washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

“Less Than College” Workers Are Not a Social Class. Democrats Need to Understand Who Persuadable Workers Really Are.

Read the Memo.

Democrats Can Win Non-MAGA Working Class GOP Voters. The First Step is Understanding What They Really Think.

Read the Memo.

The Non-Extremist Wing of the Working Class Needs a National Political Alliance That Champions its Distinct Values

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo.

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

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

June 10, 2023

Dionne: Class Politics Taking Center Stage Among Dems

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s “Biden and Democratic governors embrace the new (old) class politics” at The Washington Post:

Leading figures in both parties have decided that the future of American politics rests in the hands of working-class voters. With the most affluent voters now largely sorted by ideology, the “working middle class” in the poll-tested phrase popular among politicians, will be getting a lot of love.

Biden’s bet — and it’s a wager many successful Democratic governors made last year — is that Democrats can win back blue-collar voters. This means not just gaining ground among Whites without college degrees but also winning back Hispanic voters who have drifted toward the GOP, and boosting turnout among the Black working class.

The president reiterated one of his favorite formulations on Tuesday, describing his agenda as “a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America.” His first stop the day after his big speech was at a laborers’ union training center in Wisconsin. “For decades, the backbone of America — the middle class — has been hollowed out,” Biden said, adding: “Once-thriving cities and towns became shadows of what they used to be. … Now we’re going to turn that around.”

But Biden isn’t the only Democrat  zeroing in on class conflict, as Dionne explains:

Nonetheless, one group of Democrats that sees promise in Biden’s emphasis on jobs, investment and a blue-collar political blueprint is made up of the party’s governors. This is not surprising since all governors, as Utah’s Republican Gov. Spencer Cox said during a White House meeting of state chief executives on Friday, like to think of themselves as “the get-stuff-done caucus.”

Dionne quotes Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a rising star among potential Democratic presidential candidates, who notes, “In the case of schools, for example, “the culture wars … are not fueled by what the average parent of school age kids is thinking about,” Whitmer said. “They want their kids to be safe when they’re at school. They want a reasonable class size so their kid gets enough attention.” What parents are deeply concerned about is “learning loss” during the pandemic, one reason she is pushing a program of “individualized tutoring” to help students catch up.”

Dionne also quotes New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who “spoke of her family’s journey to the middle class and the need to create comparable opportunities in a very different economic moment. “We have to go back to the soul of an FDR Democrat,” she said, describing her parents’ political faith. “You take care of people. You let them know that you’re on their side.” Roosevelt, she said, “was the voice of a nation and gave hope to people impoverished and those struggling to even find a way into the middle class. Shame on us if we don’t reconnect with that history.”

Shame indeed. Reclaiming the “soul of the FDR Democrat” may be the Democrat’s ticket back to a working majority, provided they learn how to listen to the working class — and build a consensus in support of their priorities.

Teixeira: White Liberals vs. the Working-Class

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

Joe Biden in his generally well-received State of the Union address made a clear attempt to reach out to working class voters. As he recounted his administration’s achievements, he said:

Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back, because choices we made in the last several years. You know, this is, in my view, a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives at home.

Much of the first part of his speech was devoted to laying out the receipts for his pro-working class claims and the promise of much more bounty to come. This may reflect Biden’s genuine desire to turn the Democratic party back into a forthrightly working class party and, not unrelated, his recognition that a Democratic coalition with steadily declining working class support is electorally very fragile.

That may be what Biden wants. But will his party cooperate? This is a party whose image and priorities are increasingly determined by white liberals not working class voters. The party’s claim to be a working class party these days rests primarily on its undeniable—though diminishing—strength among nonwhite working class (noncollege) voters. These voters made up about 28 percent of Democratic supporters in 2020 according to States of Change data and probably about the same in 2022. But a substantially larger 37 percent of Democratic voters are white liberals (Gallup datacross-walked with States of Change data). This size mismatch is heavily exacerbated by the high educational levels of white liberals which translates into much higher levelsof political attention, interest, knowledge, donations and activism among these voters than among working class nonwhites. Add to that the dominance of educated white liberals in the Democratic party infrastructure and in sympathetic media, nonprofits, advocacy groups, foundations and educational sectors and you have a group that punches way, way above its already considerable weight in the party.

It would be strange indeed, given these facts, if the values and priorities of white liberals weren’t over-weighted in the Democrats’ values and priorities, particularly as perceived by working class voters. That suggests it will take quite some time and a determined, if not single-minded, focus to make the Democratic party once again the party of the working class rather than the party of white liberals. Here are some data that suggest the immensity of the task.

  1. Pew just released data about the public’s top policy priorities. They found that of the 21 priorities tested, protecting the environment and dealing with global climate change ranked 14th and 17th, respectively, on the public’s priority list. But among liberal Democrats, these issues ranked first and third, respectively. The story was basically the same among white college-educated Democrats, who are heavily dominated by liberals.
  2. A new CBS News poll confirms the low priority of dealing with climate change. Among the ten priorities tested, addressing climate change ranked ninth (interestingly, protecting abortion access ranked dead last).
  3. The same poll indicates a poor evaluation of the Biden administration’s actions in areas that rank much higher in working class concerns. On the US economy 53 percent said Biden’s policies have made it worse, compared to 27 percent who say his policies have made it better. The analogous figures on “your own family’s finances” are 49 percent vs. 18 percent; on illegal immigration, 51 percent vs. 21 percent; on inflation, 57 percent vs. 22 percent; and on gas prices, 55 percent vs. 21 percent.
  4. Recent Gallup data show half in the country saying they are financially worse off today than they were a year ago, the highest level since 2009 in the midst of the Great Recession. Among the working class, the level saying they are worse off is even higher.
  5. New Washington Post/ABC News data further document the depth of working class discontent. In the poll, 41 percent of the public say they are worse off today than they were when Biden took office, the highest level the poll has recorded on analogous questions dating back 37 years. But the negative judgement is even higher among working class respondents at 44 percent to a mere 14 percent who say they are better off. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact that, despite the low unemployment rate, real wages are still lower today than they were when Biden took office.
  6. In the same poll, working class respondents were not sanguine about the Biden administration’s accomplishments. By 68 percent to 30 percent the working class view was that Biden had accomplished not much/little or nothing as opposed to a great deal/a good amount. But Democratic liberals—who are overwhelmingly white—had a diametrically opposed view; 85 percent credited Biden with a accomplishing a great deal or a good amount and just 15 percent thought not much/little or nothing had been accomplished.
  7. Moreover by 2 or 3:1 the working class thought Biden had not made progress in four specific areas. Only 21 percent thought he had made progress of making electric vehicles more affordable compared to 60 percent who saw no progress; just 27 percent saw progress on lowering prescription drug costs; and a mere 31 percent, respectively, thought he had made progress on improving roads and bridges and creating good jobs in their communities. Liberal Democrats, however, were happy campers. By 2:1 they thought Biden had made progress on the first three items and by a ringing 3:1 they endorsed Biden’s progress on creating good jobs in their communities.

Biden clearly has his work cut out for him if he truly seeks to make the Democrats the undisputed party of the working class rather than the chosen vehicle for white liberals. Zach Goldberg puts it well in his recent detailed report on the demographic evolution of the Democratic party.

[I]ndividuals of higher socioeconomic status are more socially progressive and are more likely to prioritize post-material or moral-value-related issues (e.g., abortion, climate change, LGBT rights) over kitchen-table issues… The result of this phenomenon is the selection of candidates who are—or who are pressured and incentivized to be—far more socially progressive than would be the case with proportional constituent input, as well as legislative time and energy being expended on niche progressive causes, programs, and amendments that are likely to polarize the chambers and produce congressional gridlock. There are also opportunity costs: the more time invested in debating and attempting to pass progressive legislative agendas, the less time that can be spent on “normal” economic and quality-of-life issues that are far more relevant to the lives of many working class nonwhite Democrats.

There are indeed opportunity costs! Biden and his party will continue to pay those costs, which put a ceiling on their coalition, unless and until they are prepared to break the hegemony of white liberals and concentrate unreservedly on working class concerns.

Political Strategy Notes

A flash poll conducted by CNN immediately after Biden finished his address found that nearly three-quarters of respondents had a favorable impression. So far, so normal,” Sasha Abramsky writes at The Nation. “Most presidents, from both political parties, end up with positive public reactions to their big February speeches. But buried in the polling was a far more interesting number: Among those who had told pollsters before the speech that they disapproved of the direction of Biden’s presidency, only 7 percent went into the speech thinking that the president’s specific policy proposals would move the country in the right direction; after the speech, that number increased to 45 percent. Among independents, the number rose from 40 percent pre-speech to 66 percent afterwards….These are huge perception shifts, of a magnitude that could serve as a launch vehicle for the president’s reelection campaign, and that could reverse his currently underwater approval numbers. Biden has, consistently, been underestimated by pollsters and by pundits. He was written off in the 2020 primaries. He was declared dead on arrival in the run-up to the 2022 midterms. But it turns out he’s got a pretty good bead on where the American people are at and what policies they believe will improve their daily lives. He was right, back in the autumn, when he banged the “democracy is in danger” drum before the elections. And it looks like he was right on Tuesday night when he devoted most of his State of the Union address to fashioning an unapologetically progressive economic agenda: raise taxes on the rich, make prescription drugs more affordable, make it easier for workers to organize into unions, make it harder for corporate scofflaws to avoid both taxes and also economic competition, increase access to child care and preschool facilities, invest more in American manufacturing and in big infrastructure projects, and protect Social Security and Medicare….These are popular ideas—even among the white working class that, in recent years, has fled the Democratic Party largely because of wedge “cultural issues.” More than three-quarters of Americans support limiting annual drug price increases. A majority of Americans support increasing taxes on the super-wealthy. Seven in 10 tell pollsters that they support trade unions. If the Democrats can really focus in on these themes over the coming years, using major infrastructure projects as a launch pad to reinvent the economy for those lower down the economic ladder, Biden’s bet is that he can win back many of those voters who shifted rightward over the last couple decades.”

Here’s some of Abramsky’s take on class politics in the west: “This has already been done, with much success, by progressive governors and state legislators in the racially diverse Pacific West, and increasingly in Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona, where non-white working-class movements provide critical levels of support for left-leaning leaders. In California, large majorities of the state’s non-white population are registered as Democrats, while far fewer than 20 percent are registered as Republicans. In 2021, when Governor Gavin Newsom faced a recall election, more than four of every five voters in densely populated Latino-majority neighborhoods of LA County cast ballots against recalling him. In Oregon, according to Pew Research data, 38 percent of Democratic voters have a family income of less than $30,000 per year, a far higher percentage than the number of low-income voters within the Republican fold. In Nevada, multiracial trade unions in Las Vegas have long been instrumental to Democrats’ victories; in 2022 Catherine Cortez Masto was reelected to the Senate with a 9,000 vote majority, a majority that would not have been possible without high levels of union organizing and turnout. Similarly, Katie Hobbs won the Arizona governor’s race in part because of ongoing organizing efforts by immigrants’ rights groups and trade unions that brought large numbers of working-class Latino voters to the polls. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, Governor Lujan Grisham won reelection with high levels of supportfrom the state’s Hispanic population. For all the ink that has been spilled nationally in recent years exploring how and why the working class abandoned the Democratic Party—an angst-fest that is really only reacting to white working-class voting patterns—in the West that abandonment simply hasn’t occurred….True, Washington State seems to buck this trend slightly, with working-class voters of all colors shifting somewhat toward the Republican Party during the 2022 midterms. But taken as a whole, the West and Southwest have, over the past decade or two, crafted a strong counternarrative to the idea that working-class voters are shying away from the Democrats, showing that the party thrives in states with large non-white working-class populations….Biden’s instincts seem to be to take that Western model and expand it, to put forward a series of unapologetically progressive economic ideas and policies that have the capacity to bind more working-class voters, both white and non-white, to the Democratic Party in all regions of the country….For too many years, the Democrats at a national level have tried to triangulate their way to power. Now, in the unlikely guise of an 80-year-old longtime centrist, those advocating a programmatic effort to reshape and rebalance the American economy in a social democratic direction may have finally found their White House messenger.

Just to pile on re the SOTU, here’s an excerpt from “GOP boos fool no one: Everyone knows Republicans want to slash Social Security and Medicare” by Amanda Marcotte at salon.com: “McCarthy allowed Biden the space during his State of the Union address to show the public that Republicans are gunning for these popular programs by provoking a defensive denial of yelling and heckling from Republicans that is so over-the-top that it ended up confirming the accusation. Now McCarthy is having to deal with the very thing he was trying to avoid: A news cycle dominated by talk about how Republicans want to steal away the money in accounts workers spend their lives paying into as security when they retire….Just how badly did McCarthy’s gambit backfire? So badly that even Republican-friendly outlets like Axios and Politico ran with stories about the GOP’s secret yearnings to end Social Security and Medicare. Axios described Biden as “baiting Republicans to agree with his push to protect Medicare and Social Security….Despite his flailing denials, it’s been clear from the moment that Scott first released his 11-point plan that the main purpose of the “sunset” provision was so that Social Security and Medicare would expire, and a GOP-controlled Congress would just never get around to voting to keep it around. It’s once again proof that Republicans think voters are extremely stupid. Scott really does seem to think that if Republicans just kill these programs passively instead of taking a vote against them, people wouldn’t notice or blame the GOP. In reality, of course, people tend to notice when their checks stop showing up or their doctor won’t see them anymore….Republicans thought they could smuggle Social Security destruction past voters by calling it “privatization.” They soon learned that voters, who tend to be skeptical of politicians already, saw directly through that ruse. Democrats won the 2006 midterms by healthy margins. But the Republican dream that they can fool the public with flimsy code words never dies. Former Vice President Mike Pence, also never mistaken for the sharpest tool, has been out there putting the final nail in his presidential aspirations by talking up Social Security “privatization.””

Then Marcotte goes there, to the place most commentators dare not tread: “Being generous to Republicans for a moment, there is one reason for them to think a majority of Americans are stupid: They do keep voting for Republicans. Republicans, in fact, won more voters in 2022 than Democrats. That’s hard evidence right there that a majority of Americans are easily snowed into voting against their own interests….Those numbers are disappointing reminders that voters could definitely be smarter, of course, but it’s not the slam dunk evidence of American imbecility that Republican politicians seem to think it is. The likelier explanation is that voters understand that Democrats will protect them from Republican efforts to decimate Medicare and Social Security. Perversely, that understanding freed some people up to vote GOP as a means to exercise their racist and sexist resentments, secure in the knowledge that Biden is in the White House to shield them from the worst consequences of electing a bunch of right-wing radicals….We’ve seen this time and again: Swing voters will reward Republicans for their culture war nonsense up until the point where Republicans cause massive damage. Then they’ll run back to Democrats, to fish the country out of the gutter. We saw this in 2008 when voters elected Barack Obama to bail them out of the disastrous Bush presidency. We saw it again in 2020 when Biden was brought in to clean up for Trump. Voters are irrational at times and prone to complacency — but they aren’t as dumb as Republicans assume.” While pundits wince at the white working-class “voting against their own interests” grumble of liberals, Marcotte’s take on swing voters’ course correction approach provides one explanation for the motivation of those fickle swingers. who bash Dems for their worst culture war rants, but will quickly turn on Republicans who dare to mess with retirement benefits. If only SOTUs had better shelf life….

The Dobbs Backlash Is Just Getting More Intense

As someone who has closely followed the law and politics of the abortion issue literally for decades, I am fascinated by what’s been happening to public opinion since the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, and did an update on that subject at New York: 

During the near half-century in which the Supreme Court precedent of Roe v. Wade protected the right to choose abortion, public-opinion research on the topic tended to be of questionable value. Respondents were asked to categorize themselves as “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” depending on their subjective self-definitions. Polls asked people to engage in hair-splitting on the degree to which they wanted abortion to be legal or illegal. And the whole subject was overshadowed by the fundamental reality that political maneuvering on abortion policy had limited consequences for a majority of voters (though not for those who couldn’t access or afford abortion services).

With Roe gone, the basic laws governing reproductive decisions depend to an enormous extent on where one lives, and abortion policy is a central and urgent political decision (at least outside those few states that have re-enshrined abortion rights in state constitutions). So it’s getting easier for pollsters to weigh how the public feels about what should happen on abortion policy.

There’s already clear evidence that the abortion backlash had a tangible effect on the 2022 midterm elections and the underperformance of Republicans compared to historical precedents. But the effect on political preferences is ongoing.

The pro-choice majority that has always existed is now clearly being mobilized by what the Supreme Court and Republican state legislators and governors have wrought, as Gallup recently found:

“Americans are more dissatisfied with U.S. abortion policies now than they have been at any point in Gallup’s 23-year trend, and those who are dissatisfied are three times as likely to prefer less strict rather than more strict abortion laws.

“The record-high 69% of U.S. adults dissatisfied with abortion laws includes 46% who prefer that these laws be made less strict, marking a 16-percentage-point jump in this sentiment since January 2022. In addition, 15% of Americans are dissatisfied and favor stricter laws, and 8% are dissatisfied but want them to stay the same.”

