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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?

Read the Memo.

Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People of Color” Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.

The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy.

Read the memo.

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.

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.

The Daily Strategist

December 7, 2021

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall writes, “In the 11 months from January 2020 to February 2021, Fox referred to critical race theory — which has come to be known as C.R.T. — 164 times, according to the liberal advocacy group Media Matters. In the subsequent three and a half months, from May through mid-August, as the contest between Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe for governor in Virginia intensified, the number of on-air references shot up to more than 1,900….There is clear evidence that this issue touched a nerve across a wide swath of the electorate, evidence that suggests that C.R.T. can simultaneously be a Republican dog whistle and a significant political liability for the Democratic Party. Fox News raised the salience of C.R.T., but it resonated beyond the network’s viewers….As [Youngkin strategist Kristin ]Davison recounted the story to [Politico writer Ryan] Lizza: Within three hours of the debate where Terry said “I don’t think parents should be involved in what the school should be teaching,” we had a video out hitting this because it tapped into just parents not knowing. And that was the fight. It wasn’t just C.R.T. That’s an easier issue to talk about on TV. That’s not what we focused on here; it was more “parents matter.” Launching that message took the education discussion to a different level. Edsall adds, “Nonetheless, the immediate political question is this: How should Democrats deal with the “weaponization” of critical race theory?…’

Among the responses, Edsall notes, “I asked Anat Shenker-Osorio, a California-based communications consultant who specializes in the development of progressive messaging, especially in techniques to counter conservative and Republican campaign themes. Her reply by email: ‘What Democrats need to do is recognize that this is simply Republicans recording a new cover of the same song. They cast a new scapegoat and remix, hoping to divide us along lines of race, background or gender identity, and distract us from their corruption.’ There are, she continued, “proven ways to best right-wing divide-in-order-to-conquer strategies”:Democrats begin by saying, for example, “No matter our color, background, or ZIP code, we want our kids to learn to reckon with the mistakes of our past, understand our present, and create a better future for us all.” Embracing the critical — and highly contested — value of freedom, by championing kids’ freedom to learn who they are, where they come from, and all they can become, is also paramount. Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard, had a harder edge in his emailed reply to my inquiry: “Democratic candidates should deal seriously and forthrightly with the cultural issues that clearly concern many voters.” Learning, he continued, “entails dialogue and pluralism and self-disciplined willingness to listen even to those with whom one may disagree strongly, which is why the far-flung efforts to erase or muzzle the 1619 Project, or critical race theory or other manifestations of anti-racist pedagogy must be rejected. Democrats should put themselves firmly on the side of open discussion, not compelled silence….”They should vocally eschew bad ideas such as the notion that there has been no substantial betterment in race relations over the past fifty years, or that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are unworthy of commemoration, or that Black people are incapable of being racist, or that speech that is allegedly racist ought to be banned. At the same time, they should vocally embrace what is difficult for any sensible person to deny: that racial injustice has been and remains a destructive force that must be overcome if we are to enjoy more fully the promising potential of our multiracial democracy….I agree.”

In their article, “Joe Manchin has a point: Means-testing would make ‘social infrastructure’ bill affordable,” at The Hill, Douglas J. Besharov, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and director of its Welfare Reform Academy and Douglas M. Call a lecturer at the University of Maryland and the deputy director of the Welfare Reform Academy, write: “Now that the physical infrastructure bill has passed, Democrats are working to shoehorn their social priorities into a shrinking budget target, pared down from an earlier $3.5 trillion to around $1.75 trillion. But instead of real cuts, it appears that they are aiming to simply reduce the number of years for which some programs are approved — to make them seem less expensive — without actually lowering their long-term cost….The idea is that, after enacted, public support will grow and Democrats (or the Republicans, should they win control next year) will extend the programs. But given the comments of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and others, that feels like a “riverboat gamble,” as the late Sen. Howard Baker called the Reagan tax cuts. Wiser policy would be to make the programs affordable by targeting them to families really needing help. In other words, as Manchin and others have pointed out: Means-testing would make the social infrastructure bill more affordable….For years, fixing the work and marriage disincentives in the EITC and other safety-net programs was stymied by the inability of advocates to find ways to pay for them. Now there is money on the table. Removing them might not be as dramatically sweeping as “a tax cut for all,” but it could be just the policy bridge needed to make a real improvement in the lives of struggling families — one that progressives and moderates could get behind.”

In “Biden has reached a critical moment in the battle for blue-collar voters,” Ronald Brownstein writes at CNN Politics: “In Republican-leaning states and districts, “Democratic candidates have to forcibly separate themselves from the Democratic brand” on cultural questions, says Andrew Levison, a contributing editor at The Democratic Strategist, a website that debates the party’s choices. He argues that “a reckoning does have to be done with certain elements of the progressive wing of the party” and that Biden should directly renounce some left-leaning ideas on race the way Bill Clinton did in 1992, when he criticized the rapper Sister Souljah. “Standing up for certain traditional cultural principles against the left might help Biden establish his own bona fides” for 2024, says Levison. “He can’t really ride on ‘Amtrak Joe.’ ” Levison, a long-time advocate of Black political empowerment and multi-racial coalitions for social reform, has recently written that “If Democrats could simply regain the white working class vote share that they won in 2008, this would be adequate to win many elections that Dems now loose. As a result it is not necessary for Democrats to try to win a large majority of all white working class voters and certainly not to try to win passionate Trump supporters. It is just necessary to regain perhaps 10-15% of the white working class vote that once voted Democratic and now goes Republican….In red state districts Democratic candidates need to proudly embrace white working class culture and then consciously and intensely attack their Republican opponents as being “extremists” who do not embody the decent elements of traditional American culture and values.”

The Centrist Third Party Delusion

Some new data relevant to one of my favorite false political theories became available, so I wrote about it at New York:

An enduring fantasy about American politics is that our polarized two-party system may give way to a centrist third party that will rise to power on the frustrations of voters tired of gridlock and refusals to compromise in the national interest. You hear this cry for a fresh option more and more as Republicans systematically deploy the filibuster to obstruct Joe Biden’s agenda, and Joe Biden’s Democrats cannot or will not chase Republicans around Washington with candy and valentines until deals are cut and things get done. Indeed, Gallup found earlier this year that a record-high 62 percent of Americans agreed that “the parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”

That’s in theory, of course. In reality, a lot of Americans who say they are angry at the two-party system are really just angry at the party opposing their own for failing to get out of the way or go off to die. And even if you could somehow get all the malcontents together in one room, do they actually speak the same ideological language and agree on what is to be done when all the “getting things done” commences?

A new typology of American voters from the Pew Research Center shows why a centrist third party is problematic in the extreme. After asking a very large sample of voters a battery of questions aimed at determining their partisan leanings and ideological tendencies, alongside positions on key issues, Pew came up with nine groups. Four (Progressive Left, Establishment Liberals, Democratic Mainstays, and Outsider Left) are Democratic leaning, four more (Faith and Flag Conservatives, Committed Conservatives, Populist Right, and Ambivalent Right) are Republican leaning, and one (Stressed Sideliners) leans neither way.

If you take the left and right groups least intensely partisan (the Outsider Left and the Ambivalent Right) and add them to the nonpartisan Stressed Sideliners, you get a substantial 37 percent of the electorate, enough to form a plurality in close three-way political contests. But there are two big obstacles to them becoming an effective Third Force, notes Pew:

“Surveys by Pew Research Center and other national polling organizations have found broad support, in principle, for a third major political party. Yet the typology study finds that the three groups with the largest shares of self-identified independents (most of whom lean toward a party) — Stressed Sideliners, Outsider Left and Ambivalent Right — have very little in common politically. Stressed Sideliners hold mixed views; Ambivalent Right are conservative on many economic issues, while moderate on some social issues; and Outsider Left are very liberal on most issues, especially on race and the social safety net.”

These three groups do have one negative point of conjunction:

“What these groups do have in common is relatively low interest in politics: They had the lowest rates of voting in the 2020 presidential election and are less likely than other groups to follow government and public affairs most of the time.”

So even if you designed a party or a candidate that could somehow appeal to all of the politically dispossessed, many in the target audience might not notice or wouldn’t vote anyway. And if they did get motivated enough to consider the Third Force, they might tear each other apart on the way to saving the country.

Ultimately, the purported constituents for a centrist third party aren’t as large a group as is often imagined and aren’t really centrists, either. And their alienation from both parties may be more about alienation from politics or, to put it another way, from the prospect of doing anything about their grievances. This fantasy will never die, but it’s not springing into real life in the foreseeable future.

Dann and Jennings: Will Democrats Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth?

The following article, by Marc Dann former Attorney General of Ohio and founding partner of Advocate Attorneys and Northeast Ohio political consultant and media specialist Leo Jennings III, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives. Dann and Jennings were part of the team that sued DeWine and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

This has been a month of bad news for the Democratic Party. The conflicts around the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills and the November election results make clear that Republicans hold significant advantages with voters on critical issues including border security, crime, national security, and the economy.

As bad as the news has been, however, Republicans and their corporate benefactors may have recently handed Democrats a gift that will enable them to get off the mat and actually pick up seats in the House and Senate, take control of state legislatures, and evict Republicans from governor’s mansions—if they are smart enough to unwrap and use it.

The gift comes courtesy of the 25 GOP governors who earlier this year opted not to accept billions of dollars in fully federally funded supplemental unemployment benefits authorized by the American Rescue Act. As a result of their callous decision more than 4 million involuntarily unemployed Americans lost $300 in weekly payments they desperately needed. The Century Foundation estimated that families crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic would lose an average of $6,000 as a result of the benefit reduction.

Teixeira: Stick a Fork In ‘Em: The Exit Polls Are Done

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

G. Elliott Morris, the Economist data journalist, looked into some of the VA traditional exit poll claims and finds them, essentially, unbelievable. I agree.

“[The traditional exit polls show] show that Democrats made gains with Latino and Asian voters between 2020 and 2021 despite their declining vote share statewide. According to Edison, Youngkin won in Virginia because McAuliffe’s share of the two-party vote with whites fell by eight points relative to Biden’s share with the group last year.

This is not unbelievable in isolation. Eg, perhaps Latino voters were just particularly drawn to Trump last year, and so have now reverted to their typical Democratic lean. However, this is a weird result when you consider that it is rare for a party to improve significantly with a group when their overall vote share falls by six points over a year. Usually, the public moves in more parallel strides. (NB: There is more heterogeneity on longer time horizons, to be sure.)

The Edison exit poll starts looking a lot stranger once we look at swings among white voters by their education level. According to Edison, McAuliffe won just 24% of white voters without degrees. That’s compared to Joe Biden’s 38% just a year ago — making for a 14-point decline. And according to their exits, college-educated whites and voters of color did not change significantly since 2020:

OK, now things are starting to fail the smell test. Maybe you believe non-college-educated whites moved right since 2020. That is a reasonable assumption; Biden is less popular than he was a year ago and, after all, Democrats did lose the election! But do we really believe that the only group to change its political leaning since 2020 was whites without degrees? In an election where overall Democratic margin fell by ten points? That explanation falls flat even before we look at other evidence.

But if we do, the county and precinct-level results of the election are pretty damning of the exits. The two charts below show that Terry McAuliffe’s share of the vote fell by less relative to Joe Biden’s share of the vote in the counties with the highest percentages of non-college whites. Turnout was also down the least in places with a middling share of non-college whites.

How is this reconcilable with the exit poll? The short answer is that it’s not. While it is technically possible that white college-educated voters in counties with a lot of non-college whites are driving the trends in the figures above, that wouldn’t explain the full relationship. Besides, according to Edison, college-educated whites didn’t change their behavior at all since 2020! And there aren’t enough non-whites in these counties to drive significant trends either; the exits estimate voters of color made up just over a fourth of Virginian voters in 2021, and there are fewer of them in the counties with the highest shares of non-college whites.

As if this weren’t enough, friend of the blog Lenny Bronner (who runs the elections-forecasting models for the Washington Post) found that McAuliffe did worse versus Biden in the precincts with the most African Americans and Hispanics. This is a direct contradiction of the exit poll!”

Ridiculous. These data are just not trustworthy. And yet political journalists continue to write story after story based on them, since the traditional exit poll fielded by Edison still has dominant market share in the media. That should change. Until then, caveat emptor.

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?

  1. How can Democrats convince the white working class to vote Democratic?
  2. How can Democrats identify a distinct, persuadable sector of the white working class and then convince members of that specific group to vote Democratic?

The second question is obviously far more practical and more likely to lead to useful political strategies than the first. After all, in 2008 rough estimates suggest that around 40% of less than college white voters voted Democratic. This then declined to around 36% in 2012, 31% in 2016 and then rebounded slightly to 33% in 2020. Other more precise definitions of the term “working class” produce a somewhat higher but still similar pattern of results

If Democrats could simply regain the white working class vote share that they won in 2008, this would be adequate to win many elections that Dems now loose. As a result it is not necessary for Democrats to try to win a large majority of all white working class voters and certainly not to try to win passionate Trump supporters. It is just necessary to regain perhaps 10-15% of the white working class vote that once voted Democratic and now goes Republican.

The problem, however, is that virtually the entire Democratic strategic discussion in the media today asks the first question above rather than the second.

One dramatic example is the current debate about the white working class versus a “new” coalition of People of Color and pro-Democratic college educated whites. The debate, which has flowed from the New York Times, The Atlantic and the New Republic to  a range of progressive blogs, Substacks and other media, has pitted leading political data analysts like Nate Cohn, Ron Brownstein, Tom Edsall, Ruy Teixeira, David Shor and others against various advocates of the “new coalition” strategy.

To Read the Memo, Click Here.

Democrats Can Only Lose Again By Abandoning Their Agenda

In the wake of the disappointing 2021 off-year elections, I heard disturbing reactions from Democrats and responded at New York:

Things did not go well for Democrats in the 2021 elections. Most notably, Terry McAuliffe lost the governorship his party had held since 2009 in Virginia, a state that Joe Biden carried by ten points just last year; Democrats also lost the state lieutenant governor’s race, are behind in the state attorney general’s race, and may lose control of one chamber of the legislature. In New Jersey, Democratic governor Phil Murphy, expected to romp to an easy reelection, is in a near dead heat with Republican Jack Ciattarelli with the outcome still in doubt. And Democratic Senate president Steve Sweeney is in danger of losing to an anonymous schmo who barely even had a campaign. In New York, three Democratic-sponsored ballot initiatives aimed at making voting easier and simplifying redistricting went down to defeat. Happy days are not here again for the Donkey Party.

There are myriad factors that went into these disappointing but hardly atypical off-year setbacks, perhaps the most important being simply an age-old and nearly universal backlash against the party of newly elected presidents (Republicans got waxed in New Jersey and Virginia in 2017). And yes, such losses usually portend a poor showing in the upcoming midterm elections (the president’s party has lost U.S. House, Senate, and gubernatorial seats in the last four midterms).

But some narcissistic congressional Democrats seem to assume the bad Election Night is all about them, and they want to learn exactly the wrong lesson going forward. Punchbowl News reports:

“Numerous Democrats privately have told us they’re uneasy with the contours of the massive Build Better Act despite weeks of intra-party negotiations. They believe the party leadership is rushing through the final stages of these talks. Last night’s loss – or losses – won’t end Democrats’ quest to pass the massive reconciliation package, but it will certainly impact it. Pelosi and her leadership team were hoping for floor passage this week. However, Tuesday losses will give new heft to those voices that have been suggesting the speaker slow the agenda down and bring it back to the center.”

“Bring it back to the center” is code for reducing the size, scope, and ambition of the Build Back Better package, which has, as a matter of fact, already happened thanks to the demands of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and their House allies. Some of these same “centrist” Democrats typically think House passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill would send some sort of important signal to voters, and they may even be under the illusion that the Virginians who elected Youngkin in a high-turnout contest were somehow longing for the roads and bridges they have been denied. (To be clear, some Democrats thought of as “centrists” or “moderates,” like the Third Way organization, have rejected the let’s-do-less mantra emphatically).

Actually, the House progressives with whom the centrists are battling fully plan to vote for the infrastructure bill, perhaps even without conditions. But the single quickest way to show Democrats can get something done is to unlock the logjam by reaching quick agreement on BBB and then immediately passing the infrastructure bill. That’s the opposite of “suggesting the speaker slow the agenda down.”

Beyond that, Democratic centrists need to get out of the habit of thinking that voters are watching their every move and will reward or punish them instantly for too much perceived liberalism. Even before the November 2 setbacks, the odds of Democrats holding on to their trifecta in 2022 were extremely low. On the two occasions since 1934 when the president’s party gained House seats in a midterm, the president in question (Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002) enjoyed approval ratings in the 60s. In this polarized moment of American political history, Joe Biden couldn’t match their numbers even if COVID-19 disappeared, the economy boomed, friendly unicorns romped across the landscape, and lollipops dropped from the sky. Instead of decimating their own agenda in an uninformed and likely vain effort to head off the inevitable, congressional Democrats should focus on what they can accomplish in this fleeting moment of power, which may not recur for years. Lowering their sights and abandoning legislative goals — goals whose achievement actually may, for all we know, make them more popular in 2022 — gives Republicans an anticipatory victory they have by no means earned.

Losing elections is painful, and as my colleague Eric Levitz points out, the 2021 defeats are particularly painful because Republicans have never paid the price for their obeisance to the outlaw president who may yet head up their next presidential ticket. There could be discrete lessons to be learned from what happened on November 2, including the inadequacy of a playbook that focused too much on COVID-19 mandate debates and the specter of Trump, who wasn’t on the ballot. And more generally, Democrats need to adjust to the fact that we are in a period of high voter engagement in which just inflaming your own base won’t be enough.

But there is no sensible interpretation of the 2021 defeats that suggests a muddled, cramped, confusing, diminished, or delayed legislative agenda will save Democrats in 2022 and beyond. They still have a good chance to hang on to the White House in 2024; after all, Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama won reelection after terrible midterm performances by their party. But more importantly, they need to remember the purpose of political power: to accomplish things they cannot get done in opposition or in periods of divided government. The future truly is right now.

Political Strategy Notes

In his post mortem on Tuesday’s two governorship elections, E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “All of Tuesday’s portents were negative. In both Virginia and New Jersey, Republicans were energized and Democrats were indifferent….In Virginia’s GOP rural precincts, the places where Donald Trump is still a hero, voters surged to polling places in a tidal wave….Democrats, particularly young and Black voters, stayed away, making up a far smaller share of the electorate than they did a year ago….in the end, exit polling made clear, hostility to Biden mattered more than alarm over Trump….But McAuliffe cannot simply blame the president or a dithering Democratic Congress for failing to enact the president’s program in a timely way — even if they have much to answer for….McAuliffe will no doubt long regret 12 words that Youngkin played back again and again in advertising that blanketed the state: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”…It was a dismissive formulation that made it far harder for McAuliffe to push back against Youngkin’s demagogic attack on critical race theory, which is not taught in Virginia’s schools….McAuliffe was not wrong to describe Youngkin’s appeal as “a racist dog whistle.”….But Democrats and progressives need a much better answer to parental discontent….They also have to make a compelling argument for how schools can offer an honest accounting of the role of racism in American life that also honors the country’s achievements. They cannot continue to let Trumpists dominate this discussion….One thing Democrats should not do: tear themselves apart with arguments over critical race theory itself, a set of ideas far better debated in law schools and graduate schools than at school board meetings….Democrats would also be foolish to litigate whether moderates or progressives in Congress are most to blame for McAuliffe’s loss and the surprisingly weak showing of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey. They must all take responsibility for the unconscionable delays in enacting the president’s program. So must Biden.”….Democrats must move swiftly to enact and defend the president’s program, and Senate Democrats cannot allow the filibuster to block action on voting rights, now a more urgent cause than ever. Republican state governments will continue to throw up roadblocks to voting — and Black voters who were key to Biden’s victory will not forgive the president or his party if they just walk away from the pivotal civil rights battle of our time.”

In Judy Woodruff’s interview on PBS, James Carville explained it this way: “Well, what went wrong is this stupid wokeness. All right? Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis. Even look at Seattle, Washington. I mean, this defund the police lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools, that — people see that….Some of these people need to go to a woke detox center or something. They’re expressing language that people just don’t use. And there’s a backlash and a frustration at that….Youngkin never ran any ads against Biden. And I think what he did is just let the Democrats pull the pin and watch the grenade go off on them….And we have got to change this and not be about changing dictionaries and change laws. And these faculty lounge people that sit around mulling about I don’t know what are — they’re not working….Who could even think of something that stupid? And they’re suppressing our vote. And I have got news for you. You’re hurting the party. You’re hurting the very people that you want to help….And Terry got caught up. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s a good guy. He got caught up in something national, and we have got to change this internally, in my view.”…There’s a ton of pent-up demand in this economy. I’m just not one of these people that thinks that we’re necessarily doomed in 2022….We could have a roaring economy. This Build Back Better is going to give people a lot of confidence.And as long as we talk about things that are relevant to people and understand what they’re going through in their lives and get rid of this left-wing nonsense, this claptrap I hear, I think we can be fine….These people have got to understand they’re not popular around the country. People don’t like them. And they’re voting because that’s the only way that they can express themselves and how much they disagree with this….People don’t want to ride in the car with you. They don’t want to ride next to you in the subway….You’re annoying people. And they got to understand that. It’s very important….every Democrat wants to be a policy maven. No one wants to be a salesperson….Well, you got to get out there and sell your product and tell people what’s in it and quit worrying about being in the policy shop or being some self-important bureaucrat. That’s what I think.”

From Ronald Brownstein’s take on the elections at The Atlantic: “The Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race and the unexpectedly close result in New Jersey’s—both states Biden won comfortably last year—don’t guarantee a midterm wipeout for Democrats in 2022. Rather, the sweeping Republican advance in both states more likely previews the problems Democrats will have next November if the political environment doesn’t improve for Biden….Glenn Youngkin, benefited from a huge gaffe by Democrat Terry McAuliffe that seemed to dismiss the role of parents in shaping their kids’ education. But above all, the results reinforced the conclusion that in modern U.S. politics, it’s becoming almost impossible for candidates to escape the shadow of attitudes about the incumbent president, for good or ill….Compared with Biden’s sweeping 2020 win, the exit polls did show Youngkin gaining ground with independents, college-educated white men, and especially white voters without a college degree, both men and women….Even with Youngkin’s marginal gains in the center, both the exit polls and actual results suggest instead that McAuliffe’s biggest problems were explosive turnout and huge deficits in the parts of the state most alienated from Biden and the Democrats who now control Washington. Turnout in Republican-leaning places was so strong that the share of the statewide vote cast by the blue-leaning big five Northern Virginia counties declined this year after steadily rising over the past three governor’s races….For the majority of Democratic elected officials and strategists, the most immediate lesson of Tuesday’s tough night is that the party needs to finally pass Biden’s economic agenda—which they hope will both assuage doubts about the president’s competence and provide them a list of tangible programs they can take to voters next year, including an expanded child tax credit and child-care subsidies and plans to lower prescription-drug prices.”

“Although public polling on immigration shows a strong shift to the left, survey responses in that vein mask a far more complicated reality, Thomas B. Edsall writes in his New York Times column. “Over and over again, immigration has proved to be politically problematic for Democrats. As far back as 2007, when he was chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rahm Emanuel warned that immigration had become the new “third rail of American politics.”….The reality of the politics of immigration stands in contrast to the more positive Gallup findings that the percentage of people describing immigration as a “good thing” grew to 75 percent in 2021 from 52 percent in 2001, and the percentage describing it as a “bad thing” fell to 21 percent from 31 percent. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of voters who say immigration should be increased grew to 33 percent from 10 percent, while the share who said it should be decreased fell to 31 percent from 43 percent. The percentage saying immigration levels should be left unchanged remained relatively constant over these two decades, ranging from the mid-30s to the low 40s.” Edsall quotes Ryan Enos, a professor of government at Harvard, who contends, “The question for the future of the broader consensus on immigration is whether Republicans can continue to be successful despite the anti-immigrant pandering that is largely out of step with the broad American consensus on immigration. If they are electorally successful — and there is reason to believe they will be, given forecasts for Democratic losses in 2022 — then this broad consensus might break down permanently and a large portion of the American public may follow their Republican leaders toward more fully adopting anti-immigrant ideology.”

Painful Lessons for Dems from VA and NJ

From “8 takeaways from the 2021 elections” by Eric Bradner, Gregory Krieg and Dan Merica at CNN Politics:

“Youngkin drafted a playbook for Republicans to navigate around Trump — keeping the former President’s base energized while also winning back a share of suburbanites who had fled the party during Trump’s tenure….[Youngkin] tapped into the brewing culture war over education. He appealed to conservatives steeped in the right-wing media ecosystem by promising to ban critical race theory, which isn’t taught in Virginia schools; to end coronavirus-related school shutdowns and mask mandates; and to launch an expansive charter school program. He also won over moderates by pledging an education budget with money for teacher raises — a core theme in his television ads — and special education….the pandemic appears to be fading as a driving factor at the ballot box….McAuliffe went all-in on linking Glenn Youngkin to Donald Trump and it failed.”

The NJ governor’s race is still razor close as of this writing, but it shouldn’t be. Youngkin’s 2.5 percent margin of victory in VA could get just a little bigger or smaller, when the last votes are counted.

When the margin is that small, you can blame a host of factors, including the BBB and infrastructure circus, Biden’s tanking approval ratings, Youngkin’s impressive campaign skills, McAuliffe’s stale candidate persona, inflation, weak Democratic GOTV, or some combination thereof. Some of those factors likely hurt Democratic Gov. Murphy in NJ as well.

But there’s no denying that the Youngkin campaign skillfully deployed a duplicitous, but effective attack  on “critical race theory,” their code for a ‘don’t guilt-trip today’s white school kids for the racism of the past’ message. We will likely see more of it in upcoming campaigns. Democrats have to develop a better response, including a more effective attack strategy of their own.

Teixeira: Youngkin Takes Lead in Virginia

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

Yes, the polls could be off but it’s not a good sign for McAuliffe that the polling has steadily trended against him and that the polling average, according to 538, now puts Youngkin in a slight lead.

We’ll see who prevails on election day but it seems fair to say that this race is now a toss-up when it wasn’t supposed to be. And that furthermore Youngkin’s elevation of the education issue has just flat-out worked. Right now, polls have Youngkin way ahead among independents (+22 in the Fox News Poll, +18 in the Washington Post poll, +17 in the Echelon Insights poll) and, as Mona Charen notes at The Bulwark:

“[T]he issue that has arguably done the most harm to McAuliffe is education. Remember those independent and female voters who have moved so strongly toward Youngkin? That has coincided with the rise of education as a campaign issue. Women usually rank education as more important than men do. Between September and October, the number of Virginians listing education as a priority rose from 31 to 41 percent.”

In the Echelon Insights poll, Youngkin is ahead of McAuliffe by 6 points on who is trusted on education and leads by 15 points (!) on that issue among K-12 parents.

The typical response among Democrats is that the issues raised by Youngkin on education are non-issues that amount to “racist dog whistles”. This leaves Democrats powerless to figure out a way to respond to Republican attacks beyond accusing parents who might be worried about these issues of being racists. This is not effective as the Virginia campaign is showing. It’s the Fox News Fallacy in action, as I have written previously–assuming anything raised by conservatives must be completely without merit and stern denunciation is the only option.

David Brooks puts his finger on something that most liberals are loathe to admit–clashes in the area of education are not simply a battle of good against evil but to a large extent a clash of subcultures where many, many voters do not find the progressive subculture an attractive alternative–and for some pretty good reasons.

“On behalf of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Jeremy Stern reviewed the 50 state history standards in 2011 and then again in 2021. To his pleasant surprise, he found that the standards were growing more honest. States were doing a better job at noting America’s sins along with its achievements. The states that had the best civics and history standards were as likely to be red as blue: Alabama, California, Massachusetts and Tennessee (D.C. scored equally well).

In my experience, most teachers find ways to teach American history in this way, and most parents support it — 78 percent of Americans support teaching high schoolers about slavery, according to a 2021 Reuters/Ipsos poll.

But the progressive subculture has promoted ideas that go far beyond this and often divide the races into crude, essentialist categories.

A training for Loudoun County, Va., public school administrators taught that “fostering independence and individual achievement” is a hallmark of “white individualism.”

A Williams College professor told The Times last week, “This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated.”

If you want to stage a radical critique of individualism and intellectual rigor, be my guest, but things get problematic when you assign the “good” side of this tension to one racial category and the “bad” side to another racial category.

It is also becoming more common to staple a highly controversial ideological superstructure onto the quest for racial justice. We’re all by now familiar with some of the ideas that constitute this ideological superstructure: History is mainly the story of power struggles between oppressor and oppressed groups; the history of Western civilization involves a uniquely brutal pattern of oppression; language is frequently a weapon in this oppression and must sometimes be regulated to ensure safety; actions and statements that do not explicitly challenge systems of oppression are racist; the way to address racism is to heighten white people’s awareness of their own toxic whiteness, so they can purge it.

Today a lot of parents have trouble knowing what’s going on in their kids’ classrooms. Is it a balanced telling of history or the gospel according to Robin DiAngelo?

When they challenge what they sense is happening, they meet a few common responses. They are told, as by Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, that parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach. They are told they are racist. Or they are blithely assured that there is nothing radical going on — when in fact there might be.

Parents and legislators often respond with a lot of nonsense about critical race theory and sometimes by legalizing their own forms of ideological censorship. But their core intuition is not crazy: One subculture is sometimes using its cultural power to try to make its views dominant, often through intimidation.

When people sense that those with cultural power are imposing ideologies on their own families, you can expect the reaction will be swift and fierce.”

I suspect this is part of what we’re seeing the Virginia race. It’s a sign Democrats need to take off their progressive subculture blinders and deal with the complex reality of public opinion on difficult issues.

Political Strategy Notes

One of the reasons we ofen quote E. J. Dionne Jr. at TDS is that the Democrats are a party that frequently needs adult supervision (although that’s better than the GOP, which is in urgent need of psychiatric care for their abusive daddy issues). In Dionne’s current WaPo column, “Take the win, Democrats, and don’t look back,” he writes, “Celebrate victory. Explain what you’ve achieved. Defend it from attack. Change the public conversation in your favor. Build on success to make more progress. And for God’s sake, don’t moan about what might have been….President Biden and Democrats in Congress are on the cusp of ending their long journey through legislative hell by enacting a remarkable list of practical, progressive programs….This will confront them with a choice. They can follow the well-tested rules for champions of social change. Or they can repeat past mistakes by letting their opponents define what they have done and complain about the things left undone….Passing Biden’s program and defending it successfully offer all wings of his party the best opportunity they will have to push the day-to-day dialogue toward the tangible and the achievable….Begin with the basics: Trump spent four years promising investments in the nation’s physical infrastructure. Biden got it done with bipartisan support.” Sound advice. And it wouldn’t hurt if Democratic moderates and progressives would stop sniping at each other.

Dionne also has some salient comments about tomorrow’s gubernatorial election in Virginia and its effect of Democratic maturity and unity: “A victory by Republican Glenn Youngkin in Tuesday’s Virginia governor’s race would unleash recriminations guaranteed to make this task even harder. If Democrat Terry McAuliffe hangs on to win, it will be Republicans forced into soul-searching about the steep costs of their continuing fealty to Donald Trump….But however it turns out, the Virginia contest should force Democrats to confront the imperative of shifting the terms of the political debate. In a state Biden carried by 10 points, Youngkin managed to dominate the campaign’s final weeks with a shameful focus on critical race theory — which is not taught anywhere in the state — and the suppression of challenging books in high school curriculums….Youngkin’s trafficking in racial backlash could work as well as it did, because Democrats have fallen short in fulfilling one of the most important aspirations of the Biden era. They hoped that politics could be defined more by how government can get useful things done and less by manufactured issues that promote moral panic among conservatives and sharpen divisions around race, immigration and culture.” I would add only that a McAuliffe win would lend some cred to the ‘demographics is destiny’ argument, particularly when favorable demographic transformation is accompanied by solid strategy and fierce GOTV.

Charlie Cook sees it this way at The Cook Political Report: “What many progressive Democrats did not seem to realize is that while they were busy holding Biden’s spending package hostage—one that would have addressed badly needed infrastructure needs that have gone unaddressed for three decades—public concern about the direction of the economy surged, putting Democratic House and Senate majorities in real danger, and putting the Virginia governorship in considerably more danger than it should have been. If Democrats lose that governorship, it will feel like an earthquake just hit at the Democratic National Committee headquarters….While progressives did their party considerably more damage than they realize, it is a mistake to relieve Biden and Democratic congressional leaders of their share of culpability. Biden has been trying to emulate Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, yet it’s hard to imagine either of those presidents or their respective party leaders on the Hill putting up with their rank-and-file members sabotaging a signature piece of presidential legislation and making their own president appear politically impotent….Had Democrats simply pushed through the hard-infrastructure package—the streets, bridges, water systems, ports, airports, and broadband expansions that have broad, bipartisan support—then pushed a more modestly sized social-spending measure, both their party and their president would be seen in a considerably better light than they are today and their majority would be in less danger.”

A pretty good historical perspective and video update on the Virginia race from Jeff Greenfield: