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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

April 23: After 2020, Whither the Latino Vote?

One of my favorite analysts, Ron Brownstein, tackled a critical question, and I wrote about it at New York adding some of my own thoughts:

Immediately on Election Night it was obvious Trump and most down-ballot Republicans were doing well in places like South Florida and the Rio Grande Valley, which had a lot to do with Trump’s relatively easy wins in the two large states of Texas and Florida. But as more data drifted in, it became apparent the fiery nativist president who had insulted Mexican, Central and South American immigrants repeatedly, improved on his 2016 performance among Latinos, which in turn was an improvement over Mitt Romney’s share of that vote in 2012.

The rapidly increasing size of the Latino vote has been central to Democratic hopes of a demographically driven semi-permanent majority coalition in the near future, so flagging strength with that group is scary to them. And Trump’s ability to win a decent and growing share of Latino votes cheers Republicans who now figure they can have their race-baiting cake and eat minority votes too. But as Ron Brownstein explains in a characteristically thorough assessment of various theories about the direction of the Latino vote, it’s not exactly clear what to expect next or what if anything either party can do about the trend-lines.

One problem is that there have long been myriad problems in defining and measuring the Latino vote which bedevil any analysis. But the trend lines are pretty clear through 2020:

“If Trump won about one-third of Latino voters nationally (the figure most analysts agree on), that’s roughly the same share won by several previous Republican nominees, including John McCain in 2008, George W. Bush in 2000, George H. W. Bush in 1988, and Ronald Reagan during his two races in the 1980s. (George W. Bush did better than that in 2004.)”

But it’s troubling to Democrats that the immigrant-baiting Trump did as well among Latinos as McCain, who famously favored comprehensive immigration reform, or Reagan, who won by national landslides twice. So an immediate question is whether 2020 was simply a reversion to the mean or if Republicans can do better going forward, particularly if the Latino-unfriendly aspects of Trump’s persona and message are discarded.

Unfortunately, there’s some evidence 2020 Republican Latino gains were partially attributable to, not simply in spite of, Trump. A number of analysts argue that Latino men liked what Brownstein calls “Trump’s swaggering and belligerent persona.” But the Latino gender gap wasn’t particularly large, so others believe Trump’s “law and order” message resonated with the sizable segment of the Latino population who feel little if any solidarity with Black social justice advocates. Trump’s mildly ludicrous attacks on Joe Biden as a “socialist” were not taken humorously by Caribbean and South American immigrants who had experienced leftist dictatorships. And the incumbent almost certainly benefitted from his prioritization of the economy over public health in the COVID-19 pandemic among Latinos highly vulnerable to job losses.

These last 2020 Trump assets (along with simple incumbency) could certainly accrue to Democrats in 2022 and 2024 if the pandemic subsides and the economy continues to boom. But partisan cleavages on “socialism” and “law and order” will not likely go away even if Trump is no longer his party’s leader. Nor will the clear differences on cultural issues like abortion and “religious liberty” that push Latino Evangelicals and Pentecostals, along with traditionalist Catholics, towards the GOP. In general, it’s pretty clear that the Democratic assumption that most Latino voters would steer clear of a Republican Party associated with immigration restrictions was not warranted, particularly in a political environment like that of 2020 in which there were so many urgent competing concerns. And what may be going on, as David Shor has suggested, is that the intensifying climate of partisan polarization is pushing Latino conservatives who used to vote Democratic towards their more natural ideological home.

Almost everybody agrees Republicans have recently done immensely better in Latino voter engagement. Indeed, one reason for Democratic optimism is that the self-imposed restrictions Democrats placed on direct personal contacts with all kinds of voters during the pandemic will give way to a more even playing field in the future. But the regular complaints of Latino activists about inadequate outreach by Democrats to their communities indicate one simple way Republican success can be limited: just by trying more. Perhaps the party as a whole should pay better attention to Bernie Sanders’s strong Latino base during the 2020 Democratic nominating contest, which is often written off as just a byproduct of Bernie-mania among young voters.

The stakes for both parties in getting this right grow more each election, Brownstein’s sources tell him:

“The nonpartisan States of Change project anticipates that Latinos will grow from about one in seven eligible voters today to nearly one in five by the middle of the next decade…. [I]f Democrats can maintain the roughly two-to-one advantage they have traditionally enjoyed among Latinos, most in the party would probably be satisfied. But…it’s a mistake to assume that no Republican could do better than Trump, particularly if they sanded down some of the roughest edges of his approach on immigration.”