The number of unhappy pro-choice respondents is striking for several subgroups:

“The percentage of women who are dissatisfied with U.S. abortion policies and support less strict laws has risen 18 points this year to 50%, compared with a 13-point increase among men to 41% over the past year. Both readings are the highest on record for those groups …

“For the first time in Gallup’s trend, pluralities of Catholic (38%) and Protestant (37%) Americans and a majority of those with no religious identity (69%) express dissatisfaction with abortion policies and a preference for less strict laws …

“Before 2022, dissatisfied Catholics and Protestants were typically more likely to favor stricter rather than less strict abortion laws.”

What do dissatisfied pro-choice Americans want to do about it? According to an NPR-Ipsos poll last month, they want to decide abortion policy themselves:

“Without a federal law in place, state abortion policies are shaped by lawsuits, state laws and constitutional amendments.

“A majority of Americans say they would like the decision to be in their hands, not elected officials. Nearly 7 in 10 of those surveyed say they would strongly or somewhat support their state using a ballot measure or voter referendum to decide abortion rights, if they had the option, rather than leaving the decision to state lawmakers.”

After pro-choice voters won all seven ballot tests in 2022, there’s a grim battle underway elsewhere to provide or deny voters a chance to weigh in on abortion in 2024. As NBC News reported late last year, the potential landscape for abortion ballot initiatives is quite broad:

“Activists are already planning citizen-led ballot initiatives that would enshrine abortion rights in the constitutions of 10 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

“Those states all ban or restrict abortion, and it is also legal for citizens to initiate ballot proposals that amend the states’ constitutions.”

Given these realities, it’s unsurprising that the anti-abortion activists whose battle cry for decades was to let the people decide are now beginning to rely on right-wing judicial activists determined to ban abortion from the bench, or a bit down the road, a Republican trifecta in Washington willing to override the states and ban abortion nationally. The stakes for 2024 are rising steadily.

The Real GOP Record on Cutting Social Security and Medicare

Before we let go of the GOP’s SOTU meltdown, have a gander at “What Republicans have actually said about cuts to Social Security and Medicare” by Julia Shapero, who writes at The Hill:

Biden and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly accused Republicans of attempting to target Medicare and Social Security in potential spending cuts that they hope to tie to a debt ceiling increase. However, Republicans have denied that the entitlement programs are at risk.

But some prominent Republicans have previously suggested cuts to the programs. Here’s what they actually said about cuts and changes to Social Security and Medicare.

At the center of the current debate over the federal entitlement programs is an 11-point plan released by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) last February, which called for all federal legislation to sunset after five years as part of an effort to curb government spending.

“All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” the document said.

This would require Congress to renew Social Security and Medicare every five years. Scott’s proposal also called for a yearly report from Congress “telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt.”….

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has indicated that he is considering a bid for the presidency in 2024, said last week that a conversation needs to be had about reforming Social Security….Pence suggested that the U.S. government allow young Americans to put part of their Social Security withholdings into a private savings account overseen by the government, which could potentially generate more than current Social Security accounts.

When Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) initially ran for Senate in 2010, he called for the complete elimination of Social Security.

“It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it,” Lee said at a campaign event in 2010, adding, “There’s going to be growing pains associated with doing this. We can’t do it all at once.”….However, the Utah Republican appears to have since tempered his views on entitlement programs…..“I don’t recall ever having advocated for dismantling those — that’s sensitive stuff,” he said in an October interview with the Daily Herald…..“I think, we oughta look to, after we get it solvent, look to the idea of allowing people, if they want to, to at least identify some portion of their social security payments to go into a private account,” he added, appearing to promote a similar idea to Pence.

Similar to Scott, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has suggested that Congress regularly renew the entitlement programs. However, Johnson has proposed that it be done on an annual basis.

“I’ve been saying for as long as I’ve been here that we should transfer everything, put everything on budget so we have to consider it if every year. I’ve said that consistently, it’s nothing new,” Johnson told “The Regular Joe Show” podcast last August….

The Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, has called for increasing the threshold for Medicare to 67 years of age and Social Security to 70 years of age in an effort to avoid the programs’ trust funds from becoming insolvent, per its fiscal 2023 budget. The group includes more than 150 Republican members of the House, the majority of the GOP caucus.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested in a debate in June that a bipartisan compromise on the issue will likely mean that “people like me are going to have to take a little less and pay a little more in.”….Like the Republican Study Committee, he also suggested adjusting the qualifying age for Social Security and Medicare upward….

In reality, however, Republicans opposed both Social Security and Medicare from the get-go, blasting the two programs as “socialism.” Go back to 1952, when Democratic President Harry Truman flagged their campaign to smear Social Security and noted that “socialism is what they called Social Security….socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson spearheaded the Medicare struggle and signed it into law. And Democrats overwhelmingly supported Medicare in both the House (237-48 among Democrats) and Senate (57-7 among Democrats) votes in 1965. For Republicans, however, the breakdown of the Medicare vote was 13 Senators in favor of Medicare, and 17 against. In the House, 70 Republicans voted for creating Medicare, with 68 against it.

Despite the aforementioned examples, most of today’s Republicans in congress don’t openly advocate cuts in Social Security and Medicare. But there is not much reason to doubt that many of them would support carefully camouflaged cuts in the two programs.

Shapero’s account doesn’t name any of the GOP House members who today want to slash or eliminate Social Security and Medicare. Is there a chance that Biden’s calling out Republicans at the SOTU will force them to abandon their schemes to gut the two programs, which are hugely popular, especially with high turnout senior voters? Maybe in the short run. More likely they will modify their rhetoric with language that will give them some “deniability.”

But the bottom line is that Republicans can not be trusted to leave Social Security and Medicare intact, no matter what they say. Mitch McConnell has pretty much nuked the credibility of the G.O.P.’s promises of bipartisan comity and trust. What Biden showed at the SOTU on Tuesday is that there is only one party that is genuinely committed to preserving Social Security and Medicare for coming generations — and that party is clearly not the Republicans.

Political Strategy Notes

In bis article, “Americans Usually Blame Republicans After Showdowns Over Federal Spending,” Nathaniel Rakich writes at FiveThirtyEight, “….Since 2010, there have been no fewer than five major fiscal standoffs between Republicans and Democrats akin to the one(s) we’ll probably brave later this year. These crises had tangible economic consequences, including the furloughing of 800,000 federal workers and the downgrading of the U.S.’s credit rating. But they also had political repercussions for the elected officials who caused them. And that track record could give us an idea of whom Americans would blame if brinksmanship in Washington, D.C., again upsets the economic apple cart….So I looked at what caused each of the five prior crises and what the polls said after they were resolved. The results bode poorly for Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his fellow Republicans: Since 2010 at least, the public has always blamed and soured on the GOP more than Democrats in the wake of these standoffs.’ Rakich reviews the previous stand-offs and notes the polling responses following each one. He concludes: “Here in 2023, House Republicans have already made it clear that they will demand spending cuts, as they did in 2011, before raising the debt ceiling. And if history is any indication, Americans will see that as a reason to blame them for any ensuing chaos….But Americans may not penalize the GOP at the ballot box for it. That’s because the political effects of these crises are short-lived; there’s always another news cycle that replaces it….events, dear reader, events will probably put the memory of 2023’s fiscal turbulence in the rearview mirror by the time of the 2024 election. But that doesn’t make public opinion surrounding the debate irrelevant — far from it. Impasses like 2013’s and 2019’s were likely broken because Republicans felt intense public pressure to give in. So while Republicans probably don’t need to worry about losing an election due to their hard line on spending, they still ought to fret about losing public support: It will make it harder for them to stand firm in the showdown to come.”

At Vox, Nicole Narea writes: “Democrats have just notched yet another win at the state level after a strong showing in the 2022 midterm, claiming control of the Pennsylvania House….Democrats followed statehouse takeovers in Minnesota and Michigan by winning all three special elections in the Pennsylvania state House Tuesday. Those victories gave them a one-seat majority and brought a close to the conflict for control of the chamber that has persisted since November. It was an upset: Redistricting had made the electoral map more competitive for Democrats, and the Pennsylvania House was rated “leans Republican” ahead of the November election by Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Democrats haven’t controlled the chamber since 2010….And it’s another moment of reckoning for Republicans in a critical swing state, which also sent two Democrats to the US Senate for the first time in more than 70 years and saw Democrat Josh Shapiro win the governorship by nearly 15 points over his Republican opponent, election denier Doug Mastriano….The result builds on Democrats’ success in state capitols in the midterms. The party previously struggled to compete with more than a decade of Republican dominance at the state level. It was the first time since 1934 that the party of the incumbent president didn’t lose a single state legislative chamber. In fact, they gained five. Democratic state legislatures now govern more people than those controlled by Republicans, even though the GOP still won marginally more seats in 2022 overall….Even so, Pennsylvania will have a divided government: Shapiro won the governor’s race, and Republicans maintained control of the state Senate. That could limit the realm of what’s possible from a policy standpoint, especially since even a single defection from party ranks in the House could doom any given Democratic agenda item….Pennsylvania Democrats are already managing expectations in that regard. They’re projecting that they won’t be able to codify Roe v. Wade after the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it last year, but hope that on labor and the economy, they have a real opportunity to achieve reforms because those are areas of wide agreement in the caucus and where they might even be able to attract some Republican votes….“We’ll be able to dodge so many bullets just by going from defense to offense,” Lee told WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR News station. “We’ll get to move forward a workers’ rights agenda.”

The Nation’s Jeet Heer has some cogent observations about “The GOP’s Phony Class War,” including “the GOP shows little interest in economic populism. In the debt ceiling fight, the GOP has shown that austerity rather than economic populism still guides the party’s approach to social spending. Only six Republican senators, including Hawley and Rubio, voted to force railway companies to give union workers paid sick leave. In a recent committee assignment for chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, Speaker Kevin McCarthy picked Thomas Massie, a standard pro-corporate Republican, over Ken Buck (described by Emily Birnbaum of Bloomberg as “one of the most fervent tech critics in the House”). As Branko Marcetic of Jacobin notes, in 2022 only seven Republican senators voted “to cap the extortionate price of insulin for Americans on private insurance to $35, a potentially transformative policy at a time when four out of five Americans are going into debt to pay for the medicine.” Marcetic further observed that in 2021 not a single Republican senator supported a motion to raise the minimum wage (Hawley said he’d support such a measure if it had a carve-out for small business that would have left nearly half the work force uncovered)….the working class is divided on partisan lines, with a majority of white working-class voters supporting the GOP on racial and cultural grounds, while a majority of working-class people of color vote for the Democrats. Princeton political scientist Frances Lee told The New York Times that “the party system in the U.S. simply does not represent that ‘haves’ against the ‘have-nots.’ Both parties represent a mix of haves and have-nots in economic terms.”….Because both parties are broad cross-class alliances, economic populism is likely to be muted for the foreseeable future. For the Republicans, stoking the culture wars remains the easiest way to keep white working-class support without alienating the wealthy. It’s hardly a surprise that the two front-runners for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination are Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis: both masters of pouring fuel into the fire of transphobia, xenophobia, and racism….they represent the future of the GOP.”

