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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

To Regain the Support of “Culturally Traditional but Not Extremist” Working Class Voters Democrats Need to Understand the Compelling Political Narrative That Leads Them to Vote for the GOP.

Read the Memo

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.

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

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

By Andrew Levison

Read the Report.

The Daily Strategist

October 4, 2022

Mark Green: The Winning Message Waiting for Dems

Some excerpts from “The Democrats Have a Winning Message: “Stop Dangerous Extremists”: Forty reasons the GOP is “a clear and present danger to American democracy” by Mark Green at The Nation:

“Trump and his allies are a clear and present danger to American democracy.”—the Honorable J. Michael Luttig….Speaking slowly but powerfully, Judge Michael Luttig last week may have handed Democrats what has so far eluded them: a winning message for the midterm elections. Given all the revelations to date from the January 6 hearings—as well as five-plus years of Republican malevolence—Democrats can campaign this fall against a GOP full of “dangerous extremists” and run by “dangerous extremists.”

….The best response to persistent misdirection, however, is to repeat a memorable message sustained by a mass of evidence that brands today’s Republican Party as the most extreme in our modern history…..To get there, voters need to visualize and understand what happens when violence-prone reactionary authoritarians replace democracy with despotism. An America run by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene means no Obamacare, shrunken and corporatized Social Security, lower real income for average workers, even more school shootings, rising attacks on LGBTQ and Asian Americans, appeasement of Putin, plus emboldened armed militias like the Proud Boys threatening—or actually killing—local election officials….

So while the Biden White House will presumably be pushing its positive accomplishments, Democrats need to simultaneously begin assailing the “clear and present danger” of the Republican Party as the only negative message that can work—especially as likely indictments of the Trump cabal and more instances of right-wing violence occur….Running against “dangerous extremists” can tie together the news about January 6, the likely reversal of Roe, Republicans calling homosexuality an “unacceptable lifestyle choice” while suggesting secession at the Texas GOP convention, and the MAGA mob assaults on Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss….It can become in 2022 what the “Do-Nothing-Congress” was in 1948—a political hammer that galvanized voters and turned Harry Truman from a sure loser into a surprise winner.”

For some well-stated message points, comb Green’s 40 reasons to illustrate the GOP’s “clear and present danger to American democracy.”

Election Night Pronouncements Are Dangerous

As a California voter, I am acutely aware of the state’s very deliberate process for counting votes, and wrote about the latest lesson from June 7 at New York:

Anyone engaged in politics in a state with heavy voting by mail knows that making pronouncements based on early returns is perilous. The danger of rushes to judgment is especially dire in California, which allows mail ballots postmarked by Election Day but received in the next week to count, permits Election Day registration, and goes the extra mile to help voters cure minor errors on their mail ballot. As CalMatters put it in 2020, “the state opts to make it very easy for Californians to vote” and prioritizes voter convenience over the speed or efficiency of vote-counting. There have been many recent elections in the Golden State where the winners on Election Night have turned into losers before very long.

This was all well known prior to the 2022 California top-two primary on June 7. Yet early returns fed a narrative of a conservative law-and-order revolt against the Golden State’s dominant progressives. Newsweek’s take was typical:

“Democratic voters in California took their frustrations to the ballot box on Tuesday, boosting a former Republican in Los Angeles’ mayoral race and removing one of the nation’s most progressive district attorneys from office in an urban revolt …

“What’s happening in the L.A. mayor’s race and in the San Fransisco district attorney race is ‘consistent with the trend we are seeing nationally: that voters feel that the Democratic Party has moved too far left and want elected officials to shift back towards the center,’ Democratic pollster Carly Cooperman told Newsweek.”

Rick Caruso’s early lead in the L.A. mayoral race and what appeared initially to be a three-to-two victory for the effort to recall San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin were wildly overinterpreted, as I pointed out at the time:

“The idea that the primary showed a state convulsed with reactionary tough-on-crime sentiment is an overreaction to what actually happened on June 7. Boudin was happily tossed over the side by much of San Francisco’s Democratic political establishment — who regarded him as an embarrassing and not terribly competent outlier, not a national symbol of criminal-justice reform (as some have treated him). And while Caruso’s emergence as a freshly minted Democrat running a viable race for mayor of L.A. was startling, it took a ten-to-one spending advantage over Karen Bass to make the general election. His best shot at winning may have passed in this low-turnout primary; Bass should be favored to win in November.”

Now, late-arriving results in the primary have made the law-and-order takes not just premature but possibly wrong, as the Los Angeles Times explained:

“[I]n the two weeks since California’s primary, some key races across the state have reshuffled or tightened — turning upside-down some of the early punditry about the message Golden State voters are sending this cycle …

“In L.A.’s mayoral race, Caruso, a billionaire developer who ran on a platform of expanding the city’s police force and clearing homeless encampments, celebrated with confetti on election night as he held a five-percentage-point lead over U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), whom he will face in the November runoff.

“But two weeks later, he finds himself trailing Bass by seven points.”

I’d say Caruso is a distinct underdog for November.

Boudin was indeed recalled, but the margin of yea-over-nay votes has dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent, and may drop further. And meanwhile, other contests already contradicted the swing-to-the-right narrative on Election Night, as I noted:

“Appointed incumbent attorney general Rob Bonta should have been a prime target for tough-on-crime agitation. As The Appeal noted: ‘Bonta’s record on criminal justice reform, and his ties to groups doing the frontline work to transform prisons and policing, are stronger than either [Xavier] Becerra or [Kamala] Harris,’ his two predecessors. (The former is Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary; the latter is his vice-president.) As a novice statewide candidate, Bonta could have been especially vulnerable, but in a primary against four opponents, he has received almost 55 percent of counted votes — a higher percentage than U.S. senator Alex Padilla and a bit below that of Governor Gavin Newsom.”

