Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.

Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.

That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.

This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.

Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.


Brownstein: Midterms Will Likely Turn on How Voters Perceive the ‘Here and Now’ – a Year from Now

Some sobering insights from Ronald Brownstein’s latest article in The Atlantic:

Democrats must “recognize that the potential upside of [their economic] bills [is] limited for next year, regardless of how virtuous they are in the policy,” says Simon Rosenberg, the president of NDN, a Democratic research and advocacy group. “Joe Biden was elected to do one thing, which was to defeat COVID. And when he was defeating it, his numbers went way up, and when COVID started defeating him, his numbers went way down. The key to him getting his numbers going back up is he has to defeat COVID and get credit for it. This has to be the central governing and political priority for the Biden administration.”

Sarah Longwell, the founder of the Republican Accountability Project, an organization of Republicans critical of former President Donald Trump, likewise says that in recent focus groups she’s conducted in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, few voters were following the legislative maneuvering over the Democrats’ huge agenda. “The thing that people care about right now is getting COVID under control, and all of the attending economic consequences relating to COVID,” Longwell told me. Not all analysts agree that the Democrats’ legislative agenda is unlikely to affect the midterms. Many campaign aides and operatives at the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees are eagerly anticipating that if the party reaches agreement on its big economic proposals, candidates next year can run on the trinity of creating jobs (through the infrastructure bill), bolstering families (mostly by extending the Child Tax Credit) and reducing health-care costs (through increasing federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and authorizing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices). They are especially keen to highlight the lockstep Republican opposition to all of those measures.

The Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who was one of Biden’s lead polling advisers during the 2020 campaign, told me that many voters will view passing legislation that helps stabilize family budgets as an integral part of an effective COVID response. “I don’t think it’s a dichotomy,” she said. “We have got to deliver something to working- and middle-class families.” The emergence of the Delta variant, Lake said, surprised and dismayed many Americans who thought the country was on a steady path to recovery—one focus-group participant called it “a kick in the gut”—and now they worry that more unpleasant surprises will threaten their family’s health and finances. “For women in particular, we have to deliver something to their family, to their kitchen tables,” she said.

Brownstein adds that “the clearest rule might be that midterm elections turn less on assessments of legislation that may eventually affect people’s lives than on verdicts about the country’s condition in the here and now….An old political adage holds that presidential elections are always about the future; midterms seem to be more about today. As Bolger put it to me, voters “step outside and feel how the weather is, and if I feel uncomfortable with it, I take it out on the incumbent party.”

2020 Was a Victory That Limited What Democrats Could Accomplish

While listening to the blame game about why Democrats are struggling to enact Joe Biden’s agenda  and put themselves in better shape for the midterms, I made an unconventional argument at New York:

Between the struggle in Congress to get Joe Biden’s agenda enacted; the president’s own sagging job-approval ratings; the persistence of Donald Trump; and a bad moon rising over Donkey Party prospects in the 2022 midterms and maybe even some 2021 elections; the search for scapegoats is understandable if not terribly fair. 

But the underlying problem is a 2020 election that fell short of expectations, and fell even shorter of what the party needed to govern effectively. Initial relief over finally ejecting Donald Trump from the White House and excitement over winning control of the Senate should not obscure the fact that Democrats emerged from the last election with the stage set for their present troubles.

Consider how they underperformed in every significant category:

The 2020 presidential misfire

A lot of the pre-election chatter revolved around the question of whether Biden would win by a landslide and earn a clear policy mandate, or would instead win by a more modest margin. (And of course, many Democrats feared that Trump might win legitimately, despite Biden’s polling lead, or make good on hints that he would try to steal the election.) Ultimately, a mere 44,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin kept Trump from tying Biden in the Electoral College. Yes, Biden ultimately defeated Trump by a 4.4 percent national popular-vote margin, nearly as big as Barack Obama’s margin over Mitt Romney in 2012. But the final polling averages at FiveThirtyEight projected an 8.4 percent Biden win, with the Democrat likely to carry Florida, North Carolina, and the 2nd congressional district of Maine along with the jurisdictions he ultimately won.

In the run-up to the election, I was one of many analysts who thought that perhaps a Biden win in Florida on November 3 might settle it all early enough to avoid a contested election, even if Trump was as unscrupulous as we expected:

“It’s a different matter, of course, if Florida is called for Trump or the state is just too close to call as the morning after Election Night dawns. There are definitely some Biden paths to victory without Florida being in his column, but they may not be entirely apparent in early returns if Trump is leading in most of the battleground states. So Democrats would be well advised to kick out the jams in the land of Mickey Mouse and the NBA bubble.”

Unfortunately, they didn’t. Perhaps there was no margin of victory by Biden that would have convinced Trump not to claim a stolen win and seek to execute an election coup that finally failed on January 6. But a close race definitely made it much easier for Trump to fire up the MAGA base, convince rank-and-file Republicans to believe his Big Lie about a stolen election, and ensure lockstep GOP obstruction of Biden’s actions as president.

