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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?

Read the Memo.

Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People of Color” Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.

The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy.

Read the memo.

Democratic Candidates: The Whole Debate about “Critical Race Theory” is a Cynical GOP propaganda trap – Here’s What you Should Say Instead

The latest example of this extremely effective GOP exploitation of language is the current debate over “Critical Race Theory” – a perspective about race that is supposedly being foisted on children in classrooms around the country.

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

Democratic officeholders and candidates who plan to run in 2022 and 2024 need to face a simple, brutal fact – many will lose their next elections and will return control of government to the GOP if they do not offer a more plausible strategy for reducing the surge of immigrants at the border

Democrats in 2022 and 2024 will lose elections without a strategy.

Let’s Face It: The Democratic Party is Not a “Big Tent” Political Coalition – But it Desperately Needs to Become One.

Democrats routinely describe the Democratic Party as a “coalition” or even a “big tent coalition.” But in reality Dems know that this is not the case.

American Business Has the Power to Stop the GOP Assault on Democracy – Here’s a Strategy to Make Them Do It.

America is now well on its way to creating an electoral system that functions like Mexico’s during its era of one-party rule.

The Daily Strategist

November 29, 2021

One Cheer for the BIF

After all the brouhaha about the bipartisan infrastructure bill (or BIF), I offered a small demurral at New York:

Watching Joe Biden’s happy gloating about Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, I had a fairly cynical reaction. Biden seems to be assuming he will get credit for his involvement in this achievement, which in turn will retroactively validate his 2020 campaign pledge to work across party lines to get stuff done. Per ABC News:

“Biden praised the bipartisan negotiators, touching on themes from his candidacy — the idea that this 36-year veteran of the Senate could reinvigorate the bipartisan cooperation of an era gone by.

“’I want to thank the group of senators, Democrats and Republicans, for doing what they told me they would do. The death of this legislation was mildly premature as reported. They said they were willing to work in a bipartisan manner. And I want to thank them for keeping their word. That’s just what they did,’ Biden said.”

I’m glad the president feels all warm and fuzzy inside, but if he thinks the bipartisan glow will last until the 2024 election, he’s wrong. Indeed, the one thing we can be certain of is that congressional Republicans, having checked the bipartisanship “box,” will return to their characteristic obstructionism henceforth, citing the infrastructure deal as the last train out of deficit-land, and contrasting future partisan Democratic legislation with the bill that even Mitch McConnell could bless. Indeed, Politico is already reporting that it “remains unclear what other agenda items Republicans will be willing to collaborate on,” and “even advocates for bipartisanship are skeptical about future deals.”

The questionable nature of the achievement this bill represented flows in part from the fact that everything in it could have been enacted, and maybe even improved, had its content simply been nestled into the upcoming budget reconciliation bill that Democrats expect to pass on a strict party-line vote. In effect, Democrats chose to share the credit with Republicans for legislation they could have made exclusively their own.

The only logical rationale for doing that (other than the pleasure some take in bipartisanship for its own sake) is that passing the all-important reconciliation bill requires the votes of Democratic centrists like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and they insisted on making the infrastructure bill a bipartisan project. Indeed, the fear that Manchin and Sinema might nonetheless oppose or gut the reconciliation bill caused Nancy Pelosi (backed by House progressives) to refuse to bring the infrastructure bill to the House floor until the Senate has cleared the reconciliation bill. But in any event, if making the infrastructure bill bipartisan was necessary to get the larger and more important reconciliation bill over the finish line, it was worth it (depending on future developments).

But an honest look at the tradeoffs involved requires considering possible lost opportunities. If Democrats and Republicans both needed to pass one big bipartisan bill this year, for separate but mutually beneficial reasons, might it have been better had it involved matters that could not be passed via reconciliation — matters that required bipartisanship?

You don’t have to search very hard to find them: Just look at some of the big progressive policy goals already discarded from reconciliation bills because they would fall prey to the Senate’s Byrd Rule governing germaneness to budget legislation. There’s the $15 minimum wage; a path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants; and most of all voting rights.

Yes, it’s very unlikely that the ten Senate Republicans needed to pass legislation outside reconciliation would go for such Democratic priorities. But on the other hand, a higher minimum wage polls extremely well, even among Republicans, and the current labor shortage makes it less controversial. Not that long ago, comprehensive immigration reform was a completely bipartisan project despite hard-core conservative (and then Trumpian) opposition. And the same is true of the more modest forms of voting-rights legislation, like restoration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the form that it had when it was unanimously extended for 25 years by the Senate in 2006 (with George W. Bush signing the extension).

All three of these policy areas are intensely important to Democratic constituencies, and they expose differences both within the GOP and between Republican elected officials and their voters. Given what’s happening around the country right now, voting rights are arguably a priority of existential importance to Democrats, certainly as compared to infrastructure investments that do not require bipartisan legislation. Did Biden and congressional Democratic leaders give serious consideration to putting Republican feet to the fire in these other areas before making infrastructure the subject of the one big bipartisan gambit of 2021? I certainly don’t know, but suspect they took the path of least resistance.

Since it’s Manchin and Sinema and their silent partners among Democratic senators who are insisting on maintaining the power of the minority to block legislation via the filibuster, I’d say their power over their party and the country is already far too excessive. They should have been asked to use their leverage with the GOP to exact support for something really special.

Political Strategy Notes

In his Washington Post column, “Bipartisanship for infrastructure is great. Don’t expect it for much else,” E. J. Dionne writes : “The bipartisan infrastructure bill the Senate passed Tuesday is a big deal, but let’s say it upfront: Not everything that’s bipartisan is good, and not everything that’s good is bipartisan. Bipartisanship should be a method, not a fetish….Nor should the bill’s remarkable margin — 69 to 30, with 19 Republicans joining all the Democrats in voting yes — be hailed as a sign that all is well. If the Senate’s much-abused filibuster remains unchanged, Republicans are certain to block political reform (as they showed in the early hours of Wednesday when they prevented consideration of a voting rights bill) and millions of Americans will have their right to vote impeded….These caveats should serve as a check on Washington’s habit of leaping to unwarranted self-congratulation. But they do not diminish the significance of Tuesday’s achievement for President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.)….At a philosophical level, it is a sign of a new day that Republicans broke with their anti-government austerity habit — it’s especially pronounced when a Democrat is president — to support $1.2 trillion in long-term investments….True, there is nothing radical about roads, bridges, public transit and broadband. And to get GOP votes, Biden agreed to knock out a lot of spending for schools, housing and climate….But remember that President Donald Trump talked nonstop about infrastructure and got nothing. This is not a snide talking point about his announcing one “infrastructure week” after another, to no effect. It’s a reflection of how low infrastructure ranked among congressional Republicans’ priorities during the Trump years — far behind tax cuts and judges.”

Max Burns explains why “AOC Is Winning—Unless Progressives Overplay Their Hand” at The Daily Beast: “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set off a wave of centrist pearl-clutching when she warned Senate Democrats last month that progressive lawmakers were willing to “tank” Joe Biden’s signature infrastructure bill if it arrived in the House without a companion bill packed with trillions more in critical climate and social infrastructure spending….“We will not support bipartisan legislation without a reconciliation bill, and one that takes bold action on climate, drawing down carbon emissions,” AOC told lefty broadcaster Democracy Now! on July 12. “We’ve drawn a strong line… and we intend to act on that if a reconciliation bill does not come to the floor of the House.”….The left has been instrumental in defending and strengthening the reconciliation bill’s loftier goals. They’d be nuts to oppose it now….Fortunately for the left, AOC’s bold threat to kill Biden’s signature legislation unless the Senate included progressive priorities paid off. Centrist Senator Joe Manchin spent weeks posturing as a budget hawk on cable news shows as he fought to strip out huge chunks of Democrats’ party-line reconciliation package. But it’s clear Manchin took AOC’s threat seriously: He recently echoed AOC’s messaging, telling reporters he now supports including ‘soft infrastructure’ priorities like funding a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants….On Aug. 7, the House Progressive Caucus specifically mentioned five policy areas as non-negotiable: affordable housing, the care economy, Medicare expansion, climate action and citizenship. “We’re not backing down,” the Caucus tweeted. “If the bill doesn’t fund these sufficiently, it’s not getting our votes.”….Now the Progressive Caucus can claim significant credit for a reconciliation framework that includes Universal Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, creates an entirely new federal health program for Americans stuck in the “Medicaid gap,” and pumps nearly $200 billion into a host of climate change remediation programs Schumer called “the most significant investment in tackling the climate crisis in U.S. history.”….The left can also crow that their fingerprints are all over Biden’s signature legislation, disproving the oft-repeated centrist criticism that progressives are better at communication than legislation. That’s especially true for the newest members of Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive A-Team, who can now tell voters they’ve turned progressive ideals into policy faster than any other lefties since Lyndon Johnson’s tenure in the 1960s. Progressives can’t let their pursuit of a perfect bill block a massive federal investment in their climate and care infrastructure agenda….The influence on display in the left’s successful reconciliation gambit was hard-won through careful strategizing, effective messaging and issue solidarity. All that hard work can be squandered in a moment if House progressives overplay their considerable hand. AOC and the House Progressive Caucus have proven to be able dealmakers in a closely-divided Washington. Knowing when to take a win will be their biggest test yet.”

The redistricting news from the deep south is all bad, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman report at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Even if we assume only modest gerrymandering by Republicans — and that is not a safe assumption, but let’s make it here just for the sake of argument — it’s easy to see how Republicans could squeeze a half-dozen more net seats out of these four big states….Republicans in Texas could, for instance, go from 23-13 to 25-13 just through making sure the state’s two new seats go to them, or some other combination of changes that gives Democrats a new seat but compensates for that by making an existing Democratic seat more Republican. Georgia Republicans could add a seat by altering one of the Democratic-held GA-6 or GA-7, making one markedly bluer and the other markedly redder. North Carolina Republicans could ensure that the state’s new seat is a Republican seat, and Florida Republicans could do the same while altering one other current Democratic seat, either FL-13 in the Tampa Bay area or FL-7 in the Orlando area, in such a way that a Republican wins it next year. So that would be six seats right there. And Republicans in these states probably will go further than this, with some of the possibilities outlined above, although doing so may carry more risk, particularly if Republicans stretch themselves too thin in big metro areas where their strength has eroded in recent years, most notably Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin, Raleigh, and Charlotte. That we did not mention any Florida cities in that list — Republicans generally have held up better in that state’s big urban areas — is an indication that perhaps Florida represents the GOP’s best gerrymandering opportunity of this group, despite the state’s seeming restrictions on such activity.” Scant comfort that Democrats will do a little better in other regions.

FiveThirtyEight is running a useful update feature for redistricting followers, “What Redistricting Looks Like In Every State: An updating tracker of proposed congressional maps — and whether they might benefit Democrats or Republicans in the 2022 midterms and beyond” with lots of graphics reflecting partisan lean in old and new maps and hover notation data released each state. From the intro: “Arguably the most important factor in the 2022 midterm elections will be congressional redistricting. Where will each party gain power? Lose power? And will the new districts even be drawn in time for next year’s primaries? Right now, though, the redistricting process is behind schedule due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Census Bureau says that it will now release the block-level data necessary for redistricting on Aug. 12, which will likely set off a redistricting scramble. Many states face early constitutional or statutory deadlines to finalize their new maps — including some that are impossibly early, inspiring certain states to seek legal extensions in court. One state, Colorado, has even gone ahead and drawn a draft of a congressional map using population estimates from 2019. (The lines will have to be adjusted with 2020 data before becoming official.) Several other state legislatures, meanwhile, will reconvene later this year to belatedly redraw their districts. We at FiveThirtyEight will be tracking the whole redistricting process, from proposed maps to final maps, so watch this space for updates!” Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Vermont each have only one congressional seat, so no redistricting process.

