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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE.

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE!

No Matter Who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

RIP GOP book by Stanley Greenberg

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You can find out more about the return to progressive politics from our founder Stanley Greenberg in his new book!

Pre-Order Now.

The Daily Strategist

January 22, 2020

Remembering the Scott Brown Disaster

Amidst all the retrospectives of the last decade, I had to note at New York the upcoming decennial anniversary of a bad moment for Democrats:

I’ve only seen one take on the 2010s, from USA Today’s Jill Lawrence, that gives proper weight to the shocking event that showed in the world of politics, the “teens” would not reflect a continuation of the strong Democratic trends of 2006 (which made Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House) and 2008 (when Obama won the presidency in a near-landslide).

That would be Republican Scott Brown’s January 2010 conquest of the Massachusetts Senate seat held since 1962 by the “liberal lion” of that chamber, Ted Kennedy. At the time there were some Democratic hopes that the special election was an aberration based on irregular turnout and a feckless campaign by Democrat Martha Coakley. But as Lawrence pointed out, it was the ultimate omen:

“To call Brown’s win a trauma for Democrats would be an understatement. And yet, although it was a DefCon 1 warning about the midterm to come, they went into those 2010 November elections unprepared for the debacle. Wipeouts in the state legislatures that would draw up new and in some cases egregiously gerrymandered election maps based on the 2010 Census. Wipeouts in races for the governors who would have been able to temper or veto those maps. Wipeouts in the House, installing a GOP majority hellbent on thwarting Obama.

“The trend continued through 2014, from state legislaturesgovernors and the House to a 2014 Republican Senate takeover that offered a glide path for conservative judges and justices when the next jolt arrived two years later in the form of Trump.”

Yes, Obama was reelected in between those two strong Republican years, though by a significantly reduced margin (dropping from 7.2 percent to 3.9 percent in the popular vote). And of course, Brown lost his Senate seat to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. At the time, many observers (myself included) deduced that the demographic disparity between midterm and presidential electorates explained a lot of the apparent oscillation of results, which augured well for Democratic prospects in 2016. And then you-know-what happened.

Now, three weeks before the tenth anniversary of the Brown shocker, there is no easily discernible pattern in American party politics going forward. Democrats did better in 2018 than Republicans did in 2014, by any standard other than net Senate seat gained (Republicans picked up nine net seats in 2014 and actually gained two more in 2018 thanks to a heavily skewed landscape). But that wasn’t unusual for a president’s first midterm, particularly a president as unpopular as Donald Trump. The 2020 election is widely expected to be a barn-burner, and while Democrats should continue to benefit gradually but steadily from demographic changes in their favor, Republicans have proven quite good at maximizing their power via a combination of voter suppression, gerrymandering, the unrepresentative nature of the Senate and the Electoral College, and ruthless demagoguery. If Trump hangs onto the White House next year and his party hangs onto the Senate, the GOP could establish a hold on the federal judiciary lasting for decades, while continuing to punch above their popular weight in other arenas thanks to the structural advantages they maintain.

Brown’s victory and the ensuing struggle to enact Obamacare (and other, less successful, elements of the president’s agenda) without a Democratic Senate supermajority also offered a tutorial on the obstruction a disciplined Republican majority could mount, and the price Democrats would have to pay in policy compromises to govern even with a strong position in Congress (which they were soon to lose).

Without question, Democrats will be ebullient if they manage to defenestrate Trump, particularly if that win is accompanied by the first Democratic trifecta (control of the White House and both Houses of Congress) since 2008. But as 2010 quickly showed, political fortune can change almost instantly, and the work of building a governing majority never ends.


Polltical Strategy Notes

At The Guardian, Cas Mudde writes, “…New voters and non-voters are disproportionately non-white and non-suburban. Many of them are not even registered, or – thanks to Republican purges of voting rolls – no longer registered. This is particularly relevant to African Americans, who – contrary to popular perception – actually have rather high voter turnout, higher than other minorities, but are disproportionately affected by voter suppression (including incarceration)…Despite the efforts of some organizations, most notably Stacey Abrams’ new group Fair Fight, Democrats devote most of their time to reaching already registered voters, rather than registering new voters. Imagine how much the millions of dollars of Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer could have achieved had they spent that money on registering new voters rather than vanity campaigns…The 2020 elections will not be about changing minds about who to vote for but about whether to vote. The damage done to voter registration in the South alone, following the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, could swing elections.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, however, sees a vein worth mining in disgruntled Trump voters, especially in New Hampshire. As Trent Spiner reports at Politico, she “recognizes that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are going to clean up here. But she sees a path to success by finding voters to whom they have little appeal — like those who are so independent-minded they voted for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump…It shows in every piece of her strategy, from the towns she visits to her stump speech. And in a state where the biggest voting bloc, 43 percent, is independents, it’s a game plan her campaign thinks will create an Election Day surprise…Klobuchar’s state director said they’re focused on places other candidates have avoided, especially the towns that went to Obama in 2008 and 2012, but then voted for Trump in 2016.” Spiner notes that Klobuchar is also socially and ideologically-close with the state’s two Democratic women senators, Maggie Hassan and Jean Shaheen.

Andrew O’Hehir has a jaunty rant at salon.com, “A New Year’s resolution for Democrats: To win in 2020, get the f**k over 2016 already: Democrats must escape the poisonous hangover of Bernie v. Hillary. I’ve got terms for a truce: You’ll hate it.” O’Hehir writes, “the amount of grudge and grievance and name-calling and recrimination and hive-mind clapback and paranoid mythology, nearly all of it rooted in the leftover bad feelings of the Hillary v. Bernie conflict of 2016, is astonishing. It’s damaging and dangerous and downright Trumpy, and yet more evidence that the virus that produced him has infected us all…we have been subjected to endless, pointless, airless debates about who is more “electable,” which all boil down to the Bernie-Hillary split in barely concealed form, and which all run aground on the great reef known as Nobody-Has-a-Solitary-Clue Land…Rescuing the Democratic Party from its current aimless drift — in the election year just ahead or in this new decade or just sometime in this century — is not a matter of embracing one side of that divide and rejecting the other. It’s about facing an altered political landscape with honesty and clarity, and leaving behind the realm of denial, delusion and fantasy that have rendered our politics so empty and so stupid for so long.”