The House fiasco

To say that House races didn’t turn out as expected would be a major understatement. The respected Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball projected just prior to Election Day that Democrats would win 243 House seats, a net gain of 10. Instead they won 222 seats, a net loss of 11. Here’s what Cook Political Report’s House race wizard David Wasserman had to say when the dust settled:

“[I]n the House, Republicans nearly swept the 27 races in our Toss Up column and won seven races in our ‘Lean’ and ‘Likely’ Democrat columns. These included some big upsets: Republicans held every vulnerable seat in Texas, picked up four Biden/Clinton-won seats in California and even picked up two Miami area seats Clinton had carried by more than 15 points in 2016.

“In 2018, Democrats won most of the Toss Ups and even four seats we had rated as ‘leaning’ or ‘likely’ Republican — not entirely dissimilar. But this time, instead of a strong majority, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is left with 222 seats and virtually no margin for error — especially with Reps. Cedric Richmond (LA-02), Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Marcia Fudge (OH-11) set to decamp for administration posts.”

This last point is worth underlining: Given Pelosi’s narrow margin of control in the House, you might think the president-elect would ask his intended appointees who were House members to hold off for a while until his agenda had been mostly enacted. He did not and that’s why House Democratic centrists were in a position to join with their Senate counterparts in holding Biden’s agenda hostage this summer and fall (even as House progressives felt their own oats in a narrowly divided House and made their own threats).

The Senate fail in North Carolina

You might say that whatever bad luck or skill Democrats had in the late stages of the presidential and House races was matched by their great fortune in those two January 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia, where they won control of the upper chamber and a governing trifecta. That may be true. But it was an Election Night fail in North Carolina that left Democrats with 50 Senate seats and a situation inviting any one senator to hold the party agenda hostage.

Democrat Cal Cunningham led Republican incumbent Thom Tillis in nearly every poll of their contest for months and months. Then in the final weeks of the campaign it all slowly unraveled, as CNN reported at the time:

“Text messages leaked last week and reports detailing Democrat Cal Cunningham’s alleged extramarital affair this summer have undercut the image he has carefully crafted, as a man of integrity who serves in the Army Reserve. While Democratic and Republican strategists say it’s too early to know how the scandal may influence his race against GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, particularly in the age of Trump, Republicans now have a new line of attack — and are planning to put millions of dollars behind it in the final days of the campaign.”

It worked, and while Democrats still won control of the Senate, they didn’t have the margin for error the much-predicted North Carolina win might have given them. And that in turn gave any one Democratic senator the power to veto the budget-reconciliation bill advancing much of Biden’s domestic agenda. Two senators, Joe Manchin and Kysten Sinema of Arizona, have used that power aggressively, likely paring the size of that bill by more than half from its original dimensions, and creating a yet-to-be-resolved battle over its specific provisions.

The state legislative disaster

The U.S. House disappointment was made worse by the failure of Democrats to win nearly all of their ambitious goals for flipping state legislatures and getting control of redistricting after the 2020 census. Politico succinctly described the disaster:

“By Wednesday night, Democrats had not flipped a single statehouse chamber in its favor. And it remained completely blocked from the map-making process in several key states — including Texas, North Carolina and Florida, which could have a combined 82 congressional seats by 2022 — where the GOP retained control of the state legislatures.”

Democrats also fell short in Arizona and Georgia, while losing control of both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature, leaving the GOP in control of 61 chambers overall as compared to 37 for Democrats.

Coming just before a reapportionment and redistricting year, this was a disappointment that will continue to sting for a decade, with Republicans now expected to net somewhere between six and 13 House seats in 2022 from the new maps alone, immensely complicating the already difficult Democratic goal of maintaining House control. Since a majority of state legislatures also draw their own maps, the Republican advantage at the state level may be perpetuated as well.

The legacy of Democrats’ 2020 fumbles

To be clear, ejecting Trump from the White House by any margin was critical, and however fragile the Democratic trifecta now seems, it was better than divided control of Congress. Still, to the extent that Democrats are now struggling with legislation this year and fretting over midterm elections on the horizon, 2020 was the big win the party needed and didn’t get. The biggest problem still ahead could be a 2024 presidential election close enough to nourish the Big Lie and undermine confidence in democracy among a dangerously high percentage of rank-and-file Republicans. It does little good to look back in anger, but we should all have some sympathy for what elected Democrats are going through now. It’s not all about the events of 2021.


Political Strategy Notes

Every Republican U.S. Senator voted to block the The “Freedom to Vote Act,” from being considered. As Sam Levine explains at The Guardian, the Act “would require every state to automatically register voters at motor vehicle agencies, offer 15 consecutive days of early voting and allow anyone to request a mail-in ballot. It would also set new standards to ensure voters are not wrongfully removed from the voter rolls, protect election officials against partisan interference, and set out clear alternatives people who lack ID to vote can use at the polls.” Levine continues, “While most Democrats in the Senate favor getting rid of the filibuster, at least for voting rights legislation, the blockade will put immense pressure on two of the most significant remaining Democratic holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. There will be particular scrutiny on Manchin, who personally helped write the revised bill and has been seeking GOP support for it. It’s not yet clear if a lack of Republican support for any kind of compromise could force Manchin to finally support some kind of change to the filibuster but activists have been heartened by a letter he issued earlier this year in which he said “inaction is not an option” around voting rights.”

At The Daily Beast, Sam Brodey shares some perspectives on how to persuade Sen. Joe Manchin to support Democratic legislative reforms: “At this point, those who are pleading with Manchin not to buck his party’s agenda are at a loss. That’s particularly the case for some of the senator’s own constituents, who have sought to make the case directly to him that the party’s sweeping proposal would provide much-needed investments in their home state, one of the nation’s poorest….“It’s become insanity to us,” said Angi Kerns, one of the West Virginia activists who confronted Manchin from a kayak on the Potomac River outside his houseboat….“We’ve done everything we can do in West Virginia—collected stories, amplified voices, thousands of people are calling a day,” she told The Daily Beast. “He doesn’t care. The only option we have at this point is to make ourselves be heard.”…Liberal advocates in West Virginia have an unusual relationship with the senator they’re often cajoling. He may resist their pleas, but because he is so attuned to his reputation back home, he tries to avoid stiffing his constituents. That means some advocates have had multiple meetings with him over the years—which are not always groundbreaking but can be productive….Kerns said before showing up at Manchin’s houseboat, she had met with him or his staff directly five times so far this year. In those discussions, she said, it was tough to dislodge the senator from his talking points—until she started speaking his language….“It’s not what you say, but how you lay it out for him,” Kerns said. “To get his attention, it has to be structured in terms of an investment, a return on investment… then, as a businessman who cares a lot about dollars and cents, he at least takes pause, and he doesn’t have a pre-set narrative.”…Getting as far away from an ideological discussion as possible is crucial with Manchin, said DiStefano. “The over the top rhetoric only reinforces the national media narrative, which has not been the best,” he said. “The key to success is presenting an argument to the senator, begin with data, lead with your values, and your values should be delivered by people who are living this.”

In “Why Democrats are trying to fit every wish into a shrinking bill: Democrats are banking on the popularity of these policies to keep them around,” Li Zhou reports at Vox: “Democrats, it seems, are looking to pare down their budget bill by going the route favored by progressives. While they’re weighing some big cuts to the $3.5 trillion package, the general approach — which isn’t yet finalized — skews toward funding more programs for a shorter period of time, rather than fewer programs for longer….Pushback from moderates over the size of the package has meant tough decisions about what to cut and what to keep. Progressives argued for preserving as many of the proposal’s policies as possible, while saving money by having them expire sooner than initially planned. Some moderates, meanwhile, advocated for the opposite: funding fewer programs for more time….President Joe Biden backed the former strategy as well, and that appears to be the course Democrats will pursue. Biden and the progressives hope the policies will be so popular — even if they’re only implemented for a short period — that it will be difficult for future lawmakers to let them lapse, regardless of who controls Congress….Obviously, some of these programs are shorter than ideal. But the president believes, and I agree with him, that once we have these programs established, it becomes hard to take them away,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a member of Progressive Caucus leadership, told reporters on Tuesday….Opponents of this thinking emphasize that this approach could mean that many of these programs simply expire after funding runs out.”

Noah Rothman explains why “Popularity is just not enough to make activist desiderata manifest — not in the United States” at at MSNBC News: “That word — popular — has become something of an obsession among anxious center-left Democrats. It’s contributing to a mania overtaking the liberal media ecosystem. And the unlikely figure around whom apprehensive Democrats find themselves rallying, 30-year-old political strategist David Shor, has the answer: Just talk about popular stuff….Doing things” via legislation is difficult by design. Popularity without exigency is not enough. What’s more, initiatives that are undeniably popular can become unpopular (see the latitude once afforded labor unions in law and jurisprudential precedent) and vice versa (see the Affordable Care Act). The public’s attitudes shift, sometimes as a reaction to complex societal phenomena but often in response to stimuli policy wonks would dismiss as superficial. To predicate your political strategy on popularity is to build a foundation on sand….What Shor has right, and what his progressive opponents are deliberately refusing to comprehend, is that Democrats are better off without needlessly antagonizing the public. Wild-eyed theories that would replace police with social workers and functionally end the enforcement of U.S. immigration law in workplaces offend on an essential level. Reducing financial pressures on families by doling out largess from the public treasury sounds great, but not to the point that the public welcomes disincentives to work indefinitely. There’s a difference between being popular and principled. Voters can tell the difference, even if the Democratic intelligentsia cannot.”