Brownstein: Dems’ Last Chance to Win Back Working-Class Whites

Ronald Brownstein explains why “This may be the Democrats’ last chance to recover working-class Whites” at CNN Politics ‘Fault Lines.’:

The blue-collar barricade looms as the most stubborn obstacle to President Joe Bidenenlarging his base of support.

As both candidate and president, Biden has devoted enormous effort to regaining ground with working-class voters, particularly the White voters without college degrees who have drifted away from the Democrats since the 1970s.

But in the campaign, he improved on Hillary Clinton’s anemic 2016 performance with those voters only modestly. And in office, an array of recent polls show he’s failed to increase his approval rating with those non-college-educated White voters much, if at all, beyond the roughly one-third of them who he attracted last November — even though he’s aimed much of his rhetoric and presidential travel at them and formulated an agenda that would shower them with new government benefits.

Biden’s small gains with these voters last fall still helped him tip the critical Rust Belt battlegrounds of Michigan and Wisconsin, and many Democrats say that any progress with them will be critical to the party’s electoral fortunes in 2022 and 2024.

Brownstein adds, “But the continuing resistance confronting even Biden — a 78-year-old White Catholic who highlights his working-class roots at every turn — underscores the challenge an increasingly diverse and culturally liberal Democratic Party will face in recovering as much support as it attracted from these voters as recently as in Barack Obama’s two campaigns….It may be too strong to say Biden represents the Democrats’ last chance to restore their competitiveness with working-class White voters. But it seems likely that if he can’t do so, there are few others in the Democrats’ next generation of emerging leaders who have a better chance.” Further,

Working-class White voters constituted the bedrock of the Democratic coalition from the 1930s to the 1960s but the party has lost ground among them, largely because of issues relating to race and culture, in the half century since. For almost as long, the party has debated how much emphasis to place on recapturing those voters.

This long-running argument has functioned as a proxy for the larger question of whether Democrats should tack toward the center or move left, particularly on social issues. Party centrists often cite the need to hold as many blue-collar White voters as possible, particularly across the Rust Belt, to justify a more moderate approach; liberals often complain that an excessive focus on those generally culturally conservative Whites leads the party to downplay causes, like aggressive action on climate and racial equity, that could energize more younger and non-White voters, particularly in emerging Sun Belt battlegrounds such as Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and eventually Texas.

Brownstein notes that “Whites without college degrees have steadily declined as a share of all voters by about 2 to 3 percentage points over each four-year presidential term for decades, while Whites with college degrees and especially non-White voters have expanded in turn. (Although those non-college Whites remain the biggest bloc in the electorate, they fell below 40% of the national total for the first time last fall, according to Census Bureau figures.) As both their overall numbers and support for Democrats have declined, these non-college Whites have fallen by half, from nearly 60% of self-identified Democrats in 1996 to only 30% now, according to analysis by the Pew Research Center. (They remain about three-fifths of all Republicans, Pew found.)” Also,

On the other hand, blue-collar Whites remain overrepresented as a share of voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — the three Rust Belt states that will remain pivotal to Democrats’ White House hopes until they can more reliably win the Sun Belt battlegrounds.

Biden’s presidency stands as a potential hinge in this extended debate: If even he can’t significantly improve the party’s position with these voters, it will likely embolden those who want the party to shift its emphasis from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt; from recovering working-class Whites to mobilizing its emerging coalition of younger voters of color as well as college-educated Whites.

Brownstein notes that some progressive political analysts believe Democrats are in danger of worrying too much about white blue collar voters at the expense of  dampening the turnout of voters of color and young voters. However,

It’s difficult to overstate how much Biden has targeted working-class voters, especially White working-class voters, during his presidency. As a recent CNN analysis found, his presidential travel has focused heavily on blue-collar communities, with Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio topping the list of states he has visited. And blue-collar White voters clearly have influenced one of the White House’s defining political strategies: to generally limit Biden’s personal engagement with hot-button cultural issues (from gun control to voting rights) and to overwhelmingly focus his public appearances on kitchen table concerns: shots in the arm, checks in the pocket, shovels in the ground.

Biden routinely calls his economic agenda a “blue-collar blueprint to build America” and his proposals would shower working-class voters of all races with a wide array of new government benefits. The $1.9 trillion stimulus plan included direct $1,400 payments and a vastly expanded tax credit for families with children that benefited almost all voters without a college education. The bipartisan infrastructure plan expected to receive Senate approval Tuesday is centered on blue-collar jobs rebuilding roads, bridges and water systems. The follow-on $3.5 trillion human capital budget bill Democrats plan to advance this week offers working-class families increased subsidies for health insurance and child care, guaranteed paid family leave, expanded Medicare benefits and, for their children, access to universal preschool and two years of free community college. Some experts have described the cumulative package as the largest expansion of direct government assistance to working families since Social Security during the New Deal.

But so far, Biden has very little to show for it in terms of improved approval among White working-class voters. In the latest Gallup Poll for July, his approval rating among Whites without college degrees stood at 34%; he’s exceeded 38% among them in only one of Gallup’s monthly surveys. Surveys released over the last few weeks by Monmouth and Quinnipiac universities, as well as an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, likewise put his approval with those voters at just 32-34%. (Another Marist poll showed him at 37%.) In each case, his approval rating among those non-college-educated White voters was about 20 percentage points less than his standing among White voters with college degrees.

With approval from roughly one-third of working-class Whites, Biden’s support now remains essentially unchanged from his vote among them last November: The major data sources (including the network exit polls conducted by Edison Research, the academic Cooperative Election Study and the Pew Research Center’s validated voters study) all showed him winning almost exactly one-third of them. In each case, that was only slightly better than Clinton’s performance in 2016, when most of the data sources showed her winning just under 3 in 10 of those voters. Biden’s performance also remained well below the roughly 40% of these voters that Democrats won in each presidential race from 1988 to 2008, according to the exit polls.

