washington, dc

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

Political Strategy Notes

Alan I. Abramowitz explains “How Donald Trump Turned Off Swing Voters in 2020” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “It is clear that there are far fewer swing voters today than only 20 or 30 years ago. However, swing voters have not disappeared, and they can still play a crucial role in elections. In 2016, for example, although there weren’t many swing voters, there were about three times as many Obama-Trump voters as Romney-Clinton voters. That was probably enough to swing Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to Trump and hand him a victory in the Electoral College.[1]….In 2020, there were even fewer swing voters than in 2016. However, it appears that swing voters favored Joe Biden over Donald Trump by about a two-to-one margin. Moreover, exit poll data confirm that swing voters tilted toward Biden in several key swing states. In Georgia, 6% of 2016 Trump voters switched to Biden while only 3% of 2016 Clinton voters switched to Trump. In Pennsylvania, 7% of 2016 Trump voters switched to Biden while only 4% of 2016 Clinton voters switched to Trump. Finally, in both Michigan and Wisconsin, 6% of 2016 Trump voters switched to Biden while only 4% of 2016 Clinton voters switched to Trump.[2] These differences seem small, but given the closeness of the 2020 presidential election in all of these states, they might have been large enough to shift their electoral votes from Trump to Biden and that would have been enough to change the outcome of the election in the Electoral College….According to the ANES data, almost twice as many voters flipped from Trump to Biden as from Clinton to Trump — an estimate that is consistent with findings from the national exit poll….Trump was perceived as far more conservative in 2020 than in 2016. In 2016, Trump was viewed as the least conservative Republican presidential candidate since Gerald Ford in 1976. In 2020, however, he was viewed as the most conservative Republican candidate in the history of this question in the ANES survey going back to 1972. This shift was significant in that it placed Trump farther from the average voter than Joe Biden, while in 2016 Trump was considerably closer to the average voter than Hillary Clinton was….The dramatic shift to the right in voters’ perceptions of Trump almost certainly contributed to his losses among moderate swing voters in the 2020 presidential election — losses that could well have cost him enough electoral votes to hand the election to Joe Biden….A variety of factors undoubtedly contributed to Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020, including his gross mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the growing perception of Trump as a far-right president, along with the nomination of the relatively moderate Joe Biden by the Democrats, very likely cost him enough support among swing voters in key states such as Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona to shift those states and their crucial electoral votes into the Democratic column….More generally, the analyses presented in this essay show that while swing voters make up a much smaller share of the electorate today than during the 1970s and 1980s, they can still affect the outcomes of closely contested elections.”

In “The Bill That Could Truly, Actually Bring Back U.S. Manufacturing: And help the climate, too,” Robinson Meyer writes at The Atlantic: “The U.S. doesn’t have a high-end manufacturing sector because nobody will finance one. Small and medium-size American companies now struggle to borrow the billions of dollars necessary to finance a new factory, especially if those loans take 10 or 20 years to pay out….“The U.S. financial system isn’t very good at funding things that have very modest returns and take a long time for those returns to be realized,” Nahm said. You could be the most talented engineer of your generation and launch an advanced battery start-up out of MIT, he said, and you would still battle to obtain the $3 billion needed to finance a new production line. More established firms cannot access “patient capital” either, he said: Where they once would have borrowed from local banks, many of those institutions have since been absorbed into national chains….”For years, the solution to the manufacturing gap has been clear to experts like Nahm: The U.S. government needs to fix this market failure, just as it fixes others. Yet that possibility seemed off the table. But recently industrial policy has become more popular across parties—Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, has spoken favorably of it—and now a group of moderate Democratic senators, led by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, has proposed chartering an Industrial Finance Corporation, a bank owned by the U.S. government that would fill the “manufacturing gap” and finance high-tech production nationwide….The IFC would have the ability to make long-term loans, buy equity, and make purchase guarantees for firms. It could do for climate-essential technologies—such as clean energy, semiconductors, batteries, and long-distance electricity transmission—what Operation Warp Speed did for COVID-19 vaccines. It could accelerate what I’ve called the “green vortex,” the mix of policy, finance, and technology that is actually driving American decarbonization.”

“As a fourth wave of the coronavirus surges, Americans by a wide margin say protecting the common good is more important than ensuring personal liberty when considering whether to require people to get a COVID-19 vaccination or wear a protective mask,” Susan Page and Nada Hassanein report at USA Today. “An overwhelming 72%-28% of those surveyed by USA TODAY and Ipsos called mask mandates “a matter of health and safety,” not an infringement on personal liberty. By 61%-39%, they endorsed requiring vaccinations except for those with a medical or religious exemption….By more than 2-1, 70%-30%, Americans agreed that people have the right to choose not to get the vaccine but that they then don’t have the right to be around the vaccinated. There was significant support for businesses, employers, colleges, restaurants, airlines and others to bar those who hadn’t gotten the shot….The poll found broad backing for tough steps against those who were eligible to get the vaccine but declined:

  • 66% supported state and local governments requiring masks.
  • 62% supported employers requiring workers to get the vaccination.
  • 68% supported businesses refusing service to the unvaccinated.
  • 65% supported a ban on the unvaccinated traveling by airplane or mass transit.
  • 65% supported sporting events and concerts barring the unvaccinated.
  • 71% said colleges had a right to require students to be vaccinated to return to campus.”

