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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

American Business Has the Power to Stop the GOP Assault on Democracy – Here’s a Strategy to Make Them Do It.

America is now well on its way to creating an electoral system that functions like Mexico’s during its era of one-party rule.

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.

Democratic Candidates: The Whole Debate about “Critical Race Theory” is a Cynical GOP propaganda trap – Here’s What you Should Say Instead

The latest example of this extremely effective GOP exploitation of language is the current debate over “Critical Race Theory” – a perspective about race that is supposedly being foisted on children in classrooms around the country.

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.

Let’s Face It: The Democratic Party is Not a “Big Tent” Political Coalition – But it Desperately Needs to Become One.

Democrats routinely describe the Democratic Party as a “coalition” or even a “big tent coalition.” But in reality Dems know that this is not the case.

The Daily Strategist

September 17, 2021

Abortion Politics Could Help Democrats in the 2022 Midterms

As I continue to mull the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conduct in its review of Texas’s new abortion law, I offered these thoughts at New York:

The growing brouhaha over Texas’ new law banning all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to declare it unconstitutional by hiding behind its weird private-citizen enforcement mechanism, are competing for attention with other crises at this late-summer juncture. But the new controversies over abortion law are likely to remain at the center of public attention — to the point that abortion could even be a bipartisan voting issue of unprecedented significance in the 2022 midterms.

The legal calendar makes it entirely possible. Whatever the murky trajectory of legal maneuvering over Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson — the case that triggered last week’s Supreme Court order at least temporarily green-lighting a pre-viability abortion ban — compliance (so far) of abortion providers is giving pro-choice Americans a taste of what life was like before Roe v. Wade struck down state abortion bans in 1973. And perhaps more importantly, the same Court that provided five votes to smile upon Texas’ mischief will soon hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involving Mississippi’s direct challenge to Roe. The decision in that case will probably (given the usual big-case timetable for SCOTUS) come down in June or even July of 2022, just as the midterm election campaign is gearing up. And if, as is widely expected, the Court reverses or significantly modifies the federal constitutional right to abortion that has been in place for 48 years, it could become a major campaign issue for supporters of both parties and rare groups of swing voters in both federal and state elections. Below is a primer on how the legal fight over abortion could impact the vote next November.

Why would congressional elections be affected by a Court decision that has already been handed down?

If SCOTUS reverses Roe next year, and particularly if it’s a close and not entirely definitive decision, the salience of Supreme Court decisions (and Senate confirmations) in the immediate future could go up rather than down. Should, for example, Stephen Breyer still be on the Court when voters vote in November 2022, control of the Senate could be critically important to the confirmation of a successor — even one appointed by Joe Biden — and to the shape of the Court going forward. After the Merrick Garland saga, there is no doubt that a Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell would sit on a Biden nomination as long as it took to preserve the SCOTUS seat for a Republican presidential successor.

Beyond that contingency, the return of a pre-Roe state of affairs on abortion law would open up the possibility of a federal statute preempting state abortion laws and establishing a national standard. This kind of action would be on the table if Democrats continue to control both Houses of Congress and the presidency after the midterms. It wouldn’t actually come to pass, of course, so long as the Senate minority can block legislation via the filibuster; abortion policy is not one of those topics that can move forward via the budget reconciliation process, since it’s not budget-germane under the Senate rules. But as my colleague Eric Levitz has suggested, it’s possible the subject could add critical pressure on Senate Democrats to reform the filibuster rules, perhaps via a “carve-out” for legislation involving individual rights like the right to choose and the right to vote.

Would local elections be affected in states other than Texas?

While SB 8 will likely make Texas ground zero for abortion politics in 2022 (it will already be competitive generally thanks to the separate red-hot controversy over the GOP-sponsored voter suppression law), a reversal of Roe could make nearly every state a battleground. Yes, the immediate focus might be on Republican-controlled states where legislators and governors will come under hellish pressure to abolish reproductive rights as quickly and thoroughly as possible. But Democrats in states they control will be just as eager to consolidate a right to abortion via new or newly implemented state laws.

Most obviously, in states where the governorship or control of legislative chambers is in play, abortion laws will have a fresh urgency as a campaign platform. And it will be an issue that is difficult to ignore, even in hard-core red states where anti-abortion activists may want to push for ever-more-draconian laws, and in hard-core blue states where issues like abortion funding and provider regulation could divide some pro-choice Democrats while giving Republicans traction.

After nearly five decades of abortion politics being mostly rhetorical, and mostly dealing with marginal issues like rare late-term abortions, a Wild West period will arrive. There will be plenty of gun-fights and saloon brawls as well: As with so many other issues, the two major parties have been totally polarized on abortion policy, with pro-choice Republicans and anti-abortion Democrats being almost hunted to extinction at the level of elected officials.

Which side of the abortion fight will have the most energy in 2022?

Since Roe at least, anti-abortion activists and their aligned voters have been thought to be more focused on elections and motivated to turn out for them than their pro-choice counterparts. The reason is obvious if you think about it: The status quo has been largely pro-choice thanks to Roe, so all the energy associated with any movement for change has been associated with the anti-abortion cause. Pro-choice folk could rely (or so they thought) on the Supreme Court to protect their rights. Their opponents knew they’d have to move mountains to move the relevant Court precedents.

SB 8 has changed those dynamics overnight, which is one important reason (others are fear that SCOTUS’s favor will be temporary, and a tactical interest in playing down the immediate impact) the reaction to the law taking effect has been much less intense in anti-abortion than in pro-choice circles.

If SCOTUS goes the whole hog and kills or seriously wounds federal abortion rights next year, the topic could become a central focus of national Democratic messaging, in part because the perceived status quo would switch sides, and in part because rank-and-file Democrats are more unified than Republicans on abortion policy. According to a Pew survey earlier this year, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favor keeping abortion “legal in all or most cases” by an 80-19 margin, while Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want to make abortion “illegal in all or most cases” by a smaller 63-35 margin. In the past, Republicans have occasionally succeeded in creating splits among Democrats by focusing on side-issues like rare late-term abortions or abortion funding, but with the basic legality or illegality of abortion now front-and-center, the shoe may be on the other foot.

Will abortion swing voters?

While base mobilization will likely be the principal focus of those on both sides exploiting concerns over abortion policy, it’s possible the topic could help flip a slice of the small and shrinking but sometimes crucial portion of the electorate that is truly independent. All in all, self-identified indies stand pretty much where the electorate as a whole stands on abortion, with a significant but not overwhelming lean towards the pro-choice position. But again, a focus on the basic availability of legal abortion rather than poll-driven proposals to restrict when and why abortions will be permitted should help Democrats on average. And abortion politics could be especially helpful to Democrats defending the suburban congressional districts they won in 2018 and then held onto in 2020.

Certainly the salience of abortion politics in 2022 will depend on what else is in the news and on the minds of voters, and on the strategic thinking of partisan decision-makers and sometimes individual candidates. But with Democrats looking down the barrel of historical data suggesting likely midterm losses at both the congressional and the state level, any issue that could break the mold will be welcome.


Teixeira: Coronavirus + Economic Sputtering = Big Trouble

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

Afghanistan is in the news and may indeed contribute to Biden and the Democrats’ current poor showing in the polls. But the story that the country has veered off track was already there and in all likelihood Afghanistan-related troubles are simply building on that rather than creating a new story.

Check out the chart below from Morning Consult showing coronavirus case trends vs. consumer confidence. That’s what I call a clear relationship. The coronavirus surge has take a huge toll on what Democrats’ were hoping, not unreasonably, would be a “morning in America” situation with a roaring return to social and economic normality. No more, at least not now.

And there’s this from a very useful recent Times report on the uneven nature of current economic performance:

“[T]he recovery remains uneven and rattled by a rare set of economic crosswinds. In some sectors, consumer demand remains depressed. In others, spending is high but supply constraints — whether for materials or workers or both — are pushing up prices.

For instance, the construction sector has regained most of the jobs lost early in the pandemic, and other industries, such as warehousing, have actually grown. But restaurants and hotels still employ millions fewer people than they did in February 2020. The result: There are more college graduates working in the United States today than when the pandemic began, but five million fewer workers without a college degree.

Compounding the problem, employment in the biggest cities fell further than in smaller cities and rural areas, and it has rebounded more slowly. Employment among workers without a college degree living in the biggest cities is down more than 5 percent since February 2020, compared with about 2 percent for workers without a college degree in other parts of the country.”

As I have repeatedly noted, the Democrats have very serious ongoing problems with working class voters. This is not going to help.

Political Strategy Notes

Chandelis Duster reports at CNN Politics that “Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for immediate action from Democrats in the wake of the US Supreme Court allowing Texas’ restrictive abortion law to stand and said the filibuster should be abolished in order to codify abortion rights protections….”Now and over the next years, we just will get nowhere if we keep this filibuster in place,” the Minnesota Democrat, who has previously come out against ending the filibuster to address issues like voting rights and climate change, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday….”I do not believe an archaic rule should be used to allow us to put our heads in the sand — to use Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor’s words — to put our heads in the sand and not take action on the important issues,” Klobuchar said, calling the Texas law and the Supreme Court’s response “an assault on women’s health.” Duster notes that “even if a bill on the issue were to pass in the House it is likely to face hurdles in the Senate where Democrats hold a narrow majority and 60 votes are required to break the filibuster. There is no indication 10 Republican senators would side with them on the issue.” While Klobuchar has supported abolishing the filibuster before, she may be amplifying her support for it, now that the lines on reproductive rights are more starkly drawn on the Supreme Court. As one of the most influential Senators of the Democratic center-left, Klobuchar will be a key player in filibuster reform, if and when Dems near the actual senate majority threshold on the issue. The moral argument for filibuster reform was strong based on voting right alone, long before the High Court ruling on Texas abortions. A potentially-powerful coalition for filibuster reform composed of women’s and voting rights advocates at both the state and national levels looks increasingly like an idea whose time is arriving.

Voting rights and pro-choice activists have generally supported each other’s causes, verbally in the past. But could a more formal coalition lead by the two groups have a more significant impact? Instead of just giving verbal assent to each other’s causes, what might happen if the two groups took a more synergistic approach and pooled resources, engaged in joint media events, fund-raising and stepped up joint lobbying? For too long, pro-democratic groups have focused narrowly on their particular reform projects, often with limited results. Imagine what could happen, for example, if Sens. Sinema and Manchin had to frequently meet with voting and reproductive rights activists in their home and Washington offices. Martin Luther King, Jr. provided some useful guidelines for the creation of such productive alliances: “A true alliance is based upon some self-interest of each component group and a common interest into which they merge. For an alliance to have permanence and loyal commitment from its various elements, each of them must have a goal from which it benefits and none must have an outlook in basic conflict with the others….If we employ the principle of selectivity along these lines, we will find millions of allies who in serving themselves also support us, and on such sound foundations unity and mutual trust and tangible accomplishment will flourish….But the scope of struggle is still too narrow and too restricted. We must turn more of our energies and focus our creativity on the useful things that translate into power.”

