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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

RUBI Report Highlights Successful Approaches for Rural Democratic Candidates

Read the Report

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

“Peaceful Protest” vs. “Rioting” is a False Choice.

There’s a Militant, Powerful Strategy for Protesting Police Injustice

Read the Memo

Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

March 31, 2023

Battle of the Burbs Likely to Shape 2024 Election(s)

Some insights for Democrats in “Black Voters Are Transforming the Suburbs — And American Politics: An influx of Black voters into suburbia holds enormous promise for Democrats, but Republicans are fighting back” by David Siders, Sean McMinn, Brampton Booker and Jesus A. Rodriguez at Politico:

Around the country, the number of Black people living in U.S. suburbs ballooned during the first two decades of this century, increasing from 8.8 million to 13.6 million nationwide, according to POLITICO Magazine’s analysis. Today, more than one-third of Black Americans live in suburban areas — the fastest-growing areas in the country for Black people.

At first blush, the suburbanization of the Black vote holds enormous promise for Democrats, pushing the party’s most loyal base of voters into suburban areas that, in recent election cycles, have determined the balance of power in Congress and the presidency. According to a POLITICO Magazine analysis of election results from last month’s midterms, Democrats dominated suburban districts that saw a large influx of Black residents over the last two decades. Even in red states like Texas, where the Black population is eclipsed by white and Latino voters, Black people are by far Democrats’ most dependable constituency, with 84 percent of Black voters in Texas last month casting Democratic ballots in the state’s gubernatorial race, compared to 57 percent of Latinos and 33 percent of whites, according to exit polls.

“When you think about the suburbs becoming more diverse,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, “it just creates a way more efficient distribution of Democratic votes, where they’re not as packed into the cities.”

The most recent example: the once reliably red state of Georgia, which has shifted in favor Democrats in the last two election cycles. The historic Senate runoff this month featured for the first time in modern Georgia — and one of the handful of instances in American politics — two Black nominees: incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black senator and an activist pastor who leads Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Atlanta, and Republican Herschel Walker, a former running back and Heisman Trophy winner who had the backing of former president Donald Trump. Warnock’s victory, by roughly 97,000 votes, was secured by maintaining Democratic gains in counties that had traditionally voted Republican, including the Atlanta suburbs of Cobb and Henry counties.

The authors also note that “The migration of Black populations away from city centers to the nation’s suburbs is happening across the U.S., from southern cities like Houston and New Orleans to midwestern cities like Chicago to western cities like Oakland and Los Angeles, and all down the East Coast, from New York to Washington to Atlanta.” Further,

For Democrats laboring to take advantage of the rapidly diversifying suburbs, a bigger challenge isn’t the Black candidates Republicans are running, but total Republican control over redistricting in states like Texas. The constitutionally authorized process, by which state legislatures take census data and redraw their congressional maps, often means whichever party controls a state legislature gets to shape districts to its benefit — as long as there is no overwhelming evidence of racial discrimination.

According to the progressive Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans controlled the drawing of 177 House districts in 19 states, or 41 percent of the lower chamber’s seats, in redistricting’s last round. Democrats, by comparison, control redistricting in seven states, or 11 percent of seats. (Other states use less partisan venues to draw maps, such as independent commissions or courts, which represent 40 percent of House seats.) In the past, Republicans have used the process to draw maps that dilute the voting power of urban areas, which tend to elect Democrats, by carving them up and joining them with more conservative suburbs. But voting rights experts say that Republicans are increasingly targeting the suburbs themselves, which are becoming more liberal as Black voters and other voters of color move there. Their strategy: merging those diversifying suburban districts with rural areas, which tend to vote red.

The diversification of America’s ‘burbs’ is a pivotal trend, juiced by accelerating in-migration in many southern and western states. Much depends on how well the Democrats craft their messaging in these areas in 2024.

Teixeira: The Democrats’ Nonwhite Working Class Problem

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

With all the Democratic back-patting going on, I’m not sure they’re really facing up to an emerging problem that severely undermines their electoral theory of the case. I speak of their declining margins with the nonwhite working class. That’s not to say they don’t still carry the nonwhite working class vote, it’s just they carry it by a lot less. That wasn’t in the “rising American electorate” battle plan.

As I have previously noted, AP/NORC VoteCast estimates the decline in Democrats’ advantage among the nonwhite working class as 14 points between 2020 and 2022, 23 points between 2018 and 2022 and (splicing in some Catalist data, which are consistent with VoteCast data where they overlap) an astonishing 33 point drop between 2012 and 2022.

That’s the national data. It’s interesting to look at the state-level data to see some of these places where this pattern manifested itself.

Arizona. The 2020 Presidential election and 2022 gubernatorial election were both extremely close. Interestingly, while Democrat Katie Hobbs ran quite a bit ahead of Biden among white college voters, she actually ran 3 points behind among nonwhite working class voters.

California. Gavin Newson in 2022 ran considerably behind Biden in 2020. One place where he kept almost all of Biden’s support from 2020 was among white college voters. In contrast, he lost a lot of support among nonwhite working class voters: 14 points.

Florida. Ron DeSantis of course ran way ahead of Trump in his 2022 gubernatorial race—about 16 points. But he ran 27 points ahead among nonwhite working class voters. And he did 38 points (!) better among nonwhite working class voters this year than he did in his initial 2018 gubernatorial race.

Georgia. Brian Kemp ran ahead of Trump in his 2022 re-election, albeit not on DeSantis’ level. But he did 16 margin points better among nonwhite working class voters and, compared to his initial election bid in 2018, also against Stacey Abrams, did 27 points better among those voters.

Pennsylvania. John Fetterman ran almost 4 points ahead of Biden in his successful bid for the Senate. Interestingly, as confirmed by an analysis on 538, he actually did even better than that among white working class voters in the state. But the Fetterman magic did not extend to nonwhite working class voters. He did an astonishing 21 points worse among these voters.