Jarod Facundo shares interesting election and polling data in “Will the Education Culture War Backfire on Republicans?” at The American Prospect: “In last November’s midterm elections, conservative candidates for school board elections performed worse than they had hoped in most places across the country. The most visible issues in these matchups were culture war panics about so-called “woke” schools infected with critical race theory curricula, sports teams with transgender athletes, and lingering COVID-19 restrictions. The legitimate discontent parents had with wanting their children inside schools was tapped into by right-wing groups such as the 1776 Project PAC and Moms for Liberty, which supported candidates who would purge “cultural Marxism” and promise to bring a “culture of Liberty.”….Instead of overwhelming success that would prove the lasting power of a grassroots constituency of fed-up parents all across the country, those conservative groups overcalculated the saliency of the issues they ran on. Before the midterms, the 1776 Project posted a 70 percent success rate in elections it worked on. In November, the group won 20 races of the 50 endorsed, good for 40 percent. Moms for Liberty fared a bit better. They won 50 percent of endorsed races nationwide….The new culture war over the future of education is a stalking horse for the same old battle over school choice. The not-too-hidden goal of denigrating public schools is to weaken support for teachers and their unions, and to redirect funds into school vouchers and other programs that pummel public education even further….Polling conducted by the American Federation of Teachers in mid-December found that the culture-war framing was unpopular. Instead, voters and parents saw strong academic, critical reasoning, and practical life skills as most important, when compared to anti-wokeness. Furthermore, among the sample group, when given the option between improving public education and giving parents more school choices, 80 percent preferred improving public schools. Most revealing was that two-thirds of voters said that culture-war battles distracted public schools from their foremost role: educating students.”

Don’t Sweat the 2024 Democratic Primary Calendar Reshuffle–For Now

As a big fan of boring process issues, I have been watching the DNC engineer a major change in the presidential primary calendar, and explained it at New York:

Amid wails of distress from Iowa and New Hampshire, the Democratic National Committee has formally ratified a change in the party’s 2024 presidential primary calendar. Since 1976, Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary were the opening events of the Democratic nominating process; in 2008 they were joined by Nevada’s caucuses in the third position and South Carolina’s primary in the fourth. Under the new calendar, Iowa is out of the early going; South Carolina will move ahead of New Hampshire; and Georgia and Michigan will be added to the early “window” of states allowed to hold primaries before March. The new order of states was recommended by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee in December after a push from the White House. The DNC will give Georgia and New Hampshire until June to come up with a plan for their primaries that complies with the new calendar; in both cases, the state Democratic Party needs cooperation from Republican lawmakers to execute the changes and may or may not succeed.

It’s important to understand that Republicans plan to stick with their old calendar, as they can.  Indeed, back in April 2022, the Republican National Committee voted to lock in the traditional early-state order (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) for 2024. And whatever the national parties decide, it’s state legislatures and parties that determine when primaries happen.

Odds are high that Democrats from Iowa and New Hampshire will hold unsanctioned 2024 contests. This will generate a lot of drama, but it probably won’t matter in this presidential cycle, assuming President Biden runs for renomination without significant opposition. The DNC has said it will revisit the calendar before the 2028 races, but it may signal an intention to preserve this year’s changes by placing heavy sanctions on states that go rogue (e.g., barring them from having delegations at the convention or sanctioning candidates that participate in unauthorized caucuses or primaries).

If, instead, national Democrats conclude that the 2024 reshuffling was just Biden’s way of rewarding the state that saved his bacon in the 2020 primaries (South Carolina) while punishing the states in which he finished fourth (Iowa) and fifth (New Hampshire), and making it even harder for anyone to challenge him, then all bets could be off for 2028. But displacing South Carolina from its new perch at the top of the calendar won’t be easy even with Biden having retired: As those who fought for so many years to displace Iowa can tell you, people will fight to stay No. 1.

Biden Gets SOTU Raves as Wingnuts Whine

Some choice excerpts from the media regarding Biden’s State of the Union Speech:

In “Joe Biden Reveals His Superpower: Acting Like a Pretty Normal Person,” Ben Mathis-Lilley writes at Slate: “He worked the crowd; he injected the word “folks” everywhere he could; he got mad and fired up. In what was largely a departure from the norm, he also played to the Republicans in attendance, goading them into peeved responses that he could then meet with a confident camaraderie…It made for a better speech. The presence of actual human energy in its early moments gave weight to the softer tone Biden took when he turned, in the second half of the night, to address matters of life and death—police brutality, foreign proxy war, and assault rifle massacres among them; you know, the modern-America subjects. This, in turn, contrasted with the patriotic verve of the evening’s quintessentially Bidenian conclusion, the Last True Idealist material that he takes such visible pleasure in delivering….An arc, a shape, a structure—a real speech, by a real-seeming human! It might even be the kind of thing you remember, years from now. Biden is surely hoping it can carry him, at least, through 2024″

“Feisty, combative and energetic, Biden seemed to relish in drawing a contrast with a Republican Party he treated at times with gentle but needling condescension, Alexander Nazaryan writes in “Energetic and pugnacious, Biden makes his case to the nation” at Yahoo News: “Lots of luck in your senior year,” he told GOP membersseeking to repeal last year’s Inflation Reduction Act….Pointing to the gain of 12 million jobs and record-low 3.4% unemployment, Biden argued that the United States had prevailed at a time when many other countries continued to flounder….“And to my Republican friends who voted against it but still ask to fund projects in their districts, don’t worry,” Biden said with evident delight. “I promised to be the president for all Americans. We’ll fund your projects. And I’ll see you at the ground-breaking.”

From “A populist Biden gave perhaps the best speech of his presidency” by Nicholas Kristoff at The New York Times: “A populist Biden gave perhaps the best speech of his presidency.Biden is most eloquent when he doesn’t try to be, when he’s the guy from a working-class family in Scranton, Pa., with a dad who bounced among jobs and struggled for paychecks but even more to retain his tattered dignity….That’s the populist Biden who delivered the State of the Union address, giving perhaps the best speech of his presidency….When Biden talks about giant companies failing to pay taxes or ripping off consumers with invisible fees or charging unconscionable sums for insulin, those are talking points that resonate everywhere….Biden’s populism won’t win Republican votes in the House, but they frame the partisan divide in an authentic way that advantages Democrats, and they remind us that America can’t succeed when so many Americans are falling behind.”