Bonta’s lead is exactly where it was on the evening of June 7.

The moral of the story is to resist the temptation to make broad generalizations about California election results until enough of them are in to justify such conclusions. Let’s hope the lesson sinks in by November.

Political Strategy Notes

There is a pretty good counter-argument to the belief that the January 6th investigation will not help Democrats in the midterms. In his article, “Truth about Trump “starting to sink in” for Republicans, says Morning Joe” at Salon’s Raw Story, Travis Gettys flags some comments by former Republican congressman and now MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough regarding the political fallout of the January 6th investigation. As Gettys writes, “Scarborough was shocked by the results of a new [ABC/Ipsos] poll showing a majority of Americans — including one in five Republicans — think Donald Trump should be prosecuted….The survey conducted after the first week of public hearings by the House select committee found 58 percent of Americans believe the former president should be charged with a crime for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the “Morning Joe” host found the results astonishing….”You look at the number — only 19 percent of Republicans, let’s stop for a second and think about this,” Scarborough said. “In this world of small margins that we play by every election, whether it was 2016 or 2020, let’s just stop for a second and go, oh, wow. Only 19 percent of Republicans think he should be charged with a crime and go to jail. That’s one in five Republicans.”….”Now, I must say, I ran four times and won easily four times,” he added. “But if one in five of my base thought I should have been charged with a crime and gone to jail, I mean, I would have gone and practiced law a lot earlier. Again, this is starting to resonate, this is starting to sink in. I just — we love to knock around Washington institutions. I’m not saying you, but all of us, we love to talk about how ineffective people in Congress or committees are. This committee has gotten the truth out to the American people, and even at the beginning of the summer, they’re listening….”

Dylan Scott reports that “A new study claims Medicare-for-all could have saved more than 200,000 lives during the pandemic” at Vox, and notes: “….a new study from a group of scholars at Yale and UMass-Amherst says the US had more deaths per capita than most economic peers due to something more specific: the lack of universal health care….According to that paper, published this month in PNAS, at least 212,000 fewer Americans would have died of Covid-19 in 2020 alone if the US had a single-payer health care system similar to the Medicare-for-all plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The country would have also saved $105 billion in pandemic-related health care costs….The researchers ticked through different factors that would have reduced the number of Covid-19 fatalities under a system in which the government insures everyone and pays almost all of their health care costs:

  • Nobody would have lost health insurance as a result of job loss from the pandemic’s shock to the economy. (The study estimates about 14.5 million Americans lost employer-based coverage in March and April of 2020, though some of those people would end up being covered by Medicaid.) Research has repeatedly shown being uninsured leads to patients delaying health care and worse health outcomes. More insured people would have meant more cases being diagnosed and getting treated sooner, reducing the likelihood of severe disease or death.
  • Vaccination rates would likely have been higher — and therefore there would have been fewer severe cases and deaths — if more Americans had a relationship with a primary care doctor, which one in four people in the US don’t.
  • And by reducing the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations through more vaccinations and earlier diagnoses, US hospitals would have come under less strain. That would have made it easier for them to manage all of their patients, rather than the situation last summer — after vaccines were widely available — when people showed up at hospitals with no room or staff to treat them. Some of those people died.

….And if you take a look at countries that have universal health care systems — the UK, Taiwan, Australia, and the Netherlands, countries we covered in our Everybody Covered series on universal health care, plus France and Germany — they have experienced fewer deaths per capita than the US has.”….Countries with universal health care did outperform the US during the pandemic — that part of the paper’s conclusion appears beyond dispute. But they have deployed different programs to achieve that goal. It’s not clear to me that Medicare-for-all would necessarily lead to better outcomes than, say, a system modeled on the Australian or Dutch approach.” It won’t be much of an issue for the midterm elections, but leaning toward some form of M4A may get some traction for Dems in 2024.

Democratic strategists would be wise to enhance their dossiers on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. As Chris Ciliizza reports at CNN Politics: “A new poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire has some startling news for Donald Trump: He’s no longer the big dog on the block (at least in the Granite State)….Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes 39% in a poll of the Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire, while Trump is at 37%. No other potential GOP contender manages double-digit support, with former Vice President Mike Pence in third place at 9%….That’s a MAJOR change from where the race was last fall. A UNH poll in October 2021 showed Trump with 43% to DeSantis’ 18%….Another interesting nugget from the poll: Just 6 in 10 self-identified Republicans (62%) want the former President to run again in 2024. Which is, well, sort of low?…Now, this is just one poll in a state expected to be one of the first to vote in the 2024 primary season. If you look at all the polling done in the broader Republican White House race, Trump still leads in the preponderance of it. And he would start a third bid for president as the favorite for the GOP nomination….(Check out my rankings of the 10 Republicans most likely to win the 2024 nomination.)…And DeSantis just got the New Yorker profile treatment. (The headline: “Can Ron DeSantis Displace Donald Trump as the G.O.P.’s Combatant-in-Chief?“) That story includes this telling line: “Articulate and fast on his feet, he has been described as Trump with a brain.” Expect a hard-fought, maybe a vicious Republican presidential primary season in 2024, but don’t assume that they won’t unify at the end of it.

In “Yes, Democratic Messaging Sucks. But It’s Harder to Fix Than You Think.It’s a lot easier to be the party that wants to break government than it is to be the one that wants to use it,” Editor Michael Tomasky observes at The New Republic: “Democrats simply give the impression of being afraid of a fight. They want to be the party of comity. Even Biden is still trying to give Republicans a path to redemption in this regard….Democrats and their consultants need to think outside the box in which they’re trapped. Show elected Democrats doing things and going places you wouldn’t normally expect to see a Democrat, things that reinforce that they’re on the side of working people of all kinds, even those who don’t vote for them. And name names. Take on enemies. Every time you name an enemy you also name the people you’re trying to defend. People have a much better sense of what you stand for when you tell them what, and who, you’re against. They’ll trust you more if they think you’re on their team….I submit that this kind of approach will help address the structural problems I laid out above. Democrats across the ideological spectrum—from the conservatives to the very liberal—will respond favorably to a politics that emphasizes the idea, “We’re against the powerful interests that are scheming against you.” If people see liberal politicians taking creative and brave stands, we might even bump that liberal number up above 25 percent, since liberalism will stand for something positive again to your average person. This kind of politics can also slice through the media chatter: Republicans understand that the media loves conflict, so they serve up some new ones every week. The public always knows who the GOP is mad at, and they don’t pay a price for being the “angry” party….We don’t know if Biden will run in 2024. He often looks tired. But I’ll say this for him. He is more unambiguously on the side of working people than any Democratic president in a very long time. He’s an old-school, Truman-type Democrat. He and his team need to do more to show it.”

Pfeiffer: It’s the Megaphone, Not the Message

So, “Why Do Democrats Suck at messaging?” Dan Pfeiffer, former communications director for President Obama and author of “Battling the Big Lie,” shares some thoughts on the topic at Vanity Fair, including:

“Pundits and the political press are constantly haranguing Democrats for their messaging mistakes. One liberal writer of several well-reviewed presidential histories called me often during Obama’s first term to lecture me on why Obama didn’t yet have a version of FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society. The subtext of these conversations was that great slogans make great presidents. Much of Progressive Twitter is filled with lamentations about some failure or missed messaging opportunity. There was a running joke in the Obama White House that you needed a master’s in economics to discuss economic policy and a doctorate in public health to offer health care ideas, but everyone believed that reading the newspaper made them qualified to opine on messaging strategy.

….A series of focus groups conducted in the first few months of the Biden presidency found that voters were unable to identify what the Democratic Party stood for. Two electoral landslide victories for Obama, a huge popular-vote win for President Biden, and four years of resistance to  Trump—and the Democrats still have a brand problem. This is more than a failure by party leaders and activists to settle on a narrative.

…How does one compose a pithy slogan or a tweet-length narrative to accurately and appealingly describe a coalition so broad that it extends from Joe Manchin to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? It’s the difference between being asked to come up with a brand for one television network like HBO or ESPN and being asked to brand “television” more broadly. What compelling slogan would be inclusive of every channel, from Bravo to CNBC?

Frankly, the messaging and branding task is more challenging for Democrats than it is for Republicans. The geographic disparities in the Senate and the Electoral College mean that Democrats must turn out liberal-base voters and appeal to voters much more conservative than the median Democratic voter. Democrats have to sell a wider array of products to a wider array of people.

The Republican coalition is narrower. It’s more ideologically homogenous and as white as a field of lilies. The Electoral College is biased toward Republican states, and the Senate gives small rural states like Wyoming the same number of votes as California and New York. To succeed, Republicans need only appeal to their base and little else, which allows for a simpler message.

However, Pfeiffer notes, “For all the party’s messaging mishaps, there are some facts running counter to the prevailing narrative that Republicans are messaging maestros. First, Democrats have won the popular vote in all but one presidential election since 1988. Second, the Democratic Party’s approval rating, while nothing to write home about, has been consistently higher than the Republican Party’s for many years. Finally, the Democratic position on immigration, taxes, reproductive freedom, minimum wage, civil rights, voting rights, and climate change is more popular than the Republican position.” Further,

These facts help explain why Republicans and their billionaire supporters invest so much time and energy in building a disinformation apparatus that can overcome the opinions of the majority of Americans. Hence, the megaphone problem…..Democratic messaging is not perfect; far from it. It’s often too wonky and wordy, an Ezra Klein column distilled into a paragraph of focus-grouped verbal applesauce. Our party leaders are all over 70, and none of them rose to the pinnacle of party leadership based on their communication chops. They are generationally disconnected from the party’s base, but the problem isn’t their age. It’s that each has spent more than half their years serving in Congress, where authentic human speaking goes to die.

Noting that “Democrats spend 99% of their time worrying about what they should say and only 1% figuring out how to get people to hear what they are sayin,” Pfeiffer adds,

The Republicans have a cable television network whose sole raison d’être is to attack Democrats and promote pro-GOP talking points. The conservative media dwarfs the progressive media in size and scope. And even then, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. The bulk of the media on the right is an adjunct of the party apparatus; during the Trump presidency it was state-adjacent propaganda—Pravda, but with plausible deniability…..Facebook, the biggest, most important media outlet in the world, aggressively promotes conservative content. Democrats are out-gunned. We have fewer outlets with less reach. What we say is being drowned out. Sure, we need a better message, but first we need to get a bigger megaphone….Democrats have a much smaller megaphone, and our message is getting drowned out.