Texas. Greg Abbott ran about 5 points ahead of Trump in 2022. He did even better than that among nonwhite working class voters, running 15 points ahead of Trump across the state.

This pattern did not hold everywhere but it held in enough places to give the Democrats plenty to worry about. And, as noted above, we are now talking about a general trend of fairly long standing.

Political Strategy Notes

At The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner ponders a question of much current interest, “Could Democrats Really Elect a Moderate Republican Speaker?: It’s a long shot, but not out of the question.” As Kuttner writes, “Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to become Speaker, is in a real pickle. His majority in the House will be just four or five. The far-right members of his caucus are pushing him to a point where moderates won’t vote for him. But conversely, if he fails to meet MAGA demands, he will lose the voters of the hard right. It’s hard to see how he gets to 218 votes….Here is the choreography. On January 3, the Republican House caucus will meet and cast ballots for a Speaker-designate. If they agree, the full House will then vote for Speaker, and the Republican majority will prevail. But if they deadlock, Republican moderates could try to seek a deal with Democrats….Then it gets really complicated. Is this a deal just to elect a moderate Republican Speaker? Or is it a genuine bipartisan, anti-MAGA governing caucus?…What would Democrats demand? No far-right Republicans as committee chairs and no committee fishing expeditions? Some Democrats as committee chairs?…And how would the far-right Republicans, who make up a majority of the Republican caucus, react? They would likely be livid, and could well kick the faithless moderates out of their caucus, which would make an anti-MAGA House bipartisan governing majority a reality.”

Nathaniel Rakich notes at FiveThirtyEight that “One of the most important numbers in American politics this year is 140 million. That’s the number of Americans who live in a state where Democrats will have total control over state government after the 2022 midterm elections. By contrast, only 137 million live in a state where Republicans will control state government…Democrats did better in state-level elections across the board in 2022. They flipped three governors’ offices: Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts. Republicans flipped only one: Nevada. Democrats also took control of four state-legislative chambers, and they will share power in the Alaska Senate, too, thanks to a coalition with some moderate Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans didn’t flip a single state-legislative chamber….Overall, Democrats took full control of state government in three new states: Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont, where they won enough seats in the state legislature to override the Republican governor’s vetoes. That means Democrats will control all the levers of policymaking in 18 states — including big ones like California and New York. Meanwhile, Republicans will enjoy full control of government in 24 states — but they’re mostly on the smaller end population-wise….Democrats’ new strength on the state level could lead to a flurry of new liberal policies. Democrats in Michigan and Minnesota are already talking about repealing anti-union laws, legalizing marijuana and passing paid family leave….any big legislation passed in the next two years is probably going to come from the states.”

Nicole Narea explains “How Democrats mostly neutralized Republican attacks on crime in the midterms: Crime was expected to be a defining issue of the midterms. Here’s what actually happened” at Vox: “It’s difficult to disentangle just how much influence Republicans’ arguments on crime actually had in the midterms, and the effect wasn’t uniform across the US. Democrats in New York appear to have suffered acute repercussions. But in many competitive races from where Republicans flooded the airwaves with their crime messaging, like in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it appears that the media was too hasty to believe that crime was a major deciding issue. In other contests, especially some of the country’s hardest-fought attorneys general races, Democrats were able to diffuse the issue — even, at times, turning it to their advantage….Polling suggested that a majority of Americans were worried about crime ahead of Election Day. And it’s true that the national murder rate remains up over pre-pandemic levels….The state of violent crime overall is less clear due to changes in how that data is reported starting in 2021….As the Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg has previously pointed out, it’s hard to parse issue polling. Voters may say that they care a lot about a whole range of issues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any one of them will impact their decision to vote for a particular candidate or party or to vote at all….The candidates who were successful in fending off Republican attacks were those who had an affirmative argument for why voters should trust Democrats on crime. That’s exactly what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advised their candidates to develop in a memo sent around in March. And it’s an approach that’s been poll-tested by Democratic consultancy groups Change Research and HIT Strategies, which found that voters responded best to messaging on the solutions rather than laying blame at the feet of police….Some Democrats have also pointed to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol and Republicans’ lack of support for gun control measures as evidence of their hypocrisy when it comes to law enforcement.”

From the conclusion. of “The Challenges of Leading in a Historically Divided Congress” by Charlie Cook at The Cook Political Report: “With the country so narrowly divided, even slight changes in support can tip races for the House, the Senate, and the presidency in a way that’s rarely happened before….Unless House Republicans reach outside of the chamber to elect a speaker and go with someone who has already held the top post before, anyone besides McCarthy would be a complete rookie at that level. Let’s just say that for the next two years, the House is more likely to look like a train wreck than a well-oiled and highly functioning machine….Because Republican bills will likely hit a brick wall in the form of President Biden in the White House and a Chuck Schumer-led Democratic Senate, look for the House to use its oversight and subpoena powers to conduct opposition research on Biden, his family, and his administration. Harassment will be the order of the day, the better to make life as miserable for Biden and Senate Democrats as possible and maximize the GOP’s chances of having a better 2024 than they had in 2020 and 2022….On the Democratic side, expectations will remain low for incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, not the worst circumstances for on-the-job training. For Schumer, though, this is the time when he has to not only step up and assume Democrats’ alpha-dog leadership role that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has occupied for the better part of 20 years, but also defend the majority with a 2024 map that is very ugly. Democrats must defend 23 seats to just 10 for Republicans. Seven Democratic seats are up in states that Donald Trump carried at least once (three that he won twice), while no Republicans are up in states that either Biden or Hillary Clinton carried. Pushing through as many Senate nominations as possible, along with must-pass legislation, will be all that most anyone can expect.”

