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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Debate over country song is a right-wing trap for Democrats.

The debate over the song “Try That in a Small Town” is an excellent example of a particularly devious right-wing extremist trap – one that the GOP will use against Democrats again and again in 2024. Dems need to understand what the trap is designed to accomplish, how it works and how to defend against it.

Read the Memo.

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

Progressives need to apologize to Oliver Anthony

He understands working people better than they do, he can talk to them better than they can.

Read the Memo.

Why Don’t Working People Recognize and Appreciate Democratic Programs and Policies

The mythology of “Franklin Roosevelt’s Hundred Days” and the Modern Debate Over “Deliverism.”

Read the Memo.

Innovative Study Offers New Insight into White Working Class Voters.

Innovative Study Provides Startling New Insight About Working Class Voters
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

September 24, 2023

Political Strategy Notes

At Vox, Nicole Narea explains “Why Biden is deploying more troops to the southern border“: “Set to expire May 11, the so-called Title 42 policy was first implemented by former President Donald Trump on dubious grounds that migrants could be turned away to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. But the policy has continued for more than two years under Biden, has led to lawsuits and the resignation of a senior administration official, and has become a political flashpoint on the left….Now, as Title 42 ends, the new troops will be stationed for 90 days alongside the 2,500 military personnel already at the border. Some Democrats have condemned Biden’s decision to maintain the policy for so long and to further militarize the border. But others — particularly those in purple states who could face tough reelection fights — have backed the president’s strategy, which is designed to protect him from right-wing attacks as he runs for reelection….Progressive Democrats and those who have long been working on immigration issues have been openly critical of the president’s move to further militarize the border….Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), however, has long been pushing the Biden administration to take a stronger stance on the border. Last year, he was among a bipartisan group of senators who introduced a bill that would have temporarily preserved the Title 42 policy. And in an interview with Newsweek on Tuesday, Kelly called for tougher border security measures, urging Congress to take up the issue. He proposed increasing the number of Border Patrol agents, improving technology at the border, and constructing new barriers in places “where they make sense” to deter unauthorized crossings….Border security should be a priority for Democrats as they look toward 2024, rather than capitulating to progressives who have previously called for abolishing US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at the center-left think tank Third Way….“It is important for Biden and congressional Democrats to show voters that they care as much about a secure border as they do about the plight of undocumented immigrants in the country and those now seeking asylum,” he said. “Moving troops to the border in an administrative role is a smart move for Biden, particularly as we near the end to Title 42.”

Can Biden Win Over the ‘Meh’ Voters Again in 2024?,” Amy Walter asks at The Cook Political Report. Her response: “For the first time in memory, low approval ratings of a sitting president didn’t cause a disaster for his party in a midterm election. Many Democratic candidates in 2022 succeeded in winning over voters who “somewhat” disapproved of Biden — a group I dubbed last fall as the ‘meh’ voters. Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden both came into their first midterm election with similar job approval ratings (44% approve to 55% disapprove). But, according to exit polls, among those who “somewhat” disapproved of Biden, 49% voted for the Democrat and 45% voted for the Republican. In 2018, those “somewhat” disapprovers of Trump voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate (63% to 34%)….Today, Biden’s job approval ratings aren’t any stronger than they were in 2022. That leads us to wonder if these ‘meh’ voters will again be critical to Democrats’ success in 2024. And, if so, is a president’s job approval rating — once considered a critical metric in assessing his reelection chances — no longer pertinent…” Walter cites several polls indicating President Biden’t unimpressive approval ratings, but writes that “as we saw in 2022, those who “somewhat” disapprove of the job Biden is doing overwhelmingly back him for reelection. According to the Quinnipiac survey, the 13% of voters who “somewhat” disapprove of Biden say they’ll vote for him by an 11-point margin (48% to 37%) over Trump. The Wall Street Journal poll showed similar results. The 8% of respondents who “somewhat” disapprove of Biden on job approval pick Biden over Trump in a head-to-head matchup, 66% to 19%….Trump, meanwhile, does not get support from the “somewhat” disapprovers. According to data from the Wall Street Journal, those who “somewhat” disapprove of Trump picked Biden over Trump, 56% to 18%….Even up against DeSantis — who is not as well known as Trump — Biden still wins over most of the “somewhat” disapprovers. In the Quinnipiac survey, “somewhat” disapprovers supported Biden over DeSantis by 19 points (54% to 35%). In the Wall Street Journal survey, those who “somewhat” disapprove of Biden picked him over DeSantis, 50% to 32%.” Dems won’t find much comfort in the rest of Walter’s article. True, Biden and Democrats’ re-election prospects could be worse. But Dems have plenty of work to do to make their prospects better.

Most politically-attentive people know that the GOP opposes labor unions because their corporate contributors reap billions of dollars in profits by keeping wages low. But Republicans do their best to crush labor unions also because they know that unions make substantial financial contributions to Democratic candidates, and even more important, unions provide significant manpower to boost Democratic voter turnout. So Republicans are not going to like a new study by the Center for American Progress which provides compelling data showing that “being part of a union is associated with greater wealth for working-class families—defined as households without a four-year college degree—and especially working-class families of color. Because of this effect, unions are a crucial means for building wealth among the working class and reducing racial wealth gaps for workers without four-year college degrees. The key findings of this report include:

  • Working-class union households hold nearly four times as much median wealth ($201,240) as the typical working-class nonunion household ($52,221), suggesting that membership vastly increases wealth for working-class families.
  • Union membership helps close the wealth gap between working class and college-educated households. While the median wealth of working-class nonunion households is just 17 percent that of college-educated nonunion households, the median wealth of working-class union households is 67 percent that of college-educated nonunion households.
  • Union membership is tied to large dollar gains for all workers, but working families of color enjoy the largest percentage of gains. White working-class union families hold more than three times as much wealth as working-class nonunion households, while Black families hold more than four times as much wealth, nonwhite Hispanic families more than five times as much wealth, and families of other or multiple races or ethnicities have in excess of seven times as much wealth.
  • Working-class families of all races and ethnicities are far more likely to own their own homes when part of a union.