Republicans dictate the terms of the conversation in American politics and have done so for much of the 21st century. Democrats aren’t doing everything right, but we also must recognize that doing everything right is still insufficient. Until more Democrats figure this out, we will remain trapped in the doom loop. During every campaign cycle, our strategy is defense.

The better question, says Pfeiffer, is “So, how do we build a bigger, better megaphone?”

Teixeira: Dems, Focus More on Persuadable Voters, Not ‘Turnout’

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

Will Higher Turnout Fix the Democrats’ Problems?

Nope, not this election. And not future ones either. I explain in my latest at The Liberal Patriot:

“Turnout myths die hard. In fact they don’t seem to die at all.

That is particularly the case in Democratic circles. You don’t have to talk to a typical Democrat for any length of time before they evince their touching faith in the wonder-working powers of high voter turnout. Interrogate them a little further and it turns out what they really mean is that the stark choices presented to the electorate by Democrats’ progressive policies and Republicans’ reactionary ones will, if presented forcefully enough, produce massive turnout by Democratic-leaning constituencies (nonwhites, young voters, etc) that will neutralize Republican advantages.

We can see the latest example of this in how many Democrats are approaching the 2022 elections. The giant hole the Democrats are now in is hard to deny. Biden’s approval rating, a key indicator of midterm outcomes, is now below 40 percent in the 538 rolling average and below where Trump’s was at this point in the 2018 cycle. Republicans are comfortably ahead on the generic Congressional ballot, which typically underestimates their chances and augurs a big election for them. Gallup just released a comprehensive historical review of midterm indicators (Presidential and Congressional approval, satisfaction with the direction of the country, views on economic conditions) which shows the Democrats’ current situation to be exceptionally grim.

Democrats’ approach to digging out of this hole relies heavily on turnout. Either implicitly or explicitly, Democrats think of issues like abortion, guns, “MAGA Republicans” and, of course, January 6th mostly as ways of motivating their base to turn out at higher levels in the current dismal political environment….

There are, however, a number of reasons why this turnout fix is highly unlikely to work and, in fact, borders on the delusional.

1. Some Simple Math. Start with this: when Democrats persuade a voter to switch sides, that nets two votes for the Democrats (one less for the Republicans, one more for the Democrats). When Democrats turn out one more voter to vote Democratic that is, of course, a net of only one vote for them.

But it’s really worse than that. Typically, Democrats think of increased base turnout in terms of turning out more voters from various pro-Democratic demographic groups—young voters, black voters, Hispanic voters, college-educated whites, whatever. But not all the voters in these groups favor the Democrats so mobilization of more voters from a given group may well net less than one vote per additional voter. For example, looking at current Congressional ballot preferences, Democrats might net only a third of a vote for every additional Hispanic or young voter, six-tenths of a vote from every additional black voter and just a sixth of a vote from every additional college-educated white voter.”

Read the whole thing at The Liberal Patriot!

Political Strategy Notes

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter argues “it’s more important to focus on the vote share each candidate is getting than it is to obsess about the margin that separates the two candidates.” It’s a good point for campaign-watchers. But Walter also shares some cogent insights about two marquee senate races in making her point: “I was reminded of how important it is to keep this “vote share vs. the margin” framing in mind as I watched political Twitter react to two recent polls taken in the battleground states of Georgia and Pennsylvania….The headline of the Georgia poll, conducted by Eastern Carolina University, was that GOP Gov. Kemp was leading Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams by 5-points but that the Senate race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP nominee Herschel Walker was tied. Looking at the race through that framing, you would think that Warnock is getting a higher percentage of the vote than Abrams; after all, she’s losing, but he’s still in the game. However, Abrams and Warnock are getting similar support; Abrams was at 45 percent, and Warnock at 46 percent of the vote. In other words, the ‘margin’ isn’t telling us the full story….What is important (and impressive) is that both Democrats are outperforming President Joe Biden’s dismal job approval ratings by seven to eight points. However, to win in the fall, they need to win over even more of those Biden-disapprovers….the cross-tabs of the ECU poll show that Warnock is getting almost all of the voters (94 percent) who approve of Biden. Walker, however, is only getting 81 percent of those who disapprove of Biden. It’s easier to convince a voter who is unhappy with the president (and the current state of the country) to vote to change horses than it is to try to convince that voter that change is the bigger risk….To be sure, Walker has a lot of political baggage that Warnock and Democrats will use to paint the former UGA football star as ‘risky change.’ But, given 40-year high levels of inflation and increased talk of a “Bear Market” and a looming recession, staying the course is likely to look like the riskier choice for many voters.”

As regards the PA senate race, Walter writes, “Now take a look at Pennsylvania. The top-line takeaway from the USA Today/Suffolk poll: Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is leading GOP nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz, by 9 points. On its face, that is great news for Democrats. Like his Democratic colleagues in Georgia, Fetterman is ‘outperforming’ President Biden’s job approval rating by a significant margin (7 points). But, look under the hood and see the challenges ahead for Fetterman in turning his 46 percent vote share to 50 percent. For one, Fetterman has consolidated the Democratic vote (82 percent of Democrats are supporting the Lt. Gov). In other words, he already has support from the people inclined to support him in the first place. But Oz, who squeaked through a contentious primary, is getting just 76 percent of the GOP vote. How does Oz unify the base to support him? Well, he makes the race a referendum on Biden. Or, more specifically, makes it about being a check on Biden. When asked if they wanted their vote to “support the direction President Biden is leading the country” or to “change the direction President Biden is leading the nation,” 50 percent of respondents — including 87 percent of Republicans — chose “change.” Independent voters are also more open to the “change” message; 49 percent of independents picked change to just 14 percent who said they wanted to stay the course….Fetterman, unlike Warnock, doesn’t have the baggage of incumbency. That, plus the fact that the 6-foot-8 guy with tattoos and a goatee and doesn’t look like a cookie-cutter politician, gives him credibility to run as an ‘outsider.’ A recent Fetterman TV ad called the Lt. Governor someone who has “looked different and been different his entire life..Now, the big guy is running for Senate to take on Washington.” And, like Walker, Dr. Oz is a first-time candidate whom Democrats can label as a risky choice. But, Fetterman’s ability to win will depend on convincing enough voters who want to see “a change in direction from the way Biden is leading the country” that Fetterman’s independence is more than just cosmetic. Republicans, of course, are working hard to tie Fetterman to the national Democratic brand. A recent attack ad by the NRSC charges that “Fetterman admits he will always vote with Democrats. In this economy, that’s the last thing we need.”

Luck is often a significant factor in election years, and it can be argued that Democrats have not gotten many breaks in 2022, particularly in light of the fallout from Covid. But Democrats have gotten one major break, in the form of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bad judgement. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains in his Washington Post column, “In a perverse way, the country owes a debt to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). He made this refreshing presentation possible. In an astonishingly foolish decision, McCarthy withdrew all his appointees to the committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected two of his five nominees. She refused to seat Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) because they actively spread disinformation about 2020 — and because Jordan was closely involved in Trump’s efforts to challenge the election….In defending Pelosi’s decision at the time, Rep Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) turned out to be prophetic. “The speaker is making clear we’re going to have a serious comprehensive investigation,” Raskin said. “This will not be just another run-of-the-mill, partisan food fight.” It wasn’t, thanks to the exclusion of Trump’s bomb-throwing apologists….It’s often forgotten that Pelosi approved McCarthy’s other GOP picks: Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Troy Nehls of Texas. None of them could be characterized as liberals, and Nehls had joined Banks and Jordan in objecting to the certification of the 2020 election….McCarthy thought that by walking away entirely, he would be able to discredit the work of the committee as “partisan.”….Bad call. With none of his allies there to throw sand into the gears, the committee — which still included two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — was able to organize a seamless presentation. Cheney has played a star role, and mostly Republican witnesses are telling the story….a normal congressional hearing, with full participation from members picked by the pro-Trump House GOP leaders, could never be as informative, deliberate or free from distractions as the Jan. 6 presentation has been.” If Republicans do win a House majority in November, Dems could do worse than having McCathy calling the shots for his party’s House strategy.

McCarthy’s blundering notwithstanding, Nathan J. Robinson makes a case at Current Affairs that too much focus on January 6th 2021 right now is a mistake: “I really struggle to find words to describe how stupid and suicidal this strategy is. Republicans are about to overturn abortion rights, with the Supreme Court getting rid of a fundamental constitutional protection. We have just seen children massacred by the score because Republicans take the despicable position that massacres are an acceptable price to pay for the right of teenagers to own weapons of war. Gun violence and the stripping of abortion rights affect people directly. The public doesn’t want Roe v. Wade overturned and doesn’t want weapons of war on the street. Why not hold primetime hearings on gun violence? If you’re going to hire a TV executive and organize watch parties, why not try to show the country the human consequences of Republican policies, with testimony from victims’ families? But on abortion, for example, Congressional Democrats have declined to take the kind of aggressive stand necessary to meaningfully affect the issue. Politico reports that “state-level Democratic officials and abortion-rights advocates are discouraged by how little their allies in Congress and the White House have done since a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade became public.” Nancy Pelosi even (appallingly) helped an anti-abortion Democratic congressman beat his progressive challenger. (He is currently ahead by under 200 votes, meaning that Pelosi almost certainly made the difference.) When Democrats in Congress do nothing about the issues that matter to voters, why should voters turn out for them?….Democrats are going to lose in November not because it was inevitable, but because they have made it very clear that they care more about Jan. 6 than the bread-and-butter issues that Americans are practically begging the party to show they care about….If Democrats want to win, the solution is to take actions that help people, such as forgiving their student debt, giving them a child allowance, lowering rather than raising their Medicare costs, and keeping their children safe from assault weapons. Then you’ll have a “message” to run on, and you won’t have to hire TV executives to “refocus” voters on an issue they clearly don’t care about.”

Democrats Should Beware the Help-the-Republican-Kooks Tactic in 2022

I am not generally a fan of too-clever-by-half, much less deceptive, political tactics, so having seen one gain ground, I offered a warning at New York.

What was once a rare and controversial tactic — meddling in the other party’s primaries to boost extremist candidates that seem most beatable in a general election — is in 2022 becoming almost routine, particularly for Democrats. It happened in Pennsylvania, where prior to the May primary Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro spent more money on ads about ultra-MAGA Republican Doug Mastriano than Mastriano spent on ads about himself. The ads called him “too conservative for Pennsylvania,” which was cleverly intended to convince conservative Republican primary voters that he was just right for them. The gambit likely helped Trump’s endorsee win the GOP nomination.