At The Atlantic, David Frum writes “How Biden Successfully Baited Congressional Republicans: The old man has learned some new tricks.” that “Partisanship, populism, and patriotism were his themes. The speech was strewn with traps carefully constructed to ensnare opponents. He opened with a tribute to bipartisanship, but the mechanics of his address were based on shrewd and unapologetic hyper-partisanship. He anticipated negative reactions in the chamber—and used them to reinforce his message….Obama came to national attention in 2004 with a speech about the essential political and cultural unity of the American people. Biden made a few nods to that notion, but he’s plainly not betting on it. Instead, he pushed Republicans on pain point after pain point. He mocked Republicans who voted against his infrastructure but still show up at the groundbreakings….Like a boxer trying to goad his antagonist into leaving open a vulnerable spot for a counterpunch, Biden’s plan was to invite Republicans to make dangerous mistakes. This was a speech not of lofty phrases but of cunning ploys; one not for the ages, but one that will reverberate long enough to make a difference in November 2024.”

Tal Axelrod reports at ABC News that Biden cited an “Unemployment rate at 3.4%, a 50-year low. Near record unemployment for Black and Hispanic workers,” he said. “We’ve already created, with your help, 800,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs, the fastest growth in 40 years.”….Biden went on to boast of 300 bipartisan laws that he signed, maintaining that more could be on the way — if the House, under new GOP management, would work with him….”To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this new Congress,” he said. “The people sent us a clear message: Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.”….”The idea that in 2020, 55 of the largest companies in America, the Fortune 500, made $40 billion in profits and paid zero in federal income taxes? Folks, simply not fair. But now, because of the law I signed, billion-dollar companies have to pay a minimum of 15%. God love them,” he said….”Under my plan, nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in taxes. Nobody. Not one penny. But let’s finish the job, there’s more to do,” he said. “No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter.”

Teixeira: Biden’s Dilemma

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

Thanks to a spate of legislation passed at the end of the last Congress, combined with better-than-expected election results, the Democrats are feeling optimistic. That optimism very much extends to Biden himself. As he put it, when asked after the election what he might do differently in the next two years to change voters’ perceptions: “Nothing, because they’re just finding out what we’re doing. The more they know about what we’re doing, the more support there is.”

Since then, Biden has embarked on a road trip to help voters “know about what we’re doing”. He has visited Michigan, Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio and Baltimore, Maryland, touting the job-creating wonders of three big bills his administration has passed: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; the Chips and Science Act (semiconductors) and the Inflation Reduction Act (climate). Moreover, in a play for the working-class vote, he has been at pains to emphasise the blue-collar benefits of these bills: “The vast majority of [the] jobs … that we’re going to create don’t require a college degree.”

This week marks two years on the job for Biden and his administration, the halfway point of his presidential term. As he scrambles to limit the fall-out from the discovery of classified documents at his home, now seems an appropriate time to assess whether the Democrats’ early optimism was justified and whether Biden’s presumed strategy for the next two years is likely to work.

There are reasons for scepticism, the most obvious being the problem of the cultural Left, which cheerful propaganda about blue-collar jobs fails to address. The cultural Left has managed to associate the Democratic Party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, free speech, race and gender that are far removed from those of the median voter. This represents a victory for the cultural Left, but has proved an electoral liability for the party as a whole.

From time to time, senior Democratic politicians attempt to dissociate themselves from unpopular ideas such as defunding the police, yet progressive voices within the party are still more deferred to than opposed. They are further amplified by Democratic-leaning media and non-profits, as well as within the party infrastructure itself. In an era when a party’s national brand increasingly defines state and even local electoral contests, Democratic candidates have a very hard time shaking these associations.

Biden clearly intends to do very little, if not “nothing”, about this problem. His administration is much happier talking about gun control than actually getting criminals off the streets and into jail. The burgeoning backlash against ideological curricula in schools, the undermining of academic achievement standards, the introduction of mandatory, politically-approved vocabulary, the absurdities of “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) programmes and the excesses of “gender-affirming care” are uniformly characterised by his party as nothing more than “hateful” bigotry rather than serious concerns. The out-of-control southern border, which is experiencing historically unprecedented levels of illegal immigration, has finally provoked an administration response, but its complicated mix of looser and tighter restrictions seems likely only to muddle things further, while provoking howls of outrage from allies in the influential immigrant advocacy community.

Peeking beneath the hood of the Democrats’ relatively good 2022 election results, it’s easy to see how this problem is likely to undermine their prospects in 2024 and put a ceiling on their longer-term political support. Consider the following: the Democrats lost the nationwide popular vote by 3 points (48-51) in 2022, along with control of the House; they lost the overall working-class (non-college) vote by 13 points, down 9 points from 2020; Hispanic support declined 11 points and black support declined 14 points. The Democrats did, however, clean up among white college graduate women in competitive House districts, carrying them by 34 points.

This sounds more like a stalemate, at best, rather than a surging Democratic Party. And a stalemate that was above all based on distaste for nutty Republicans rather than love for what Democrats have done or stand for. As several studies have shown, Trump-endorsed, Maga-ish candidates managed to wipe out a good chunk of the expected swing toward Republicans, paying a penalty of about 5 points in their support levels relative to more conventional Republicans. On the other hand, Democrats went into the election with double-digit disadvantages on immigration and the border (-24), reducing crime (-20), focusing enough on the economy (-20), valuing hard work (-15) and being patriotic (-10). Another pre-election survey by Stanley Greenberg found that voters’ top worries if Democrats won full control of government were “crime and homelessness out of control in cities and police coming under attack”, followed by “the southern border being open to immigrants”. As Greenberg noted: many Democrats “assumed that battling long-standing racial inequities would be [minority voters’] top priority. But that assumption becomes indefensibly elitist when it turns out these voters were much more focused on the economy, corporate power, and crime…” These voters, he added, cared more about soaring crime rates than the rise in police abuse, “yet Democrats throughout 2021 focused almost exclusively on the latter”.

