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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

Hasan: Dems Should Work on Emotional Appeals

From Salon.com: “When it comes to winning elections, #MSNBC journalist Mehdi Hasan says emotion is a far better motivator than facts. This is why Trump won in 2016 and it’s why many Democrats struggle to connect with voters. “I’ve never met anyone who goes into a voting booth based on having gone through all the policy documents,” Hasan said on “Salon Talks.” Instead, you have to talk to the heart. Watch more of Mehdi Hasan’s full “Salon Talks” episode to hear about his new book “Win Every Argument” and his strategies for fighting misinformation”: https://www.salon.com/tv/video/9fdfll

Political Strategy Notes

Here’s an interesting poll, as reported by Andrew Romano at yahoo news: “With President Biden reportedly set to announce his reelection campaign early next week, more Americans say they feel “exhaustion” over the prospect of a 2024 rematch between Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, than any other emotion, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.….The survey of 1,530 U.S. adults, which was conducted from April 14 to 17, found that 38% chose exhaustion after being shown a list of eight feelings and asked to select all that “come to mind” when considering another Biden vs. Trump campaign….Among registered voters, the number is even higher: 44%….No other sentiment — not fear (29%), sadness (23%), hope (23%), anger (23%), excitement (16%), pride (8%) or gratitude (7%) — cracks the 30% mark among all Americans.” One reason not to take this too seriously is that, if the pollster picked 8 different words, number one would have been something else. Blue words have different meanings for different people. Romano adds, “Fatigue is an understandable response to what could be the first general election for president since 1892 to feature the incumbent and his defeated predecessor competing as the major-party nominees — and the only White House race in U.S. history in which one candidate is facing indictment and possible criminal prosecution for conspiring to overturn his prior loss.” I would agree that “exhaustion” is the best choice of the selected “feelings” to describe the prospect of such a rematch, in my case 100 percent because of Trump, who is the most obnoxious president I can remember. I suspect few would hang the “exhausting” label on Biden, through his detractors would undoubtedly have some choice words of their own. Romano has lots more numbers for those who want to check out the poll.

Say what you will about President Biden. But he may be the ‘greenest’ president we have ever had, at least according to the number of trees his administration is planting across the nation. At The World Economic Forum, Stephen Hall reports that “The US is planting a billion trees to fight climate change,” and writes: “As a solution to global warming, “tree restoration can be a powerful tool for drawing carbon from the atmosphere,” according to ecologist and professor Tom Crowther, from Swiss university ETH Zürich….It’s a potential fix that is already being implemented in earnest by governments and institutions around the world. In July 2022, the Biden administration announced that the US government aims to plant over a billion trees to replace millions of acres of burned and dead woodlands….More than $100 million has been set aside by the US Government for reforestation this year, which is more than three times the investment of previous years, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a statement….Over 4 million acres of forest now need to be replanted over the next decade. This equates to 400,000 acres of forest annually, which, if successful, will significantly exceed the 60,000 acres planted last year.” Many would point to Teddy Roosevelt, who started the national parks, FDR’s CCC or President Jimmy Carter’s environmental initiatives. But, for sheer scale, Biden’s tree-planting initiative is unprecedented. Of course, where the trees are planted is really important for quality of life. The hope is that plenty of them are/will be planted where most people actually live, and create more urban parks. Biden also deserves some credit for other environmental policies, even though many progressives would fault him for not moving fast enough to de-carbonize our energy dependence.

In “Here’s the Gutsy, Unprecedented Campaign Biden and the Democrats Need to Run: The party needs a clear hold on power in Washington to deliver big economic boons to the American people. To do that, they need to make a big promise to voters,” Michael Tomasky writes at The New Republic: “A poll released Friday showed that just 47 percent of Democrats want Joe Biden to run for reelection. That’s a grim number. And here’s a grimmer one: Overall, just 26 percent of respondents said he should run again….But Biden is running—with an announcement coming this week, possibly. There’s nothing the Democrats can do about it. And in fact, there’s nothing they should do about it. Yes, he’s 80 years old. But he has a terrific record of accomplishments both domestic and foreign, and there’s no one in the party who would obviously be a better candidate right here and right now….Democrats appreciate that he ran in 2020 and beat Trump and that he’s passed some impressive bills. Under normal circumstances, that would be enough. Incumbents usually run on some version of “stay the course”; we’ve moved things in the right direction, and this is no time to switch. But that won’t be enough this time. The “wrong track” number in this Morning Consult daily poll (69 percent last Monday) has been higher on average for the last year than it was during most of Trump’s presidency. And there could be a recession coming—one rather inconveniently timed from the Democratic point of view. If additional economic headwinds start to blow, that wrong track number is likely to go even higher….So no—the circumstances don’t call for a stay the course campaign.