Previously unpublished details on the 2020 results provided to me by each of those sources offer a more nuanced picture of Biden’s performance. Democratic analysts who believe the party must continue emphasizing blue-collar White voters often argue that the Democrats’ weakness with them is exaggerated by the large number of culturally conservative evangelical Christians in their ranks. And indeed, the previously unpublished results provided to me from the exit polls, the Cooperative Election Study and Pew all show that Biden lost non-college-educated White voters who identify as evangelical Christians by an even larger margin than Clinton did: All three of those sources showed Donald Trump winning about 85% or more of those voters, up from around 80% in 2016. Trump’s support among White non-college evangelicals reached about 90% in Southern states such as Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, according to the exit polls.

By contrast, each of those three studies showed Biden improving over Clinton among the non-college White voters who are not evangelical Christians. Even so, all three studies still showed him losing those non-evangelical blue-collar Whites to Trump and winning only 42% to 47% of them. Comparing each study with its own 2016 results, only in Pew’s did Biden significantly improve over Clinton’s performance with them.

Brownstein quotes Sean McElwee, who argues, “When you are dealing with a demographic group as large as non-college Whites, any sort of difference matters.” In addition,

McElwee says the evidence is that only a very small number of working-class Whites may be open to persuasion from Biden, but “the problem is that increasingly small groups of people are still determinative in politics.” He adds: “If you look at how close these margins are in Michigan or in Pennsylvania, we can’t afford to lose 2 to 3 points with non-college Whites because it is such a big demographic.”

McElwee is optimistic that Biden’s kitchen table agenda ultimately will propel at least some gains with blue-collar voters: In polling that his company Data for Progress has done for the advocacy group Fighting Chance for Families, for instance, Trump voters who have received the child tax credit express much more positive views about it than those who have not.

Anzalone, the Biden pollster, likewise says the picture may look different once families receive more of the tangible benefits Biden is promoting.

There’s a lot of stuff … people won’t see for a long time,” Anzalone says. “The bottom line is this is a president who is committed to create opportunities for working families to succeed and be a bigger part of this economy. … This [political] conversation a year from now may be different. The fact is he’s competing for this demographic, and that’s important.”

Browstein notes additional concerns, including:

Ruy Teixeira, a veteran Democratic analyst now at the Center for American Progress, agrees that economic issues will take Democrats only so far. Biden’s “theory of the case is that we are going to deliver for the masses of honest workers in America … and the people who don’t like us, the suspicious non-college White voters, are going to be able to overcome their cultural reservations about the party,” says Teixeira, who has written extensively on the evolving Democratic coalition. “But the theory that you can just do good economics stuff and ignore the rest … is probably mistaken.”

Teixeira believes Biden’s strategy of downplaying cultural issues is insufficient: He argues that the President must more explicitly reject the left’s positions on issues such as crime, much as Bill Clinton did during the 1990s.

Brownstein concludes that “the ceiling on Biden’s potential recovery with blue-collar White voters, whatever economic agenda he passes, is probably lower than he hopes, though not necessarily lower than it takes to improve his position in some closely contested states. “People think” the effort to gain the electoral high ground for 2022 and 2024 “is going to happen through one swift katana move,” says McElwee, referring to the sleek Japanese sword favored by samurai, “when in fact it’s a really brutal game of inches.”

Teixeira: The Most Frightening Chart You’ll Ever See About Hispanics and the 2020 Election

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

The chart below is from David Byler’s excellent article in the Post going over the best available data on Hispanic voting behavior in the 2020 election.

It’s not a pretty picture for the Democrats and Byler provides a valuable service by putting the most relevant data all in one place. I’ve looked at a lot of these data myself and I think Byler gets the story basically right.

“For years, high-ranking Republicans believed that Democrats had them backed into a demographic corner: The Latino electorate would continue to grow, providing Democrats with more votes and permanently squeezing Republicans out of power.

Donald Trump has, for the moment, proved that theory wrong. Overall, Trump won 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2020. That’s better than John McCain or Mitt Romney did against their Democratic opponents in 2008 and 2012, respectively, and a big improvement over his 2016 showing…..

[W]ho are Trump’s Latino supporters? And how did he gain so much ground?

A good way to understand Trump’s Latino support is to break his voters into three groups: loyal GOP voters, Democratic converts and new voters who broke for Trump. Each group came to support Trump at different times and for different reasons…..

Trump didn’t just hold onto traditional Latino Republicans: He converted many who voted for Democrats in 2016 or 2018.

He ate into Democratic margins among non-college-educated Hispanics, creating a new battleground in the electorate. More than 80 percent of Hispanics do not have a college degree — a huge pool of potential votes for both parties.

As the 2020 race reached its peak — and Republicans projected an anti-communist, anti-crime, pro-growth message to Latinos — Trump gained ground, especially among moderate and conservative Latinos…..

Trump won new converts with smart politics. He emphasized his economic record, soft-pedaled his immigration positions and focused on issues such as crime, where he could bring Latino Democrats into the fold….

Nobody knows which direction Latinos will take. But the 2020 election proved that many Latino voters are up for grabs — and that Republicans are far from extinct.”

Read the whole thing which includes a lot of very good charts and maps.

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics ‘The Point,’ Chris Cilliza observes, ““During a closed-door lunch last week with some of his most vulnerable incumbents, House Democrats’ campaign chief delivered a blunt warning: If the midterms were held now, they would lose the majority….“Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney followed that bleak forecast, which was confirmed by multiple people familiar with the conversation, with new polling that showed Democrats falling behind Republicans by a half-dozen points on a generic ballot in battleground districts. Maloney advised the party to course-correct ahead of 2022 by doing more to promote President Joe Biden’s agenda, which remains popular with swing voters.”….What that says, in not so many words, is this: Democrats are losing the message war….”How do Democrats win in places like North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and Georgia?” former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges asked in an interview late last month. “The circus has left Washington and Biden has already cleaned up the mess. I’m not sure why Democratic candidates would stray from that message — particularly in purple states….An NPR/Marist/PBS poll released last month showed 50% of adults approve of how Biden is handling the economy while 45% disapprove. Among electorally-critical independents, 48% approved while 47% disapproved….Those numbers are good but not overwhelming. But there’s no question that talking about the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus package that passed Congress earlier this year and the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently working its way through Congress is far better political ground for Democrats to fight on than more “woke” issues like defunding the police.”

Former editor of the Cedar Falls Courier Saul Shapiro argues that “Democrats are miserable at messaging in the context of Iowa’s congressional races, and explains, “Mainstream Democrats are running from it with Olympian speed, but without deflecting any deserved crime blame to Republicans obsessed with rescinding gun laws….Iowa had a record 353 gunshot deaths overall in 2020, up 20%, with a 73% homicide increase. Republican evisceration of state gun laws echoes Missouri, a national leader at 5.6 homicides per 100,000. The U.S. average is 3.6….While Democrats profess to “fight for you,” they’re often punching bags. Their “when-they-go low, we’ll-go-high” mantra ignores GOP history….These days Republicans brand all Democrats as “socialists,” popular social programs aside….Yet Democrats won’t paint all Republicans as Trump-loving, history-averse white supremacists, anti-democratic insurrectionists and conspiracy wackos, despite their growing footprint….Or cite hypocrisy. Iowa Republicans love local control only when they’re in control, stripping localities of control on issues that didn’t comport to their agenda….Republicans refuse to implement a sales tax approved in a 2010 state constitutional referendum to clean Iowa’s chemically degraded waterways. Iowa drinking water is linked to 300 cancer cases annually….”

Shapiro continues, “While teaching marketing at Wartburg College, I touted Republican strategist Frank Luntz’s success. Luntz transformed the inheritance tax — largely targeting the rich — into the hated “death tax.” More recently, he advised Donald Trump to stress “border security.” Democrats still can’t shake the “open borders” perception. (Their 2020 convention didn’t help.)….Luntz repackaged “climate change” as “global warming” so Republicans could repudiate human complicity….But after the 2017 L.A. wildfires nearly engulfed his home, he changed his tune, offering Democrats more accessible messaging….Ditch “sustainability” for “cleaner, safer, healthier.” Replace “ending global warming” with “solving climate change.” Recast empty “new jobs” as forward-thinking “new careers.” Don’t use nebulous “groundbreaking” or “state of the art,” but “reliable technology or energy.” Forgo globalist “one world” for “working together….Cities initially embracing “defund the police” now pragmatically avoid it. “Reimagining the police” — alleviating social service obligations, improving community interaction, and removing discernible bad actors — is proactive, not alarmist….Unfortunately, Democrats have a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with low-profile candidates and inept campaigns (Theresa Greenfield against Joni Ernst) devoid of Luntz-like messaging. They should emulate the Lincoln Project, former GOP strategists alienated by Trumpism but committed to democracy. Their ads don’t pull punches….Policy matters, but the right messaging is required to sell it.”

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Atlantic that “Biden, with his earnest and unpolished persona, hasn’t inspired the visceral backlash from his opponents that Trump, Barack Obama, or even George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did. While White House officials are closely watching for signs of backlash, they remain optimistic that this August recess won’t produce anything like the grassroots conservative uprising in August 2009 against the Affordable Care Act that crystallized the Tea Party movement….For those Democrats comfortable with Biden’s approach, the benefits are clear. Sean McElwee, a leading pollster for progressive causes, says Biden has found an effective division of labor: By stressing unity and courting GOP officials, McElwee argues, Biden has made it more difficult for Republicans to mobilize their base. “Biden has made politics boring again,” he says admiringly, while other Democrats can call out the GOP’s turn toward extremism on issues from COVID-19 to voting. “I think it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time here,” he says….To Democrats in this camp, the infrastructure deal “is proof of concept,” especially if Biden can pair it with an ambitious follow-on bill for human-capital investments passed solely with Democratic votes, says Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic group Third Way. If Biden can pass those two massive proposals, and contain the pandemic over the coming months, Kessler insists, he’ll be reelected. “And if he gets reelected, that could be the end of Trumpism,” Kessler says.”

New Revelations from Trump’s Coup Attempt Isolate GOP ‘Leaders’ Even Further

While many Americans are surprised at the GOP leadership’s complicity in shredding democracy, they should get ready for even more shocking revelations emerging from the congressional investigation of the January 6th riot at the capitol, well-explained by Zachary B. Wolfe in his article, “The full picture of Trump’s attempted coup is only starting to emerge” at CNN Politics, including:

  • Trump pressured acting DOJ officials like acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen on December 27 to “Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” according to the notes of acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue’s notes, shared with House investigators.
  • A day later, on December 28, at least one acting DOJ official, Jeffrey Clark, who was in charge of the civil division, apparently bought into Trump’s lies, or wanted to assuage him, and drafted a letter suggesting there were election irregularities in the election (there weren’t), but it was rebuffed by other top acting officials.
  • Officials like Rosen’s chief of staff Patrick Hovakimian drafted letters of resignation in case his boss was pushed out in favor of Clark.

Wolf notes further, “CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Jason Morris, Christopher Hickey and Will Mullery have put together an in-depth timeline of Trump’s efforts to corrupt the US government and the Georgia government. It is exhaustive and shocking….It’s the threat of a block of DOJ resignations among the acting officials (these people, as acting officials, were supposed to be Trump loyalists) that may have stopped Trump from a last-minute firing of officials at Justice.”

Wolf quotes CNN analyst Elie Honig, who has argued “It is a federal crime to deprive a state of a fair election….It is a federal crime to solicit false counting of ballots, false certification of an election….It is a federal crime to conspire against the United States….This is deadly serious and there has to be consequences. Imagine if there are no consequences for this whatsoever. What kind of message does that send?”

