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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy Notes

E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes about the Democratic challenge regarding congressional action on President Biden’s physical and social infrastructure legislation: “In times of turmoil, I often turn to Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), who doubles as an experienced lawmaker and a political scientist whose book “The Congressional Experience” is now in its fourth edition. A moderate with progressive instincts, Price is above all an institutionalist who believes that politicians in a democracy have a duty — to their constituents and their party — to govern effectively….“What is the moral obligation that comes from holding an office, of being a member of Congress?” he asked when I spoke with him on Wednesday. “The responsibility to understand that successful institutional performance is at least as important, perhaps more important, than fighting for your own particular positions….His solution to the current impasse? “Senators Manchin and Sinema have an obligation to the rest of us to state their position. It’s impossible for us to negotiate if they don’t either give a top-line number or say what they want to cut,” he said. “But if they do provide that, it’s then an obligation of progressives to show some forbearance, to support the physical infrastructure bill — which we should be proud of — and then negotiate on the larger bill.”…This is the only way to keep what began as a bracing effort at social reform from turning terribly sour.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes, “In just the past week, the casualty count of Democratic priorities doomed by the filibuster has mounted; both police and immigration reform now appear to be blocked in the Senate, and legislation codifying abortion rights faces equally dim prospects. Simultaneously, the party has tied itself in knots attempting to squeeze its economic agenda into a single, sprawling “reconciliation” bill, because that process offers the only protection against a GOP filibuster. Meanwhile, legislation establishing a new federal floor for voting rights, the party’s top priority after the reconciliation bill, remains stalled in the Senate under threat of another GOP filibuster. And then, this week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell raised the temperature even higher by leading a Republican filibuster that has blocked Democratic efforts to raise the nation’s debt ceiling….“On voting rights, budget, and reconciliation, potential economic calamity [over the debt ceiling]—this is a very clarifying few weeks,” says Eli Zupnick, a spokesperson for Fix Our Senate, a liberal group advocating for ending the filibuster. “Our hope is this will culminate in Democrats finally realizing they cannot keep preserving this weapon that McConnell can use to derail their agenda and hurt President Biden’s ability to govern.””

Brownstein continues, “Democrats now have unified control of government but remain stymied on many issues by their refusal to confront the disaster of the filibuster. By the time a new generation of Democrats summons the will and consensus to reconsider the rule, the party could lose its control of government. Either scenario leaves them unable to pass the party priorities. Once that window shuts, it might not reopen for some time. If Democrats lose either the House or the Senate in 2022, it could take years before they again control both chambers and the White House—especially if they fail to pass voting-rights legislation counteracting the laws and congressional gerrymanders that red states are passing to tilt the electoral playing field toward the GOP….Given the parliamentary dynamics of the modern Congress on vivid display this fall, a Senate vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster seems almost inevitable in the next few years: It’s an anachronism in a system defined by greater cohesion within the parties and more conflict between them. The real question may be whether Democrats dismantle it themselves now, or watch as Republicans do it the next time they hold unified control of Congress and the White House.”

“If 90 percent of voters are choosing parties rather than candidates,” Democratic consultant Hal Malchow asks in his article, “How the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy is failing America” at The Hill, “why are we spending all of our advertising dollars to distinguish candidates? …Convincing a voter to cast a ballot for a candidate is a one-time decision affecting one election contest in one year. Getting a voter to move party allegiance might be a hundred times more valuable….If voters are voting straight tickets, then a change of party usually affects every candidate on the ballot. But the benefit is larger still. Analysis in states with party registration suggests that a decision to register with a political party is a decision that lasts in excess of 30 years. A Democracy Fund study showed that between 2012 and 2017, 13 percent of voters changed their party registration or, 2.6 percent per year. If that is the average party switching percentage per year, then the average length of a party registration would be 38 years. If an independent or a Republican becomes a Democrat, the decision could benefit Democratic candidates up and down the ballot possibly for three decades or more.”

Behind the ‘Dems in Disarray’ Myth

Nathaniel Rakich shares some thoughts on “Why House Democrats May Be More United Than They Seem” at FiveThirtyEight:

Two factions of the Democratic Party in Congress are currently playing tug-of-war over the centerpieces of President Biden’s legislative agenda. Moderate Democrats have balked at the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation budget bill, attempting to delay a vote on it in the House and insisting that the price tag will have to come down in the Senate. At the same time, House progressives have threatened to block a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill unless the reconciliation bill passes first — with the current price tag intact. (The House is scheduled to vote on the infrastructure bill on Thursday.)

But it’s easy to blow these disagreements out of proportion. On one hand, they are certainly relevant in that they threaten to derail two potentially transformative pieces of legislation. But they do not mean that Democrats are a hopelessly — or even significantly — divided party. Instead, it’s really the narrowness of Democrats’ congressional majorities that makes passing big legislation difficult, as even a small number of defectors can make the difference in a bill passing or failing.

Rakich notes that “more stories will get written over the course of a long negotiation, which can lead to a media emphasis on the messy sausage-making process over the (often less acrimonious) outcome.” Further,

In fact, there’s good reason to think that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s current Democratic caucus is the opposite of in disarray….Democrats are (so far) the most united House caucus of the last three sessions of Congress. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Biden Score, which measures how often individual members of Congress vote in line with Biden’s position, 203 out of the House’s 223 Democrats1 have voted with Biden 100 percent of the time, and all but two have voted with him at least 90 percent of the time.