Tomasky continues, “Biden should do something bigger and bolder. He and the Democratic candidates for Senate and House should run a unified campaign. They should say to America: Elect us—give us the White House, 52 Senate seats, and a House majority—and we’ll reform the filibuster and by Memorial Day 2025, we’ll pass a platter of bills all aimed at helping the middle class and fulfilling the Biden motto that the economy grows from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down….That’s an interesting campaign. That’s a campaign about the future. It implicitly acknowledges that things aren’t great right now, but it does so obliquely enough that it doesn’t sound like an admission of any kind of failure. It says, “We’ve done some good; now, we want to do better. But you have to give us the run of the place.”….This is key. Swing voters, the 5 or 6 percent who aren’t locked in and have gone from Obama to Trump to Biden and could go back, have a very old and hard-wired habit. Distrustful of both parties, they split their votes. Okay, they reason, I’ll go for Biden, I guess, because I don’t want Trump back in there; but I’ll vote Republican for Senate to keep him honest….This seems, to the swing voter, to make a kind of sense. But in reality, it’s the precise cause of our current dysfunction. Giving this Republican Party any degree of power is a surefire recipe for nothing getting done. Democrats need to explain this to swing voters and get them to break that old habit. You don’t have to love us and everything we stand for, they could say. But give us full power in Washington, and we’ll use it to make your life better….what Democrats have to do is get swing voters to understand a very simple truth: Joe Biden can’t make these things happen alone. He has to have a Democratic House and Senate (and in the latter, he needs a couple extra seats to spare to get filibuster reform done).” Tomasky proposes an 8-point agenda that could win the support of Democrats from Rep Ocasio-Cortez to Sen. Jon Tester —  “A unified, parliamentary-style campaign in which they all run on the same economic agenda is their best shot at holding the Senate, because it gives a rationale for why they need unified power and what they’ll do with it.” Read his article for more details.

Why Biden’s ‘Zig Zag Strategy’ May Work

At The Hill, Keith Naughton probes the efficacy of President Biden’s “zig zag strategy” and observes:

In 1996, President Clinton pursued a reelection strategy of “triangulation” — politically, a made-up term that meant running to the middle in order to win, a tried-and-true strategy that worked for Clinton as it has for many others in American presidential politics.

For President Biden, “triangulation” is not on the table given the highly polarized nature of American politics. His own progressive left base won’t hear of it. Instead, Biden is pursuing a more modest “zigzag” strategy, throwing favors from time to time to the middle and to labor.

Recently the Biden administration approved (rather, failed to oppose) a huge new hydrocarbons project in Alaska. Just weeks later, Biden proposed a set of automotive tailpipe emissions that will severely limit the number of gasoline-powered cars sold starting in 2027. This neat zigzag was perfect for Biden. He gets to take credit with labor for approving a big job-creating project in time for the next election, while giving the environmentalists a big future regulatory win.

But will this strategy work?

Naughton thinks it has done well so far, and notes, “Catering to significant parts of the progressive left — along with a big helping of Republican incompetence — has taken care of any real party primary opposition.”

In terms of public opinion, Naughton writes, “In spite of his occasional apostasy, Biden still scores well with liberals. Biden has an approval rating of 84 percent with Democrats generally, and 82 percent with self-described liberals. He does have some erosion in the ballot test with Trump, scoring 77 percent of Democratic votes (9 percent of Republicans), but 70 percent of liberals (11 percent of conservatives). Seven percent of Democrats said that they would not vote, as opposed to 8 percent of liberals. This erosion does seem like more than a little posturing. It is difficult to see liberals voting for Trump or sitting out 2024 once they get another dose of Trump on the campaign trail.”

However, Naughton adds, “There is bad news and good news for Biden….”

The bad news is the public does not want Biden to run. In last week’s YouGov benchmark, 58 percent of Americans did not want Biden to run again, including 31 percent of Democrats. Trump fares about as bad with 57 percent opposing another Trump run. Independents, however, are somewhat less enthused about a Biden run (65 percent opposed) than a Trump run (59 percent opposed).

Respondents rated Biden’s worst job performance on economic matters. He was underwater at 36 percent approve to 56 percent disapprove on inflation and 42 percent approve to 50 percent disapprove on the economy. This contrasts to his overall approve/disapprove of 47 percent to 49 percent. With economic issues perennially at the top of voter concerns, Biden’s poor ratings are a big structural problem.

The good news for Biden is mostly all the bad news surrounding Trump. Trump remains less popular than Biden with a 45 percent to 51 percent deficit in the YouGov poll. The RealClearPolitics approval average has Trump 17.4 points under water, while Biden’s deficit is 10.3 points.

Looking ahead and drilling down, Naughton adds, “Expect a re-run of the 2020 campaign for Biden, where he just ran as “not Trump.” For Democrats, this strategy seems likely to work. If anything, Trump is getting more chaotic….The good news for Biden is mostly all the bad news surrounding Trump. Trump remains less popular than Biden with a 45 percent to 51 percent deficit in the YouGov poll. The RealClearPolitics approval average has Trump 17.4 points under water, while Biden’s deficit is 10.3 points.”

However, “Respondents rated Biden’s worst job performance on economic matters. He was underwater at 36 percent approve to 56 percent disapprove on inflation and 42 percent approve to 50 percent disapprove on the economy. This contrasts to his overall approve/disapprove of 47 percent to 49 percent. With economic issues perennially at the top of voter concerns, Biden’s poor ratings are a big structural problem.”