As with many issues, you can cherry-pick polls on abortion and frame questions to score points for either side. But the national polling evidence that the Texas legislature has gone too far in restricting abortions of compelling. As Amelia Thomson-Deveaux writes at FiveThirtyEight, “According to the polling we have now, the answer is far from clear. On the one hand, a majority of Americans have consistently said that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to abortion, should not be overturned. But many also support a wide range of specific restrictions on abortion, some of which contradict the Supreme Court’s standards for when and how states can regulate the procedure. That said, public opinion hasn’t really shifted on the issue even though abortion access has steadily eroded in wide swaths of the country over the past 10 years. But the fact that the Texas law directly attacks abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy — when the procedure is both most supported and most common — could galvanize public outrage in a way that past restrictions have not…For decades, Americans have broadly opposed overturning Roe v. Wade — despite escalating attempts by anti-abortion advocates to turn public opinion against legal abortion. As the chart below shows, 58 percent of Americans were against overturning Roe when Gallup last asked the question in May, the same share who wanted to keep the case on the books back in 1989….According to a Gallup poll conducted in May, 19 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, while almost twice as many (32 percent) think it should be legal in all circumstances. But most (48 percent) fall in between, saying it should be legal only under certain circumstances….while Texas and other states have imposed plenty of other restrictions on abortion, this will cut off access significantly earlier than any other restriction since Roe was decided almost 50 years ago. And that’s the key distinction. Up until now, abortion restrictions have been fairly slow and piecemeal. But now women in Texas have lost access to abortion in most cases essentially overnight.”

You google ‘Labor Day,” and it’s depressing how many of the entries that pop up address store closings and grilling tips, and how few focus on the challenges facing workers, their families and the future of the labor movement. Many people probably don’t even know that the AFL-CIO has a new president, Liz Shuler – the first woman to lead the Federation and speak for America’s workers. At Politico, Eleanor Mueller reports on Shuler’s background and explores her vision. An excerpt: “Shuler is the organization’s first female leader, a historic moment for organized labor in the U.S. She will serve as the nation’s top union official until summer 2022, when the AFL-CIO’s 50-plus affiliates can gather for their annual convention to vote on a permanent successor….Shuler — who confirmed she will run for reelection in 2022 — said in an interview she hoped her appointment “signals that the labor movement is modernizing, and open to reflecting the change that’s happening with our country,” adding that “it is time for women to step up into leadership.”….”That’s what I hope to reflect: the hard work, dedication and tenacity of women all across this country and workplaces who are toiling behind the scenes and also leading strikes and picketlines, and for them to see their rightful place in this movement,” she said….Shuler’s confirmation comes at a crucial time for the federation and its 12 million members. With the union membership rate about half what it was in the 1980s, the organization is at a crossroads: Leadership must decide whether to maintain Trumka’s near-laser focus on passing the pro-union Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or to step into a broader role in support of the labor movement by pouring resources into building membership….”The most important thing we could be focusing on is unity,” Shuler said. “We have these 56 different unions around the table with different ideas and perspectives and cultures and opinions, and it’s our job to unify that into a force that’s undeniable for the rights and protections of working people in this country. We know that we can do that.” Restoring the strength of the labor movement should be a top priority for Democrats, who have benefitted from union contributions and political activism. Shuler brings both experience and a long-overdue focus on women’s issues in the workplace to help mobilize the new generation of America’s workers.

Dems Must Face New Realities Regarding Filibuster Reform, Supreme Court

From “Democrats rush to find strategy to counter Texas abortion law” by Hugo Lowell at The Guardian:

Seizing on the Texas decision, liberal Democrats have also called anew for an expansion of the supreme court from nine to 13 seats, which would enable Biden to appoint four liberal-leaning justices to shift the politics on the bench.

The legislative response is aimed at reversing more than 500 restrictions introduced by Republican state legislatures in recent months and “trigger laws” that would automatically outlaw abortions if the supreme court overturned its ruling in the landmark Roe v Wade case that was supposed to cement abortion rights in the US.

But while such protections are almost certain to be straightforwardly approved by the Democratic-controlled House, all of the proposals face a steep uphill climb in the face of sustained Republican opposition and a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate.

The Senate filibuster rule – a procedural tactic that requires a supermajority to pass most bills – was in part why the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, focused on stacking the supreme court with conservative justices rather than pursue legislation to enact abortion restrictions at a federal level.

Forty-eight Democrats currently sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate. Two Republicans – Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – have previously indicated support for abortion rights, but the numbers fall far short of the 60-vote threshold required to avoid a filibuster.

Against that backdrop, a majority of Senate Democrats have called for eliminating the filibuster entirely. But reforming the filibuster requires the support of all Democrats in the Senate, and conservative Democratic senators including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema are outspoken supporters of the rule.