In the June 7 California primary, Democrats pulled the same sort of stunts in order to help two right-wing rivals to Republican incumbent congressmen David Valadao and Young Kim. One, from Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC, just blatantly promoted Valadao opponent Chris Mathys. Another, from Democratic candidate Asif Mahmood, raised the visibility of Kim opponent Greg Raths. The idea in both cases was to knock the incumbents out of the general election via a third-place finish in the nonpartisan top-two primary. Kim moved on to November anyway, and Valadao is leading Mathys with a lot of votes still out.

The help-the-kooks strategy is also in full swing in Colorado. In the June 28 GOP primary to select an opponent for potentially vulnerable Democratic senator Michael Bennet, the big ad spender is a group called Democratic Colorado, which is telling voters that election-conspiracy champion Ron Hanks is “too conservative for Colorado,” carefully laying out his issue positions in a way that lines up with Republican rank-and-file sentiment. Similarly, in the primary aimed at choosing a nominee to face Democratic governor Jared Polis, Democrats are spending serious dough to help another ultra-MAGA Republican, Greg Lopez, as Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor explains:

“The Colorado Information Network, funded partly by the Democratic Governors Association, has spent or reserved more than $1.5 million on broadcast and cable. One recent ad from the liberal group points out Lopez’s support for Trump and his election lies, opposition to gay marriage and abortion. ‘Greg Lopez is too conservative for Colorado,’ the ad ends — a clear effort to appeal to base conservative voters, which both parties have done before in primaries to boost a weaker potential nominee.”

Republicans cannot really duplicate this strategy at present, in part because there are fewer ideologically polarized Democratic primaries this year, and in part because Democratic voters won’t necessarily rise to the bait. Precisely because the Democratic rank and file are not extremist, attacking a weak Democrat as “too socialist” for this or that jurisdiction won’t necessarily lift them to victory; it might have the opposite effect.

But Democrats trying to nominate Republican extremists really need to ask themselves if they’re helping elect extremists in ways that may be enduringly bad for the country. For one thing, calculations about the electability of this or that opposite-party candidate could turn out to be fatally wrong. In 2016, as my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti explained, Hillary Clinton’s campaign did everything it could to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy early on, when he mostly looked like an irritant to the more electable Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Team Clinton couldn’t really fix on a strategy for beating Trump until it was too late. You have to wonder if Democrats looking at polls showing Doug Mastriano running ahead of Senate nominee Mehmet Oz on the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania are having some second thoughts about helping Mastriano win his primary.

Aside from the possibility that 2022 could be a good year for crypto-fascism, there’s another big moral hazard in any Democratic strategy to lift Republican extremists onto the general election ballot: This could be a big-wave election in which anyone bearing the elephant label in a remotely competitive contest will win, kookiness be damned. In that event the net result of Democratic tampering in Republican primaries would be a kookier group of people running America.

Wave elections can be like a large net thrown into the sea, collecting fish of every kind. I learned that a half-century ago as a Democratic precinct chairman in suburban DeKalb County, Georgia, then trending hard Republican in a year when Richard Nixon was routing George McGovern nearly everywhere. Nixon carried DeKalb by a 77-23 margin, and pulled into local office a whole zoo of outlandish and unqualified candidates for judgeships and other positions requiring a bit of brains and experience. It took DeKalb years to get rid of some of those people. And that was back when people split tickets. That’s not much of a thing anymore.

So maybe helping ultra-MAGA extremists win Republican nominations marginally increases the odds Democrats can minimize GOP gains this November. But it also significantly increases the odds that if everything goes wrong the Republicans placed in power will be bad people with bad ideas. It’s not worth the risk.

A Longer Term Strategy Tip for Dems From SD and Other Red States

It’s a frustrating quest, looking for hints of hope for Democrats because the media is rife with downer articles and perspectives regarding the Democrats’ future. Bear in mind, however, that a lot of media coverage of politics is rooted in me-tooism, wolfpack and lazy journalism. True, all the credible data is pretty tough for Dems right now, but here and there we can find small bits of encouragement, some that shine a light on possible paths forward.

One such article, Jon Skolnik’s “South Dakota voters overwhelmingly reject amendment that would make it harder to expand Medicaid: The amendment would have required support from 60% voters, instead of a simple majority, to expand to program” at Salon, illuminates a possible strategy for Democrats beyond the midterm elections. Some excerpts:

South Dakota voters overwhelmingly shut down a measure that would have made it a requirement for ballot proposals, like expanding Medicaid, to garner support from 60% of the state’s electorate as opposed to a simple majority.

The Republican-backed measure, dubbed “Constitutional Amendment C,” was defeated by a two-to-one margin. It comes ahead of a Democratic-led state referendum to expand Medicaid coverage for the state’s residents, as Forbes notes.

Yes, that South Dakota, one of the most conservative states in the midwest. There’s more:

According to MSNBC, South Dakota is one of twelve states that have recently refused to expand Medicaid. But The Washington Post reports that it has the highest chance of passing the provision out of any of them. The move would provide roughly health coverage to roughly 42,000 South Dakotans.

“Today, the people of South Dakota have preserved their right to use direct democracy,” Kelly Hall, executive director of The Fairness Project, said, according to Forbes. “This victory will benefit tens of thousands of South Dakotans who will choose to use the ballot measure process to increase access to health care for their families and neighbors, raise wages, and more policies that improve lives,” she added. “We look forward to what’s next in South Dakota: an aggressive campaign to expand Medicaid in the state.”

And it’s not just one conservative state. As Skolnik reports:

South Dakota would not be the first state to bypass its GOP-led legislature or Republican governor on the issue of health insurance. Back in 2018, voters in Nebraska, Idaho and Utah passed ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid’s coverage. And in 2017, Maine did just the same thing.

Several polls show that voters in states with GOP governors and Republican-led legislatures support Medicaid. Just this February, for instance, a poll revealed that seven out of ten voters in Alabama support the program’s expansion. Another poll from 2021 found that 54% of the Florida electorate feels the same.

Last year, the Biden administration provided states with added incentives to expand Medicaid as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which allowed states to benefit from a revamped federal matching program.

“In addition to the 90% federal matching funds available under the [Affordable Care Act] for the expansion population, states also can receive a 5 percentage point increase in their regular federal matching rate for 2 years after expansion takes effect,” the Kaiser Family Foundation says in a 2021 analysis. “The additional incentive applies whenever a state newly expands Medicaid and does not expire. The new incentive is available to the 12 states that have not yet adopted the expansion as well as Missouri and Oklahoma.

Medicaid expansion is probably not going to help Dems much in the midterms. But looking ahead, it’s encouraging to know that red state voters do not wholeheartedly embrace the full GOP agenda for screwing  low-income people out of medical care, so Republican politicians can give the wealthy even larger tax cuts. Democratic campaigns take note

Becoming Clear January 6 Really Was a Criminal Conspiracy Involving Trump

After watching the first three days of the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6, I reached a conclusion about where the committee is heading, and shared it at New York:

The third day of hearings by the House select committee investigating January 6 focused on the backstory of Donald Trump’s very public effort to coerce then-Vice-President Mike Pence into stopping the certification of Joe Biden’s election during a joint session of Congress. Witnesses (most critically, former Pence counsel Greg Jacob) made it abundantly clear there was no real support in legal circles within or beyond the White House for the scheme cooked up by Trump campaign attorney John Eastman whereby Pence was expected to either reject Biden electors or suspend the process of counting them in order to give Republican legislators time to flip the election.

In a carefully reconstructed ticktock of discussions involving Trump, Pence, legal advisers to both men, and Eastman, the committee sought to allay any significant doubts that virtually everyone other than Eastman thought his claim of vast vice-presidential powers over the certification of electors was nuts. Indeed, Jacob, who was most directly involved in conversations with Eastman, indicated that Eastman repeatedly betrayed his own lack of faith in his outlandish claims about the veep’s breathtaking 12th Amendment powers. But Eastman and his boss continued to pressure Pence to violate the law and abandon his own clearly stated position right up to the fraught hours on January 6, 2021, when Trump allegedly told Pence in a phone call that he was a “wimp,” then informed a crowd of soon-to-be rioters that Pence had to stop the Biden certification.

Jacobs’s account was strengthened by taped testimony concerning Trump’s other legal advisers, as Above the Law’s Joe Patrice noted when the hearing concluded:

“White House Counsel Pat Cipollone thought it was wrong according to testimony. Eric Herschmann said he told Eastman that it didn’t make any sense beforehand and, according to Herschmann, Eastman concluded that it probably would be a loser at the Supreme Court. Herschmann even testified that he told Eastman before January 6 that “you’re going to cause riots in the streets.” Certainly that also crossed the mind of other lawyers in the building.”

Even Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, thought it was a bad idea (though he reversed himself in the excitement of January 6 itself). And just to emphasize the point that Eastman’s theory had no respectable support, conservative legal titan J. Michael Luttig was brought in to denounce it as antithetical to the Constitution and democracy and to warn that Republicans might try the same play again in 2024.

The committee went on to describe how Trump’s rage at Pence put the lives of the veep (and presumably many members of Congress) in danger when the insurrectionists stormed the Capitol to stop the Biden certification since Pence didn’t “do his duty.” That provided some gripping images, but the real point of the hearing became plain when Representative Pete Aguilar, who directed much of today’s proceedings, quoted from a March 2022 ruling by California federal judge David Carter, who was reviewing Eastman’s claims that his subpoenaed communications with Trump were privileged. Here is the pertinent language, as I described it at the time:

“Until this week, no one in the U.S. judicial system had officially suggested the 45th president might have committed a crime. Now California federal district court judge David Carter (a Clinton appointee) has ruled that Trump ‘more likely than not … corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,’ and that Trump and his attorney John Eastman ‘more likely than not … dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.’”

All the evidence in today’s hearing reinforced this potentially explosive conclusion: A rogue lawyer and his rogue client cooked up a ridiculous justification for an illegal action that risked lives and endangered democracy itself. Much of the evidence incriminated Eastman, who took the Fifth Amendment 100 times when forced to testify before the committee and had tried to secure a pardon from Trump. A telling exchange between Eastman and Jacob occurred when the latter asked the former via email, as the Capitol riot raged, whether he had finally advised Trump “that in your professional judgment the vice president DOES NOT have the power to decide things unilaterally.” Eastman replied, of Trump, “You know him — once he gets something in his head, it is hard to get him to change course.”

The lawyer and client were a match made in hell. And now they may both be in actual danger of legal consequences, or so the January 6 committee seems to believe. But that will presumably be up to Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose department will have to make the call on potential prosecutions coming out of these hearings.

Political Strategy Notes

From “A windfall profits tax idea that could actually work: Some administration officials have an idea that deserves more attention” by Matthew Yglesias at slowboring.com: “Democrats’ private polling, from what I’ve heard, tells a pretty clear and consistent story: the only thing voters really care about right now is inflation Republican ads and paid messages are all focused on inflation, and there is no “message” from the incumbent party that works very well in the face of prices that are objectively rising faster than incomes….In other words, it’s much more a problem of substance than of message….And yet, if you’re in politics, you do need to say things. And of the various messages that Democrats could deliver, the ones that resonate most with the public are the ones that emphasize the huge profit-taking opportunities that inflation is presenting for many companies. Unfortunately for Democrats, one consequence of education polarization is that all the people who care what fussy highbrow journalists think are now on their side, so when they say things about economics that aren’t true and then Catherine Rampell complains, those complaints hurt them. And in being an annoying complainer, she has in fact strengthened the hand of the more rigor-inclined members of the administration who are now able to argue that even well-testing messages could backfire via media effects….I am less fussy, and I am a believer in the idea that you can’t take the politics out of politics. The current inflation really has created profit windfalls for certain companies, and it is fine to feel and express annoyance about this. My big concern with greedflation is that it’s important for policymakers not to get high on their own supply. Oil companies are currently enjoying huge profit margins, but if they cut prices to reduce margins it would generate shortages, and Biden would be even worse off in a universe with gas lines and rationing. So what Bharat Ramamurti says here is a fine observation about the cosmic injustice of life, but I’m not sure it’s a basis for policy….Optimistically, moving to directly subsidize domestic production along with reversing prior efforts to squelch domestic output would lead to meaningful economic changes. It’s true that these changes would take time to filter through.” So the gesture might help a smidge for the midterm elections, but any policy effects would likely be more beneficial for the 2024 election.

In “3 In 10 Americans Named Political Polarization As A Top Issue Facing The Country,” Geoffrey Skelley and Holly Fuong write at FiveThirtyEight: “Political division has been on the rise for years in the U.S. The gap between the two parties has only grown more sharply in Congress, while the share of Americans who interact with people from the other party has plummeted. Furthermore, many Americans only read news or get information from sources that align with their political beliefs, which exacerbates fundamental disagreements about the basic facts of many political problems….In other words, hatred — specifically, hatred of the other party — increasingly defines our politics….Polarization and extremism ranked third across a list of 20 issues that we asked about in the latest FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, which was conducted from May 26 to June 6. Using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, we interviewed the same 2,000 or so Americans from our previous survey, and of the 1,691 adults who responded, 28 percent named “political extremism or polarization” as one of the most important issues facing the country,1 trailing only “inflation or increasing costs” and “crime or gun violence,” the latter of which surged in the aftermath of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas….Almost 3 in 10 Americans said they were worried about extremism and polarization, which is essentially unchanged from our poll last month….most Americans (62 percent) still want the U.S. to actively reduce political polarization. Only 9 percent think that the U.S. should let things be.”

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter writes, “In many ways, Democrats have an easier path to driving up motivation among their base than Trump did in 2018. A roll-back of federal abortion rights; the events of January 6th; and Trump’s continued attacks on the integrity of the 2020 election are the kinds of things that should ensure solid Democratic turnout in November. But, thus far at least, we haven’t seen signs that these issues are either improving opinions of Biden, or increasing interest among Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Democratic in-fighting between progressives like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and moderates over the best way forward (leaning into a more expansive progressive agenda versus keeping a focus on kitchen table issues like the rising cost of living), doesn’t help to inspire Democratic interest or support in the upcoming election, either….In a briefing with reporters this week, Guy Cecil, head of the Democratic SuperPAC, Priorities USA, admitted that “too many Democrats are tuned out of politics,” and that his organization was committing significant resources to “increase and quicken their outreach” to these voters. Other progressive organizations are doing the same….Many Democratic strategists also contend that they can use these same issues to motivate and turnout voters who aren’t necessarily Democrats, but who were roused to vote in 2018 and/or 2020 by their opposition to Trump….“There’s no question that persuadable voters are worried about economic security,” Cecil said. “But, we do see issues of January 6th as example of extremist ideology and ongoing extreme behavior [that are] useful in raising the stakes of the election.”…Democrats, he said, need to convince these voters that not only can things “get better with Democrats in power, but things can get worse with Republicans in charge.”…Democrats still have five months to “raise the stakes” in this election by drawing sharp contrasts with their GOP opponents around issues like abortion rights, and attacks on our democratic institutions. But, for many of the voters Democrats are trying to turnout, the rising cost of food, gas and housing are  “high stakes” impacting their day to day lives most acutely.”

Dems who are looking for a good coalition issue that can unite Black and rural voters should check out Nassem S. Miller’s report “National study highlights rural-urban and racial disparities in cancer survivorship” at The Journalists Resource. As Miller observes, “A May 2022 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examines the potential impact of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act on the two-year cancer survival among newly-diagnosed patients. It finds that Medicaid expansion is associated with improved cancer survival, particularly among Black patients and in rural areas. The association was also strong for lung, pancreas, liver and colorectal cancers, which can be detected by screening….The findings provide “further evidence for the importance of expanding Medicaid eligibility in all states, particularly considering the economic crisis and health-care disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors write. They add that the study highlights the role of Medicaid expansion in reducing health disparities….Medicaid is the United States’ public health insurance program for people with low income. It covers one in five Americans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health policy research group….The authors of the JAMA Network Open study also call for more funding through National Cancer Institute grants for cancer control and management in rural areas. The number of funded grants solely focused on rural populations rather than rural-urban differences are also low, and policy reform that targets rural cancer control remains minimal, they add.”