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The Daily Strategist

April 20, 2021

Juul and Katulis: Weaving a new liberal narrative – Why liberals need new institutions to tell a compelling political story

The following article by Peter Juul and Brian Katulis is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

As we’ve written before here at The Liberal Patriot, the center-left needs a new intellectual infrastructure to better disseminate its core principles and resist illiberal politics from all quarters. An important part of that effort involves building new sources of support that can yoke practical policies to broader principles. In other words, liberals need a new set of institutions, programs, and individuals that can tell a compelling story about their principles, politics, and policies.

Right now, however, this narrative infrastructure doesn’t exist – and it shows. The Biden administration has gotten off to a strong start on a number of fronts, from pandemic relief and economic rebuilding to pragmatic foreign policy decisions. But it’s struggled to tie its actions together in a coherent story that it can tell the American people and the world.

“Build back better” and “a foreign policy for the middle class” are slogans for a very ambitious and possibly historic policy agenda – one that could transform the country for the better. But don’t be mistaken: these headlines and the policy components don’t yet constitute a narrative, a story that connects with ordinary Americans and instills a sense of national purpose. As things stand, they remain skeletal notions, and the Biden domestic and foreign policy teams have yet to flesh them out in many ways.

Take two recent speeches by Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken – both lay out a number of good policy ideas but don’t go the extra mile and connect them to a persuasive political narrative. In her remarks on international economic policy, for instance, Yellen made important points about the need to help low-income nations vaccinate themselves and enact a global minimum corporate tax rate. But much of her speech remained standard technocratic boilerplate that could have been delivered at any point over the past thirty years without much alteration. That’s a missed opportunity on the narrative front given the historic, transformative times we’re living in right now.

Similarly, Secretary of State Blinken’s remarks on appointing former USAID director Gayle Smith as international COVID response czar put forward a number of compelling arguments. In language reminiscent of airline pre-flight safety notices to secure one’s own oxygen mask before helping others, Blinken noted that the United States rightly focused on beating COVID-19 at home before helping others do the same. But he also made the case that Americans wouldn’t be safe from COVID-19 or recover economically until the pandemic was beaten worldwide.

Blinken’s speech was cogent and competent, which in and of itself a marked improvement from most of what America saw on the foreign policy front during the previous administration. But like Yellin’s speech, it was not connected to a persuasive political narrative – one that helps move to the coming post-COVID recovery phase. The main challenge is that the story told is incomplete – it’s like a baseball pitcher on the mound who winds up and throws but doesn’t follow through completely. The ball is less likely to hit the glove in the strike zone.

This lack of a convincing center-left story results from a variety of causes, but it’s fundamentally rooted in the much broader collapse of liberal intellectual infrastructure in recent decades.

This collapse has 4 components:

1. Outsourcing narrative-building to academics, activists, and political journalists.

After the tumult of the 1960s, liberals in and around the Democratic Party outsourced the vital task of narrative-building to a random assortment of activists, academics, and political journalists. Anti-war activists, for instance, issue empty calls to “end endless wars,” while unpopular and unwise proposals to defund the police originated with small, unrepresentative far-left activist groups. When these parties are interested in constructing narratives, they’re likely to tell bleak and pessimistic stories about America itself – such as the factually-challenged 1619 Project published and heavily promoted by the New York Times. For their part, many politically-minded academics have spent the past many decades conjuring up what the late philosopher Richard Rorty called “dreams not of political reforms but of inexplicable, magical transformations” of a fundamentally corrupt society in thrall to mystical “preternatural forces.” To be clear, voices from a diverse range of experts and activists should be part of the mix when it comes to building an inclusive nationalism. But to succeed in building a narrative, the North Star should be about painting a hopeful vision of the future, rather than getting stuck in the current moment or wallowing in the past.

2. Positioning through polling rather than staking out clear positions based on ideas and values linked to a story.

Starting in the 1970s, moreover, politicians themselves turned to political consultants and pollsters rather than intellectuals and wordsmiths to shape and guide their policies. Since its advent, modern polling has always been an important factor in politics and policy. But the ever-increasing contemporary reliance on consultants have left liberals with plenty of messaging but not a whole lot of actual message. As a result, the narrative infrastructure on the left is more about positioning – reacting to the political winds that blow – rather than generating a new breeze in a narrative that stakes out principled positions based on values and advancing those positions.

3. The rise of the technocratic and bureaucratic wonks.

In the 1990s, a new class of technocratic policy experts rose to dominate political and policy discussions on the center-left. Ensconced in universities and think tanks interspersed with a couple of years of government service, these policy wonks tend to focus narrowly on their areas of expertise and specialization. It’s assumed that technical proficiency of the sort possessed by economists and foreign country specialists scales up and allows a mastery of generalist subjects, but it’s not at all clear that that’s the case either in theory or in reality. Liberals have a cadre of highly-educated experts to manage government bureaucracies and execute complicated programs, but few have the skills to tell a compelling story about liberal politics and policies. Some of the most agonizing meetings that take place in Washington are the ones involving foreign policy or economics specialists struggling to cobble together a convincing political narrative. It’s like a cello player in an orchestra trying to tell the conductor how the overall piece of music should be put together: sometimes it works, but most times it is off-key.

4. The quest for echo chambers.

On top of these developments, transformations in the media landscape over the past fifty years – and especially over the past decade – have made it more difficult to inject a coherent narrative into the national political bloodstream. It’s not impossible, but the days when FDR or JFK could set the terms of the national debate with fireside chats or televised press conferences have been long gone for a while now. In their place, liberals belatedly and without much success attempted to replicate the echo chambers like Fox News that conservatives have deployed to great political effect. More recently, left and right have built echo chambers on social media platforms like Twitter that encourage the most extreme and Extremely Online voices. In recent years, some elements of the so-called “progressive” left have used these platforms more to beat others up on the left and fragment coalitions and relationships, rather than use them to build coalitions and relationship capital to achieve shared, common goals.

As a result, the broad center-left is not structured to tell a coherent story about its politics and policies. Their programs and messages amount to less than the sum of their parts. Administration communications gurus and activist networks organize pop-up echo chambers to push particular policies, but they don’t invest in the making of big-picture narratives that put these policies into perspective in ways that ordinary people can easily understand. Smart and dedicated people waste their time and energy on what remain fundamentally tactical issues – leaving wider strategic questions unattended and unanswered in the process.