Political Strategy Notes

From “‘Go on offense’: Inside Democrats’ strategy to try to undercut GOP investigations and protect Biden” By Lauren Fox, Alayna Treen and Jeremy Herb AT CNN Politics: “Congressional Democrats are betting that a coordinated offense is their best defense against the coming Republican investigative onslaught….Democrats on Capitol Hill, at the White House, in agencies and in outside political groups are gearing up to do battle with the Republican committee chairs probing all corners of the Biden administration as well as the Biden family’s financial dealings….The significant effort at the outset is a sign of the danger the GOP investigations and their subpoena power pose to Biden’s political prospects heading into his reelection. The stakes of knocking down the GOP probes have only grown over the past month as Biden is now grappling with a special counsel investigating his handling of classified documents found at his private residence and office….Even before the first subpoena or hearing, Democrats have enlisted polling firms and focus groups to try and undercut the coming investigations and protect Biden with the 2024 campaign approaching….Their plans include launching sustained attacks against the two Republicans expected to lead the most aggressive probes: Oversight Chairman James Comer of Kentucky and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, who is also leading the new so-called weaponization of government subcommittee with a wide investigative mandate. Meanwhile, outside groups are planning to bring the fight local and visit more than a dozen Biden-leaning congressional districts to go after vulnerable Republicans involved in the investigations.”

In their article, “Democrats Hold Trifecta Power in Over a Dozen States. Will They Actually Use It? Republicans have used legislative majorities at the state level to undermine their opposition, but the Democratic Party has often failed to fight back. This is a chance to change that” at In These Times, Mark Engler and Paul Engler write: “On January 11, Michigan’s 148 state legislators took their seats to begin a new session, with Democrats enjoying a historic reversal of fortune. As recently as 2018, Republicans led all branches of state government. This situation has now flipped with Democrats controlling the state’s House of Representatives for the first time in a decade, and the State Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years….Last year’s elections presented other bright spots for progressives as well: Democrats also hold new trifectas in Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota. In total, the party now fully controls governments in 17 states, with combined populations that account for 140 million Americans — compared to the 137 million people living in the 22 states controlled by Republicans. This represents enormous progress from just over four years ago, when, prior to the 2018 midterm elections, 26 of the 34 states with trifectas were under Republican control….Democratic leaders in Michigan and beyond are now in a position to pursue a strong governing agenda. The question is: Will they take advantage of the opportunity? More specifically, will they use their power to enact changes that increase democratic participation and build progressive power for the long term?….With the new trifectas in place, Democrats have an opportunity to eschew a neoliberal vision of winning by moving to the center and instead pursue a strategy that creates the kind of grassroots power which can pay dividends for years to come. Such an approach would include repealing ​right to work” laws and pursuing reforms that expand labor rights, support social movement organizing and bolster democratic participation….We got ALL the gavels,” Michigan state Sen. Polehanki stated when Michiganders voted Democrats into power. ​Get ready for some cha-cha-cha-changes here in Michigan.” Or as Ken Whittaker, executive director of the progressive group Michigan United, told Politico, ​The people are on offense.”

“Any Democrat who thinks the party’s better-than-expected November midterm-election outcome was an affirmation of President Biden and the Democratic Congress policies and accomplishments will have a rude awakening reading the just-released NBC News poll,”  Charlie Cook writes at The Cook Political Report. “Conversely, any Republicans seeking support for their agenda would be equally hard-pressed to find it in the poll….Americans continue to be deeply pessimistic about how things are going in the country. Just 23 percent of adults nationwide say the country was headed in the right direction, while 71 percent say it is on the wrong track. Richard Wirthlin, President Reagan’s pollster, used to call this question “the Dow Jones indicator of American politics.” In eight of the last nine NBC News polls since October 2021, the wrong-track number has been at 70 percent or more, the longest period of sustained pessimism in the 34-year history of the poll (formerly the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) since its inception in 1989….This pessimism should not be surprising as many people see themselves straining financially. While economic data show that the rate of inflation in the U.S. is slowing down, the public hasn’t yet felt it in their own lives. When asked how their family’s income is doing compared with the cost of living, just about 1 in 20 see their incomes rising faster than the cost of living, about a quarter (28 percent) feel they are staying even, and almost two-thirds (64 percent) feel that they are falling behind. In politics, given the choice between reality and perception, it is always wiser to go with perception….Given this, it should not be a surprise that Biden’s job-approval ratings are poor. Biden’s overall rating sits at 45 percent (18 percent strongly approve and 27 percent somewhat approve), while 50 percent disapprove (10 percent somewhat disapprove and 40 percent strongly disapprove).”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “Arguing over raising the debt limit is dumb. Arguing over how to make the economy grow for everyone is smart. President Biden hopes to use his State of the Union message on Tuesday to move the debate to the right question and make the case for the quiet revolution he has championed in our nation’s approach to future prosperity….Yes, Biden, the middle-of-the-road lover of compromise, consensus-building and comity, is a revolutionary — Ronald Reagan in reverse, if you will. He’s turning the nation away from the economic assumptions that took hold in the 1980s….The words we’ll hear on Tuesday about a move from “trickle-down” to “middle out” and “bottom up” economics are the sales pitch — but they are also a reasonably accurate description of policies that see robust government investments, worker rights and a green tech economy as the path to a new American century….Biden’s job Tuesday is to expose the contention that’s dominating the news right now as evasive shadow boxing — while bragging a bit about the record-breaking 12.1 million jobs created in the past two years. He can push Republicans (and the media) to talk not only about budget cuts and culture wars but also about whether the GOP’s agenda would do anything to solve immediate problems facing families or offer a plausible vision for long-term flourishing….The Biden blueprint, the outgoing director of the White House National Economic Council, Brian Deese, told me, involves “investing in high return areas of the economy like innovation and clean energy, reducing families’ costs in areas such as child care and elder care, and reducing the deficit by raising taxes on large corporations and the wealthiest.”