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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

What Will Trump Loyalists’ Sensed Powerlessness Mean For Politics?

Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican Party continues to shape America’s politics, even as the Democrats have taken control of the federal government and Congress.

Read the Report

From Democracy Corps


5 Practical Strategies for Moderate Candidates

Trump loyalists are not just completely committed to a Fox News’ right-wing political perspective but to an extreme alternative ideology that requires the denial of even patently evident facts

Strategies based on Democracy Corps new study.

Most Profoundly Sinister Provision in the New GOP Voter Suppression Laws

All of the GOP measures are designed to make voting harder and reduce the turnout of minorities and other pro-Democratic groups but one key strategy is quite literally designed to turn American elections into meaningless, completely empty rituals like they are in police state dictatorships like Russia.

Read the Article

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

Democratic officeholders and candidates who plan to run in 2022 and 2024 need to face a simple, brutal fact – many will lose their next elections and will return control of government to the GOP if they do not offer a more plausible strategy for reducing the surge of immigrants at the border

Democrats in 2022 and 2024 will lose elections without a strategy.

Strategy for Separating Extremist from Non-extremist White Workers

The grotesque events since the election finally forced a limited section of the Republican coalition to take a stand against the extremists who gained essentially complete domination over the GOP after the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Prevent the Triumph of GOP Extremism.

The Daily Strategist

June 24, 2021

Recall Fever in California Not Just About Gavin Newsom

There’s been a lot of coverage of the effort to recall Gavin Newsom, but not much analysis of other recall drives in the state, and why they are so numerous. I tried to remedy that at New York:

Like a slow-motion riot, the effort to force California governor Gavin Newsom into a special recall election has dominated political headlines in the Golden State for months. Facilitated by a conservative judge’s decision to give petition-gatherers a 120-day extension in the time allowed to reach the required 1,495,709 signatures needed to trigger a recall, the recall drive succeeded, though the date of the special election (probably in November) will be determined after a few more legal requirements in the process have been satisfied.

But as the Los Angeles Times reports, Newsom is hardly the only target of 2021 recall drives in California:

“During the first five months of 2021, active recall efforts — those in which an official step has been taken — have targeted at least 68 local officials in California, according to a Times analysis. The total has already surpassed the number of local recall attempts seen during four of the last five years in California.”

Most of the targets are Democrats, and COVID-19 restrictions are the most important motivator — however, this recall fever has struck both big cities and rural counties, and a wide range of discontents are at play. Of course, these factors are not unique to California. Here’s why recalls have become so popular in this particular state.

Recalling elected officials in California is relatively easy

Nineteen states provide for the recall of state elected officials, alongside 30 states that allow local jurisdictions to provide for their own recall elections. Rules vary widely, but California is distinctive in that it (a) does not require any particular rationale for demanding a recall, and (b) has among the lowest thresholds for triggering recall elections. The Newsom recall, for example, needed validated signatures from 12 percent of the number of voters in the last election for the office in question. In Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin, the threshold is 25 percent of voters in the last election. Some states link the threshold to the percentage of registered voters (e.g., Montana, which requires signatures of 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the last election for the office).

The thresholds for recall of local elected officials vary in California according to the size of the jurisdiction, but they are quite low (10 percent of registered voters) for the larger cities and counties, and some are provided for in local government charters that are not subject to state law.

Legal requirements aside, there is a political culture in California encouraging recall drives that assumed a whole new prominence after the successful effort to remove Governor Gray Davis from office in 2003. At any given movement, there are recall petitions circulating aimed at a large number of elected officials, even though most never succeed.

The backlash against COVID-19 restrictions in California was especially intense and not limited to conservatives

For various reasons, including often-clumsy state management of public-health policies and confusing local rules, the backlash against pandemic-related restrictions in California seems to have been unusually intense. One prominent recall target, Ventura County supervisor Linda Parks, has galvanized a lot of local frustrations, notes the Times:

“’People were sitting at home and feeling impotent,’ said longtime Thousand Oaks resident and retired high school receptionist Karen Meyer. Meyer now often spends weekends at a small folding table in the parking lot of a local Target or DMV, asking passersby if they’d like to sign petitions to recall Parks in Ventura County.

“The recall organizer faulted her county supervisor for hewing too closely to Newsom’s pandemic directives and not doing enough to save local businesses.”

Recall fever in California may have also been specifically fueled by Newsom’s terrible mistake in attending a maskless indoor party for a prominent donor and lobbyist at one of the state’s most exclusive restaurants (the Napa Valley’s French Laundry). This contributed to perceptions that elected officials administering pandemic restrictions were hypocrites who were cavalier about damaging the livelihoods of barbers and hairdressers and small businesses, and the freedom to worship of churchgoers — complaints not limited to members of any party or ideology. And the particularly strong and ideologically diffuse anti-vaxxer movement in California likely strengthened the backlash against the entire anti-COVID-19 effort.

But as in other parts of the country, anger at school boards for lengthy shutdowns of in-person instruction transcended party and ideological groupings, with the California teachers unions getting blamed for particularly inflexible state and local rules. The likely successful effort to force recall elections for three members of the local school board in ultraliberal San Francisco cannot be explained as a Republican or conservative gambit; even progressive voters and elected officials objected to the board’s focus on renaming schools to get rid of marginally objective names rather than reopening them when possible.