In E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s Washington Post column, “Our political debate doesn’t have to be this stupid,” he brings the challenge of 2020 into focus: “I am not starry-eyed about bipartisanship and its supposed joys. On the contrary, the current Republican Party’s abject fealty to Trump and its shift far to the right of where it once was mean that promises of a glorious bipartisan future will, for some time, be false. I have little faith in Republican politicians, including many I once thought were serious about governing…there are stirrings on the right that it is long past time for its partisans to break with climate-change denialism. We should be arguing over what to do, not about whether something needs to be done…Yes, Trump’s defeat and a radical renewal inside the Republican Party are the necessary preconditions for progress. But I refuse to see my wishes for a more reasonable politics and a better form of conservatism as fantasies. Let’s become a nation of problem-solvers again.”

It’s just one poll, but the findings merit a mention. As Jonathan Easely writes in his article, “Black Democrats energized to vote Trump out” at The Hill: “Black Democratic voters are energized to vote President Trump out of office in 2020, as less than a quarter of African Americans say their financial situation has improved over the past two years, according to a new study…A national survey released by Third Way and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that of the 46 percent of black voters who identify as strong Democrats, 57 percent are more energized to vote in 2020 than they were in 2016…However, about a third of black voters said they only have weak ties to the Democratic Party, and of these, only 34 percent said they’re more energized to vote in 2016…Sixty-two percent of black voters said that Democrats understand their lives, while only 13 percent said the same of Trump and the Republicans.”

Easely adds, “And a strong majority of black voters say racial relations have deteriorated under Trump, with 80 percent saying that Trump’s election has made people with racist views more likely to speak out. Fifty-five percent said they face more racism in their daily lives than they used to…Third Way did not conduct a horse-race survey of the Democratic primary field, but found that black voters tend to be more moderate in their views…Of the 79 percent of black people who identify as Democrats, 34 percent lean conservative, 34 percent are mixed and 31 percent lean liberal…Overall, 31 percent of black Americans described themselves as moderate, followed by 24 percent liberal, 17 percent conservative and 11 percent progressive…About two-thirds of black Americans prefer a candidate they agree with over a candidate who shares their background and life experiences.”

At CNN Politics, Harry Enten explains why it’s wrong to blame “religious voters” for Trump’s presidency. Enten concedes that “Trump won white born-again evangelicals with more than 75% of the vote in 2016 and his approval rating with them remains at 75% in CNN/SSRS polling taken in the middle of last year.” However, “Trump’s standing with all religious voters — and, in particular, nonwhite religious voters — is considerably weaker than it is among white evangelicals…Heading into the 2020 general election, Trump can certainly count on the strong backing of white born-again evangelicals. If he loses, however, it’ll be in part because his approval rating is only in the low 40s among those who attend religious services at least once a week and are not white born-again evangelicals…Trump’s approval rating was measured at 46% with those who attend religious services at least once a week and are not born-again evangelicals. His disapproval rating was 49% among this group, which means his net approval (approval – disapproval) rating was -3 points. Keep in mind, the majority of this group (about 55%) is white, so this isn’t just about this group containing fewer whites than the born-again evangelical bloc.”

AJ Willingham reports at CNN that “The first day of 2020 marked a bevy of new legislation, including the statewide legalization of recreational weed in Illinois…the state’s lieutenant governor was one of the first in line. The day before the law went into effect, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker granted more than 11,000 pardons for low-level marijuana convictions.” Also at CNN, Leah Asmelash and Melissa Alonso note that “Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton was among hundreds of early morning customers at Sunnyside Dispensary, a Chicago marijuana dispensary, on the first day of legal recreational sales in the state, according to a release from Cresco Labs, which owns the dispensary…Stratton bought a 100-milligram tin of Mindy’s Edibles Glazed Clementine Orange Gummies…Each gummy is 5 milligrams, a “very popular microdose for beginning edible consumers,” he said…Illinois is now the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.” Democrats should remind younger voters throughout 2020 that they have fought for this reform against Republican opposition, across the U.S.

Don’t forget that the 2020 elections will also play an enormous role in federal and state redistricting, and for Democrats that means correcting entrenched pro-Republican bias, which helped elect Trump and facilitated the GOP domination of state legislatures. To get up to speed on redistricting concerns, check out the Princeton Election Consortium, where top redistricting expert Sam Wang is offering data-driven articles on the Princeton Gerrymandering Project – 2019, in Review, What North Carolina’s redistricting cases suggest for 2021 strateg and Lessons from 2016 and application to 2020, among others.


Teixeira: Swinging Iowa

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

Is Iowa a Swing State Again?

An interesting new AP article by Thomas Beaumont makes the case, drawing on recent demographic and political trends.

“In [2018], Iowans sent the state’s first Democratic women to Congress: Cindy Axne, who dominated Des Moines and its suburbs, and Abby Finkenauer, who won in several working-class counties Trump carried.

Democrats won 14 of the 31 Iowa counties that Trump won in 2016 but Obama won in 2008, though Trump’s return to the ballot in 2020 could change all that.

“We won a number of legislative challenge races against incumbent Republicans,” veteran Iowa Democratic campaign consultant Jeff Link said. “I think that leaves little question Iowa is up for grabs next year.”

There’s more going on in Iowa that simply a merely cyclical swing.

Iowa’s metropolitan areas, some of the fastest growing in the country over the past two decades, have given birth to a new political front where Democrats saw gains in 2018.

The once-GOP-leaning suburbs and exurbs, especially to the north and west of Des Moines and the corridor linking Cedar Rapids and the University of Iowa in Iowa City, swelled with college-educated adults in the past decade, giving rise to a new class of rising Democratic leaders.

“I don’t believe it was temporary,” Iowa State University economist David Swenson said of Democrats’ 2018 gains in suburban Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. “I think it is the inexorable outcome of demographic and educational shifts that have been going on.”

There’ much to agree with here but I do think the writer overestimates the centrality of the college vote and underestimates the challenge of the noncollege vote.

My take:

2018 was a surprising comeback election for the Democrats. They won the House popular vote by a stunning 10 points and flipped two GOP-held House seats in the state. The Democrats also gained a net of five state legislative seats. However, Republican Kim Reynolds beat Democrat Fred Hubbell for the governorship by 3 points.

The Democratic candidate in 2020 has a lot of ground to make up relative to 2016, but the 2018 results provide some reason to think that it may be possible. For Trump, he needs to simply approximate the voting patterns that brought him his solid 2016 victory. But one challenge for him is his current negative net approval in the state of -3 points.

Iowa is an exceptionally white state; nonwhites made up just 7 percent of voters in the state in 2016. These voters were divided up roughly 3-2-2 between Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/other races. Blacks and Hispanics supported Clinton by 76 points and 20 points, respectively. Asians/other races, however, were essentially tied between Trump and Clinton. Iowa’s white college graduates (31 percent of voters) gave Clinton a solid lead of 7 points, 50 percent to 43 percent. But among the enormous white noncollege group, 62 percent of voters, Trump ran up a 23-point lead, 58 percent to 35 percent. That was clearly the big story in the state.

White noncollege eligible voters in 2020 should decline by 2 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should increase by a little more than half a point. All nonwhite groups in the state should increase by small amounts relative to 2016: Blacks by 0.3 points; Hispanics by 0.6 points; and Asians/other races by 0.5 points. While these changes are all favorable for the Democrats, they will do relatively little to whittle their considerable 2016 deficit—a mere 0.6 points—if voting patterns by group in 2020 remain the same as in 2016.

Thus, if Trump can maintain or come close to his support among white noncollege voters in Iowa, he should carry the state easily again. A shift of 10 margin points against Trump among white college graduates, swelling the Democrats’ already solid advantage among that group, would still leave Trump about 6 points ahead in 2020.

For the Democratic candidate, his or her fortunes are clearly dependent on moving the very large white noncollege group in their direction. Indeed, if the Democrats could replicate Obama’s 2012 white noncollege margin in the state, they would actually carry the state by slightly less than 5 points, all else remaining equal. Even getting part of the way there could make the state competitive in 2020. That’s a tough challenge, but certainly the 2018 results in the state suggest this is possible.

So keep your eye on Iowa. It could be more in play than people have been thinking.


Political Strategy Notes

In his year-ender, “2019: The Year of Stability: Big events of the year, including impeachment, don’t materially change the odds in races for president, Congress,” Kyle Kondik concludes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that “despite all of the big political events of the past year, the overall political picture for November 2020 has not changed all that much. The presidential race remains in flux, and the two parties — Republicans in the Senate, Democrats in the House — retain various advantages as they seek to maintain their respective congressional majorities.” Overconfident Democrats should take note that the final Electoral Votes forecast by Kondik and the Crystal Ball for 2019 sees a dead-even 248 EV tie, with 42 toss-ups.

Kondik shares a map depicting Crystal Ball’s most current data-driven estimates for the Electoral College votes. Crystal Ball’s predictions have proved impressive in recent elections.

Kondik believes Dems will hold their House majority next year: “We currently list 225 House seats at least leaning to the Democrats, 192 at least leaning Republican, and 18 Toss-ups. Splitting the Toss-ups nine to nine would give the GOP a net seat of one; they need to net 18 seats to win the House. So we still see the Democrats as favorites in the House.”

As for the 2020 U.S. Senate races, “Our best guess at this point would be for something like a net Democratic gain of a seat, short of the three net seats Democrats need to forge a 50-50 tie. So we still favor the Republicans overall in the battle for the Senate, but the Democrats have enough targets to win control. The map:

All in all, Democrats are in good position to win a 2020 trifecta.

At Vox, Matthew Yglesias highlights the weak, even-for-Republicans, health care policies of Trump and Co, which should be a major asset for Dems willing to call them out: “Trump really does not want to talk about his record on health care. On most topics at hand, Trump’s team has something — whether true or not — to say in favor of the Trump administration’s policy initiatives…The argument is entirely negative — Democrats are bad; Medicare-for-all is bad…Trump can’t really tout his priorities. Over the past three years, he has pursued policies that would reduce the number of people who have health insurance and the quality of the insurance enjoyed by the insured.” Yglesias notes that  Republicans are reduced to arguing that reading, understanding and doing Medicare paperwork is more tedious than doing so for insurance companies, which is a very tough sell, to put it generously. “Personally,” Yglesias observes dryly, “it has not been my experience that filing reimbursement paperwork with Cigna is a notably superior customer service experience to what’s provided at the Department of Motor Vehicles.” In conclusion, Yglesias notes that “the uninsured rate in America is actually rising even though the labor market is getting stronger — a clear sign that health care remains an important policy area that won’t be fixed just by good generic economic conditions. And it’s a policy area where Trump is pursuing priorities — less insurance — that his own team has no defense for.”

Robert Alexander, author of “Representation and the Electoral College, argues “The case for letting senators vote secretly on Trump’s fate” at CNN Opinion. It’s probably not gonna happen, barring an overwhelmingly disgraceful revelation, such as a video clip of Trump stealing the White House silverware, and then fencing it a pawnshop. And even then, who knows, given the fact that ripping off charities and paying fines for it has not budged his approval rating.  Alexander believes that Republicans would then be free to vote their consciences, and he cites Jeff Flake’s dicey claim that a yuge majority of Republican Senators would dump Trump. Not likely – the media and their constituents would pester the GOP senators mercilessly to find out how they voted, putting pressure on all 53 of them to stay mum in perfect harmony with zero staff leaks. It’s a stretch for a party now raging that whistle-blowers should be outed to then say that their impeachment trial vote should be secret. In any case, Dems need not lead the charge. That’s a project for trembly Republican Senators and the media. Looking toward November, Dems should make them publicly defend a president, not only for the two impeachment charges, but also for his whole rap sheet.

Speaking of whistle-blowers, Trump may have just added to the impeachable offenses on his rap sheet, as Laura Davison reports at Bloomberg:  “President Donald Trump faces criticism from political opponents — and queasiness even among some supporters — for naming the alleged whistle-blower whose complaint triggered the congressional inquiry that resulted in his impeachment…A retweet late Friday to Trump’s 68 million Twitter followers identified a person it says is the whistle-blower. That could run afoul of two laws, said David Colapinto, a lawyer who represents whistle-blowers at law firm Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto LLP in Washington…Trump’s Twitter move, while a retweet and not an original message, could potentially run afoul of two sets of laws, one protecting whistle-blowers in the intelligence community and another portion of the criminal code that protects confidential informants from retaliation.”…“By making public the unsubstantiated name of the whistle-blower Trump encapsulated the pathology of his presidency — a callous and cruel disregard for the well-being of anyone or anything untethered from his own personal needs and interests,” tweeted Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow focusing on foreign policy at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a former State Department analyst.”

Democratic supporters of both front-runners for the presidential nomination should appreciate Zach Budrick’s article “Biden hits back at Sanders’s claim that Trump ‘will eat his lunch‘” at The Hill. “If you’re a Donald Trump and you got Biden having voted for the war in Iraq, Biden having voted for these terrible, in my view, trade agreements, Biden having voted for the bankruptcy bill. Trump will eat his lunch,” Sanders said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times editorial board last week…Sanders went on to claim that Biden’s health care plan would keep the “status quo,” which Biden denied. Biden’s plan, in contrast to Sanders’s universal “Medicare for All” proposal, would create a public option similar to the one floated but ultimately left out of the Affordable Care Act.” No matter who wins the Democratic presidential nomination, he or she will be strengthened by engaging other candidates in tough, but respectful debate, which Dems have done well in 2019, despite the hand-wringing about circular firing squads. Trump won’t have that advantage, since some states won’t even hold GOP primaries and his most ‘serious’ opponent, William Weld, doesn’t seem much interested in fighting for his party’s nomination. If you’re a Biden supporter, be grateful that your candidate is working out with Bernie Sanders, and vice versa. Same goes for all of the Democratic candidates who address tough ctiticism.

One of the casualties of the 2016 election was the myth that the home state of presidential candidates matters much, since hard-core New Yorker Trump swept the south (except VA). The regional roots of voters, however, still matter — a lot. As Frank Hyman, a carpenter and stonemason, who also does policy analysis for ‘Blue Collar Comeback,’ noted in his Richmond Times-Dispatch article, “The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is” (reprinted in a dozen newspapers) that “a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid – which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites – resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.”

Yet today there are exciting pro-Democratic developments across the south, including the blue-ing of Virginia and progressive trends underway in NC, GA, FL and even TX. Democrats now hold a U.S. Senate seat in AL and the Governorships of NC and LA, and nearly elected governors of FL and GA in 2018. In addition, most of the largest southern cities have Democratic mayors. At Facing South, Chris Kromm reports that “Florida and Louisiana recently passed measures that expand voting rights for citizens with former felony convictions, and incoming Kentucky governor Andy Beshear is reportedly considering an executive order that would reenfranchise 100,000 voters. [Done] Georgia has adopted automatic voter registration. Texas has strengthened campaign finance disclosure rules.” However, Republicans still control all southern state legislatures outside of VA.


Democrats Putting Senate in Play for 2020

With all the justifiable focus on the presidential contest, it’s easy to forget how important the battles for control of Congress in 2020 will be. I wrote about the Senate landscape this week for New York:

The general feeling going into this election cycle has been that flipping the Senate will be difficult for Democrats, even if they depose Trump. They have a three-seat majority, and in Alabama’s incongruous Democrat Doug Jones, a pretty easy mark. Only two Republican incumbents (Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine) up for reelection represent states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and aside from Jones, Michigan Democrat Gary Peters is in a Trump ’16 state.

But as the Cook Political Report’s veteran Senate guru Jennifer Duffy notes, Democrats are off to a very good start, particularly on the fundraising front, in their effort to place as many GOP Senate seats into play as possible:

“If there is anything that sticks out in Senate races this cycle, it’s the early spending on television advertising in the most competitive races. As of December 19, just over $32.5 million has been spent in eight key races. Democrats have outspent Republicans, $21.9 million to $10.6 million, according to data provided by Advertising Analytics. The Senate race in Maine has seen the highest level of spending at $8.2 million. To put this in some perspective, Collins spent $5.6 million on her 2014 reelection bid, and independent expenditures amounted to less than $2 million. Advertising Analytics estimates that $55 million will be spent on television advertising in Maine this cycle, an astonishing amount for a state with three relatively inexpensive media markets. Democrats have outspent Republicans almost two to one and nearly all that money has been on ads criticizing Collins.

“Democrats have also outspent Republicans in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, and Kentucky. Republicans have spent considerably more than Democrats in Alabama and North Carolina, but most of the money is being spent in GOP primaries.”

Duffy notes that a Senate impeachment trial could create some general-election problems for GOP incumbents Collins, Gardner, and Martha McSally — who dare not offend the Trumpian base with a vote to remove him from office. But there are signs Democrats also have a shot against North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Iowa’s Joni Ernst — and perhaps the occupants (David Perdue and the top Republican in the 2020 special “jungle primary”) of the two Georgia Senate seats at risk. Even Kansas is a possible pickup so long as Kris Kobach is in the race.

“It appears that there will be at least five GOP-held seats in play, with a chance that Democrats could add one or two more. This puts Democrats in a position to win the majority, even if they lose Alabama and/or Michigan. This is not to suggest that Democrats will win the majority, only that their prospects are considerably better today than they were five months ago.”

If Mike Pence is reelected as vice president, of course, Democrats would need to post a net gain of four Senate seats to be in a position to block — Joe Manchin willing — Trump executive- and judicial-branch nominees, not to mention whatever nasty legislative treats he has in mind. Given the strong likelihood that we’ll see remarkable levels of straight-ticket voting in 2020, prospects for a Democratic Congress confronting a raging, reelected Trump are limited. More likely, Senate Democrats will be focused on giving a president of their own, if they get one, a fighting chance for success.


Political Strategy Notes

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has a repost-worthy op-ed, “Trump Has Turned His Back on The Working Class” at Newsweek. Reich argues, “Trump probably figures he can cover up this massive redistribution from the working class to the corporate elite by pushing the same economic nationalism, tinged with xenophobia and racism, he used in 2016. As Bannon has noted, the formula seems to have worked for Britain’s Conservative Party. But it will be difficult this time around because Trump’s economic nationalism has hurt American workers, particularly in states that were critical to Trump’s 2016 win…Manufacturing has suffered as tariffs raised prices for imported parts and materials. Hiring has slowed sharply in Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states Trump won, as well as in states like Minnesota that he narrowly lost.”

Reich continues, “The trade wars have also harmed rural America, which also went for Trump, by reducing demand for American farm produce. Last year, China bought around $8.6 billion of farm goods, down from $20 billion in 2016. (A new tentative trade deal calls for substantially more Chinese purchases.)…Meanwhile, health care costs continue to soar, college is even less affordable, and average life expectancy is dropping due to a rise in deaths from suicide and opioid drugs like fentanyl. Polls show most Americans remain dissatisfied with the country’s direction…The consequences of Trump’s and the Republicans’ excessive corporate giveaways and their failure to improve the lives of ordinary working Americans are becoming clearer by the day…The only tricks left to Trump and the Republicans are stoking social and racial resentments and claiming to be foes of the establishment. But bigotry alone won’t win elections, and the detritus of the tax cut makes it difficult for Trump and the GOP to portray themselves as anti-establishment…This has created a giant political void—but also an opportunity. Democrats have an historic chance to do what they should have done years ago: create a multi-racial coalition of the working class, middle class and poor, dedicated to reclaiming the economy for the vast majority and making democracy work for all.”

CNBC online editor John Ellis makes the argument that “Pelosi’s best move might be to keep impeachment in her pocket and not send it to the Senate.” As Ellis writes, “She could say: “I’m not sending these articles of impeachment over to the Senate. There’s no point in doing so. The majority leader has made it clear that he has no interest in a ‘fair trial.’ There’s no point in wasting everyone’s time and taxpayer money to arrive at a decision that Republican senators have already made. Everyone, including each and every Republican member of the Senate, knows that President Trump did exactly what he stands accused of doing. And impeachment is a fact. So we’ll let it stand as is; a monument to the president’s dishonesty and corruption, to be contemplated and remembered by Americans for generations to come.” She could add, “we’ll send it over  when the senate leadership expresses a sincere commitment to a fair trial and to calling relevant witnesses. That could be a while.” Indeed, it could. But this approach should be carefully measured against the downsides of not making Republican senators cast votes for giving Putin’s puppet a free ride, not showcasing McConnell’s blatant autocratic mindset and having the mess concluded in time to focus on the issues favoring Democrats. Tough call.

And give due credit to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the sole Repubican elected official of stature, who has said she is “disturbed” by Mitch McConnell’s saying he was acting in “total coordination” with the White House in arranging the impeachment proceedings. Murkowski said, “To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what Leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process,” report Kevin Liptak and Manu Raju at CNN Politics, who add “As a moderate, Murkowski, who opposed Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, will be closely watched during the upcoming trial, and she told KTUU she is undecided as to how she’ll vote.” Given all of her comments about impeachment of Trump thus far, I’ll be surprised if Murkowski votes for conviction. But if she does, she will be an instant front-runner for the “Profile of Courage” award — and will likely gain influence, if Trump loses the presidential election.

At CNN Politics, Harry Enten notes that former Vice President Biden has a big lead in endorsements from governors, senators and congressmen and that “candidates who lead in endorsements at this point usually do well in the primary.” Enten doesn’t verify a cause and effect relationship. Also, even people who like politicians understand that their endorsements are likely motivated as much or more by partisan calculations as the endorsee’s merits. It also depends on the demographic a candidate is trying to motivate. If, for example, a candidate wants to increase support from young voters, an endorsement from another politician may be of less consequence than one from a top pro athlete or a hot performing artist, which is more of a conversation-starter, while a political figure’s endorsement would be more of a yawn-generator. Just a theory, absent data testing the notion.

He may not have had the rank of congressman what’s-his-name, who recently switched to the GOP. But this statement by  Rep. Andy McKean, Iowa’s longest-serving Republican lawmaker, on joining the Democratic Party back in April, provides an eloquent template for Republicans of conscience who have had “enough” “With the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, I feel, as a Republican, that I need to be able to support the standard bearer of our party,” McKean told reporters at the Iowa Capitol during a news conference on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, that’s something I’m unable to do…He sets, in my opinion, a poor example for the nation and particularly for our children by personally insulting, often in a crude and juvenile fashion, those who disagree with him, being a bully at a time when we are attempting to discourage bullying, his frequent disregard for the truth and his willingness to ridicule or marginalize people for their appearance, ethnicity or disability…his actions have coarsened political discourse, have resulted in unprecedented divisiveness, and have created an atmosphere that is a breeding ground for hateful rhetoric and actions. Some would excuse this behavior as telling it like it is and the new normal. If this is the new normal, I want no part of it.” (as reported by Mahita Gajanan in Time Magazine).

In his Politico post, “3 factors that could make or break Trump in 2020: The president’s big economic achievements were wrapped up in 2019. Now Trump needs momentum in the economy and markets to stretch out for more than 10 months through Election Day,” Ben White notes, “Perhaps the biggest risk to Trump — and the toughest knock on his record — is the monthslong decline in manufacturing that began as Trump’s trade wars really took hold. Manufacturing tipped into recession territory over the summer and has yet to turn around, leading to weaker economies in states that Trump needs to win in 2020. That includes places like Pennsylvania, where the unemployment rate is rising and hit 4.2 percent in October…Michigan also has an unemployment rate above the national average at 4.1 percent and saw declines in the manufacturing sector in both September and October, though some of that came from the now-ended strike at General Motors.”

Eliza Relman and Walt Hickey note at Business Insider that “Satisfaction with Biden among Latinos who say they’ll vote in their state’s Democratic primary is about 40% — 15% below his support among white voters, 14% below his support among Asian voters, and a whopping 26% short of his support among black voters…The top two candidates running to Biden’s left — Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — both perform significantly better among Latinos. While Sanders’ approval is at 57%, Warren’s approval is at 54%…Biden’s relative lack of support among Latino voters will likely hurt him in two of the most important presidential primaries next year in Texas and California. The two states have the largest numbers of eligible Latino voters in the country, and California moved up its primary to Super Tuesday, which is on March 3.” But any Democratic nominee will almost certainly win California’s electoral votes, and Texas may be too much of a stretch for any Democrat. In addition, Biden’s comparatively moderate stance on immigration may be a plus with the white working-class voters who are a majority of voters in key swing states.

From Nate Silver’s “Do You Buy That… Spending A Lot Of Money On Ads Can Help Win the Democratic Nomination?” at FiveThirtyEight:


Teixeira: The 2020 Challenge in Wisconsin

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

Arguably there is no single state more important to beating Trump in 2020 than Wisconsin. J. Miles Coleman on Sabato’s Crystal Ball has a useful new article on election trends in Wisconsin 2016-2019. Note particularly the two very interesting maps. My take on what the Democrats will have to deal with and what they must do to win:

To carry the state again, Trump likely needs to increase his support among white noncollege voters from his 19-point advantage in 2016 and/or increase this group’s relative turnout. Alternatively, he could try to increase his support among the considerably less-friendly white college demographic. But the voting patterns from 2016 will likely not suffice for a Trump victory in 2020.

Demographic changes in the underlying eligible electorate would be enough for the Democratic candidate to barely carry the state in 2020, if voting patterns from 2016 remain the same. A safer strategy would be to change some key voting patterns from 2016 in Democrats’ favor. One obvious goal would be to increase Black turnout—which declined a massive 19 points in 2016—back to its 2012 levels. Doing so would add about a point and half to the Democratic margin in 2020.

Widening the Democrats’ already-healthy margin among white college graduates by 10 points would be more effective, adding 3 points to potential Democratic 2020 performance. But moving the Democrats’ white noncollege deficit back to 2012 levels would add 7 points to Democrats’ projected 2020 margin. White noncollege women are the clear target group here, since Clinton’s deficit among these voters (-16 points) was much less than her deficit among their male counterparts (-43 points).

It’s doable for Democrats to put together a package of electoral changes that will squeak out a victory. But it’s not going to be easy.


Political Strategy Notes

In her Cook Political Report article, “The Majority Is In Play” about Democratic prospects for winning back Senate control, Jennifer E. Duffy writes that “Democrats appear to have expanded the playing field enough to put Republicans’ majority at risk…Recent polls have shown Trump’s job approval numbers have ticked up a bit during the House’s consideration of the Articles of Impeachment. While the gains are small and not especially meaningful, Democrats weren’t expecting such gains, but the reverse…It appears that there will be at least five GOP-held seats in play, with a chance that Democrats could add one or two more. This puts Democrats in a position to win the majority, even if they lose Alabama and/or Michigan. This is not to suggest that Democrats will win the majority, only that their prospects are considerably better today than they were five months ago.”

In his year-ender column at Sabato’s  Crystal Ball, Kyke Kondik assesses Democratic prospects to win back control of the Senate: “Since our initial assessment, we did move North Carolina to the ranks of the Toss-ups, although Democratic odds are likely better in their other two Toss-up targets, Arizona and Colorado. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) has gotten some good news over the past several weeks: his one-time primary challenger, businessman Garland Tucker (R), left the race, and Rep. Mark Walker (R, NC-6) opted to retire in the face of redistricting instead of enter the primary, which means Tillis can turn his attention to the general election now. The true vulnerability of Republicans in the Leans Republican column, namely Collins and Joni Ernst (R-IA), remains something of a question mark, although each very well could be pushed hard next year. Collins, in particular, seems to face a no-win situation on impeachment: A vote to acquit will further nationalize her and imperil her longstanding crossover appeal (after her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for a Supreme Court seat already nationalized her to a great degree last year), while a vote to convict will soften her with Republicans. Without defeating at least one of Collins or Ernst, the Democratic path to a majority is likely blocked…Our best guess at this point would be for something like a net Democratic gain of a seat, short of the three net seats Democrats need to forge a 50-50 tie. So we still favor the Republicans overall in the battle for the Senate, but the Democrats have enough targets to win control.”

At Vox, Matthew Yglesias has some disturbing notes on the massive power imbalance presented by the U.S. Senate: “The growing polarization of the white vote along the lines of population density and educational attainment has also supercharged the once-modest partisan skew of the Senate, making even the most popular changes to health care or minimum-wage policy an extremely heavy lift…Today, the smallest state is Wyoming, and the state of Washington has about 12.6 times as many people. Of course, Washington isn’t the largest state. Indeed, it’s not even particularly close — 12 states are bigger. Illinois has 22 times Wyoming’s population. Texas is nearly 50 times as big (and growing fast). And California is a stunning 68 times as large…If California had been carved up into Massachusetts-sized states, it could be easily 15 or 16 separate entities — each with about four times the population of Wyoming — rather than the current mismatch…though the current GOP majority in the Senate is of recent vintage, it’s also built on a remarkably thin electoral base. In 2014, Republican candidates won 52 percent of the vote and gained nine Senate seats. Two years later, Democrats won 54 percent of the vote and gained only two seats.” Yglesias goes on to note formidable problems with proposals to admit Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico as states to reduce the Senate’s bulit-in bias, although they are probably the most doable reforms. Correcting such structural injustices, however, will require a Democratic landslide or two.

Eleanor Clift’s “Here Are 10 House Democrats Who Really Put It on the Line Voting to Impeach Trump” at The Daily Beast should be of extra interest to Democrats concerned about helping to protect the party’s vulnerable House members. As Clift writes, “Freshmen Democrats in districts previously held by Republicans face the greatest risk. This group, dubbed “frontline” Democrats, many of them women, voted to hold President Trump accountable on both articles of impeachment knowing full well the possible consequences…“The political implications of impeachment for Democrats in Trump districts was unclear, but they voted yes because they knew it was the right thing to do, and have to live with themselves for the rest of their lives,” says David de la Fuente with Third Way, a moderate Democratic group that at The Daily Beast’s request identified 10 freshmen Democrats with the most to lose in casting their vote for impeachment.” Six of the ten endangered Dem House members are women.

Clift adds, “Three of these freshmen lawmakers—Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia—were among a group of seven newly elected Democrats with national security credentials who stepped forward in September to support impeachment after it became public that Trump had withheld military aid from Ukraine in exchange for dirt on a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.” Clift provides capsule descriptions of the political situation for each of the 10 vulnerable Democrats, including Elissa Slotkin (MI-8); Abigail Spanberger (VA-7); Elaine Luria (VA-2); Lucy McBath (GA-6); Haley Stevens (MI-11); Xochitl Torres Small (NM-2); Anthony Brindisi (NY-22); Kendra Horn (OK-5); Joe Cunningham (SC-1); and Ben McAdams (UT-4). Here’s ActBlue’s gateway link to helping protect these and other Democratic House members (Click on the state and scroll to the member).

In their FiveThirtyEight post, “Who Won The December Democratic Debate?,” Aaron Bycoffe, Sarah Frostenson and Julia Wolfe write that “we once again partnered with Ipsos to track how the debate, hosted by “PBS NewsHour” and Politico, affected likely primary voters’ feelings about the candidates on the stage… Biden received high marks, as he hasn’t fared nearly as well in some of our otherpost-debate surveys. Warren and Sanders were tied for a close second place in their debate grade, but, like with Biden, their pre-debate favorability ratings meant we figured voters would rate them positively — Warren was even slightly worse than expected. Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar, on the other hand, did better than expected given their pre-debate favorability ratings, earning the third-highest marks. Being the focus of several of his rivals’ attacks seems to have hurt Pete Buttigeg; he got low marks relative to how well-liked he was going into the debate. Tom Steyer also failed to make a positive impression.”

Bycoffe, Frostenson and Wolfe add that “Yang and Klobuchar saw the largest jumps in net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) — 6.3 points and 6.1 points, respectively. Most of the other candidates made more modest gains of 2 or 3 points; Buttigieg was the only candidate whose net favorability fell — it dropped by about 2 points…We asked respondents to estimate each Democrat’s chances of defeating Trump, from 0 percent (no chance) to 100 percent (certain to win). Going into the debate, as in other general-election polls, Biden was the candidate voters thought was most likely to beat Trump, on average. He still leads on that question after the December debate, but…his average dropped by roughly half a point. Klobuchar, on the other hand, made the largest gains by this metric, with her average rating increasing by 4 points. Other candidates, like Yang and Steyer, saw more modest increases, while Buttigieg saw a small downtick.”

For those who are wondering “How’s Impeachment Play in the ‘Burbs?,” Charlie Cook has some answers at The Cook Political Report: “Last year, Senate Democrats had many more seats at risk than did the GOP. This year, the battlegrounds are overwhelmingly in red, Republican-tilting states. Again, more of the fight will be in the suburbs, where Republicans are playing defense, than in rural and small-town America, where the tide is shifting against Democrats. Whether Republicans hold their majority will be determined in suburbs of Phoenix and Tucson, where Sen. Martha McSally is defending her Arizona seat; Atlanta, with two GOP seats up in Georgia next year; Denver, with Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado holding on for dear life; the suburbs outside of Des Moines for Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa; Portland, Maine with Sen. Susan Collins; and in North Carolina’s Research Triangle and Charlotte for Sen. Thom Tillis. Some argue that Sen. John Cornyn faces a threat in the suburbs of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, though I remain skeptical that he will have quite as much difficulty as Sen. Ted Cruz had last year. Texas is trending purple, but maybe not fast enough for Democrats in 2020. Impeachment will do no favors for Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, but his race was so difficult before, it couldn’t get much steeper than it already was.”

“After the 2018 midterm elections, Gallup asked Democrats and Republicans where they hoped their respective parties would move ideologically. The results are instructive — about the trajectories of both the impeachment debate and the Democratic contest for president…When Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were asked if they would rather see their party become more liberal or more moderate, 54 percent said more moderate, 41 percent said more liberal. Republicans, by contrast, think their already radicalized party is still not conservative enough: Fifty-seven percent said they wanted the party to become more conservative; only 37 percent said more moderate…The results added to the mountains of evidence showing how the political polarization we talk about so much is asymmetric: Republicans have not only moved much further to the right than the Democrats have moved left, the GOP wants to keep moving toward the outer edges.” – From “Democrats understand moderation. Republicans don’t” by E. J. Dionne, Jr. in The Washington Post.


Impeachments Are Always Partisan

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives, I offered a quick history lesson at New York to counter all the angst about the partisanship of the process:

[Y]ou may have already heard handwringing comments about the exceptional partisanship that House members exhibited in the vote to impeach Donald TrumpIt wouldn’t have happened in the days when members of Congress socialized with each other and worked on legislation in a spirit of comity, etc., etc.

Perhaps there is some merit in that much-rehearsed paean to lost bipartisanship, so full of manufactured nostalgia that it ought to be made into a Hallmark Channel movie. But actually, the two previous examples of House votes on presidential impeachment were arguably just as partisan, differing only in degree.

The principal vote to impeach Andrew Johnson (in those days the House voted on a general resolution of impeachment before drafting individual articles), on February 24, 1868, was carried by a 126-47 margin, with 17 members not voting. Of those who did vote, all but two Republicans voted “aye” and all the Democrats voted “nay,” according to the official House history. The later votes on the 11 individual articles eventually sent over to the Senate are hard to find online, but the House history indicates that the margins were “similar.”

When the House voted on the impeachment of Bill Clinton on December 19, 1998 (Thursday is the 21st anniversary of that event), the two articles on which the president was later tried by the Senate passed, per the New York Times, on near-party-line votes. The first, impeaching him for perjury before a federal grand jury, passed by a 228-206 margin in the Republican-controlled chamber, with five Republicans and five Democrats defecting. The second, alleging obstruction of justice, passed by a narrower 221-212 vote. This time 12 Republicans and five Democrats broke ranks.

Yes, there was theoretically more bipartisanship in votes on two articles of impeachment the House rejected, mostly because some Republicans considered them redundant or too easily mockable. An article alleging perjury in the Paula Jones civil case lost 229-205, with 28 Republicans defecting and no Democrats breaking ranks. And a final article alleging “abuse of power” because Clinton apparently offended the dignity of Judiciary Committee Republicans by answering their written interrogatories evasively, didn’t resonate much outside that committee; it was defeated by a wide margin with 81 Republicans (and one Democrat) breaking ranks.

There were, of course, many differences between the three impeachments. Andrew Johnson was pretty much a lame duck, rejected by both major parties as a reelection prospect (though he did get some votes at the later Democratic Convention; he was later elected to the Senate as a Democrat, rejoining his pre-Civil War party), by the time he was impeached. Clinton was a popular second-term president. Johnson was very nearly convicted and removed from office by the Senate; there was never any real chance that would happen to Clinton.

But the most conspicuous thing distinguishing Trump’s impeachment from those of his predecessors has been the full-throated defense of his conduct by his own party. By the time he was impeached, Johnson was virtually a man without a party; southern Democrats, while voting against impeachment and removal, couldn’t be that thrilled about the man who demonized them during the Civil War as traitors who deserved death in battle or by hanging. And he was acquitted mostly because of the concerns some Republicans had that the Tenure of Office Act (banning removal of Cabinet members without congressional concurrence), the backbone of the impeachment articles after Johnson defied it, was unconstitutional (as it was eventually held to be by the Supreme Court). As for Clinton, many, many Democrats condemned his behavior during the Lewinsky scandal, and there was robust support in their ranks in Congress for a measuring censuring him.

So you could say that this third presidential impeachment was more partisan than the first two in that the two parties were not simply arguing over what should be done about a president’s misconduct, but whether it existed at all. And I suspect that his party will be found guilty for that misdemeanor at the bar of history, if not sooner in the 2020 elections.


Trump’s New Congressional Convert Breaks House GOP’s Anti-Abortion Unanimity

When U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew decided to switch parties after Democrats in his district did not take kindly to his refusal to back an impeachment inquiry, I noticed something about his record that will give his new friends heartburn, and wrote about it for New York:

New Jersey congressman Jeff Van Drew’s impending Democrat-to-Republican Party switch has gotten a lot of attention as another sign of partisan polarization over impeachment (his was one of just two Democratic votes against the formal launch of impeachment proceedings in October, and he had signaled his opposition to the articles of impeachment that will hit the House floor this week). This was punctuated over the weekend by a mass resignation of most of his staff.

The move was probably made inevitable when Democrats back home began to abandon Van Drew much as his staff did later. But Chris Cillizza thinks it’s a great trophy for Trump:

“The image of Van Drew, then, being driven from his party because of impeachment plays directly into Trump’s hands. The President has long argued that Democrats are blinded by their hatred for him and that this latest congressional reaction to his behavior with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is nothing more than a partisan hoax.”

I don’t know about that; I’d say having actual Democrats instead of former Democrats opposing impeachment is more valuable to his cause and to the “Democrats in disarray” narrative political media love so much. But there’s an aspect of Van Drew’s apostasy that could cause Trump and the GOP some heartburn, too. After the 2018 elections (when Rodney Frelinghuysen and Charlie Dent retired), the anti-abortion movement could boast it had finally hunted to extinction the once-vibrant herd of pro-choice House Republicans. Whatever else he is now, Van Drew is pro-choice, having received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood in the New Jersey legislature, and then saying this during his 2018 congressional campaign:

I’m strongly and unequivocally pro-choice: I support Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose. Any efforts to weaken or undermine that right will face my fierce opposition.

It is most definitely going to annoy Trump’s extremely important conservative Evangelical and traditionalist Catholic allies that a friend of the baby-killers has snuck back into the tent. And they may not be happy that POTUS has publicly offered Van Drew fundraising help in his 2020 reelection bid.  want to know whether the president has promised Van Drew support in his 2020 reelection bid.

Before the party switch, Van Drew had three Republicans already in the field running against him, one of whom is a self-funding business executive who called the incumbent a “weasel.” I’d be shocked if his primary opponents don’t make a big deal out of his position on abortion, which in turn could cause problems for Trump if he defends the apostate, when he really needs anti-abortion activists whipping the faithful into a frenzy before November.