Midterm Outcomes and Navigating a Winning Future for Dems

In his New York Times opinion article, “What Really Saved the Democrats This Year?,” Thomas B. Edsall mulls over the debate about whether the midterm elections show that moderate or progressive policies are a better bet for the Democrats looking toward 2024. Edsall quotes political analysts, who make compelling arguments for both viewpoints. For example, Edsall quotes TDS contributor Ruy Teixeira, a leading advocate for Dems embracing a more moderate set of policies. As Edsall writes,

“The Democratic strategist Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a longtime critic of the Democrats’ progressive wing, contends in a recent essay, “Ten Reasons Why Democrats Should Become More Moderate,” that adoption of an extreme progressive stance is not only “dead wrong,” but also that “Democrats need to fully and finally reject it if they hope to break the current electoral stalemate in their favor.”

In the 2022 election, Teixeira writes,

the reason why Democrats did relatively well was support from independents and Republican leaning or supporting crossover voters — not base voters mobilized by progressivism. These independents and crossover voters were motivated to support Democrats where they did because many Democrats in key races were perceived as being more moderate than their extremist Republican opponents.

According to Teixeira:

As the Democratic Party has moved to the left over the last four years, they have actually done worse among their base voters. They’ve lost a good chunk of their support among nonwhite voters, especially Hispanics, and among young voters. Since 2018, Democratic support is down 18 margin points among young (18-29 year old) voters, 20 points among nonwhites and 23 points among nonwhite working class (noncollege) voters. These voters are overwhelmingly moderate to conservative in orientation and they’re just not buying what the Democrats are selling.

Teixeira’s final point:

Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to embrace patriotism and dissociate themselves from those who insist America is a benighted, racist nation and always has been. Large majorities of Americans, while they have no objection to looking at both the bad and good of American history, reject such a one-sided, negative characterization. That includes many voters whose support Democrats desperately need but who are now drifting away from them.”

Edsall Also quotes advocates for a more progressive mix of policies: “I asked Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution, if the organization had flipped any House seats from red to blue. He replied by email:

This was not the goal of Our Revolution. Our Revolution’s goal in the 2022 elections was to push the Democratic Caucus in a progressive direction, and we succeeded with nine new members joining the ranks of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

In part because of Our Revolution’s support, he continued:

The Congressional Progressive Caucus is growing by nine newly elected members, all of whom were endorsed by Our Revolution. That includes: Summer Lee, Greg Casar, Delia Ramirez, Maxwell Frost, Becca Balint, Andrea Salinas, Jasmine Crockett, Jonathan Jackson, and Val Hoyle. Our Revolution’s success didn’t include just those running for Congress. Our Revolution’s success expanded to local races including St. Louis Board of Alderman President-elect Megan Green, whose victory creates a blue island in a state that is a sea of red.”

Advocates of both progressive and moderate policies point to victories for their Democratic candidates, while ignoring their defeats. But neither progressives nor moderates took away many Republican-held seats. For Dems, the big senate pick-up was John Fetterman in PA (a seat vacated by retirement of Republican Sen. Toomey). The marquee House seat pick-up for Dems came from Marie Gluesenkamp Perez in WA-3. Both of these candidates support mostly progressive policies, while presenting a working-class image. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) provides a good example of a progressive Democrat who got re-elected in a fairly conservative state by projecting a moderate image and tone. Policies do not necessarily define candidate image, and that’s something Dems ought to think more about.

The last words in this discussion come from Ed Kilgore, who has unmatched experience as both a Democratic Party strategist and operative and as a political analyst. As Kilgore, a TDS editor and contributor, observed in his column at New York magazine (and excerpted at TDS),

Data points are still being collected and assessed at this point, but a very strong effort by FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley to examine four big Senate races that Democrats won but were at various points in doubt (in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania) shows us that the search for some simple, overriding explanation may not be terribly fruitful.

Using county-level and in some cases precinct-level results, Skelley explains that the winning formula for Mark KellyRaphael WarnockCatherine Cortez Masto, and John Fetterman varied significantly. To oversimplify it, Kelly beat Blake Masters mostly thanks to overperformance among Latino voters; Warnock beat Herschel Walker via impressive margins in Atlanta’s urban core and suburbs; Cortez Masto (the one Democrat in these states to run a bit behind Joe Biden’s 2020 performance) held on against Adam Laxalt by a slightly inflated vote among white college-educated voters; and Fetterman dispatched Mehmet Oz pretty clearly by cutting into the recent Republican margins among white working-class voters.

Regardless of debates about progressives vs. moderates, turnout vs. persuasion and where to allocate campaign resources, winning Democratic campaigns have to be nimble to adapt to events and changing circumstances. While strategy is important, Kilgore concludes that “sometimes the key to victory is to set aside any predetermined grand strategy and simply take what each opponent gives you.”

National Abortion Ban Will Be a Litmus Test for Republican Presidential Candidates

Well, there’s certainly once element of the Republican coalition that’s excited about a competitive 2024 presidential nominating contest. I wrote about it at New York:

For the anti-abortion movement, 2022 was an epochal year, with its longtime goals, the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the abolition of federal constitutional abortion rights, accomplished in one fell swoop in the Dobbs Supreme Court decision. And the rush of Republican-controlled state legislators to enact newly available abortion restrictions was very exciting to those who spent decades struggling to find small cracks in the legal edifice created by Roe and by Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

But the grassroots political backlash to these developments should have been alarming to anti-abortion activists as they watched their long-time vassals in the Republican Party dance away from the aggressive steps to ban abortions everywhere that they had implicitly and explicitly promised to pursue once Roe went down. When Lindsey Graham tried to force a vote on a national 15-week abortion ban in the Senate in September, midterm-conscious Republican politicians all but shouted him down. By November, abortion-rights advocates had won ballot tests over laws in six states (Kansas, Kentucky, Vermont, California, Michigan, and Montana). And without question, the abortion backlash was a significant — maybe the most significant — factor in the underperformance of Republicans in the midterms.