California’s GOP sees recalls as its best shot at fighting an overwhelming Democratic advantage

While all the recalls cannot be dismissed (as many Democrats have tried to do) as GOP or right-wing stunts, there is no question that California’s very weak Republican Party has relied on this type of ballot “protest” more than its counterparts in states that aren’t as dark blue. Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in California since 2006. Democrats hold and show no signs of losing supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. And traditional Republican strongholds like Orange County are now intense battlegrounds (won by Democrats in 2018, and partially won back by Republicans in 2020, in very close elections).

How ballot-based issue protests and recalls work together for California Republicans was illustrated by the successful 2018 recall aimed at Orange County Democratic state senator Josh Newman for voting in favor of the same gas tax increase that Republicans were trying to repeal via a statewide ballot initiative. The recall succeeded while the initiative failed, and Newman won the seat back in 2020. But linking the pol to the grievance was probably a good idea.

Republicans in California are currently dramatizing their law-and-order messages by attacking allegedly weak-on-crime elected officials. In California, two particular objects of conservative ire, San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles district attorney George Gascon, are facing recall efforts. How else can Republicans spend their time in such overwhelmingly pro-Democratic jurisdictions?

In the suburban San Diego city of Carlsbad, an even more basic partisan and ideological fight is under way as right-wing talk-radio personality Carl DeMaio (who is also active in the Newsom recall effort) is leading a recall drive aimed at city councilwoman Cori Schumacher, a former professional surfing celebrity being targeted for a variety of ideological sins. She is also the object of ire for a particularly unhappy and influential group of restaurant owners. This particular campaign shows how COVID-19 grievances are merging with other, and sometimes unrelated, complaints to fuel a pretty clearly conservative purge effort aimed at a Democratic elected official in contested turf.

But will any of these recall efforts succeed?

Probably some will, though the big one, against Newsom, is likely to fail so long as public-health and economic conditions continue to improve and Democrats stay united in supporting him. Some Republican recall backers may yet regret putting so many eggs in the recall basket, and some voters angry about lockdowns and school closings may get over it. But in California, a recall drive is never more than a shout away.

Judis: Is Manchin Actually Helping Dems?

Writing at Talking Points Memo, John Judis, author of The Politics of Our Time: Populism, Nationalism, Socialism  and other works of political analysis, makes a case that Sen. Joe Manchin may be “doing the Democrats a favor.” As Judis writes,

Liberal Democrats are enraged at West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin for opposing the For the People Act and for supporting the filibuster, which would have to be overturned in order for the voting legislation, even with Manchin’s support, to get through Congress. Manchin may, however, be doing these liberal Democrats a favor in this case.

In response to setbacks in November 2020, Republican state governments are attempting to rig their election laws to favor their own candidates. Some of these measures, such as limiting voting by mail, may not favor Republicans at all. (Several of the measures counter rules that were specially designed for voting during the pandemic and may be irrelevant in 2022 and beyond.) Other measures, such as limiting polling places and times in urban areas, could depress minority voting and benefit Republicans. Still others, such as allowing state legislators to overturn popular election results, are probably unconstitutional.

The Democrats — and freedom-loving Republicans and independents — should primarily be concerned with the laws that discourage normal non-pandemic era voting; and a bill that directly targeted those measures would enjoy wide popular support and could even garner some Republican support in Congress. But the For the People Act (H.R. 1), which was passed by House of Representatives in March, is not such a bill. Instead, it is an 886-page Christmas tree of progressive election measures. I am not saying Manchin is right to oppose it. I would probably favor 90 percent of the provisions. But it’s very understandablethat he does and that other Democrats, in addition to every Republican, would.

Judis argues that “Democrats would be better off paring down their initiative to several measures that would be readily understandable and popular” and focus on passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has more hope of bipartisan support. Some of the measures in the ‘For the People Act’ could more realistically be passed later on, along with some of the more controversial social reforms – particularly if Dems pick up some Senate and House seats in the midterm elections, and in  2024. Also,

What Democrats can pass without the threat of the filibuster are spending and taxing measures. These can be passed through a process called reconciliation. These kind of economic measures, epitomized in the Biden administration’s relief and recovery bills, are popular. So, too, was the recent Senate bill promoting an industrial policy, which won bipartisan support. In other words, the presence of the filibuster forces Democrats in the Senate and the Biden administration to focus their efforts on popular economic measures. These measures will put the party in good stead in the next elections, which Democrats must win if they don’t want whatever they accomplish in these years to be reversed or subverted. If the Democrats lose the Congress in 2022, they will be stymied.

Read the rest of Judis’s TPM article right here.

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, “How Far Are Republicans Willing to Go? They’re Already Gone,” Thomas B. Edsall writes, “Among those I consulted for this column, there was wide agreement that democratic backsliding is a process difficult for the average voter to detect — and that one of the crucial factors enabling the current procedural undermining of democracy in the states is that voters have little interest in or understanding of election rules and regulations….“Democratic erosion is subtle and slow, often nearly imperceptible until it’s too late,” Robert Blair, a political scientist at Brown, wrote in an email:

The U.S. will not become an autocracy. Political parties will not be banned; elections will not be canceled or overturned willy nilly. But the U.S. may increasingly become a “democracy with asterisks,” one in which the playing field is tilted heavily in favor of whichever party writes the rules of the game.