To its credit, the Biden administration has avoided many of the worst mistakes made by present-day progressives. Biden and many of his key aides are terminally Offline, and his administration has wisely focused on bread-and-butter issues like the pandemic and economic recovery more than the culture war issues beloved by both the progressive left and conservative right. “Build back better” and “a foreign policy for the middle class” may not pop as slogans and remain ideas that need further development, but they’re a decent starting point. What the Biden administration needs moving forward aren’t echo chambers that repeat its talking points on, say, its infrastructure package or its Iran policy – it needs generalists that build on and expand the themes it’s sketched out in very rough terms and helps carry those narratives to the broader American public in a way that seeks to advance a more inclusive nationalism.

That’s easier said than done, as President Obama learned when his “New Foundation” formula failed to gain traction during his time in office. While his administration found its attention repeatedly diverted by crises and emerging challenges, it also lacked the sort of external intellectual support to reinforce and elaborate on the themes it tried to surface. Obama’s eight years resulted in many important accomplishments such as an effective response to the 2008 Great Recession, health care reform, and steps forward on climate change. But towards the end of two terms in office, the sum total of the foreign policy narrative was “don’t do stupid shit” and this left many Americans asking: what’s the big idea?

Think tanks once might have served this function, but too often they have become either waystations for mid-level technocrats going into and coming out of government or activist operations fueled by funding from elite foundations – and increasingly they’re both at the same time.

Instead, liberals need to invest in big-picture, meaning-making institutions and outlets outside government, academia, existing think tanks, and major media outlets. They cannot outsource their narratives to academics, activists, and political journalists, or rely on think tanks that exist to shelter technocrats and increasingly see unrepresentative activists chart their courses to do the job. Looking forward, a new breed of institution that can see and describe the whole picture from an outside perspective will be necessary to build new liberal political narratives that connect particular policies and programs with underlying principles in a compelling and easily comprehensible way.

These narratives can’t be reduced to mere messaging or communications, either. As the scholar Lawrence Freedman noted in the conclusion of his history of the subject, strategy is as much about stories as anything else. Accordingly, these new narrative-building institutions will have much to say about political strategy and big-picture policy questions. They’ll help tell liberals where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going – and, crucially, why. Moreover, they’ll provide a sanctuary for liberals who don’t see mid-tier government positions as their primary way to advance good ideas as well as academics who wish to constructively contribute to the common good.

It’s as good a place as any for liberals to start rebuilding their once-formidable intellectual infrastructure.


Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, “The Fear That is Shaping American Politics,” Thomas B. Edsall notes, “Robert Griffin, research director of the nonpartisan Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, wrote by email that he expects “the national environment to be worse for Democrats in 2022 than it was in 2020.” The shift, he continued, will almost certainly include a loss of support among white voters who — if history is any guide — will represent a larger share of the electorate in 2022 because of midterm turnout dynamics….Griffin wrote that “it’s not obvious to me that this shift will be dependent on Biden’s ability or failure to overcome white racial resentment,” because “these midterm dynamics are pretty baked in and it would be shocking to see them defied.”….On the plus side for Democrats, Griffin noted: The growing educational divide among white Americans does present an interesting opportunity for the Democratic Party. One of the things most people don’t appreciate is that white overrepresentation among voters is driven almost entirely by white college voters. This overrepresentation of white college voters is even greater in midterm elections. The growing educational divide among white voters — with Biden viewed much more favorably by white college voters — potentially blunts some of those midterm dynamics I described….I asked Griffin what the prospects are for Biden to build a stronger and more durable Democratic coalition. He is doubtful: If you had to pick one group that would do the most to solidify the democratic coalition electorally, it would be white non-college voters. They make up more than 40 percent of voters and are exceptionally well represented in the Electoral College, the House and the Senate….Biden, Griffin continued, improved slightly on Hillary Clinton’s margin among these voters, but it wasn’t anything massive. Given the long-term trends away from the Democratic Party among these voters, even holding onto his 2020 margins would likely represent an achievement.”

At Slow Boring, Matthew Yglesias makes a pretty convincing case that, contrary to popular beliefs, America’s transportation infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, is not all that bad. Yglesias writes that “the existing surface transportation funding levels in the United States are inadequate. We have some of the best commute times in the world in an international context; our road quality is improving under current funding levels; and the biggest practical problem we have — endemic congestion in a few key metro areas — is not really amenable to being addressed with a big surge of funding.” Yglesias acknowledges that there is room for imrovement in mass rail transit in cities like New York, and notes, “What America’s bad traffic cities really need is congestion pricing, zoning that allows more people to live in convenient locations, and selective investments in improving mass transit capacity.” Yglesias would like to see more infrastructure investment on other more urgently-needed priorities, and notes “the same low population density that generally makes our commutes good has left us with subpar levels of mass broadband adoption. The challenge of moving electricity around is very real. Lead in water pipes is really bad. These infrastructure challenges are huge and much more important than roads and bridges. If the bill gets changed, it’s important to keep that stuff.”

In ‘keep doing what you’re doing, Mr. President’ news,  Chelsea Cox reports at USA Today, “More Americans identify as Democrats than Republicans by a margin that hasn’t been seen in a decade, according to a report released by Gallup on Wednesday…An average of 49% of adults age 18 and older reported Democratic Party affiliation or said they are independent with Democratic leanings throughout the first quarter of 2021, the pollster reported. The survey was conducted by phone from January-March.  In comparison, 40% of adults identified as Republican or Republican-leaning. The 9% difference is the Democrats’ largest advantage since the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the report. The remaining 11% of respondents were political independents with no partisan leanings….Democrats have typically held a 4 to 6 point advantage over Republicans.  Shortly before the first quarter of the year, the gap in affiliation was virtually nonexistent before Democrats’ advantage widened by 9%….The report also noted a 6% increase in independents; from 38% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 44% in the first quarter of 2021. It’s the highest percentage since 2013, when 46% of survey respondents identified as independents. The rise correlates with the decline in Republican Party identification, just as in 2013, when the GOP saw a drop in the popularity during the government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act.”

Democrats pondering a response to Mitch McConnell’s sanctimonious comments urging corporations to “stay out of politics” should check out former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s zinger: “Mitch McConnell continued his tirade against businesses who have spoken out against Georgia’s egregious voter suppression bill today, telling reporters that corporations should “stay out of politics.” Yes, you read that right….That’s rich, coming from one of the most outspoken supporters of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed corporate cash and big money to flood unabated into our democracy. I suppose McConnell has no problem with “corporate free speech” when it’s benefiting him personally — he was, after all, the top recipient of corporate cash in the 2020 election cycle. And he even took a case all the way to the Supreme Court in 2003 because he was so determined to bring more corporate money into our political process. Republicans love corporations in politics when it means they’re bankrolling Republican campaigns — but as soon as corporations stand up against Republican hatred and bigotry, it’s time for them to be silent. The hypocrisy is staggering.”


Explaining Republican Optimism

I tried to put myself in Republican shoes for a moment, and explored at New York why so many of these elephants think their current path is a winner.

At FiveThirtyEight this week, Perry Bacon Jr. explores a very important political mystery: why a Republican Party that lost control of the White House and Congress over the last four years — and that is at the north end of a south-bound brontosaurus when it comes to demographic trends — seems so completely happy with standing pat on its ideology and leadership.

Bacon goes through multiple theories for this resistance to introspection, including activist and media love for Trump and Trumpism; rank-and-file complacency with the current direction of the GOP; Trump’s own refusal to go away; and perhaps most important, the realization that this is an old story by now, that we are looking at a “[c]ollective decision of conservative activists and Republican elected officials to stay on the anti-democraticracist trajectory that the GOP had been on before Trump — but that he accelerated.”

Since we are talking about people operating in what is largely a winner-take-all political system, who are following a leader who professes to be all about “winning,” perhaps the most interesting reason for the manifest Republican complacency is the belief that an immediate comeback is not simply possible but likely. Some of this is a matter of degree, says Bacon:

“Historically, parties have done more self-reflection and been more likely to change course when they’ve hit electoral low points….

“In contrast, Trump would have won reelection had he done only about 1 percentage point better in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and about 3 points better in Michigan. Republicans would still control the Senate had Republican David Perdue won about 60,000 more votes (out of nearly 4.5 million cast) against Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s Senate runoff. A slew of court rulings that forced the redrawing of House district lines in less favorable ways to the GOP helped the Democrats win several seats — otherwise, Republicans might have won back the House. Add all that up, and 2020 wasn’t that far from resulting in a Republican trifecta.”

But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Republicans have now lost three of the last four presidential elections, and have won the national popular vote just once in the last eight presidential elections. They are still getting clobbered among the younger voters (61 percent of under-30 voters preferred Biden to Trump, according to a Tufts study) who will increasingly dominate elections. Trends among the youngest voters, from increased diversity to decreased church attendance, are not friendly to the GOP.

So where does the Republican optimism come from? There are several factors, as I explore below:

The 2022 midterms look sunny

The over-performance by Republicans in 2020 House races gives them what is historically a very good chance to retake that chamber in 2022, as Kyle Kondik recently noted:

“Since the Civil War, there have been 40 midterm elections. The party that held the White House lost ground in the House in 37 of those elections, with an average seat loss of 33. Since the end of World War II, the average seat loss is a little smaller — 27 — but still significant.”

Based on the House as it was shaped after November 2020, Republicans would only need to flip five net seats to regain the majority. The Senate is iffier thanks to a landscape dotted with GOP retirements. But busting up the Democratic trifecta would have a massive effect on the Biden administration’s ability to enact legislation.

Redistricting will beef up Republican gains

The decennial process of reapportioning and redistricting congressional and state legislative seats will soon be underway. And thanks to what one analyst called “an abysmal showing by Democrats in state legislative races” in 2020, Republicans are in a good position to reinforce their advantage over the next decade.

At the congressional level, reapportionment of seats between the states will give GOP-controlled state legislatures new seats to play with (especially in Florida, which will gain two seats, and in Texas, which will gain three). Redistricting is harder to predict, but as Geoffrey Skelley noted in November, it will likely favor Republicans:

“The GOP is set to fully control redistricting for about two-fifths of all House seats, while Democrats will only hold sway over one-tenth of them, with the remaining seats are in states with divided governments or where redistricting is done by a commission system. The Republican line-drawing advantage should help the party draw favorable maps that could help the GOP win more seats than we might otherwise expect.”

Republicans will do more with less popular support

The redistricting factor is one of several examples of the GOP’s willingness and ability to counter Democratic popular support with institutional arrangements that magnify minority power, from gerrymandering to the Electoral College to the Senate filibuster to voter suppression efforts. Perhaps Republicans didn’t get close enough in 2020 to convert such bonus points into trifecta control, but they understand that actual popular majorities are not the point.

They think Trumpism is a strategy for party expansion

While most Democrats tend to think of Trumpism as the last-gasp effort of a reactionary party to hold onto power by polarizing the country and eking out narrow electoral victories by mobilizing culturally threatened voters with hate and rage, Republicans naturally don’t see it that way. As Representative Jim Banks illustrated in his recent memo to Kevin McCarthy about GOP messaging in 2021 and beyond, they think Trumpism is about making a country-club party the “party of the [white] working class,” which can appeal to a growing segment of minority voters as well. This notion is mostly based on the theory that cultural conservatism is more powerful among white working-class voters and Black and Latino men than the more tangible economic offerings of Democrats.

It’s an approach which Republicans have been pursuing since the days of Richard Nixon, when the white working-class portion of the population was vastly larger, but it’s still exciting to those who think Trump invented it.

Many of them think they really won in 2020

While those of us in the reality-based community scoff at the claims of the MAGA wing of the Republican Party that Democrats stole the 2020 election (and presumably control of Congress along with it), the fact remains that it’s an article of faith among many of the rank-and-file Republicans (55 percent of them, according to a recent Reuters-Ipsos survey) who are the most important consumers for GOP messaging going forward. Accordingly, the current crusade in Republican-controlled state governments in key battleground states to restrict voting rights isn’t viewed by them as a matter of vengeance or of panic-striken authoritarianism, but as a blow to fraudsters that is likely to produce or expand Republican victories in the near future.

This factually-challenged but emotionally powerful perspective, which has been reinforced constantly by Trump-aligned media, a big share of Republican elected officials, and state and local party leaders, also explains the strong interest in a Trump comeback in 2024.

In the bloody-shirt campaign so many Republicans think they are now waging, the alleged “victim” of the “rigged election” is an indispensable figure, even though no defeated incumbent president has successfully staged a comeback since 1892. And that is why even if Trump decides against running again in 2024, Trumpism in all its particulars will very likely remain dominant until the stain of 2020 is erased.

And if you are a follower of the man who said over and over again that “we can’t lose unless it’s rigged,” victory is always just over the horizon.

Maybe winning isn’t everything after all

Perry Bacon offers one more angle on Republican optimism that’s worth pondering: there’s an ““own the libs’ bloc exemplified by many Fox News personalities and elected officials such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene:”

“For the ‘own the libs’ bloc, winning elections isn’t that important anyway — they aren’t really invested in policy or governing and will be fine if Republicans remain out of the White House and in the minority on Capitol Hill.”

Maybe Democrats and these happy losers can both get their way.


Brownstein: For Dems, It May Be the Last Chance to Secure Voting Rights

Ronald Brownstein warns “Democrats’ Only Chance to Stop the GOP Assault on Voting Rights: If the party doesn’t pass new protections, it could lose the House, Senate, and White House within the next four years” at The Atlantic. As Brownstein sets the stage:

“The most explosive battle in decades over access to the voting booth will reach a new crescendo this week, as Republican-controlled states advance an array of measures to restrict the ballot, and the U.S. House of Representatives votes on the federal legislation that represents Democrats’ best chance to stop them.

It’s no exaggeration to say that future Americans could view the resolution of this struggle as a turning point in the history of U.S. democracy. The outcome could not only shape the balance of power between the parties, but determine whether that democracy grows more inclusive or exclusionary. To many civil-rights advocates and democracy scholars I’ve spoken with, this new wave of state-level bills constitutes the greatest assault on Americans’ right to vote since the Jim Crow era’s barriers to the ballot.

“This is a huge moment,” Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, told me. “This harkens to pre-segregation times in the South, and it goes to the core question of how we define citizenship and whether or not all citizens actually will have access to fully engage and participate.”

Brownstein adds, “In Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, and Montana, Republican governors and legislators are moving forward bills that would reduce access to voting by mail, limit early voting, ban ballot drop boxes, inhibit voter-registration drives, and toughen identification requirements—measures inspired by the same discredited claims of election fraud that Donald Trump pushed after his 2020 loss.”

Worse, “The Supreme Court’s 6–3 conservative majority is unlikely to block many, or perhaps any, of these state laws. Also, “Federal courts are unlikely to step in: Although the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the far-fetched efforts of Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election, under Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative Court majority has consistently refused to block state limits on voting access or to prevent partisan gerrymanders. Critics argue that in the Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision, Roberts fired the starting gun for the current barrage of voter-suppression measures—by eviscerating the provision of the original VRA that required states with a history of discrimination to receive “preclearance” from the Justice Department for changes in their voting laws.”

Further, “Democrats may have a single realistic opportunity to resist not only these proposals, but also GOP plans to institute severe partisan congressional gerrymanders in many of the same states. That opportunity: using Democrats’ unified control of Washington to establish national election standards—by passing the omnibus election-reform bill known as H.R. 1, which is scheduled for a House vote today, and the new Voting Rights Act, which is expected to come to the floor later this year.” Also,

Democrats may have only a brief window in which to block these state-level GOP maneuvers. Typically, the president’s party loses House and Senate seats in the first midterm election after his victory. Democrats will face even worse odds if Republicans succeed in imposing restrictive voting laws or gerrymandering districts in the GOP’s favor across a host of red states.

If Democrats lose their slim majority in either congressional chamber next year, they will lose their ability to pass voting-rights reform. After that, the party could face a debilitating dynamic: Republicans could use their state-level power to continue limiting ballot access, which would make regaining control of the House or the Senate more difficult for Democrats—and thus prevent them from passing future national voting rules that override the exclusionary state laws.

“There’s an increasing appreciation,” Democratic Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland, H.R. 1’s chief sponsor, told me, that “if we can’t get these changes in place in time for the 2022 midterm election, the efforts that Republicans are taking at the state level to lock in this voter-suppression regime” and maximize their advantage via partisan gerrymanders “will reshape the environment in a way that makes it impossible to get this, or frankly many other things, done.”

Democrats have the votes to pass the House version of the legislation. But the Senate will be a closer vote, with the fate of the filibuster as the pivotal factor. “Senate Republicans are likely to try to kill these bills with a filibuster,” Brownstein writes. “Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the principal sponsor of H.R. 1’s Senate analogue, has been urging his colleagues to consider ending the filibuster for these bills alone, even if they are unwilling to end it for all legislation. But so far, at least two Democrats remain resistant to curtailing the filibuster in any way: Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.”

“If nothing else,’ says Brownstein, “the GOP’s boldness can leave Democrats with little doubt about what they can expect in the years ahead if they do not establish nationwide election standards. “This is a very brazen effort by lawmakers across the country to enact provisions that make it harder for Americans to vote,” Eliza Sweren-Becker, a counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice who is tracking the GOP’s state-level measures, told me. “There is no subtlety and no attempt to obfuscate what is going on here.” In addition, “In its latest tally, the Brennan Center counts 253 separate voter-suppression proposals pending in 43 states. That’s significantly more than the number of bills it tracked after the 2010 election—180 bills, in 41 states—when significant GOP gains in the states triggered a similar wave of laws.”

But “H.R. 1 would reverse many of the restrictive policies advancing in red states. As I wrote recently, the bill would require all states to provide online, automatic, and same-day registration; ensure at least 15 days of in-person early voting; provide all voters with access to no-excuse, postage-free absentee ballots; and offer drop boxes where they can return those ballots. It would also end gerrymandering by requiring every state to create independent commissions for congressional redistricting and by defining national criteria to govern the process.” Additionally,

Against the backdrop of the red-state voting offensive, the fate of H.R. 1 looks like a genuine inflection point. If Democrats can’t persuade Manchin, Sinema, and any other filibuster proponents to kill the parliamentary tool, Senate Republicans will be able to shield their state-level allies from federal interference. And that could produce a widening divergence between elections in red and blue states—as well as a lasting disadvantage for Democrats in the battle for control of Congress. Such a chasm will fuel “competing narratives that are inherently corrosive and destructive,” Sarbanes told me. “The more you have this bifurcated system of how elections are conducted in this country, the more oxygen you are going to give to some of the conspiracy theories that come from the other side.”

Yet even that equilibrium—with blue states expanding the franchise and red states restricting it—might not be stable. First, voter-suppression laws and gerrymanders in red states could help Republicans regain one or both congressional chambers in 2022. Then, efforts to restrict the vote could help Republicans recapture the presidency in 2024. Today, Democratic governors in key swing states—Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—can block any restrictive laws, but if the party loses any of those governorships in 2022, it’ll be virtually powerless to stop new voter-suppression efforts from the Republican-controlled state legislatures.

In that nightmare scenario for Democrats, new laws across the Rust Belt, combined with what’s already happening in Arizona and Georgia, would put enough states at risk to seriously endanger Democratic hopes of holding the White House in 2024. If Republicans win unified control of the White House and Congress that year, they could try to set national voting standards that impose the red-state voting rules on blue states. Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, for instance, has already proposed legislation that would bar all states from offering automatic voter registration and using drop boxes, and would require them to adopt stiff voter-ID rules. In his speech to CPAC on Sunday, Trump also called for establishing a national voter-ID requirement, as well as rules banning early voting and most mail balloting.

Brownstein concludes, quoting Sen. Sarbanes: “This isn’t just about trying to do something now that we can do later. This is about doing something now that we may not get the chance to do again for another 50 years.” Democrats face an unforgiving equation: a fleeting window in which to act, and potentially lasting consequences if they don’t. “If you look at all the stakes that are involved,” Sarbanes continued, “the notion that you would miss this opportunity becomes incomprehensible.”


Teixeira: Revisiting The Emerging Democratic Majority

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

In 2002, John Judis and I published The Emerging Democratic Majority. I think it’s fair to say that our book had some influence on political thinking. So…how does it hold up almost 20 years later?

Matt Yglesias does a nice job on his substack–fair and balanced!–looking back on our book and seeing where we were prescient and where we failed to anticipate important changes.

“The Emerging Democratic Majority”…is one of those books that’s widely referenced years after publication but typically in a kind of caricature form. Obviously, the Democratic majority that Teixeira and Judis forecast — driven by the growing nonwhite share of the electorate and the increasing liberalism of college-educated professionals and big metro areas — did not exactly emerge.

Nevertheless, the big demographic trends that the book is about did emerge, and they played out roughly the way they forecasted.
Some other things broke less favorably. But broadly speaking, I want to defend the relevance of the book’s main ideas…..

Judged by how many people voted for whom [the popular vote for President, Senate and House], it’s a decent Democratic majority that emerged:

Now of course that’s not the system we have, so Democrats’ actual results are less impressive. But to me, this looks like the Judis/Teixeira thesis ended up wrong for a mostly unexpected reason — the growth in the geographic skew of the electoral system.

That’s especially true because policy has been evolving to the left during this period…..

To me, one big lesson of revisiting the book is that it’s a reminder of just how difficult it is to make accurate forecasts about politics.

I think Judis and Teixeira got so many big analytic points right. But their book is mostly remembered as wrong because its topline forecast was, in fact, wrong, and it was wrong for two subtle, interrelated reasons. One is they didn’t appreciate the extent to which the growing liberalism of college-educated professionals living in big metro (one of the big things they predicted correctly) areas would, over time, actually change Democratic Party ideology in a way that repelled non-college white voters who’d been okay with Al Gore. The other is they didn’t account for how this would intersect with the skews of the electoral maps.”

Very interesting assessment. I recommend it. You also might want to take a look at the essay I wrote on The Emerging Democratic Majority thesis for Persuasion. There’s some overlap with Yglesias but also some differences.


Political Strategy Notes

Harry Enten notes some worrisome stats for Democrats at CNN Politics: “Democrats represent a mere five seats of the 65 districts (8%) that have a higher proportion of Whites without a college degree in their ranks. All of those Democratic representatives were incumbents heading into the 2020 elections (i.e. no non-incumbents like Hart won in these districts). Going further, a mere two of the top 50 districts with Whites without a college degree have a Democratic representative and none of the top 10 do….After the 2006 elections, Democrats controlled 44% of the districts with as many or more White non-college graduates as Iowa’s 2nd District. They held 23 of the top 50 districts matching this description, or 21 more than they do now. Additionally, Democrats held five of the top 10 of these districts compared to zero today.”

In his article, “Why Democrats Might Need to Play Dirty to Win: The party is trying to ban partisan gerrymandering nationwide, but aggressively redrawing districts in blue states like New York might be the only way to preserve its House majority,” Russell berman writes at The Atlantic: “To hear democratic leaders decry gerrymandering as part of their current bid to enact landmark voting-rights legislation, you’d think the centuries-old practice was a mortal threat to the republic. But political necessity could soon demand that Democrats drop their purity act. To keep their narrow House majority, they might have to deploy the tactic everywhere they can, and every bit as aggressively as Republicans do….Nationwide, the challenge for Democrats is formidable: The shuffling of House seats as a result of the decennial census is expected to shift power from mostly Democratic states like California, New York, and Illinois to states like Texas, Florida, and North Carolina—all of which will have legislatures controlled by Republicans who will be in charge of drawing new districts. “The bottom line is: If this becomes an arms race, and both parties maximize their advantage in the states that they control, Republicans will come out ahead,” David Wasserman, an analyst for the nonpartisan newsletter The Cook Political Report, told me. The GOP needs to flip just five Democratic seats to recapture the House majority in 2022, and conceivably, the party could gain all of those seats through gerrymandering alone. Wasserman projects that Republicans could net anywhere from zero to 10 seats from redistricting.”

Joe Biden’s first set of judicial nominations this week is the beginning of something big: almost certainly by the end of this Congress, the majority of lower court seats will be filled by Democratic appointees,” Bill Scher writes at The Washington Monthly. “That may surprise you, considering the breathless coverage Donald Trump received for his four-year judicial confirmation blitz. We were constantly told he was transforming the judiciary for a generation. With Sen. Mitch McConnell’s help, the Senate became a judicial confirmation factory. Not counting the Supreme Court, Trump got 231 judges with lifetime appointments confirmed. No president got more lower court judges confirmed in a single term since Jimmy Carter….the Republican grip on the lower courts is tenuous. Just one circuit court has to flip for Democrats to hold the majority of circuits again. Just nine seats have to flip for Democrats to hold the majority of seats again….Securing those flips shouldn’t be too hard. Despite Trump’s torrid pace, he left some judicial seats empty, and more vacancies have been announced since Biden’s inauguration. At present, the federal judiciary has 97 currentand future vacancies for seats with lifetime appointments. Fifty-two of those vacant seats were last held by Republicans….Trump was able to move faster than most presidents because the filibuster for lower court judges was nuked by Democrats in 2013 (with Republicans finishing the job regarding Supreme Court nominee in 2017). Now it’s Biden who gets to take advantage of the easier rules, so he will at least partially offset Trump’s gains.”

Despite the raised eyebrows about the size of President Biden’s infrastructure upgrade proposals, it looks like he has the support of the public. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes at The Washington Post, “And yes, big infrastructure investments of the sort President Biden has proposed (and that Republicans seem ready to oppose en masse) are broadly endorsed by the public; so are Biden’s proposed ways of paying for them….The Morning Consult/Politico poll, for example, found that 54 percent of registered voters — including 32 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of conservatives — favored infrastructure improvements financed by taxes on those earning more than $400,000 annually and increases in the corporate tax rate. (Another 27 percent of registered voters favored infrastructure spending without the taxes.)”


Georgia Republicans Cruising for a Bruising in 2022

After observing the spectacle of the Georgia General Assembly enacting anti-voter legislation, it hit me that the Georgia GOP has been committing a long series of unforced errors that will continue to halt them, so I wrote about it at New York.

On November 19, 2020, Georgia Republicans suffered a major blow when their state was called for Joe Biden in a close presidential contest. But at that point, they had every reason to think the future would be brighter. They were the strong early favorites in two January U.S. Senate runoffs. And knowing that Democrats controlled the White House, Republicans could look forward to likely gains in 2022 for three reasons: (1) The presidential “out” party usually gets a boost in midterms, (2) midterm turnout patterns usually favor Republican voting groups, relatively speaking, and (3) redistricting would be totally in the GOP’s hands thanks to their control of the governorship and the legislature.

But instead of playing their shot as it lay, Georgia Republicans tore each other apart over Donald Trump’s mendacious election “fraud” claims and his subsequent efforts to overturn the Biden victory, with many GOP elected officials and activists gleefully attacking Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp, both Republicans, for certifying Biden’s victory. Trump himself dominated the Senate runoffs and may well have depressed Republican turnout by constantly claiming that the vote in Georgia was “rigged.”

After the catastrophe of losing control of the Senate for their party, which in turn led to the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, Georgia Republicans probably should have licked their wounds and begun healing their divisions heading toward 2022. But no — instead, they made the Georgia General Assembly the national showcase for GOP voter-suppression measures. There was hardly an evil idea for making voting more difficult, particularly for minority citizens, that did not get introduced by some Republican legislator during its 2021 session, up to and including a total end to no-excuse voting by mail, a ban on Sunday in-person early voting, all sorts of burdensome and redundant voter-ID requirements, and attacks on the jurisdiction of Democratic county election offices. The nastiness progressed to include the cartoon-villain idea of making it a crime to give food and water to voters in the long lines that Black people notoriously have to endure in Georgia.

All this obnoxious activity was obviously the product of Trump’s election-fraud claims, since there were no documented cases of problems with Georgia’s 2020 elections other than the aforementioned long lines. So the Georgia GOP was very conspicuously exposing itself as doing bad things in a bad cause.

Eventually, legislators took out some of the most offensive pieces of the final election bill, but they had so mishandled it all that nobody noticed or cared. As Kemp went on-camera to spin the legislation he was about to sign as a triumph for voting rights and election security, a Black legislator tapped on his door to see what he was doing and was promptly wrestled out of the Georgia State Capitol by white state troopers and charged with two felonies.

And when the national protests over the law pressured major Atlanta-based corporations to deplore the law, did Republicans ignore the criticism? No. They threatened to withdraw a tax subsidy to Delta Air Lines (though they did not follow through on the threat). And in a particularly juvenile bit of theater, the House Speaker made sure cameras saw him cracking open a can of Pepsi at a press conference in what was clearly an expression of unhappiness with local corporate giant Coca-Cola. Even if this anti-corporate saber-rattling isn’t serious, alienating their usual business allies is not a smart move for Republicans heading into an election cycle that has now gotten a lot tougher.

Nobody really knows what sort of advantage the new election law will give Georgia Republicans going forward. But it may not be enough to counteract the voter mobilization that Democrats and voting-rights advocates will undertake in defiance of GOP efforts to make it harder for them to register and vote, particularly if voting-rights champion Stacey Abrams is, as expected, at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2022 (alongside Senator Raphael Warnock, heir to the pulpit once held by Martin Luther King Jr.).

The brutal stupidity of his party’s recent maneuvers led Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan to pen an op-ed for USA Today that defended some of the actual provisions of the new law while expressing impatience with others, and with the underlying GOP lies about “voter fraud”:

“Last week’s divisive debate on election reform directly resulted from the months-long misinformation campaign led by former President Donald J. Trump …

“Republicans in politically safe districts [should have] resist[ed] the temptation to superficially support knee-jerk reaction legislation, such as not allowing the distribution of water within 150 feet of a polling station or punishing and removing oversight responsibilities from the former president’s scapegoat and popularly-elected statewide official Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, just to appease the extreme right corners of their districts and to avoid potential primary challenges.

“Unfortunately, Republicans fell into the trap set by the left and allowed them to make the bill into something that it’s not.”

Like Raffensperger and Kemp, however, Duncan was already the almost certain target of a Trump 2022 primary purge effort, likely fronted by State Senator Burt Jones, a prominent supporter of Trump’s lies about 2020. It would not be at all surprising to see the 45th president himself in the Peach State pursuing vengeance against “disloyal” Republicans and perhaps reprising his disastrous role in the Senate-runoff campaign.

If only they had quietly conceded after November, then Republicans might still have those two Senate seats from Georgia and control of the Senate itself. And had Georgia Republicans gone about their usual business of passing bad — not conspicuously racist — legislation this year, they might be in very good shape for the midterms. As it is, if they suffer another debacle in 2022, they have no one but themselves, and perhaps the tyrant of Mar-a-Lago, to blame.


Halpin: Liberals Must Rebuild Their Intellectual Infrastructure. Sectarian politics will only be defeated through a long-term commitment to equal dignity and rights for all people

The following post by John Halpin, co-editor of The Liberal Patriot, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

If you’re baffled by the direction of so-called “progressive” politics these days, you’re not alone. An intellectual and political movement once grounded in the reformist policies of the earliest progressives—and the universal principles of 20th century American liberalism—has given way to a well-funded network of activists, academics, and social media denizens who reject these principles in part or wholesale.

In place of a commitment to individual freedom, political equality, and social welfare policies designed to offer people protection from hardship and a hand up in life, today’s progressives organize themselves around abstract theories of oppression and power relationships grounded in racial, gender, and religious categorizations. Where liberals and the early progressives saw deep flaws in American society and set out to create practical solutions to achieving greater equality and freedom for all people, modern social justice progressives see a country irreparably broken by “400 years of systemic racism” and seek to overturn perceived social and cultural hierarchies in favor of historically oppressed groups. Older liberals once fought for laws and regulations to overcome racial and gender discrimination and increase individual rights, while modern progressives increasingly fight over language, representation, group-based accusations, and who is allowed to say or think what.

Likewise, 20th century American liberalism and progressivism was strategically and politically focused on building the majorities necessary to put in place some of the most important reforms in our history. This involved rallying reformers and voters across the political spectrum. Although the Democratic Party of FDR, Truman, and LBJ—alongside a powerful labor movement—led many of these liberal reforms, pro-civil rights and pro-social welfare Republicans also played a major role passing legislation and standing up against reactionary elements in society.

In contrast, much of contemporary progressive politics seems markedly apolitical and strategically unfocused with activists more content firing off social media shots from the sidelines and complaining about people ignoring them rather than persuading people in different parts of the country—and from different political backgrounds—to join in a common cause for reform.

There are many different explanations for why this shift happened. But one that is often overlooked is the changed intellectual infrastructure sustaining liberal politics.

For starters, the sociological landscape that once underpinned traditional American liberalism—a working-class Democratic Party; labor unions; liberal churches, parishes, and synagogues; multiracial urban political networks; social reform journalism; and liberal academics and the social sciences—has atrophied. Rising in its place is a left politics grounded in a highly professionalized Democratic Party coming out of culturally radical environments in elite colleges and universities, wealthy foundations, corporate media outlets, and ideologically aligned non-profits and advocacy groups.

A young person looking for a solid reform-based liberal education and philosophical training today would be hard pressed to find it anywhere in the billion-dollar progressive infrastructure of contemporary politics. They could however find lots of “conversations” about structural oppression and extended Twitter threads and digital media trainings to combat “white privilege” and advance abstract notions of “equity.”

Conservatives (prior to the Trump years) have generally done a much better job laying the groundwork for long-term reflection on first principles and the foundations of American life based on their commitment to free enterprise, Judeo-Christian values and beliefs, and individual rights. Much of this work involves policy and intellectual development for emerging movement leaders.

As Molly Worthen explained in an interesting overview of these intellectual efforts:

These conservative seminars make an enormous impact simply by taking students seriously. “They’re not at the children’s table,” said Tom Palmer, who directs Cato University, a program that mixes undergraduates with midcareer professionals and retirees. “No one pinches their cheeks and tells them how cute they are.”

There is another insight here: the power of teaching the canon. Most of these programs conceive of the canon far too narrowly, but the canon is an elite debating society that anyone can join. It shows students that the struggle for freedom and justice began long before the 1960s, and that this deep history lurks beneath today’s policy debates.

Unfortunately, at most universities, studying political philosophy has become a form of countercultural rebellion, a discipline marginalized by courses in supposedly practical subjects like business and communications. Campus activists may learn organizing strategies and the argot of identity politics, but few study the history of their own ideas.

It’s not as if liberals and progressives lack these foundations. Sadly, too many universities and elite progressive training programs choose not to emphasize them in their politics, or to engage intellectually with other philosophical understandings of politics, whether radical or conservative. As Worthen writes:

Yet for all its relativism and wonkishness, the progressive tradition grew from firm ideological commitments: a faith in human equality and empathy; the rule of law; the scientific method. Progressives can find kindred spirits among classic conservative thinkers: Adam Smith on moral sentiments, Edmund Burke’s critique of imperial power. You can’t fully understand the theology of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. without grasping Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. But few young progressives read these authors. The hyperspecialized, careerist ethos of mainstream universities has served them just as poorly as it has conservatives.

The lack of a fortified intellectual infrastructure supporting traditional American liberalism is a big challenge. So what needs to be done?

The first order of business for liberals is to recognize the depth of the problem. Identity-based politics, on the left or the right, will not just disappear on its own. The incentives for this kind of politics have grown immensely in recent years, and it will have to be counterbalanced by an equally well-supported effort from liberals on both the center-left and center-right.

The second order of business is for those with resources to increase their support for strategies to uphold genuinely liberal values—such as freedom, equality, pluralism, tolerance, rationality, and a commitment to the common good—and help rebuild liberal education and political work in America. Lots of self-funded groups are doing yeoman’s work along these lines. But if liberals really want to push back against the cultural extremism ascendant on the left or right, they will need to build their own institutions and programs to develop new leaders, grow new social movements, create new policies, and influence political parties based on genuinely liberal principles.

American liberals need to step up financially and politically to support projects grounded in the belief that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and focused on pragmatic policies to steadily improve the lives of all people.

If not, then culturally radical ideas will continue to dominate and shape our politics for years to come while liberal values will continue their retreat.


Political Strategy Notes

So why is it good strategy for a Democratic campaign not to contest a House of Reps. election lost by just 6 votes, one of the closest federal elections in history? At FiveThirtyEight Geoffrey Skelley explains: “Democrats were reportedly worried at the prospect of having to vote on whether to unseat Miller-Meeks, especially considering how loudly they protested former President Trump and Republicans’ attempts to overturn the 2020 election earlier this year. Additionally, there were concerns it would undermine Democrats’ efforts to pass a massive voting rights and election reform bill. That, along with the Democrats’ narrow majority, suggested it was going to be very challenging for Democrats to reverse the outcome — even if they felt Hart had a valid case….Moreover, Republican messaging had put Democrats on the defensive. For instance, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed they were trying to “steal” the election, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly asked major businesses and organizations that were critical of GOP objections to the Electoral College on Jan. 6 to hold Democrats to “the same standard” for contesting the Iowa result….In the end, the math wasn’t there for Democrats to reverse the outcome, and the potential fallout doesn’t seem to have been worth it, either.” Sounds like a good argument for a automatic recounts whenever elections are decided by less than one tenth of one percent of all votes cast.

Also at FiveThirtyEight, Perry Bacon, Jr. has a good article exploring Sen. Joe Mancin’s role as a Democratic Senator. Among Bacon’s observations: “However he is doing it, though, Manchin’s winning a very red state gives him incredible power. He is a lifelong Democrat and seems committed to the party. But he doesn’t really owe Biden, his fellow Senate Democrats or the formal Democratic Party much of anything — his political brand is really separate from theirs….So Democrats don’t have much, if any, leverage over the West Virginia senator. Prominent Democrats are surely aware that Manchin could switch parties and join the GOP and that that might help his political career, so they can’t really attack him too harshly when he takes more conservative stands. Also, there is virtually no chance that a Democrat to the left of Manchin could win a general election in West Virginia, so Democrats can’t really keep Manchin in line with the threat of a primary challenge, either….Manchin, as I noted earlier, seems deeply committed to the Democratic Party. But he might disagree with the dominant electoral thinking in the party. After all, emphasizing bipartisanship is Manchin’s strategy, and he’s the one winning in a super-Republican state.” I would add that, overall, Mancin is a big net plus for the Democratic Party, as its most vocal advocate of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate, and there is no equivalent in the G.O.P. Even left Democrats who think strategically should agree that lends credibility to the Democratic brand with swing voters. In January, a Monmouth University poll noted that “The desire for bipartisan cooperation is higher than it was just after the November election (62%), and includes 41% of Republicans (up from 28% in November) as well as 70% of independents (68%) and 94% of Democrats (92%).”

President Biden also sees value in bipartisanship in the Democratic Brand. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his Washington Post column: “Biden’s big new infrastructure program involves far more than roads, bridges and mass transit, but he hopes to remind Republicans that once upon a time, in a Washington of long ago, the two parties were capable of coming together to build stuff….“Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans,” Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh outlining the plan. “There’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again. The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”….As a result, said Molly Murphy, a Democratic pollster, “Republicans will face a tough challenge in trying to make something like infrastructure into something radical.” Which is why, she added, the GOP will try to focus their attacks on other aspects of the plan. “Polling,” she said, “has consistently shown broad support for the idea that rebuilding infrastructure is the best way to create jobs and get the economy moving.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall notes, “At the moment, Democrats control the House by a slim 219-211 majority, with five seats vacant. The loss of just five seats in 2022 would flip control to the Republican Party, which would then be empowered to block President Biden’s agenda….In 2020, white men without college degrees voted 60-35 for Trump and similarly educated white women voted 54-40 for Trump, according to survey data from the Cooperative Election Study….Republican efforts to claim the mantle of “the party of the working class” may be at cross purposes with the drive to enact voter suppression laws that will fall heavily on the working class….The enactment of Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus bill has increased his popularity, but voters’ memories are short. At the same time that he retains high favorability ratings on his handling the economy and the pandemic, voters surveyed in a NPR/Marist March 22-25 Poll, registered unfavorable views of his handling of immigration (34 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove), and a March 20-23 Economist/YouGov survey found voters split on Biden’s handling of crime (39 approve, 40 disapprove)….Without approval of the kind of election reform the voting rights bill seeks, the odds will shift further against continued Democratic control of the House and Senate and possibly result in another Democratic president ground down by gridlock.”


Democrats Have Good Odds for Retaining Senate Control in 2022

Having taken a preliminary look at the 2022 midterm landscape, I had some good news that I wrote up at New York:

The announcement of Joe Biden’s first group of federal judicial nominees helps dramatize the value to Democrats of holding the White House and the Senate at the same time, aside from the ability to enact legislative priorities. So even if Democrats lose control of the House in the 2022 midterms, as history (buttressed by redistricting) suggests they might, it’s important to Biden’s legacy to hang onto the Senate at least through his current term in the White House. And if you take a look at the midterm Senate landscape, it’s not that much of a reach.

But first let’s look at history. The very high number of midterms in which the president’s party loses House seats (17 out of the 19 since World War II) isn’t quite matched in Senate races (11 out of 19 over the same period). The most obvious reason is that only one-third of the Senate is up in any one cycle, which means the playing field can sometimes be skewed in the direction of the president’s party even if it’s having a bad year overall.

The 2022 landscape isn’t as favorable to Democrats as those two were for Republicans, but it is still reasonably sunny, with Republicans holding 20 of the 34 seats at risk. It certainly helps Democrats that five Republicans are retiring in 2022, with additional retirements still possible, while so far all the Democratic incumbents are running again.

According to the Cook Political Report’s initial analysis of 2022 Senate races, six look competitive (either tossups or leaning in one direction or the other). Of those, four (including the two tossups, which involve open seats in North Carolina and Pennsylvania) are currently held by Republicans. Conditions could obviously change (possible GOP retirements in Iowa and Wisconsin could make those two seats more competitive, and if popular New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu decides to run against Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan, that race could heat up). But all things considered, Democrats don’t need a national advantage to keep the Senate.

In the meantime, of course, Democrats should pray for the health of their current senators. If a Democratic senator in the wrong state (i.e., one of the six where a Republican governor would have the power to appoint a Republican to a vacant seat) resigns or dies, Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote could become meaningless, and Mitch McConnell might regain the gavel. At that point 2022 would  represent a fight to regain lost ground.