In her article, “Forget AOC—Pelosi Has a Problem With Raging Moderates Now,” Margaret Carlson writes at The Daily Beast: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a well-known problem with her left wing, often needing to talk, and press, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Squad off the wall and back into the fold….Now she’s dealing with a new problem with her fuselage. It’s her moderates that she can’t fly without. They’re not alright and are no longer quietly going along with the program. Nine of them formed a group and last weekend splashed their objections to the speaker holding traditional infrastructure hostage to the human kind across the op-ed page of The Washington Post, publicly telling her: Let’s take the win. Let’s do infrastructure first.…The system works best for Pelosi’s generation of Democrats when the left dreams and the moderates quietly pursue the middle ground. Moderates generally don’t form little groups to torment the speaker or announce their non-negotiable demands. They like a closed door. If they cause trouble, with rare exceptions, it’s the good kind John Lewis spoke of, not the kind that imperils party unity. These Democrats are pragmatists, stitching messy coalitions together even when the seams show. Many belong to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that marks them as boring do-gooders of the kind that makes Biden’s eyes misty with nostalgia and cable bookers’ eyes glaze over….But going forward, Pelosi will have to work her magic on a new flank. Listen to Bill Galston, a co-founder of the Problem Solvers Caucus, after the deal: “The Nine have finally broken the complete stranglehold that congressional leadership, on both sides, have had over the legislative process for a decade or more. But while the Nine won an important battle, the war is still to come.”….That doesn’t sound like a truce is being called, yet never have Democrats been more in need of all getting along to hold on to their slim majority in 2022—a prospect that is hard historically and harder still after a summer that’s been anything but the return to normalcy we expected….Ensuring the visible infrastructure will pass, not freighted with the more difficult, as yet unfinished, human one, gets Democrats a much-needed win to take home to voters. Pelosi—I hope Biden’s called the White House florist or offered her recurring guest privileges at Camp David—pulled it out one more time but it’s just gotten harder going forward.”

Trifectas Don’t Grow on Trees

As part of a continuing effort to urge Democrats to be bold in use of the power they have right now, I examined past and future prospects for governing trifectas at New York:

In the last 50 years, there have been 13 in which one party or the other held a trifecta in Washington — governing the White House, Senate, and House — and 37 when they didn’t. The odds are very high, as I previously noted, against today’s Democrats holding onto the House in 2022. More broadly, though, it’s helpful to understand how rare and precious trifectas have become generally, at a time when they have become essential for big legislative accomplishments.

Until the 1990s, the ideological diversity of both parties meant trifectas or the absence of one could be misleading. Jimmy Carter had a trifecta the entire time, but struggled to get major legislation through “his” Congress. Subsequently, Ronald Reagan never had a trifecta, but was able to attract enough moderate-to-conservative Democratic support to create a working majority in Congress for six of his eight years in office. Indeed, the power of a “conservative coalition” of southern Democrats and Republicans in Congress made it possible for Republican presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon to have decent legislative records.

Since the ’90s, trifectas became much more essential to getting one’s way in Washington thanks to two changes: increasing partisan polarization and then the use of the Senate filibuster to create a de facto supermajority requirement for virtually all major legislation. Meanwhile, close partisan divisions in the country and the tendency of presidential parties to do poorly in midterms has made trifectas more fragile. Bill Clinton lost his two years into his presidency, in 1994. George W. Bush lost his almost immediately due to a Senate party switch, won it back in 2002, and then lost it again in 2006. In 2009, Barack Obama had a Senate supermajority for a hot minute, but lost that in a 2010 special election, and then lost the House later that year, never to win it back. Donald Trump’s trifecta also lasted two years. Lately Democrats have really struggled to assemble or keep one. According to David Shor, they’ve averaged about one trifecta every 14 years since Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

Let’s say for the sake of argument, I’m wrong about the House in 2022, or I’m right and Democrats are fighting to win back a trifecta they lost that year. How does it look for 2024? It’s no slam dunk for Democrats to hang onto the Senate in 2022, of course: They have a slight advantage in that Republicans are defending more seats (20 to 13 for Democrats), including three (possible four depending on what Ron Johnson does) open seats in competitive states. But if Republicans get the usual national midterm wind in their favor, it could protect their seats in states like North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and endanger Democratic incumbents in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

If they do keep control of the Senate in 2022, things get tougher in 2024. That year Democrats will be defending 23 Senate seats, three in states carried by Trump in 2020 and six in states carried by Trump either in 2016 or 2020. Republicans will be defending just 10 Senate seats, all of them in states Trump carried twice. In 2024, of course, Democrats will either retain or lose the presidency. If they win then, 2026 is likely to be another bad year for them in House races. But if they lose, the trifecta is gone for sure until 2028.

So without question, Democrats need to maximize use of the current trifecta if they don’t want to risk a long wilderness stretch of divided government or Republican trifectas, when the kind of legislation they are contemplating in the upcoming $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill will be unimaginable. There has been a lot of debate about whether Biden will come out of this year and next with a record of progressive social policy accomplishment rivaling that of LBJ. Democrats should also debate whether the 54-year gap between the end of the Great Society era and the window of Democratic opportunity today is one they are willing to risk repeating.

Rakich: Census Data Gives Dems ‘Redistricting Lifeline’

From “Where America Lost and Gaines Population Could Throw Democrats a Redistricting Lifeline” by Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight:

With the release of block-level data from the 2020 census, we now have a much clearer picture of how and where the U.S. population has grown — and shrunk — over the past 10 years. And while Republicans are largely setting the terms of the redistricting process that will ensue from this announcement, the data throws a much-needed lifeline to Democrats.

It’s not because of the country’s increasing racial diversity, though. Sure, under current electoral coalitions (where white voters are more likely to vote Republican and voters of color are more likely to vote Democratic), it’s arguably better for Democrats if the nonwhite population grows. But even in a country where only 58 percent of residents are non-Hispanic white, the 2020 presidential election was still very competitive. And electoral coalitions can change — for instance, Republicans may continue to gain groundamong nonwhite voters in future elections.

Teixeira: After Afghanistan – Back to the Domestic Front

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 a mess and it’s fair to say the administration has not covered themselves with glory. All the more reason to stick the landing, as it were, on their domestic program. John Halpin breaks down the challenge in his new piece on The Liberal Patriot:

“Hoping to move beyond its self-described mistakes on the withdrawal effort from Afghanistan, the Biden team is wisely restating its commitment to domestic renewal and investment as a means of taking on China (and Russia) in the world. TLP has strongly supported this effort and as a strategy for long-term action, it’s a grand idea.

The problem, of course, is turning ambitions for new legislation totaling trillions of dollars in spending into practical policies that prepare America’s economy and workers for the future – and equally important, are perceived by voters as helping them directly in terms of jobs, wages, educational opportunities, and family security.

As seen on the highly popular American Rescue Plan, support for “big, bold” action steadily fades over time as the immediate impact of policies like stimulus checks or public health measures turn into less noticeable or understood spending in other areas.

With the Democrats now rushing to write reconciliation legislation on “soft” infrastructure approaching $3.5 trillion – on top of the Senate’s $1.2 trillion in “hard” infrastructure spending – the risk of screwing this up is high. For proponents of active government, the cost of getting these domestic spending plans wrong in terms of structure and implementation will be even greater than the “miscalculations” on foreign policy.”

He makes some recommendations on how to avoid screwing up:

“1. Design of policies matters as much as the price tag. If Democrats are honest with themselves, they know they are flying blind somewhat in trying to write a set of plans to restructure American infrastructure and social policy in a few weeks. The risk of passing a huge bill that no one really understands or has thought through into terms of execution is serious and could fatally wound the effort to make smart economic investments and convince voters that their plans are working to help Americans – and help America in its competition with China….

2. Social policies should be universal and not targeted. The rush to pass important social policy could easily lead to efforts to scale them back for cost or other reasons by “targeting” specific groups or regions. This would be a huge mistake. The last thing Democrats need is to pass a monstrous reconciliation bill that leaves out many Americans, thus reducing its impact and increasing the perception that government only benefits certain favored groups….

3. No waste or corruption or random spending will be tolerated. Having just lived through the “we wasted trillions of dollars in Afghanistan and got nothing but defeat” narrative, Biden and the Democrats can ill afford to have similar sentiments set in on its domestic plans. This is particularly true on the “hard” investments in roads, bridges, broadband, and climate mitigation where the potential for boondoggles and dodgy spending is dangerously high.”

He concludes:

“The Biden team’s desired shift from the failures of the past to strategic competition with China is smart. But problems and screw-ups in one area can easily bleed into others if they are not careful.

The administration has a real opportunity to begin rebuilding public trust in government action by designing and implementing a serious multi-year effort to strengthen American families and businesses – and prove that America itself is back in the world.”

Read the whole piece at the The Liberal Patriot! I would also add the the current demonization of the nine House moderates who are seeking an immediate vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill or BIF is not helpful to a successful legislative process that avoids these pitfalls.

Politico Playbook reports:

“The Justice Democrats have teamed up with Indivisible, the Sunrise Movement, Organize for Justice, MoveOn and the Working Families Party to launch a six-figure ad buy targeting the nine “Mod Squad” members.” Great. This is a delicate process with razor thing margins where frankly any small group of Democrats has leverage–heck, in the Senate it can be just one person!

That’s a reality that no amount of attack ads is going to change. Rather than attacking the nine as sellout scum, it would be more useful to understand where they are coming from and seek common ground that assumes their motivations are not entirely venal.

Bill Scher in The Washington Monthly remarks:

“The threat from the nine can be explained with a…straightforward reason, one that both [Jonathan] Chait and [Greg] Sargent acknowledged before ultimately dismissing. “The moderates’ desperation to pass the infrastructure bill is perfectly understandable. It’s a popular bill that has wide Republican support and the perfect issue to support their message that they can work across party lines,” writes Chait. Says Sargent, “The charitable view of the centrist position is that it’s a political imperative for them to campaign in their districts solely on passage of a bipartisan bill with ‘hard’ infrastructure, one that isn’t tangled up in the politics of the reconciliation bill, which is associated with House progressives.”

Several of the nine represent purple districts and would rather sell a clean bipartisan victory to their constituents than explain they have to wait to get money for roads and bridges until AOC gets what she wants. Golden represents a Trump-won district. The second-term Gottheimer won with a smaller margin in 2020 than 2018, as Trump pulled nearly 47 percent from his constituents. The first-term Bourdeaux won her race by less than three points and Georgia Republicans may well make her district redder in redistricting. The three Texans represent Hispanic-majority Rio Grande Valley districts in which Donald Trump hit at least 47 percent, and these may also get unfavorably redistricted by statehouse Republicans. However, one of those Texans, Rep. Vela is not worried by 2022, because he’s retiring. So progressives and party leaders have a different challenge with him; Vela can’t be pressured with short-term political considerations.

Instead of trying to shame the moderates into submission, a better idea for progressives would be to listen to them, understand their needs, and maybe even gain the trust that they will soon enough need to support a sizable reconciliation bill with transformational new programs and initiatives, even if the topline is not quite as big as progressives want.

As Sargent notes, “The only way to make this work is to make both factions happy at the end of the day” through Biden’s two-track strategy. But it’s still a two-track strategy if the first train reaches the station this month, and the next one comes in a couple months later.”

Political Strategy Notes

From Tal Axelrod’s “Democrats Scramble to Reclaim Lost Ground in statehouse Battles” at The Hill:  “How Democrats Scramble”Democrats are licking their wounds and looking to cobble together a new strategy for success in state legislative races after failing to flip a single chamber throughout the entire country last year. Those defeats are particularly stinging now as Republicans are left in control of redistricting for 187 House districts, while Democrats will have full control to delineate jus…“This is not a scenario where you show up in the last election of the decade to try to flip a chamber,” said Texas state Rep. Trey Martínez Fischer (D). “You spend a decade committing yourself to flipping a chamber in a particular state, and you don’t give up. You don’t play the short game on this, this is a long game.t 84….Those defeats stand in stark contrast to the victories Democrats projected in states like Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas. Adding insult to injury, Democrats also ceded both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature….And with redistricting coming just ahead of the 2022 midterms, those losses have Democrats alarmed….“I think it’s devastating,” said Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, which helps Democrats win state legislative races. “If we hold the House in 2022, it will be a structural miracle. Because Democrats failing to flip a single chamber and in fact losing two in 2020 is the kind of thing that will set Congress back decades.”….Democrats have been tantalizingly close in several chambers. The party last year was two seats away from flipping the Arizona state House and Minnesota Senate and nine seats away from flipping the Texas state House, to name a few. Democrats made no headway in Arizona or Texas and won only one seat in Minnesota.”

Here’s a headline that ought to provoke intense discusssion about redistricting in the Lone Star State: “Just 35 Percent of Texas’ Congressional Districts Are Majority-White — Down From 58% in 2010” by Amy Walter at The Cook Political Report. As Walter explains, “Perhaps no state has seen as much demographic change as Texas. Of the states 36 CDs, 13 of them (or just over 35 percent) have a majority white population. Just ten years ago, more than half (58 percent) of the state’s CD’s were majority white….Nowhere has this surge in the population of people of color been more pronounced than Texas’ 3rd CD held by GOP Rep. Van Taylor. Back in 2010, this district, which takes in the fast growing exurbs north of Dallas (such as Plano and McKinney), was 62 percent white. Today, Census data shows that the white population has dropped almost 13 points to 49.8 percent. Leading the surge in population growth in these exurbs were Asian residents who now make up almost a quarter of the population in the district — up from 15 percent just ten years ago….Of the eight CDs that were majority white in 2010 but are not today, all but one (suburban Dallas’ 32nd CD) are represented by Republicans….Notably, six of those eight districts have gotten much more competitive at the presidential level as well. Or, to put it another way, six CDs that looked safely Republican when these lines were last drawn back in 2012, are now either Democratic-leaning or evenly divided. For example, back in 2012 Mitt Romney won GOP Rep. Michael McCaul’s Austin and Houston suburban district by more than 20 points. Last year, however, Donald Trump narrowly carried it by just 1.7 percent.”

“The vaccinated, across party lines, have kind of had it with the unvaccinated, an array of new polls suggests,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic. “While most state and national GOP leaders are focused on defending the rights of unvaccinated Americans, new polling shows that the large majority of vaccinated adults—including a substantial portion of Republicans—support tougher measures against those who have refused COVID-19 shots….These new results, shared exclusively with The Atlantic by several pollsters, reveal that significant majorities of people who have been vaccinated support vaccine mandates for health workers, government employees, college students, and airline travelers—even, in some surveys, for all Americans or all private-sector workers. Most of the vaccinated respondents also say that entry to entertainment and sporting arenas should require proof of vaccination, and half say the same about restaurants….All of this suggests that as the Delta variant’s “pandemic of the unvaccinated” disrupts the return to “normal” life promised by the vaccines, a backlash may be intensifying among those who have received the shots against those who have not. And that could leave Republican leaders who have unstintingly stressed the rights of the unvaccinated—including Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—in an exposed position….About 85 percent of Democrats and just over half of Republicans have been vaccinated, according to a recent survey by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which is conducting monthly polls about experiences and attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccines….But big majorities of the vaccinated in both parties assigned responsibility to the unvaccinated; almost two in three vaccinated Republicans joined nearly nine in 10 vaccinated Democrats in blaming them for the case rise. By contrast, less than one in 14 of the Republicans who hadn’t received the shot blamed the unvaccinated. (In this survey, like most of those I examined, the group of unvaccinated Democrats was too small to reliably analyze.)

Brownstein continues, “The COVID States Project’s national polling has found the broadest support for mandates: In its latest survey, 63 percent of vaccinated Republicans, as well as 95 percent of vaccinated Democrats and 65 percent of unvaccinated Democrats, supported government action “requiring everyone” to obtain a vaccination. Unvaccinated Republicans stood isolated in their opposition; just 14 percent supported such a sweeping mandate….When Kaiser recently asked whether “the federal government should recommend that employers” require their workers to get vaccinated, four-fifths of vaccinated Democrats and nearly half of vaccinated Republicans agreed that it should. But nearly nine in 10 unvaccinated Republicans disagreed (as did about six in 10 unvaccinated Democrats)….Quinnipiac University found similar patterns when it recently tested attitudes toward a broad range of vaccine and mask requirements. Among vaccinated Democrats, at least 85 percent backed vaccine mandates for government workers, university students, health-care workers, and all private-sector employees; well over 80 percent backed proof-of-vaccination requirements for flying or entering large arenas; and 90 percent or more backed mask requirements for public-school students and staff, as well as for participants in indoor activities in high-risk areas. (Seventy percent of vaccinated Democrats also backed proof-of-vaccination requirements for restaurants.)” Brownstein concludes, “Biden, who has generally muted issues that might spark culture-war confrontations, has clearly been reluctant to test the public’s tolerance for more coercive measures to pressure unvaccinated individuals to receive a vaccine. But if the virus continues to find a safe harbor primarily in Republican-leaning states with low vaccination rates and lax public-health protections, he may eventually have no choice but to enter that fight.”

For Democrats the Future Is Now

I decided it was time for some blunt advice to Democrats mulling 2021 and 2022, and offered it at New York:

Every political party that achieves power in Washington has to make a central strategic decision: Does it want to focus on substantive accomplishments or on perpetuating its power? Democrats who hold a fragile trifecta right now need to make that choice very soon.

It’s not always a binary choice: Sometimes governing well is a political asset. Indeed, to hear ideologues of both the left and right tell it, pursuing their agendas (which have, as they tell it, never been given a fair test thanks to the cowardice and venality of centrists) will definitely produce massive landslides as far as the eye can see. But true or not, in the legislative branch at least, the most vulnerable representatives facing voters universally reject the belief that loud-and-proud extremism is the ticket to reelection.

So you have the situation facing Democrats today, in which congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are trying to enact Joe Biden’s presidential agenda tout court in just two interrelated bills (the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the FY 2022 budget reconciliation package). They have no margin for error, even as progressives demand shooting the moon while centrists want to shrink, tone down, and maybe even defeat the larger and much more important of the two bills (the reconciliation package) in hopes of surviving their next election.

On the reconciliation bill, bipartisanship is not an option. So deals must be cut, sooner rather than later, to get all Democratic senators and nearly all Democratic House members on board. The reckoning in the House could come very quickly in the form of a key procedural vote next week, with Pelosi looking to hold the infrastructure bill hostage until the reconciliation bill passes, and a group of centrists pressuring her to do exactly the opposite.

Underlying this struggle is the dirty little secret of the Democratic Party: Barring something beyond anyone’s control, it is extremely unlikely that Democrats will hold onto the House, and thus their trifecta, in 2022. I won’t go through the entire explanation that I have written elsewhere, but the simple reality is that no president with job-approval ratings south of 60 percent has ever had a first midterm in which his party failed to lose House seats (indeed, a couple with job-approval ratings over 60 percent still lost House seats). In 2022, the burden of history will be augmented by Republican gains via redistricting. In part due to partisan polarization, the odds of Biden, whose own approval ratings have now slumped down into the 40s, reaching the 60s any time soon are vanishingly small.

Three of the last four presidents had terrible first midterms (the one who didn’t, George W. Bush, benefitted immeasurably from one of those events beyond anyone’s control, September 11). But here’s the silver lining: Three of the last four presidents were nonetheless reelected, with the other, Donald Trump, coming pretty close despite his heroic efforts to offend as many Americans as possible. Minimizing 2022 losses while joining the ranks of the reelected is a reasonable (and perhaps the only reasonable) strategy for Joe Biden.

What this means in terms of the current legislative choices being made by Democrats is they shouldn’t sacrifice too much to accommodate highly vulnerable House members who are probably going to lose anyway. Yes, Democrats need their votes right now, so accommodations will be necessary. But perhaps in some cases a future ambassadorship or an assistant secretary cabinet post or just a big political chit would be more appropriate than knocking a half-trillion dollars off a reconciliation bill that may wind up being the summit of the Biden presidency or the chief accomplishment of a president running for reelection in 2024. I don’t know if it will work, but the same logic should apply to Senate Democrats standing in the way of filibuster reforms necessary to enacting voting rights legislation: If there is anything within the president’s power that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema want — that does not involve obstructing or gutting crucial legislation — I am sure Democrats everywhere, most especially progressives, would love to see them fully gratified.

What Democrats do not owe to vulnerable members of Congress, however, is the opportunity to go home and campaign on the boast that they thwarted their own party’s agenda. And make no mistake, politicians fighting for survival are as principled as any other cornered animal; some would sell vials with the tears of small children denied “socialist” benefits if it produced a positive op-ed from some inflation-obsessed windbag back home in the district. They need to know that if they sabotage Joe Biden’s presidency, there will be consequences far worse than losing one election.

Even if Democratic leaders follow this advice, they will not, and should not, make their calculations public. They should still fight for every congressional seat in 2022 for multiple reasons: Minimizing losses makes recovering easier, for one thing; for another, I’m sure that if she has to hand her gavel to Kevin McCarthy in 2023, Pelosi would prefer he have to suffer from the kind of unstable and insecure majority she has endured this year. Democrats do, moreover, have a realistic shot at hanging onto the Senate next year, which could be critically important in terms of judicial confirmations if nothing else.

But as Democrats make the fateful choice between getting things done or making substantive concessions to add a decimal point to bad midterm odds, they should understand this: The future is now.

Sen. Sanders Energizes Push for Democratic Unity

Democratic moderates and liberals have their diffferences about the Administration’s infrastucture package. But amid the current tensions, there are encouraging signs that Dems are coming together to move the Biden administration’s agenda forward. In “Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden’s spending package,” Jordan Carney reports at The Hill:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is hitting the road to pitch Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending plan, which they are hoping to pass through Congress later this year. 

Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee and led the talks on the blueprint for the spending package, will travel later this month to Indiana and Iowa, where he’ll hold a town hall on Aug. 27 and Aug. 29, respectively.

Senate Democrats approved a budget earlier this month that will allow them to write and pass a $3.5 trillion spending package as soon as next month without GOP support. The spending package is expected to include top priorities like child care, expanding Medicare, combating climate change and immigration reform.

Carney adds that “Sanders will travel to two congressional districts where former President Trump increased his number of voters between 2016 and 2020, according to details from Sanders’s political apparatus.” Sanders explains further, “While it will have no Republican support in Washington, Democrats, independents and working-class Republicans all over the country support our plan to finally invest in the long-neglected needs of working families.”

Carney notes further, “Congressional Republicans are lining up in unified opposition against the $3.5 trillion spending package, and Democrats are facing pushback from moderates in both chambers who are sending warning signals that they want to lower the price tag. Democrats need total unity in the Senate, and near total unity in the House, to pass the plan under budget rules that let them avoid the normal 60-vote Senate hurdle.” In addition,

But Biden and congressional Democrats are betting that they’ll be able to sell their plan to swing voters and some Republicans outside of Washington by emphasizing its health care, child care and housing benefits. The strategy is similar to the COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats passed on their own earlier this year but touted as bipartisan because it picked up support in polling from GOP voters.

And they’re hoping to be able to tout the plan, as well as a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, heading into the 2022 midterms, where their control of the House and Senate are at stake. Biden has put both at the center of his legislative agenda.

A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month found that Americans supported a $3.5 trillion spending plan for social programs, including child care, education and expanding Medicare for seniors, 62 percent to 32 percent.

Democratic progressives and moderates will continue to butt heads about federal spending levels, as well as social issues. But it’s good to see the party’s top progressive working with moderates for a unified Democratic agenda.

California’s Strange Recall Ballot

After getting my mail ballot for the September 14 gubernatorial recall election in California, I offered some reactions at New York:

Over the weekend I received (like 22 million other registered voters in my state) an unsolicited mail ballot to vote in the California gubernatorial recall election. I’ve been reading and writing about this election for months. But I couldn’t help but find the actual ballot weird, and remain a bit conflicted about how to fill out and return it.

Typically, California primary or general election ballots have a lot of questions, in part thanks to the state’s permissive rules on ballot initiatives. The recall ballot has exactly two:

Shall GAVIN NEWSOM be recalled (removed) from the Office of Governor?

Candidates to succeed GAVIN NEWSOM if he is recalled:

Following this second question (and the instruction to “Vote for One”) is a list of 46 names, with each candidate’s party preference (if any), and brief self-descriptions. These are highly restricted in practice: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, for example, is identified simply as as a “Businessman/Educator,” while the iconic erotic billboard figure and singer Angelyne is described simply as an “Entertainer.”

Now the number and variety of candidates is not that strange in California these days; thanks to the top-two primary system the state has utilized since 2011, a large jumble of candidates from every and no party appears on primary ballots regularly. But the contrast between one stark binary ballot question and one with luxurious options is jarring, and potentially confusing. Yes, if you read the county voting instructions that accompany the mail ballot (and don’t throw them out on purpose or by accident), you will see that “Each question will be counted independently,” whatever that means, and that “You may vote for a successor candidate regardless of whether or how you vote on the recall question.” The alert voter will realize that she may vote to keep Newsom in office and still express an opinion on a successor, but it’s unclear how many such voters will exercise that choice since Team Newsom is discouraging it as a matter of message discipline.

The big question, however, is how many and which voters will bother to participate in this confusing election. Politically active California Republicans may be super-psyched to send back their mail ballots (despite the disdain their hero the 45th president held for this method of voting), since it is a rare opportunity to register a statewide victory in a place where they are outnumbered two-to-one in party registration, hold no statewide offices, and are on the losing side of a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature. Pure partisanship aside, Gavin Newsom is sort of a parody of everything today’s Republicans are prone to hate: a wealthy and culturally hip man from Sodom itself (San Francisco), who looks like he stepped out of an upscale fashion ad and oozes superiority, along with a conventionally liberal viewpoint on nearly everything.

Unfortunately for Newsom, there is another category of highly motivated recall voter that includes independents and Democrats as well as Republicans: people who are enduringly angry about restrictive COVID-19 measures. This includes small business owners forced to shut down or radically restrict operations; parents compelled to keep and educate kids at home; and church members shunted into parking lots or virtual services. The late-2020 incident wherein the governor disobeyed his own pandemic rules by attending an indoor birthday party for a rich lobbyist friend at one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants pulled together all the threads of Newsom-phobia and made him a cartoon villain to his detractors and an exasperating figure to his allies.

Until recently it looked like vaccinations (which, after a rough start, went relatively well in California) and a revenue boom that enabled both free spending and a balanced budget might dull resentment of the incumbent. But now the resurgence of both COVID cases and California malaise (fed by another megadrought, wildfires, spiraling living costs, and homelessness) is energizing recall supporters without necessarily arousing opponents.

Newsom has consistently campaigned against the recall as an effort by Republican Trump supporters to overturn the will of the voters who elected the governor in 2018, and even as sort of a ballot-box version of the Capitol riot in Washington. As part of this deliberate polarization effort, he successfully kept any prominent Democrat from running as a replacement candidate. This was in keeping with the common belief that earlier recall victim Gray Davis’s ejection from office in 2003 was attributable to his Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante’s decision to file as a replacement candidate, splitting (or at least confusing) Democrats fatally. More recently, Newsom has instructed Democratic voters to ignore those 46 names that take up the bulk of the ballot, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Voters who choose to keep Newsom as governor by voting ‘no’ on the first question can still select a replacement candidate on the second question if the recall prevails. Even so, the governor has urged Democrats to skip the replacement contest — and did so again Saturday.

“’One question. One answer. No on the recall. Move on. Send in the ballot,’ Newsom said during the event in El Sereno. ‘We’ve got to turn out the vote and remind people of the consequences.’”

But California Democrats may be unable to entirely ignore that second ballot question, which could determine whether their future governor is the old guy (John Cox) who is campaigning with a rented grizzly bear; the transgender activist, former Olympian, and reality-TV star (Caitlyn Jenner); or even the rare Democrat (YouTube financial adviser Kevin Paffrath), who disobeyed the party line and is running in the replacement race. Despite his stern instructions to ignore the second ballot question, Newsom himself has been bashing the candidate who leads most polls, veteran conservative talk-show host Larry Elder, who, like most veteran conservative talks-show hosts, has said a lot of stupid and profoundly unpopular things over the years.  And down the stretch, Team Newsom could decide an ace in the hole is the argument that, even if he is recalled, his support will dwarf the small number of Californians voting for the plurality winner of the replacement contest. Even though it’s how California’s system is set up, it ain’t right.

As the official election date of September 14 approaches, the recall campaign will heat up and that, Democrats hope, will save Newsom by waking up their voters to the disastrous local and national consequences of messing up the party’s current control of America’s preeminent blue state — the state that contributed 5 million to Joe Biden’s 7 million-vote national popular vote advantage last year. The polls are beginning to show a close race that could go either way. But staring at my mail ballot, I can’t say we really know how voters will navigate this strange  set of choices.

Political Strategy Notes

Yesterday the TDS staff post noted some of the recent polling about the U.S. withdrawall from Afghanistan. At MSNBC, Steve Benen shares some more polling on the topic. “On Monday, the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll found support for withdrawal had dropped sharply compared to April’s results, but a plurality nevertheless sided with Biden’s position: 49% backed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, while 39% did not. The poll was conducted while Americans confronted a weekend of headlines about the Taliban returning to power….The latest findings from Data for Progress pointed in a similar direction. ‘New polling from Data for Progress shows that voters still support President Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, even after learning that Taliban fighters have captured these cities. Voters support the decision to withdraw by a 14-point margin, including Democrats by a 51-point margin, Independents by a 13-point margin, and nearly a third of Republicans.’ Though there were predictable partisan divisions, the overall results found 51% of Americans endorsing the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, while 37% were opposed to the policy. (The poll was conducted between Aug. 13 to 16.)…As NBC News reported overnight, the same survey results found that a 55% majority of the public also supports the Biden administration speeding up the process of giving immigrant visas to U.S. allies in Afghanistan, as opposed to 30% who believe the administration should take no additional action to bring Afghans here….Even a plurality of Republican voters sided with the White House on this issue.”

Benen continues, “In other words, there does not appear to be any kind of backlash against the president’s policy toward Afghanistan. A narrow majority appears to believe Biden’s policies are the right ones, despite the recent unrest and the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul….To be sure, public attitudes can change quickly, and there’s no shortage of unpredictable variables. It’s possible, for example, that support for the president’s agenda could actually grow as the chaotic images fade from view. If operations run relatively smoothly in the coming days and weeks, the likelihood of a public backlash will grow more remote….On the other hand, much of the media coverage in recent days has emphasized bipartisan opposition to Biden’s policy, which often helps shape opinions. Similarly, if conditions in Afghanistan deteriorate further, it’s easy to imagine many Americans souring on the administration’s efforts.”….Andrew Romano reports on the findings of a Yahoo News poll, conducted Aug. 16 to 18, which “found that while 50 percent of respondents said one month ago that they favored the decision to “withdraw all [U.S.] combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of August,” just 40 percent say the same today. Over the same period, opposition to Biden’s plan to withdraw increased from 22 percent to 28 percent….At the same time, more Americans still favor the U.S. withdrawal than oppose it — and there are early signs that the political fallout for the president could be limited in the long run.”

Alexandra Hutzler notes at Newsweek that “A new Reuters poll conducted Monday found Biden’s approval rating dipped to 46 percent nationally, a seven-point decrease from just last Friday when the president enjoyed a 53 percent approval rating….Behind Biden’s sliding approval numbers are independent voters, noted FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley….The Reuters poll found a majority of Americans, 61 percent, still support completing the withdrawal of American troops on schedule. Biden had previously set a deadline of August 31 to remove combat forces from Afghanistan….Most people surveyed, 68 percent, also agreed with the statement that the war in Afghanistan was going to end badly no matter when the U.S. military left….But Biden was rated worse than the other three presidents who presided over the United States’ longest war. Just 44 percent of respondents said the current administration has done a good job presiding over the war. Forty-seven percent thought the Bush administration did a good job, while 51 percent thought the Obama and Trump administrations did a good job.”

At U.S. News, Chris Kahn notes that “A separate Ipsos snap poll, also conducted on Monday, found that fewer than half of Americans liked the way Biden has steered the U.S. military and diplomatic effort in Afghanistan this year. The president, who just last month praised Afghan forces for being “as well-equipped as any in the world,” was rated worse than the other three presidents who presided over the United States’ longest war….The Ipsos poll found that 75% of Americans supported the decision to send in additional troops to secure key facilities in Afghanistan until the withdrawal is complete, and about the same number supported the evacuation of Afghans who helped U.S. forces in the country….Yet Americans appeared to be largely unsettled on what to think of the war, with majorities expressing somewhat contradictory views about what the U.S. military should have done.” At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley examines a series of recent polls, and concludes, “On the whole, we don’t expect to see a big shift in Biden’s approval rating, given just how polarized American politics are. But it’s also impossible to currently ascertain the longer-term consequences of the Taliban’s takeover, such as a potential increase in terrorism. It’s possible that what’s happened in Afghanistan will dominate headlines for weeks to come, but even that’s uncertain. After all, American news coverage of Afghanistan has surged before, only to quickly evaporate. And even if the spotlight stays on the crisis in Afghanistan, that doesn’t necessarily mean Biden will lose ground in approval.” Skelley shares a chart showing recent polling data:

Share of Americans who supported or opposed the decision to remove U.S. military troops from Afghanistan in polls conducted since July 1, 2021, by the most recent poll available

Politico/Morning Consult* Aug. 13-16 49% 37% +12
Redfield & Wilton Strategies Aug. 2-3 49 19 +30
Chicago Council on Global Affairs July 7-26 70 29 +41
Echelon Insights July 19-23 64 22 +42
Yahoo News/YouGov July 13-15 50 22 +28
The Economist/YouGov July 10-13 57 20 +37
Politico/Morning Consult July 9-12 59 25 +34
The Hill/HarrisX July 2-3 73 27 +46

*Poll was conducted as news broke over the weekend that the Taliban were making advances into Kabul, forcing the evacuation of U.S. and allied personnel.


Polls Show Solid Support for Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Although nearly everyone is horrified by the images of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden Administration has broad support for ending the U.S. military role in that nation. Dina Smeltz and Emily Sullivan report that “the just-completed 2021 Chicago Council Survey, fielded July 7-26, shows that seven in ten Americans continue to back this decision.” Further,

When asked whether they support or oppose the decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 2021 Chicago Council Survey finds that 70 percent of Americans support it (29% oppose). This support spans partisan affiliations, though larger majorities of Democrats (77%) and Independents (73%) than Republicans (56%) agree.

These results corroborate the findings of other polls conducted over the past several months. A May Quinnipiac poll found that 62 percent approved of President Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year, and an April Economist/YouGov poll found that 58 percent approved of the plan for withdrawal by September 11. The Economist/YouGov poll also found that majorities in military households (61%) and just over half of those currently serving in the military (52%) or those who served in the past (53%) supported the withdrawal.

The usual caveats about how polling questions are phrased apply. As Smeltz and Sullivan add:

American attitudes toward Afghanistan are somewhat sensitive to wording as well as policy. An April 2021 Fox News poll found that more Americans said the United States should keep some troops in the country for counterterrorism operations (50%) than said that the US should remove all troops from the country (37%). And even though a solid majority of Americans in the 2021 Chicago Council Survey support the troop withdrawal, as recently as last January a Chicago Council poll showed that Americans were equally divided on whether the United States should have (48%) or should not have (49%) long term bases there. However, at the same time, two-thirds said that the war in Afghanistan had not been worth the costs (65%, 32% worth it).

For a longer-term look at attitudes toward US policy in Afghanistan, Karlyn Bowman offers a comprehensive summary.

Of course polls taken since the chaotic withdrawall images appeared will matter more than those reported so far. Republicans will keep flogging the withdrawal chaos meme in an attempt to discredit President Biden. But any honest discussion about Afghanistan will provoke mention that the Republicans started the mess, and ask why they didn’t conduct an orderly withdrawal during the previous administration when they had the chance. With this context in mind, significant longer-term damage to Biden’s approval ratings because of the end of our military presence in Afghanistan appears unlikely.