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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Seniors Against Trump

Who Are the Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

The Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.

BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG

Read the Article.

Democrats – Get Ready for the Inevitable Republican Counterattack

It’s coming, and we should be prepared.
By Andrew Levison

Read the Strategy Memo.

Seniors Against Trump

Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.

BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG

Read the Article.

The Daily Strategist

August 4, 2020

No, the GOP Isn’t Moving to the Center

After another writer poured cold water on an absurd idea concerning the trajectory of the Republican Party, I amplified at New York:

With the president’s reelection prospects looking poor lately, there’s naturally an upsurge in speculation about his party’s future leadership. If he loses non-catastrophically, you might expect a struggle for the soul of the GOP between the conservative wing of the party that was dominant before Trump and various representatives of the authoritarian-populist twist on conservatism Trump represents.

But a lot of the chatter about post-Trump Republicanism dwells on two pols who would not have been considered serious national party leaders before 2016 and who most definitely do not espouse Trumpism without Trump. Those would be northeastern governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland. Baker had to publicly rule out a 2020 primary challenge to Trump to kill rumors that it might happen, and Hogan confesses he considered entering the race himself. Both men typically make the lists of 2024 presidential prospects.

What they have in common is a record of winning elections and reelections in heavily Democratic states and an ability to get national attention for distinguishing their views from those of a president who is toxically unpopular in those same states. As McKay Coppins notes in a deeply skeptical column on Hogan’s presidential prospects, that makes these moderate heretics vastly more popular among political writers than among Republican voters:

“[H]e’s routinely introduced as a prospective 2024 candidate. And as a popular blue-state governor with a pragmatic streak, Hogan is catnip for a certain kind of centrist pundit who has long fantasized about the heroic moderate riding in on a white horse to deliver the GOP from barbarism.

“But figures like Hogan have a history of attracting more column inches than votes in Republican presidential primaries. (See: John Kasich, Jon Huntsman, assorted other Jo(h)ns.)”

For the moment, and perhaps for good, pols like Hogan and Baker who have criticized Trump on multiple issues have in effect traded any possibility of national party significance for popularity back home. It works because the GOP in their states is so weak they will themselves trade orthodoxy for the rare opportunity to win statewide races (though it’s worth noting that Baker has lost control of his state party, and some speculate he may choose to run for a third gubernatorial term as an independent). And the self-disqualification for national leadership these moderates have invited isn’t just a matter of criticizing Trump: They are both pro-choice, which is an absolute nonstarter when it comes to being taken seriously as a presidential candidate in today’s GOP. The party remains formally committed to a constitutional amendment banning all abortions forever from the moment of conception.

The real leadership options Republicans will face if Trump loses in November will probably come down to the hard-core conservatives (think 2016 candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, plus Nikki Haley), who accommodated themselves to MAGA over the past four years but represent an older conservative movement, or the designated Trump successors (e.g., Mike Pence, Donald Jr., or Tucker Carlson), or perhaps those who may represent a sort of protofascist extension of Trumpism (e.g., Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley). There remains, of course, the possibility that the 45th president himself will hang around in hopes of becoming the 47th. It’s infinitely more probable than the prospect of Hogan or Baker leading the Republican Party.

 


Political Strategy Notes

“In deploying federal forces,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic, “Trump appears to be trying to provoke clashes with protesters, which he can use to convince white suburban voters that he’s the last line of defense between them and the chaos allegedly incubating in cities, Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor, told me. Referring to the street battle between construction workers and anti-war protesters in Manhattan in 1970, Emanuel said, “Trump is trying to create his own hard-hat riot, and they are wearing [law-enforcement] helmets.”…The political risk for Republicans in that strategy, many political observers told me, is not only that it could provoke more opposition from residents in the city centers, but that it could also accelerate the shift toward Democrats in the large, well-educated, and more and more diverse inner suburbs around the major cities. Over time, the “larger denser suburbs” have become “like cities and throw in with the cities”—they don’t identify as much with the less-populated areas, says Robert Lang, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and a co-author of the upcoming book Blue Metros, Red States.”

“The politics of all these proliferating battles between Republican officials and Democratic cities may unfold at two levels,” Brownstein continues. “With Trump monumentally unpopular in urban centers but still strong in rural places, the most immediate political question is how suburban voters will respond…since the 1990s, more suburbanites have concluded that their political views align more with the diverse, cosmopolitan cities nearby than with the more culturally conservative, preponderantly white, and Christian smaller places far from the urban core. Under Trump that process has intensified: He’s precipitated a significant shift toward the Democrats in white-collar suburbs that fueled the party’s sweeping gains in the House in 2018. Though Republicans once could count on big margins as soon as they crossed a city’s boundaries, Lang notes, now, in most places, “the line for Republicans has moved outward further” in the metro, he says…Trump’s alarms about “angry mobs” and “violent mayhem” in Democratic cities might allow him to recapture some Republican-leaning white suburbanites and energize his rural and small-town support, analysts in both parties told me. But as I’ve written before, his belligerent tone simultaneously risks hardening the opposition he’s facing from the many suburban voters who feel that he’s exposing them to more danger—both in his response to the policing protests and his unrelenting push to reopen the economy despite the coronavirus’s resurgence. In last week’s national Quinnipiac University poll, just over seven in 10 white voters holding at least a four-year college degree disapproved of Trump’s handling of both race relations and the outbreak.”

At The New York Times, columnist Thomas B. Edsall takes a look at a range of studies of the determinates of liberal and conservative views, and his findings may help explain Trump’s messaging success in 2016. As Edsall writes “In a February 2019 paper, “Liberals lecture, conservatives communicate: Analyzing complexity and ideology in 381,609 political speeches,” four political scientists, Martijn Schoonvelde, Anna Brosius, Gijs Schumacher and Bert N. Bakker, argue that “speakers from culturally liberal parties use more complex language than speakers from culturally conservative parties” and that this variance in linguistic complexity is “rooted in personality differences among conservative and liberal politicians. The former prefer short, unambiguous statements, and the latter prefer longer compound sentences, expressing multiple points of view.”…The authors cite studies suggesting that this linguistic divide is persistent: “The Readability and Simplicity of Donald Trump’s Language,” published in The Political Studies Review and “Research on linguistic habits of American and British politicians shows that conservative politicians make less complex statements than liberal politicians.”

Edsall writes, further, “One study showed that “the speeches of liberal US presidents score higher on integrative complexity than those of conservatives, as measured by the presence of “words involved in differentiation (exclusive words, tentative words, negations) as well as integration of different perspectives (conjunctions).”…Another found that “conservative political bloggers use less complex language than their liberal counterparts and conservative citizens use language that scores lower on integrative complexity than liberal citizens.”…Separate studies of the language used by presidents — both “The Readability and Simplicity of Donald Trump’s Language,” and an analysis of the language used by the last 15 presidents on the blog Factbase — concluded that President Trump speaks at the lowest level of all those studied, as measured on the on the Flesch-Kincaid index. As Factbase put it: “By any metric to measure vocabulary, using more than a half dozen tests with different methodologies, Donald Trump has the most basic, most simplistically constructed, least diverse vocabulary of any president in the last 90 years.”

In addition, Edsall notes that “Some scholars argue that a focus on ideological conflict masks the most salient divisions in the era of Donald Trump: authoritarians versus non-authoritarians…Karen Stenner, the author of “The Authoritarian Dynamic,” emailed me on this point to say that “It’s really critical to help people understand the difference between conservatives and authoritarians. Conservatives are by nature opposed to change and novelty, whereas authoritarians are averse to diversity and complexity. It’s a subtle but absolutely critical distinction…“What we’re facing,” she continued, “is an authoritarian revolution — not a conservative revolution, the term is inherently contradictory — which in the U.S. has been creeping up since the 1960s…Authoritarianism, Stenner continued, is “clearly distinct from what I call “laissez faire conservatism.” In fact, in cross-national research I consistently find that these two dimensions are actually negatively related. If anything, authoritarians tend to be wary of free markets and more supportive of government intervention and redistribution, perhaps even schemes of equalization and progressive taxation.””

Trump’s messaging has taken the politics of distraction to a new low, piling one outrage on top of another so quickly that the news media has trouble keeping focused on his unprecedented corruption. “Trump has been involved in so many scandals and says so many reprehensible things,” writes E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his Washington Post column, “that our country has developed a kind of herd immunity to the outrage that just one of his actions would have called forth in any previous administration. We have allowed Trump to fend off one scandal with . . . another scandal…The key is seeing that Trump’s entirely selfish approach to the presidency has a measurable and material impact on the lives of citizens and on the policies he pursues — to the extent that he is interested in policy at all. He cares above all about his own finances, his ego, his ratings and escaping accountability. Everything else falls by the wayside …Trump’s opponents cannot assume, as they did in 2016, that if they drive home just how awful Trump is personally, voters will recoil in horror. This year, it is essential to make the case that Trump’s corruption means that most of the time he pays no attention to governing. And when he does, he governs in a way that subordinates the public interest to his own interests — and the interests of those who keep him in power.”

The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Indexmeasures how much more Democratic or Republican a district performs compared to the national average.” For example, AL-1 has a p.v.i. rating of R+15, which means that this congressional district voted an average of 15 points more for Republican presidential candidates than the national average in the last two presidential elections.  To find out your congressional district’s p.v.i., click here.

In his article, “Primary voting was a disaster. The general election doesn’t have to be that way,” David Litt, former speechwriter for President Barack Obama and author of “Democracy In One Book Or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think,” writes: “But it’s not too late to protect the integrity of the 2020 election while making it safe for every eligible American to vote. There are simple steps states and counties can take that would dramatically reduce the possibility of disaster at the ballot box or mailbox this year…First, states must set clear ground rules as early as possible. Because the impacts of coronavirus weren’t really felt in America until March, many officials had little time to make decisions about how to run the primary election process, leading to fear and confusion among the electorate. But when it comes to the general election, we have more time to prepare…Who automatically gets sent an absentee ballot? How many polling places remain open? When is the deadline for ballots to be sent or received? With the coronavirus still raging across the country, these kinds of questions must be decided decisively and quickly enough that any legal challenges to new rules can work their way through the courts.”

Litt adds, “Second, when adapting to the virus, states should err on the side of making it easier, not harder, to vote. Contrary to President Donald Trump’s evidence-free tweets, there’s no indication that mail-in voting will lead to large-scale election fraud. Five states already conducted their elections entirely by mail before the pandemic hit, and the President himself voted by mail in 2018. But there is clear evidence that confusion over mail-in balloting, coupled with overly strict rules about which ballots do and do not count, can discourage voting and invalidate eligible citizens’ ballots…To prevent this, states should mail all registered voters not only an absentee ballot, but clear instructions for how to use it. Upon receiving those ballots, states should apply the election equivalent of “innocent until proven guilty.” Rather than assume ballots with small errors are fraudulent and shouldn’t be counted, they should assume they’re valid and should be counted. In practice, this means making an aggressive effort to contact voters whose ballots are in danger of being thrown out for minor errors and giving them ample time to correct any irregularities…By acting quickly and taking commonsense, non-partisan steps, we can preserve the most important element of our country’s promise: that we, the people, can shape our destiny together.”


Trump on Wrong Track for Reelection

As part of my general coverage of the 2020 presidential campaign at New York, I noted Charlie Cook’s discussion of an important metric for presidents running for reelection:

If you want to know why Team Trump is so frantic to make the November election a “choice” rather than a “referendum,” Charlie Cook has a very good answer: Presidents running for reelection when voters are sour on the country’s direction tend to lose, sometimes badly. There’s a polling metric for that perception, generally known as right track/wrong track:

“[This is] an age-old poll question, usually worded something like: ‘Generally speaking, do you think that the country is headed in the right direction or is off on the wrong track?’ Ronald Reagan’s legendary pollster Richard Wirthlin popularized the metric, even calling it ‘the Dow Jones indicator of American politics.'”

It’s a particularly important number for presidents running for reelection. There have been six of those in the past 40 years. For the four who won, the “right track” number just prior to the election was at 47 percent (Reagan 1984), 39 percent (Clinton 1996), 41 percent (George W. Bush 2004) and 42 percent (Obama 2012). The two who lost had much poorer “right track” numbers: 20 percent (Carter 1980) and 17 percent (Poppy Bush 1992).

Guess which set of numbers is similar to today’s? Cook has the answer:

“In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research, ‘right direction’ was a dismal 19 percent, compared to a ‘wrong track’ of 72 percent, for a net minus 53 points. These are numbers screaming for change, and unlike four years ago when Donald Trump was running against a party that had held the White House for eight years, he is seeking a contract renewal and representing the status quo. Joe Biden is the candidate of change, even if it is a change back toward normal. Indeed, a different Republican strategist summed up the mood of the electorate as hoping for someone to make their lives normal again.”

Getting voters to change their view of Biden sufficiently to make them forget about the terrible disappointments of the Trump administration — including its mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic — would be quite the heavy lift even if Trump were a sunny, likable fellow who just ran into a patch of bad luck and held some residual goodwill from a sizable majority of the public. He’s none of that, of course, and really needs a positive feeling about the direction of the country to offset deeply entrenched misgivings about his nasty, erratic, and mendacious personality.


Data Shows House Trends Favor Democrats

At The Cook Political Report, David Wasserman reports that “20 Races Move Towards Democrats,” and notes:

We may be approaching the point at which dozens of House Republicans will need to decide whether to cut the president loose and run on a “check and balance” message, offering voters insurance against congressional Democrats moving too far left under a potential Biden administration.

Trump now trails Joe Biden by nine points in the FiveThirtyEight average, roughly matching Democrats’ average lead on the generic congressional ballot and seven points larger than his 2016 popular vote deficit. But because there are plenty of solidly blue urban districts where Trump didn’t have much room to fall in the first place, his decline is especially acute in swing suburban districts with lots of college graduates.

Republicans began the cycle hoping to pick up 18 seats to win the majority back. Now they’re just trying to avoid a repeat of 2008, when they not only lost the presidency but got swamped by Democrats’ money and lost even more House seats after losing 30 seats and control two years earlier. For the first time this cycle, Democrats have at least as good a chance at gaining House seats as Republicans on a net basis.

Wasserman flags the following races as “reflecting movement toward Democrats”:

AZ-02: Ann Kirkpatrick (D) – Likely D to Solid D
CA-04: Tom McClintock (R) – Solid R to Likely R
CA-39: Gil Cisneros (D) – Lean D to Likely D
CO-06: Jason Crow (D) – Likely D to Solid D
IN-05: OPEN (Brooks) (R) – Lean R to Toss Up
KS-02: Steve Watkins (R) – Likely R to Lean R
MN-01: Jim Hagedorn (R) – Likely R to Lean R
MN-03: Dean Phillips (D) – Likely D to Solid D
NE-02: Don Bacon (R) – Lean R to Toss Up
NC-08: Richard Hudson (R) – Likely R to Lean R
NC-09: Dan Bishop (R) – Solid R to Likely R
OH-01: Steve Chabot (R) – Lean R to Toss Up
OH-12: Troy Balderson (R) – Solid R to Likely R
PA-08: Matt Cartwright (D) – Toss Up to Lean D
TX-03: Van Taylor (R) – Solid R to Likely R
TX-06: Ron Wright (R) – Solid R to Likely R
TX-21: Chip Roy (R) – Lean R to Toss Up
TX-25: Roger Williams (R) – Solid R to Likely R
VA-10: Jennifer Wexton (D) – Likely D to Solid D
WA-03: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) – Likely R to Lean R

Wasserman proves one paragraph summaries of the trends for each race and also provides a link to summary data for “all competitive races,” with lean, toss-up or likely designations for each race.

Also check out sbd’s “Here are the Lean D House races. Find one to support at Daily Kos, which notes that “Pundit ratings and a few polls show 230 D, 21 Tossup, 184 R.” Sbd also provides short analysis for each of the districts and this map of which parties hold U.S. congressional districts:

Kyle Kondik’s “The House: Democratic Murmurings in the Texas Suburbs – and Elsewhere: 11 rating changes, most in favor of Democrats” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball also merits a read. Kondik explains why “as many as 10 Republican-held House seats could become vulnerable” in Texas and why “Democrats remain favored to retain their House majority.”

“Overall,” Kondik writes, “our ratings now show 227 House seats at least leaning to the Democrats, 194 at least leaning to the Republicans, and 14 Toss-ups. Splitting the Toss-ups down the middle would mean a 234-201 House, a one-seat GOP improvement on 2018.”


Teixeira: Persuasion, Baby – It’s a Beautiful Thing!

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

Let’s Face It: Biden’s Running a Smart Campaign!

And–dare I say it?–it’s pretty much as I argued a Democrat should run and not the way recommended by the base mobilization is everything/get nonvoters to vote/there are no swing voters/the white working class is hopeless crowd. In other words, persuasion, baby! It’s a beautiful thing.

And the pundits are catching up too! Ezra Klein:

“The key to Biden’s success is simple: He’s slicing into Trump’s coalition, pulling back the older, whiter voters Democrats lost in 2016. The Biden campaign’s insight is that mobilization is often the flip side of polarization: When party activists are sharply divided by ideology and demography, what excites your side will be the very thing that unnerves the other side. Studies of House elections show this dynamic in action: Ideologically extreme candidates perform worse than moderates because they drive up turnout on the other side.

Biden’s theory of wavering Trump voters is the same as his theory of wavering Republican senators: He thinks they want to vote with him but need help getting over their political hang-ups about voting for a Democrat. And so he is trying to give them that help. He praises the old Republican Party, refuses to pick a side in American politics’ hottest fights. Biden has resisted calls to abolish private insurance, ban fracking, decriminalize immigration, and defund the police. It’s cost him enthusiasm on the left, but it has denied Trump the clear foil he needs. That’s left Trump confused, pathetically insisting Biden holds positions Biden doesn’t hold and getting fact-checked live on Fox.”

Gerald Seib:

“Is there a hidden Trump vote? The good news for President Trump is this: There just might be.

The bad news for the president: The universe of potential hidden supporters is heavily populated with the kinds of people who happen to be more comfortable with Joe Biden than they were with Hillary Clinton four years ago….

[W]orking-class whites are far more comfortable with Mr. Biden than they were with Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Biden projects more as working-class Joe from Scranton, a beer-and-shot kind of guy with a long history of police-union support, than as a representative of the urban, liberal Democratic elites that many blue-collar voters distrust and disdain. It’s no coincidence that Mr. Biden came out early against the movement to defund police departments.

“The guy just doesn’t project a sense that he doesn’t like white working-class people, or considers them beyond the pale, or that they aren’t worth talking to,” says Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who has long urged Democrats to work to maintain the party’s historical allegiance of working-class voters.”


Political Strategy Notes

At Sabato’s Crystall Ball, Louis Jacobson takes a look at the longer horizon of elections and sketches “The Future Shape of the Senate.” As Jacobsen writes, “The Constitution divides the Senate into three “classes” that face the voters on six-year cycles. Under today’s political dynamics, the class that faced the voters in 2018 was favorable to the Republicans, while the class that faces the voters in 2020 is favorable to the Democrats…What about the class that faces the voters in 2022? Our analysis shows that this class is also favorable to the Democrats…If the Democrats manage to seize the Senate majority in 2020, the relatively pro-Democratic map in 2022 could insulate the party somewhat if Joe Biden is elected president and a midterm backlash benefiting the GOP emerges…The Democrats will need to run up the score in the Senate in both 2020 and 2022 if they are going to keep the majority past the 2024 elections, when the Republicans benefit from an extremely favorable map for their party.”

In his Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes about a new opportunity for bipartisan legislation that can help working people. “Last week, a group of socially conservative luminaries — are they the last surviving “compassionate conservatives”? — strongly endorsed further aid for some of the most economically vulnerable people in our country…In a letter organized by W. Bradford Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the signers called for an expansion of the earned-income tax credit, which, as they noted, “rewards work,” and a $2,000 payment this fall under the Child Tax Credit program…Progressives rightly take conservatives to task for preaching about “family values” without offering any concrete help for parents desperate to build better lives for their children. Here, happily, is one occasion when words and deeds intersect…And the Child Tax Credit is the ideal policy for bringing together the left and the kinder-hearted right. Expanding the credit has been a major cause of a group of Democrats that includes Sens. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), as well as Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Richard E. Neal (Mass.) — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Versions of it have also won endorsement from Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Josh Hawley (Mo.).”

In her article, “Nearly 6 million donors contributed record $710 million through ActBlue in three months, group says,” Fredrecka Schouten notes at CNN politics that “In all five Senate contests considered toss-ups by the Cook Political Report — races in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Maine and Montana — Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbent senators during the April-to-June fundraising quarter, according to candidate filings with the Federal Election Commission …Democrats need a net gain of just four seats to seize the chamber from Republicans or three if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidency and his vice president breaks ties in a 50-50 Senate. Republicans have sought to catch up to Democrats’ online advantage…WinRed, launched last year as a conservative counterweight to ActBlue, raised more than $275 million for Republican candidates in the second quarter, the group previously announced. That set a record for the GOP platform.”

At Vox, Ezra Klein reports, “Last week, Joe Biden held a 45-minute call with a small group of reporters, including myself. The main subject of the conversation was Biden’s new plan, Build Back Better: a new, post-Covid framework for his proposals to build clean energy infrastructure, revitalize American manufacturing, make care work pay for those who do it and affordable for those who need it, and address racial inequalities. My question was simple. Democrats don’t have a path to 60 seats in the Senate. So how will Biden keep his agenda from dying at the hands of the filibuster? Would he support filibuster reform, or elimination? Biden’s reply was his campaign in miniature, reflecting both the instincts that have made him successful and the caution that has frustrated many on the left…“I think it’s going to depend on how obstreperous they” — meaning Republicans — “become, and if they become that way,” he replied. “I have not supported the elimination of the filibuster because it has been used as often to protect rights I care about as the other way around. But you’re going to have to take a look at it.”…That answer, which reflected a genuine shift in Biden’s rhetoric on the issue, made some headlines. But it wasn’t the end of Biden’s argument. “I’ll say something outrageous,” he continued. “I think I have a pretty good record of pulling together Democrats and Republicans.” He went on to say many Senate Republicans will feel “a bit liberated” by Trump’s defeat and may be ready to work with Democrats on issues like infrastructure and racial inequality.”

Klein also observes, “After the 2016 election, panicked, wounded Democrats settled on a diagnosis. Trump, for all his mania, bigotry, and chaos, had given angry Americans something to vote for. To stop him, Democrats would need to match force with counter-force, polarization with mobilization. They would need to show as much anger, as much populism, as much wrecking ball energy as he did…Biden is running — and, for now, winning — by defying that diagnosis. He is executing a careful, quiet campaign focused less on thrilling his partisans than denying Trump the boogeyman he needs to reenergize his base. It’s a campaign that frustrates liberal activists and pundits because it repeatedly, routinely denies them the excitement and collisions that structure modern politics. It’s also, for that reason, a campaign that is frustrating Trump and Fox News, which is why they keep trying to run against Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar instead.”

Klein adds, “What’s striking is how well it appears to be working. As I write this, Biden is ahead by more than 9 points in the FiveThirtyEight national polling average. The Economist’s election forecasting model gives him a 92 percent likelihood of winning the Electoral College. He leads in polling averages of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and North Carolina. He’s neck-and-neck with Trump in Texas. Texas! As the New York Times’s Nate Cohn notes, even if polls prove as off in 2020 as they did in 2016, these numbers still predict a large Biden victory…The key to Biden’s success is simple: He’s slicing into Trump’s coalition, pulling back the older, whiter voters Democrats lost in 2016. The Biden campaign’s insight is that mobilization is often the flip side of polarization: When party activists are sharply divided by ideology and demography, what excites your side will be the very thing that unnerves the other side. Studies of House elections show this dynamic in action: Ideologically extreme candidates perform worse than moderates because they drive up turnout on the other side.”

Klein says, further, “Biden’s theory of wavering Trump voters is the same as his theory of wavering Republican senators: He thinks they want to vote with him but need help getting over their political hang-ups about voting for a Democrat. And so he is trying to give them that help. He praises the old Republican Party, refuses to pick a side in American politics’ hottest fights. Biden has resisted calls to abolish private insurance, ban fracking, decriminalize immigration, and defund the police. It’s cost him enthusiasm on the left, but it has denied Trump the clear foil he needs. That’s left Trump confused, pathetically insisting Biden holds positions Biden doesn’t hold and getting fact-checked live on Fox…Biden is treating Trump voters not as a monolith but as a coalition — a coalition that can be broken.All this has given Biden the opportunity to run the campaign he’s most comfortable with, and most suited to run. A campaign that’s more about giving people who don’t agree with him on everything permission to vote for him, rather than a campaign about mobilizing his own base. It might not work in every year, against every opponent, but it’s working this year, against this one.”


RIP John Lewis. His Struggle Will Survive Him.

On the sad news of the death of John Lewis, I’ll republish here the piece I wrote earlier this month for New York on a new documentary about his life.

On the eve of the 44th president’s inauguration in Washington, Georgia congressman John Lewis said, “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.”

This was a remarkable comment from the man who was severely injured by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March of 1965, a police riot that horrified the country and paved the way for adoption of the Voting Rights Act in July of that year. David Remnick’s 2010 Obama biography made Lewis’s quote a departure point; the new president represented the “Joshua generation” that had reached a post-racial promised land through the efforts of the “Moses generation” of civil-rights leaders like Lewis. By implication, that older generation could retire from the spotlight with dignity, its essential work having been completed.

Over a decade later, for John Lewis at least, that dignified retirement turned out to be an illusion. In a new documentary film by Dawn Porter, John Lewis: Good Trouble, the veteran voting-rights champion views himself as facing the potential reversal of his life’s work via an open conservative crusade to restrict the franchise, led by Obama’s successor in the White House. Indeed, Obama himself is a relatively minor figure in the film, which skillfully alternates between footage and narrative of Lewis’s early life and his series of key contributions to the civil-rights and voting-rights movements of the 1960s, and his most recent efforts to fight voter suppression and the white identity politics of the contemporary right, notably in the 2018 midterm elections.

There’s an anecdote in the film in which a Lewis speechwriter asked him if he had ever spoken before a crowd as large as the one he addressed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (a speech for which I had the privilege of helping rehearse Lewis, the most decent politician I met in many years of convention service). He gently reminded her he had spoken to a throng of a quarter-million people during the March.

At every step of the way, Lewis was brutalized by police and civilian racist violence, earning him respect even from his enemies for his courage, without shaking his commitment to the principles of nonviolence he learned in Nashville. Porter’s film touches on the famous incidents in which Lewis was so intimately involved, including the Freedom Summer in Mississippi that led to the murder of civil-rights volunteers by Klansmen, another moment that helped rouse the conscience of the country.

Likely because the film wants to depict Lewis’s current political battles as something of a throwback to his civil-rights heyday, it doesn’t dwell much on his turn to more conventional political pursuits, other than a segment on the sadly bitter 1986 congressional election in which Lewis defeated his old friend and SNCC colleague (and later NAACP chairman) Julian Bond, and began his long career in the U.S. House.

But in the portions of the film devoted to his more recent campaign work we are shown the merger of Lewis’s social movement and party politics backgrounds. It’s made clear that the development that turned him from a well-deserved semi-retirement was the destruction of the key enforcement provisions of the Voting Right Act by the Supreme Court in 2013. The shocking nature of this reversal is illustrated by footage of George W. Bush proudly signing a bipartisan extension of the VRA in 2006.

By 2018, Lewis was barnstorming the country, pursuing the twin goals of a Democratic takeover of the House (in which he serves in the party leadership) and the battle to vindicate voting rights. A segment on midterm Election Night and the immediate aftermath shows his pride in the party’s victory (which also expanded the ranks of the Congressional Black Caucus), but also his dismay at the defeat of Stacey Abrams, in some respects his heir as a southern voting-rights champion, for the governorship of his own state after an aggressive campaign of voter suppression by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Toward the end of Porter’s film, he is given tributes by a number of young politicians of color (e.g., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Cory Booker) who stress both his legacy and his continued leadership. Now they, rather than Obama, seem to represent the end of the bridge in Selma. Stacey Abrams encapsulates the message by saying Lewis is a living reminder that “the past isn’t past.”

You get the sense watching Lewis in the more recent footage that like most people his age, he’s slowed down. His wife of 44 years, Lillian, passed away in 2012. There is no explicit reference to his diagnosis late last year of pancreatic cancer, though clearly his staff and friends are solicitous about his health. There’s no question the upshot of the film is that defeating Donald Trump in 2020 and reestablishing inalienable voting rights would represent the capstone of a very public life. Even if his body is now weak, his voice is the same, bred in the sermons of the Black church in Jim Crow Alabama, a voice of prophecy, determination, and charity. I’m sure John Lewis has his regrets like all of us, but his principles haven’t changed since his training in nonviolent social change in Nashville six decades ago.

The title of Porter’s film comes from a frequently repeated saying of Lewis’s, usually preceded by a reference to his 40 arrests over the years: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, say something. Do something. Get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” It’s his fate to be placed in the position of still being a troublemaker at the age of 80. But for this singular man, it’s more appropriate than a quiet retirement.

May he rest in piece as others take up his struggle.


January in Georgia Could Be Red-Hot in 2021

I thought another reminder of Georgia’s funny elections laws and why they might matter this year was in order, and wrote it up for New York:

Democrats are looking at more than a presidential win in November. A Democratic Senate would probably ensure a Biden administration could get its executive and judicial appointees confirmed while giving it a fighting chance of enacting a legislative agenda as well.

Right now, if you go by the Cook Political Report’s renowned cheat sheet, there are 11 competitive Senate races on tap in November, 9 of them involving seats currently held by Republicans and 2 held by Democrats. The Democrats need a net gain of three seats for control of the Senate, assuming Joe Biden’s veep is the tiebreaker. Since one Democratic-held seat in Alabama is in considerable peril, it may require flipping four Republican seats to get the job done. It will be a reach, but assuming Biden wins solidly, not a long reach.

Unless there is a Democratic tsunami, however, we may not know who controls the Senate for a good while after November 2. In part that’s because of likely heavy voting by mail that will delay definitive “calls” on close races. But there’s another reason for delayed gratification: one state with peculiar election laws that is home to two competitive Senate races.

In Georgia, a red state that’s been steadily turning purple in recent years, winning a general election requires a majority of the vote. If no one achieves a majority (which typically happens in razor-close contests with some minor-party voting), a runoff is held in December for state and local offices, and in January for federal offices. There have in the past been two U.S. Senate general-election runoffs, in 1992 and in 2008. If the Senate race involving Republican incumbent David Perdue and well-financed Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff ends with a plurality winner, a runoff will be held on January 5, 2021.

But there’s a second Senate race in Georgia that is quite likely to go to a runoff: the special election to choose someone to finish the term Isakson gave up at the end of last year due to poor health. Under Georgia’s rules, a nonpartisan “jungle primary” will be held the same day as the general election (November 3), and if no one wins a majority, the top two finishers will go to a January 5 runoff. There are 20 candidates who will appear on the ballot, including the interim appointed senator, Republican Kelly Loeffler. She faces fierce competition for Republican voters from congressman Doug Collins. Democratic leaders are mostly backing Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock, but early polls have shown Matt Lieberman (son of Joe) with significant support, probably because of name ID. The odds of anyone winning a majority in November are low.

Perhaps one party or the other will nail down a Senate majority on or soon after Election Day. But there’s a nontrivial chance it could all come down to Georgia in January.

The conventional wisdom is that Republicans would be favored in either or both Senate runoffs because their more affluent voters are more likely to turn out for a special election. In the two precedents we have, Republican Paul Coverdell upset incumbent Democratic senator Wyche Fowler in 1992, and Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss easily dispatched Democrat Jim Martin in 2008. But Senate control was not at stake in either of those contests. And even though Republican Karen Handel prevailed over Jon Ossoff (the self-same candidate now opposing Perdue) in the famous 2017 special House election in the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia, turnout from both party bases was robust.

What would one or two January runoffs with the Senate at stake be like? Probably an insane frenzy with every unemployed campaign worker and every unspent campaign dollar in the whole country being deployed in one place. Whoever is president would definitely have Georgia on his mind 24/7. The vice-president (who could be Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms or 2018 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, according to many Biden veep lists) would be waiting with gavel at the ready.

Early voting would definitely begin during the holiday season, when Americans traditionally try to think about anything and everything other than politics (particularly after what is likely to be a vicious and possibly contested general election). For all we know, COVID-19 (or fears of its reemergence) could still be inhibiting in-person political activity and complicating voting. And Georgia is quite the testing ground for get-out-the-vote efforts these days, with veteran vote suppressor Brian Kemp in the governorship and his 2018 challenger Abrams heading up the nation’s preeminent voting-rights group.

Those unfamiliar with Georgia may not realize that this Deep South state has some mighty cold weather in January. But it could be a red-hot political site in early 2021.


Political Strategy Notes

Democrats now have a nominee to take away Republican Senator John Cornyn’s seat in November. As Cameron Peters reports in “Air Force veteran MJ Hegar wins the Texas Democratic Senate primary” at Vox. “Air Force veteran Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar will officially face Sen. John Cornyn in November after winning out against state Sen. Royce West in Texas’s Democratic primary runoff on Tuesday…Hegar secured the endorsement not just from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee but also from major national groups including EMILY’s List, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She has long been the anointed candidate to take on Cornyn, and she was the top vote-getter in Texas’s Super Tuesday primary in March…On Tuesday, she again defeated West, a progressive fixture of Democratic politics in Texas. In the lead-up to the runoff, Hegar and her allies spent heavily to make sure they put the race away: According to the Texas Tribune, she, along with the DSCC and EMILY’s List, poured at least $2 million into ads in the Houston area over the last week of the race, outspending West 85 to 1…But Cornyn looks to be somewhat more popular in the state than his colleague in the Senate, never mind the president, and he’s running anywhere from 8 to 13 points ahead of Hegar in recent polling, so she’ll have her work cut out for her.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains former Vice President Biden’s messaging strategy: “Yes, his program is more broadly progressive than Barack Obama’s. Biden would take on climate change more aggressively, use government more forcefully to jump-start a sagging economy, and go well beyond the Affordable Care Act in guaranteeing all Americans health coverage…But we are living in a very different time: The economy is in even greater turmoil than it was in 2009, and inequalities of all kinds are more glaring. And Biden is betting that the divisiveness of the Trump era and the widespread suffering from the novel coronavirus and its economic consequences have rekindled a national desire to think of ourselves as an “us” and a “we.”…If Trump wants to make the election about socialism vs. capitalism, Biden wants to make it a very American choice between community and a radical kind of individualism that leaves many people stranded. Biden’s model is not Karl Marx but Franklin D. Roosevelt…Biden seems to have decided that he wants not only to beat Trump but also to lay the groundwork for governing. He is trying to assemble an agenda acceptable to the various wings of his own party and to argue for it by transcending the stale and hackneyed dividing lines that drive Trump’s approach to politics.”

What are the strategic implications of the shake-up in Trump’s re-election campaign. At CNN Politics, Caroline Kelly explains: “Trump’s decision to name Stepien deputy campaign manager in May was viewed by many around the campaign as an effort by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, to ensure a successor loyal to him in the event Parscale would need to be pushed out…After a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Stepien on Tuesday, Kushner informed Parscale of the decision to demote him, according to a source familiar with the conversation.” Could it be that Brad Parscale’s data-driven approach to targeting unmotivated, but persuadable voters is now seen as unworkable for Trump’s rapidly-tanking campaign? If so, then it seems a good bet that Stepien’s ascendancy signals a stronger emphasis on trying to divide Biden’s white working-class supporters with increasingly desperate appeals to their fears about race and immigration.

“Polls consistently show that Trump’s supporters are more excited to vote for him than presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s supporters are to vote for him,” Michael Tesler writes at FiveThirtyEight. “For example, half of Trump supporters in a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll said they were “very excited” about their candidate, compared to just 27 percent of Biden backers. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale even described their enthusiasm advantage over Biden as “the most important factor in the campaign…But the significance of this “enthusiasm gap” is exaggerated. Enthusiastic votes count just as much as unenthusiastic ones, meaning an enthusiasm gap would only really matter in a close election. And right now, it isn’t a close election: Biden leads Trump in national polls by nearly 9 points. No enthusiasm advantage — no matter how big — could possibly make up for that kind of a gap.”

“To be sure,” Tesler adds, “that negative enthusiasm gap will almost certainly narrow as Trump ratchets up his attacks on Biden. But it’s unlikely Biden will engender the same level of hatred that Clinton did. Even though she’s spent four years out of the political limelight, Republicans are still more hostile to Clinton than Biden. A Fox News poll from last month found that 76 percent had a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Clinton, compared to 64 percent of Republicans who held the same opinion of Biden…As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer astutely put it, “The notion of a Biden presidency simply does not provoke the visceral rage that Clinton and Obama did — not in Trump, and not in his supporters.” So long as Biden’s campaign does not evoke such negativity, Trump will likely be the one on the short end of the 2020 enthusiasm gap.”

From “The Plot Against America: The GOP’s Plan to Suppress the Vote and Sabotage the Election: Blocking ballots, intimidating voters, spreading misinformation — undermining democracy is at the heart of Trump’s 2020 campaign” by Andy Kroll at Rolling Stone: “In recent months, a central theme of his re-election strategy has come into clear, unmistakable focus: Trump and his Republican enablers are putting voter suppression front and center — fear-mongering about voting by mail, escalating their Election Day poll watching and so-called ballot-security operations, and blocking funding to prepare the country for a pandemic-era election. “The president views vote-by-mail as a threat to his election,” a lawyer for the Trump campaign recently told 60 Minutes. Attorney General William Barr told Fox News that vote-by-mail “absolutely opens the floodgates to fraud.”

Kroll continues: “In February, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee announced that they would spend $10 million on voting-related lawsuits in 2020 — a figure that has since doubled to $20 million. The RNC has so far filed lawsuits in more than a dozen states, including the battlegrounds of Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. These suits are a mix of offense and defense: Some attempt to block litigation brought by Democratic groups to expand mail-in voting in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Others seek to invalidate state-level policies by saying that expanding access to mail-in ballots invites fraud. But the uniting theme of the RNC’s suits, says Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine law professor and author of Election Meltdown, is simple: “Casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. Raising spurious fraud claims.”

Further, Kroll adds, “The funders of the RNC’s 2020 legal war chest are a who’s who of plutocrats and industry titans for whom a $100,000 check to the president is pocket change. According to an analysis of election records by Rolling Stone, these funders include L.L. Bean heiress Linda Bean, private-equity magnate Stephen Schwarzman, Johnson & Johnson heir Ambassador Woody Johnson, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), the Ricketts family that founded TD Ameritrade, coal barons Joe Craft and Robert Murray, billionaire financiers John Paulson and John W. Childs, financial executive Charles Schwab, Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan, and Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter. “It’s no surprise to see that the list of wealthy people bankrolling the RNC’s attack on voting rights includes some of the biggest benefactors of the Trump administration’s economic policy,” says Morris Pearl, chair of Patriotic Millionaires. “They don’t want to protect our elections — they want to protect their positions of privilege.”

Kroll notes a “a 1982 consent decree between the Democratic and Republican parties. Even though the RNC refused to admit wrong-doing in New Jersey, the group agreed to stop harassing and intimidating voters of color, including by deputizing off-duty law-enforcement officers and equipping those officers with guns or badges. Over the next three decades, Democrats marshaled enough evidence of ongoing Republican voter suppression to maintain the consent decree until 2018, when a federal judge lifted the order…The 2020 presidential election will be the first in nearly 40 years when the RNC isn’t bound by the terms of the 1982 decree. Clark, the Trump campaign lawyer, told the group of Republicans at the private meeting last November that the end of the consent decree was “a huge, huge, huge, huge deal,” freeing the RNC to directly coordinate with campaigns and political committees on so-called Election Day operations. The RNC is sending millions of dollars to state Republican parties to vastly expand these measures, which include recruiting 50,000 poll observers to deploy in key precincts. Josh Helton, a lawyer who has advised the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has described Philadelphia, where black people make up 41 percent of the population, as “probably the epicenter for voter fraud in this country” and a likely target for the GOP’s 2020 poll-watching efforts.”


Teixeira: How ‘Cancel Culture’ Threatens Dems

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

Could Cancel Culture Hurt the Democrats?

Sure it could. At the current moment, Trump is so detested that his ability to exploit excesses associated with this culture is limited. But greater harm is certainly possible in the future, both in this election season and beyond. Amy Walter has the following in one of her recent columns:

“it’s hard to be an effective messenger when just 41 percent of Americans approve the job you are doing as president and just over a third think you are doing a good job handling racial issues.

Even so, warns one GOP strategist I spoke with this week, there is real concern among suburban voters about where this so-called ‘cancel culture’ or what we called in the old-days, PCism, is headed.

This strategist, who has been deeply involved in both quantitative and qualitative work with suburban voters across the country, acknowledged that these voters are not interested in preserving Confederate statues or flags. They are sympathetic to Black Lives Matter and supportive of the protests against police violence.

But, this person points out, they are also wary of how far this reckoning will go. Over the last week or so, they’ve raised the question of “where does it end?” They cringe at reports of statues of Christopher Columbus being tossed into a lake and are upset to read of another public figure fired for a controversial Facebook post that they put up years ago.

However, the challenge for Trump in being able to exploit these concerns is that these voters “are mostly done with him” and think that “he makes everything worse.” As a messenger, this person said, Trump has “zero credibility” with these suburbanites.

In the era of Trump, Democrats have become more and more reliant on suburban voters. But, as one Democratic strategist wondered aloud the other day: are Democrats simply renting them until Trump is no longer in office? This GOP strategist argues that one way to lose them is to assume that they want to move as far on social, racial and cultural reckoning, as many within the Democratic Party and/or the left would like to go.

And, this worry of an ‘overcorrection’ of Trump-ism, isn’t happening only in suburban living rooms and kitchens. Earlier this week, more than 150 prominent artists and public thinkers signed onto a letter titled “A Letter On Justice and Open Debate,” that ran in Harper’s. This letter mirrored what the GOP strategist told me were “simmering” concerns from suburbanites: worries about public shaming and retribution for expressing opposing or non-PC views.”

So, be worried. There are a large number of voters who are currently on the Democratic train who will be tempted to get off in the future if Democrats do not clearly dissociate themselves from the movement’s excesses. Dislike of Trump can only go so far in keeping Democratic voters Democratic.