Blair is decidedly pessimistic about the likelihood that American voters will succeed in opposing the degradation of the system:

I have very little faith in the American public as a bulwark against these threats. In general Americans do not prioritize democratic principles in our vote choices, and we are alarmingly willing to tolerate antidemocratic ideas and actions by co-partisans. Polarization seems to make this worse. If American democracy is at risk, citizens will not save it.”

Edsall also notes, “At one level, the Republican anti-democratic drive is clearly a holding action. A detailed Brookings study, “America’s electoral future: The coming generational transformation,” by Rob Griffin, Ruy Teixeira and William Frey, argues that Republicans have reason to fear the future:

Millennials and Generation Z appear to be far more Democratic leaning than their predecessors were at the same age. Even if today’s youngest generations do grow more conservative as they age, it’s not at all clear they would end up as conservative as older generations are today.

In addition, the three authors write, “America’s youngest generations are more racially and ethnically diverse than older generations.”….As a result, Griffin, Teixeira and Frey contend,

the underlying demographic changes our country is likely to experience over the next several elections generally favor the Democratic Party. The projected growth of groups by race, age, education, gender and state tends to be more robust among Democratic-leaning groups, creating a consistent and growing headwind for the Republican Party.

From 2020 to 2036, the authors project that the percentage of eligible voters who identify as nonwhite in Texas will grow from 50 to 60 percent, in Georgia from 43 to 50 percent, in Arizona from 38 to 48 percent….As these percentages grow, Republicans will be under constant pressure to enact state legislation to further restrict registration and voting. The question will become: How far are they willing to go?”

From Jeff E. Schapiro’s article, “Analysis: McAuliffe 2.0 gambles that, for Virginia, what’s old is new” in The Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Incomplete returns showed McAuliffe leading his four opponents for the nomination with a whopping 62% of the vote, far exceeding public polls that had him hovering around 49%. His victory seemed foreordained, hastened by a lopsided advantage in name recognition, fundraising, advertising endorsements and organization….McAuliffe, a New York-born Bill-and-Hillary-Clinton intimate who lives in Fairfax County, will be teamed with an Afro-Latina legislator for lieutenant governor, Del. Hala Ayala of Prince William County, and the incumbent attorney general, Mark Herring of Loudoun County, who is seeking a third term and was McAuliffe’s running mate in 2013….Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties comprise a Democratic bulwark, the so-called Blue Wall — a fast-growing, multi-hued suburb that became even friendlier to the party during the Trump presidency, a reminder that national and local politics can be one in the same there….”What makes McAuliffe’s wire-to-wire victory in the Democratic primary even more remarkable is that the field, aside from McAuliffe, was decidedly diverse,” Chris Cillizza notes at CNN Politics….But it is worth noting that Democratic voters opted for the establishment, White, male, 60-something candidate when very credible alternatives were available.”

Democrats who complain that their party is playing pattycake instead of hardball regarding the January 6th GOP-supported riot in the U.S. capitol will be encouraged by Rep. Eric Swallwell’s lawsuit to hold key Republicans accountable. As Aaron Rupar explains at Vox, “While some of the people who breached the Capitol have been held accountable for their actions, those who helped incite them have not. Trump was impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate, and none of the “Stop the Steal” speakers have faced charges….Swalwell’s lawsuit is an attempt to provide that accountability. In his personal capacity, Swalwell, who served as an impeachment manager during Trump’s most recent impeachment trial, filed suit against Trump, Trump Jr., Giuliani, and Brooks in March, alleging that “as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the Defendants’ false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the Defendants’ express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.” Swalwell and other Democrats believe that criminal prosecutions for the riot are not enough. “Swalwell’s lawsuit “seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, a declaration that defendants violated the law and a requirement that they provide seven-days written notice before any future rally or public event in Washington on a day with any significant election or election certification event….But a guilty verdict would nevertheless be a striking, and public, rebuke — a statement despite their claims otherwise (and despite the Senate’s acquittal of Trump) that Trump, Trump Jr., Giuliani, and Brooks did spur the insurrectionists, and that they damaged the democratic process in doing so.”

Palin Quickly Faded From Sight. Will Trump Follow?

Ran across an article from ten years ago about the ubiquitous Sarah Palin, and it got me thinking, as I discussed at New York:

While mulling one of the great political media questions of 2021 — Will Donald Trump soon fade from sight, and what will we write about if he does? — I ran across this Joshua Green quote in The Atlantic published exactly ten years ago: “It’s hard to escape Sarah Palin. On Facebook and Twitter, cable news and reality television, she is a constant object of dispute, the target or instigator of some distressingly large proportion of the political discourse.” I remember now that it was at about this period that liberal journalists often taunted one another for writing lazily about Palin on slow news days, just as they did with Trump more recently.