On the other hand, “Republicans cannot count on the economy staying bad forever, and they should probably expect a burst of interventions to improve conditions leading up to the election.”

Naughton concludes, “For Biden, keeping his own squabbling party unified, combined with facing Trump, is the recipe for reelection. And so far, that is working.” And it could also help Democrats to hold their own down ballot.

Political Strategy Notes

In “Medicaid is popular. So why are Republicans still trying to cut it?,” Dylan Scott notes at Vox: For years, Republicans have believed that Medicaid, which primarily serves low-income Americans, is less politically potent than Medicare or Social Security, two of the other core features of the US social safety net, and therefore a safer target for proposed cuts….There may be some truth to that notion — but Medicaid is plenty popular on its own terms. Over the past two decades, the health insurance program has become an increasingly crucial part of the safety net. Enrollment has roughly doubled from about 46 million people in 2007 before the Great Recession to more than 92 million today. More than 75 percent of the US public says they have very or somewhat favorable views of the program. Two-thirds say they have some kind of connection to Medicaid, either because they themselves or a loved one was enrolled….In state after state, when the question of expanding Medicaid to working-age, childless adults has been put to voters in red states, they’ve voted in favor of giving more people access to health insurance. Even the Republican legislature in North Carolina recently made peace with expanding the program….The last time Republicans tried (and failed) to pass significant cuts to the Medicaid program, in the first year of the Trump presidency as part of their Affordable Care Act repeal plans, they paid the price during the 2018 midterm elections.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall takes a sobering look at the drift toward authoritarianism in America, and writes: “In an April 2021 paper, four scholars, Samuel Wang of Princeton, Jonathan Cervas of Carnegie Mellon, Bernard Grofman of the University of California, Irvine, and Keena Lipsitz of Queens College, address the basic question of what led to the erosion among a substantial number of voters of support for democratic principles in a nation with a two-century-plus commitment to this tradition:

In the United States, rules and institutions from 1790, when voters comprised white male landowners and slave owners in a nation of four million, were not designed to address today’s governance needs. Moreover, existing rules and institutions may amplify background conditions that drive polarization. The decline of civic life in America and the pluralism it once nurtured has hastened a collapse of dimensionality in the system.

Americans once enjoyed a rich associational life, Wang and his colleagues write, the demise of which contributes to the erosion of democracy: “Nonpolitical associations, such as labor unions, churches, and bowling leagues, were often crosscutting, bringing people from different backgrounds into contact with one another, building trust and teaching tolerance.” In recent years, however, “the groups that once structured a multidimensional issue space in the United States have collapsed.”

Edsall writes further, “Two senior fellows at Brookings, William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, explore threats to American democracy in a January 2022 analysis, “Is Democracy Failing and Putting Our Economy at Risk?” Citing data from six surveys, including those by Pew, P.R.R.I., Voter Study Group and CNN, the authors write:

Support in the United States for political violence is significant. In February 2021, 39 percent of Republicans, 31 percent of independents and 17 percent of Democrats agreed that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.” In November, 30 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of independents and 11 percent of Democrats agreed that they might have to resort to violence in order to save our country.

In the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Galston and Kamarck observe:

Even though constitutional processes prevailed, and Mr. Trump is no longer president, he and his followers continue to weaken American democracy by convincing many Americans to distrust the results of the election. About three-quarters of rank-and-file Republicans believe that there was massive fraud in 2020 and Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president.

In fact, Galston and Kamarck continue, “the 2020 election revealed structural weaknesses in the institutions designed to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process,” noting that “if Mr. Pence had yielded to then-President Trump’s pressure to act, the election would have been thrown into chaos and the Constitution placed in jeopardy.”….If democracy fails in America, they contend,

It will not be because a majority of Americans is demanding a nondemocratic form of government. It will be because an organized, purposeful minority seizes strategic positions within the system and subverts the substance of democracy while retaining its shell — while the majority isn’t well organized, or doesn’t care enough, to resist. The possibility that this will occur is far from remote.”

Should Senate Democrats ditch the “blue slip” tradition”? Jake Johnson makes the case for doing so at salon.com: “The Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday that he is not ready to ditch the arcane tradition that has given individual Republican lawmakers veto power over nominees for federal court seats in their home states….”We’re not at that point yet,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told HuffPost when asked if he’s considering scrapping the so-called “blue slip courtesy”—a non-binding rule that Republicans tossed aside for circuit court nominees when they last controlled the Senate….When a senator returns a blue slip, they are indicating they will allow a judicial nomination to proceed. Earlier this month, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., announced she would not be returning a blue slip for Scott Colom, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi….But Hyde-Smith’s decision, which effectively tanked Colom’s nomination even though he had bipartisan support in the Senate, wasn’t enough for Durbin to abandon the blue slip process—though he said earlier this week that “her conduct and the timing of her decision have made it extremely difficult” to preserve the tradition….On top of the extended and indefinite absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Durbin’s continued adherence to the blue slip rule has allowed Republicans to dramatically slow the judicial confirmation process, leaving open dozens of vacancies as right-wing judges they’ve approved in recent years wreak havoc across the country….”Democrats returned more than 130 blue slips during the Trump admin, confirming 84 district judges in states with at least one or two Dem senators,” [HuffPo’s Jennifer] Bendery wrote on Twitter. “More than two years into the Biden admin, Republicans have returned 13 blue slips. That’s as of last month.”….”Progressive judicial groups are practically shouting from the mountaintops to ditch blue slips,” Bendery continued. “Republicans did it for years with Trump’s court picks, as Dems fumed from the sidelines. The result? Trump confirmed a massive [number] of right-wing ideologues to lifetime court seats.”

McCarthy’s All Hat, No Cattle, on Debt Limit

Sometimes you read the news and don’t know whether the laugh or cry. That’s how I felt when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy went to Wall Street to complain that the president isn’t talking to him about the debt limit. So I wrote it up at New York:

When Kevin McCarthy won the House speakership in January after a humiliating 15-ballot contest, he already knew his slippery grip on the gavel would depend on how he handled a debt-limit fight with Joe Biden and the Democrats. It’s now clear that the preliminary rounds are going very poorly for McCarthy.

He began by placing a huge obstacle in the path of any actual negotiations with the White House or Senate Democrats over conditions for a debt-limit increase or suspension. As my colleague Jonathan Chait pointed out, since 1990 congressional Republicans have categorically refused even to consider tax increases of any sort as part of a solution to the deficits and debt they profess to abhor (at least during Democratic administrations). Subsequently, they haven’t really tried to negotiate on fiscal policy; they’ve made unilateral demands and tried to take hostages.

But McCarthy’s situation is far worse than that of his hostage-taking predecessors such as Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan. He has found it impossible to achieve consensus within his own caucus over a clear list of spending-cut demands. And Biden has very skillfully forced Republicans to repudiate their most unpopular positions, notably the ancient GOP desire to “reform” (i.e., cut and privatize) Social Security and Medicare. So even as Biden and the Democrats consistently called for enactment of a clean debt-limit measure without conditions or drama, and the administration released a full budget proposal, McCarthy and his House Republicans have been unable to come up with much of anything specific, other than ruling out Social Security and Medicare cuts and bickering among themselves about defense spending.

So with time beginning to run out for dealing with the debt limit, McCarthy chose to take his weak and vague position and present it as a tough-minded and specific set of demands with a speech aimed at the GOP’s financial-community friends. At the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, McCarthy said Republicans “want Congress to place limits on federal spending, claw back COVID-19 aid, and require Americans to work to receive federal benefits,” as The Wall Street Journal put it.

The Hill explains what that means:

“The Speaker said the forthcoming plan will seek to limit federal spending, with proposals to return discretionary funding levels to 2022 levels ‘and then limit the growth of spending over the next 10 years to 1 percent of annual growth,’ without ‘touching Social Security and Medicare.’”

The proposed “limit on federal spending” is actually just a cap on discretionary spending (i.e., not to entitlement programs) and does not distinguish between defense and nondefense spending. “Caps” like this are what you propose when you literally have no clue what to propose; future Congresses will have to figure out what it means. The only specifics — the COVID clawback and toughened work requirements for benefit programs like SNAP — are boilerplate conservative policies that please the GOP base by tormenting poor people and state and local governments and apparently do pretty well in focus groups.

Compared with an actual spending plan or a federal budget, McCarthy’s “proposal” is laughable. But with House Freedom Caucus members, who value partisanship above all else, able to depose him at the drop of a hat (in the most humiliating concession he made to become Speaker), McCarthy took this weak tea and tried to make it sound like a slug of tough medicine, as The Hill notes:

“In his pitch to Wall Street to cut spending, McCarthy said he had ‘full confidence’ that reducing federal spending would help ‘grow our economy’ and ‘end the dependence on China.’

“’We will curb inflation and we will protect Social Security and Medicare for the next generation, and America will be stronger for it,’ he said. ‘If you agree, don’t sit back, join us.’”

Now that he has talked tough on Wall Street, McCarthy can go back to the very difficult task of turning this proposal into something he can actually get his members to approve with virtually no margin for error, particularly since some of the more extreme members of his conference don’t even believe a debt default would be especially problematic as long as bondholders are paid. If he fails, there might be just enough House Republicans unwilling to trigger a default and a potential global economic catastrophe to force McCarthy to cave and allow a debt measure to get to Biden’s desk with or without token concessions made to save the Speaker’s face and gavel. He and his party really need a fiscal plan B that’s more viable than destructive threats and empty posturing. Right now, as they say in Texas, McCarthy is all hat and no cattle.

How Will Fox News Settlement Reverberate Politically?

In his Politico article, “Fox News reaches $787.5 million settlement in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit,” Matt Taylor reports “Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit over false election claims on Tuesday, a massive sum that spared some of the biggest names in conservative media the witness stand.”

Taylor explains further, “Dominion, a voting machine company that has worked in over two dozen states, accused the conservative network of deliberately spreading bogus conspiracy theories about its products after the 2020 election in a bid to win back viewers.” As Taylor reports, ““The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said while trumpeting the payout outside the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center on Tuesday. “Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country.”

The bad news is that the public will be deprived of the jolly spectacle of Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Rupert Murdock being grilled on the witness stand. The slightly good news is that Fox News will have to carefully frame its election denier rants to avoid future lawsuits.

Among discerning news consumers, Fox didn’t have much respect even before the trial. But the settlement insures that the mere mention of the Network in future reports will frequently be accompanied by noting the $787 million the company shelled out in acknowledgement of its own wrong-doing. Also, as Michelle Goldberg writes in her New York Times column, it is “one of the largest defamation settlements in history and is one that constitutes a humiliating admission of fault by the network, even though, as The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg reported, the deal doesn’t require Fox to apologize.”

The settlement will be emblazoned in media history accounts as proof of one of the most grotesque examples of reportorial bias ever.

The thing is, the disaster isn’t over for Fox News. As Goldberg notes, “Smartmatic is still suing Fox for $2.7 billion, though no trial date has been announced yet. “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” Smartmatic lawyer J. Erik Connolly said in a statement on Tuesday. “Smartmatic will expose the rest.”

More than any other media outlet, Fox News has stoked political polarization, served Trump’s rise and supported the GOP. But every media company has a shelf life and will eventually be replaced. Newsmax may get a temporary upward bump in its influence, or perhaps morph into a more influential news source for the right.

Amy Watson notes at Statistics.com that “In February 2023, Fox News was the most watched cable news network in the United States and continues to do well in terms of its primetime audience, with 2.2 million primetime viewers in that period. Fox News viewers in the 25-54 demographic reached 299 thousand, whilst MSNBC had just 119 thousand…..Cable news networks like Fox, CNN, and MSNBC are engaged in a monthly battle to hit the top spot during primetime and grab the highest cable news ratings during those precious evening hours. Fox News ratings during primetime are generally higher than its two direct competitors….”

Meanwhile there is no reason to expect a mass maga head exodus by network viewers. Fox had pretty much whittled its regular viewership down to the hard core, which is admittedly large. Some will see the settlement as normal p.r. management, others as yet another example of the vast liberal conspiracy and many of them will shrug it off or not care enough to switch networks. It will likely not be big a game-changer in. terms of public opinion.

The wild card, however, is what happens with the Smartmatic lawsuit. If it results in an equally-large settlement, we may see a more significant dip in Fox News viewers, at least for a while. But even that probably won’t influence many votes in the next election.

Dionne: How the GOP Became the NRA’s Gun-Worshipping Toadies

Some excerpts from E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Gun absolutists don’t trust democracy because they know they’re losing” at The Washington Post in response to the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis:

That the Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby was witnessed not only by the eagerness of Pence, Trump and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to pander in person at the gathering self-described as “14 acres of guns & gear.” Other would-be 2024 GOP nominees — among them, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — felt obligated to bow before the gun worshipers by video.

The nonsense floated in Indianapolis — based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America’s unique mass shooting problem — speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy. It has both partisan and (perverse) philosophical roots.

Dionne argues that “The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.” He notes that the NRA became “engulfed by extreme ideologues” in 1977, and has since then taken America and the U.S. Supreme Court down “a dangerous new path.” Also,

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other….It comes down to a variant of the old Maoist slogan: All liberty grows out of the barrel of a gun. When Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told a White House rally before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, “Let’s have trial by combat,” he was speaking for a sentiment that runs deep in the gun rights movement….

Undercutting the ability of voters to cast ballots is another habit of those who privilege the Second Amendment over all the others. As Politico’s Kathy Gilsinan reported, Tennessee’s election laws allow gun permits as voter IDs but not college student identifications. There is no waiting time to buy a gun, but citizens have to register at least 30 days before an election. “It is absolutely easier to get a gun than to vote in Tennessee,” Democratic state Sen. Charlane Oliver told Gilsinan…

The good news in this story is that radical opposition to sensible gun laws is not embedded in the American character. It’s the product of an ideology that overtook a less dogmatic form of conservatism and seized control of a political party.

In his conclusion, Dionne writes, “With Americans increasingly angry over mass shootings — the latest outrage came Saturday with the killing of four at a teen’s birthday party in Alabama — the era of gun absolutism could finally be over, if the popular will on guns is allowed to prevail. But this depends on defending the democracy that so many, at the Indianapolis gathering and in Tennessee, deeply mistrust.”

Political Strategy Notes

Here’s a trend that provides a problem and perhaps an opportunity for Democrats: “After a tumultuous year in the markets, America’s preparedness for retirement has gotten shakier, Axios’ Erica Pandey writes….By the numbers: More than half — 52% — of Americans are not on track to comfortably pay for their retirement, according to a new report from Fidelity, the nation’s largest provider of 401(k) plans….401(k) accounts lost 23% of their value last year, compared with 2021, per another recent Fidelity report….And 55% of those between the ages of 18 and 35 have put retirement planning and saving on hold, Fidelity notes….Between the lines: “Roughly half the workforce, we’re talking 50 plus million people, work for an employer that doesn’t offer a retirement plan,” said David John, a senior policy adviser at AARP. That could mean a small business or gig work….And millennials and Gen X-ers are far less likely to have traditional pensions than their Boomer counterparts, John said….What to watch: Gen Z is more prepared for the future than previous generations, said Rita Assaf, vice president of retirement at Fidelity. Gen Z’s creation of new IRA savings accounts was up 30% in 2022, compared to 2021….The bottom line: Retirement preparedness among young people, especially millennials, isn’t where it should be, Assaf notes. “The good news is they still have time.” The big problem is that a lot of older voters are quite shaken that their retirement assets tanked an average of 23 percent in one year, and along with inflation at the gas pump and grocery market, they may want to blame the incumbent President. That’s not an easy fix. But Biden can at least propose a significant tax break for retirees. There is another opportunity – loudly propose irresistible tax incentives for employers, plus self-employed workers – that half of the workforce who are not in a retirement plan – to enroll in one. The big idea is for Biden and the Democrats to become the unrivaled champions of a decent retirement for all workers. It could help. Trump got 52 percent of voters over age 65 in 2020, compared to 48 percent for Biden. Census data indicate that voters over age 65, about one-fourth of all voters, had the highest turnout rate — 74 percent, in 2020.

Is ‘No Labels” a GOP front? According to Daniel Strauss at The New Republic, “For many years, Third Way and No Labels have been thought of by inside Democratic observers as peas in a pod. Both are moderate groups—Third Way explicitly Democratic, No Labels avowedly bipartisan—but both occupy, too many observers, the same general space on the ideological parking lot. Both groups are close to or involved with some of the same senators and House members, and both certainly have suffered their share of scorn from groups to their left….So it was awfully interesting Thursday when Third Way executive vice president Jim Kessler wrote an email to friends and colleagues lambasting No Labels: “The group No Labels is holding its nominating convention in Dallas to select a 3rd Party candidate that most assuredly would hurt Biden and elect Trump or whoever wins the GOP nomination. They have already raised $70m. They are already on the ballot in a bunch of states. And in a map they recently published showing their absurd path to 270 electoral college votes, they’ve targeted 23 states for victory—19 won by Biden and 4 won by Trump. That gives you an idea of what they’re up to and who they really want to elect. And as a reminder, No Labels endorsed Trump in 2016.”….As Kessler’s missive indicates, No Labels has set out to get on the ballot as its own political party in a number of states….on Friday, Third Way co-authored an op-ed in The Washington Post with a couple of unlikely allies among the constellation of Democratic groups: the Center for American Progress Action Fund and MoveOn. The effort really covered the waterfront. Third Way is centrist, CAP mainstream liberal, and MoveOn represents the party’s more progressive wing. The Post op-ed was co-bylined by the three group leaders: Third Way’s Jonathan Cowan, CAP’s Patrick Gaspard, and MoveOn’s Rahna Epting….“We understand the sentiment that has driven donors to the No Labels banner,” the three wrote. “But there is simply no equating a party led by Biden to today’s MAGA Republican Party. One side believes in American democracy, while the other has attacked it. One is governing from the mainstream, while the other champions extremism. One seeks to work collaboratively on the issues; the other has given way to conspiracy theorists and cranks”….This isn’t the first former friend No Labels has lost. William Galston, the respected centrist scholar at the Brookings Institution, said in late March that he would separate himself from the group over its plans for a third-party challenge.”

Strauss also profiles “The Democrat Who’s Betting Her Senate Bid on Gun Control” at TNR, and writes that Rep. Elisa Stotkin “has been an important centrist envoy to the Great Lakes State. The 7th Congressional District she represents, in the south central part of the state, has a population of less than 800,000, and she had won her first congressional campaign in 2018 by threading the needle between her farm-life experience in the district (she grew up in rural Holly, population less than 6,000) and her bipartisan foreign policy background: She was recruited by the CIA after graduating from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2003. She spent five years in Iraq with the CIA, and later, at the National Security Council, serving in both the Bush and the Obama administrations. (Subsequently, Slotkin worked at the State Department, then Defense.) It didn’t hurt that the Slotkin name was well-known in Michigan: Her grandfather, Hugo, ran Hygrade Food Products, the company behind Ball Park Franks. Slotkin is also a member of the New Democrat Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus, groups that liberal Democrats occasionally feud with—a fact that may endear her to some of her constituents. (Like some in the moderate caucus, she declined to support Nancy Pelosi for speaker in 2021, but she’s been a reliable vote on the House floor….Now, she’s taking aim at guns. “I’ve had friends close to me be killed by rockets,” she said back in February, referencing her time in Iraq, but “our schools and our communities are not war zones….These are civilians.”….Although Congress passed, and President Joe Biden signed, compromise gun control legislation last year, passage of any further restrictions in the current Republican-controlled House is hardly likely. Still, she is pushing ahead. By late March, her office was preparing to help roll out a new set of proposals in Congress, such as $50 million in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to finance gun violence research (co-sponsored with Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts), mandatory waiting periods for firearm purchases, and prohibiting those convicted of misdemeanors involving guns to own firearms for three years….“I think I’m the only congressperson to now have had two school shootings in their district,” Slotkin said. “I hope I’m the only one.”

At ‘The Downballot’ at Daily Kos, David Nir observes, “We took a look at which states could amend their constitutions to guarantee the right to an abortion. It’s quite a few. Last year, California, Michigan, and Vermont all voted in favor of amending their constitutions to guarantee abortion rights. They were the first states to do so. It turns out that, at least at the moment, another 23 states could do the exact same thing. There’s a reason why amending your constitution really is so important both in blue states, but especially in purple or red states. It’s the most permanent, longest-lasting way of guaranteeing abortion rights. It’s more difficult than simply passing a statute, but sometimes it’s your only option….In fact, there are two ways to go about getting an amendment on the ballot. In every state, the legislature can refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. Since we know that Republicans, of course, will never support such a thing, that means we can expect that only blue states are going to be able to have their legislatures put an amendment on the ballot. That’s what happened in California and Vermont….In some states, you only need a simple majority of the legislature. In some states, you need a two-thirds supermajority. There are even some blue states where the legislature doesn’t have enough votes to put an amendment on the ballot….But there are 18 states where voters themselves can put amendments on the ballot. They can do so by using the initiative process, which means that they gather a sufficient number of signatures from voters across the state, and then voters get to vote on that amendment if they qualify with enough signatures. This really opens up a lot of doors because it gives abortion rights advocates the chance to amend constitutions in purple and red states that are otherwise hostile to abortion or have even banned the practice….There are, in fact, two efforts underway right now that we know of in Ohio and South Dakota to qualify measures for the ballot….Florida also allows citizen initiatives on the ballot. They are expensive, they take a lot of time and effort, you have to gather large numbers of signatures. But with the courts so hostile in so many ways to abortion rights, it really is a smart move for Democrats to pursue….And also, as we saw in 2022, it’s not just the blue states where abortion rights are popular. In, once again, Montana, but also Kentucky and Kansas, voters rejected restrictions on abortion rights. Now asking them to vote for guarantees of abortion rights, a positive measure as opposed to voting against a negative restrictive measure, that’s something different….this is really an area that advocates and Democrats need to be focusing on.”

DeSantis At Liberty: When He Started Speaking, the Energy Left the Room

As a long-time student of Christian Right politics, I’ve been intrigued about how the various 2024 Republican presidential candidates will appeal to this (for them) key constituency, so I was all eyes and ears when Ron DeSantis spoke at Liberty University, as I explained at New York:

For a while now, I’ve had April 14 circled on my calendar as the day when Florida governor and likely presidential candidate Ron DeSantis would be speaking at Liberty University. The huge school in Lynchburg, Virginia, is associated with the late Jerry Falwell Sr., who turned the small Baptist college into a conservative Evangelical powerhouse. For decades, Republican politicians (and a few Democrats) have shown the flag at the school’s regular student assemblies (known as Convocations) to indicate their understanding of — and in many cases their solidarity with — the agenda of the Christian right.

When DeSantis signed a radical new “heartbeat” law banning abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy on the very eve of the speech at Liberty, I thought, Aha. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, inking the draconian measure in private at 10:30 p.m., only 15 minutes after it arrived on his desk. Perhaps he was spooked by polls showing overwhelming opposition to the law among Floridians. Or maybe he was waiting to present the new law like a gift to the culture warriors of Liberty.

But no. Liberty chancellor Jonathan Falwell touted the new abortion law in his introduction of DeSantis to predictably loud cheers. But the hero of the hour did not mention it in his relatively brief remarks.

Indeed, DeSantis’s appearance provided a sharp contrast to the trappings of the event. Before he spoke, the students joyfully sang a couple of “contemporary Christian” tunes and the old hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The crowd seemed ready for some religiopolitical fire and brimstone. And then … DeSantis pretty much delivered the stock speech he’s been using in appearances all over the country, an extended series of boasts about how he’s made Florida a “refuge of sanity,” attracting hordes of blue-state escapees hungry for wealth and freedom. It was like going to church and, instead of a sermon, hearing a speech prepared for a Rotary Club. He said not a word about his personal faith (which is pretty much a mystery); Jesus’ name went unmentioned; the “unborn” received no loving tributes. Other than a pro forma word of thanks for the prayers various people had offered his wife during her recent battle with breast cancer and another pro forma shout-out to God for endowing the human race with the freedoms DeSantis is allegedly protecting, it was an entirely secular speech.

So the Liberty students left with pretty much the same impression of DeSantis that the more politically astute among them probably had going in: He’s the enemy of their enemies, a man happy to bully LGBTQ+ children, public-school teachers, corporate-diversity personnel, Mickey Mouse, and anyone who is “woke,” but not necessarily because he’s hearing voices from a higher authority than the GOP. If DeSantis’s listeners learned anything about him, it was probably his frequently repeated reminders that, after all this right-wing nastiness, the voters of his state rewarded him with a landslide reelection. This could happen in America in 2024, too, was his not-so-subtle message.

Maybe this soulless and firmly transactional approach is all DeSantis needs to do to strengthen his standing among conservative Evangelicals. But this seems like a lost opportunity for him to create real buzz in one of the leading forums of that very important segment of the Republican-primary electorate. After all, another transactional favorite of the Christian right, Donald Trump, has created an opening by blaming the extremism of anti-abortion activists and the candidates they backed for the GOP’s underperformance in the 2022 midterm elections. In Iowa, where DeSantis must begin his uphill challenge to Trump (assuming he doesn’t get cold feet at the last moment), there’s a palpable sense the evangelical voters who lifted Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Ted Cruz in 2016 to victory in the caucuses are up for grabs. It is very much in DeSantis’s interest to make sure he and not Mike Pence, Tim Scott, or anyone else is the beneficiary of any Christian-right estrangement from Trump.

Maybe the Floridian will display an overtly religious awakening somewhere on the road to Cedar Rapids. But at this point, he’s playing the same game as the master of manipulation from Mar-a-Lago, who will be happy to remind anti-abortion voters that DeSantis would never have had the opportunity to shut down Florida’s abortion clinics if Trump hadn’t stacked the Supreme Court and forced the reversal of Roe v. Wade. And if DeSantis is ultimately going to offer Republicans little more than a more electable version of what Trump has more entertainingly offered them since 2015, potential supporters will find excuses not to turn out for him on cold nights in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the flesh may be willing but the spirit may be weak.

The Tester Template Under GOP Assault

In her article “Montana GOP Has a Ploy to Sink Sen. Jon Tester: A New Election Law” at The Daily Beast, Ursula Perano reports on the Republican scheme to defeat the MT Senator — and bury his example of how a common sense Democrat can win in a “red” state. As Perano writes:

After three Senate elections in which Democrat Jon Tester narrowly beat the Republican candidates by—collectively—40,000 votes, Montana Republicans are striking back.

The GOP-controlled state legislature is considering a radical change in election law—a change that is nakedly targeted at taking down Tester and could, in effect, flip one of the most vulnerable Senate seats well before November 2024.

Montana Republicans are trying to take a page out of California’s playbook and switch their primary election to the controversial top-two primary system, otherwise known as a “jungle primary.”

But it’s only for next year, when Tester, Montana’s last statewide Democrat, is up for re-election. After that, the change would expire, supposedly so lawmakers could assess how things went.

It’s a move that would obviously benefit the GOP—with suspiciously convenient timing. After the bill stalled in committee, the measure quickly sped through the state Senate, and now seems on the fast track toward becoming law.

Democrats, many flabbergasted by the ploy, are calling out the move.

They shouldn’t be flabbergasted. But they should be alarmed. Anyone following recent politics will not be surprised that the Republicans would try a sleazy back door gambit under the guise of “electoral reform” to unhorse one of the most impressive U.S. Senators. Perano notes further,

Republicans, hands down, would have preferred Tester not to run for re-election in 2024. He’s considered the only Montana Democrat prepared to actually compete for the Senate seat. And he’s managed to hang on through his past three elections, even as the state more broadly trended red.

But with a top-two primary, the math could sway in the GOP’s favor.

In a jungle primary, all candidates of both parties run in the same primary, and the top-two vote getters head to a runoff. That could mean that two Republicans simply beat Tester during the primary and only they go to the final vote during the general election. More likely—but potentially just as consequential—it could mean that Tester and a Republican go head-to-head during the general election, and third-party candidates, namely Libertarians, wouldn’t have a spot on the ballot.

In two of Tester’s previous three races, Republicans and Libertarians combined got more votes than Tester’s Democratic total. If there were no Libertarian option, the working assumption is Republicans would likely pick up those votes.

The GOP sees Tester as vulnerable and his seat as a potential pick-up in their quest to win a senate majority. But it may be that they fear his “template” as a rare elected Democrat who supports a moderately progressive agenda with eloquent, plain talk even more. As one of the smartest Democratic senators, Tester connects with working class voters in a way that wins their support.

Unlike Republican leaders who ride around in pick-up trucks they don’t need and fondle rifles in their campaign ads, or other “all hat and no cattle” ranchers, or GOP preppies in mega hats, Tester has authentic blue collar cred few Republicans can match. He’s the real deal, a guy who loves working on his farm, but not posing with hay bales and enjoys repping his state and keeping up with the issues that really matter to Montana farmers and working families. Try to think of a Republican senator who has even a shred of that “look.”

If the new generation of Democratic candidates replicated Tester’s example even in approximate ways, it could spell disaster for Republicans, and they know it. If events turned in such a way that Tester became a presidential candidate, even worse for them. The GOP would love to cancel Tester and blot out his example.

Don’t let them. Anyone can contribute to Tester’s re-election at this link.