The study concludes:

Unions offer a crucial means for strengthening the wealth of working-class families and narrowing racial wealth gaps among the working class. Policymakers have made strides in starting to craft policies to create quality jobs for the working class, most notably through the economic legislation passed by the Biden administration as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act….While it is possible that union members are simply more likely to work in higher-paying jobs or industries, as union density can vary considerably across sectors, a large body of research has shown that unions increase wages and other factors that allow households to build and maintain wealth.

For a deeper dive into the study, read  “Unions Build Wealth for the American Working Class: Union membership not only increases wealth for working-class families but also narrows racial wealth gaps and offers a path to the middle class” by Aurelia Glass, David Madland and Christian E. Weller at americanprogress.org.

The Washington Monthly’s Bill Scher is pretty confident that “Despite Age, Inflation Biden Is (Probably) Going to Win,” and writes that “Historical evidence suggests that a lot must go wrong for an elected incumbent president to lose.” Scher provides a review of past elections, including the seven times presidents were defeated in their re-election campaigns, and observes “Biden’s economic performance does not resemble any of these examples. Gross domestic product has grown approximately three percent during each of the last two quarters (following two quarters of negative growth at the beginning of 2022 but strong growth in 2021). Unemployment hit a record low of 3.4 percent in February and is only a tick higher in March….Some forecasters see negative growth for 2023, such as Bloomberg’s in-house economists, who project, “Our baseline outlook is for an impending recession—and we see no shortage of additional downside risks.” But other presidents who have been reelected weathered periods of contraction during their first terms. These include Dwight Eisenhower (late 1953 and early 1954, as well as the first and third quarters of 1956), Richard Nixon (parts of 1969 and 1970), Ronald Reagan (late 1981 and much of 1982), and Barack Obama (first and third quarters of 2011, not to the mention the harrowing declines of the Great Recession in 2009). Eisenhower, Nixon, and George W. Bush each had higher unemployment rates when they faced voters for the second time than when they began their presidencies. Despite the imperfections, these presidents could still credibly claim that by Election Day that voters were better off economically than they were four years earlier.” However, “The Biden record does have a glaring weak spot: inflation, which peaked last June at 9.1 percent (meaning prices in June 2022 were 9.1 percent higher than in June 2021). But thanks to the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases and the restoration of global supply chains, that inflation metric as of March has declined to 5 percent. The Fed’s rate hikes may contribute to weak or negative GDP growth this year. However, if inflation is contained, prompting the Fed to lower interest rates by early next year, healthy growth could resume just in time. As Bloomberg’s Josh Wingrove noted in response to the recession forecast, “If a recession hits in coming months, the economy could be back on the upswing by the middle of next year. The conventional wisdom is that’s when voters start making up their minds.” Scher presents more data and analysis to undergird his argument. I always worry about overconfidence leading to complacency, which feeds defeat. But Scher’s article can be milked for well-stated talking points Democratic campaigns can use to good effect.

2024 Battlegrounds

When you’ve been following presidential elections as long as I have, you realize that yesterday’s battleground states can become today’s deeply red or blue states. So at New York I wrote up some thoughts about which states may matter most in 2024.

Close presidential elections are a defining feature of our political era. And thanks to the Electoral College system, that means each contest is really waged in a handful of battleground states, which draw the bulk of campaign spending and candidate elbow grease. There is nothing preordained about battleground states’ location or number. The map has already shifted several times in just this century, and several states we think of as battlegrounds today may be noncompetitive in 2024.

A look back at the shifting battlegrounds in recent presidential elections is instructive. Using the most common definition of a battleground state as one decided by less than 5 percent of the vote, the 2000 election had these 12 battleground states: Florida (of course), Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

In 2004, another close election, there were again 12 battleground states. But Missouri and Tennessee dropped off the list while Colorado and Michigan joined it.

We can skip past the 2008 election, which Barack Obama won by a popular-vote margin of more than 7 percent. Obama’s 2012 reelection victory was much closer; there were only four states decided by less than five points, and only Florida and Ohio were battleground states in both 2004 and 2012. North Carolina and Virginia joined the list of close states.

In 2016, when Trump lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College in a shocker, the battleground map shifted again. The number of closely contested states blossomed from four to 11 with Ohio and Virginia dropping off the list and Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin joining the list.

And finally, in 2020 there were eight battleground states in an election that Joe Biden won by a comfortable margin of the popular vote but a much closer Electoral College margin. Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and New Hampshire dropped off the battleground list and Georgia joined it.

Florida is the only state that was decided by less than 5 percent of the vote in all five of the elections we’ve examined. Yet if you were going to pick the 2020 battleground state most likely to drop off the list in 2024, it’s probably the rapidly Republican-trending Sunshine State. Perhaps the second-most likely to become less competitive in 2024 is Democratic-trending Michigan. Both of the areas saw statewide sweeps in 2022 by the increasingly ascendant party.