The apparent cluelessness of so many Republican members of congress thus far about where the congressional investigation is heading and what it could mean for their futures and legacy is disappointing. It’s about to get more so.

Trump’s Coup Attempt Was, and May Still Be, Recurring

After reading some of the murky but shocking stories of what went on the in White House in late 2020, I tried to put it in perspective at New York:

Recent revelations about what was going on in the Trump administration between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021, have made it more apparent than ever that the riot at the Capitol was just the final, desperate measure in an attempted electoral coup that Trump and his henchmen had been scheming to execute for months. The latest “shocker” (that really shouldn’t shock anyone at all) was reported by ABC News this week:

“Top members of the Department of Justice last year rebuffed another DOJ official who asked them to urge officials in Georgia to investigate and perhaps overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in the state – long a bitter point of contention for former President Donald Trump and his team – before the results were certified by Congress, emails obtained by ABC News show.”

The “DOJ official” in question was Jeffrey Clark, the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, who in late December drafted a letter to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and the Republican leaders of the Georgia legislature urging them to convene a special session to investigate alleged 2020 voter-fraud claims. Given Kemp’s refusal to back Trump’s lies about Georgia’s vote, it’s understandable (if bizarre) that Clark’s draft letter also suggested the legislature call itself into session to consider whether it should appoint electors to rival the Biden slate already certified by Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Subsequent reporting by MSNBC indicates that Clark had drafted similar letters to Republican leaders in five other states carried by Biden but which Trump claimed to have won.

The one truly surprising thing about this gambit was its late timing. All along, as I noted on December 1, the most feasible avenue for a Trump election coup was to mobilize Republican state legislatures to usurp the selection of electors on his behalf:

“[I]t was obvious by mid-November that Trump’s only hope was to create enough phony doubt about the outcome in key states to justify a power grab by Republican legislators. The idea, which was fully aired in many of the preelection ‘red mirage’ speculations … was that state legislators would assert a constitutionally sanctioned (if controversial and arguably in conflict with their own statutes) right to appoint electors themselves since “fraud” had tainted the popular-vote results. Trump publicly called on GOP legislators to do just that, as Politico reported on November 21.”

It didn’t work in November, but Clark (and very clearly Trump himself) wanted to give it another try based on the exotic constitutional theory that the whole Electoral Count Act process for certifying and confirming electors violated the sovereign power of state legislatures over electors (there was a parallel claim, shot down by the federal courts a few days later, that the Constitution gave then Vice-President Pence the power to disregard state certifications of electors and count them however he wanted).

All the Trump campaign’s efforts (which continue to this day) to gin up phony “evidence” of voter fraud were initially aimed at creating a pretext for an intervention by state legislators (or Pence, who refused to accept the king-making designation) to overturn Biden’s victory. It’s probably another accident of timing that it didn’t come closer to working: Back in late December and early January, the Big Lie of the stolen election had not yet become GOP orthodoxy — at least, not to the extent that legislators in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, or Michigan felt obliged to steal it right back. Similarly, Clark’s letters were not sent out (which probably would have set off a constitutional crisis) because they horrified Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue. But it was a near thing, as the Washington Post’s Phillip Bump explains:

“[On January 3] Clark told Rosen that he was going to be made acting attorney general by Trump. That led to a contentious meeting in the Oval Office involving all three men in which Trump weighed making such a switch to advance his fraud claims. A number of senior Justice Department officials had promised to resign should it happen, which the New York Times credits with helping preserve Rosen’s job. But that outcome was by no means certain. Replacing Rosen would probably have meant a quick issuance of Clark’s letter and a public rationalization for Georgia’s Republican-led legislature to act in support of Trump’s effort to snatch away the state’s electoral votes.”

Three days later Trump ran out of options for rigging the electoral vote count and resorted to an incendiary call to arms of a MAGA mob determined to “stop the steal.” It has never been clear what Trump hoped to accomplish other than to temporarily disrupt the inevitable confirmation of Biden’s victory. But it was definitely the culmination of a long series of efforts to subvert the 2020 elections and tamper with the results. That it is still going on is an ominous sign that January 6 wasn’t simply the last spasm of a failed 2020 coup. It may also have been the first step towards repeating it in 2024, with a different outcome. As election law expert Rick Hasen argues at Slate, that is entirely possible:

“It’s easy to picture how this might play out in the next presidential election. Imagine that a state legislature sets forth general rules for conducting the 2024 election, but it does not provide every detail about how the election is run. Republican legislatures in states won by the Democratic candidate could seize on some normal election administration rule created by a state or local election administrator or some ruling from a state court, and argue that implementation of the rule renders the presidential election unconstitutional, leaving it to the state legislature to pick a different slate of electors.”

If that happens, Jeffrey Clark could prove to be a prophet of democracy’s doom.

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond note a significant change in President Biden’s pandemic strategy: “When Republican governors began prematurely lifting coronavirus restrictions in their states earlier this spring, President Joe Biden and his team largely kept their heads down, ramping up vaccine distribution while steering clear of rhetorical battles with political adversaries.…But this week, as the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in several southern states sent cases soaring, Biden took a new approach: Castigating Republican governors who are standing in the way of mask and vaccine requirements — and calling out the governors of Texas and Florida in particular for enacting “bad health policy.”….”I say to these governors: Please help. But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way,” Biden said during remarks about the pandemic on Tuesday. “The people are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”….Over the course of the past week, Biden has demonstrated new willingness to cross lines he was previously reluctant to breach, frustrated by the behavior of certain Republicans and exasperated by Americans who refuse to get vaccinated….Biden has come to believe the time holding his tongue has passed. Taken together with the administration’s new openness to vaccine mandates and heightened criticism of vaccine disinformation, the direct calls on governors to alter their behavior reflect Biden’s impatience with forces he believes are prolonging the crisis.”