This makes the current Democratic caucus far more cohesive than both the current Republican caucus and the Democratic caucus during the 115th Congress (based on the Biden and Trump scores2 of the median 90 percent of their members), when Democrats were last in the House minority. Rakich adds, “it’s likely that the opposition of moderate Sen. Joe Manchin will force Democrats to lop off a trillion dollars or two from the reconciliation bill. (Manchin, though known as one of the biggest internal thorns in Democrats’ sides, has a 100 percent Biden Score.) A similar dance occurred with Democrats’ voting-rights bill earlier this year: The For the People Act was too far-reaching for Manchin’s tastes, so it was pared down into the less ambitious Freedom to Vote Act, which Manchin helped craft and is now likely to support.”

….Republicans were a bit more cohesive when they had the majority than they are now — but Democrats are a lot more cohesive now than when they were in the minority.

Rakich explains that “an open negotiation process like the one Democrats are currently in can leave outside observers with the impression that a party is divided even if the legislation being debated ultimately succeeds….Media coverage of the negotiations usually doesn’t help matters, either; according to research by political scientist Mary Layton Atkinson, the press covers controversial legislation far more often than it does bipartisan legislation, and that coverage generally focuses on the conflict and drama of the negotiations over the substance of the bill.”

Rakich pays tribute to Speaker Pelosi’s deft navigation in building legislative consensus among Democrats and concludes, “Negotiations, by definition, highlight disagreements, but the final proof will be in whether Democrats pass the infrastructure bill on Thursday (and, on some later date, the reconciliation bill)….In other words, it’s possible for a party to have divisions but not be divided — and a strong congressional leader like Pelosi can make that happen. “

Teixeira: The Democrats’ “People of Color” Problem

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

Andy Levison has a new memo out at The Democratic Strategist that I strongly recommend; “Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People Of Color” Doesn’t Describe A Political Coalition That Actually Exists

He explains:

“The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy because it is described by its advocates as being the key part of a new majority coalition that Democrats could create if they would simply abandon their effort to regain the support of white working class voters.

In an Atlantic article, Ronald Brownstein quotes two advocates of this view:

“The electoral danger in Biden’s strategy of focusing so heavily on recapturing blue-collar voters,” says Steve Phillips, founder of the advocacy group Democracy in Color, is that “Democrats will be so focused on not alienating Whites that they will mute the policy agenda that could excite the sectors of the electorate which are much more receptive… People of Color and young people, [who] are also the growing parts of the population”.…the party would be better served by investing more “in efforts to increase turnout of People of Color especially across the Sun Belt.”

Similarly, Taifa Smith Butler, the new president of Demos, a liberal think tank focused on racial equity, told me, “As this nation becomes majority People of Color you will have to think about the broader coalition of the electorate.” Democrats, she said, “cannot kow- tow” to an older White electorate at the price of sublimating the priorities of “marginalized communities… that we could be lifting up and elevating rather than continuing to try to appease White moderates.”

Obviously, when the term , “People of Color” is discussed this way, it is not just being used as a neutral synonym for “non-white” or non-Caucasian.” It implicitly assumes that these groups actually do form a coherent political coalition that is united by common problems and common interests and that can consequently be counted on to act as a united political force in American politics….

[T]he difficult reality is that major social movements and powerful political alliances between ethnic groups do not arise simply because progressives wish that they would. They emerge because the very distinct historical experiences of different ethnic groups convince them to set aside their differences and work together in unity. This was the experience of the Trade Union movement in the 1930’s when the common brutal conditions in the factories of the era convinced Italian, Polish, East European and Slavic immigrants to mute the profound inter-ethnic conflicts that existed between them and join together to support the organization of trade unions.

In contrast, although both African Americans and Latinos suffered racial prejudice and discrimination, their historical experience since the 1960’s has been quite distinct and has shaped their political consciousness in profoundly different ways….

It was easy to ignore the fact that the majority of Latinos did not define themselves as “People of Color” so long as Latinos voted majority Democratic. In presidential elections since 1980 the GOP generally only won between 25 to 35% of the national vote.

But even long before 2016 a threat could be seen on the horizon. Aloof, rather patrician GOP establishment candidates like George Herbert Walker Bush and Mitt Romney only received 25-30% of the presidential vote but more “down to earth” candidates like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush received support ranging from the high 30s to as much as 40 percent support for Bush in 2004. George W. Bush had also been quite popular with Latino voters in Texas during his campaigns for governor. It was therefore clear that style and personality could make a significant difference.

And Democrats had also always had problems with the large Cuban exile population in Florida because of the deep anti-Castro sentiments in that community to which Republican candidates very successfully appealed.

Mexican Americans, on the other hand, have been consistently assumed to be “natural” Democrats. As an article in 538.com reported:8

Mexican Americans basically singlehandedly drive the narrative that Latinos are core Democratic voters thanks to their overwhelming numbers: 63 percent of the national Latino population is of Mexican descent, and that figure is even higher in swing states like Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

And they had generally voted more than 2 to 1 in favor of Dems.

But today the fact that Latino support for Trump actually increased in 2020 has profoundly shaken the “natural Democrats” assumption.

According to the Pew validated voter study, one of the most reliable measures of actual voting behavior, the Latino vote for the democratic candidate declined from 66% to 59% between 2016 and 2020 – a 7 point decline. The other most highly regarded source of demographic voting estimates, produced by the Catalyst Institute, used a slightly different calculation – the “two party vote share won by the Democrat” (i.e. excluding third party candidates) – and found that it declined from 71% to 63% – a nearly identical 8 point decline.

This was quite stunning because by 2020 Latinos had had four years to observe Trump’s demonization of Latino immigrants and barely concealed bigotry. Yet instead of voting more solidly Democratic, Latinos actually increased their support for Trump…..