To be clear, ultimately the battleground states are determined by where the presidential campaigns choose to “play” and, more to the point, to spend money. The map is determined not just by the results of the most recent presidential elections but by the number of electoral votes at stake, the relative cost of advertising, and the opportunities to strategically outmaneuver the opposing party (e.g., by forcing the party to expend resources and candidate time where it really would prefer to take a pass). That process has already begun for 2024.

It’s all another reason to pay at least as much attention to state as to national polls, even though the former tend to be less accurate than the latter.

But it’s also important to recognize that there’s a risk of perpetually fighting the last war in focusing on the previous election’s battlegrounds. In living memory, such highly noncompetitive states as California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas have been presidential battleground states. The map never stops changing. We may be reminded of that again in 2024 when things don’t go as expected.

Why Biden, Dems Must Focus on Hispanic Voters

From “Hispanic voters have soured on Biden. Now he needs to win them back” by Marissa Martinez at Politico:

The stakes for Biden are high. As he launches his reelection, there are doubts about whether he’ll be able to replicate that multiracial excitement, even if he might face off against Trump again. His favorability has dropped across the board since last year, falling nearly 30 points among Latinos in some polling.

There’s evidence that Hispanic voters helped deliver Democrats big Senate wins of 2022 in Arizona and Nevada. A coordinated effort by Democratic groups focused on turning out more voters in a non-presidential election year and ramping up spending on Spanish-language advertising. By doing so, the demographic stretched several margins during the midterms, tipping the scale for Democratic senate and gubernatorial candidates. Hispanic voters are the second-largest voting bloc in the country, which means improving margins among this group can pay dividends in key states.

So what should Democrats do to hold a stable majority of Hispanic voters? As Martinez writes,

“They need to engage these voters more deeply, earlier, and focus on strengthening their economic message,” said Janet Murguía, president of Latino advocacy organization UnidosUS. “Not all of the achievements and outcomes and impacts that have resulted from the Biden administration’s proposals and policies are clearly understood to be connected to the president.”….Murguía said the party’s strategy should focus on touting Biden’s economic policies, consistently the top issue among Latino voters. The impact of the child tax credit and pandemic-era stimulus checks were important for financially boosting Hispanic households, she added. Though those policies are all in the rearview mirror. Officials close to the campaign said lower healthcare costs, job creation and decreasing unemployment rates will also be top messaging priorities this year.

It won’t be easy, as Martinez explains:

Though the Biden administration is less than a week into the campaign, some polls show the slight majority of Hispanic registered voters have a negative impression of the president. He has an average of about 35 percent favorability across the last three relevant Quinnipiac polls with Hispanic voters. That’s even with his performance among white voters, where he had a 36 percent favorability rate within the same period.

Those numbers among Latinos are a stark drop from a sweeping poll conducted by UnidosUS following the 2022 midterms that showed Hispanic support at a 64 percent approval rate compared to 42 percent of white respondents who approved of Biden’s performance.

However, “Favorability at this point doesn’t always track with vote share,” Martinez notes. “Former President Barack Obama’s approval fell to 49 percent at the end of 2011, though he rebounded to garner 71 percent of the Hispanic vote during his 2012 reelection.

Yet, Dems should keep in mind that unforeseen factors like a spike in inflation can sour voters of any and every community. There are encouraging signs that President Biden is prioritizing Latino voters, including his designating Julie Chávez Rodríguez, granddaughter of Cesar Chavez, as his campaign manager. And by now, we can hope at least that President Biden understands that it is not enough to propose and enact popular reforms and legislation; Dems have to remind voters that they passed all of these measures and their opponents tried to kill all of the reforms — and that’s what Republicans will do if voters let them.

Kahlenberg: Building a Working-Class Coalition Beyond Identity Politics

An excerpt from “Working-Class Politics. How to Get Beyond the Identity Trap to Bring About Big Social Change” by Richard D. Kahlenberg at The Liberal Patriot:

There’s been a lot of talk about Joe Biden’s promulgation of a “blue-collar blueprint” for America. The commitment is a natural for Amtrak Joe, who placed a bust of Bobby Kennedy, one of the last national Democrats to show strong appeal with working-class white voters as well as with black and Hispanic Americans, in the Oval Office.

But if Biden is serious about advancing a blue-collar agenda, he needs to do more than push a series of concrete ideas to improve the material conditions of working-class Americans—important as those programs are for people. He must also distance himself from the race essentialism on the far left that elevates racial disparities over economic inequality and pushes divisive ideas that alienate many working-class voters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

That’s the big takeaway message of a significant new book, No Politics But Class Politics, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Adolph Reed and University of Illinois literary critic Walter Benn Michaels. Michaels and Reed argue that, “Racism is real and anti-racism is both admirable and necessary, but extant racism isn’t what principally produces our inequality and anti-racism won’t eliminate it.”

Reed, who is black, and Michaels, who is white, are leftists who are far more radical than Biden and most Democrats (or me.) But the series of essays and interviews compiled in their book has an important overall message: the fashionable views of highly-educated whites on how to address racial inequality are backfiring, particularly for poor black people.

Kahlenberg has lots more to say about the ideas in “No Politics But Class Politics,” and you can read it here.