It’s as good a time as any to remember that in the end a vote’s a vote, and that major national political parties can win by losing big demographic groups by less than before. Beyond winning and losing, though, Democrats should beware giving Republicans grounds to believe that racism and nativism have no negative electoral consequences. That way lies Trumpism for as far as the eye can see.


April 22: RIP Walter F. Mondale

When Fritz Mondale passed away this week, I eulogized this Democratic leader at New York:

Some career politicians who achieve national fame are known as policy innovators or political insurgents, while others flame out and return to obscurity thanks to bad luck or bad behavior. Walter F. “Fritz” Mondale was another type altogether: a reliable public servant in all of the many jobs he held and a steady steward of the Minnesota liberal political traditions he inherited. He was also, by all accounts, a decent man, and it was characteristic of him that just before his death this week at the age of 93, he sent a grateful email to former staffers, saying “Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side! Together we have accomplished so much, and I know you will keep up the good fight.”

Mondale was fated to spend much of his career in the shadow of other leaders. A protégé of Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legends Hubert Humphrey and Orville Freeman, he was appointed state attorney general by Freeman in 1960 and then four years later occupied Humphrey’s Senate seat when his mentor became Lyndon Johnson’s vice-president. Like Humphrey, Mondale was a rigorous New Deal liberal who was quick to support the labor and civil-rights movements and slow to abandon the Vietnam War. He began and quickly dropped a presidential candidacy in 1974 after Humphrey’s ill health kept him from running; Mondale famously said he didn’t want to spend the next two years living in Holiday Inns. But when eventual Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter needed a northern running mate with close ties to labor, Mondale signed up after securing a pledge from Carter that they would form a true partnership in office.

The wheels soon came off for the coalition Carter and Mondale had put together in 1976, and when Mondale finally ran for the top spot in 1984, the Republican ascendancy that had been delayed by Watergate and Carter’s southern identity fully arrived. The Minnesotan narrowly won the presidential nomination against forward-leaning candidacies by Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart, but eventually won just his own state plus the District of Columbia against the “Morning in America” reelection campaign of Ronald Reagan. The Mondale presidential campaign’s only positive legacy was his pioneering choice of a woman, New York’s Gerald Ferraro, as running mate. Again, All Things Veep was Mondale’s signature.

He returned to public office when Bill Clinton reclaimed the White House, spending over three years as U.S. ambassador to Japan, where he is still remembered for his efforts to scale back the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

But after he returned to Minnesota to practice law and semi-retire, this paragon of party loyalty had one more bitter cup to drink. He was drafted in 2002 to run for his old Senate seat after Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane accident just 11 days before the general election. A close race turned into a Democratic defeat, after a boisterous Wellstone memorial service that offended some voters. Mondale finally retired from politics.

His and Carter’s longevity (the former president is 96) made them the longest-surviving ex-president and vice-president ever. And the strong personal qualities of both men have allowed their political mistakes to fade over time.

Upon news of Mondale’s death, President Biden released a statement crediting his vice-presidential predecessor with offering him sound counsel when Barack Obama chose him as his 2008 running mate. And in some respects, the old-school liberal tradition Mondale typified is shared by Biden, who served with him in the Senate for eight years (four when Mondale was president of the Senate) more than four decades ago. Ideology aside, both men unfashionably viewed public service as an honorable profession. One lives in the White House, and the other lives on in many fond memories.


April 16: Brian Kemp Is Cynically Using Voter Suppression To Win Back MAGA Support

When an underwhelming primary rival to Brian Kemp announced his candidacy I took a look at the Georgia governor’s comeback strategy and wrote it up at New York.

Until March 25, Georgia governor Brian Kemp was looking pretty finished politically. Very publicly and vociferously blamed by Donald Trump for ratifying Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia on November 20, Kemp was persona non grata in MAGA country. He had already been periodically in Trump’s doghouse over his handling of the pandemic in his state, and before that, over his rejection of the Boss’s instruction that he appoint Representative Doug Collins to an open U.S. Senate seat. But getting in the way of the 45th president’s attempted election coup was the final straw: Trump has been publicly and privately vowing to take down Kemp in next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, as recently as the RNC donor retreat in Florida last weekend. During his brief campaign appearance in Georgia before the January Senate runoffs that ended in defeat for his party, Trump even called on Collins to challenge Kemp in 2022, which wasn’t exactly a Georgia GOP talking point. Nor was Trump’s later suggestion that Kemp should resign.

Kemp managed to keep his mouth shut in the face of all these provocations, grimly promising to support Trump in 2024 and generally taking his medicine. But his comeback strategy became apparent when he made a big show of signing Georgia’s highly controversial new election law on March 25. It’s unclear whether he deliberately courted the appearance of racist impropriety, though he did sign the bill under a painting of a plantation and barred a Black Democratic legislator from his office during his remarks on the bill. (State Representative Park Cannon was subsequently manhandled by state troopers who wrestled her out of the Georgia Capitol to be arrested on multiple felony counts.)

“[T]he sweeping election law could be one of Kemp’s last hopes to rekindle a bond with Republicans who remain fiercely loyal to Trump and will be a critical force in next year’s GOP primary. The legislation, which Kemp signed into law, could give him an opening to persuade Republicans that he is an outsider, willing to stand up to Democrats, corporate leaders, and sports leagues who have derided the measure as an affront to democracy that is based on false claims and needs to be rewritten.

“’This is an absolute godsend for Brian Kemp,’ said Brian Robinson, a Republican consultant and former top aide to Kemp’s predecessor, Nathan Deal.”

Kemp has eagerly been making the rounds of conservative media outlets to defend the new law, struggling, no doubt, to hide his glee at the liberal criticism it has attracted. The furor is helping him back home where it matters as well, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein observes:

“In recent weeks, Kemp has been a mainstay on conservative cable TV shows and enjoyed raucous receptions at grassroots meetings across the state, seemingly dissuading better-known Republican rivals such as former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, whom Trump once recruited to run.”

Morning Consult reports that Kemp’s job-approval rating among Georgia Republicans rose from 59 percent in mid-March to 74 percent in early April. Nonetheless, a well-known Georgia pol close to Trump has now announced a 2022 primary bid against the governor. But his identity could be a blessing in disguise to the incumbent.

Vernon Jones is a Black former state legislator and county CEO who endorsed Trump’s reelection last year and has more recently switched parties. He got a lot of MAGA attention, particularly after his featured role at the GOP National Convention. He has really taken to his new career in Republican politics, speaking at the notorious January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington and basking in the affection of the Big Man (“When are you announcing? When are you announcing?” Trump said to Jones at Mar-a-Lago last week).

Jones’s announcement made it clear that he’s the former president’s surrogate.

Jones, however, is a risky proposition as Trump’s instrument of vengeance against Kemp. Aside from the fact that he’s a career Democratic politician from a jurisdiction (the Atlanta inner suburb of Dekalb County) that your average rural Republican wouldn’t visit on a bet, he has always had some issues, as Bluestein explains, calling him “a uniquely polarizing figure in state politics”:

“Jones launched his political career in the early 1990s in the Georgia House before winning the first of two terms as DeKalb County’s chief executive officer in 2000. His stint was marked by controversy …

“[H]is angry outbursts and clashes with other local officials dominated headlines, as did more serious allegations …

“[A] wide-ranging special grand jury report released in 2013, after Jones left office, recommended an investigation against Jones and other DeKalb officials into possible bid-rigging and theft when he was chief executive, painting a picture of a culture of corruption that spanned from his office to workers and contractors in the watershed department.”

Worse yet, Jones was accused of rape in 2005. His successful defense was that the intercourse in question was part of a consensual three-way sexual encounter. This is still not a great look for candidates in the Christian-right- dominated Georgia GOP. And speaking of the Christian right, Jones had a problem with a vote in the legislature against a “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban Kemp had championed in 2019. On the eve of his candidacy, Jones executed a straight-out flip-flop on abortion, stating he now believed zygotes should be protected “from the moment of conception.”

You get the sense that Jones will serve as an irritant to Kemp but not a serious threat unless Trump himself forcefully intervenes in the race (and/or if a more formidable Trump-backed candidate, like Collins, who is reportedly mulling a Senate race, jumps in). And even then, Georgia Republicans will remember that Trump had strongly endorsed Kemp during the last gubernatorial primary. MAGA bravos looking for a pound of flesh may instead focus on Raffensperger, who has drawn an actual member of Congress as his 2022 primary opponent, along with the rival he barely defeated in 2018.

If Kemp does escape, he will likely face a rematch with his nemesis, voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams. And in that contest, all the treasure he has stored up in Republican circles by boasting of his commitment to “election integrity” may earn him a backlash from the voters he and his party have sought to bedevil.


April 14: Was Trump’s 2020 Election Coup Attempt a Dress Rehearsal?

I stumbled on a piece at the Never-Trump site The Bulwark, and it stunned me enough to write it up at New York.

You may have heard about the 45th president’s reported rant at a Republican donor conference near his Florida home over the weekend. Trump is apparently still furious at Brian Kemp for impeding his election coup, and Mike Pence for failing to steal a second term for him anyway, and at Mitch McConnell for refusing to back his electoral vote challenge and then criticizing him for inciting a riot.

To Republicans who aren’t deep in the fever swamps of MAGA-land, this is just Trump continuing his narcissistic and destructive post-election behavior. Just as he blew up those crucial Georgia Senate runoffs in January because he couldn’t let go of his own lies about the presidential election, he’s blowing up the party at a time when the GOP needs to stay unified in the fight against Biden.

But what if Trump’s attacks on those who “betrayed” him in 2020 aren’t just narcissistic or backward-looking? What if it’s part of a forward-looking plan to rerun 2020 and get it right this time?

That’s the question Jonathan V. Last of The Bulwark appears to have asked himself, and he’s answered it with a hair-raising hypothesis that is as plausible as the assumption that Trump is just throwing temper tantrums. He presents his theory as the likely product of an implicit Republican 2020 “autopsy” that has turned defeat into a near-victory:

“It is likely Republicans will have majorities in the congressional delegations of at least 26 states for the foreseeable future. They have a >50 percent chance of winning the House in 2022 and a pretty good shot at flipping the Senate.

“So the first two preconditions for winning the presidency while losing the election are very much on the table.

“Which leaves just one project: Mustering the political will to move past both the popular vote and the Electoral College.”

If you begin not with the assumption that Trump’s entire effort to steal the election was absurd, but regard it as an audacious plan that wasn’t executed with the necessary precision, then reverse engineering it to fix the broken parts makes sense:

“[T]he key parts of the Republican autopsy have been (1) building the political will to use raw power next time and (2) removing the Republican officials who were not willing to comply last time.

“That’s why Republican state parties have censured nearly every Republican who did not participate in Trump’s attempted coup.”

And the really heady thing for Trump is knowing how easy it was to convince the GOP rank-and-file base that his lies were the gospel truth:

“The Big Lie is actually the biggest insight to come from the Republican autopsy. Republicans and their enablers discovered that if they make false, evidence-free claims often and loudly enough, then the vast majority of their voters will believe them.

“And then, once Republican voters were onboard, they found that the rest of the party elites would either join them or stay silent. Only a handful of Republicans dared to object. And those figures are in the process of being either defeated or coopted.”

So why not play it again with a prepared and united party that won’t hesitate to seize on bogus “voter fraud” claims and either steal electoral votes before they can be certified by the states, or refuse to certify a Democratic victory and throw the election into Congress?

“[E]ven though the success of such a gambit is a longshot given all of the various failure points, since political power is derived from their voters, many Republicans politicians will be incentivized to embrace the challenge anyway, since they will gain power within the party from the voters who have been primed to demand such a fight.”

But it’s not any more implausible than the election coup hypothesis sounded when some of us began predicting it in the spring of 2020. And in retrospect, it was spot-on except for a few crucial mistakes Team Trump made after Election Night.

From Last’s perspective, in ranting about disloyal Republicans Trump isn’t engaged in hindsight or vengeance, but is following an ambitious schedule for success in 2024 by getting rid of potential troublemakers within his party. And here’s the thing: it’s a strategy that doesn’t necessarily depend on Trump running for president again. It’s available to anyone determined to do whatever it takes to reconquer Washington at a time when Republicans look to be a minority of the electorate for the foreseeable future. Trump has prepared the way with a dress rehearsal.

It’s a chilling thought, and one to revisit if Trump’s Republican enemies go down to primary challenges next year.


April 9: Democrats Have a Clear National Position on Voting Rights. Republicans? Not So Much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


April 7: Explaining Republican Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2022 midterms look sunny

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

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

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

Redistricting will beef up Republican gains

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

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

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

Republicans will do more with less popular support

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

They think Trumpism is a strategy for party expansion

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

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

Many of them think they really won in 2020

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

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

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

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

Maybe winning isn’t everything after all

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

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

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


April 2: Georgia Republicans Cruising for a Bruising in 2022

After observing the spectacle of the Georgia General Assembly enacting anti-voter legislation, it hit me that the Georgia GOP has been committing a long series of unforced errors that will continue to halt them, so I wrote about it at New York.

On November 19, 2020, Georgia Republicans suffered a major blow when their state was called for Joe Biden in a close presidential contest. But at that point, they had every reason to think the future would be brighter. They were the strong early favorites in two January U.S. Senate runoffs. And knowing that Democrats controlled the White House, Republicans could look forward to likely gains in 2022 for three reasons: (1) The presidential “out” party usually gets a boost in midterms, (2) midterm turnout patterns usually favor Republican voting groups, relatively speaking, and (3) redistricting would be totally in the GOP’s hands thanks to their control of the governorship and the legislature.

But instead of playing their shot as it lay, Georgia Republicans tore each other apart over Donald Trump’s mendacious election “fraud” claims and his subsequent efforts to overturn the Biden victory, with many GOP elected officials and activists gleefully attacking Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp, both Republicans, for certifying Biden’s victory. Trump himself dominated the Senate runoffs and may well have depressed Republican turnout by constantly claiming that the vote in Georgia was “rigged.”

After the catastrophe of losing control of the Senate for their party, which in turn led to the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, Georgia Republicans probably should have licked their wounds and begun healing their divisions heading toward 2022. But no — instead, they made the Georgia General Assembly the national showcase for GOP voter-suppression measures. There was hardly an evil idea for making voting more difficult, particularly for minority citizens, that did not get introduced by some Republican legislator during its 2021 session, up to and including a total end to no-excuse voting by mail, a ban on Sunday in-person early voting, all sorts of burdensome and redundant voter-ID requirements, and attacks on the jurisdiction of Democratic county election offices. The nastiness progressed to include the cartoon-villain idea of making it a crime to give food and water to voters in the long lines that Black people notoriously have to endure in Georgia.

All this obnoxious activity was obviously the product of Trump’s election-fraud claims, since there were no documented cases of problems with Georgia’s 2020 elections other than the aforementioned long lines. So the Georgia GOP was very conspicuously exposing itself as doing bad things in a bad cause.

Eventually, legislators took out some of the most offensive pieces of the final election bill, but they had so mishandled it all that nobody noticed or cared. As Kemp went on-camera to spin the legislation he was about to sign as a triumph for voting rights and election security, a Black legislator tapped on his door to see what he was doing and was promptly wrestled out of the Georgia State Capitol by white state troopers and charged with two felonies.

And when the national protests over the law pressured major Atlanta-based corporations to deplore the law, did Republicans ignore the criticism? No. They threatened to withdraw a tax subsidy to Delta Air Lines (though they did not follow through on the threat). And in a particularly juvenile bit of theater, the House Speaker made sure cameras saw him cracking open a can of Pepsi at a press conference in what was clearly an expression of unhappiness with local corporate giant Coca-Cola. Even if this anti-corporate saber-rattling isn’t serious, alienating their usual business allies is not a smart move for Republicans heading into an election cycle that has now gotten a lot tougher.

Nobody really knows what sort of advantage the new election law will give Georgia Republicans going forward. But it may not be enough to counteract the voter mobilization that Democrats and voting-rights advocates will undertake in defiance of GOP efforts to make it harder for them to register and vote, particularly if voting-rights champion Stacey Abrams is, as expected, at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2022 (alongside Senator Raphael Warnock, heir to the pulpit once held by Martin Luther King Jr.).

The brutal stupidity of his party’s recent maneuvers led Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan to pen an op-ed for USA Today that defended some of the actual provisions of the new law while expressing impatience with others, and with the underlying GOP lies about “voter fraud”:

“Last week’s divisive debate on election reform directly resulted from the months-long misinformation campaign led by former President Donald J. Trump …

“Republicans in politically safe districts [should have] resist[ed] the temptation to superficially support knee-jerk reaction legislation, such as not allowing the distribution of water within 150 feet of a polling station or punishing and removing oversight responsibilities from the former president’s scapegoat and popularly-elected statewide official Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, just to appease the extreme right corners of their districts and to avoid potential primary challenges.

“Unfortunately, Republicans fell into the trap set by the left and allowed them to make the bill into something that it’s not.”

Like Raffensperger and Kemp, however, Duncan was already the almost certain target of a Trump 2022 primary purge effort, likely fronted by State Senator Burt Jones, a prominent supporter of Trump’s lies about 2020. It would not be at all surprising to see the 45th president himself in the Peach State pursuing vengeance against “disloyal” Republicans and perhaps reprising his disastrous role in the Senate-runoff campaign.

If only they had quietly conceded after November, then Republicans might still have those two Senate seats from Georgia and control of the Senate itself. And had Georgia Republicans gone about their usual business of passing bad — not conspicuously racist — legislation this year, they might be in very good shape for the midterms. As it is, if they suffer another debacle in 2022, they have no one but themselves, and perhaps the tyrant of Mar-a-Lago, to blame.


March 31: Democrats Have Good Odds for Retaining Senate Control in 2022

Having taken a preliminary look at the 2022 midterm landscape, I had some good news that I wrote up at New York:

The announcement of Joe Biden’s first group of federal judicial nominees helps dramatize the value to Democrats of holding the White House and the Senate at the same time, aside from the ability to enact legislative priorities. So even if Democrats lose control of the House in the 2022 midterms, as history (buttressed by redistricting) suggests they might, it’s important to Biden’s legacy to hang onto the Senate at least through his current term in the White House. And if you take a look at the midterm Senate landscape, it’s not that much of a reach.

But first let’s look at history. The very high number of midterms in which the president’s party loses House seats (17 out of the 19 since World War II) isn’t quite matched in Senate races (11 out of 19 over the same period). The most obvious reason is that only one-third of the Senate is up in any one cycle, which means the playing field can sometimes be skewed in the direction of the president’s party even if it’s having a bad year overall.

The 2022 landscape isn’t as favorable to Democrats as those two were for Republicans, but it is still reasonably sunny, with Republicans holding 20 of the 34 seats at risk. It certainly helps Democrats that five Republicans are retiring in 2022, with additional retirements still possible, while so far all the Democratic incumbents are running again.

According to the Cook Political Report’s initial analysis of 2022 Senate races, six look competitive (either tossups or leaning in one direction or the other). Of those, four (including the two tossups, which involve open seats in North Carolina and Pennsylvania) are currently held by Republicans. Conditions could obviously change (possible GOP retirements in Iowa and Wisconsin could make those two seats more competitive, and if popular New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu decides to run against Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan, that race could heat up). But all things considered, Democrats don’t need a national advantage to keep the Senate.

In the meantime, of course, Democrats should pray for the health of their current senators. If a Democratic senator in the wrong state (i.e., one of the six where a Republican governor would have the power to appoint a Republican to a vacant seat) resigns or dies, Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote could become meaningless, and Mitch McConnell might regain the gavel. At that point 2022 would  represent a fight to regain lost ground.


March 25: Bad and Could Get Worse: Georgia Republicans Restrict Voting Rights

I’ve been following this development in my home state, and wrote about it at New York as it reached an inflection point:

Republican Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday signed into law a measure passed by Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature to restrict voting rights in reaction to Democratic gains there last year. While it’s not the “Jim Crow 2.0” critics feared — and that earlier versions threatened — the new law shows a determined effort by Republicans to restrict voting in order to claw back power

The bill imposed a new ID requirement on those wishing to vote by mail and tightened deadlines on mail ballots. It also restricted mail ballot drop boxes, banned provisional ballots for votes cast in the wrong precinct, and perhaps most ominously, allowed for state takeover of election administration from county election boards if it deems such interventions necessary.

The legislation also overhauled rules governing Georgia’s unique general election runoffs, which produced two Democratic wins in January that gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. Going forward runoffs will occur four weeks after the general election, with very limited time provided for the early voting on which Democrats generally, and minority voters specifically, tend to rely.

Though Democrats in Atlanta and in Washington are attacking the legislation with varying degrees of heat, it could have been much worse from a voting rights perspective. At varying points in the process, some Republican legislators were promoting the abolition of no-excuse voting by mail (which Republicans themselves introduced in 2005) and elimination of Sunday in-person early voting (in a transparent effort to stop the tradition of “souls to the polls” events traditionally held by Black churches after Sunday worship). The final version of the bill left no-excuse voting by mail in place, and actually mandated two weekend early voting days that by local option could be switched to Sundays. This provision is feeding Republican spin that the entire bill is somehow pro-voter.

The bill is probably best understood as a compromise worked out between the two wings of the Georgia GOP: Trump loyalists who claim to believe loose voting rules “stole” Georgia for Biden and two Senate seats for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock; and those including Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger who don’t buy the stolen election rap but still favor voter suppression as a way to improve their party’s odds in a closely contested state.

Aside from the ripe-for-abuse state takeover provision, the most troublesome part of the bill from a voting rights point of view is the switch from verification of mail ballots by signature authentication against voter registration files, to the new requirement for ID that must be submitted with applications to vote by mail and with the ballots themselves. This requirement adds two additional steps to the process for all voters, and a potential bar to participation for others, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported: “About 3% of registered voters don’t have a license or state ID number on file, and they would need to submit additional documentation.” It’s a provision almost sure to attract a lawsuit and judicial review.

While this legislative activity ends the GOP effort to roll back voting opportunities for now, the state will continue to be ground zero for fights over the franchise at least through the 2022 elections, which are expected to be very competitive, and where Kemp and Raffensperger may be fighting primary challenges from Trump-backed pols who will argue they are soft on “voter fraud” and too sympathetic to minorities. It’s worth noting that above and beyond the current bill’s provisions, there’s a tradition of Republican secretaries of state (most notably Kemp) using aggressive purges of voting rolls to target young and minority voters. That could be very much in play as Republicans deal with a likely gubernatorial race by 2018 Democratic nominee and national voting rights champion Stacey Abrams.

Let’s not forget, by the way, that the new Georgia election law is precisely the sort of legislation that would have been put on hold pending Justice Department review of its impact on minority voting rights had the U.S. Supreme Court not gutted the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s another reason congressional Democrats should find a way to enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, restoring the VRA’s effectiveness and ensuring Lewis’s home state does not mock his memory and wreck his legacy.

 


March 24: Six Excuses For Inaction on Gun Violence

After two horrendous gun massacres in less than a week — one in and around Atlanta, the other in Boulder, Colorado — I wrote at New York about the tedious and unproductive debate that is likely to ensue.

The reason nothing ever happens on gun violence ultimately boils down to two interrelated things: The Republican Party has become wedded to Second Amendment absolutism, and that produces a veto of any federal gun-safety measures thanks to the Senate filibuster and the de facto 60-vote supermajority required to pass any and all legislation.

But aside from the mechanics of raw power that doom the reactions to gun massacres to tears of impotent sorrow and rage, some well-rehearsed rationalizations for doing nothing are reflexively, continually trotted out to defuse the spontaneous public impulse to just stop the madness. Their narcotic effect on debate is a testament to their real, if wafer-thin, plausibility.

1. “New laws wouldn’t have prevented this.”

This rationalization comes in two forms — first in the impossible-to-rebut argument that when there’s a will to mass murder, there will be a way to commit it, which means that any particular gun regulation will produce a Whac-A-Mole displacement whereby the putative killer can always find an alternative weapon or a means of acquiring one.

A bit more compelling are the precise arguments that this gun regulation would not have prevented that atrocity. Right after the Boulder killings, Ted Cruz offered it up. “Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” he said.

What makes such arguments disingenuous is that Congress remains stuck on narrow legislative ideas, like closing the gun-show “loophole” to background checks, because the gun lobby opposes doing anything more comprehensive. By definition, these kinds of incremental steps to reduce the incidence of and the toll from gun violence will have a similarly incremental effect. But those who oppose broader measures have no standing to complain about the inadequacy of minimal improvements to the law.

2. “Guns don’t kill, people kill.”

The oldest and hoariest of arguments is that what causes gun massacres isn’t the weapon but the criminal who wields it — as though all blame must be assigned to one or the other. The whole purpose of gun regulation, of course, is the effort, which will never be perfectly executed, of separating evil humans from death-dealing machines.

No, gun-safety measures will not abolish original sin or prevent bad people from having very bad intentions toward their fellow citizens. But keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of lethal individuals as much as possible will reduce the number of times the wages of sin are someone else’s death. Presumably, all the other countries with vastly fewer incidents of gun violence still have evildoers; they just don’t kill as often.

3. “The real problem isn’t guns. The real problem is ______.”

A variation on the “Guns don’t kill” howler was illustrated by then-President Donald Trump after a 2019 multiple-gun-massacre week in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger,” Trump said, “not the gun.” Put aside for a moment the fact that the mentally ill are far, far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of any and all acts of violence. Mental illness — and, for that matter, “hatred” — is a deep, vast problem that cannot be “solved” overnight or ever. Postponing gun regulation until the human frailties that make weapon use illegitimately deadly essentially means postponing it forever, which is clearly the idea.

Anyone who cites other genuine problems (whether mental illness, ethnic/racial hostility, poverty, or family turmoil) as reasons to ignore the problem posed by poorly regulated weapons is, strictly speaking, trying to change the subject.

4. “It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.”

For many years, the National Rifle Association has argued that gun control gives criminals and other bad actors an effective monopoly on weapons (“If you criminalize guns, only criminals will have guns”). Now, the truth is nobody with any power in this country is arguing for general bans on private gun ownership, so the underlying argument is really that private citizens should wage and win an arms race with evildoers. The logical end of this way of thinking is mandatory gun ownership by law-abiding citizens to make the United States an armed camp where the kinds of people who commit gun massacres are literally outgunned. It’s particularly sad when police officers like Eric Talley in Boulder die in the crossfire.

The possibility that the cure may be worse than the disease accompanies all such schemes. The U.S. is the global leader in gun ownership and towards the top of countries in gun homicides. It is improbable that there is no connection between the two.

5. “This is a slippery slope to gun confiscation.”

Like all “slippery slope” arguments, the claim that limited gun regulation will inevitably lead to the extinction of private gun ownership is both illogical and ahistorical. The fact is we have less gun regulation than we had in 2004 when the military assault weapons so prevalent now were at least partially banned. That ban hardly led to other weapons bans; the pendulum in fact swung in the opposite direction.

There is nothing irreversible about gun-safety measures, which should be judged on their own terms and not on the belief that their proponents secretly want to do something else. Even if the United States were on the brink of enacting that great gun-lobby bugaboo of national gun registration (or gun-owner licensing), it would not lead to gun confiscation without a vast expansion of government power and an extremely unlikely passivity among federal judges.

6. “Guns protect our freedom.”

This last rationalization, which essentially holds that the Second Amendment should be absolute and interpreted as unlimited, requires some thinking through. The idea (as I put it some time ago) is that “no restrictions on firearms possession are ever constitutional. And that particularly applies to military weaponry because the whole idea of the Second Amendment is the right to undertake a violent revolution against the United States government when ‘patriots’ deem it necessary or convenient.”

Gun absolutists are usually coy about what that means and allude vaguely to an armed citizenry as a deterrent to tyranny or just cite the American revolutionary precedent. Some have gone so far as to suggest that when politics fails to achieve some right-wing goal, “Second Amendment solutions” may prove essential. But make no mistake: The argument is to deliberately break the monopoly on deadly force that the military and law-enforcement agencies typically have in civilized societies, in case “patriots” need to start shooting soldiers and cops to defend their supposed liberties. It is precisely the mindset of the insurrectionary mobs of January 6, who believed they were exercising — to quote congressman and would-be senator Mo Brooks — their “1776 moment.”

The scariest thing about Second Amendment absolutists is that they often believe the sign for stockpiling the shooting irons in preparation for a possible armed rebellion is any threat to gun rights as they understand them. And so you have the circular reasoning that absolute gun rights are necessary to protect absolute gun rights. As with other rationalizations for refusing to deal with gun violence, there’s really no effort to reason with the other side of the argument at all.