Now divided government in Washington will paralyze policy-making on abortion and nearly every other issue for the next two years. So all eyes are on 2024, and worried anti-abortion activists are making it clear they will use all the leverage they can to reimpose their views on the GOP via litmus tests on Republican presidential candidates. As Politico reports, demand No. 1 will likely be the kind of national abortion ban Graham proposed to the horror of most of his colleagues:

“Anti-abortion advocates are insisting on more in a post-Roe era — namely, a hard commitment to back a federal abortion ban — and they’re holding out until they get it.

“That means potential Republican presidential hopefuls — such as Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state’s 15-week abortion ban would have been at the leading edge of the anti-abortion movement a year ago — enter the 2024 cycle under pressure to go farther. There’s already a range of policy positions across the potential GOP field, from former Vice President Mike Pence’s support for a national abortion ban to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent remarks that abortion should remain a state issue, and most have not yet detailed the exact anti-abortion policies they would push if elected.”

That will change assuming there really is a big, brawling competition for the 2024 GOP nomination full of candidate forums and dominated in some key states by activists who eat, breathe, and sleep abortion politics above all (such as Iowa, which among Republicans will remain the first contest of 2024 no matter what Democrats do). And despite the deep appreciation the forced-birth crowd has for what Donald Trump did to help bring down Roe and the powerful head of steam Ron DeSantis has built up if he decides to challenge the 45th president, no candidate will get to skip a tough abortion litmus test, or ignore demands to talk about the subject early and often.

“’Look, I’m appreciative of everything [Trump] put in place,’ Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told POLITICO. ‘Evangelical voters and conservative voters have great admiration and appreciation for him, but they still want a vision cast for the future and they don’t want to go through four years of relitigating 2020.’

“Trump didn’t once mention abortion or the fall of Roe in his grievance-laden speech announcing his 2024 campaign, sparking conservative concerns that he won’t prioritize the issue in a third White House bid.”

DeSantis has been a bit dodgy, pushing through his legislature a 15-week ban with no exceptions but (so far) resisting demands to go farther now that he stands athwart Florida like a political colossus. But he and other potential presidential candidates will definitely have to take a stand on a national ban, which is not a theoretical matter since a very good Republican year in 2024 could give the GOP trifecta control in Washington. Certainly the topic will come up in the early and pivotal 2024 primary in South Carolina, Lindsey Graham’s state, where a potential presidential candidate, former governor Nikki Haley, has taken the position that abortion is exclusively a state issue. Here’s what Graham told Politico about that:

“’Each person running for the White House will have to come up with an answer to the question, post-Dobbs: “Should we consider this a states rights issue or a human rights issue?”‘ Graham said in an interview. ‘The pro-life community is still a strong component of the Republican Party and if you’re running for president, I think in certain states, like South Carolina, the position that the unborn have no voice in our nation’s capital will be a tough sell for the pro-life community.’”

At present the only potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate who is golden with the anti-abortion lobby is former vice-president Mike Pence, the conservative evangelical stalwart who has long favored a very tight national ban on abortions. Assuming he runs (which he’s giving every indication of doing) Pence will significantly ramp up the pressure on his rivals to commit to a federal ban on the strictest possible terms.

Will any potential GOP president look at some general-election polls and dare to push back on these demands? It’s an interesting question. The pro-choice wing of the Republican Party has been moribund for decades. But 2022 votes in Kansas and elsewhere have shown there are Republican voters who haven’t bought into anti-abortion extremism once it actually matters in terms of the law of the land. In any event, the national GOP’s position on the fraught subject will be tested as never before in 2024.

Political Strategy Notes

In “Why Zelensky’s surprise US visit is so hugely significant” at CNN Politics, Stephen Collinson touches on Republican ambivalence about America’s support of the Ukrainian leader and the people of that brutalized country: “His visit to Congress will also play into an increasingly important debate on Capitol Hill over Ukraine aid with Republicans set to take over the House majority in the new year. Some pro-Donald Trump members, who will have significant leverage in the thin GOP majority, have warned that billions of dollars in US cash that have been sent to Ukraine should instead be shoring up the US southern border with a surge of new migrants expected within days….Conscious of pressure from his right flank, the possible next speaker, GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, has warned that Ukraine should not expect a “blank check” from the new House. Even though Ukraine still has strong Republican support in the Senate, it’s this kind of shifting political dynamic that appears to inform Kremlin perceptions about how long US resolve will last in a conflict on which Putin’s political survival may well depend.” Biden’s well-managed orchestration of Zelensky’s visit is an impressive testament to our President’s ability to call attention to the moral decay in the GOP core congressional leadership — just before Republicans take over the House speakership. For the most part, however, Republicans let their media ideologues make the nastiest comments about Zelensky. For some appalling examples,  check out “Putin’s Useful Idiots: Right Wingers Lose It Over Zelensky Visit: The anti-Ukraine right can’t stand America standing as the arsenal of democracy” by Cathy Young at The Bulwark.

You are probably not shocked by revelations that “Trump paid no taxes in half of the last six years and his returns have dozens of potential issues, as Mark Sumner explains at Daily Kos. Bearing in mind that many Americans are tired of hearing about all things Trump, his tax avoidance is nonetheless a subject that should resonate with many swing voters – particularly if he somehow becomes a GOP presidential nominee. As Sumner notes, “In all, over the six years of returns, Trump reported making money only in 2018 and 2019. He used a combination of reported losses and questionable deductions to keep his tax bills to $750 in 2016, $750 in 2017, and $0 in 2020. Trump did pay $641,935 in 2015, but don’t worry. He still has a “claim for refund” filed for that year based on a claim that he was owed more for “historic restoration.” If that claim is successful, it will return that 2015 money to Trump….This gives Trump a reported $54 million loss over these six years. In those years when he did pay taxes, he paid effectively 4% of his reported income in 2018, and 3% in 2019. The 2015 numbers involved paying taxes that carried over from the previous year, but Trump is still asking the IRS to reduce that year to no more than $750….Trump also appears to have written off over $2 million in property taxes as an income deduction; the committee notes that New York law caps that deduction at $10,000.” Trump’s tax forms also cast further doubt on his ‘successful business leader’ persona in Sumner’s view. “What’s also striking is that in every single year, including 2018, Trump’s core businesses—his golf courses, hotels, and real estate—operated at a reported loss. If Donald Trump actually makes money at anything, it’s not any of the areas in which he brags about being a success. In his best year, Trump reported that he lost $11 million on real estate.”

From “Notes on the State of North Carolina” a superb update on the state’s politics by J. Miles Coleman at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “While Democrats broadly overperformed expectations in last month’s midterms, some weak spots in their coalition have become evident as more detailed data has emerged. Generally, Democrats relied more on persuasion — convincing swing voters to stick with them, as opposed to going with the other guys — than turnout. In several of the historically Republican suburban counties across the country, this played well for Democrats. But as news organizations like the New York Times have found, the Black vote, a key part of the Democratic coalition, was not especially animated this year….As we noted last week, North Carolina was 1 of only 7 states to be decided by less than 3 points in the 2020 presidential race — and the only state among that group to vote for Donald Trump….Though its race wasn’t in the highest tier of battleground Senate contests — the Crystal Ball had it rated as Leans Republican the entire cycle — 2022 was another cycle where Democrats came up a few points short in North Carolina. Rep. Ted Budd (R, NC-13) — who was, in retrospect, one of the better Trump-endorsed candidates running in a marginal state — held the state’s open Senate seat for Republicans by just over 3 percentage points. He beat former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D)….Beasley was not a weak candidate: In 2020, as Joe Biden lost North Carolina by almost 75,000 votes, she lost her seat by 400 that year. Part of what made her an attractive candidate to Democrats was that, as a Black woman with statewide stature, she seemed well-positioned to inspire minority turnout. In 2020, Cal Cunningham, a white man who was their Senate nominee, got fewer votes than Biden in most areas of the state that have high Black populations — this was something that, if rectified, could have helped Democrats close the gap….To be fair to Beasley and North Carolina Democrats, low Black turnout was, again, a national problem for Democrats this year. It was especially pronounced in the South, given the region’s large Black population. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina, several heavily-Black rural counties that easily went for Barack Obama 10 years ago gave the GOP nominees for governor clear margins last month. In the Georgia Senate race, Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-GA) numbers in non-urban Black areas were down from his 2021 showing — but, as Georgia has less of a rural component than North Carolina, Warnock won by expanding his margins in the Atlanta metro area.”

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter flags four political developments coming up in 2023, which “could give us more insights into what 2024 could bring (as well as what we really learned from the 2022 midterms),” including: 1. Who Showed Up and Who Didn’t in 2022? 2. Who Stays Put and Who Retires? 3. Can Washington Work? and 4. Can Biden Keep His Momentum Going? Regarding the last point, Walter writes, “The better-than-expected midterm outcome have put President Biden in a strong position for 2024. Gone is the hand-wringing and second-guessing from his allies that dominated much of the 2021-2022 chatter. But, anyone who follows politics knows that the winds can shift at any moment. As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz noted, “despite Biden’s good fortunes in 2022 and Trump’s failures, there’s nothing certain about how 2024 will play out. Biden’s age and capacity to handle the job remain issues to many voters.” There will be unexpected events and crises. For now, the spotlight is trained on the former president and his troubles. But it won’t stay there permanently.” President Biden’s age, approval ratings and shifting winds notwithstanding, he does seem to have the determination to make an energetic run of it. Until that changes, Democrats would do well to focus more on preparing for down-ballot and state legislative races, plenty off which are also at stake in 2024.

Don’t Overthink the Midterms in Search of a Single Narrative

The more I stare at 2022 election results, the more it is becoming clear that they resist an easy explanation, and I wrote about that at New York:

After the dust has settled on any election cycle, there’s a natural interest in deriving future lessons for the two major political parties. Democrats are interested in bottling and then mass-producing whatever formula enabled them to avoid an apparent oncoming Republican freight train of a midterm and instead gain a U.S. Senate seat while holding the GOP to House gains that are almost (I said almost) more trouble than they are worth.

Data points are still being collected and assessed at this point, but a very strong effort by FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley to examine four big Senate races that Democrats won but were at various points in doubt (in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania) shows us that the search for some simple, overriding explanation may not be terribly fruitful.

Using county-level and in some cases precinct-level results, Skelley explains that the winning formula for Mark KellyRaphael WarnockCatherine Cortez Masto, and John Fetterman varied significantly. To oversimplify it, Kelly beat Blake Masters mostly thanks to overperformance among Latino voters; Warnock beat Herschel Walker via impressive margins in Atlanta’s urban core and suburbs; Cortez Masto (the one Democrat in these states to run a bit behind Joe Biden’s 2020 performance) held on against Adam Laxalt by a slightly inflated vote among white college-educated voters; and Fetterman dispatched Mehmet Oz pretty clearly by cutting into the recent Republican margins among white working-class voters.

Now it’s also true that all four of these winners more or less held on to the vast majority of Biden 2020 voters as well. But in an apparent era of very close partisan balance, gains and losses beyond rigid partisan bases are probably what matter most. It’s also true that all four candidates, and the Democratic Party as a whole, benefitted from certain unique developments that helped make the usual midterm referendum on the president more of a “choice” election, namely the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court and high-profile meddling in the election by Donald Trump. And, finally, Kelly, Warnock, and Fetterman — and arguably Cortez Masto as well — got lucky by drawing relatively weak Republican opponents.

So what does all this add up to as a lesson for Democrats going forward? Probably nothing in particular. They certainly cannot count on an epochal development in the judicial system at the very moment an election cycle is heating up to occur on schedule. And there’s only so much you can do to dial up bad opponents. It’s noteworthy that none of the four Senate races in question were among those in which Democrats played the dangerous but occasionally successful game of running ads attacking the most extremist Republican candidates to boost their prospects of winning GOP primaries. Two of the “bad” Republican Senate nominees in the states Skelley analyzed (Laxalt and Walker) were runaway favorites among GOP primary voters. The most prominent alternative to Masters in Arizona (Jim Lamont) was as out there ideologically as Masters himself. And the characteristics that made Oz a stone loser were not nearly as apparent in the primary season as they were when he suddenly started talking about the price of crudités.

It probably is noteworthy that three of the four Democratic Senate candidates in question (all incumbents) were unopposed in their own primaries, and the fourth, Fetterman, won his primary easily. And all of them raised money at a very good clip. But those are always positive candidate qualities in any election. That’s true as well of the successful microstrategies including Warnock’s early-voting blitz prior to the December 6 primary in Georgia, which we will likely learn more about as the story of 2022 becomes more fully available.

At this point, the closest you can come to a general lesson for Democrats in 2022 is that it’s a good idea to stay united, raise money feverishly, prepare for whatever opportunities the campaign offers, and choose candidates with the strength to endure the rolling nightmare that contemporary high-profile contests often produce. You cannot simply dial up candidates with the incredible stamina of Warnock or the amazing courage of Fetterman. But without question, in a period of electoral gridlock, 2022 did establish that, on the crucial margins, candidates and campaigns still matter. And in politics as in football, sometimes the key to victory is to set aside any predetermined grand strategy and simply take what each opponent gives you.

Amberg: Dems Can Build on Recent Success with Focus on Economic Equity

Stephen Amberg, author of A Democracy That Works: How Working-Class Power Defines Liberal Democracy in the United States, explains why “The 2022 midterm results show how the US party realignment is continuing” at the Long Read of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Among his observations:

“The 2022 midterm election is confirmation that the US turned the corner in 2020 from the neoliberal party system that has dominated since the 1980s. There is no guarantee the process will continue, and many forces are in play, but the Biden administration and Democratic Congress not only delivered policies that take a new post-neoliberal direction in economic strategy…..Democrats were liberal on cultural issues and favored equal economic opportunity, which, they argued, could be secured in the new economy by targeted social investments in education and health care, retraining, and entitlement reform. But, like other leftwing parties in Europe, the Democrats alienated the working-classes and played into the hands of rightwing critics who labeled them frauds and elitists….”

The Republican Party has moved its campaign messaging to the far right. What else could it do? The Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Their neoliberal governing strategy became very unpopular. Deregulation of finance and bailouts of banks, free trade and off-shoring jobs, tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of civil rights and voting rights, cutbacks in pensions, education, and health care, lagging the minimum wage behind inflation, privatization of the veterans’ health care system and Medicare — none of it is popular. In contrast, this year’s Democratic attacks on corporate profiteering, raising taxes on corporations, guaranteeing health care, increasing the minimum wage, and forgiving some student debt polled very well.”

Amberg notes further that “The Biden administration is the most pro-labor administration since John F. Kennedy’s. The historically outstanding 2022 results confirm the potential of the new Democratic strategy. If they stick to the strategy, they can establish dominance in the party system.” In addition,

….Of course, the Biden administration struggled for a year to corral Senate votes to pass the progressives’ plans; in the end, Congress passed only part of it. But the important points are, first, it did pass quite a lot and, second, the Biden Democrats are rejecting the Republicans’ definition of electoral space and they are expanding political possibilities. Just this year Democrats passed major bills for energy and climate action, infrastructure investment, a corporate minimum tax, the CHIPS and Science Act that asserts a new industry policy, including microchip manufacturing in the US, reduced ACA health insurance premiums for nine million people, expanded Medicare benefits and capped insulin prices, increased funding for veterans, the military, and local police, and passed the Safer Communities Act to address gun violence and mental health. Congressional Republicans almost all voted against every bill. Biden ordered up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness with an income cap, rallied NATO to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression, and is keeping Trump’s trade pressure on China.

“The Democrats’ new definition of politics contrasts with the Republicans’ messaging about the “elites vs. the people,” Amberg writes. “Biden Democrats are organizing an “equitable economy vs. corporate power” cleavage. This has a distinct working-class dimension to it, but now understood as an “intersectional” working-class. This theme contributed to victories in Pennsylvania, Ohio Congressional races, and in Michigan, Minnesota and elsewhere. The Progressive Caucus in the Congress is adding members.”

Amberg concludes, “Can the Democrats stick to the equitable economy theme against Republican Congressional opposition and corporate hostility? In their favor, the laws already passed earlier this year are going to be implemented and people will receive the benefits. In 2023, the Democrats will still have control of the White House and the Senate, guaranteeing approval of Biden’s judges and executive appointments. They can do a lot to sustain the momentum in the next two years.”

Teixeira: Ten Reasons Why Democrats Should Become More Moderate

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

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, I sometimes think the slogan of the Democratic party’s left is: “Extremism in the defense of progressivism is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of votes is no virtue”. Here are ten reasons why that approach is dead wrong and why Democrats need to fully and finally reject it if they hope to break the current electoral stalemate in their favor.

1. In the 2022 election, the reason why Democrats did relatively well was support from independents and Republican leaning or supporting crossover voters—not base voters mobilized by progressivism. These independents and crossover voters were motivated to support Democrats where they did because many Democrats in key races were perceived as being more moderate than their extremist Republican opponents. Moderation = Democratic votes.

2. In fact, as the Democratic party has moved to the left over the last four years, they have actually done worse among their base voters. They’ve lost a good chunk of their support among nonwhite voters, especially Hispanics, and among young voters. Since 2018, Democratic support is down 18 margin points among young (18-29 year old) voters, 20 points among nonwhites and 23 points among nonwhite working class (noncollege) voters. These voters are overwhelmingly moderate to conservative in orientation and they’re just not buying what the Democrats are selling. Moderation = Democratic votes.

3. Nor are Democrats making up for this loss of support with a surge in turnout generated by mobilizing their base groups in  a great progressive anti-MAGA crusade. In fact, Latino and black turnout was rather poor in this election as it was among Democrats overall. It turns out that the progressive base mobilization strategy hss a fatal flaw for the Democrats: the concerns of many of “their” voters do not track with the issues that motivate progressives. These voters would be more likely to turn out for a Democratic party associated with safe streets, a healthy economy and a sensible, non-divisive approach to social issues. Moderation = Democratic votes.

4. Democrats lost the House popular vote overall by 3 points in this election. That’s bad enough but they also lost the statewide House vote in seven (7!) states with Democratic-held Senate seats up in 2024. That includes four Biden states (Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and three Trump states (Montana, Ohio and West Virginia). But the Biden states were all carried by under 3 points (.3, 2.4, 1.2 and .6, respectively) while the Trump states were all crushing Democratic losses (16, 8 and 39 points, respectively). It defies logic to think Democrats can compete successfully across these House Republican-supporting states in 2024, especially if Republicans run halfway sane candidates, without burnishing their common sense, distanced-from-the-national-party credentials. More progressivism ain’t gonna do it. Moderation = Democratic votes.

5. Democrats did relatively well in 2022 by taking down extreme Republican candidates. But the fact remains that the party itself is still regarded as extreme, particularly in its tolerance of extremist groups. 53 percent of voters thought so in 2022. Granted, an identical 53 percent thought the same thing about the Republican party. But imagine how well the Democrats could do if they were viewed as much less extreme than the Republicans. Moderation = Democratic votes.

6. Moderate candidates generally do better than more ideological candidates and this election was no exception. That was certainly true for the Republican party, where Trumpy candidates paid a steep price relative to their saner counterparts. But Democrats who succeeded also ran moderate campaigns and sought to dissociate themselves from the generic progressive brand.

As Warnock’s campaign manager neatly put it:

There could have been other campaign operatives or another campaign that could have said, ‘OK, Herschel Walker has all this baggage, so we’re just going to run to the left and just try to turn out as many of our voters and just let Republicans eat their own. We didn’t do that.

To this day, strenuously progressive groups like Justice Democrats have yet to flip a single seat from the Republicans, despite an abundance of effort. You’d think they’d get the message. Moderation = Democratic votes.

7. Remember Trump-Biden voters—voters who supported Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020? They and voters like them will loom large in 2024. According to polling this year by JL Partners, just 10 percent of Trump-Biden voters think we need to go farther on political correctness in society today, compared to 51 percent who think we’ve gone too far. The analogous numbers for teaching children about trans issues are 14 percent (go farther) and 36 percent (too far); for efforts to remove historical statues, 8 percent (go farther) and 62 percent (too far); for teaching children about critical race theory, 18 percent (go farther) and 34 percent (too far); for removal of people from jobs for past offensive comments, 12 percent (go farther) and 43 percent (too far); for Black Lives Matter protests, 10 percent (go farther) and 49 percent (too far); and for use of different gender pronouns, 10 percent (go farther) and 51 percent (too far). Since progressives want to press the accelerator on all these things, their approach doesn’t seem like a good fit for this important swing voter group—and really probably for any swing voter group. Moderation = Democratic votes.

8. In the 2022 election, Democrats’ national-facing strategy left some important things out, reflecting the priorities of the progressive groups and the social strata they represent. Stan Greenberg notes:

In the last two months of the midterm election, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Americans prioritized the cost of living and crime, despite Democrats not speaking about either. In the election survey, they prioritized cost of living, inflation, and economy and jobs—barely intersecting with the priorities of the national Democrats.

Common sense suggests you should pay attention to the issues voters are most concerned about, rather than just singing from the progressive hymnal. It would likely pay off at the ballot box. Moderation = Democratic votes.

9. Speaking of crime, here’s a way to break out of the stalemate and really establish your moderate bona fides (as a number of politicians like incoming Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro did). Greenberg again:

Democrats break through parity when they call out the handful of Democrats who decline to talk about violent crime and public safety and the need to get more police into our communities. A message that says Democrats will not “defund in any way” and support “first responders” gets 7 points more warm than cool responses, in a midterm electorate that Republicans won by 3 points. Tackling your own party on crime is a good way for Democrats to break through.

Say it loud: I’m moderate and I’m proud! The voters will reward you. Moderation = Democratic votes.

10. And one last point: Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to embrace patriotism and dissociate themselves from those who insist America is a benighted, racist nation and always has been. Large majorities of Americans, while they have no objection to looking at the both the bad and good of American history, reject such a one-sided, negative characterization. That includes many voters whose support Democrats desperately need but are now drifting away from them. Greenberg once again:

You can no longer ignore the finding that big majorities of Hispanics and Asian Americans are opposed to the teaching of critical race theory. It is seen as denying America as an exceptional nation.

Progressives may want to deny that but voters don’t want to hear it. It’s far too negative for them. That’s why: Moderation = Democratic votes.

So those are ten reasons Democrats should become more moderate. There really is no alternative. That is, if you want to win and win big.

Political Strategy Notes

In his latest column, “There’s a Reason There Aren’t Enough Teachers in America. Many Reasons, Actually,” New York Times opinion essayist Thomas B. Edsall shares a daunting litany of problems facing teachers, as well as school administrators and parents. These include: “a generalized decline in literacy; the faltering international performance of American students; an inability to recruit enough qualified college graduates into the teaching profession; a lack of trained and able substitutes to fill teacher shortages; unequal access to educational resources; inadequate funding for schools; stagnant compensation for teachers; heavier workloads; declining prestige; and deteriorating faculty morale….Nine-year-old students earlier this year revealed “the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the latest comparison of fourth grade reading ability, the United States ranked below 15 countries, including Russia, Ireland, Poland and Bulgaria.” Edsall quotes from and August 2022 paper, “Is There a National Teacher Shortage?,” Tuan D. Nguyen and Chanh B. Lam, which notes that “We find there are at least 36,000 vacant positions along with at least 163,000 positions being held by underqualified teachers, both of which are conservative estimates of the extent of teacher shortages nationally.” Edsall also writes, “I asked Josh Bleiberg, a professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh, about trends in teacher certification. He emailed back: The number of qualified teachers is declining for the whole country and the vast majority of states. The number of certified teachers only increased in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Washington. Those increases were relatively small and likely didn’t keep up with enrollment increases.” Edsall has more to say about inadequate compensation of teachers, international comparisons, the adverse effects of culture wars, burnout, training and workload. Democrats have long been the more “pro-teacher” party, at least in terms of supporting teacher unions. I hesitate to suggest anything that reduces the supply of qualified teachers even more. But might it be time for Democrats to recruit and help prepare more public school teachers to run for office? Most teachers are already good at speaking to small groups and interacting with parents, good base skills for candidates. Ironically enough, it may take more teachers in politics to get more teachers in schools.

For another view of the political implications of public education issues, check out “Randi Weingarten Explains Why Most People Are Pro Public Education,” Glenn Daigon’s interview of the American Federation of Teachers President at The Progressive. Daigon’s opening question: “Glenn Daigon: The political momentum seemed to be on the right after Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race in 2021. Do you think the midterms saw any shift in the political winds? If so, how do you think the results of the midterm elections will impact education policy both at the local and national level?….Randi Weingarten: Based on data analytics from TargetPoint, Youngkin used the culture wars to win people in rural areas who were very fearful. The culture wars didn’t persuade parents to vote for Youngkin, but they persuaded the elderly to vote for Youngkin. He used it effectively as a divisive tactic. But part of the reason he was successful was that Terry [McAuliffe], made an election-deciding mistake [by] saying, wrongly, that parents don’t have a role in their kids’ education….Parents of course have a role in their kids’ education, and I think what you saw in 2022 was that public education did quite well. Not in all places, but by and large parents want [teachers] to help their kids recover [from the disruption of the pandemic] and thrive by focusing on things that both Republicans and Democrats talk about: reading and literacy; pathways to career and college; and helping kids have confidence again and feel better about themselves….There is an agenda—a true education agenda—that is bipartisan, with perhaps Florida being an exception. But even in Florida, pro-education budgets were passed even though Republican Governor Ron DeSantis won comfortably. In virtually every other state where these issues were hotly contested, the pro-public education governors and legislators won….If you look at Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, and Arizona, where Republican candidates ran on denigrating, defamatory, and demeaning planks; the undermining of teachers and vulnerable students; defunding public education; and all of the culture wars, pro-public education governors won. Those wins were just in states where races were really hotly contested. In less contentious races—in Illinois, New York, Connecticut, and Minnesota—pro-public education governors also won.”

The Progressive’s Weingarted interview also includes this exchange:”Q: Is there a set of any races in the 2022 election cycle where you can point to  moderates and progressives successfully countering the anti-critical-race-theory and anti-LGBT messaging from rightwing education backers?….Weingarten: Take New Hampshire, where they easily reelected Republican Governor [Chris] Sununu, but over the course of several months, every school board member who was elected was a pro-public education school board member. [This was in a state] where Moms for Liberty put $500 bounties on the heads of teachers and where a state school superintendent tried to chill the efforts of teachers to teach honest history—school board races were won by pro-public-education school board candidates.”….In Berrien County, Michigan, which had been electing Republicans since the 1800s—so it is a very red area—twenty-one out of twenty-five extremist school candidates lost their elections. In West Virginia, the anti-public education forces lost two referendums, while at the same time, the state has turned ruby red. In New York State, we saw a lot of Congressional races go to Republicans, but 85 percent of the pro-public-education school board candidates won, and 99 percent of school budgets passed….Sure, in Florida, where DeSantis put hundreds of thousands of dollars into school board races, he won more than he lost because nobody has that kind of money to compete, and most of the time these races are basically locally run races. But by and large, in the marquee races around the country, what you saw was the pro-public-education forces win. And in places where they didn’t, like in South Carolina, I believe you’ll see a lot of resistance develop.”

From Amy Walter’s “What Can Losing ‘22 Dem Candidates Tell Us About ‘24 Priorities?” at The Cook Political Report: “In politics, losing isn’t always a career ender. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush both lost U.S. House contests before winning statewide office. President Biden, of course, ran and lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for president twice before his 2020 win. For years, the saying went that in order to win statewide in Ohio you first had to lose. Former Ohio Senators John Glenn, Howard Metzenbaum and George Voinovich all lost at least one senate race in the state before ultimately succeeding….In recent years, however, thanks to the increasing nationalization of our politics, down-ballot candidates can quickly build a brand that goes far beyond the borders of their state.  In 2018, liberal Democrats across the country were wearing BETO for Senate t-shirts and sending contributions to a Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate named Stacey Abrams….Even as they lost their bids, Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams proved that Democrats could turn fast-growing and diverse Sunbelt states blue….Today, however, Democrats’ most lauded loser is a white guy from Ohio who gave Democrats some hope of winning back their blue-collar followers. Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan ran just a couple points ahead of Biden’s showing in the Buckeye state, but his strong campaign operation helped down-ballot Democrats win in key House races in the state….What does Ryan do with his newfound fame? For now, the path to the White House is closed. And, there are no obvious opportunities back home either….In fact, the types of ‘losers’ that Democrats have become attached to in recent years tells us more about what the party is most hopeful or worried about for the upcoming election than it does about the future for these up-and-coming candidates. In 2018, Democrats saw in Abrams and O’Rourke a pathway to opening up the sunbelt. Two years later, Democrats hold both senate seats in Arizona and Georgia, and hold the Governor’s seat in Arizona. At the same time, hopes of turning Texas and Florida blue have been deflated. In 2022, as was the case in 2016, Democrats are more focused on keeping their midwestern bunkers intact. It may not be possible to win back Ohio, but Democrats now see midwestern governors like Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania as their best potential presidential contenders for the near future.”