Charlie Cook addresses a question of consequence, “How Long Can Biden’s Approvals Remain Stable?” at The Cook Political Report, and responds: “The deeper into a president’s term we get, the more meaningful his job-approval rating becomes, and the greater its predictive value….As Gallup’s Frank Newport and Lydia Saad recently wrote in Public Opinion Quarterly, “The strong relationship between presidential approval and both presidential and midterm elections is fascinating and impressive given the simplicity of this question devised more than 70 years ago.”…The bottom line: Democratic hopes of retaining their slim majorities in Congress are almost entirely dependent upon President Biden not sinking them….Biden’s approval ratings in the Gallup poll have ranged from a low of 50 percent (in their most recent survey earlier this month) to a high of 57 percent (in their first poll of his presidency, taken over his first two weeks in office). Gallup’s average over seven polls is 55 percent, with 41 percent disapproving….Even a cursory look at presidential approval ratings in this period of ultra-partisanship underscores how monolithic each party is. Among Democrats, his approval has ranged from 90 to 98 percent; among Republicans, he’s been between 8 and 12 percent. There is little question how partisans on each side would vote; the only question is how many of them will show up….Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz makes the case for watching the generic congressional ballot test question instead. His point is well taken, but in my opinion the question is not asked often enough to allow really close scrutiny of the ups and downs….One smart Democratic analyst privately argues that midterms are less a referendum on the incumbent president’s party than a reflection of the fact that whichever party loses the presidential race is bound to go into the next election with much higher levels of enthusiasm. He urges caution in a party becoming overconfident about a state it just narrowly won….Midterm elections have a lot of moving parts. There is never just one thing to watch. But there’s no better baseline than Biden’s approvals.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. makes the case that “Democrats want to fight Trump, not Biden” at The Washington Post: “It should not surprise anyone that grass-roots Democrats are united behind the president who defeated Donald Trump and wary of candidates who seem more interested in fighting Joe Biden than in advancing his agenda….This is why Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown defeated former Ohio state senator Nina Turner in Tuesday’s special Democratic primary election for a U.S. House seat centered on Cleveland….Brown’s success is being described as a victory of “the establishment” over insurgents and of a “moderate” over a “progressive.” Though partially true, the shorthand misses as much as it reveals….The divisiveness of Turner’s rhetoric aimed at others in her party goes far beyond where most progressive Democrats are. And with the Trump specter still lurking, the 11th Congressional District’s primary voters decided to reward the candidate focused on cooperating with a Democratic administration whose success is a precondition to routing Trumpism for good….It needs to be repeated until it really sinks in: If you look at primary results over the past five years, Democrats remain the party in which more moderate candidates can prevail. Republicans, even when they opt against a Trump-endorsed candidate here or there, are much further to the right than Democrats are to the left….But something else is true, too: Turner’s defeat does not mean that progressive Democrats are “crushed,” to use the sort of language popular on Wednesday. Progressives remain an important force in the Democratic Party but as part of a broader coalition. They succeed when they act as critics inside the tent. They fail when they are seen as bringing down the tent….What doesn’t work is wholesale opposition to Biden and rhetoric that denies the possibility of agreement across the Democratic Party’s factions. And the strategy will fall apart if more moderate Democrats representing tough swing districts lose in 2022…”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall flags a trouble spot for Biden and Democrats: “…In the July 17-20 Economist/YouGov Poll, 38 percent of voters approved of his handling of crime, and 45 percent disapproved. In the Economist/YouGov poll taken a week later, Biden’s numbers on immigration were worse: 35 approving, 50 disapproving….The Biden administration has initiated a set of programs designed to “stem the flow of guns into the hands of those responsible for violence” — the centerpiece of its anti-crime program — but the Economist/YouGov poll found in its July 24-27 survey that 30 percent of voters approve of Biden’s handling of gun issues while 48 percent disapprove.” Edsall quotes Stanford political scientist Bruce Cain, who argues that “the best defense for the Democrats is to go on the offense in 2022 and remind voters about who Trump is and what the Republican Party has become. The resistance to supporting vaccination among Trumpist Republican officials could hurt the party’s national image substantially in 2022 if the unvaccinated are to blame for our inability to put this issue behind us.”

OH-11 Primary Has Lessons for Dems

At CNN Politics, Eric Bradner has a sound analysis of moderate progressive Shontel Brown’s victory over left progressive Nina Turner in the Democratic primary to represent Ohio’s 11th congressional district. As Bradner explains:

In the heavily Democratic 11th District, which stretches from Cleveland to Akron, establishment-backed Cuyahoga County Democratic chairwoman and county council member Shontel Brown — who was backed by Hillary Clinton, Rep. Jim Clyburn and the Congressional Black Caucus — defeated former state senator Nina Turner, the long-time ally of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Turner remained critical of Clinton after the primary’s conclusion in 2016 and in 2020 once compared voting for Biden to eating half a bowl of human excrement.

Turner would likely have lost to Brown even without the comment, which she made in an interview by The Atlantic about the 2020 election. Political activists of all stripes frequently make such comments, but it’s a big mistake to share them in a major magazine interview.

Bradner notes that “Progressives saw Ohio as a chance to steer the House Democratic caucus further left. Turner — a long-time Sanders ally who became a national figure before any member of the left-wing “Squad” was elected to Congress — would have joined their ranks.” However, “in what could be a preview of how establishment forces will mobilize to protect incumbent Democrats facing primary challenges next year, more moderate Democrats fought back. Out of a crowded field, they rallied behind Brown, a candidate more likely to support Biden and his agenda in Washington.” Also,

And again it was Clyburn — the kingmaker in the 2020 Democratic primary, when his endorsement propelled Biden to a massive victory in the South Carolina primary and a romp three days later, on Super Tuesday — playing a central role.

Clyburn stepped in when the rapper and activist Killer Mike, appearing at a campaign event with Turner, said the No. 3 House Democrat had been “incredibly stupid” to back Biden without securing more concessions. Clyburn endorsed Brown and warned that the left’s “sloganeering” — such as calls to defund the police — is politically damaging.