The broad concern demonstrates how urgent the issue has become for Democrats, and with the Texas law in effect after the failure of the emergency stay, many reproductive rights advocates worry that Democrats will be unable to meet the moment with meaningful action.

The heat is on Republican Senators Murkowski and especially Collins for her repeated assertions that Justice Kavanaugh would defend the settled law of Roe v. Wade. Democratic Sens. Manchin and Sinema have stated their opposition to filibuster reform, but U.S. political history is littered with examples of politicians who reversed or walked back earlier positions to more realistic compromises.

The Texas decision ought to be a game-changer in terms of mobilizing moderate women of both parties. The other alternative is a Democratic upset in the 2022 midterm elections, including a pick-up of 2 or 3 U.S. Senate seats, which would make Manchin’s and Sinema’s filibuster positions of less consequence.

Meanwhile, Democrats must adjust to the sobering reality that ‘the Roberts Court‘ is now history and brace for more partisan Supreme Court decisions going forward.

Political Strategy Notes

Amy Walter shares a warning in “An Update on the California Recall” at The Cook Political Report.” Walter writes that “the latest fivethirtyeight.com polling average shows “No” on the recall only slightly ahead of “Yes” to recall 50.6 percent to 46.3 percent….While Democrats are unified in opposition to the recall, they are much less interested in voting than Republicans. For example, a mid-July survey from UC Berkeley-IGS found 91 percent of Democrats opposed to the recall. An early August YouGov/CBS poll found Democratic opposition at 85 percent. As a point of comparison, a PPIC poll taken two months before the 2003 Gray Davis recall found just 56 percent of Democrats opposed to recalling the Democratic governor. However, in both the UC Berkeley-IGS and YouGov/CBS surveys, Democratic enthusiasm to vote lagged behind GOP support for the recall. In the UC-Berkeley survey, 93 percent of Trump voters, but only 76 percent of Biden voters said they were very interested in voting in the recall. In the CBS/YouGov survey, 72 percent of Republicans but just 61 percent of Democrats said they were “very motivated to vote” on September 14.” Walter adds, “Turns out that conditions on both COVID and wildfires worsened much earlier than expected. The Delta resurgence and fears of another economic gut punch to the state provide a ripe environment for the recall. Angry and frustrated people vote. Disillusioned ones don’t.” However, walter concludes, “This race is still Newsom/No on Recall’s to lose. Newsom and Democrats have the advantages of registration, money and organization, but the Yes forces/GOP have the benefit of an energized base and a more favorable political environment than they’ve had in the previous couple of years. We are moving the race from Likely Democratic to Lean Democratic. This isn’t to say that the race has suddenly become more competitive this week. It’s more to say that the race REMAINS competitive with just over two weeks to go.”

Will the Supreme Court decision trashing reproductive rights in Texas spark a new campaign to expand the size of the high court? Probably not. But it should. Women’s rights activists are rightly worried that the Republican justices are ready to green light the hard right’s all-out assault on what’s left of Roe v. Wade. Of course there were good reasons to expand the size of the U.S. Supreme Court even before this latest ruling, including concerns about voting rights and worker rights and a broad range of social and economic issues. From “Trump’s Supreme Court just showed why court-packing is necessary to save U.S. democracy: Law professor Stephen Feldman explains why court-packing should be defended on both moral and political grounds” by Amanda Marcotte at salon.com: “University of Wyoming law professor Stephen Feldman, however, thinks now is the perfect time to revive the discussion, arguing that court-packing is a vital necessity to save our democracy….In his new book “Pack the Court!: A Defense of Supreme Court Expansion,” Feldman argues that not only is court expansion politically wise, it also fits in with a long history of seeing the courts not as separate from politics, but working within a political system.’ Feldman adds, “The Roberts court is extremely conservative and that’s even before Justice Ginsburg passed away and the Republicans rushed through the confirmation of Justice Barrett. They keep handing down very conservative decisions, one after another. And really the only way to counter that is the court-packing….Let’s say somehow the Democrats did pass some type of voting rights protections, a new statute protecting voting rights. The odds are extremely high that this court would find some way to strike down that voting rights legislation….I don’t think anything is likely to happen right now unless the filibuster were eliminated. What needs to happen is the filibuster needs to go.” Of course, Democrats have the Mancin/Sinema opposition to killing the filibuster. But what would happen if politically-moderate women in West Virginia and Arizona organize to compel Sens. Mancin and Sinema to reconsider, now that it’s clear that the GOP’s ill-gotten high court majority is ready to reverse a half-century of consensus on reproductive rights?