After a lot of speculation that she would run for president in 2012 produced no news-sustaining sensation for St. Joan of the Tundra, she began to fade into the background. When she produced a late pre-Iowa endorsement for Trump, it didn’t keep Ted Cruz from winning the state. And for obscure reasons (possibly her poorly timed criticism of a tax-subsidy deal to bribe the Carrier air-conditioning company to keep a plant open in Indiana), she was one of the few early Trump validators who never got rewarded with anything. Soon she began to fade from sight with episodic reappearances that were almost shocking in reminding us what a big deal she had been (including, last year, her appearance as a dancing Mama Grizzly on The Masked Singer and a weird Instagram post hinting at a 2022 challenge to Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).

“It’s already getting dark out there for Mister Trump. Without the presidency, he already commands much less of our mindshare than he did only a few weeks ago. Like Palin, Trump himself will recede over time, even if the damage he has inflicted on our political culture remains. The media has started to search for the next ambassador from Crazytown, the next ratings grab.”

While Hamby may ultimately be correct, it won’t happen right away, it seems. Arguably, the grip of the 45th president and his lies on the Republican Party is even stronger than it was when he finally left office, even though he has been widely “de-platformed” and is only now beginning to resume his signature rallies. And even those who think his staying power is limited generally no longer think the GOP will resume some sort of innocent pre-Trump trajectory; at best, we will be dealing with Trumpism, if not Trump, for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the best way to understand the Palin-Trump comparison is not as back-to-back comets doomed to flame out quickly but as one shocking figure in touch with some powerful grassroots dynamics being superseded by another with better skills and perfect timing. As I said when Palin endorsed Trump in 2016, “[I]n many respects, the Trump campaign is the presidential campaign Palin herself might have aspired to run if she had the money and energy to do so.” The people who cheered the amateur Palin didn’t need her much anymore when the professional huckster showed up in national politics.

As part of a new typology of America’s warring tribes (and warring narratives of the country’s past, present, and future), the journalist George Packer has a very clear understanding of the relationship between these two champions of “Real America.” Years before Trump perfected his pitch to an aroused and fearful base rooted in non-college-educated white residents of small towns and exurbs, Palin was on the 2008 campaign trail saying this: “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit … and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hardworking, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation. Those who are running our factories and teaching our kids and growing our food and are fighting our wars for us.”

Palin channeled the authentic fury of the white working class toward allegedly freeloading minorities and the supercilious overeducated elites aligned with them, united in the person of Barack Obama, “a Black professional who had gone to the best schools, who knew so much more than Palin, and who was too cerebral to get in the mud pit with her.”

But Palin was flawed and, above all, premature. “John the Baptist to the coming of Trump,” says Packer, alluding to the New Testament prophet who prepared the way for Jesus. So she was soon to fade, not because the impetus to her fame had subsided but because she herself was no longer necessary or sufficient to the savage cause she represented:

“Palin crumbled during the [2008] campaign. Her miserable performance under basic questioning disqualified her in the eyes of Americans with open minds on the subject. Her Republican handlers tried to hide her and later disowned her. In 2008, the country was still too rational for a candidate like Palin. After losing, she quit being governor of Alaska, which no longer interested her, and started a new career as a reality-TV personality, tea-party star, and autographed-merchandise saleswoman. Palin kept looking for a second act that never arrived. She suffered the pathetic fate of being a celebrity ahead of her time.”

But the resentments that fed the careers of both Palin and Trump haven’t subsided at all. For a good while now, America hasn’t worked for “Real Americans,” and they blame educated elites and their minority clientele for ruining it. Restoring this often-imaginary white Eden won’t happen overnight, but in the meantime, the thrill of terrifying the class-race enemy with the hobgoblin of a crude, vengeful leader who “tells it like it is” can be a satisfying blood sport. Palin was good at it, Trump is better, and Lord help us if the true master of this brand of politics is still waiting in the wings.

Galston: Why Immigration Reform May Become An Easier Sell

In  his Wall St. Journal column, “Biden’s Slow-Growth Budget Gamble,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow William A. Galston, author of Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy, writes:

According to a recent CBO report, the principal driver of slow growth since 2008 has been a sharp slowdown in the growth of the labor supply. As baby boomers joined the workforce, the annual increase in labor supply averaged more than 2%, peaking at 2.5% between 1974 and 1981. As late as the 1990s, annual labor-force expansion averaged 1.2%. But as the population aged and baby boomers began to retire, annual increases fell to 0.5% between 2008 and 2020, a figure that the CBO expects to fall to 0.4% in 2021-25 and 0.3% in 2026-31.

The distant future looks no brighter. The total fertility rate needed to maintain a stable population is about 2.1 children for every woman. In 2020 the U.S. rate dropped to 1.64, the latest in a long decline. The workforce of the 2030s and 2040s could be smaller than today’s, a prospect that other advanced economies are also facing, including China.

The other main driver of economic growth—output per worker—has been less predictable. Annual increases averaged 2.3% between 1950 and 1973, fell to 0.7% between 1974 and 1981, then surged to 2% in the 1990s before falling back to about 1.3% in 2001-20.