The Congressional Black Caucus’ political arm endorsed Brown, and Clyburn and other leading Black Democrats campaigned for her on the race’s closing weekend.

Bradner adds that “Jewish voters and pro-Israel groups played important roles down the stretch. The Democratic Majority for Israel super PAC spent heavily against Turner, who has been critical of Israel at times. And Brown’s support from Jewish Democrats in the district proved pivotal — a reality that Brown acknowledged in her victory speech, in which she thanked “my Jewish brothers and sisters” and discussed how a 2018 trip to Israel shaped her view of the US-Israel relationship.”

However, Bradner writes, “It’s hard to distill much about the direction of the Democratic Party on major generational and ideological issues from individual races — particularly low-turnout primaries in off-year special elections like Ohio’s 11th District contest. Further,

Moderate, establishment-aligned figures have now notched a series of important victories over more progressive candidates, dating back to Biden defeating Sanders in the 2020 presidential primary. In Virginia, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe held off challengers to win the primary as he seeks another term. In New York City, centrist Eric Adams won the mayoral primary.

But at the same time, progressives have claimed victories of their own. New York City chose a progressive candidate for comptroller at the same time it picked a moderate for mayor. Buffalo voters ousted their incumbent mayor in favor of India Walton, a self-professed socialist and political newcomer. A progressive challenger, state Rep. Ed Gainey, unseated Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

What seems clear is that progressives have yet to figure out — especially in high-turnout contests — how to crack up the Biden coalition of working-class voters, Black voters and suburban moderates who are playing an increasingly large role in Democratic primaries.

In other words, everything is as it should be in the big tent party, with a healthy competition between moderate and left Democrats. Moderate progressives have an edge in most Democratic-leaning districts for now. There are a few Democratic congressional districts in the U.S., in which a candidate with Turner’s views could win, but probably not in Ohio. Brown, however, will win and hold the district for Democrats.

Teixeira: Vax Mandates A Political Necessity

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

Time for Vaccine Requirements and/or Passports: It’s a Health, Economic and Political Necessity.

At The Liberal Patriot today. John Halpin explains why this step is past due in the United States and will have woeful consequences if the Biden administration does not step up.

“As TLP has argued since the first days of the Biden administration, there are only two issues that matter for the success of the country and for Democrats in 2022: controlling the pandemic and getting the economy back on track. Everything else is a sideshow and distraction.

Until now, the Biden team has done an admirable job on both fronts. The economy is running full steam ahead and large percentages of Americans are vaccinated.

But all this progress is seriously at risk with the latest delta variant surge and the confusing and contradictory positions of the CDC and health officials on how to confront it. Rather than pushing and promoting the most important goal of near universal vaccination, the CDC has reversed course to recommend masks indoors for the vaccinated—simultaneously undermining their rationale from May for getting the vaccine and diminishing their trustworthiness by not presenting their data and not considering the obvious question of why those who do not want a vaccine would change course or start wearing masks.

Consequently, the country faces yet another culture war fight between the “vaccinated and the unvaccinated” and over the need for masks without getting any closer to doing what is necessary to control the pandemic: near universal vaccination. A lose-lose proposition….
Just as the U.S. economy is going gangbusters, the coronavirus response is producing unnecessary political splits and rising anger and confusion among Americans.

The CDC and Biden should admit their stumbles in issuing the new guidelines, better explain their rationale and fully present all evidence for scrutiny, and pledge to the public full transparency in grappling with the difficult and shifting task of confronting Covid going forward.

Above all, public health officials and leaders need to level with Americans that the only goal that really matters is getting the country to near complete vaccination levels. No one wants to wear masks. No one wants to shut down schools or businesses again. And we have a very effective way to avoid this if everyone gets vaccinated.

Just as people must have driver’s licenses to get on the roads—or present proof of other vaccinations to go to school, to work, or to travel—Covid vaccination must become a requirement for the general welfare of the entire nation. This will require full approval of the vaccines by the FDA followed by clear requirements from employers, insurers, state officials, government agencies, schools, and others that all citizens must show proof of vaccination by the beginning of 2022.”

Read the whole thing at The Liberal Patriot! I also recommend this piece by David Frum at The Atlantic site.

“First Canada overtook the United States in the vaccination race. Now the European Union has done so. Even poor European countries such as Greece, Lithuania, and Poland have surpassed vaccine-resistant U.S. states such as Ohio, Arkansas, and Missouri.

Why is this happening? Facebook exists on the other side of the Atlantic as much as it does on ours. Europeans do not lack for far-right political parties swayed by Russian misinformation. They are not better educated: Most EU countries send fewer of their young people to postsecondary institutions than the United States does. Anybody who has ever visited a European pharmacy has seen that Europeans are at least as susceptible to quack medicine as Americans.

One big difference between the U.S. and the EU is that European governments have been readier than U.S. governments to impose direct consequences on those who refuse vaccines. On July 1, the European Union adopted a digital pass confirming one’s vaccinated status, and individual member states are restricting access to public facilities for those who do not carry the pass. In Italy, for example, after August 6, anyone over the age of 12 who wants to enter a restaurant, gym, swimming pool, or cinema will need to have their green pass scanned at the door.

The EU system turns proof of vaccination into a QR code that EU citizens can store on their phone. The same code works in all EU countries and is available free of charge to EU citizens in both their national language and English.

By contrast, U.S. governments have been very reluctant to go the proof-of-vaccination route. Many Republican-governed states have gone out of their way to protect the right to infect. And even if a state were to try to roll out such a mandate, how would it do so? My CDC-issued proof of vaccination is a piece of cardboard inscribed with a nurse’s handwriting. I can scan it with my phone and instantly email it anywhere on Earth—but the document itself remains the product of Depression-era library-card technology.”

This is unacceptable! We can do better. We must do better.