Trump’s campaign recognized that working class Latinos could be successfully appealed to as working people using the same messages that had built Trump’s support among white workers.

As an NBC News postmortem noted:12

Although President Joe Biden won a majority of votes from Hispanics, 59 percent in the 2020 race to Trump’s 38 percent, there was a significant difference in preference based on education, Pew reported.

Biden won 69 percent of college-degreed Latino voters, compared to 30 percent for Trump, a 39 percentage-point advantage. But Biden’s advantage over Trump narrowed with Hispanics with some college or less, 55 percent to 41 percent, a 14-point advantage.

This presented a huge threat because, according to Pew estimates, Hispanics are the most heavily working class group among nonwhites , with 80 percent falling into that category. If future GOP candidates could exceed that 41% level with working class Latino voters, the entire group could essentially become a 50/50 swing voter category rather than part of the Democratic base….

Progressives are endlessly frustrated by the fact that Democratic candidates invariably offer programs that are objectively far more favorable to working class people than those of the GOP. But these arguments invariably run up against the fact that many working class people do not read policy papers or carefully listen to policy debates. They “vote for the candidate, not the platform” and tell pollsters that they base their choices on which candidate they think seems to “care about people like you,” “is on your side,” “will fight for you” or, in the commentator’s most recent cliché, “is someone you would like to have a beer with.”

And Trump, despite his privileged childhood and vast inherited wealth, displayed a blustering, Archie Bunker/Tony Soprano style that seemed more authentic to many working class people than that exhibited by many of the more “typical Washington politician” candidates and media commentators who criticized him.

The GOP also appealed to working class Latinos by focusing attention on the aspects of the Democratic platform that seemed unfavorable to working people or indifferent to their interests. Many working class Latinos in Texas, for example, have good, very high paying blue-collar jobs in the many oil and gas refineries and in pipeline construction and maintenance.

Democratic rhetoric about eliminating fossil fuels seemed to directly threaten their livelihood. A substantial number of Texas Latinos also work in law enforcement, including the Border Patrol, and view rhetoric about “defunding the police” or “open borders” with scorn. GOP commercials made these ideas appear to be the defining elements of the Democratic platform.

More broadly, GOP rhetoric that cast Republicans as “job creators” and defenders of small business seemed plausible to many working class Latinos when contrasted with what Republicans described as the “job-destroying” Democratic agenda. Had Democratic messaging been sharply focused on refuting these attacks they might have been blunted. But, in many cases across the country the primary Democratic appeal to working class Latinos was to emphasize instead Trump’s inhumane policies and disparaging remarks about immigrants.”

There’s a lot more in the full memo. I recommend reading it.

Political Strategy Notes

In his Washington Post column, “Democrats: Political suicide is not a strategy,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes about curent divisions among Democrats regarding the Build Back Better  and physical infrastructure bills: “…The ugly process and the relentless focus on the bill’s current $3.5 trillion price tag are taking a toll and feeding other misunderstandings. Only rarely is it pointed out that this is spent out over 10 years and thus amounts to just 1.2 percent of the economy. Worse, the focus on a single abstract total means little attention to what the Build Back Better initiatives would actually do — for children, families, education, health care, housing and climate.” However, “When Democrats allow a debate to be only about a number,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a leading moderate, said in an interview, “it’s like talking about a Christmas party and only discussing the hangover.” Dionne notes, “Substantively, added Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), starting the discussion this way gets things exactly backward. “We should work from what policies we want to enact,” he said, “rather than an arbitrary number.”….Biden has been pressing Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and other more conservative Democrats to be specific about what they do and don’t want in a final package.”

Dionne adds, “At his news conference on Friday, Biden said this was a central theme in his meetings with congressional Democrats this past week. “Forget a number,” Biden told them. “What do you think we should be doing?” He added that when some of his interlocutors listed all their priorities, they discovered that “it adds up to a number higher than they said they were for.”….Here’s one more misconception: the idea that all middle-of-the-road Democrats are of the same mind. In fact, most House Democrats, including many moderates, agree with the original goal of passing the Senate’s bipartisan physical infrastructure bill in tandem with the larger Build Back Better bill…..House Democrats eager for a quick vote on the bipartisan bill hinted this weekend that they were willing to show short-term patience in the interest of longer-term success. Biden should be ready to encourage them down this path….In my ideal world, we would spend more than $3.5 trillion, given how much needs to be done to give low- and middle-income Americans what Biden called “a little breathing room.”….But in the world as it exists, compromise is likely to require something smaller. That’s okay. What would not be okay: for Democrats to walk away from the best opportunity they have had in at least two generations to repair and reconstruct our nation’s social contract. Despite all their grousing, I think they know that.”

At CNN Politics, John Blake explains “How voter suppression laws hurt White people,” and shares some message points Democrats may want to distill and leverage in the months ahead: “White people — not just people of color — have been some of the biggest victims of voter suppression tactics….The Republican Party’s crusade to make voting more difficult isn’t just morally wrong. It’s folly. By obsessively chasing the phantom of widespread voter fraud, they are actually hurting their own base of White voters….Some of the more obvious boomerang effects of these laws have already been noted. Voter restrictions anger and mobilize voters of color. They make it more difficult for older, rural White citizens to vote. And they discourage some White voters from even participating in elections….Even some GOP leaders are now warning that restrictive voting laws are hurting their base. One commentator went further, saying Republicans are “inadvertently suppressing their own voters.”….States that enacted partisan gerrymandering — redrawing congressional districts to favor the Republican party and deprive Black people of voting power — tended to have higher infant mortality rates, Keena says. They also were more likely to challenge the Affordable Care Act in courts and were generally less responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 than Republican-controlled states that didn’t gerrymander, he found…..There is a phrase that describes what happens to some White voters in states like Mississippi. It’s called “Dying of Whiteness” — the name of a 2019 book by Jonathan M. Metzl that describes a political dynamic where racial, “backlash governance” leads to White voters picking political leaders who enact policies that tend to make them sicker, poorer and more likely to die early by gun suicide….This same dynamic is partly why most of the counties in the US with the fewest fully vaccinated people are in Southern states led by GOP governors…..”When state governments rig the voting rules to suppress the voting power of their opponents, there are measurable decreases in public health and policy outcomes that affect everyone,” Keena says.”

Blake continues, “Republican leaders who seek to restrict voting rights also hurt themselves by turning off young White voters who could make the difference for them in future elections….Some GOP leaders make an effort to appeal to young voters, but their party’s voter restriction laws send another message: We don’t want you to vote….This message hurts young White voters by breeding political cynicism and apathy, says Mary A. Evins, coordinator for the American Democracy Project, a program that encourages civic engagement among youth. She says “the big chunk” of White voters impacted by voter restriction laws are the youngest voters….The Democrats’ voting overhaul bill would address many of Evins’ concerns. The new bill would make Election Day a public holiday, make it easier to register to vote, ensure states have early voting for federal elections and allow all voters to request mail-in ballots.” Blake reminds his readers that “The civil rights movement that swept away the apartheid system in the South also helped White people. The fall of Jim Crow lifted the economy of the entire South. It raised the standard of living for White people as new Southern leaders abandoned racial demagoguery to invest more in social services, education and public works that benefitted everyone, Whites included.” Sponsors of voter suppression legislation do their best to target Black voters, who have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent years. But, as Blake argues, the collateral damage of racially-motivated voter suppression inadvertently includes many white, conservative-leaning voters as well. Democrats would be smart to hone their messaging to show white voters how they too are being ripped off by Republican voter suppression legislation.

Dems’ Midterm Strategy in FL Emerges Amid Tough Obstacles

At The Hill, Max Greenwood reports on the “bleak outlook” Democrats face in the Sunshine State, albeit with one ray of hope:

The list of concerns is long. The latest voter registration numbers out of Florida show Democrats’ long-held voter registration advantage over Republicans shrinking to less than 24,000, down from about 100,000 at the beginning of the year.

While many will be surprised that Democrats have an edge at all, that’s a significant decline in a short time, even for the third largest state. As for the ray of hope, Greenwood notes:

Recent polls show DeSantis’s approval numbers slipping amid a COVID-19 surge in his state. He has also faced backlash over his efforts to preclude school districts from requiring students to wear face masks, with officials in even some Republican-leaning parts of the state moving to buck the governor’s wishes.

If Covid crisis management is the top issue in Florida a year from now, Democrats should have a solid chance of defeating Governor DeSantis, who has implemented what is likely the worst set of pandemic policies of any governor. But the caveat here is that Dems must run a strong candidate. At present Democratic Rep. Chalrlie Crist is the best-known candidate running against DeSantis.

In early August, Matt Dixon reported at Politico:

A Quinnipiac University poll released this month had DeSantis’ approval rating dipping below 50 percent, with 47 percent approving of his job performance, and 45 percent disapproving. Those numbers dropped to 44-51 when asked about his handling of public schools. The Quinnipiac poll follows other public polling that shows a similar erosion to DeSantis’ approval rating. A St. Pete Polls survey earlier this month showed 43 percent approved of the job he was doing while 48 percent did not.

In the other major statewide race, Democratic Rep. Val Demings hopes to take Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat. Democrats also hope to retake two U.S. House seats they lost in south FL in 2020.

As for Demings chances, Greenwood reports in an August 18th article at The Hill:

One survey conducted by St. Pete Polls for the website Florida Politics shows Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and his main Democratic opponent, Rep. Val Demings, neck-and-neck. Rubio leads Demings by a scant 2 percentage points, 48 percent to 46 percent. That’s still within the poll’s 2.2-point margin of error. 

Another poll commissioned by the gaming company BUSR and fielded by Susquehanna Polling and Research shows Rubio leading in the race against Demings 50 percent to 39 percent, giving him an 11-point lead that sits well outside of the survey’s 3.7 percentage point margin of error….Both pollsters —Susquehanna Polling and St. Pete Polls — hold B-plus ratings from the data website FiveThirtyEight.

Democratic victories in FL are a made more problematic by the GOP’s edge in money. Greenwood reports that DeSantis has $53 million in his campaign war chest, while his two Democratic opponents each have less than $3 million so far. Worse, “the Florida Democratic Party had only about $406,000 in its federal account at the end of August, while the state GOP reported more than $6.3 million in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission filings posted on Monday.”

Much depends on the status of the pandemic in Florida a year from now. Also, if Demings has ‘coattails’ in terms of energizing a substantial increase in FL’s Black voter turnout, she could help Democrats in the other races. And Democrats must reduce the GOP’s edge in campaign funds to improve their prospects in the House, Senate and Governor races.

What the President Needs to Get Democratic Factions to Understand

With the clock running down and real problems emerging on the legislative front, the president is beginning to meet with key congressional Democrats representing different factions. At New York I took a shot at suggesting what he needs to get them to understand:

We have breathlessly been told by all the Beltway insider outlets that Joe Biden has summoned various congressional Democrats to the White House in hopes of saving his 2021 legislative agenda, which is on the brink of disaster thanks to the irreconcilable demands of competing factions. For once, the eternal “Democrats in disarray” narrative is accurate. On September 27, the House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, a vote rebellious House “centrists” extorted from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in order to get the votes for a must-pass budget resolution. They are quietly backed by rebellious Senate centrists. Multiple House progressives, who have their own cheering gallery in the Senate, are promising to kill the infrastructure bill if it comes up before the fiscal year 2022 budget reconciliation bill is enacted, which won’t happen for weeks. The one sure thing is that if this transpires, House Republicans will make certain there are not enough votes for the bill in their ranks to save it.

This is a BFD!

Biden should find some way to recycle his famous words to Obama about Obamacare.

The success or failure of the governing coalition Democrats managed to secure in 2020 (and in those two crucial Senate runoffs in 2021) is about to be determined by what happens in the next few days and weeks. If they fail, there will be no tomorrow, no Plan B. Next year will be a lot like 2010, when Democrats lost the ability to pass legislation against Republican obstruction and then got clobbered at the polls. It took them eight years to recover from that debacle. Another one could be staring them in the face.

Biden remembers that, and so do many Hill veterans. He needs to impress on them that this is no time to listen to hammerheaded pollsters or greedy donors or Twitter activists. Like it or not, Biden has defined the paired infrastructure and reconciliation bills as central to his presidential legacy and to his party’s case for maintaining power. He needs to make every Democrat tempted to sabotage either bill feel that his failure would be theirs as well, whether or not they lose their own seats in 2022, which some undoubtedly will if the Biden agenda implodes.

The posturing needs to stop

Obviously, the president must acknowledge and show respect for the fact that legitimate differences of opinion exist in his big-tent party. But lawmakers posturing and grandstanding in order to get a shout-out at Politico as big-time wheeler-dealers are not legitimate or worthy of respect. Biden needs to challenge congressional Democrats very directly on this: Let’s go a week without any name other than mine and Nancy’s and Chuck’s appearing in the national political media. If they are questioned about intra-Democratic negotiations, they should refuse comment, go vague, or say “watch and learn.”

Why is this important? Because the centrist-progressive (and on some issues House-Senate) dynamics are reciprocal and virtually guarantee escalation. A ceasefire in factional hostilities requires some peace and quiet.

Public demands, threats, and hostage taking must end instantly

Whether it’s centrists placing some arbitrary “cap” on the size of a reconciliation bill they can accept or progressives making their votes for reconciliation contingent on inclusion of this or that priority, the proliferation of absolute and totally irreconcilable demands is what has really brought congressional Democrats to the brink of disaster.

Biden needs to show Democrats he understands how and why this is happening: It’s mostly the result of the extremely small margin of control in both Houses — which in fact, objectively speaking, gives every senator and every group of a few House members the power to destroy their party’s agenda. In the past, if that had happened, leaders might have been able to offset intraparty hostage taking by securing votes from the opposition. That’s just not practicable in the current environment. Even on the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republicans are now making it clear they would love to see it go down to defeat and will work to produce that outcome.

But while expressing empathy for the temptations facing individual members, Biden has to insist that the public demands and threats stop right now and promise with whatever cold anger he can muster that there will be real consequences for those who go rogue at this sensitive moment. Successfully negotiating the size and shape of the reconciliation bill, for example, is going to be excruciatingly hard if the landscape is constantly shifting because Problem-Solver X or Progressive Caucus Y has laid down some personal marker through a press release or a staff leak.

There’s one plan, and we’re all sticking to it

With the clock running down on the endgame for the 2021 legislative saga, Biden and his closest congressional allies really need to adopt a strategy and demand universal support for it right now, even if that means some backtracking by congressional factions. If the infrastructure bill is going to be salvaged, Biden has to bluntly tell progressives the days of “linkage” between reconciliation and infrastructure are now over: The infrastructure bill will be on the House floor next week and it has to pass. But at the same time, Biden needs to tell centrists that while he and Pelosi and Schumer will listen to everyone’s point of view on reconciliation, he needs commitments of support now for the final product, and to threaten permanent ostracism by the entire federal government (within the limits of the law) for anyone who refuses to comply.

In asking Democratic factions and individual members to give up their leverage over one another, Biden will supply his own leverage to keep the party united. It’s probably the only thing, at this point, that will work. And what does the president have to lose in making some exceptional promises and threats of his own? He’s a 78-year-old man who has spent nearly a half-century putting himself in the position to enact the kind of legislative package that is at stake right now. If he loses it, his presidency will at best be hollow and short, and his party will go into the wilderness. Only he can stop that from happening.

Political Strategy Notes

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Alan I. Abramowitz addresses a pivotal question for the midterm elections and beyond: “Can Democrats Win Back the White Working Class?” Abramowitz argues that “Appealing to the economic interests of white non-college voters may not be enough for Democrats to win back their support….In this article, I use evidence from the 2020 American National Election Study to examine the effects of various political attitudes on the candidate preferences of college and non-college white voters in the 2020 presidential election. In line with the arguments of racial resentment theorists, I find that economic insecurity had very little impact on white voter decision-making in 2020. However, I find that the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters goes beyond racial resentment alone. Instead, I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest.” Abramowitz cites data and provides charts which indicate “clear evidence that white working class voters tend to support conservative policies in every major issue domain, not just a few. They are just as conservative, if not more conservative, on traditional social welfare issues involving the size and role of government as they are on newer cultural issues such as abortion and gay rights. Most importantly, the across-the-board conservatism of white working class voters goes a long way toward explaining their current support for the Republican Party….These findings indicate that efforts by Democratic leaders to win back the support of white working class voters who have been voting for Republican candidates in recent years by appealing to their economic interests or shifting to the right on issues like immigration and gay rights are unlikely to bear much fruit. Moreover, tacking to the right to win votes from a shrinking population of white working class voters might turn off large numbers of college educated white voters with liberal views on these issues.”

In her Los Angeles Times article, “Young voters turned out in force for Democrats in 2020. Will they stick around?,” Janet Hook writes that young voters “will be key to the Democratic Party’s ability to keep control of Congress in 2022. Many young people were spurred to vote by anger toward former President Trump, but much more is driving them….These young Democratic voters have produced a new wave of grass-roots activism, inspired less by candidates than by their passion for issues that their generation thrust to the fore such as racial justice, gun safety and climate change….“I’ve never seen the activism I’ve seen among young people,” said Luis Sánchez, executive director of Power California, a political group that organizes young people of color. “This growing awareness and civic engagement is engagement that goes beyond voting.”….A survey of young people by the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics in March found 36% said they were politically active or engaged — even higher than the 24% who said they were engaged after President Obama’s 2008 election. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found in a 2020 poll that 31% of people ages 18 to 24 had participated in a march or demonstration, up from 5% in 2016. They didn’t just march; they voted. The 2020 surge of young voters — turning out at an even higher rate and in larger numbers than for Obama in 2008 — overwhelmingly favored Democrats….Democrats’ advantage among young voters is of relatively recent vintage. Before most millennials qualified to vote — in the 2000 presidential election and most elections back to 1972 — young voters split about evenly between the parties. That changed in 2004, when Democrat John Kerry won 54% of the youth vote. Since then, Democrats’ edge has grown. That is partly a reflection of a demographic shift over the last 20 years.

Hook continues, “Voters younger than 40 are the most racially and ethnically diverse generations in American history: About 45% of millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) and nearly half of Gen Zers (born after 1996) are people of color, compared with 30% of baby boomers….Ironically, the pandemic may have helped facilitate higher levels of political engagement among young people. The ways states tried to limit the virus’ spread by making it easier to vote were especially useful for first-time voters who are often baffled by registration and ballot processes….That could change in 2022, because many new state voting laws are repealing the pandemic-era changes and implementing other provisions — such as stricter voter ID and residency requirements — that will make it harder for young people to register in college towns. Rock the Vote, a group focused on getting young Americans to the polls, is stepping up its education efforts on how to navigate these new requirements….In Georgia, the group is teaming up with professional sports teams and celebrities to promote voter education in Atlanta’s high schools, sponsoring a curriculum designed to inform teenagers even before they are old enough to vote….The pandemic shutdown also proved to be an incubator of political activism and ambition.“ Young people really took advantage of their time and used the internet as a medium for spreading activism,” said Osirus Polachart, a 23-year-old student at UC Berkeley. Those efforts did not end just because Trump left the White House.”

“Democrats’ hopes of including a path to citizenship for the 8 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US in their upcoming budget reconciliation bill were dashed by a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian,” Nicole Narea writes at Vox. “It’s certainly a setback, given that reconciliation looked like their best chance to pass immigration reform this year, but it doesn’t mean that immigration reform has reached a dead end….Democrats have several immediate options, including presenting the parliamentarian with alternative proposals, overruling the parliamentarian, or resuming bipartisan negotiations on narrow immigration policies that at least some Republicans might find palatable….But while any one of those paths could yield urgent protections for at least some groups of immigrants, none presents the opportunity to meaningfully modernize the US’s broken immigration system to meet America’s changing demographic and economic needs. In the long run, Democrats will likely need to build consensus around immigration issues beyond their own ranks and pass broader legislation with Republican support….Democrats are planning to field alternative immigration proposals before the parliamentarian in the hopes of inclusion in their reconciliation bill….One proposal is to update the “immigration registry.” Under the registry, if an immigrant has been living in the US since before a certain date, they are eligible to apply for permanent residence under federal law, regardless of whether they overstayed a visa or entered the US without authorization. But that date hasn’t been updated in decades. It’s currently January 1, 1972….Another option would be to set a “rolling” cutoff date that automatically adjusts, perhaps advancing by one year annually or creating an eligibility standard requiring a certain number of years of continuously residing in the US. Democrats could also propose a similar change to an existing law known as Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows a family member or employer to apply for a green card on behalf of an undocumented immigrant….Democrats could also propose a similar change to an existing law known as Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows a family member or employer to apply for a green card on behalf of an undocumented immigrant. It’s essentially obsolete at this point because only applications filed before April 30, 2001, were accepted. But Democrats could advance that date. Given that more than 8 million US citizens have at least one undocumented family member living with them, that small date change could have big implications.”

Edsall Explores the Roots of Discontent Among Working Class Males

In his essay, “‘It’s Become Increasingly Hard for Them to Feel Good About Themselves,’“New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall shares insights which shed light on the political attitudes of working class males.

Edsall quotes UCLA economist Melanie Wasserman, who notes,

Although a significant minority of males continues to reach the highest echelons of achievement in education and labor markets, the median male is moving in the opposite direction. Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.

He also interviews Berkeley sociologiest Arlie Hochschild, author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” who observes,

Since the 1970s offshoring and automation have hit blue collar men especially hard. Oil, coal — automating, manufacturing, off-shorting, and truck-driving about to go down. Non-BA males are in an especially vulnerable place. I saw it in Louisiana, and again where I’m interviewing in Appalachia. It’s become increasingly hard for them to feel good about themselves.

Edsall notes, further,”In a 2018 essay in The New York Review of Books, “Male Trouble,” Hochschild described the predicament of less well educated men:”

Compared to women, a shrinking proportion of men are earning BAs, even though more jobs than ever require a college degree, including many entry-level positions that used to require only a high school diploma. Among men between twenty-five and thirty-four, 30 percent now have a BA or more, while 38 percent of women in that age range do. The cost of this disadvantage has only grown with time: of the new jobs created between the end of the recession and 2016, 73 percent went to candidates with a BA or more. A shrinking proportion of men are even counted as part of the labor force; between 1970 and 2010, the percentage of adult men in a job or looking for work dropped from 80 to 70 while that of adult women rose from 43 to 58. Most of the men slipping out lack BAs.

“While many of the men Hochschild writes about see a future of diminished, if not disappearing,” Edsall writes, “prospects, men in elite professions continue to dominate the ranks of chef executives, top politicians and the highest paying professorships.”

Edsall reviews some of the science regarding developmental differences of males and females, then quotes from a paper by Wasseerman and M.I.T. economist David Autor, which notes “Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.” Looking toward the future, they write,

The stagnation of male educational attainment bodes ill for the well-being of recent cohorts of U.S. males, particularly minorities and those from low-income households. Recent cohorts of males are likely to face diminished employment and earnings opportunities and other attendant maladies, including poorer health, higher probability of incarceration, and generally lower life satisfaction.

…A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that the erosion of labor market opportunities for low-skill workers in general — and non-college males in particular — has catalyzed a fall in employment and earnings among less-educated males and a decline in the marriage rates of less-educated males and females. These developments in turn diminish family stability, reduce household financial resources, and subtract from the stock of parental time and attention that should play a critical role in fomenting the educational achievement and economic advancement of the next generation.

Edsall adds, “They warn that “a vicious cycle” may be emerging, “with the poor economic prospects of less-educated males creating differentially large disadvantages for their sons, thus potentially reinforcing the development of the gender gap in the next generation.” Also,

Another reflection of this pattern, according to Autor and Wasserman, “is the growing divergence in high school girls’ and boys’ expectations of obtaining a four-year college degree.” Among cohorts of high school seniors interviewed between 1976 and 2006, “a gap opens between boys’ and girls’ expectations for BA attainment starting in the early 1980s and cumulates thereafter.” They add that “growing up in a single-parent home appears to significantly decrease the probability of college attendance for boys, yet has no similar effect for girls.”

In addition, Edsall quotes University of Louisville political science professor Adam Enders, who “sees the troubles of young white men in particular as an outcome of their partisan resentments.” Enders notes, “My take is that lower class white males likely have lower trust in institutions of higher education over time. This bears out in the aggregate,” he wrote, citing a Pew Research Survey.

Part of the reason for this — at least among some conservative males — is the perception that colleges are tools for leftist indoctrination — a perception increasingly fueled by the right, including top Republican and conservative leaders. Indeed, there is a hefty split between Democrats and Republicans in their orientations toward the education system. Republicans became more negative than positive about education since around 2016.

Edsall concludes that the key issue “is how the country should deal with the legions of left-behind men, often angry at the cataclysmic social changes, including family breakdown, that have obliterated much that was familiar. In 2020, white men voted for Trump 61-38. Many of these men have now become the frontline troops in a reactionary political movement that has launched an assault on democracy. What’s next?”

Teixeira: Midterm Electorate Composition in 2022 – Who Will It Help?

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

This is a solid data analytic article by Lakshya Jain on Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Jain uses Catalist data to simulate the partisan lean of recent midterm and presidential electorates if they had voted by demographic group as they did in 2020. This indicates some possible shifts in the traditional relative Republican lean of midterm electorates due to the shifting loyalties of the white college graduate demographic. Jain’s key tables are below.

His overall conclusions:

— “Midterm electorates are typically whiter and more educated than presidential electorates.

— At one time, this sort of change from the presidential to the midterm electorate might have made midterm electorates worse for Democrats. But given changes in the electorate, this midterm turnout pattern may actually aid Democrats, or at least not hurt them as much as it once did.

— Minority turnout has fluctuated and is a wild card that plays a big role in determining baseline partisan leans and advantages — presidential-level turnout means Democrats enjoy the advantage, whereas dips favor Republicans.

— The outcome in key swing states whiter than the national average, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, may be influenced heavily by educational turnout differential. In states with large nonwhite cores, such as North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, minority turnout will play a more critical role.”

Political Strategy Notes

At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook has some strategic insights Democrats ought to consider: “Sources close to the negotiations around the reconciliation bill say that the West Virginian would like to see something closer to $2.7 trillion in total new spending ($1.2 trillion for the hard infrastructure bill plus $1.5 trillion for the reconciliation measure). Including infrastructure, progressives are looking for more like $4.7 trillion total, assuming a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. The sweet spot in between might look something like $3 trillion to $3.5 trillion. This is where progressives and the leadership must have, as we used to say in the South, a “come to Jesus moment,” a time to look down into their own souls and consider what is really important….Are progressives and the Democratic Party better off if they swallow hard and accept a $1.5 trillion total, or would they rather have zippo, which effectively is the alternative? For progressives, a thinner package would certainly be a bitter pill to swallow, having so recently entertained grand dreams of another New Deal or Great Society, initiatives addressing many of the party’s long-sought-after programs….if they hold out for a bigger number and end up with nothing, that would feed into a narrative that President Biden, his aides, and their allies on Capitol Hill are inept. Perhaps they should take a look at the president’s job-approval ratings in the most recent round of polls on specific issues, such as handling immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border, the coronavirus, and Afghanistan. Additionally, many retired or soon-to-retire baby boomers are uniquely vulnerable to inflation, the threat of which looms over the economy….Coming up completely empty-handed would feed into a narrative of ineffectiveness, if not incompetence. Context and extenuating circumstances mean little or nothing to swing voters in midterms. Midterm elections are choices, not between the two parties or sets of party leaders but between the attitudes of “time for a change” and “stay the course.”….swallowing some pride, taking what they can get, and giving themselves and Biden a trophy they can point to might be more prudent.”

In “The Case for a Smaller Reconciliation Bill,” Anne Kim writes at The Washington Monthly: “Of course, Democrats want to do it all, but drawing on a smaller canvas could be better for the party….A tighter, more focused bill is easier for the public to understand. By this point, Democrats should know that technocratic 10-point plans can’t match the primal simplicity of “Build the wall.” A large, complex bill is easier for Republicans to attack. Republican Senator John Barrasso, for example, recently slammed the Democrats’ package as “a radical freight train to socialism.” But it’s not a freight train if it has just three or four cars….Biden himself is thinking leaner as he wades into negotiations, “pushing programs whose benefits voters can easily grasp,” according to TheWashington Post. “The president is focused on having government deliver in a way that people can see and feel in their lives,” senior adviser Mike Donilon told the Post….A targeted bill would also force Democrats to focus on a few clearly defined priorities, sharpening their economic message heading into the 2022 and 2024 elections. With Biden’s poll numbers slipping, the Delta variant raging, and the economy still on uncertain footing, Democrats must make a clear-cut case for why they should keep control of Congress. (“Build Back Better” is a witty and alliterative slogan, but it’s vague and far from a clear message.)”

Also at The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter explains why the Virginia race for governor is a pretty good bellwether, looking forward to the midterm elections next year: “In 2020, Democrats carried the national House vote by 3.1 points. Given that that margin was barely enough for them to hold onto their majority, another 3 point shift toward Republicans could be politically fatal for the Democratic majority. Even so, it’s nowhere near the advantage that Republicans had in 2010. That year they won the House popular vote by almost 7 points and picked up 63 seats. …On its face, Virginia seems like the better bellwether for 2022. As my colleague Charlie Cook points out, the fact that Virginia governors are limited to just one, four-year term, means that every gubernatorial contest is an open seat — a much purer test of partisanship and the mood of the electorate than an election featuring an incumbent. And, unlike California’s recent election, Republicans have a stronger, less controversial and better-funded candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial contest.”…Virginia has also become a bluer state since 2009. Not only have Republicans not won a statewide race since then, no GOP statewide nominee for Governor, Senate or President has won more than 44 percent of the vote since 2014. …With a PVI of D+2, Virginia is bluer than the kinds of states that Democrats need to hold/win the Senate in 2022 like Wisconsin (R+2), Pennsylvania (R+2), New Hampshire (EVEN) or Nevada (EVEN)….So, given Virginia’s blue hue, can we still look to it for guidance for what 2022 may hold?…Obviously, a win by Republican Glenn Youngkin would be a big upset. Alarm bells would be ringing in Democratic campaigns all over the country that even a state that Biden carried by 10-points was vulnerable….But, even if McAuliffe wins (and we currently rate this contest as Lean Democrat), there are still some lessons we can take from this election….The most important is whether there is a suburban “snap-back” for Republican candidates now that Trump is no longer in office. For the last four years, we’ve watched as suburban areas, especially in the populous northern part of the state, have shifted their allegiance from red to blue. But, with Republicans offering a more traditional GOP nominee, with a more traditional GOP message (low taxes/tough on crime), will those voters ‘go back home’ to the GOP? I’ll be looking especially in areas that have only recently been trending to Democrats like Chesterfield County outside of Richmond and Stafford County in Northern Virginia….McAuliffe doesn’t need to hit Biden-levels in many of these suburban areas to win this November. But, for many Democrats up in 2022 (or those who want to unseat a GOPer next year), they can’t afford any slippage in Biden-level support in these types of suburban areas.”

Adam Serwer’s article, “Texas Democrats Have an Opportunity: But it’s not clear they can seize it” at The Atlantic sets the stage for a potential flip of the Texas governorship. As Serwer writes, “Texas Governor Greg Abbott has leaned into the culture war, signing laws effectively banning abortion and critical race theory, loosening gun restrictions, and approving an almost certainly unconstitutional law barring social-media companies from moderating content. He has thwarted coronavirus restrictions in a state that has seen hospitals become overwhelmed with patients and more than 6,000 deaths from the pandemic in the past month, sought to fund more border barriers, and approved new voting restrictions targeted at Democratic constituencies following the 2020 election….Actual governing has taken a back seat to the culture war. The state has done little to force energy companies to prepare for another winter storm like the one that killed hundreds of Texans in February….The Texas abortion law, which bars the procedure before most women know they are pregnant and deputizes private citizens to seek $10,000 bounties on their fellow Texans, may be too much even for many voters who otherwise consider themselves anti-abortion. The law also contains no exceptions for rape or incest—only 13 percent of Texans favor a ban that strict….The governor’s efforts to curry favor with obsessive Fox News watchers by micromanaging how cities and schools try to contain the coronavirus are unpopular, especially with so many Texans getting sick and dying, and hospitals having to delay nonemergency care….What’s unusual today is the number of Texans getting tired of the bit. For the first time since Abbott became governor, a majority of Texans disapprove of the job he’s doing.