Galston argues that ” international experience suggests that there is little government can do to increase birthrates. But there is much that can be done to improve labor-force participation. Government can make it easier for women to remain in the workforce, for those formerly incarcerated to re-enter it, for young adults not bound for college to find technical training and for aging Americans to work part time if they choose, among other things.”

But Galston also sees a possible solution to America’s immigration crisis emerging from the labor supply slowdown:

Another strategy is more immigration. We have gone in the other direction in recent years, but immigration policy reforms keyed to the needs of the economy may be easier to sell to a skeptical public than an expanded version of the status quo.

However, Galston warns, “Getting America back to faster growth will take resources and focus. But if growth remains slow, Mr. Biden’s honorable effort to improve the lives of working- and middle-class families may end up hobbled by the well-known difficulties of zero-sum politics.”

Teixeira: Why Biden’s Full Employment Economy is a B.F.D.

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

Has the Most Important Part of Bidenomics Already Been “Passed”?

No, I don’t mean the American Rescue Plan though it is bound up with what I’m referring to: Bidenomics’ commitment to a full-employment, high-pressure economy. America has now had four decades or so of *not* being committed to a full employment economy and it has not gone well, generating a chronic disadvantage for labor vis a vis capital, stagnating wages, soaring inequality and slow productivity growth. Resetting American economic policy away from this disastrous course could be the most important thing Biden accomplishes as President.

Eric Levitz at New York magazine notes:

“For the bulk of the past four decades, our government hasn’t merely declined to achieve full employment through public hiring; it has actively sought to keep millions of Americans perpetually unemployed.

This bipartisan consensus against full employment was rarely articulated to the public in forthright terms. During the crisis that consolidated the paradigm, policy-makers were sometimes blunt; in 1979, Fed chair Paul Volcker told Congress that in order for inflation to be brought down to a tolerable level, “the standard of living of the average American has to decline.” But as inflation became more of a historical memory than a present danger, the government’s prioritization of price stability over employment became increasingly camouflaged behind the dry technocratic verbiage of central-bank press conferences. Once decoded, the gist of this new consensus was simple enough: If unemployment falls beneath its “natural” threshold, then employers will be forced into a bidding war for scarce workers, who will then secure wages in excess of their productivity, which will force businesses to raise prices, which will lead workers to demand yet-higher wages, which will force businesses to raise prices further still, thereby setting off an inflationary spiral that will be difficult to stop. Thus, to save the economy from such destabilization, the government has to reduce economic demand — by raising interest rates, or cutting federal spending, or both — before unemployment gets too low, even if inflation is not yet apparent.

This official narrative obscured the class interests implicated by the government’s prioritization of low inflation over plentiful jobs. America’s wealthy have a greater material interest in price stability than they do in full employment; moderate inflation erodes the value of their bonds and cash holdings, while moderate unemployment has little adverse impact on their finances — and may even increase the value of their stocks by suppressing labor’s bargaining power. The bulk of U.S. workers, on the other hand, have a much greater interest in abundant jobs than ultralow prices. In a full-employment economy — where firms must compete for scarce labor — employers will be more likely to offer opportunities to “low skill” workers, on-the-job training to inexperienced ones, accommodations to the partially disabled, and wage increases to all. Nevertheless, policy-makers spent the bulk of the past 40 years preventing that economy from coming into being. In fact, as recently as 2015, the Fed treated preempting the mere risk of modest inflation as a higher priority than the achievement of an unemployment rate below 5 percent.”

But now, on the heels of massive fiscal support for the economy and workers, both in the latter part of the Trump administration and rapidly out of the box by the Biden administration, we seem to be getting the highly desired reset of macroeconomic policy. Joe Biden recently said in Cleveland:

“My sole measure of economic success is how working families are doing, whether they have jobs that deliver dignity. That means we have to focus on wages like we used to. When it comes to the economy we’re building, rising wages aren’t a bug; they’re a feature. We want to get — we want to get something economists call “full employment.” Instead of workers competing with each other for jobs that are scarce, we want employees to compete with each other to attract work. We want the — the companies to compete to attract workers.

That kind of competition in the market doesn’t just give workers more ability to earn a higher wage, it gives them the power to demand to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. And it helps ensure that America — when you walk into work, you don’t have to check your right to be treated with respect at the door. “

Levitz adds:

“Biden’s speech was remarkable for its acknowledgment of full employment’s class implications: When jobs are plentiful, workers get leverage over bosses — which is a good thing, since workers cannot reliably secure “dignity and respect in the workplace” unless they have some material power over their employers.

This was especially notable in light of the speech’s context. In recent weeks, lamentations of a “labor shortage” have filled the business press, while multiple Obama-administration economists have sounded alarms over inflation. The president’s remarks serve as a tacit rebuke to both of those criticisms. Biden suggests that a scarcity of labor isn’t a blight to be avoided, but a goal to be pursued (after all, a synonym for “labor shortage” is “a dearth of involuntarily unemployed people”). And he also signaled an allegiance to full employment and wage growth over the minimization of inflationary risk.”

In addition, Matt Yglesias notes:

“[A]s Jared Bernstein [now a key Biden economic advisor] wrote as far back as 1999, there is a reason Martin Luther King put full employment at the center of the civil rights agenda. For all the attention paid to diversity and inclusion in white-collar workplaces, the vast majority of workers have working-class jobs….Full employment lifts up people on the margins of the labor market [and] punishes discrimination…by genuinely changing the calculus about how much sense it makes to be choosy.”

In short, full employment, as Joe Biden himself might put it, is a big fucking deal.

Political Strategy Notes

Geoffrey Skelley shares the findings of a new Morning Consult poll, at FiveThirtyeight: “When given three interpretations of the word “bipartisan,” only 10 percent of voters said it involved getting broad support from voters across the political spectrum; 32 percent said it had to involve wide support among lawmakers from both parties, while 43 percent said it was best defined as including support from both lawmakers and voters across partisan divides (14 percent didn’t know or had no opinion). The poll didn’t ask voters their views on each of the three definitions separately, so we don’t know whether they would find all of them at least somewhat credible; nevertheless, they were least likely to back the White House’s characterization of bipartisanship….Yet despite not agreeing with the Biden administration’s definition of bipartisanship, voters in the Morning Consult survey did think that among the major figures in Washington mentioned, Biden was the most interested in achieving bipartisanship: 53 percent agreed that he cared about getting bipartisan support for major legislation while only 34 percent disagreed. Democrats overwhelmingly agreed with this view, of course, but so did about 1 in 5 Republicans. By comparison, less than 40 percent of voters said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cared about achieving bipartisanship, and less than 30 percent said the same of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.”

However, Skelley adds, “But how much does bipartisanship actually matter to voters? Americans have long said they prefer that the parties work together, and respondents in Morning Consult’s poll were no different. For instance, 85 percent of voters said it was very or somewhat important for legislation to have bipartisan support, 69 percent agreed that policies with bipartisan backing were the best policies, and 62 percent disagreed with the idea that it was a waste of time for politicians to seek bipartisan support. What’s more, there were no meaningful differences between how Democrats and Republicans answered these questions….However, polls also show that many Americans are willing to scrap bipartisanship if it means passing legislation that their party prefers. For instance, a 2019 poll from the Pew Research Center found that despite majorities of Democrats (69 percent) and Republicans (61 percent) saying it was very important that elected officials be willing to compromise, members of both parties thought it was more important for officials from the other party to compromise than it was for officials from their own party to do so. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats thought it was very important for Republican lawmakers to compromise compared with just 41 percent of Republicans. Likewise, 78 percent of Republicans thought it was very important for Democratic lawmakers to compromise compared with 48 percent of Democrats.”

Further, Skelley notes, “According to a 2014 study by political scientists Laurel Harbridge, Neil Malhotra and Brian F. Harrison, respondents preferred legislation when their party got more of what it wanted and when it dominated the coalition that passed the bill versus the outcomes that were more bipartisan-oriented. In fact, respondents sometimes viewed bipartisan tradeoffs as the equivalent of a legislative defeat for their party. Notably, the researchers found this effect even though they tested respondents’ attitudes on fairly noncontroversial policies — funding for NASA or legislation to make it easier for small businesses to obtain loans. That means it’s possible that these effects could be even more pronounced on more divisive legislation….In other words, voters like bipartisanship more in theory than in practice. But that doesn’t mean bipartisan support isn’t still important politically. Voters may prefer more partisan policy results, but their stated desire for bipartisanship means that politicians can still benefit by at least trying to work together. Notably, Morning Consult’s poll found that 75 percent of voters respected politicians more when they made efforts to get bipartisan support, with essentially no difference between how Democrats and Republicans answered.” Looking towards the midterm elections, “Making bipartisan appeals could also help politicians appear more moderate to the electorate, which in turn could make them more attractive to a broader slice of the public and boost their electoral chances. In 2020, for instance, the strongest-performing candidates in U.S. House elections tended to be more ideologically moderate.”

It’s important for Democrats to better understand public attitudes toward bipartisanship and what they believe it is. In “What Joe Manchin’s constituents think of his bipartisanship,” Dan Merica interviews politcal activists and operatives in West Virginia for CNN Politics. Merica notes, “As much as I appreciate Joe’s ideal — maybe that is where his heart is at and maybe that is because of his roots — there has to come a time when you have to realize (Republicans) are not going to sit down and hold hands and sing kumbaya,” said Donna Costello, the former mayor of Manchin’s hometown and a longtime friend of the Manchin family. “And you have to do what is in the best interest of what put you there.” Merica adds, “Manchin’s political positioning — often voting with Democrats but refusing to go along with the party on key issues — has rankled countless national Democrats, many of whom accuse the senator of standing in the way of needed legislation all to preserve his own political power. At best, in the eyes of these Democrats, Manchin is solely representing the views of his politically changing state. At worse, they believe, he is a politician bent on being the most important man in the Senate….But Manchin is as savvy a political operator as he is a political unicorn. Where the West Virginia Democrat’s one-time colleagues from states like Nebraska, Arkansas and South Dakota have long ago lost their seats, Manchin has held on.”

Manchin, Sinema and Democratic Party Strength in WV and AZ

Despite Democratic consternation about Sens. Manchin and Sinema refusing to modify the filibuster so their party can actually enact popular reforms, the situation may not be as hopeless as appears.

With respect to Sen. Manchin, here are some very up-to-date voter registration figures (“as of May 21, 2021”) from the Secretary of State’s office regarding political party strength in West Virginia: Democrats 35.54%; Republicans 37.83%; No Party 22.42%; Other 3.24%; Libertarian 0.77; Mountain 0.19%.

In light of these numbers, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to stereotype WV as a hopelessly “red” state?

Regarding Arizona, the AZ S.O.S. reports that the state’s registered voter stats for April 2021 are: Democrats 32.01%; Republicans 34.87%; Other 32.23%; Libertarian 0.88.

Yes, lots of self-identified Democrats in these states are relatively conservative. But why do they still call themselves Democrats, and do they really want to surrender America’s future to the party that supported the Jan. 6th coup attempt and sports “leaders” with the character flaws of Trump, McConnell, Cruz, Graham and Hawley?

Before curling up in the fetal position in unconditional surrender, Democrats might want to consider Stacy Abrams/GA-style education and mobilization campaigns in AZ and WV to persuade Sens. Manchin and Sinema that some reasonable modifications of the filibuster might be a politically-wise career move.

Democrats Need a Backup Plan For Securing Voting Rights

Much as we all want to see congressional action on voting rights while Democrats control the White House and Congress, it’s time to consider a Plan B, as I noted at New York:

In all the projections of what Congress might accomplish this year, there’s no subject on which Republican obstruction is more powerful and fateful than voting rights. And amid widespread angst over state-level voter-suppression measures enacted at the behest of both threatened Establishment Republicans and delusional MAGA folk alleging massive if never-documented fraud, partisan gridlock may actually be hardening.

The two pieces of voting-rights legislation currently moving through Congress are certainly long overdue. The For the People Act (HR1 and S1), which has passed the House twice, would establish national standards for voting, elections, and representation across a wide range of issues, from rules for absentee ballots to gerrymandering to the financing of congressional campaigns. On a parallel track, the narrower John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act aims to reverse the Supreme Court’s demolition of the pre-clearance provisions that prior to 2013 would have subjected voting and election-laws changes (like the ones Republican-controlled states are racing to enact) to advanced review and possible cancellation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The For the People Act is pending in the Senate, where it has 49 co-sponsors (every Democrat other than Joe Manchin). The John Lewis bill is still under development in both Houses, as Democratic lawmakers work on a formula for pre-clearance to replace the one the Supreme Court struck down as “outdated.” But all 50 Senate Democrats, plus Republican Lisa Murkowski, favor it (perhaps with modifications; Manchin wants to require pre-clearance in all 50 states).

Unfortunately, it will take every Democrat plus ten Republicans to get either bill through the Senate, and that seems 100 percent impossible for S.1 and maybe 95 percent impossible for the John Lewis Act. Many Republicans plausibly argue that S. 1 goes far beyond voting rights into areas like campaign-finance law that are wildly controversial. There’s no legitimate reason for GOP hostility to the most basic version of the John Lewis Act, which restores the VRA to what it was when it was unanimously extended by the Senate (with support from President George W. Bush) in 2006. But at a time when Donald Trump and his allies are lashing Republican legislators everywhere to restrict voting opportunities, few Senate Republicans are going to risk a primary challenge for valuing voting rights over “election integrity.”

Ron Brownstein has forcefully argued that defeating attacks on the franchise is a life-or-death matter for Democrats, meriting the extraordinary remedy of taking the filibuster off the table for voting-rights legislation (if not for everything):

“With the congressional calendar dominated by President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar spending proposals … activists are expressing concern that neither the administration nor Democratic congressional leaders are raising sufficient alarms about the threats to voting rights proliferating in red states, or developing a strategy to pass the national election standards that these groups consider the party’s best chance to counter those threats.”

In a closely divided country where Democrats are clinging to power in Washington, new voter-suppression laws (in tandem with present and future GOP control of state-election systems) could help Republicans gain a decisive advantage in the next couple of election cycles. But Joe Manchin’s outspoken opposition to any sort of filibuster reform — explicitly including a carve-out for voting rights — makes the urgency of this fight a little beside the point. No threats or blandishments aimed at Manchin can likely overcome the simple fact that he represents a state that gave Donald Trump 69 percent of its vote in both 2016 and 2020. And opposing filibuster reform is an easy and mandatory vote for Republican senators, even those who are open to heresy on other subjects.

So what are voting-rights advocates, including the president and most other Democrats in Congress, to do? Sure, they can scale back S. 1 to make it less obviously objectionable to Republicans, but at the risk of alienating Democratic constituencies, and without necessarily winning a single GOP Senate vote. Or they could (and probably should) launch a very noisy effort to shame Republicans for blocking the John Lewis bill — but even alleged GOP voting-rights supporters can always find some whataboutism excuse (ballot harvesting! Unsupervised drop-boxes!) for demanding a different kind of legislation.

In The Atlantic, David Frum looks down the likely road to defeat for voting-rights legislation in this Congress and finds a “Plan B” that is unsatisfying but perhaps all that’s left:

“Taking decisive action to fill the 80-odd federal judicial vacancies with pro-voting judges followed by turbocharging enforcement efforts at the Department of Justice may seem only second-best compared with new legislation. But if new legislation cannot be enacted, then second-best will have to do.”

Frum is alluding to the power of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to launch its own litigation against voter-suppression measures under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which is still intact. Under the leadership of the distinguished and newly confirmed Civil Rights Division chief Kristen Clarke, such litigation could indeed be “supercharged.” But while the Biden administration can strengthen pro-voting-rights elements of the federal judiciary to give its Justice Department some wins, Clarke and other voting-rights advocates will still being dealing with conservative-leaning courts, led by a Supreme Court that is more conservative than it was when it weakened the VRA eight years ago.

Indeed, the author of that Shelby County v. Holder decision, Chief Justice John Roberts, is now in many respects to the left of the Court’s center of gravity. And the Supreme Court will soon rule on a fresh challenge to Section 2 of the VRA that could make it harder for Clarke or any other litigant to successfully show the discriminatory effect of voting- or election-law changes.

If all else fails, of course, and state-level Republicans continue to violate voting rights, Democrats could use outrage over these developments to energize their own voters and simply overwhelm the barricades erected by legislators. Brownstein thinks that may be Team Biden’s Plan B already:

“Looking ahead to 2022 and 2024, ‘I think our feeling is, show us what the rules are and we will figure out a way to educate our voters and make sure they understand how they can vote and we will get them out to vote,’ the official told me. Through on-the-ground organizing, ‘there are work-arounds to some of these provisions,’ said a senior Democrat familiar with White House thinking, who also spoke with me on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

It is entirely true that no one knows what the impact of voter-suppression laws will be on the ground, particularly with respect to provisions that make voting much more inconvenient without blocking it altogether. Some analysts are convinced that Republican legislators don’t know what they are doing, or are simply reacting to Trump’s demands for assaults on voting by mail (a voting method that Republicans utilized in the past at least as much as Democrats). But Democrats hoping to out-motivate Republicans in the 2022 elections are betting against the decided evidence of history, in which the White House party almost always loses ground in midterms. And it won’t take much in the way of losses for Republicans to regain control of the House if not the Senate, and shut down prospects for voting-rights legislation for the foreseeable future.

Political Strategy Notes

Steve Kornacki, MSNBC political correspondent, reports on the outcome of the special congressional election in New Mexico to replace now-Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, with Democrat Melanie Stansbury projected to defeat Republican Mark Moores by a similar margin to Biden’s 2020 win in that district, dispelling notions of a Republican swing.

Is a Democratic Landslide in New Mexico’s Congressional Special Election a Sign?,” Elliot Hannon asks at slate.com. Hannon explains, “The 25-point walloping appears to show that Democratic support for Biden is holding, as the party tries to hold onto its slim advantage in the House while simultaneously fighting against the American electorate’s habit of returning the opposition party to power in the House in the cycle after a newly elected president takes office. Stansbury’s opponent ran almost entirely on the rise in crime in the Albuquerque-based district in an effort to make the race a referendum on crime, a line of attack that is surely going to be front and center of the Republican election effort in 2022 amid elevated national crime rates on the tail of the pandemic.” Hannon shares Cook Political Report House editor Dave Wasserman’s tweet on the race: “Here’s my line on the #NM01 special tonight (district was Biden +23, Haaland +16 in ’20). Melanie Stansbury (D) by… >15: Dems should be very happy 10-15: about what we might expect <10: sign of a Dem turnout problem post-Trump.” However, Hannon notes, “Democrats took far more interest and invested far more resources in the race as national Republicans largely stayed on the sidelines. Stansbury raised three times more money, allowing her to blanket the local airwaves, while receiving a wave of visits from high-profile Democrats to maintain enthusiasm.”

One lesson of Stansbury’s victory over Republican Mark Moores is that a brutal GOP campaign to brand the Democrat as a “soft on crime,” defund the police liberal didn’t work at all. As Paul Waldman observed in the Washington Post, “The pulsing heart of Moores’s campaign was an absolutely horrific TV ad warning of the danger Stansbury posed, showing video of a woman being assaulted in a dark alley while the sound of children screaming played in the background. It could have come right from the early 1990s….But here’s the surprise: It didn’t work. The vote in the New Mexico election turned out to be exactly in line with the district’s recent history. In 2018, Haaland got 59 percent of the vote, in 2020 she got 58 percent of the vote, and Stansbury got 60 percent of the vote….Might it be that voters won’t respond to fear-based, “tough on crime” rhetoric in the same way they used to?…Stansbury didn’t counter the “soft on crime” attacks as Democrats have in the past, by trying to prove that they’re even tougher than Republicans. She stressed issues such as hunger, climate change and economic development that are important to her constituents. She had her own ads touting support from law enforcement — but they weren’t about supporting punitive measures to lock up more people….So this is the challenge Democrats face: They can fall back into the defensive crouch with which they are so familiar, convinced that every Republican attack must be turning voters against them. Or they can believe the evidence we’ve seen that those attacks don’t necessarily work, and keep talking about the approach they believe will produce a safer and more just society.” As Waldman notes, that’s not to say that “soft on crime” attacks won’t work in other districts.

Here’s one of Stansbury’s ads: