washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Like a master stage magician’s best “sleight of hand” trick, Ruffini makes MAGA extremism in the GOP disappear right before our eyes.

Read the Memo.

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

by Andrew Levison

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The recently published book, Rust Belt Union Blues, by Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol represents a profoundly important contribution to the debate over Democratic strategy.

Read the Memo.

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

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

Read the Memo.

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy The Fundamental but Generally Unacknowledged Cause of the Current Threat to America’s Democratic Institutions.

Read the Memo.

Immigration “Chaos” Could Sink Democrats in 2024…

And the Democratic Narrative Simply Doesn’t Work. Here’s An Alternative That Does.

Read the Memo.

The Daily Strategist

February 25, 2024

How Democrats Could Replace Biden, and Why They Won’t

Since the idea of President Biden being “replaced” as the 2024 Democratic nominee was all the rage for a moment, I took the opportunity to explore the little understood mechanics of the issue at New York:

A byproduct of the panic over Special Counsel Robert Hur’s suggestion that President Joe Biden is an “elderly man” with memory issues has been media efforts to understand and explain how Democrats could replace the 46th president as their 2024 nominee, either with or without his consent. From a political perspective, the idea that Biden might be dumped from the ticket is extremely far-fetched. But technically it is possible, though increasingly complicated, right up to Election Day.

When it comes to changing horses in the middle of a presidential race, Democrats differ from Republicans in one fundamental respect: While GOP rules bind delegates to the candidates who win primaries or caucuses, Democrats have a moral rather than a legal obligation to remain faithful to their candidate. Fourteen states have laws that seek to bind delegates to the winning candidate, but it’s reasonably clear that party rules supersede such laws when they are in conflict. And in most states, delegates are released from their obligations if a candidate withdraws from the race.

Another difference between the parties is that Democrats have an established set of “unpledged” delegates who hold convention seats by virtue of elected or party offices they hold. These “superdelegates” don’t get to vote unless there’s a second presidential ballot. At the 2024 Democratic convention in Chicago this August, there will be 744 superdelegates out of a total of 4,532 delegates.

The idea that superdelegates might vote for anyone they want is largely fictional. They are chosen by campaigns to be 100 percent loyal to their candidate. This loyalty is even fiercer when the candidate is the incumbent president of the United States. There’s a reason no sitting president has been denied renomination if he wanted it since Republican Chester Arthur in 1884. So the idea that Democratic delegates are going to look at the polls in August and decide they can do better than Biden is nonsense; it’s not going to happen. Even if faced with the emergency of avoiding a Trump presidency, the Democratic Party will remain a coalition of interests and principles, not just a vehicle for winning one election.

But if Biden, for whatever reason, chooses to “step aside” — as a self-defenestration is euphemistically described — it’s another matter altogether. The problem for Democratic delegates won’t be liberating themselves to look elsewhere (with the possible exception of those from a few states with stricter “binding” statutes than others); it will be agreeing upon a successor. And the closer to the convention that this decision has to be made, the likelier it is that these 4,000-plus Biden loyalists will back whoever he designated as his successor. Fantasies of a President Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom or J.B. Pritzker or Pete Buttigieg or Michelle Obama notwithstanding, that successor will almost certainly be Vice-President Kamala Harris. Any other choice would not only infuriate Harris and her supporters; it would also retroactively label Biden’s first decision as party leader in 2020 as a mistake. For better or worse, the party will unite around its new leader; the Trump factor will, if anything, give Democrats an abiding hope of victory no matter how things look a few months out.

It is possible, I suppose, that Biden and Harris could decide to “step aside” together as an act of patriotic self-sacrifice and help design a spanking new ticket that’s dressed for success. But that’s more likely the stuff of potboiling novels from the kind of writers who pretend there are such things as spontaneous candidate drafts and moderate Republicans.

The cleanest Plan B scenario would involve some cataclysmic event happening to Biden that leads him or the party to reconsider his candidacy after the Chicago convention. In that extremely remote contingency, the Democratic National Committee would have the power to name a replacement nominee, just as it did in 1972 when vice-presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton “stepped aside” after revelations of DUIs and shock therapy. The DNC isn’t going to dump a renominated incumbent president, no matter how poorly he’s doing in the polls; back in the days when presidential elections weren’t almost always desperately close or vulnerable to post-election challenges and insurrections, one party regularly went to battle after Labor Day knowing it was likely to lose. But if Joe Biden cannot take up the cudgels for the last stages of a rematch with Trump (assuming the 45th president isn’t himself dumped for his vast record of misconduct, if not for some physical ailment), the party can quickly move on with Kamala Harris.


Bitecofer: When They Go Low, We Get…Mean

Rachel Bitecofer visited MSNBC’s ‘Morning. Joe‘ recently to promote her new book, “Hit Em Where It Hurts:How to Save Democracy by Beating Republicans at Their Own Game.” It went like this:

There are times in politics when bipartisan outreach undergirded with respectful courtesy is the wisest approach. But this is not one of those times, according to Bitecofer. As Helmville puts it at Daily Kos, “This is war and I completely agree with Rachel Bitecofer and others like Steve Schmidt who among many more are warning us to stop playing nice! No more nice please! This victory belongs to us and unfortunately we need to take it by force!”

In the classic “Fear and Loathing n the Campaign Trail ’72,” Hunter S. Thompson advised, “Sending Muskie against Nixon would have been like sending a three-toed sloth out to seize turf from a wolverine. Big Ed was an adequate senator . . . but it was stone madness from the start to ever think about exposing him to the kind of bloodthirsty thugs that Nixon and John Mitchell would sic on him. They would have him screeching on his knees by sundown on Labor Day.” The way the ’72 election worked out, however, it’s hard to see how Muskie could have done worse.

But Nixon was a day at the beach compared to what Democrats are facing now. Nonetheless, it can be argued that President Biden has a potent wild card in his ‘nice guy’ image, which stands in stark relief to his opponent’s rabid egotism and vicious treatment of everyone who doesn’t kiss up to him.

Biden didn’t ascend to the presidency by playing patty cake. But going full ‘Dark Brandon’ this year might not come off as authentic, and could backfire. Bitecofer is surely right that Democrats must strike a vivid contrast to Republicans up and down-ballot. Sure, President Biden should deploy well-crafted zingers at opportune moments. But there is a good argument for letting his surrogates bring the mean.


Teixeira: The Disappearing Democratic Coalition – Time for Democrats to break out of their bubble.

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

In the latest RCP running average of Biden-Trump matchups, Biden is behind by a little under 2 points. He is behind Trump by 5 points in Arizona, 7 points in Georgia, 7 points in Nevada, 10 points in North Carolina, and about half a point in Wisconsin. He is only ahead in one state, Pennsylvania, by three-tenths of percentage point.

In the latest NBC poll, Biden is very far behind Trump in a variety of key areas, including the economy, border security, crime, and mental/physical fitness to be president. Particularly noteworthy here is Trump’s 22-point advantage on handling the economy. This is the largest advantage on the economy of any candidate in the history of the NBC poll going back to 1992. Also interesting is Biden’s exceedingly modest advantage (two points) on protecting democracy, which he is making a centerpiece of his campaign.


In light of these data, there are two basic choices for Biden and the Democrats: concentrate on voter mobilization to make up these deficits; or concentrate on reducing these deficits through persuasion. Naturally, these approaches are not mutually exclusive, but it’s important which one gets the greater weight.

We can look at data on the Democrats’ sympathetic voter groups to assess the potential of the mobilization approach. What jumps out from looking at these data is that Democrats’ core support in these groups has been going steadily down. That undercuts the potential of a voter mobilization strategy since there are fewer loyal supporters within these groups to get to the polls. Consider these recent data from Pew, Gallup, and Split Ticket, which provide the necessary demographic breakdowns.

Hispanics

Pew Biden approval rating

  • All Hispanics: 32 percent approval, 65 percent disapproval (-33 net).
  • Working-class (noncollege) Hispanics: 30 percent approval, 67 percent disapproval (-37 net).

Gallup party ID trend

  • All Hispanics: 12-point net Democratic advantage on leaned party ID. This is down 19 points from its recent high in 2021 and is the lowest net advantage for the Democrats among Hispanics since Gallup started interviewing in Spanish in 2011.

Split Ticket Biden-Trump crosstabular average

  • All Hispanics: ten-point average Biden advantage over Trump. This is 13 points down from Biden’s margin over Trump among Hispanics in the 2020 election (which in turn was 16 points down from the Democratic margin in 2016), according to Catalist data.

Blacks

Pew Biden approval rating

  • All blacks: 48 percent approval, 49 percent disapproval (minus-one net).
  • Working-class (noncollege) blacks: 45 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval (minus-seven net).
  • Black adults under 50: 35 percent approval (!), 64 percent disapproval (-29 net)

Gallup party ID trend

  • All blacks: 47-point net Democratic advantage on leaned party ID. This is down 19 points from its recent high in 2020. This is also the lowest net advantage for the Democrats recorded by Gallup in its polling going back to 1999.

Split Ticket Biden-Trump crosstabular average

  • All blacks: 57 point average Biden advantage over Trump. This may seem high but it is actually 24 points down from Biden’s margin over Trump among blacks in the 2020 election.

To underscore the data on the black and Hispanic working class, here is a recent chart from the Financial Times:


Image

Youth (18-29 years old)

Pew Biden approval rating

  • All youth: 27 percent approval, 71 percent disapproval (-44 net).

Gallup party ID trend

  • All youth: eight-point net Democratic advantage on leaned party ID. This is down 15 points from its recent high in 2019 and is the lowest net advantage for the Democrats among youth since 2005.

Split Ticket Biden-Trump crosstabular average

  • All youth: 13-point average Biden advantage over Trump. This is ten points down from Biden’s margin over Trump among youth in the 2020 election.

All this suggests Democrats need to put on their persuasion hat and vanquish the thought that they can rely on bringing their loyal foot soldiers to the polls. There just aren’t as many of them as there used to be.

And when it comes to persuasion, touting the Biden record on economics does not seem likely to do the job. Nor does florid rhetoric about impending fascism. These play best among the Democratic faithful who, as we’ve seen, have diminished in number.

Instead the hard work of convincing persuadable voters, including many in traditionally sympathetic groups, that Democrats are actually better on the economy and at least not so bad on border security, crime, and other difficult issues must be embraced. That will be difficult and means above all that Democrats must leave the comforting confines of the bubble so many of them inhabit. They will have to talk about issues they’d rather avoid like immigration and crime. And they will have to confront, not dismiss, the realities of voter concerns on the economy rather than contentedly singing the praises of their fine economic performance.

On the latter challenge, Liam Kerr on The Welcome Party’s Substack correctly diagnoses a big part of the problem:

While inflation has come down, Biden is currently not well positioned to capitalize on the change. The first problem is that voters think Biden is more focused on jobs (43 percent say it’s his top priority) than prices (23 percent say it’s his top priority), while they are more focused on prices (64 percent of voters say it’s their top priority) than jobs (7 percent).

The second is that many of the policies that the administration most frequently touts are not viewed by voters as deflationary and aren’t viewed as benefiting them. Only 27 percent of voters believe tax rebates for EVs will benefit them, and only 21 percent believe tax rebates will reduce inflation, while 45 percent believe they will increase inflation.

Similarly, only 29 percent of voters believe canceling student debt will benefit them, but 45 percent believe it will increase inflation (20 percent believe it will reduce inflation)…[T]he policies the administration has centered the most are the ones that people are least likely to believe will benefit them and most inflationary.

The administration has a number of successful policy wins that it could tout, rather than EVs tax breaks and student debt cancelation. For instance, their investments in supply chain resilience are very popular, as is the provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices…Declining gas prices represent another opportunity for President Biden to show how his administration is bringing down prices, but the administration is slow to claim credit for issuing permits for drilling, leaving voters with the mistaken impression that he has not increased drilling, and in fact has decreased it.

This seems, to put it delicately, sub-optimal. But correcting this does not seem like rocket science. Talk more about what concerns voters the most and what is popular. Talk less about other stuff that lacks salience and popularity. And above all, break out of the comfort zone of Democratic partisans and activists. The cavalry aren’t coming to save you this time. There’s not even enough cavalry to do so anymore.


Political Strategy Notes

Here’s an indication that, if Democrats don’t start focusing on linking reproductive freedom to the presidential race, the powerful issue may matter more down-ballot, according to Julianne McShane’s “Trump Killed Abortion Rights. But Voters Still Don’t Blame Him: He appointed three of the five Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe—but most voters don’t hold him responsible, a new poll found” at Mother Jones: “Despite Trump appointing three of the Supreme Court justices that were part of the majority that overturned the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade, most voters don’t hold him responsible for rising abortion restrictions nationwide, according to the results of a new poll releasedMonday….The poll, conducted in December by the progressive think tank and polling firm Data for Progress, found that less than a quarter of voters overall (only 36 percent of Democrats—and, oddly, only 11 percent of Republicans) see Trump as “responsible for new bans or restrictions on abortions in states across the U.S.” So who do voters hold more responsible? Republicans in state office (33 percent), Republicans in Congress (34 percent), and the Supreme Court (50 percent). That’s not necessarily surprising, given that it was the high court that ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe; that Republicans in Congress have already introduced several bills over the last few years aimed at essentially eliminating abortion rights; and that Republicans in statehouses across the country continue to say unhinged things as they seek to curtail abortion access….But, still, Data for Progress says the poll results—as well as another data point from that poll, showing that 52 percent of voters overall, and 67 percent of Democrats, believe the outcome of the next election will be significant for addressing abortion—show that “Biden’s focus on directing the blame to Trump” for the end of Roe “could help voters make more of a connection to the role Trump has played in curtailing abortion rights.”….Biden has also continued to attract criticism from some reproductive rights and justice activists who say he’s too tepid in his support for abortion rights, given that polling shows a majority of Americans not only disapprove of Dobbs, but also believe that abortion should be legal in all or most instances.”

“Twelve years ago,’ E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated Washington Post column, “political scientists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein shook up Washington with their argument that the U.S. government wasn’t working because of what had happened to the Republican Party….They made their case in a book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” and in a powerful Post op-ed titled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”….“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics,” they wrote. “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”….Power in the GOP has moved away from elected officials and toward those right-wing “commentators” on television, radio, podcasts and online. The creation of ideological media bubbles enhances their power. Republicans in large numbers rely on partisan outlets that lied freely about what Lankford’s compromise did and didn’t do, rather than on straight news reports….But the way things are going, Republicans in each chamber are just as likely to ignore the other’s better instincts. “Worsest” is not a word, but Mann and Ornstein might need it if they publish a new edition.”

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik reports: “Following last week’s release of 2023’s fourth quarter campaign fundraising reports, we thought this was a good time to go through our House ratings and make a few revisions….The changes don’t alter the overall House rating math all that much: currently, we have 212 districts rated as Safe, Likely, or Leans Republican, 203 as Safe/Likely/Leans Democratic, and 20 Toss-ups. Splitting the Toss-ups down the middle would lead to… a 222-213 Republican House, or exactly zero net change from what happened in 2022. So Republicans are a little bit ahead in the ratings, but we’d classify the overall battle for the House as a Toss-up….The relatively scant House generic ballot polling generally shows a small Republican lead—the FiveThirtyEight average pegs it as half a point and the RealClearPolitics average has it as 2 points. This makes the overall environment seem like we’re still stuck in 2022, an observation we ran by several sources on both sides of the aisle without much pushback….In yesterday’s part one of our House analysis, we discussed the correlation between House and presidential results and what we saw in 2016 and 2020. Two of the relatively few “crossover” district members are Reps. Jared Golden (D, ME-2) and Don Bacon (R, NE-2). The pair are linked not only by being crossover members, but also because of the Electoral College quirk that is unique to their two states: Both Maine and Nebraska award electoral votes by congressional district. This allowed Donald Trump, by carrying Golden’s sprawling ME-2 in 2016 and 2020, to pad his electoral vote tally by one, and Joe Biden was able to do the same in 2020 by carrying Bacon’s Omaha-based NE-2….That both districts are likelier than not to award their electoral votes to the party opposite of their current House incumbent is the main reason we’re moving both districts from Leans to Toss-up, although they both are poised to have potentially strong opposition.”

In “Can America’s “sleeping giant” shake up the election? Let’s hope so.” Bob Hennelley writes at Salon: “It’s ironic that in 2024  the very fate of our republic rests entirely in the hands of the nation’s 85 million low wage potential voters, roughly a third of the American electorate that society and the corporate news media regularly ignore.  It’s the common Beltway wisdom that these folks at the base of the pyramid are marginal to the political conversation as compared to the vaunted middle class upon which both major parties have for so long fixated on….Columbia University researcher Robert Paul Hartley found that only 46 percent of voters with household income less than twice the federal poverty rate cast a ballot in 2016, as compared to a 68 percent turnout rate for voters who had a household income more than twice the poverty line. “They’re saying that they’re not voting because people are not speaking to their issues and that they’re just not interested in those candidates,” Hartley, told the New York Times  “But it’s not that they couldn’t be.”….In 2016, Trump carried Michigan by just 10,000 votes. 980,000 low-wage voters did not turn out. If. 1.1 percent of those voters had bothered the results would have been different. Michigan was no exception. In North Carolina, Trump’s margin of victory was 170,000 votes while 920,000 poor and low-wealth voters sat it out. If just 18.9 percent of those disengaged voters had been motivated to go to the polls history would have bent another way….n 2020, in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin the Biden-Trump faceoff was really tight, close to just 3 percent. In Texas, a Republican bastion for decades, the margin was just over 5 percent….In 2016, in a ‘proof of concept’, the Poor People’s Campaign targeted specific low wealth and low wage voters in several states including in Georgia where they identified and mobilized 36,000 previously unengaged voters that helped produce the margin of victory in the pivotal U.S. Senate races won by Rev. Raphael Warner (D-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA).”


In Defense of Our Old-Guy President

When the brouhaha over Robert Hur’s slurs about Joe Biden’s mental faculties broke out, I took it personally, and replied at New York:

Like Joe Biden, I got my dream job at a stage of life when most folks are planning or entering retirement. After writing many hundreds of thousands of words for politicians and organizations without getting much credit for it, I became a rather geriatric blogger and then a political writer for New York Magazine (and The Democratic Strategist) and blew right by the age at which I could have packed it all in. Best I can tell, I still produce more words — though perhaps not higher-quality words — than my whippersnapper New York colleagues. So I am naturally sympathetic to the president’s desire to stay in the saddle as long as he can, and naturally hostile to partisan efforts to depict Biden as senile or incompetent, particularly when the beneficiary of undermining confidence in his abilities is Donald Trump.

Let’s just get this right out on the table: Barring some unprecedented development, the 2024 presidential election choice will be between an 81-year-old Democrat and a 78-year-old Republican. In terms of grammar, syntax, logic, and recall of important events, the former is more cogent on his worst days than the latter appears to be on his best days. So anyone planning to support Trump is welcome to do so on policy or partisan-power grounds but should be ashamed to claim that they just cannot vote for Joe Biden because he’s too old. Is Trump more “vigorous” than Biden, in terms of self-confidence and aggressiveness? Yes, but in the way that Attila the Hun was more “vigorous” than St. Francis of Assisi. It’s also germane that while Biden is a pretty faithful representative of the mainstream views of his political party, Trump eccentrically defines the views of his political party, much as Attila defined the Hun Weltanschauung.

To put it another way, if a second-term President Biden becomes significantly afflicted by age or illness, his lapses are likely to be as mild-mannered as the man himself. I don’t think you can say the same about a second-term President Trump, who already seems to suffer from the malady once maliciously called “Irish Alzheimer’s” (or in some lore, “Appalachian Alzheimer’s”), wherein the victim remembers nothing but his grudges.

There is, of course, a more general and entirely legitimate debate over how old our presidents and presidential candidates should be. I personally thought both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were “too old” to run in 2020, though this judgment was mostly about their electability rather than their capacity to do the job. The advent of septuagenarian and even octogenarian presidents is in part a reflection of longer life spans (at least for people who aren’t too poor to receive decent nutrition and health care), as Alex Webb pointed out last year after Biden joked about being a contemporary of founder James Madison:

“When Madison became the nation’s fourth president in 1809, he was just 57. Bizarrely, however, Madison was by one measure considerably older than Biden when he took the hot seat: compared with the life expectancy of his contemporaries.

“Someone born in Colonial America in the 18th century had a life expectancy of just 28 — skewed heavily, of course, by the fact that so many people died in infancy. When Madison took office, he was already more than twice as old as most of those born the same year. He was, in relative terms, much older than Biden, who is just 15 years older than the average life expectancy of his year group.”

Biden (and for that matter, Trump) may also seem especially old because he happened to assume the presidency after a run (again, excepting Trump) of relatively young chief executives: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

But the thing so often forgotten when we obsess about the age of our leaders is that there are qualities associated with what the AARP used to euphemistically call “modern maturity” that offset whatever is actually lost when an old goat “loses a step”: most obviously work experience, but also lived historical perspective, a wide range of useful role models and “best practices,” knowledge of personal limitations, and even fires of ego-driven ambition tamped down by accomplishment. I know I’m a better political writer for having observed multiple eras of American politics, dating back to the day in 1960 when I watched John F. Kennedy barnstorm through my small Georgia hometown. It should be obvious that Joe Biden learned something in his famously lengthy career in public office, as environmental activist (and himself a founder of an advocacy group for seniors concerned with climate change) Bill McKibben pointed out in the wake of the latest age scare over the president:

“Obviously you lose a step physically as you age, but the presidency doesn’t require carrying sofas up the White House stairs. And science increasingly finds that aging brains make more connections, perhaps because they have more history to work with. …

“Biden was socialized in an era when government took on big causes, and you can see it reflected in his first-term commitment to rebuilding infrastructure on a grand scale, boosting a new sustainable energy economy with billions of dollars for solar panels and battery factories, dramatically increasing the number of people with healthcare, and standing up for gun control, voting rights and reproductive rights.”

There are reasons, in other words, that most societies embrace gerontocracy to one extent or another.

Sure, there are, of course, limits to the value of experience. When Casey Stengel was managing the New York Mets at the end of his career, as the story goes, one of his players was asked what it was like to play for such a living legend. “Casey has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know,” the player said. “But that’s the problem — he’s forgotten it.” His team’s showing proved the point.

At the moment, Biden’s Team America isn’t doing all that badly unless you choose to look at it through a partisan lens, or can’t cope with the traumas and disappointments of the recent past or the uncertainties we face in the immediate future. The president deals with many, many people in the course of an insanely busy day, and if he’s as around the bend as the nonexpert assessment by special counsel Robert Hur suggests, we’d almost certainly know it, unless you believe in a conspiracy of silence as vast as any in U.S. history. I know a lot of very smart, very young people who struggle with remembering dates and names; I’ve never been able to recognize faces other than those I encounter regularly. Sure, Joe Biden’s age and competence pose legitimate questions. But they should be answered with comprehensive, not anecdotal, evidence and by observers who are not followers of the wild man who will become president if Biden is put out on an ice floe by voters in November for being too old. Take it from this old guy: Sometimes the last gallon in the tank can get you to your destination.


How Dems Can Get More Traction in Red and Rural States

At Politico, Peter Schaefer interviews Greg Haas, organizing director of the Wyoming Democratic Party about the obstacles to organizing for Democratic candidates and policies in a deeply-red state. Some of Haas’s insights:

“Something I’ve experienced traveling around the state is that there is a palpable fear of even letting your friends know you are a Democrat, or even in line with what Democratic politicians are doing. There’s vandalism that takes place here, and people are scared of that.”

“In rural places, a candidate goes out on the campaign trail and they say that the first thing they have to do is distance themselves from the national party. Now, I don’t think they have to do that, but they feel like they have to do that. They say, “I’m not a Democrat like national Democrats.” So much news is nationalized, and there is so much news that is sensationalized. I think if you want to talk to people about local issues, that’s what you should focus on….Local Wyoming officials are not going to solve the border crisis in Texas. People’s emotions run high on those hot-button issues, but when it comes right down to it, this local community does not come together on party lines. It comes together on what’s best for the community.”

On job security: “There are more and more people who are really afraid of what’s going to happen to their family ranch, or am I going to lose my job? And when people are that scared, I think as humans we have a tendency to find somebody to blame.… You know, “This person that doesn’t look like me or the people I grew up with is either going to take my job, or my kids’ job, or they’re just going to mooch off or get everything for free.”

On key issues: “The important things for Democrats are fully funded public education, people being treated equally and freedom being afforded to all people. It’s also pretty important to a lot of people in Wyoming, Democrats or otherwise, that women have the right to control their own bodies and their health care and that agency isn’t taken away from them. Climate matters to a lot of people, not in terms of climate change necessarily, but clean air and clean water.”

On President Biden and other national Democrats showing up and claiming credit in rural states: “I absolutely think them showing up to explain and celebrate those programs could have immeasurable benefit. Them showing up would impact the narrative in the news, and it would help those who feel like they’ve been forgotten feel like they’re not. The people responsible for these good works are being too humble to talk about them….There’s a sign over there that says “Project funded by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” and there’s a Wyoming Department of Transportation logo and U.S Department of Transportation logo….That’s the only sign I’ve seen for any project in the state that says exactly where the money is coming from.”

“People are so interested in the hot-button things. Right now, one of the parties is spending most of the time talking about the “invasion” at the southern border. There’s a lot of energy spent talking about that. That’s the go-to talking point. That distracts people from the good things going on — the successful economy, good things that are happening in Wyoming and across the country. From what I can see, the Republican strategy seems to be, “If we can just get people afraid, they’ll vote for us.”

To put Haas’s comments in perspective, keep in mind that “Wyoming is the most Republican state in the U.S. Wyoming has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of +25. Wyoming’s strong Conservative lean is attributed to its large rural, white, and Evangelical populations. Wyoming has voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1952, except for the 1964 election.” Even Liz Cheney was deemed not right-wing enough for Wyoming. It is also the smallest state in the U.S. in terms of population (less than 600,000), but has as many senators as the largest, California (nearly 40 million).

In his introduction to the interview Schaefer notes, “the national Democratic Party has invested millions of dollars in a “Red State Fund” to build out organizing in Republican strongholds. The Biden administration has also made huge investments in rural America through rural cooperatives and the bipartisan infrastructure law, which the president and his cabinet secretaries highlighted last fall on a two-week tour.” It will be a long, tough haul for Democrats to get some momentum in states like Wyoming, which gave Trump his largest popular vote margin in both 2016 and 2020. But it’s good to know that some long-haul Democrats, at least, are working hard on it.


The Futility (and Danger) of Third-Party Candidacies

One of the under-discussed topics of Election 2024 is the size, scope and impact of third-party or independent presidential candidacies. But it could become a big and (to Democrats in particular) eventful deal, which is all the more unfortunate insofar as these candidate’s can’t win, as I discussed at New York:

There’s no telling what the 2024 presidential general election is going to look like after what will probably seem like an endless campaign between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. But both the early polls and recent history suggest that the contest will be close, just like six of the last seven presidential elections. Thanks to widespread disgruntlement with this choice, the odds are also high that the non-major-party vote will be relatively high (more like 2016’s 5.7 percent than 2020’s 1.9 percent) — and that may decide the election.

But as Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times points out in an important column, the one thing we know for sure is that none of these third-party or independent candidates is going to win:

“[T]o have any hope of fulfilling the constitutional requirement to win a majority of electoral votes, a third-party candidate would need at least a plurality of voters in a huge number of states. The party would need, on a state-by-state basis, to outcompete one of the other two parties, so that it could notch electors under the winner-take-all rules that apply in most states.

“This, unfortunately for anyone with third-party dreams, has never happened.”

Yes, there is an argument (being suggested most recently by the No Labels crowd, which is seeking ballot access for a yet-to-be-identified presidential candidacy) that a non-major-party candidate can crucially influence the direction of the nation by picking off a few states and deadlocking the Electoral College, thereby gaining massive leverage in the resolution of that deadlock in Congress. But to do that you need a very big regional base of support, as Bouie notes:

“In 1948, with Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina as its candidate, the States’ Rights Democratic Party — better known as the Dixiecrats — won four states and 39 electoral votes despite gaining just 2.4 percent of the national popular vote. Twenty years later, George Wallace and the American Independent Party won 46 electoral votes and 13.5 percent of the popular vote.

“What both results suggest is that under the Electoral College, the next best alternative to a large and well-distributed national constituency is to have a small and intense regional one. It is, it seems, the only other way to win electoral votes as a third party.”

Both those efforts failed, of course. And if you scan the list of likely non-major-party candidates in 2024 — independents Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West; Green Party aspirant Jill Stein; whoever the Libertarians choose to run; and the “centrist” worthies under consideration by No Labels — there’s no one with the kind of regional base Thurmond or Wallace (or Teddy Roosevelt in his Bull Moose run of 1912) enjoyed. There is a nascent argument that Kennedy might augment his already-significant but highly diffused support (13 percent in the national RealClearPolitics averages in a five-way race) by winning the Libertarian nomination. That’s a bit of a reach given Kennedy’s lefty background and erratic views; he’s just not the sort of person you can imagine as a hero in an Ayn Rand novel, and his support for strong environmental policies might be a deal-breaker for the Libertarian Party, which has plenty of true believers from whom to choose. In any event, whatever RFK Jr. might gain from the easy ballot access Libertarians might offer would be offset by the number of voters who are decidedly non-libertarian.

As for No Labels, the group may back away from its threat to run a “unity ticket” thanks to internal dissension and the fury of former allies who think the whole effort would just guarantee a Trump victory. But even No Labels’ own highly dubious polling shows any foreseeable candidate would struggle to win electoral votes. To cite one example, the West Virginia voters whose antipathy to Joe Manchin led him to give up his Senate seat aren’t going to back him for president against Donald Trump.

What all of this suggests is that non-major-party candidacies should be viewed by voters and pundits alike strictly in the context of how they affect the Biden-Trump binary choice. Sure, there are ideological reasons some voters might pull the lever for the candidates of parties like the Libertarians and the Greens; those voters may believe that in the broader scheme of things it really just doesn’t matter whether Biden or Trump is the 46th president. For everyone else, the choice to go independent or third-party isn’t really a choice of that candidate, but of either Biden or Trump.

Things could change by November, of course, and the implications of non-party candidacies may depend on how many of them there are and who they are. But current polling shows that the current five-way race we are contemplating will likely help Trump defeat Biden, which makes sense when you consider the cohesiveness of Trump’s MAGA base and his inability to win a popular-vote majority. As Bouie puts it: “If Americans want different choices, they will need a different system.”


Political Strategy Notes

In his latest email blast, Matthew Yglesias takes on “Trump’s middle class tax hike,” and writes, “Most people think (and I agree) that Trump flip-flopping the GOP away from its Reagan-Bush-Bush free trade positions helped him pick up votes in the Midwest. So Joe Biden has mostly kept Trump trade policies in place, which has induced Trump to raise his ambitions in an effort to outflank Biden. And what he’s stumbled on is an idea that, if explained properly to the American people, would be politically toxic. This isn’t a huge regressive tax increase that will finance useful public services — it’s a huge regressive tax increase that will partially offset the cost of tax cuts for the rich….But I worry that because a lot of progressive intellectuals are so invested in the industrial policy debate, they aren’t going to want Democrats to talk about why a 10 percent across the board increase in tariffs is bad….So it’s really worth saying that whatever you make of industrial policy, what Trump is suggesting is not a remotely strategic approach to national economic development. If anything, Trump’s entire trade agenda — not only these tariffs, but things like his 2020 effort to score a giant sale of soybeans to China — is geared around de-industrializing the United States and turning us into a primary commodity exporter….The right’s intellectual trajectory on these topics is somewhat alarming. Everyone in DC understands that Trump did not come up with this policy proposal based on any kind of detailed study of the issue. Unless it benefits him personally, Trump just pulls ideas out of his ass because he likes the vibe. Most professional conservatives have realized that the best way to wield influence in a Trump-dominated party is to say nice things about him and try to work behind the scenes. But the MAGA faithful don’t see the machinations behind the scenes. All they see is Miller talking about how amazing it will be for South Carolina to tumble backward to a more primitive state of development.”

Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid and Doug Jones’s two Senate campaigns in Alabama, told me in a phone interview that his major concern is that the Biden campaign should take the threats posed by third-party candidates “more seriously,” Thomas B. Edsall writes in his latest NYT opinion essay. “If Trump wins in November, it will be because of third parties getting a significant number of people,” Trippi argued. “No one who is a MAGA Trump supporter is going to vote for a third party. Most of it comes off Joe Biden.”….Polling supports Trippi on this score….In the RealClearPolitics compilation of recent polls pitting Trump against Biden, Trump led by 2.1 points, 46.7 percent to 44.6 percent….In the RealClearPolitics compilation of polls that add Robert Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein to the mix, Trump’s lead over Biden more than doubles, to 4.8 points, 41.6 to 36.8 percent. Kennedy gets 13 percent, and West and Stein each get 2.1 percent….Along with the threat posed by third-party candidates, two major crises — immigration and the Israeli assault on Hamas in Gaza — have become significant liabilities for the Biden campaign….Voters, as I mentioned earlier, overwhelmingly favor Trump over Biden to handle immigration and the southern border. Biden’s backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war against Hamas in Gaza has weakened Democratic support, especially among young voters who were crucial to Biden’s 2020 victory….The Dec. 10-14 New York Times/Siena poll found that young voters, aged 18 to 29, favored Trump over Biden 49-43. These voters said they trusted Trump over Biden “to do a better job on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” 49-30. In the 2020 election, Biden beat Trump among 18-to-29-year-old voters by 24 points, 60-36, according to exit polls, by far his biggest margin in all age groups.”

Edsall continues, “Even so, Biden has the potential to regain ground on both immigration and the Gaza war….In the case of immigration, Biden has endorsed a hard-line, bipartisan border security bill — backed by most Democrats and some Republicans — that may be voted on in the Senate later this week, emphasis on “may.”….Many of the provisions of the act have been endorsed by conservative Republicans in the past, but the bipartisan measure is opposed by Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson, on explicitly political grounds. They want to keep public anxiety over immigration festering through Election Day and they do not want to give Biden a victory on the issue….Trump and his allies have provided Biden the opportunity to counter the Trump-Johnson strategy by portraying himself as a proponent of vigorous border enforcement and Trump as a politically motivated politician who doesn’t actually care about the border….According to Jonathan Cowan, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, Biden’s current strategy on immigration is a step in the right direction….“To win in 2024, Biden will need to convince voters that he is still the proud moderate they voted for in 2020,” Cowan wrote by email. “He has a lot of evidence on his side, but he still has a lot of convincing to do.”….The opening to win over swing voters, in Cowan’s view, “is there, including the blocs of soft Republicans and gettable independents we saw looking for someone else other than Trump in the New Hampshire G.O.P. primary.”….Douglas Schoen, a center-right Democratic operative and frequent critic of his own party, wrote in the Feb. 2 edition of The Hill that “evidence is beginning to emerge that Biden has at the very least, stabilized the race and that the ‘Trump surge’ has cooled off.”….Schoen concluded: “As for Biden’s chances one month into this election year, there is a lot of work to be done. However, if I were the Biden campaign, I’d be more pleased with the road ahead than just a few months ago.” Edsall concludes, “The biggest danger facing the Biden campaign is the possibility that Trump reins himself in. The chances of that happening, however, are virtually nil.”

In “The GOP Owns the Border Now. Here’s How Democrats Make Sure of It. Hard-right Republicans killed the Senate immigration deal out of fealty to Trump. That’s the perfect opening for Biden to go on the attack,” Michael Tomasky argues at The New Republic, “The GOP killed the border deal. The party that has been caterwauling for months—years—about the porous border dispatched one of its most conservative members, James Lankford of Oklahoma, to negotiate a bill. They had Democrats over a political barrel. President Biden was willing to sign a bill that included plenty of stuff that’s hard for many Democrats to swallow, but it’s an election year, and there’s Arizona to think about. They had a bill the likes of which they won’t see for another 15 years….So how can the Democrats be sure that voters get the message that the Republicans now own this chaos? Obviously, for starters, just say it and say it and say it. The Republicans blocked a bill because they and Trump want to run on the issue. They’d rather have the issue than fix the problem. Whatever Democrats settle on as the best way to say it, just say it over and over and over. They’ll never persuade MAGA voters, but that isn’t the point. The point is persuading the voters who’ll decide the election: the 20,000 in Wisconsin, the 15,000 in Michigan, and so on….Besides which, they may even persuade some Republicans voters of the merit of their message. They’re not all MAGA. A significant minority don’t love Trump. They won’t vote Biden, but they may stay home—and some of them may lose their ardor for Senate and House candidates who so cravenly kowtowed to Trump on this….Biden needs to rise up here. The State of the Union address will take place March 7. That’s the biggest audience he’ll have until his convention speech this summer, and he needs to use the occasion to drive home the Republicans’ naked hypocrisy. He should spell out all the strict provisions of the bill that made it a very tough sell to many members of his own party. He was willing to take some political heat to accept a compromise—one that included a number of Republican priorities—just to do something about the problem. And the Republicans killed it. They’ll boo him. Let them. It’ll be great theater, and to those few thousand Great Lakes voters, the Republicans will look ridiculous….How many times do swing voters need to see this movie before they understand the moral? Apparently a lot of times. Democrats: Remind them.”


Rothenberg: The Nine States That Matter Most in the 2024 Elections

At Roll Call, Stuart Rothenberg makes the case that 9 states will decide which party can claim victory in the 2024 elections. Rothenberg identifies “the nine states that in November will decide (1) the presidential contest, (2) the fight for the Senate, and (3) the fight for control of the House of Representatives.”

In the presidential contest,

Three Great Lakes states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and three Southern/Sunbelt toss-ups (Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada) are likely to pick the next president of the United States.

Donald Trump carried five of the six states in 2016 (losing only Nevada), while Joe Biden carried all six four years later. The margins in all those states, in both 2016 and 2020, were extremely narrow, and most nonpartisan handicappers expect they will be close again this November.

Rothenberg adds “Two other states are worth watching but aren’t likely to be as crucial: New Hampshire (carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020) and North Carolina (carried by Trump twice). Two states that divide their Electoral College votes by congressional district (Maine and Nebraska) merit your attention, as well. But none of those states come close to being as decisive as the Big Six.

As for the Senate,

“this year’s map strongly favors Republicans. Democrats (and independents who caucus with Democrats) sit in 23 seats that are up in November, while Republicans defend a mere 11 Senate seats this year….At least seven Democratic-held Senate seats are in play. Four of them are also in states that are crucial in the presidential contest: including Michigan (retiring Debbie Stabenow’s open seat), Nevada (Jackie Rosen), Pennsylvania (Bob Casey), and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin)…. Three of them are in reliably Republican states: Montana (Jon Tester), Ohio (Sherrod Brown), and West Virginia (Joe Manchin III), which is certain to flip to the GOP now that Manchin is retiring.

Also at risk is the seat of one independent who caucuses with the Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sinema has not announced whether she will run for reelection (most likely as an independent). If she does, Arizona will likely have a three-way race in the fall.

Montana and Ohio stand out because of their conservatism and strong support of Trump in the last two presidential elections. But Tester and Brown have won in difficult circumstances before, and they survived during Trump’s 2018 midterm election (when Republicans picked up two seats) by delivering populist messages that appealed to working-class voters….Also at risk is the seat of one independent who caucuses with the Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sinema has not announced whether she will run for reelection (most likely as an independent). If she does, Arizona will likely have a three-way race in the fall.”

In House races, Rothenberg notes

“most states won’t have competitive contests next year. But due to extensive redistricting in New York state and court-ordered new districts that could elect a few more minority members, Democrats could add House seats in November….The Empire State has at least six Republican-held seats that look to be at risk later this year, a number large enough to determine whether Democrats can flip the chamber and make House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries the new speaker in 2025.”

Rothenberg concludes, “If you really want to identify the voters most likely to pick the next president, you can forget about strong partisans from competitive states. It’s swing voters from the swingiest states, like Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, who will really matter if the race for the White House is close.”


Political Strategy Notes

From “What we’re getting wrong about 2024’s “moderate” voters: The voters who could decide 2024 are a complicated bunch” Christian Paz at Vox: “They constitute one of the most valuable, overlooked, and misunderstood chunks of the American electorate: the nation’s mythical moderates….They’re a complicated bunch. They’re often described as swing voters, fickle ideological creatures who exist around the center of the political spectrum. They get conflated with “independent” and “undecided” voters but aren’t exactly the same. They tend to be less politically engaged than their fierce partisan compatriots to their left and right. They’re both accused of not really existing and credited with winning elections for the major parties. And recently, they’re both the reason the Republican Party has been doing so poorly in the Donald Trump era and the reason Democrats should be careful that their winning coalition doesn’t collapse….you should break down moderate Americans into three discrete blocs….You have true moderates, whose opinions consistently fall around the center of the ideological spectrum. Then there are the moderates who are largely disengaged from politics and hold inconsistent opinions — sometimes, a mix of extreme views from both sides that, when averaged, often give them the false appearance of centrism. And then you have a kind of unicorn, the person who is engaged in politics but similarly has a mix of policy opinions that don’t place them cleanly on the ideological spectrum or in either major US political party….According to surveys of Americans’ ideological beliefs, those who call themselves “moderates” have tended to be a plurality of the American population since at least 1992. In 2022, they were roughly the same size as the segment of Americans calling themselves “conservative” — 35 percent moderate to 36 percent conservative, according to Gallup polling. Self-described “liberals,” meanwhile, trail at 26 percent of American adults, though that number has been trending up over the last 30 years….And Trump’s own brand of conservatism also appears to be less appealing to moderate Republicans in the first two states that have held primary contests so far: In Iowa, he garnered the support of about 20 percent of moderate GOP voters, a drop from his 34 percent showing in 2016 (the last time there were competitive GOP primaries). And in New Hampshire, he won about 25 percent of these moderates, down from 32 percent in 2016….Democrats face a challenge of their own: Their winning coalition counts on a bigger chunk of various kinds of moderate voters turning out for them than for Republicans.”

Highlighting this short message from top Democratic strategist and pollster Stan Greenberg, founding partner of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (GQR) and Democracy Corps.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains “Why I changed my mind and think Trump should be thrown off the ballot” in his Washington Post column: “It is annoying when your political judgments come into conflict with what you decide is right. That’s what has happened to me on the question of whether Donald Trump should be barred from running for president under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment….Though I agreed that Trump had, indeed, engaged in insurrection, I thought it would be best for the country to have him go down to defeat again in a free and fair election. Keeping him on the ballot so voters could decide was the path to long-term institutional stability and might finally force a reckoning in the Republican Party….But the more I read and listened, the clearer it became that Section 3 was directed against precisely the conduct Trump engaged in. Its purpose is to protect the republic from those who would shred the Constitution and destroy our system of self-government. What Trump did in advance of the attack on the Capitol and on Jan. 6, 2021, legally disqualifies him from the presidency….to argue that barring Trump from the ballot is “antidemocratic,” wrote professors Carol Anderson and Ian Farrell in another brief, is “ironic … as he bears by far the most responsibility for attempting to subvert democracy on Jan. 6.” An effort to overthrow constitutional procedures, wrote Ifill, should be distinguished from political protests, even those “accompanied by sporadic acts of violence.” Demonstrators are not the same as a mob trying to hijack the government….There are paradoxes galore on this matter. Believing Trump should be unable to run, for example, is the opposite of a partisan wish, since he is without question the weakest Republican whom President Biden could face….The biggest paradox of all: Throwing Trump off the ballot would seem, on its face, the opposite of democracy. Yet the whole point of Section 3 is to protect constitutional democracy from anyone who has already tried to destroy it. If its provisions don’t apply to Trump, they don’t apply to anyone.”

Your daily downer comes from Harry Enten’s “The union vote is becoming more Republican” at CNN Politics, in which he writes: “Take a look at recent New York Times/Siena College polling in the six closest swing states that Biden won in 2020: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden and Trump were tied at 47% among union members when asked who they’d vote for in 2024. When these swing state voters were asked how they voted in 2020, Biden won the group by an 8-point margin….The union vote is especially important in Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Somewhere between 14% and 15% of employees in these three states are represented by unions. (Between 12% and 13% of employees in these states are themselves union members.)….Biden won union workers – who reside primarily in blue states – by 22 points, according to the 2020 Cooperative Election Study survey by Harvard University. Compare that with Bill Clinton’s performance in 1992, when he won the national popular vote by a similar margin to Biden 28 years later. But Clinton won union members by 31 points, according to an American National Election Studies survey….We’re a far cry from 1948, when Democrat Harry Truman won union workers by 62 points over Republican Thomas Dewey. Truman almost certainly wouldn’t have won the election that year without them….When Truman defeated Dewey, union workers represented about 30% of wage and salary workers. Today, they’re about 10%….Trump won non-college graduate union members by 6 points in 2020. Biden’s victory among union members was entirely attributable to those who had graduated college, winning them by 46 points….union workers are far likelierto be in education, training and library occupations (32.7%). Additionally, public sector employees are much likelier to be part of a union (32.5%) than private sector employees (6.0%)….About two-thirds of Americans approve of labor unions, which ranks among the highest percentages recorded since 1967. Just 15 years ago, only 48% of Americans approved of unions….In other words, it pays to be seen as friendly to labor unions even among those voters who are not members.”