At The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner shares a ‘calm down everyone’ balm in his article, “How Much Trouble Is Biden In? The picture is likely to look better in a few months’ time.” Regarding the decline of Biden’s approval rates, Kuttner notes, “Even after the ignominious collapse, an AP poll on August 19 found that 62 percent of Americans believed that the Afghan War had not been worth fighting. And since it was Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, who commenced the troop drawdown and committed plans for total withdrawal by mid-2021, it’s not likely that the current debacle will do lasting damage….According to an August 17 Ipsos poll, 64 percent of Americans support their state or local government requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, and that includes 44 percent of Republicans. Fully 69 percent support such mandates for teachers and students, and two-thirds oppose state prohibitions on local mandates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the champion of such prohibitions, may be a hero to the conservative base, but broad public opinion is moving away from him….There is wide support for most of Biden’s policies, and Biden is seen as likable. The puzzle is why more of this doesn’t rub off on Biden. But polls bounce around and are known for anomalies and cognitive inconsistencies….I don’t have a crystal ball, but it seems to me that six months from now, as we begin the midterm election year, Biden will be looking pretty good. The internal splits between the progressives and the Gang of Nine will get nastier; and primary season will enflame these tensions. At the same time, neither the left nor the center wants to be responsible for destroying Biden’s core agenda. At the end of the day, even as soon as October, some version of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation is likely to pass….by early 2022, most Americans will have had their booster shots, and people will have adjusted to a new normal of intermittent masks and great care with indoor events. It beats dying. Public opinion on the management of the pandemic is likely to be on Biden’s side….And in 2022, the fissures in the Republican Party, both ideological and personal, will be more in evidence. Trump will not be on the ballot; that could be a plus or a minus. But he will do useful damage in ousting electable Republicans in swing districts.” However, Kuttner warns, “If we don’t get voting rights, Biden and his program could be popular, but the Republicans aided by the Supreme Court could still steal the 2022 election and the future of our democracy.” Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

At The Washington Monthly, Luisa S. Deprez explains “How Republicans Stoke Anti-Government Hatred: Tearing down faith in the common good has helped the GOP for years, but it’s killing the country.” As Deprez writes, “In At War with Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust from Goldwater to Trump  (Columbia University Press, 2021), [Amy] Fried and [Douglas B.] Harris provide a powerful exegesis of American politics and explain how conservative elites have cultivated a toxic distrust of government. This is not a traditional conservative argument about levels of spending and taxation or American commitments abroad. It means playing on the fears of citizens that their government is corrupt, undemocratic, elitist and their enemy. This, they contend, is “the fundamental strategy of conservative Republican politics.” It relies “on public dissatisfaction to build their movement, to win elections, to engage in separation-of-powers conflicts, and to thwart liberal policy advances.” Sometimes leaders struggle to control those they roused. Sometimes they egg them on. And whether implicit or overt, racism and xenophobia are essential components to these efforts….Fried and Harris contend that the weaponization of distrust undermines Americans’ ability to achieve collective goals. Michael Sandel, who teaches political philosophy at Harvard echoes that sentiment: “Any hope of renewing our moral and civic life depends on understanding how, over … decades, our social bonds and respect for one another came unraveled.” The charge, he says, is “to find our way to a politics of the common good.”…Unlike most books of this sort, Fried and Harris trace a path forward, presenting suggestions for countering Republicans’ promotion of political distrust. There are ways to “make peace with government” they argue, even after questioning whether the partisan polarization is reversible and racial animus can soften….The Biden administration is promoting plans that leave no one untouched. These strategies are bold, daring, and expansive. Now, political leaders and activists must be intentional in the message they deliver to the American public—these are public, governmental efforts. “

Biden’s Underwater Approval Ratio Is Not Unusual At All

The freak-outs some Democrats are experiencing over the president’s declining job approval ratings show the need for some historical perspective, which I tried to supply at New York:

It’s unclear how much the brouhaha over the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will matter in terms of the 2022 or 2024 elections, or even exactly how much it is contributing to increasingly sour public and media perceptions of Joe Biden. But there’s not much question that the intense glare of publicity over the president’s management of the situation in Kabul has eroded his previously amazing ability to lurk in the background, seemingly protected from Republican attacks, even when his policies aroused controversy. So what we may now be seeing in his job approval ratings are how well Biden fares when the eyes of the nation are riveted on his every action.

Given how Americans are feeling about current conditions in the country (at RealClearPolitics the right track/wrong track polling averages have eroded from 44-50 in May to 30-60 now), it’s not that surprising that Biden’s job-approval ratio is now underwater for the first time (47 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove in the straightforward RCP averages and 46.7 percent approve to 47.2 percent disapprove at FiveThirtyEight, which adjusts polls for partisan bias, and weighs them for reliability).

As I noted in an earlier post, reaction to adverse overseas developments can fade pretty quickly, as occurred soon after the Fall of Saigon in 1975, when Gerald Ford’s approval rating rose significantly as soon as the Mayaguez incident (in which the U.S. freed merchant sailors captured by the Khmer Rouge off the Cambodian coast) replaced the Vietnam collapse in the news.

Whatever it means, Biden’s plunge underwater is hardly unique. According to a UC Santa Barbara analysis of Gallup data, every president dating back to Lyndon Johnson had net-negative approval ratings at some point. (John F. Kennedy’s abbreviated presidency was very unusual; his lowest monthly Gallup approval rating was 56 percent, not long before his assassination. His Republican predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was also blessed with consistent popularity.)

The most relevant points of comparison to Biden should comfort him. Barack Obama was regularly underwater in weekly Gallup surveys nearly all of 2010, in the first half of 2011, and throughout 2014. But he managed to serve two full terms. And Donald Trump didn’t achieve his first net-positive Gallup approval rating until the spring of 2020, and came close to getting reelected despite a 46-52 Gallup rating on the eve of the 2020 election.

So there’s no reason for Team Biden to freak out, unless congressional Democrats become frightened and cannot sustain their remarkable degree of unity this year long enough to enact the combo platter of infrastructure and budget-reconciliation legislation that contains much of Biden’s agenda. But while you never know what lies ahead these days, the odds continue to diminish that the 46th president is going to be popular enough (and he would need to be very popular to defy midterm history) to lift his party to victory in the 2022 elections.

Josh Marshall: Putting Biden/Dems Political Moment in Perspective

At Talking Points Memo, Editor Josh Marshall puts the current political moment, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the fate of the infrastructure package and Biden’s agenda in political perspective. “What is really important,” Marshall writes, “is that Democrats are looking at a window of six to eight weeks which will decide the fate of the President’s fiscal, infrastructure and climate agenda. That is September and October basically and whether we’ll end this window with the two conjoined bills in something like their current or proposed form on the President’s desk.”

Marshall adds, “The mechanics of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan really shouldn’t have anything to do whether we pass critical climate legislation or refundable child tax credits. But it has a lot to do with it. Elected officials want to stay close to a popular President and show independence from a less popular one. And we are going into a period in which the President and Democratic leaders in Congress will need to keep literally every Democratic Senator on the same page and all but three Reps in the House. It’s not a great time for the President to look weak or getting beat up politically. But here we are.”

Looking ahead, Marshall writes,

So what’s to be done? Well, that really depends on who you are and where you are. But clarity is helpful. There’s a good chance Democrats will lose unified control of Congress – and thus the ability to pass legislation – next year no matter what they do. Realizing that can actually be a bit liberating since it allows you to focus on passing as much important legislation as possible without too much distraction of calibrating it for political protection. If you get the critical legislation passed the consequences of losing congressional control are significantly reduced. After all, Democrats will have at least two years with a Democratic President after the 2022 elections. Of course, what is added to this, what is clarifying is that Democrats political prospects are almost certainly bettered by passing the President’s agenda. But even if they weren’t it would be the wisest course. Substance and political self-interest both point in the same direction.

What it all comes down to is that the President’s approval numbers don’t terribly matter. As a political matter, the situation in Afghanistan doesn’t matter that much. All that really matters is passing the President’s agenda over the next two months. Passing critical legislation is why you elect people in the first place. And passing big legislation builds political power.

The power to accomplish all this is 100% in Democrats hands right now. They just have to stick together to get it done. They need to keep stragglers from straying. The public gloom over COVID not being over makes that harder. The situation in Afghanistan makes that harder. But getting that central, critical task done is really all that matters.

Put another way, Democrats must stay pro-active, and not let the Republicans drive the debate. Hold the GOP accountable for their dangerous policies and corruption, but don’t let them dominate media coverage. In the months ahead, Dems must reject internecine sniping, and demonstrate an impressive level of unified message discipline. Show swing voters who is in charge, when it comes to passing popular reforms and moving America forward.

Teixeira: Understanding the Distinctiveness of Hispanic Experience

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

The use of the term “people of color” frequently obscures more than it clarifies since it is typically used to imply a unity of experience, particularly disadvantaging experience, among all nonwhites. The inclusion of Asians already makes little sense when you compare the socioeconomic outcomes of Asians to whites, where the former are generally superior.

But it is also the case that conflating the experiences of “black and brown”, a common locution among progressives, is also misleading. In fact, one needs to understand the distinctiveness of Hispanic experience in today’s America to have a prayer of understanding recent political trends among this population and what they may portend for the future.

Start with economic outcomes. Noah Smith wrote in a very interesting recent substack post:

“The boom of 2014-2019 — and it was a boom, even though we kind of ignored it — was good for everyone, but in percentage terms it was especially good for Hispanics….In fact, despite some claims to the contrary, Hispanic upward mobility has been a fact of American life for a long time now. My favorite paper on this is Chetty, Hendren, Jones & Porter (2018), which assessed mobility across generations. They found:

“We study the sources of racial and ethnic disparities in income using de-identified longitudinal data covering nearly the entire U.S. population from 1989-2015….[T]he intergenerational persistence of disparities varies substantially across racial groups. For example, Hispanic Americans are moving up significantly in the income distribution across generations because they have relatively high rates of intergenerational income mobility…

Hispanic Americans are moving up significantly in the income distribution across generations. For example, a model of intergenerational mobility analogous to Becker and Tomes (1979) predicts that the gap will shrink from the 22 percentile difference between Hispanic and white parents observed in our sample…to 6 percentiles in steady state…

Hispanics are on an upward trajectory across generations and may close most of the gap between their incomes and those of whites…Their low levels of income at present thus appear to to be primarily due to transitory factors.”

Smith goes on to note that two-thirds of Hispanics believe they are better off than their parents were at similar ages and calls attention to data showing a spike in Hispanic college attendance over the last 15 years and precipitous decline in the level of high school dropouts among this population. Perhaps even more interesting is the experience of Hispanics with the criminal justice system. It helps elucidate why Hispanics were not so caught up in the “racial reckoning” after the police killing of George Floyd and were actively turned off by the morphing of the BLM protests into calls to defund the police.

Here is some very interesting data and analysis from a post by Keith Humphreys on Matt Yglesias’ substack:

“An otherwise dull new government report on incarceration contains a startling fact: Hispanics are slightly less likely to be jailed than whites. It’s one of multiple unappreciated signs of fading disparities between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in the criminal justice system, a phenomenon with substantial implications both for the future of reform and electoral politics….

This isn’t just about city and county jails. A Council on Criminal Justice analysis found that in 2000, the rate of being on probation was 1.6 times higher and the rate of being parole was 3.6 times higher for Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites. But by 2016, the probation disparity had disappeared and the parole disparity had shrunk by 85%. Hispanics still faced a 60% higher risk of being incarcerated in a state prison.

This is an enormous and worrying disparity, but the Council noted that it decreased by 60% since 2000. African-American and white disparities in parole, probation, jail, and incarceration have also declined in this century, but dwarf those that remain between Hispanics and whites….

Parallel changes appear in who the criminal justice system employs. From 1997 to 2016, the proportion of police officers who were African-American was stable, whereas the proportion who were Hispanic increased 61%. This helps explain why a June 2021 Gallup poll found that the proportion of Hispanics expressing “a lot” or “a great deal” of trust in police was 49%, almost as high as whites (56%), and far greater than that of African-Americans (27%). Hispanic views on policing and crime may also be similar to whites because the two groups rate of being violent crime victims is almost identical (21.3 per thousand persons for Hispanics, 21.0 for whites)…

[P]oliticians and activists should not assume that anti-police rhetoric will resonate with Hispanic voters, particularly in communities with heavily Hispanic police forces. Democrats’ weak performance with Latino voters (not just Cubans) in Miami-Dade County in 2020 stopped President Biden from winning the state and knocked two Democratic Members of Congress out of office. And while Trump’s Hispanic gains in other states do not appear to have been decisive, it’s easy to imagine these trends mattering in upcoming Senate races in Arizona, Nevada, and elsewhere….

[A]ll social movements contain the seeds of their own demise because if they succeed, their members are satisfied and begin drifting away. Reduced involvement in the correctional system and rising employment by and trust in police represent progress for Hispanics and should be celebrated; yet they also may lower the willingness of some Hispanics to get engaged with the criminal justice reform movement the country needs. This is not inevitable if reformers are willing to modify their rallying cry.

Currently, many advocates, academics, journalists, and politicians invoke the putatively unified “Black and Brown” experience of the criminal justice system as a rationale and engine for reform. The power of this messaging will wane as Brown experience becomes more like white experience. A different framing that might keep Hispanics at the barricades — as well as draw in many whites — would be to emphasize how the country’s extraordinarily high level of incarceration and community supervision per se harms all racial and ethnic groups.

Having over 6.3 million adults incarcerated or on probation or parole at any given time is a massive drain on American liberty, health, and finances, and is as likely to increase crime as reduce it. The message reformers can and should sell is that even if all racial and ethnic disparities within the criminal justice system disappeared tomorrow, shrinking the correctional system to a rational size would benefit all of America’s diverse communities.”

This is exactly right. Taking into account the distinctiveness of Hispanic experience leads directly to this kind of political approach. We shall see if progressives and activists are willing to adjust their current approach in this direction.

Political Strategy Notes

Among the reasons why Democrats may not lose their House  and Senate majorities, according to John Harwood at CNN Politics: “Earlier this year, Biden’s political team dismissed old patterns as irrelevant to the unique backdrop for his presidency: a once-in-a-century pandemic, the world’s largest economy turned off and then back on again, a violent insurrection incited by a historically divisive, defeated President. Swift passage of Covid relief spending, a quick vaccination ramp-up, and resurgent growth helped keep Biden consistently above the 50% approval mark Donald Trump never reached….Biden’s advantages haven’t entirely vanished. His economic advisers last week forecast 2021 economic growth of 7%. The Census recorded a higher-than-expected increase in the non-white population, which favors Democrats politically….The unpopular ex-President remains at the center of Republican politics. While Trump has a weak track record for lifting Republican candidates when he’s not on the ballot, he helps motivate Democratic voters….In remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Biden hailed House passage of his economic investment framework before addressing evacuation efforts in Kabul. His pandemic response team pressed businesses and other institutions to overcome lingering resistance by mandating vaccinations for employment and services.”

Harwood continues, “The political value of those efforts, aside from their merits for public health and economic vitality, is in unifying the Democratic electoral coalition while Republicans aim to splinter it with cultural wedge issues. Their longshot hopes of surviving in power next November depend on maximizing unity….”Winning a midterm is extremely difficult,” said David Shor, an influential Democratic strategist. “Big picture, the Biden administration is making all the right strategic decisions….Other elements involve spending on longer-term projects such as improving roads and bridges and expanding early childhood education. If Democrats manage to enact them, near-term political credit turns on how much public attention they receive by Election Day…..”It’s just a question of how much the media decides to cover it,” Shor observed….To the White House and Democratic leaders, the critical variable is action. Mobilizing bare majorities to break through years of stalemate, they say, can give Democrats a fighting chance despite the President’s political bruises….”Victories that help real people — working families and small businesses,” the Biden adviser said. “Not about what we want to do, about what we’ve done.”

Also at CNN Politics, Gregory Krieg takes a deep dive and explains that “Biden is holding together the Democratic Party in Washington — for now,” and writes, “That the fates of the two bills, one championed by moderate Democrats and the other by progressives, are tied together is in itself a neat metaphor for the broader dynamic influencing the party’s path in the Biden era, as it seeks to show it can deliver for the American people ahead of next year’s midterms. Neither package has enough support to pass in the House of Representatives without disparate factions of Democrats agreeing to vote for legislation they would not, under other circumstances, be inclined to back. Democrats are, in sum, doing the work of a coalition government — the kind of fraught, patchwork majority more typically found in the parliamentary democracies of Western Europe….To advance any and all pieces of their shared agenda, Democrats need unanimity in their Senate ranks and can only afford to lose a handful of votes in the House….After the agreement was in place, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, summed up the fundamental political incentives that carried the day. “The most important thing is, as Democrats, we remain united behind the objectives that have been set by President Biden,” Jeffries said. “Democracy is messy, and Democrats are not a cult, we’re a coalition….The oddsmakers’ favorite to succeed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in leading the Democratic caucus if she retires in the coming years, Jeffries, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has often flown the moderate flag on the front lines of the intra-party electoral fights. Some have played out in parallel to Democrats’ work in Washington….But even as the left lines up its challengers and moderates prepare to launch a well-funded counteroffensive, they were ultimately pushing for the same legislative outcome on Capitol Hill, even if they used different methods and messages — including outside attacks against each other — to get there.”

Krieg adds, “The larger, partisan bill that will need to be passed through the budget reconciliation process, would — according to its early framework — create a universal pre-K program for 3- and 4-year-olds, offer new child care benefits to working families and, for the first time, eventually provide a federal guarantee of paid parental, family and personal illness leave. In addition to measures designed to curb climate change and invest in affordable housing, it would also increase subsidies for Obamacare and, after so many years of debate and advocacy, lower prescription drug prices and expand Medicare — lowering the eligibility age while beefing up the popular program to include dental, vision and hearing benefits….Taken together, the legislation would represent the largest and most consequential expansion of aid and protections to the social safety net in a generation. For many on the left, it also amounts to a marker of the movement’s growing influence….Though progressives still lag other factions of the party in terms of representation in Congress, Biden and his team have, since he became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee in 2020, worked relentlessly to build a working relationship with the left and its energetic base….Sanders, his closest competitor and the final rival to fall on Biden’s late surge to the nomination, has returned the favor. Ascending to the chair of the Senate Budget Committee after the Democrats, with whom he caucuses, won their Senate majority, Sanders has worked closely with the White House, even as some of his top campaign priorities, like “Medicare for all,” have been sidelined….The White House, in turn, has provided a backstop for progressives during the push to get both of the party’s legislative priorities over the line. When the group of nine Democrats demanding an immediate House vote on the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill said Biden shared their desire, the White House knocked them back….”(Biden) has been clear that he wants both bills on his desk and that he looks forward to signing each,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates told NBC News on Monday, adding that the President supported Pelosi’s broader approach to steering the White House agenda….Democrats — whose majority is only as useful as their near unanimity — appear to be on a path to fulfilling Biden’s ambitious framework. The party has shown, to date, that it can be both in “disarray” and a functioning operation — and that the imperative to act, in coalition, appears to be winning the day.”

Biden’s Agenda Popular, But Midterm Apathy a Formidable Obstacle for Dems

Adam Wollner has a warning for Democrats in his article, “Democrats are trying to sell Biden’s agenda. But key voters aren’t paying attention” at McClatchy:

“What we find is people are checking out at record high levels because they feel everything is contentious, exhausting and divisive,” said Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster who worked on Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. “It speaks to what a steep hill we’re climbing.”

Lake said she is seeing lingering political fatigue particularly among swing women voters and irregular Democratic-leaning voters, including younger and Black Americans, groups that were critical to Biden’s 2020 victory.

She said the degree to which these voters are now intentionally checking out of politics is a “brand new phenomenon” that is presenting unique hurdles for Democrats. The party is planning to make Biden’s economic agenda a cornerstone of its campaign to maintain control of the U.S. House and Senate next year.

“We know how to deal with benign neglect,” Lake said. “But now with a more deliberate strategy, when we need people to feel engaged, it is much more dangerous.”

Wollner notes, further, “And on top of a general disillusionment with politics, Americans across the board are still navigating a disruptive pandemic that has continued to overshadow most other political issues….“People are trying to sort out their own lives rather than sort out the nation’s business, and that makes it much tougher to move an agenda forward,” said longtime Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “It’s not so much the administration is making mistakes as it is the sign of the times.” Also,
Even though the midterm elections are more than 14 months away, Democrats say they need to shore up public support for Biden’s agenda now to avoid the losses the party in power have historically experienced in a president’s first term.

Some of that effort is already underway. The Biden-aligned nonprofit group Building Back Together is spending $10 million on ads this summer promoting the president’s agenda, and the party’s campaign committees encouraged lawmakers to focus on economic policies during the August recess. Democrats hope Biden will be able to sign the $1.2 trillion infrastructure and $3.5 trillion budget packages Congress is currently considering into law this fall.

While the party is struggling to reach some voters with their early messaging, Democrats are confident that Biden’s agenda is popular. For instance, a new polling memo from the Democratic-aligned nonprofit group Future Majority and shared with McClatchy showed that 57% of voters across 37 battleground congressional districts support the bipartisan infrastructure legislation. Among undecided independents, 63% support it.

Wollner adds, “Democrats are hopeful their economic pitch will be persuasive for swing and progressive voters alike. But for young and Black voters, who are traditionally less likely to vote in midterm elections, some strategists warn the party needs to do more to ensure they turn out in 2022.”