washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

“Less Than College” Workers Are Not a Social Class. Democrats Need to Understand Who Persuadable Workers Really Are.

Read the Memo.

Democrats Can Win Non-MAGA Working Class GOP Voters. The First Step is Understanding What They Really Think.

Read the Memo.

The Non-Extremist Wing of the Working Class Needs a National Political Alliance That Champions its Distinct Values

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo.

Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

June 3, 2023

Political Strategy Notes

In “Medicaid is popular. So why are Republicans still trying to cut it?,” Dylan Scott notes at Vox: For years, Republicans have believed that Medicaid, which primarily serves low-income Americans, is less politically potent than Medicare or Social Security, two of the other core features of the US social safety net, and therefore a safer target for proposed cuts….There may be some truth to that notion — but Medicaid is plenty popular on its own terms. Over the past two decades, the health insurance program has become an increasingly crucial part of the safety net. Enrollment has roughly doubled from about 46 million people in 2007 before the Great Recession to more than 92 million today. More than 75 percent of the US public says they have very or somewhat favorable views of the program. Two-thirds say they have some kind of connection to Medicaid, either because they themselves or a loved one was enrolled….In state after state, when the question of expanding Medicaid to working-age, childless adults has been put to voters in red states, they’ve voted in favor of giving more people access to health insurance. Even the Republican legislature in North Carolina recently made peace with expanding the program….The last time Republicans tried (and failed) to pass significant cuts to the Medicaid program, in the first year of the Trump presidency as part of their Affordable Care Act repeal plans, they paid the price during the 2018 midterm elections.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall takes a sobering look at the drift toward authoritarianism in America, and writes: “In an April 2021 paper, four scholars, Samuel Wang of Princeton, Jonathan Cervas of Carnegie Mellon, Bernard Grofman of the University of California, Irvine, and Keena Lipsitz of Queens College, address the basic question of what led to the erosion among a substantial number of voters of support for democratic principles in a nation with a two-century-plus commitment to this tradition:

In the United States, rules and institutions from 1790, when voters comprised white male landowners and slave owners in a nation of four million, were not designed to address today’s governance needs. Moreover, existing rules and institutions may amplify background conditions that drive polarization. The decline of civic life in America and the pluralism it once nurtured has hastened a collapse of dimensionality in the system.

Americans once enjoyed a rich associational life, Wang and his colleagues write, the demise of which contributes to the erosion of democracy: “Nonpolitical associations, such as labor unions, churches, and bowling leagues, were often crosscutting, bringing people from different backgrounds into contact with one another, building trust and teaching tolerance.” In recent years, however, “the groups that once structured a multidimensional issue space in the United States have collapsed.”

Edsall writes further, “Two senior fellows at Brookings, William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, explore threats to American democracy in a January 2022 analysis, “Is Democracy Failing and Putting Our Economy at Risk?” Citing data from six surveys, including those by Pew, P.R.R.I., Voter Study Group and CNN, the authors write:

Support in the United States for political violence is significant. In February 2021, 39 percent of Republicans, 31 percent of independents and 17 percent of Democrats agreed that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.” In November, 30 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of independents and 11 percent of Democrats agreed that they might have to resort to violence in order to save our country.

In the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Galston and Kamarck observe:

Even though constitutional processes prevailed, and Mr. Trump is no longer president, he and his followers continue to weaken American democracy by convincing many Americans to distrust the results of the election. About three-quarters of rank-and-file Republicans believe that there was massive fraud in 2020 and Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president.

In fact, Galston and Kamarck continue, “the 2020 election revealed structural weaknesses in the institutions designed to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process,” noting that “if Mr. Pence had yielded to then-President Trump’s pressure to act, the election would have been thrown into chaos and the Constitution placed in jeopardy.”….If democracy fails in America, they contend,

It will not be because a majority of Americans is demanding a nondemocratic form of government. It will be because an organized, purposeful minority seizes strategic positions within the system and subverts the substance of democracy while retaining its shell — while the majority isn’t well organized, or doesn’t care enough, to resist. The possibility that this will occur is far from remote.”

Should Senate Democrats ditch the “blue slip” tradition”? Jake Johnson makes the case for doing so at salon.com: “The Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday that he is not ready to ditch the arcane tradition that has given individual Republican lawmakers veto power over nominees for federal court seats in their home states….”We’re not at that point yet,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told HuffPost when asked if he’s considering scrapping the so-called “blue slip courtesy”—a non-binding rule that Republicans tossed aside for circuit court nominees when they last controlled the Senate….When a senator returns a blue slip, they are indicating they will allow a judicial nomination to proceed. Earlier this month, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., announced she would not be returning a blue slip for Scott Colom, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi….But Hyde-Smith’s decision, which effectively tanked Colom’s nomination even though he had bipartisan support in the Senate, wasn’t enough for Durbin to abandon the blue slip process—though he said earlier this week that “her conduct and the timing of her decision have made it extremely difficult” to preserve the tradition….On top of the extended and indefinite absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Durbin’s continued adherence to the blue slip rule has allowed Republicans to dramatically slow the judicial confirmation process, leaving open dozens of vacancies as right-wing judges they’ve approved in recent years wreak havoc across the country….”Democrats returned more than 130 blue slips during the Trump admin, confirming 84 district judges in states with at least one or two Dem senators,” [HuffPo’s Jennifer] Bendery wrote on Twitter. “More than two years into the Biden admin, Republicans have returned 13 blue slips. That’s as of last month.”….”Progressive judicial groups are practically shouting from the mountaintops to ditch blue slips,” Bendery continued. “Republicans did it for years with Trump’s court picks, as Dems fumed from the sidelines. The result? Trump confirmed a massive [number] of right-wing ideologues to lifetime court seats.”

McCarthy’s All Hat, No Cattle, on Debt Limit

Sometimes you read the news and don’t know whether the laugh or cry. That’s how I felt when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy went to Wall Street to complain that the president isn’t talking to him about the debt limit. So I wrote it up at New York:

When Kevin McCarthy won the House speakership in January after a humiliating 15-ballot contest, he already knew his slippery grip on the gavel would depend on how he handled a debt-limit fight with Joe Biden and the Democrats. It’s now clear that the preliminary rounds are going very poorly for McCarthy.

He began by placing a huge obstacle in the path of any actual negotiations with the White House or Senate Democrats over conditions for a debt-limit increase or suspension. As my colleague Jonathan Chait pointed out, since 1990 congressional Republicans have categorically refused even to consider tax increases of any sort as part of a solution to the deficits and debt they profess to abhor (at least during Democratic administrations). Subsequently, they haven’t really tried to negotiate on fiscal policy; they’ve made unilateral demands and tried to take hostages.

But McCarthy’s situation is far worse than that of his hostage-taking predecessors such as Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan. He has found it impossible to achieve consensus within his own caucus over a clear list of spending-cut demands. And Biden has very skillfully forced Republicans to repudiate their most unpopular positions, notably the ancient GOP desire to “reform” (i.e., cut and privatize) Social Security and Medicare. So even as Biden and the Democrats consistently called for enactment of a clean debt-limit measure without conditions or drama, and the administration released a full budget proposal, McCarthy and his House Republicans have been unable to come up with much of anything specific, other than ruling out Social Security and Medicare cuts and bickering among themselves about defense spending.

So with time beginning to run out for dealing with the debt limit, McCarthy chose to take his weak and vague position and present it as a tough-minded and specific set of demands with a speech aimed at the GOP’s financial-community friends. At the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, McCarthy said Republicans “want Congress to place limits on federal spending, claw back COVID-19 aid, and require Americans to work to receive federal benefits,” as The Wall Street Journal put it.

The Hill explains what that means:

“The Speaker said the forthcoming plan will seek to limit federal spending, with proposals to return discretionary funding levels to 2022 levels ‘and then limit the growth of spending over the next 10 years to 1 percent of annual growth,’ without ‘touching Social Security and Medicare.’”

The proposed “limit on federal spending” is actually just a cap on discretionary spending (i.e., not to entitlement programs) and does not distinguish between defense and nondefense spending. “Caps” like this are what you propose when you literally have no clue what to propose; future Congresses will have to figure out what it means. The only specifics — the COVID clawback and toughened work requirements for benefit programs like SNAP — are boilerplate conservative policies that please the GOP base by tormenting poor people and state and local governments and apparently do pretty well in focus groups.

Compared with an actual spending plan or a federal budget, McCarthy’s “proposal” is laughable. But with House Freedom Caucus members, who value partisanship above all else, able to depose him at the drop of a hat (in the most humiliating concession he made to become Speaker), McCarthy took this weak tea and tried to make it sound like a slug of tough medicine, as The Hill notes:

“In his pitch to Wall Street to cut spending, McCarthy said he had ‘full confidence’ that reducing federal spending would help ‘grow our economy’ and ‘end the dependence on China.’

“’We will curb inflation and we will protect Social Security and Medicare for the next generation, and America will be stronger for it,’ he said. ‘If you agree, don’t sit back, join us.’”

Now that he has talked tough on Wall Street, McCarthy can go back to the very difficult task of turning this proposal into something he can actually get his members to approve with virtually no margin for error, particularly since some of the more extreme members of his conference don’t even believe a debt default would be especially problematic as long as bondholders are paid. If he fails, there might be just enough House Republicans unwilling to trigger a default and a potential global economic catastrophe to force McCarthy to cave and allow a debt measure to get to Biden’s desk with or without token concessions made to save the Speaker’s face and gavel. He and his party really need a fiscal plan B that’s more viable than destructive threats and empty posturing. Right now, as they say in Texas, McCarthy is all hat and no cattle.

How Will Fox News Settlement Reverberate Politically?

In his Politico article, “Fox News reaches $787.5 million settlement in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit,” Matt Taylor reports “Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit over false election claims on Tuesday, a massive sum that spared some of the biggest names in conservative media the witness stand.”

Taylor explains further, “Dominion, a voting machine company that has worked in over two dozen states, accused the conservative network of deliberately spreading bogus conspiracy theories about its products after the 2020 election in a bid to win back viewers.” As Taylor reports, ““The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said while trumpeting the payout outside the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center on Tuesday. “Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country.”

The bad news is that the public will be deprived of the jolly spectacle of Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Rupert Murdock being grilled on the witness stand. The slightly good news is that Fox News will have to carefully frame its election denier rants to avoid future lawsuits.

Among discerning news consumers, Fox didn’t have much respect even before the trial. But the settlement insures that the mere mention of the Network in future reports will frequently be accompanied by noting the $787 million the company shelled out in acknowledgement of its own wrong-doing. Also, as Michelle Goldberg writes in her New York Times column, it is “one of the largest defamation settlements in history and is one that constitutes a humiliating admission of fault by the network, even though, as The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg reported, the deal doesn’t require Fox to apologize.”

The settlement will be emblazoned in media history accounts as proof of one of the most grotesque examples of reportorial bias ever.

The thing is, the disaster isn’t over for Fox News. As Goldberg notes, “Smartmatic is still suing Fox for $2.7 billion, though no trial date has been announced yet. “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign,” Smartmatic lawyer J. Erik Connolly said in a statement on Tuesday. “Smartmatic will expose the rest.”

More than any other media outlet, Fox News has stoked political polarization, served Trump’s rise and supported the GOP. But every media company has a shelf life and will eventually be replaced. Newsmax may get a temporary upward bump in its influence, or perhaps morph into a more influential news source for the right.

Amy Watson notes at Statistics.com that “In February 2023, Fox News was the most watched cable news network in the United States and continues to do well in terms of its primetime audience, with 2.2 million primetime viewers in that period. Fox News viewers in the 25-54 demographic reached 299 thousand, whilst MSNBC had just 119 thousand…..Cable news networks like Fox, CNN, and MSNBC are engaged in a monthly battle to hit the top spot during primetime and grab the highest cable news ratings during those precious evening hours. Fox News ratings during primetime are generally higher than its two direct competitors….”

Meanwhile there is no reason to expect a mass maga head exodus by network viewers. Fox had pretty much whittled its regular viewership down to the hard core, which is admittedly large. Some will see the settlement as normal p.r. management, others as yet another example of the vast liberal conspiracy and many of them will shrug it off or not care enough to switch networks. It will likely not be big a game-changer in. terms of public opinion.

The wild card, however, is what happens with the Smartmatic lawsuit. If it results in an equally-large settlement, we may see a more significant dip in Fox News viewers, at least for a while. But even that probably won’t influence many votes in the next election.

Dionne: How the GOP Became the NRA’s Gun-Worshipping Toadies

Some excerpts from E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Gun absolutists don’t trust democracy because they know they’re losing” at The Washington Post in response to the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis:

That the Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby was witnessed not only by the eagerness of Pence, Trump and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to pander in person at the gathering self-described as “14 acres of guns & gear.” Other would-be 2024 GOP nominees — among them, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — felt obligated to bow before the gun worshipers by video.

The nonsense floated in Indianapolis — based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America’s unique mass shooting problem — speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy. It has both partisan and (perverse) philosophical roots.

Dionne argues that “The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.” He notes that the NRA became “engulfed by extreme ideologues” in 1977, and has since then taken America and the U.S. Supreme Court down “a dangerous new path.” Also,

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other….It comes down to a variant of the old Maoist slogan: All liberty grows out of the barrel of a gun. When Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told a White House rally before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, “Let’s have trial by combat,” he was speaking for a sentiment that runs deep in the gun rights movement….

Undercutting the ability of voters to cast ballots is another habit of those who privilege the Second Amendment over all the others. As Politico’s Kathy Gilsinan reported, Tennessee’s election laws allow gun permits as voter IDs but not college student identifications. There is no waiting time to buy a gun, but citizens have to register at least 30 days before an election. “It is absolutely easier to get a gun than to vote in Tennessee,” Democratic state Sen. Charlane Oliver told Gilsinan…

The good news in this story is that radical opposition to sensible gun laws is not embedded in the American character. It’s the product of an ideology that overtook a less dogmatic form of conservatism and seized control of a political party.

In his conclusion, Dionne writes, “With Americans increasingly angry over mass shootings — the latest outrage came Saturday with the killing of four at a teen’s birthday party in Alabama — the era of gun absolutism could finally be over, if the popular will on guns is allowed to prevail. But this depends on defending the democracy that so many, at the Indianapolis gathering and in Tennessee, deeply mistrust.”

Political Strategy Notes

Here’s a trend that provides a problem and perhaps an opportunity for Democrats: “After a tumultuous year in the markets, America’s preparedness for retirement has gotten shakier, Axios’ Erica Pandey writes….By the numbers: More than half — 52% — of Americans are not on track to comfortably pay for their retirement, according to a new report from Fidelity, the nation’s largest provider of 401(k) plans….401(k) accounts lost 23% of their value last year, compared with 2021, per another recent Fidelity report….And 55% of those between the ages of 18 and 35 have put retirement planning and saving on hold, Fidelity notes….Between the lines: “Roughly half the workforce, we’re talking 50 plus million people, work for an employer that doesn’t offer a retirement plan,” said David John, a senior policy adviser at AARP. That could mean a small business or gig work….And millennials and Gen X-ers are far less likely to have traditional pensions than their Boomer counterparts, John said….What to watch: Gen Z is more prepared for the future than previous generations, said Rita Assaf, vice president of retirement at Fidelity. Gen Z’s creation of new IRA savings accounts was up 30% in 2022, compared to 2021….The bottom line: Retirement preparedness among young people, especially millennials, isn’t where it should be, Assaf notes. “The good news is they still have time.” The big problem is that a lot of older voters are quite shaken that their retirement assets tanked an average of 23 percent in one year, and along with inflation at the gas pump and grocery market, they may want to blame the incumbent President. That’s not an easy fix. But Biden can at least propose a significant tax break for retirees. There is another opportunity – loudly propose irresistible tax incentives for employers, plus self-employed workers – that half of the workforce who are not in a retirement plan – to enroll in one. The big idea is for Biden and the Democrats to become the unrivaled champions of a decent retirement for all workers. It could help. Trump got 52 percent of voters over age 65 in 2020, compared to 48 percent for Biden. Census data indicate that voters over age 65, about one-fourth of all voters, had the highest turnout rate — 74 percent, in 2020.

Is ‘No Labels” a GOP front? According to Daniel Strauss at The New Republic, “For many years, Third Way and No Labels have been thought of by inside Democratic observers as peas in a pod. Both are moderate groups—Third Way explicitly Democratic, No Labels avowedly bipartisan—but both occupy, too many observers, the same general space on the ideological parking lot. Both groups are close to or involved with some of the same senators and House members, and both certainly have suffered their share of scorn from groups to their left….So it was awfully interesting Thursday when Third Way executive vice president Jim Kessler wrote an email to friends and colleagues lambasting No Labels: “The group No Labels is holding its nominating convention in Dallas to select a 3rd Party candidate that most assuredly would hurt Biden and elect Trump or whoever wins the GOP nomination. They have already raised $70m. They are already on the ballot in a bunch of states. And in a map they recently published showing their absurd path to 270 electoral college votes, they’ve targeted 23 states for victory—19 won by Biden and 4 won by Trump. That gives you an idea of what they’re up to and who they really want to elect. And as a reminder, No Labels endorsed Trump in 2016.”….As Kessler’s missive indicates, No Labels has set out to get on the ballot as its own political party in a number of states….on Friday, Third Way co-authored an op-ed in The Washington Post with a couple of unlikely allies among the constellation of Democratic groups: the Center for American Progress Action Fund and MoveOn. The effort really covered the waterfront. Third Way is centrist, CAP mainstream liberal, and MoveOn represents the party’s more progressive wing. The Post op-ed was co-bylined by the three group leaders: Third Way’s Jonathan Cowan, CAP’s Patrick Gaspard, and MoveOn’s Rahna Epting….“We understand the sentiment that has driven donors to the No Labels banner,” the three wrote. “But there is simply no equating a party led by Biden to today’s MAGA Republican Party. One side believes in American democracy, while the other has attacked it. One is governing from the mainstream, while the other champions extremism. One seeks to work collaboratively on the issues; the other has given way to conspiracy theorists and cranks”….This isn’t the first former friend No Labels has lost. William Galston, the respected centrist scholar at the Brookings Institution, said in late March that he would separate himself from the group over its plans for a third-party challenge.”

Strauss also profiles “The Democrat Who’s Betting Her Senate Bid on Gun Control” at TNR, and writes that Rep. Elisa Stotkin “has been an important centrist envoy to the Great Lakes State. The 7th Congressional District she represents, in the south central part of the state, has a population of less than 800,000, and she had won her first congressional campaign in 2018 by threading the needle between her farm-life experience in the district (she grew up in rural Holly, population less than 6,000) and her bipartisan foreign policy background: She was recruited by the CIA after graduating from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2003. She spent five years in Iraq with the CIA, and later, at the National Security Council, serving in both the Bush and the Obama administrations. (Subsequently, Slotkin worked at the State Department, then Defense.) It didn’t hurt that the Slotkin name was well-known in Michigan: Her grandfather, Hugo, ran Hygrade Food Products, the company behind Ball Park Franks. Slotkin is also a member of the New Democrat Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus, groups that liberal Democrats occasionally feud with—a fact that may endear her to some of her constituents. (Like some in the moderate caucus, she declined to support Nancy Pelosi for speaker in 2021, but she’s been a reliable vote on the House floor….Now, she’s taking aim at guns. “I’ve had friends close to me be killed by rockets,” she said back in February, referencing her time in Iraq, but “our schools and our communities are not war zones….These are civilians.”….Although Congress passed, and President Joe Biden signed, compromise gun control legislation last year, passage of any further restrictions in the current Republican-controlled House is hardly likely. Still, she is pushing ahead. By late March, her office was preparing to help roll out a new set of proposals in Congress, such as $50 million in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to finance gun violence research (co-sponsored with Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts), mandatory waiting periods for firearm purchases, and prohibiting those convicted of misdemeanors involving guns to own firearms for three years….“I think I’m the only congressperson to now have had two school shootings in their district,” Slotkin said. “I hope I’m the only one.”

At ‘The Downballot’ at Daily Kos, David Nir observes, “We took a look at which states could amend their constitutions to guarantee the right to an abortion. It’s quite a few. Last year, California, Michigan, and Vermont all voted in favor of amending their constitutions to guarantee abortion rights. They were the first states to do so. It turns out that, at least at the moment, another 23 states could do the exact same thing. There’s a reason why amending your constitution really is so important both in blue states, but especially in purple or red states. It’s the most permanent, longest-lasting way of guaranteeing abortion rights. It’s more difficult than simply passing a statute, but sometimes it’s your only option….In fact, there are two ways to go about getting an amendment on the ballot. In every state, the legislature can refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. Since we know that Republicans, of course, will never support such a thing, that means we can expect that only blue states are going to be able to have their legislatures put an amendment on the ballot. That’s what happened in California and Vermont….In some states, you only need a simple majority of the legislature. In some states, you need a two-thirds supermajority. There are even some blue states where the legislature doesn’t have enough votes to put an amendment on the ballot….But there are 18 states where voters themselves can put amendments on the ballot. They can do so by using the initiative process, which means that they gather a sufficient number of signatures from voters across the state, and then voters get to vote on that amendment if they qualify with enough signatures. This really opens up a lot of doors because it gives abortion rights advocates the chance to amend constitutions in purple and red states that are otherwise hostile to abortion or have even banned the practice….There are, in fact, two efforts underway right now that we know of in Ohio and South Dakota to qualify measures for the ballot….Florida also allows citizen initiatives on the ballot. They are expensive, they take a lot of time and effort, you have to gather large numbers of signatures. But with the courts so hostile in so many ways to abortion rights, it really is a smart move for Democrats to pursue….And also, as we saw in 2022, it’s not just the blue states where abortion rights are popular. In, once again, Montana, but also Kentucky and Kansas, voters rejected restrictions on abortion rights. Now asking them to vote for guarantees of abortion rights, a positive measure as opposed to voting against a negative restrictive measure, that’s something different….this is really an area that advocates and Democrats need to be focusing on.”

DeSantis At Liberty: When He Started Speaking, the Energy Left the Room

As a long-time student of Christian Right politics, I’ve been intrigued about how the various 2024 Republican presidential candidates will appeal to this (for them) key constituency, so I was all eyes and ears when Ron DeSantis spoke at Liberty University, as I explained at New York:

For a while now, I’ve had April 14 circled on my calendar as the day when Florida governor and likely presidential candidate Ron DeSantis would be speaking at Liberty University. The huge school in Lynchburg, Virginia, is associated with the late Jerry Falwell Sr., who turned the small Baptist college into a conservative Evangelical powerhouse. For decades, Republican politicians (and a few Democrats) have shown the flag at the school’s regular student assemblies (known as Convocations) to indicate their understanding of — and in many cases their solidarity with — the agenda of the Christian right.

When DeSantis signed a radical new “heartbeat” law banning abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy on the very eve of the speech at Liberty, I thought, Aha. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, inking the draconian measure in private at 10:30 p.m., only 15 minutes after it arrived on his desk. Perhaps he was spooked by polls showing overwhelming opposition to the law among Floridians. Or maybe he was waiting to present the new law like a gift to the culture warriors of Liberty.

But no. Liberty chancellor Jonathan Falwell touted the new abortion law in his introduction of DeSantis to predictably loud cheers. But the hero of the hour did not mention it in his relatively brief remarks.

Indeed, DeSantis’s appearance provided a sharp contrast to the trappings of the event. Before he spoke, the students joyfully sang a couple of “contemporary Christian” tunes and the old hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The crowd seemed ready for some religiopolitical fire and brimstone. And then … DeSantis pretty much delivered the stock speech he’s been using in appearances all over the country, an extended series of boasts about how he’s made Florida a “refuge of sanity,” attracting hordes of blue-state escapees hungry for wealth and freedom. It was like going to church and, instead of a sermon, hearing a speech prepared for a Rotary Club. He said not a word about his personal faith (which is pretty much a mystery); Jesus’ name went unmentioned; the “unborn” received no loving tributes. Other than a pro forma word of thanks for the prayers various people had offered his wife during her recent battle with breast cancer and another pro forma shout-out to God for endowing the human race with the freedoms DeSantis is allegedly protecting, it was an entirely secular speech.

So the Liberty students left with pretty much the same impression of DeSantis that the more politically astute among them probably had going in: He’s the enemy of their enemies, a man happy to bully LGBTQ+ children, public-school teachers, corporate-diversity personnel, Mickey Mouse, and anyone who is “woke,” but not necessarily because he’s hearing voices from a higher authority than the GOP. If DeSantis’s listeners learned anything about him, it was probably his frequently repeated reminders that, after all this right-wing nastiness, the voters of his state rewarded him with a landslide reelection. This could happen in America in 2024, too, was his not-so-subtle message.

Maybe this soulless and firmly transactional approach is all DeSantis needs to do to strengthen his standing among conservative Evangelicals. But this seems like a lost opportunity for him to create real buzz in one of the leading forums of that very important segment of the Republican-primary electorate. After all, another transactional favorite of the Christian right, Donald Trump, has created an opening by blaming the extremism of anti-abortion activists and the candidates they backed for the GOP’s underperformance in the 2022 midterm elections. In Iowa, where DeSantis must begin his uphill challenge to Trump (assuming he doesn’t get cold feet at the last moment), there’s a palpable sense the evangelical voters who lifted Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Ted Cruz in 2016 to victory in the caucuses are up for grabs. It is very much in DeSantis’s interest to make sure he and not Mike Pence, Tim Scott, or anyone else is the beneficiary of any Christian-right estrangement from Trump.

Maybe the Floridian will display an overtly religious awakening somewhere on the road to Cedar Rapids. But at this point, he’s playing the same game as the master of manipulation from Mar-a-Lago, who will be happy to remind anti-abortion voters that DeSantis would never have had the opportunity to shut down Florida’s abortion clinics if Trump hadn’t stacked the Supreme Court and forced the reversal of Roe v. Wade. And if DeSantis is ultimately going to offer Republicans little more than a more electable version of what Trump has more entertainingly offered them since 2015, potential supporters will find excuses not to turn out for him on cold nights in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the flesh may be willing but the spirit may be weak.

The Tester Template Under GOP Assault

In her article “Montana GOP Has a Ploy to Sink Sen. Jon Tester: A New Election Law” at The Daily Beast, Ursula Perano reports on the Republican scheme to defeat the MT Senator — and bury his example of how a common sense Democrat can win in a “red” state. As Perano writes:

After three Senate elections in which Democrat Jon Tester narrowly beat the Republican candidates by—collectively—40,000 votes, Montana Republicans are striking back.

The GOP-controlled state legislature is considering a radical change in election law—a change that is nakedly targeted at taking down Tester and could, in effect, flip one of the most vulnerable Senate seats well before November 2024.

Montana Republicans are trying to take a page out of California’s playbook and switch their primary election to the controversial top-two primary system, otherwise known as a “jungle primary.”

But it’s only for next year, when Tester, Montana’s last statewide Democrat, is up for re-election. After that, the change would expire, supposedly so lawmakers could assess how things went.

It’s a move that would obviously benefit the GOP—with suspiciously convenient timing. After the bill stalled in committee, the measure quickly sped through the state Senate, and now seems on the fast track toward becoming law.

Democrats, many flabbergasted by the ploy, are calling out the move.

They shouldn’t be flabbergasted. But they should be alarmed. Anyone following recent politics will not be surprised that the Republicans would try a sleazy back door gambit under the guise of “electoral reform” to unhorse one of the most impressive U.S. Senators. Perano notes further,

Republicans, hands down, would have preferred Tester not to run for re-election in 2024. He’s considered the only Montana Democrat prepared to actually compete for the Senate seat. And he’s managed to hang on through his past three elections, even as the state more broadly trended red.

But with a top-two primary, the math could sway in the GOP’s favor.

In a jungle primary, all candidates of both parties run in the same primary, and the top-two vote getters head to a runoff. That could mean that two Republicans simply beat Tester during the primary and only they go to the final vote during the general election. More likely—but potentially just as consequential—it could mean that Tester and a Republican go head-to-head during the general election, and third-party candidates, namely Libertarians, wouldn’t have a spot on the ballot.

In two of Tester’s previous three races, Republicans and Libertarians combined got more votes than Tester’s Democratic total. If there were no Libertarian option, the working assumption is Republicans would likely pick up those votes.

The GOP sees Tester as vulnerable and his seat as a potential pick-up in their quest to win a senate majority. But it may be that they fear his “template” as a rare elected Democrat who supports a moderately progressive agenda with eloquent, plain talk even more. As one of the smartest Democratic senators, Tester connects with working class voters in a way that wins their support.

Unlike Republican leaders who ride around in pick-up trucks they don’t need and fondle rifles in their campaign ads, or other “all hat and no cattle” ranchers, or GOP preppies in mega hats, Tester has authentic blue collar cred few Republicans can match. He’s the real deal, a guy who loves working on his farm, but not posing with hay bales and enjoys repping his state and keeping up with the issues that really matter to Montana farmers and working families. Try to think of a Republican senator who has even a shred of that “look.”

If the new generation of Democratic candidates replicated Tester’s example even in approximate ways, it could spell disaster for Republicans, and they know it. If events turned in such a way that Tester became a presidential candidate, even worse for them. The GOP would love to cancel Tester and blot out his example.

Don’t let them. Anyone can contribute to Tester’s re-election at this link.

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall shares a scary warning about the GOP’s well-planned “authoritarianism.” Edsall writes “Theda Skocpol, a professor of political science and sociology at Harvard, contended that many of the developments in states controlled by Republicans are a result of careful, long-term planning by conservative strategists, particularly those in the Federalist Society, who are developing tools to build what she called “minority authoritarianism” within the context of a nominally democratic system of government….Skocpol outlined her thinking in an email: The first-movers who figured out how to configure this new “laboratory of democratic constriction” were legal eagles in the Federalist Society and beyond, because the key structural dynamic in the current G.O.P. gallop toward minority authoritarianism is the mutual interlock between post-2010 Republican control, often supermajority control, of dozens of state legislatures and the SCOTUS decision in 2019 to allow even the most extreme and bizarre forms of partisan gerrymandering….These organized, richly resourced actors, she wrote, have figured out how to rig the current U.S. system of federalism and divided branches, given generational and geographic realities on the ground, and the in many ways fluky 2016 presidential election gave them what they needed to put the interlock in place. They are stoking and using the fears and resentments of about half or so of the G.O.P. popular base to undo American democracy and enhance their own power and privileges. They are doing it because they can, and they believe in what they are doing. They are America’s G.O.P. Leninists.” Considering the recent follies of DeSantis, Abbot, Trump, Santos, Graham, Pence, MTG and hundreds of bomb-throwers in various state legislatures, there’s not a lot of room left the GOP clown car. They are going to need one of those long, accordion busses by Election Day 2024. In light of Skocpol’s insights, they are the distractor front men and women, while the organizers lay the groundwork for a takeover. To stop them, Dems are going to have to get smarter, better-organized and unified.

Speaking of ideological bomb-throwers in the state legislatures, read “Tennessee Republicans may have just handed a lifeline to Democrats” by Politico’s Liz Crampton, who explains: “A blue turnaround in Tennessee seemed like a pipe dream just a few weeks ago — and maybe still does. Democrats are outnumbered, out-resourced and hamstrung by a legislative map drawn to favor Republicans. It’s also a state that suffers from one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country….Party insiders and organizers are the first to concede just how bad they have it….“Nothing changes the fact that these districts are highly gerrymandered,” said Lisa Quigley, a former chief of staff to Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat who didn’t seek reelection after his district was effectively eliminated in redistricting last year. “It’s going to take some really smart organizing all over the state, because none of us vote very well.”….But if there was ever a moment when the party stood a chance, it’s now. The state Democratic Party has been flooded with donations and interest since the GOP started moving against three Democrats for participating in a gun safety protest on the state House floor, and ultimately expelling two of them last week for violating decorum rules….On the day that state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two Black millennial freshmen, were kicked out of the Legislature, 33,000 people called into the state party office looking to get involved, Democratic Party Chair Hendrell Remus said. So far, nearly 10,000 have signed up to volunteer, he said in an interview, and hundreds of people have expressed interest in running for office — many in districts where Republican lawmakers ran unopposed in the midterms. More than half of Republican lawmakers serving in the statehouse today were uncontested in November.” TN’s right-wing bomb-throwers have just laid a shiny new political forklift at the door of the Dems — if they use it to help build wisely.

Regarding political investment strategy, check out “The Billionaire Gap in American Politics: Financiers on the American right marshal money in the relentless pursuit of power, while their left-leaning counterparts spend it on vanity projects” by Chris Lehman at The Nation. As Lehman observes, “financiers on the American right marshal money in the relentless pursuit of power, while their left-leaning counterparts spend it on vanity projects premised on the assumption that they already have power.” Lehman shines a revealing light on the past financial strategies of the right and left and observes, “The left-leaning donor world is much less ideologically driven, in part because it traffics in the more traditional philanthropic theology of “giving back” in a fundamentally settled social order—i.e., financing benevolent undertakings as a sort of spiritual reputation laundering for the filthy rich….In the age of neoliberal capitalism, charitable giving follows far more circumscribed channels of neoliberal policy, such as school privatization, agricultural microlending, and anything that can be depicted as technologically disruptive. Former New York Times reporter Anand Giridharadas chronicled this philanthropic turn in his 2018 book Winners Take All, which showed how signature liberal philanthropies such as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation now work to shore up the foundations of wealth inequality.” Nothing wrong with “benevolent undertakings” for a host of progressive projects. But Dems clearly need more sugar mommas and daddies focused on electing good candidates at the federal, state and local levels.

Kyle Kondik takes a look at “How the Other Half Votes: The Southwest” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “We’re applying our top half/bottom half presidential voting analysis to 5 key states in the Southwest: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. Unfortunately, this method of analysis — comparing how a state’s biggest counties that cast roughly half the statewide vote have changed from 2012 to 2020 versus the bottom half counties that cast the remainder of the statewide vote — does not work well with Arizona and Nevada, the most competitive states in the region and 2 of the 7 states that were decided by less than 3 points in 2020. That’s because each has a single dominant county that casts considerably more than half of the statewide vote…As recently as 2004, George W. Bush carried all 5 of these states, but there’s been a Democratic trend in the region more broadly in the years since, with Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico voting Democratic in each of the last 4 elections, and traditionally Republican Arizona flipping to Joe Biden in 2020. Meanwhile, the megastate Texas — which now has 40 electoral votes — is showing signs of becoming markedly more competitive even as it is still clearly positioned to the right of the nation….Because Arizona and Nevada don’t really have comparable top and bottom halves to the other 3 states, we’re not going to rank these 5 states in comprehensive tables (like we did for the Midwest and East previously). However, we do have a few concluding takeaways:…— Clark County in Nevada is still more Democratic than Maricopa County in Arizona, but we could imagine the counties converging in the not-too-distant future. If that happened, Arizona would very likely move to the left of Nevada….— The top halves of both Colorado and New Mexico are both blue to varying degrees, and the bottom half of Colorado stands out as actually voting for Biden in 2020….— Democrats have made some progress in both the top and bottom halves of Texas, but they need the top half of Texas to look more like that of Georgia to win the state.”

Private School Voucher Plans Hit the Skids in Two Big GOP States

This sure looked like the year when all the “parental rights” rhetoric might give Republicans the boost they needed to enact the private school subsidies they’ve pursued for decades. But as I explained at New York, the drive to dismantle public schools has run into trouble in Georgia and Texas:

For longtime conservative enthusiasts for diverting public-education dollars into private schools (or home schools), the “parental rights” movement being embraced by Republicans across the country has been a godsend. With residual heartburn over COVID-19 restrictions on in-school instruction and fresh outrage over alleged “woke” teachers and administrators teaching kids about sex, gender identity and racism, the hoary cause of school vouchers has received a new impetus in many Republican-controlled states. That’s despite growing evidence that vouchers don’t tend to produce good educational outcomes, while undermining funding for public schools (including charter public schools that provide significant school choice).

While many jurisdictions have approved small voucher experiments, often aimed at special-education students with few public options, Republicans are now taking vouchers to a new level. Since last year, five states have made the leap to universal vouchers, which enable parents to pay for private-school tuition and/or offset homeschooling costs: Arizona in 2022 (though the state voted for Biden and two Democratic senators, the GOP controlled all three branches of state government until this year), followed by IowaUtahArkansas, and most recently Florida in 2023.

But now, rural Republican opposition to vouchers has stopped voucher proposals being backed vocally by two of the country’s most powerful GOP governors.

In Georgia, a major expansion of vouchers that Governor Brian Kemp put his considerable political heft behind unexpectedly lost when 16 mostly rural House Republicans voted against it; the bill lost by four votes and died for this session of the legislature. For one thing, many rural communities without private schools would be on the losing end of the funding shift. For another, past efforts by voucher fans to threaten Republican lawmakers with primary opposition appear to have backfired.

And now in Texas, another private-school subsidy initiative that Governor Greg Abbott has made his signature proposal for 2023 has encountered similar Republican opposition. Last week, the Texas House approved a budget amendment prohibiting use of public funds for private schools. Twenty-four Republicans — again, mostly from rural areas — voted with Democrats to give the funding amendment an 86-52 win. While the House has not yet dealt with a Senate-passed version of Abbott’s proposal, there’s no obvious path for overcoming bipartisan opposition.

These developments reinforce two big problems with vouchers aside from their poor record of improving educational results. First, as my colleague Jonathan Chait recently pointed out, most of the beneficiaries of voucher proposals have already abandoned public schools and are simply grasping for tax money to subsidize decisions they’ve already made, undermining the very idea of educational reform via school choice: “Providing vouchers didn’t give children choices; it simply sent checks to parents who were already privately educating their children.”

But second, voucher plans, and indeed the underlying philosophy that education is simply a publicly provided service for parents, ignores the civic role that public schools often play for parents and nonparents alike, particularly in rural areas. What urban and suburban conservatives may deplore as “government schools” are the glue in many small communities, as NBC News recently explained in a report from the small and intensely conservative West Texas town of Robert Lee during a track meet that drew fans to the public high school from around the area:

“It’s not just sporting events that make the school the center of the town’s identity. It’s where residents host potluck fundraisers to help pay a loved one’s medical bills, or gather for the annual Robert Lee BBQ Cookoff. There’s no gym or YMCA in Robert Lee, but the school weight room is open to the public in the evenings and on weekends. So is the playground. Lupe Torres, the school district’s head of maintenance and facilities, said he doubts many folks in Austin understand the indelible connection that rural Texans have to their public schools.”

Resident of towns like these also laugh at the idea their public schools are sinister transmission belts for “wokeness.”

Without question, Republicans won’t give up on vouchers anytime soon; too many big GOP donors and conservative Evangelical activists (who are often deeply committed to homeschooling) sincerely want to destroy traditional public schools. And again, there’s a built-in constituency of people already educating their kids privately for whom vouchers are simply a redistribution of taxpayer dollars in their favor. But it’s becoming clear that reframing the education debate as a battle between parents and unionized teachers and bureaucratic administrators hasn’t gotten rid of the idea that there’s something in public schools that the public values enough to preserve.

Elizabeth Warren: Better Economic ‘Modeling’ Urgently Needed for Child Care, Social Investments

The following article excerpt by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

If you’re wondering why the U.S. has failed so miserably in developing a workable child care and early-childhood education system, consider the role of economic modeling.

In 2021, when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its much-anticipated score for the cost of the child care provisions in the Build Back Better Act, it produced one headline number: $381.5 billion. This was what CBO estimated as the amount of money the government would lay out for child care.

But that budget score badly missed the mark on the net cost of the program. It did not account for any of the savings predicted by reams of academic research on the long-term economic benefits of child care. Nothing about how kids with high-quality early care do better in school, stay out of trouble, and have higher lifetime earnings. Nothing about the increased tax revenues generated by mamas and daddies who could now work full-time. Nothing about the mountains of data that show that when mothers are held out of the workforce in their early years, their lifetime earnings and even their security in retirement are seriously undercut—something universal child care could reverse. And nothing about the impact of higher wages for child care workers—wages that would mean many of those workers would be paying more taxes and wouldn’t need SNAP, Medicaid, housing supplements, and other help offered to the lowest-paid people in the country. In other words, according to CBO, investing in our children and filling a wheelbarrow with $381.5 billion in cash (a big wheelbarrow) and setting it on fire would have exactly the same impact on our national budget and our nation.

To every CEO of a Fortune 500 company or owner of a small neighborhood restaurant, budget scoring like this must sound like a crazy way of doing business. After all, investments don’t just have costs—they also have benefits. That’s why companies invest in things like building factories, converting to green energy, or offering employee benefits, even if they have to book a big cost up front. Those corporate executives don’t take on big-ticket projects out of the goodness of their hearts; they take them on because they want to boost profits, retain workers, and improve the company’s long-term outlook.

(Click here for the rest of the article)