Political Strategy Notes

At Axios, Erica Pandey writes, “Young Americans who grew up in an age of mass shootings feel anxious about the future — and nearly half say they’ve felt unsafe in the last month, according to a new poll from the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics….Why it matters: Those fears are mobilizing young people to vote in near-record numbers, says John Della Volpe, director of polling at the institute….Case in point: The 2022 midterms saw the second-highest turnout among voters under 30 (27%) in at least the last three decades, NPR notes….“It’s a critical voting bloc,” Della Volpe says….And it continues to tilt the scales in favor of Democratic candidates — whom young people overwhelmingly support….Young voters’ influence “enabled the Democrats to win almost every battleground statewide contest and increase their majority in the U.S. Senate,” Brookings Institution analysts write….By the numbers: A stunning 48% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say they’ve felt unsafe recently, the Harvard poll found (2,069 people; margin of error: ±2.86 points)….21% say they’ve felt unsafe at school. And 40% are concerned about being victims of gun violence or a mass shooting.”…They’re also worried about the state of the economy….The Institute of Politics has tracked striking shifts in young Americans’ views on government over the last decade….In 2013, 35% felt that the government should spend money to reduce poverty. Today, 59% do….29% said the government should act to mitigate climate change — even at the expense of economic growth — in 2013. Today, 50% believe the government should take action….The bottom line: This is a generation that feels besieged, says Della Volpe. And their fear will likely become more and more relevant in politics.”

This should help Biden firm up support from left Democrats. As Julia Mueller reports at The Hill: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday said President Biden, who kicked off his reelection campaign last week, could “win in a landslide” in 2024….Sanders, who ran against Biden in the 2020 race, said it’s “no great secret” that he and the president “have strong differences of opinion,” but stressed that he thinks Biden is the clear choice for voters given the current political backdrop….”We live in a nation where you have a major political party, the Republican Party, where many- not all, but many of their leadership doesn’t even believe in democracy, they maintain the myth that Trump won the last election. They’re trying to keep people from voting. They’re trying to deny women the right to control their own bodies,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”…“If you believe in democracy, you want to see more people vote, not fewer people vote, I think the choice is pretty clear. And that choice is Biden,” he said….And if Democrats and the president get stronger on working-class issues and “take on the greed of the insurance companies, drug companies, Wall Street, all the big money interests, and start delivering for working class people,” Sanders said, “I think Biden is going to win in a landslide.” It won’t stop criticism from Biden’s primary opponents. But when the most popular left Democrat  provides a plug like that, some resources can be reallocated to help win a larger share of votes from centrists and moderate voters.

Speaking of taking on the greed of big companies that rip off working-class consumers, in “President Biden Must Appoint More Corporate Skeptics to Federal Courts: Republicans have been blasting right-wing propaganda at the judiciary for 50 years,” Caroline Fredrickson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, writes at The American Prospect: “To his credit, President Biden has worked with determination to advance judicial nominees during his presidency. His nominees include 119 Article III judges: one associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, 31 judges on the circuit courts of appeal, and 87 on the district courts. He had another 18 nominees awaiting action as of early April. This record is laudable, especially as Biden has excelled in advancing a diverse group of nominees, with two-thirds being women and two-thirds people of color. Moreover, approximately 53 percent of them worked at public-interest, civil rights, or legal aid organizations, according to an analysis done by Demand Justice, a progressive legal advocacy organization….Unfortunately, President Biden’s otherwise commendable record on nominations has one glaring gap: He has advanced few candidates with a background or even apparent disposition to challenge the anti-regulatory economic agenda and fight corporate consolidation, failing even to advance more than a couple of labor lawyers. The administration is currently in overdrive to nominate and confirm nominees before the next election, so now is the time to address this gap. New appointees would be able to reclaim and elevate the textual and historical commitments of antitrust law, which sought to dismantle oligarchy by looking at how corporate consolidation affects workers, small businesses, innovation, and competition, as well as consumers.”

From “Joe Biden’s 2024 Opening Argument: It’s Me or the Abyss” by John Cassidy at The New Yorker, “Biden’s calling card, the one that identifies himself as a Trump-slayer, and an upholder of normality and sanity, remains his biggest advantage going into 2024. He does have others, though. Inside the Democratic Party, he has proved an adroit coalition builder. Much as he’s an old-school, Irish-American politician and many of his closest political advisers are veteran, white operatives who hail from the moderate wing of the Party, he nevertheless recognized long ago that his party’s center of gravity has shifted, and his Administration has sought to bring on board Democrats who are younger, more diverse, and progressive. This approach is already evident in preparations for the 2024 campaign. On Tuesday, Biden also announced that Julie Chávez Rodríguez, a White House official who is the granddaughter of the labor leader Cesar Chavez, will be his campaign manager, and Quentin Fulks, a thirty-three-year-old Black political strategist, who managed Raphael Warnock’s Senate campaign in Georgia, will serve as principal deputy campaign manager….Though Biden didn’t dwell on the details of his policy record in his launch video, he has some substantial achievements to highlight. Under his leadership, the U.S. economy rebounded more quickly from the coronavirus pandemic than many of its competitors, and the unemployment rate is just 3.5 per cent. In the past year, Congress has enacted historic investments in green energy, electric vehicles, and semiconductor-chip manufacturing. As I pointed out last week, these initiatives are already paying off in announcements to build new factories and create new jobs, many of them in purple and red states….Although his job-approval rating is low, it’s not much different than the ratings that Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan had at this point in their first terms. Also, when pollsters ask people for their opinions about him as a person rather than about his job performance, Biden tends to do better. For example, in a recent YouGov/Economist survey, Biden’s personal favorability rating was forty-seven per cent, five points higher than his job-approval rating.”

No, Biden Need Not Fear An Early State Upset

Now that Joe Biden has officially announced his reelection bid with nuisance-level opposition, there’s some speculation that the changing Democratic primary calendar could post pitfalls for the president. I discussed that theory at New York:

There is zero reason for Joe Biden to worry about the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, barring some unforeseeable development. Party elites are entirely in his corner. No viable opponents have emerged. And even among rank-and-file Democrats, where Biden’s support has always been a bit mushy, scattered polling shows him far ahead of announced rivals Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (who undoubtedly benefits from positive name ID unassociated with his eccentric recent views) and Marianne Williamson. To put it bluntly, if either of those candidates does become viable as an aspirant for the presidential nomination, the Democratic Party will have become unrecognizable.

That’s not to say, however, that these out-there candidates might not be capable of an embarrassingly strong showing in an isolated contest under very special circumstances. And those circumstances might be early contests in Iowa or New Hampshire, which won’t matter in the final analysis but could get significant media coverage out of sheer force of habit.

Biden himself is barred from competing in Iowa and New Hampshire, which have been the two kickoff states in the presidential nominating process since 1972. That’s because the Democratic National Committee acceded to Biden’s request for a new primary calendar in which South Carolina goes first and Iowa has been ejected from the list of “early states” holding contests prior to March 1. If (and this is still up in the air) Iowa persists with a “first-in-the-nation-caucus,” that will be an unsanctioned event and candidates competing there could lose delegates and even debate access. Whatever happens in Iowa, an unsanctioned primary is all but certain in New Hampshire, where state law requires both parties to hold contests the same day as established by the secretary of State, whose mission is to keep the Granite State first on the primary calendar. But while Biden will stay out of these proscribed contests (it would be a bit absurd for the party’s leader to violate the party’s rules), Kennedy and Williamson, having nothing to lose from sanctions and a lot to gain from a day of headlines, will undoubtedly run hard wherever Biden can’t.

What can Team Biden do to preempt the possibility of an embarrassing early loss to Team WooWoo? In Iowa, with its robust caucus traditions, and where nobody really blames Biden for the state’s loss of status (that became inevitable when the party couldn’t get the votes counted on Caucus Night in 2020), it’s likely caucusgoers pledged either to Biden or to no one will be able to subdue Kennedy or Williamson (and again, Iowa Democrats may just comply with the new calendar, allowing Biden to run there).

New Hampshire’s a bit trickier. Compliance with the new calendar is not an option, and there is some genuine Democratic anger at Biden for dropping the hammer on the Granite State. Still, New Hampshire Democrats don’t want to send an anti-vaxx slate (to cite one possible outcome) to the convention in Chicago, and they’d just as soon not throw their state to the GOP in the general election, either. As nomination-process wizard Josh Putnam notes, New Hampshire Democrats might mount a write-in effort for Biden, but they would be in trouble if it fell short: “If Williamson or Kennedy stand to gain in that scenario, it may not be Biden who loses. It may be New Hampshire that loses even more clout with the national party for 2028.”

Democrats nationally do have a number of months left to persuade the political media to ignore whatever happens in Iowa (if the state goes rogue) and New Hampshire, though there’s no question conservative media will go absolutely wild if Kennedy or Williamson officially wins in an early state, even if Biden’s not on the ballot and no one is campaigning on his behalf. There’s only so much the president’s people can do about how Fox News or the New York Post spin non-news into a big story. Probably the smart thing for them is to threaten local Democrats in any state Biden can’t enter with unending vengeance if they in any way encourage other candidates or lend credence to their empty “wins.”

Pro-Dem Group Releases New ‘Flip and Hold’ List for House Seats

Amee Latour reports at The Hill: “Swing Left, a group that organizes volunteers and donors to support Democrats in some of the most closely watched races, announced its Win Back the House strategy on Tuesday” and notes further that Republicans won the House majority last year by a margin of less than 7,000 well-distributed votes.

Swing Left’s Executive Director Yasmin Radjy has said that “[I]f we raise dollars for candidates to hire their field directors six months earlier, if we get our volunteers knocking on doors a year earlier than we have before, then we think that a lot more is possible.”

Latour notes that “All six of the GOP-held target districts on the group’s list are in blue states California, New York and Oregon.” She reports that the list of targeted district includes,

Democratic-held “hold” targets:

  • IL-17 (Rep. Eric Sorensen)
  • NC-01 (Rep. Don Davis)
  • NM-02 (Rep. Gabe Vasquez)
  • NY-18 (Rep. Pat Ryan)
  • OH-01 (Rep. Greg Landsman)
  • OH-13 (Rep. Emilia Sykes)

Republican-held “flip” targets:

  • OR-05 (Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer)
  • CA-13 (Rep. John Duarte)
  • CA-27 (Rep. Mike Garcia)
  • NY-03 (Rep. George Santos)
  • NY-04 (Rep. Anthony D’Esposito)
  • NY-17 (Rep. Mike Lawler)

Latour reports that “two of the “flip” target districts were among the five closest Republican-won districts in 2022, according to Inside Elections: California’s 13th and New York’s 17th….Each of the six “flip” targets is also on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) list of 31 GOP-held targets released earlier this month. And the six “hold” districts overlap with the DCCC’s list of 29 “Frontline” districts.”

Meanwhile Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares some blistering talking points Dems can use to attack the GOP’s House leader’s do-nothing strategy behind his debt-ceiling ‘plan.’ As Dionne notes that former GOP House Speaker John Boehner termed Republican obstructionists as “knuckleheads,” “noisemakers” and the “chaos caucus.” Dionne adds, “In 2011’s debt-ceiling fight, Boehner made a deal. This time, there is little reason to trust that McCarthy, who has made himself a prisoner of his party’s right wing, can negotiate effectively or in good faith.”

Dionne adds that President Biden “is not about to upend a growing economy with steep spending cuts. Nor does he want to glorify the absurd bill McCarthy is hoping to push through the House in the coming week that ties a debt-ceiling increase to outlandish budget cuts that have absolutely no chance of passing the Senate.” Dionne notes that “The cap, after all, was suspended three times when Donald Trump was president without much fuss or fanfare.” Further,

The catch? McCarthy is having trouble uniting his caucus behind anybudget proposal, so the speaker has pushed aside governing in favor of theater. And the production is not even worthy of a high school gym. (I apologize to high school thespians who take their work more seriously.)

It is truly astonishing, as my Post colleagues Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman wrote on Friday, that any Republican operating under labels such as “moderate,” “mainstream” or “problem solver” would vote for a McCarthy proposal that hides its ferocity behind sanitized budgetary gobbledygook….

Dionne concludes, “The Economist magazine recently devoted its cover to the U.S. economy as “a marvel to behold.” Allowing the fractious politics of an unstable House GOP caucus to tank it would be unconscionable.”

For Democrats, it’s time to crank up their two-pronged strategy to win back a House majority: Escalate attacks against McCarthy and his entourage of do-nothing extremists, while getting an early start in the ‘flip and hold’ districts targeted by Swing Left and the DCCC.

Political Strategy Notes

In “The human cost of McCarthy’s debt ceiling demands would be catastrophic” Karen Dolan, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes at The Hill: “President Biden said it well when he called House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) demands to gut the U.S. safety net or force a federal default “wacko.”….Whatever word for it you use, McCarthy and his caucus are holding American families, the full faith and credit of the United States and the global economy hostage to his demands to slash the programs that most of us rely on….Make no mistake — this isn’t about debt….McCarthy and Republicans in both the House and Senate voted three times under Trump to raise the debt ceiling — and even to suspend it — in order to rack up nearly $8 trillion in debt, including about $2 trillion for tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations. Although bipartisan spending has contributed to the national debt over the years, on partisan votes it’s actually been Republicans who’ve voted to add more to the national debt than Democrats….President Biden, by contrast, reduced the annual deficit in 2022, and his 10-year budget plan for the next fiscal year would lower the national debt by $3 trillion while more robustly funding the programs so many of us rely upon. This is because, unlike the GOP plan, he includes revenues from fair taxation for the nation’s wealthiest….Biden wants the wealthy to pay their fair share to fund social programs that address ever-deepening inequality — while also reducing deficits and debt. If McCarthy simply voted for that budget, he’d reduce the debt. Instead, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill refuse to raise the cap unless underfunded programs — for health care, food and housing, education, veteran’s health and Meals on Wheels —  are slashed to make way for even more tax cuts for the already very wealthy.”

Dolan adds, “According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, McCarthy’s “Limit, Save, Grow Act”  demands the following as ransom for the full faith and credit of the United States:

  • Leaving many more veterans, families and elderly people homeless, hungry and unable to access health care or college.
  • Eliminating tens of thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of Head Start and child care slots.
  • Increasing interest on credit cards, car payments and mortgages, while preventing any student loan relief.
  • Scaling back tax incentives for green energy and making it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute.
  • Making it easier for rich folks to cheat on their taxes.

This is simply no way to run an economy, serve our people or be a responsible global partner. It’s a formula for the opposite….The package is dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate…The debt ceiling should be abolished. It has no connection to the real economy and it’s of no use except as a weapon to take the government hostage. McCarthy’s faction couldn’t care less about the debt ceiling when it comes to unfunded wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest and ballooning the Pentagon budget. But let it be about doing their job and keeping the rest of us afloat and they go into full fiscal terrorist mode….But if the ceiling can’t be abolished, it must be raised as required by the Constitution — without conditions. McCarthy and his cadre should be pressured to immediately pass a clean new debt limit. Anything else is just “wacko.”

Support for abortion rights has grown in spite of bans and restrictions, poll shows,’ Laura Santhanam writes at pbs.org, and explains, ” Support for abortion rights overall has increased as state legislatures and courtrooms have instituted a growing number of restrictions and bans, according to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults say they support abortion rights, marking a 6-percentage point increase since last June….Nearly a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, U.S. opinions about that consequential decision remain largely unchanged in this latest poll. A majority of U.S. adults – 59 percent – still say they oppose the justices’ decision, which removed federal protections for many reproductive health care services, while another 40 percent of Americans agree with the nation’s highest court….Those who say they mostly support abortion rights include 84 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents. At the same time, 37 percent of Americans overall oppose abortion rights, including 67 percent of Republicans….When asked whether abortion should be allowed up until 24 weeks – around when the fetus can be viable outside the womb and before which almost all abortions are performed – 44 percent of Americans said yes. Such laws, favored by a majority of abortion-rights supporters in this poll, saw a 10-percentage point increase since May….While a majority of Americans – 66 percent – say abortion should be prohibited after the first three months of pregnancy, that attitude has diminished from 84 percent nearly two decades ago….Meanwhile, a growing number of Americans — 34 percent — think abortion should be allowed at least up until the first six months of pregnancy, if not throughout the entire pregnancy. That support has more than doubled since May 2009, when 14 percent of Americans felt that way….At the far ends of the spectrum, two in 10 Americans think abortion should be permitted at any time during pregnancy (especially true among Democrats, Biden voters, adults aged 44 or younger and people who graduated from college), while one in 10 Americans think abortion should never be allowed under any circumstances.”

Kyle Kondik probes a question of concern, “Is Biden’s Approval Rating Too Weak for Him to Win? Just like in 2022, “soft” disapprovers are a key bloc” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and observes: “Remember that in 2022, Democrats held their own despite Biden’s poor approval rating in no small part because they did better with Biden disapprovers than Republicans did with Biden approvers. According to the 2 major exit polls of the 2022 election — the Edison Research survey done for several media entities as well as the NORC at the University of Chicago VoteCast done for the Associated Press and Fox News — Biden’s approval/disapproval split among the midterm electorate was 44% approve/55% disapprove (Edison) or 43% approve/57% disapprove (VoteCast). Democratic House candidates won the Biden approvers 94%-5% (Edison) or 90%-8% (VoteCast), while Republican House candidates won the Biden disapprovers 86%-12% (Edison) or 82%-15% (VoteCast)….Both polls also asked voters whether they strongly or somewhat approved or disapproved of Biden’s job performance, and both found that Democrats narrowly won the 10% (Edison) or 13% (VoteCast) of voters who somewhat disapproved of the president….Unless Biden’s approval improves significantly, rising to around 50% or better by the time of his reelection, the “soft” Biden disapprovers are probably going to decide the election. If they vote against Biden en masse, he is likely doomed, particularly because Biden may have to win the popular vote by a few points in order to win if the current bias toward Republicans in the Electoral College endures. But these cross-pressured voters are also going to consider what the alternative to Biden is. As we noted after Biden’s State of the Union address in early February, Biden is very reliant on the Republican Party nominating a presidential candidate who does not have much appeal to these voters — and the GOP may deliver for Biden on that account.”

Democrats Used to Have Company on Earth Day

It’s sad every Earth Day to see how little Republican support there remains for the commemoration and the cause it represents, as I discussed at New York:

On the first Earth Day, in April 1970, I was a high-school senior at a public school in the conservative suburbs of Atlanta. Classes were canceled, and we had hours of discussions of environmental issues capped by an assembly in which we heard a rousing speech from actor Hal Holbrook. A Republican candidate for governor of Georgia, Jimmy Bentley, had just attacked Earth Day, pointing out that it was being held on Vladimir Lenin’s birthday. But he lost his primary, and the idea that government needed to do something about rampant air and water pollution wasn’t terribly controversial. Richard Nixon’s White House picked up on a large and bipartisan swell of concern for the environment, and by the end of that year, Nixon combined a host of federal anti-pollution programs into a new Environment Protection Agency. He also proposed, and Congress approved by big bipartisan margins, a major overhaul of federal air-pollution standards (later known as the Clean Air Act), followed in 1972 by an equally sweeping water-pollution law (later referred to as the Clean Water Act).

It’s an oversimplification to say Republican support for environmental-protection efforts has gone steadily downhill from that point on. But it is clear we have reached a point when the ancient question of trade-offs between the environment and the economy elicits the kind of wildly disparate reactions from Democrats and Republicans characteristic of culture-war issues — even as growing evidence of climate change makes bipartisan action to prevent or mitigate the damage increasingly urgent. Gallup recently reported that there’s a record partisan gap:

“Though Democrats and Republicans have long come down on different sides when considering the tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental protection, the gap between the parties has never been larger. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, compared with 20% of Republicans, now believe environmental protection should be given the higher priority.

“From 1984 to 1991, the parties expressed similar views on this matter, but by 1995 a divide became evident, which has since gradually expanded. At least half of Democrats have favored the environment over economic growth in all years of Gallup’s trend except during the economically challenged years of 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, majorities of Republicans typically prioritized the environment from 1984 through 2000, but Republicans have not returned to that level since falling to 47% in 2001.”

There have been several waves of anti-environmental sentiment roiling the GOP over the years, even as Democratic support for prioritizing the planet has steadily grown. In the 1970s a so-called Sagebrush Rebellion in the West mobilized conservative hostility to federal land-use policies that restricted development and displaced local control. Meanwhile, the rise of the Christian right in the South fed on conservative-Evangelical hostility to environmentalism as “pagan” and contrary to the biblical injunction for humans to exercise dominion over creation. Ronald Reagan, the conservative movement’s first conquerer of the Republican Party, reflected these trends in key appointments of property-rights activists to federal agencies responsible for the environment (notably, James Watt as secretary of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s mother, as EPA administrator).

But despite the Reagan administration’s hard-right turn on the environment, a 1988 Republican assessment of the years from Nixon through Reagan concluded that the public had definitively made environmental protection a permanent part of the landscape for both parties:

“The feverish pitch of Earth Day 1970 passed, but the environmental movement did not go away. Instead, the drive for a cleaner environment became part of our national ethic. Now it is taken for granted, the best possible testimonial that progress is being made. Our nation’s thinking has changed. Endorsing growth without regard to the quality of that growth seems forever behind us.”

It turns out that judgement was a bit premature. In 1995, when Republicans took control of the U.S. House for the first time since the early 1950s, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had once styled himself as an environmentalist, made reining in environmental enforcement by the Clinton administration a major priority, as the Washington Post reported at the time:

“In his first major speech on the environment, delivered to the National Environmental Policy Institute (NEPI), a group of corporate executives and opinion-makers, Gingrich lashed out at the agency’s enforcement of every major environmental statute from the 1980 Superfund law, which governs the cleanup of toxic waste dumps, to the 1990 Clean Air Act, designed to reduce air pollution nationwide.”

But public support for environmental protection, especially among suburban swing voters, was robust enough that it became one of Bill Clinton’s four key priorities in his counterattack against Gingrich. In the wake of the the 42nd president’s easy reelection in 1996, Time magazine reported on the Clinton team’s “key message”:

“’Balancing the budget in a way that protects our values and defends Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment.’ So often was this mantra used that the team referred to it as simply M2E2.”

The next big spasm of anti-environmental passion in the GOP accompanied the tea-party movement that tormented Barack Obama’s administration. Even prior to Obama’s election, the fiery hostility of Republicans in energy-producing states to bipartisan plans to cap greenhouse-gas emissions and set up a trading system for allocations made this an increasingly partisan issue. In 2009, former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin penned an op-ed attacking Obama’s “cap and trade” proposal with the unsubtle headline “Drill, daby, drill.” The proposal subsequently died in the U.S. Senate in 2010 thanks to staunch GOP opposition. Soon thereafter, many Republicans began embracing an old John Birch Society conspiracy theory known as Agenda 21 that alleged a United Nations plot to stamp out capitalism via local land-use regulations on places like strip malls and golf courses.

By the time the GOP was captured by a development-mad real-estate tycoon named Donald Trump, Republican environmentalism was already on the ropes with various strains of climate-change denial becoming party orthodoxy. Trump campaigned in 2016 on a platform that included abolition of the EPA, though he satisfied himself with revoking environmental regulations, withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate-change accords, and putting into place appointees like EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, a former oil lobbyist who was forced from office after a brief but spectacularly scandal-plagued tenure.

Now maximum unapologetic exploitation of fossil fuels and rejection of climate-change actions have entered the MAGA canon along with the preemption of state laws and local ordinances that annoy energy companies and property holders. The Green New Deal proposed by progressive Democrats to address climate change is being treated by GOP opponents as full-on Marxism. And the modest down payment on climate-change investments contained in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act were opposed by every single House Republican.

As unprecedented storms buffet the country every season of the year and evidence of irreversible climate change grows clearer, we can only long for the bipartisanship that surrounded that first Earth Day 53 years ago. Even Republicans forced by local circumstances to deal with the consequences of climate change (including Florida governor and likely 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis) won’t admit or support doing anything about the obvious causes. Obama once vainly expressed the hope that the conservative extremism of the tea-party movement would abate and “the fever will break.” Instead, it’s gotten worse. And the set of highly polarized issues on which (as Senator Tim Scott puts it) Republicans believe “Joe Biden and the radical left” are planning to “ruin America” most definitely includes the environmental emergencies of the 21st century.


Biden vs. Inflation

From “As Biden officially launches his re-election bid, inflation remains a top worry for voters” by Victor Reklaitis at Marketwatch: ”

President Joe Biden has formally kicked off his re-election campaign, with the move coming even as most Americans don’t approve of his performance, while he talks up the strong job market and his legislative record.

In a video message released on the fourth anniversary of when he declared his candidacy in 2019, Biden said the U.S. remains in a battle for its “soul.” The video heavily features footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, and Biden declares that the question Americans are facing is “whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer.”

About 54% of Americans don’t approve of Biden’s performance, while 43% do, according to a RealClearPolitics average of job-approval polls….Rising food costs rank as the most pressing financial worry for Americans, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Other inflation-related concerns include mortgage or rent payments, healthcare XLV, -1.07% costs and energy NG00, -2.64% bills, the poll found.

Reklaitis also notes, “On the plus side for Biden, the Democratic incumbent has the best chance of winning the 2024 presidential election, according to betting market PredictIt, which puts his odds at around 48%. That’s ahead of former President Donald Trump at about 33%, and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 16%….To be sure, betting markets are not that reliable as a predictor, and they got the 2022 midterm elections wrong. They had suggested a red wave, but Democrats kept their grip on the Senate, and the GOP won just a slim majority in the House.

However, “In addition, the commander-in-chief can point to a robust U.S. labor market, with the unemployment rate at 3.5% in March.”

At Forbes, Derek Saul; reports “The most headline-driving economic development under Biden, the U.S. consumer price index surged from 1.4% on an annual basis in January 2021 to 5% in March, reflecting an overall increase of 15%—far more than the 10.9% increase in average wages during the timeframe….Gas prices soared to their highest levels ever last year amid shock from Russia’s invasion from Ukraine, and though the price at the pump has come down dramatically, the $3.66 average cost per gallon last week was 54% higher than the week preceding Biden’s inauguration despite crude oil prices slipping.”

“Nevertheless,” Saul adds, “Biden has latched onto the job market’s resilience as a key economic talking point, declaring last year the labor market was “the strongest it’s been since just after World War 2,” and saying Americans “can tackle inflation from a position of strength….Biden has latched onto the job market’s resilience as a key economic talking point, declaring last year the labor market was “the strongest it’s been since just after World War 2,” and saying Americans “can tackle inflation from a position of strength.”

Yet, “A recession is “not at all inevitable,” Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Forbes in a phone interview. The U.S. can avoid a recession “with a little bit of luck and some reasonably good policymaking because the fundamentals of the economy are good.” Zandi also blamed high inflation on supply chain constraints and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to a staggering surge in energy prices last year. Inflation is “high everywhere in the planet” and has “little to do with Biden’s policies,” he said.”