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The Daily Strategist

January 19, 2021

Political Strategy Notes

In “How Georgia’s Senate race pits the Old South against the New South,” Maya King writes, The state has seen an influx of young people of color and college educated voters of all races, which has boosted the population by nearly 10% over the last decade, according to census data. Immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Jamaica also account for these changes. The immigrant population jumped 84 percent between 2010 and 2018, putting Georgia on the fast track to become majority-minority by 2030. Black, Latino and Asian voters in the once-Republican Atlanta suburbs helped deliver the state for Joe Biden in November. In the Peach State — and soon, strategists argue, the rest of the South — demography is becoming destiny….Carolyn Bourdeaux, who won one of a handful of down-ballot Democratic victories in Georgia, faced similar attacks from her Republican opponents during her House race. One ad described her as a “dangerous reckless extremist” who has “taken cash from groups who want to defund … the police,” which Democrats have cited as an anchor to their effort to expand their House majority. Bourdeaux said she decided to ignore Republican attack ads and focuses on policy points instead. “I try to sum it up by saying I’m here to take a passionate stand for the common-sense solutions that people in this district need,” said Bourdeaux, the only Democrat to flip a red seat this election. “And then combine it with building and engaging with the diverse communities that are now in Georgia.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein shares some data about the declining influence of white Christians in U.S. politics: “White Americans who identified as Christians made up a majority of the nation’s population for most of its history—about two-thirds of the adult population as recently as the late 1990s. But sometime between 2010 and 2012, white Christians, for the first time, fell below majority status, according to the National Opinion Research Center’s annual General Social Survey. Their ranks have continued to shrink since: The latest data from the Pew Research Center puts white Christians at just above 40 percent of the population, with nonwhite Christians accounting for another 25 percent, people who practice a non-Christian faith representing a little less than 10 percent, and Americans who don’t identify with any religious tradition rising to 25 percent (up from 17 percent only a decade ago)….Given younger generations’ religious preferences, the unmistakable trend line is that Christians—particularly white Christians—will continue to shrink as a share of society, while the share of Americans who don’t ascribe to any religious faith will grow. According to the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute’s latest findings, among adults younger than 30, fully 36 percent don’t ascribe to any religious faith, and another 6 percent belong to a non-Christian religion; white Christians account for less than three in 10 of this group, only slightly more than the share of nonwhite Christians (just over one in four)….In PRRI polling, almost exactly two-thirds of Republicans identify as white Christians, a level last reached in American society overall in the late 1990s; Democrats, by contrast, divide about in thirds between white Christians, nonwhite Christians, and nonreligious or non-Christian people. Similarly, the network election exit polls this year found that while white Christians still provided fully two-thirds of Trump’s votes, Joe Biden garnered a bigger bloc of support from nonreligious and non-Christian Americans (about 40 percent of his voters) than from either white or nonwhite Christians.”

If you were wondering how many Americans are actually paying attention to politics, Nathaniel Rakich has some recent data on the topic in “Other Polling Bites” at FiveThirtyEight: “We at FiveThirtyEight were glued to the election results as they came in about a month ago, and it turns out we weren’t alone. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 36 percent of Americans say they followed the results of the election “almost constantly,” while another 34 percent “checked in fairly often.” Twenty-two percent said they “checked in occasionally,” while only 7 percent “tuned out entirely.” And, if you were wondering where Americans get their political news, Elizabeth Grieco notes at Pew Research Center that a survey of 12,043 adults who are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel found that, “In a late 2019 survey conducted as part of Pew Research Center’s Election News Pathways project, Fox News and CNN were named by the largest segments of U.S. adults as their main political news source – 16% and 12%, respectively. Six other news outlets – NPR, NBC News, ABC News, MSNBC, CBS News and The New York Times – were named by at least 2% of adults. The sources named by the remaining 51% of U.S. adults resulted in a long tail of more than 50 other individual brands….In all, about half (49%) of U.S. adults named one of these eight outlets as their main source for political and election news. The long list of all other individual outlets, named by fewer than 2% of respondents, included larger sources like The Washington Post, the BBC and Rush Limbaugh, as well as more niche sources such as One America News, The Young Turks and individual local newspapers. Some of the remaining respondents named social media sites (4% in total) or a medium without any specific outlet specified (“radio,” “the internet”). Finally, 13% of respondents declined to provide a recognizable news outlet, left the field blank or said they didn’t remember the name of their main news source.”

Here’s a chart from Grieco’s article showing some demographic breakdown data from the survey’s findings:

Biden’s Popular Vote Margin Reaches Seven Million

A lot of people have understandably stopped watching election returns trickle in. But they matter, as I explained at New York:

As Donald Trump continues to complain that he actually won, Joe Biden’s popular vote lead over the 45th president keeps growing to more and more impressive levels. He and Kamala Harris now have won more than 81 million votes, or over 10 million more than Barack Obama and Biden won in 2008, the previous high-water mark.

On Thursday, Biden’s popular vote margin over Trump passed the 7 million vote mark, well over twice the 2.9 million margin won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. From a percentage point of view, Biden leads by 4.4 percent — again, well over twice the 2.1 percent margin won by Clinton over Trump four years ago, and also more than the 3.9 percent by which Obama and Biden defeated Mitt Romney in 2012. It’s also higher than the popular vote percentage margins of the winners in 2004, 2000, 1976, 1968, and 1960. 2020 was by no means a landslide, of course, but from a popular-vote perspective it was the next best thing.

The Biden-Harris ticket’s 51.3 percent of the popular vote is pretty impressive, too. It’s higher than the 51.1 percent he and Obama won in 2012, and with the exception of the 52.9 percent they won in 2008, it’s the highest for any Democratic presidential ticket dating all the way back to Lyndon Johnson’s defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 (and before that, you have to go back to FDR in 1944 to find its equal).

If we didn’t have the abomination of the Electoral College, the Biden-Harris win would have looked comfortable, not uncomfortably close. Democrats should enjoy it a bit more than they have, and focus on hoping that Georgia will not only give Biden’s party its 16 electoral votes on December 14 when they are finally cast, but also control of the Senate if Democrats win two runoffs on January 5.

If that happens, many of the frowns over disappointing down-ballot results will turn to smiles.

GA Runoff Poll Favors Dems

From “Warnock leading Loeffler, other Georgia Senate runoff race deadlocked: poll” by Marina Pitofsky at The Hill:

Democrat the Rev. Raphael Warnock holds a lead over GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Ga.) in a poll of one of two Georgia runoff races that will determine the balance of the Senate.

Warnock leads Loeffler 52 percent to 45 percent in a new poll from SurveyUSA commissioned by WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

The poll, released Thursday, also shows that Democrat John Ossoff is narrowly leading Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) 50 percent to the Republican’s 48 percent in the state’s other runoff election that will take place in January. 

The poll respondents included 850 Georgians, with 717 RVs and 583 LVs. A couple of demographic breakdown nuggets:

White voters in the Peach State gave Perdue a 43-point lead and Loeffler a 37-point lead, according to the poll. Among Black voters, Ossoff led in his runoff race with an 87-point advantage and Warnock with an 83-point advantage.

Men gave Perdue a 10-point lead over Ossoff and Loeffler a 9-point lead over Warnock. Women gave Ossoff an 11-point lead over Perdue, as well as a 19-point advantage for Warnock.

Of course it will all come down to turnout, and Democratic hopes ride on an energetic GOTV effort spearheaded by Georgia’s activist groups and divisions in the state GOP’s rank and file. Georgia is currently being blanketed by a fierce ad war from both parties.  Georgians and out-of-state volunteers who want to help the Democratic effort can find suggestions here and a guide to making donations here.

Political Strategy Notes

So, what did the density divide look like this year?,” Amy Walter asks at The Cook Political Report. Walter notes, “An excellent first draft analysis of the (still incomplete) county data by Bloomberg/City Lab found the tipping point to be 700 people per square mile. “Most of the red counties have densities of fewer than 500 people per square mile. Most of the purple counties are clustered at densities of between 400 and 1,500 people per square mile. And the blue counties are those above 1,500 people per square mile. While there are notable exceptions to this pattern, the basic trend suggests the dominant role suburban density plays in American political life.”….To me, the most interesting takeaway from this analysis was the designation of ‘purple counties’ — those counties that are more exurban than suburban. In fast-growing swing states like Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, how these areas vote will determine which party wins those states in the future…. This Democratic headway into fast-growing exurbs represents a serious threat to the GOP grip on these sunbelt states. As Dante Chinni, a political analyst for the Wall Street Journal and NBC and expert on the geographic distribution of the vote, argued in his recent analysis of the 2020 election: “Republican candidates need big margins out of those exurb counties to help offset the Democrats big wins in the urban suburbs and big cities.” And, as we’ve seen in states like Virginia, once these exurbs start to turn blue, they don’t turn back. Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County flipped red to blue in 2008, with Obama carrying this county by 8 points. In 2020, Biden carried the once rural county by 25 points.”

In his article, “Changing the Narrative in Georgia’s Runoff Elections,” Dylan Hu writes at The Harvard Political Review: “Were Democrats to win both runoffs, they still only hold a 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Rushing through unpopular legislation would be a surefire way to lose that majority in 2022, and Democrats are well-aware of their congressional weaknesses with progressive messaging. Democratic senators with conservative electorates, such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), may not join their liberal colleagues in such legislation either….Rather, the narrative around Georgia’s runoffs should be that McConnell’s possible retention of the Senate majority would ensure four years of political gridlock — not just of progressive legislation, but of basic governmental functions. Consider McConnell’s Senate under the Obama administration after the GOP swung nine Senate seats to take the majority in the 2014 midterms. Not only did GOP senators block Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination for months, they also obstructed the confirmation of tens of federal judges, leaving vacancies open for Trump to fill. Legislatively, McConnell has also weaponized the filibuster to subvert any and all Senate bills that deviate from his conservative agenda, delaying critical pieces of legislation, such as the Dodd-Frank Act and the DREAM Act….In reality, the relevant dichotomy around Georgia’s runoff elections is not even between the “radical left” and moderate compromise, as Loeffler and Perdue would like to argue. As Georgia residents prepare for a second round of voting on January 5, voters should consider whether they want more years of a dysfunctional Senate — a Senate chained by a majority leader who prefers legislative paralysis over popularly-supported Democratic bills.”

“It won’t be easy to persuade a swath of President Donald Trump’s loyal base to embrace a practice that he’s denigrated for years, claiming without evidence that millions of illegal mail-in votes have resulted in a “rigged” election,” Greg Bluestein writes in The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Republican “Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official and a frequent target of Trump’s criticism, said the president essentially orchestrated his own defeat in Georgia by undermining confidence in mail-in ballots….In interviews, Raffensperger notes that roughly 24,000 Republicans who voted in the state’s June primary didn’t cast ballots in the general election. That’s about twice the margin of Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, which made him the first Democratic presidential candidate to capture the state since 1992….Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, meanwhile, hope to expand on a mail-in edge that helped Biden beat Trump in Georgia. The president-elect tallied roughly 300,000 more mail-in ballots than Trump, helping him offset the Republican’s Election Day advantage….Spurred on by the pandemic, absentee voting has never been more popular in Georgia. Nearly 1 million mail-in ballots have been requested for the runoffs, according to state elections officials, including roughly 600,000 people who were eligible to receive the ballots automatically….The campaigns and their allies are bombarding Democratic-leaning voters with urgent pleas to request absentee ballots — followed by reminders to fill them out and turn them in once they receive them….After a coronavirus-related hiatus, Democrats have resumed door-to-door canvassing with safety precautions and are staging events to encourage supporters to cast their vote early…..“Democrats won Georgia by empowering voters across the state to exercise their right to vote early and safely — we fully intend to follow and expand on that playbook to win in January,” said Maggie Chambers, a spokeswoman for the party’s coordinated campaign.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. lays bare “The Destructive Myth About Divided Government” at The Washington Post: “The Senate runoffs in Georgia should not be allowed to become a festival of lies about whether socialism, radicalism or defunding the police are on the ballot. They’re not. What is at stake: whether President-elect Joe Biden will have a chance to end the scourge of the covid-19 pandemic, get the economy moving again, and enact some bread-and-butter programs to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and shore up our health-care system…And voters must understand that as long as Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the Senate majority leader and the base of the Republican Party is dominated by the far right — including “Stop the Steal” Trumpists — a divided government is not a recipe for compromise. Instead, it’s a ticket to obstruction and the very sort of partisan brawling that moderate voters can’t stand….The belief that divided government guarantees moderate outcomes might once have been true when there was a solid moderate bloc in the Republican Party. But it should now be clear that it’s a destructive myth…..Since Barack Obama’s presidency, the GOP’s leadership has been committed to preventing a Democratic president from governing successfully — even when that president is willing and eager to compromise….Biden will keep talking about bringing the country together. That’s good. But he’ll have a better chance of success with a Senate that doesn’t define its purpose as throwing “sand in the gears” of good governance.”

Why Trump’s Election Coup Failed

For months I was one of a number of political observers warning that Donald Trump was laying the groundwork for a coup to overturn an election loss. Yet he is very close to the exit ramp from the White House. I examined what happened to his plans at New York:

State election-results certifications are rolling in for Biden; federal and state judicial panels are monotonously rejecting his legal challenges to the results; and the number of Republican elected officials supporting the conspiracy theories his lawyers are offering is eroding steadily. Now that the threat of a seriously contested (or even overturned) presidential election is receding (though not entirely disappearing), it’s worth asking why it went down as it did. As someone who feared a “red mirage” scenario, in which the president would tally an early Election Night lead then prematurely declare victory, I feel a responsibility to examine what went wrong for Trump, and right for democracy. Below are some possible explanations for his failure to mount a serious challenge to his defeat.

Maybe Trump Never Had an Actual Plan

Back in the spring and summer of this year, when Trump began attacking voting by mail as inherently corrupt, it began to occur to many of us that in convincing Republicans to vote on Election Day he might be trying to engineer a scenario in which he would gain a temporary lead from in-person results, then attempt to disallow the mail ballots that would swing the election to Biden days or even weeks after November 3. Critics of “red mirage” talk often dismissed such fears as overestimating Trump’s seriousness, not to mention his ability to convince others to go along with any effort to stop the counting of mail ballots on or after Election Day.

Perhaps these critics were right: Trump’s “plan” to steal the election failed because there was never really a plan beyond throwing mud at the election process and hoping something stuck. That interpretation would explain the Trump campaign’s erratic postelection legal strategy, and its too little, too late efforts to mobilize the president’s supporters to put pressure on election officials and state legislators to skew the vote or set it aside in favor of arbitrarily appointed Trump electors. In other words, if there was a plan, it was incompetently executed.

Perhaps Trump Hesitated When It Looked Like He Could Win Legitimately

Another possibility is that Trump was doing well enough in the initial returns that he hesitated in contesting the election, as there was a real possibility he could win without chicanery. He won Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Texas decisively, and was obviously in a competitive position in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. When it became obvious that later mail ballots were going to resolve the results in the closest states, early on November 4, Trump did make his long-expected victory claim, and vaguely threatened legal action to stop the counting of “illegal” votes. But it was not the clarion call for revolution many of us feared, as I noted at the time in trying to parse his wee-hours remarks in the East Room:

“This is all guesswork, beyond the president’s clear indication that he doesn’t want to allow all legal votes to be counted and reported, on the specious grounds that a ballot postmarked by Election Day is somehow cast afterward. I suppose it’s a small victory that he’s talking about going to court rather than inciting violence or using his own powers to suppress vote-counting by brute force.”

There was something irresolute about Trump’s victory claims and his failure to call his supporters into the streets that suggested either divisions among his team or perhaps doubt as to whether Biden would win without court interventions. It’s useful to remember that the experts didn’t actually call the election for Biden until November 7. So pulling the trigger on a full-on election contest might have seemed risky at that point.

Trump’s Legal Strategy Turned Out to Be a Blind Alley

Reflecting what probably seemed like the imperative of securing small changes in the results from very close states, Team Trump’s initial legal strategy seemed focused on very narrow issues — particularly a continuation of Republicans’ national and state preelection lawsuits that aimed to stop the extension of mail-ballot deadlines (a particularly big issue in North Carolina and Pennsylvania). Here’s how I summarized the situation in all-important Pennsylvania as of November 9:

“Election-law expert Rick Hasen estimates that about 10,000 total votes were received between November 3 and November 6, and some of them, of course, were cast for Donald Trump. At the moment, Biden’s lead in the Keystone State stands at 45,000. And even if Trump could somehow flip (or call into question) Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, he’d need to win 36 additional EVs from the 45 still unresolved (26 of them in states where Biden currently leads) to reverse the overall outcome. To sum it all up: If he had some ham, he could make a ham sandwich, if he had some bread.”

Again, it was too little, too late.

Trump Never Mobilized Republican State Legislators to Save Him

However you analyze the path that brought Trump to the situation where his lawyers resorted to wild conspiracy theories (as reflected in the insane presser they held on November 19) and frantic efforts to slow down state certifications of results, it was obvious by mid-November that Trump’s only hope was to create enough phony doubt about the outcome in key states to justify a power grab by Republican legislators. The idea, which was fully aired in many of the preelection “red mirage” speculations (I wrote about it in April), was that state legislators would assert a constitutionally sanctioned (if controversial and arguably in conflict with their own statutes) right to appoint electors themselves since “fraud” had tainted the popular-vote results. Trump publicly called on GOP legislators to do just that, as Politico reported on November 21:

“[W]ith few cases pending in courts, Trump’s options have narrowed and he is becoming increasingly reliant on longshot scenarios where election results are not certified and Republican-controlled statehouses in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Georgia intervene to declare him the winner.

“GOP legislative leaders in those states have not endorsed this approach. Trump summoned Michigan legislative leaders to the White House on Friday, but they later issued a statement indicating they had not seen any reason to intervene on Trump’s behalf.”

For this long-shot strategy to have worked, Trump would have needed to begin much earlier — perhaps in close coordination with his early and incessant attacks on voting by mail — to prepare Republican legislators for this audacious step, while mobilizing tens of thousands of MAGA bravos to surround state capitols and demand an intervention to stop Biden’s alleged theft of the election. Clearly none of that groundwork was done in advance, and when the time came for Trump to call on Republican legislators to save his bacon, they appeared sympathetic but unwilling to violate their own laws and procedures to overturn popular-vote results. Conservative opinion leaders were at best divided on such desperate measures, too. So as my colleague Jonathan Chait pointed out, a coup didn’t have the united party support required to make it work:

“Trump’s attempted coup is going to fail because he hasn’t gotten the party fully onboard with it. It’s not hard for them to say no: Trump didn’t even begin to organize his scheme until it was too late, he has too many states to flip, and the alternative facing them — a moderate Democrat constrained by a right-wing court and a likely Republican Senate — is hardly scary …

“The popular Republican stance has been to indulge Trump’s lies while dismissing the danger he poses. ‘To launch a coup you need more than a giant, suppurating grievance and access to Twitter,’ Wall Street Journal opinion columnist and former editor Gerard Baker scoffs. ‘You need a fanatical commitment, a detailed plan, an energy, a sophisticated apparatus of revolution.'”

We may have to wait until memoirs are written or Trumpian tongues are otherwise loosened to find out whether a seriously contested election was ever in the works, or if the whole “red mirage” scare was just another by-product of a president with no respect for norms and the power to order his troops to break them — though not enough of them, and not quickly or efficiently enough.

Teixeira: Quit Whining and Figure Out How to Win!

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

With the sub-optimal down-ballot election results has come the predictable loud complaints from the left about the structure of the American electoral system especially, of course, the Senate. There is no doubt that given the current distribution of partisan preferences the structure of the Senate disadvantages the Democrats. And there is no doubt that if you were designing a fair electoral system from scratch, you probably wouldn’t have the Senate in its current incarnation.

But, in the immortal words of James Earl Carter, Jr., there are many things in life that are not fair–and this is one of them! However, that structure is not likely to change anytime soon so Democrats need to suck it up and figure out how to win with the structure they’ve got. Jeff Greenfield makes the argument well in a recent Washington Post piece.

“The Senate isn’t quite the unsolvable problem that Democratic critics think it is. The chamber’s current Republican tilt is political, not structural — and it could be overcome without any changes to the Constitution. The Democrats just have to start winning elections….

If the Senate’s small-state bias is locked in, that doesn’t mean the upper chamber is destined to remain a GOP bastion. This year, Republicans minimized their potential losses in the Senate by winning every seat in states that went for President Trump, probably retaining control. But you don’t have to look very far back in the past to find Democrats regularly winning Senate seats in states that vote deeply crimson at the presidential level. North Dakota had two Democrats in the Senate from 1987 through 2011, and one until 2019. Both of Montana’s senators were Democrats from 2007 to 2015, and one was reelected just two years ago. Until the 2014 midterms, Democrats held seats from Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa and South Dakota….

None of [Democrats’] hopes for altering its imbalance — granting statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, killing the filibuster, ending conservative domination of the federal bench — can happen unless Democrats first take the upper chamber, which essentially means winning the battle on a Republican-tilted playing field.

But that’s a political problem, not a structural one. And it’s solvable: Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) have been elected and reelected; are they the only Democrats who can win in increasingly red states? Is it impossible to imagine, for example, that a candidate who acknowledged the failure of both parties to stem the economic decline of the working class might strike a responsive chord? Might a candidate find a way to insulate herself against the more provocative arguments of more progressive Democrats, like “defund the police,” while emphasizing the economic-fairness arguments that bridge the gap between the party’s wings? If Democrats could hold 60 Senate seats 11 years ago, is a return to the majority really beyond reach?”

Difficult but not impossible. So time to stop the whining and figure out ways of winning in places Democrats have been losing. As Greenfield notes:

‘[Democrats] cannot build a time machine to bring them back to 1789, so that they can stiffen James Madison’s spine against the small states’ demands. They cannot erase Article V from the Constitution. They probably cannot persuade Mike Bloomberg and other billionaires to pay for the resettlement of a few hundred thousand Californians and New Yorkers to the Dakotas. They have no choice, then, but to find the messages and the organizing tools that can break through that new red wall that stands between their national majority and the power to govern.”

Greenfield is correct. There is no choice but to do exactly that.

Down-Ballot Democratic Performance Not As Bad As You Might Think

After reading a lot of stuff about ticket-splitting damaging Democrats down-ballot, I stared at the data and pushed back a bit at New York:

Sometimes it’s easy to get tangled up in the terminology of winning and losing in elections. Joe Biden clearly won the presidency, albeit by smaller margins than most observers expected. But unless Democrats sweep the two January runoffs in Georgia, they will have lost the battle for control of the Senate. And Democrats definitely lost at least ten net House seats. That said, Democrats did maintain control of the House, and, for that matter, posted a net gain of at least one Senate seat.

Still, the perception that Biden won but the party “lost” might have created an exaggerated impression that ticket splitting made a big comeback in 2020. Yes, there are a few clear examples of Republicans doing well in places where Trump didn’t do quite so well. Senator Susan Collins ran seven points ahead of the president in Maine. There were a smattering of suburban House Republican congressional candidates, notably in California and Texas, who appear to have overcome Trump’s losses in their district to post wins. But let’s not overthink this and engage in grand narratives of this or that “wing” of the party damaging their caucus in the House or of Republicans shrewdly distancing themselves from Trump (most didn’t) and/or convincing swing voters they would serve as a counterweight to President Biden.

It’s true, as Brownstein reminds us, that House Democrats suffer from a less efficient distribution of voters than Republicans, which keeps their share of districts from perfectly representing the national popular vote.

“’If you apportion the House in a fair drawing, it favors Republicans, because Democrats live in these urban enclaves that are 80 percent [Democratic] and they waste a lot of votes,’ Tom Davis, a former Republican representative from Northern Virginia who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee, told me.”

But again, it’s possible to exaggerate the importance of structural issues. 50.5 percent of 435 House seats is 220. Democrats aren’t really punching below their weight.

This country is still divided almost evenly between two increasingly polarized major parties. All the insane events of 2020, underlaid by Trump’s uniquely divisive presidency, didn’t change that. A lot of unexpected things happened on the margins, but for the most part this election was a reversion to the mean after a fairly standard midterm reaction to the party controlling the White House. Certainly, there are very important consequences that will flow from small variations to the general pattern of partisan voting, particularly in the closely divided Senate. And without question, Democrats will pay a large cost for failing to win big across the board, particularly when redistricting arrives next year and Republican control of all those state legislative chambers that was at risk this year gives the GOP an advantage in drawing new districts for the next decade. Overall, though, the partisan and ideological gridlock that sometimes feels like the 21st century’s natural state remains firmly intact.

Political Strategy Notes

The ‘Hillbilly Elegy” fuss gets a new round of buzz with the Netflix movie, which dodges the major political arguments in J.D. Vance’s book. While some critics have faulted the book for its political distortions, Stanley B. Greenberg has the most nuanced takedown at in his new article at The American Prospect. As Greenberg writes, “The book’s cascading errors begin with its failure to appreciate how exceptional Appalachian white history and culture actually are, and how dangerous it is to equate Vance’s hillbillies with today’s white working class. Yet that is the equation Vance makes at the very beginning of his memoir: “You see, I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.” Vance’s equation reinforces conservatives’ and President Donald Trump’s mistaken conviction that coal mining and West Virginia are the epicenter of America’s working-class life….The pace of cascading errors grows with the classless and benign history Vance presents, one that erases from the Appalachian landscape the powerful business actors who seized the timber and mineral rights, fought the coal-mining unions, and created an economy of poverty. Outside companies had long since claimed the rights to the timber, the land, and the coal beneath it, rendering the region’s population—all their resources owned by outsiders—dependent on coal companies and shuttled into company towns….Maybe Vance’s hillbillies would not be helped by new and better job opportunities, higher wages, less outsourcing, investment in building infrastructure, expanded child tax credits and income supports, housing vouchers, nutrition programs, unpolluted rivers and air, consumer protections, affordable child care, paid family leave after bearing a child, and universal health insurance. Before we assent to Vance’s indictment, we’d do well to try out such policies….Vance’s book suggests a dysfunctional culture has left these people and communities disabled and our medicine cabinet of governmental remedies empty….The problem with those judgments is that you have to erase a lot of history and a lot of experience with policy outcomes to get there. Working-class families and communities are indeed in trouble, but a lot of factors contributed to it. The culprit was not bad choices. It was not lack of personal responsibility or a government that was clueless about how to get to a better economy and society. We are not powerless to address these ills.” Read all of Greenberg’s article for an insightful understanding of working-class politics on the eve of the Biden Administration.

In his Washington Post column, “Team Biden has to show that foreign policy elites got the message,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “the incoming administration needs to ponder why President Trump’s nationalism took hold. Part of it was voters’ sheer exhaustion with foreign military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. But over many years, there was also a rising and justifiable suspicion in our nation’s struggling communities that foreign policy elites didn’t really give a damn about how their decisions affected the lives and livelihoods of their fellow citizens….Some of this had to do with trade policy. The loss of manufacturing jobs to China after its 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization helped foster the Midwestern backlash that culminated in Trump’s electoral-college victory 15 years later. More broadly, there was little in the foreign policy conversation that related diplomatic statecraft to the construction of a decent society at home….Here is where Biden and his colleagues can take a cue from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Sanders spoke of a foreign policy based on “shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people,” while Warren argued that “Washington’s focus has shifted from policies that benefit everyone to policies that benefit a handful of elites.”

“Joe Biden marked an unexpected and unwanted milestone this month when he won a clear popular-vote majority in the presidential election but saw his party suffer substantial losses in the House of Representatives.” Ronald Brownstein writes in his article, “Democrats’ Real Liability in the House” in The Atlantic. “That unusual combination of results—the first time it’s happened in more than 120 years—crystallizes the core challenge Democrats face in translating their consistent victories in the popular vote into congressional power….But even as Democrats have improved their position inside the nation’s largest and most economically vibrant metropolitan areas, their support in exurban, small-town, and rural regions has collapsed. While Bill Clinton twice won about 1,500 counties (roughly half the counties in America), Hillary Clinton carried just less than 500 (roughly one-sixth). Though Biden won the popular vote by at least 3 million more votes than she did, he only slightly expanded her geographic reach: So far, he’s carried 509 counties, based on the latest count from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program….For Democrats, the surest way to defend their House majority may be to rebuild their capacity to compete in at least a few more small-town and rural districts. That proved impossible with Trump polarizing the electorate so sharply along cultural lines. The future of the House Democratic majority may depend on whether Biden succeeds in his uphill quest to lower the temperature of partisan conflict and narrow the nation’s gaping political divides.”

A.P.’s Astrid Galvan writes at Talking Points Memo that “President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign credits its success in Arizona to the immigrant-rights and grassroots organizations that have been mobilizing Latinos for nearly two decades. The fruits of their labor — in triple-digit heat, no less — paid off in this traditionally conservative state, where changing demographics and suburban voters turning out to oppose President Donald Trump also worked in Biden’s favor….But what that means for the future of Democratic candidates and how the party can capitalize on these gains will be tested in 2022 and 2024 — especially because there wasn’t a blue shift in statewide races or in some other parts of the country with large Latino populations….A coalition of longstanding grassroots organizations known as Mi AZ started knocking on doors in July, eventually hitting 1.1 million homes, even in the hottest summer on record in Phoenix. They made nearly 8 million phone calls and managed digital and broadcast campaigns. Their work is nothing new. In 2016, groups involved with Mi AZ helped get a minimum wage increase passed and then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had long targeted immigrants, voted out of office….Driven by years of anti-immigrant propositions and legislation — from banning bilingual education 20 years ago, forcing college students without legal status to pay out-of-state tuition in 2006 to SB 1070, the infamous “show me your papers” law from 2010 — these groups have built a network of activists and voters who turned out in huge numbers….Latinos also now account for 24% of eligible voters in Arizona, compared with 19% in 2012, according to Pew Research Center….Antonio Arellano, interim executive director for Jolt, a Texas advocacy group that aims to grow Latinos’ political power and mobilize young voters, said both parties need to invest more in their outreach efforts if they’re going to win an increasingly large and diverse constituency….They have to hire people who come from and reflect their communities and stop treating them as a safe bet, Arellano said. “The parties know what they need to do, they’re just not doing it. They have outdated strategies,” he said. “The Latino electorate is incredibly young. In order to connect with them, they need to modernize civic engagement, and that requires an investment… What we’ve seen is that Latinos are an afterthought.”

Political Strategy Notes

In “Maloney vows to overhaul a House Democratic campaign machine ‘stuck in the past’,” Scott Wong and Mike Lillis write at The Hill: “The polling is antiquated. Money is being frittered. Diversity is lacking. And digital outreach lags far behind the times. These are the warnings from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a four-term New York Democrat who’s vying to lead the party’s campaign arm in the next Congress…..Democrats are expecting a tough environment in the 2022 midterms, and Maloney’s message is a foreboding one: Modernize the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), he says, or President-elect Joe Biden will be battling a House under Republican control come 2023….To move the party into the future, Maloney is vowing to listen to younger progressives when it comes to social media and digital outreach; to shift away from “stuffy old traditional crappy polling” and adopt community-based focus groups; and to reject the idea that big fundraising hauls are synonymous with election success — a formula that didn’t play out this year, when Democrats raised historic amounts of campaign cash but still lost House seats…..Maloney will square off with Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) in an internal, secret-ballot election that will decide who becomes the next DCCC chairman. That vote is scheduled after Thanksgiving….Cárdenas, 57, who’s run the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s (CHC) campaign arm Bold PAC for the past six years, has pitched himself as a proven fundraiser and someone who can help Democrats make up lost ground with the tens of thousands of Hispanic voters who backed President Trump this year in places like Texas and Florida.”

Newsweek’s Christina Zhao reports that “Trump to Campaign for Georgia Senate Candidates as His Supporters Threaten Boycott,” and writes that “Donald Trump on Thursday said he will travel to Georgia to campaign for Republican Senate runoff candidates as his supporters threatened a boycott of the upcoming election….”Speaking of Georgia, I’ll be going there,” Trump told reporters after talking to U.S. service members in a teleconference call on Thanksgiving Day, “Maybe I’ll go twice.” He noted that he wanted to encourage support for Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in a stadium, but “can’t, because of COVID….Meanwhile, a number of pro-Trump Republicans have taken to Parler, the “free speech” social media network, to discourage members of their own party from voting. Some of the users have invoked a conspiracy theory about “rigged” ballot machines to call for a boycott of the upcoming Georgia elections in a move that threatens Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s plan to restrain incoming President-elect Joe Biden….The boycott calls driven by Trump supporters appear to have been inspired by the president, who has spent the past few weeks alleging without evidence that a “rigged” election and widespread voter fraud caused his loss to Biden.” Trump’s December 5th visit may energize his GA base, but it could also backfire by reminding Atlanta donut suburbs voters that Trump’s chief enabler, Mitch McConnell is the invisible name on the ballot supporting the Covid-19 profiteering Republican incumbents.

Dissent magzine has a forum, “The 2020 Elections: A Roundtable,” in which Michael Kazin observes, “The problem the Democrats have is that they’re a heterogenous party, and they have been since the 1960s, when they, at least officially, got rid of their racist past and pushed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Spanberger wouldn’t win in AOC’s district in the primary, and AOC wouldn’t win Spanberger’s district. Democrats have to find a way, as they always have (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to make both progressives and centrists happy. Biden really didn’t try to do that; he didn’t have to, because the election was all about Trump. All the Democratic operatives I know said, if the election’s about Trump, we win; if it’s about Biden, we lose. Biden was not the kind of candidate Obama was, or even that Clinton was in 1992. He was a generic white Democrat. That was good enough to win pretty convincingly in the popular vote. Only because of our ridiculously stupid eighteenth-century way of electing presidents was it even close….Activists on the left were crucial in winning key states like Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. But they alone were not going to win control of the Senate or expand the majority in House. We have to figure out the few ideas and programs to push that will win over people in the middle who are part of neither side’s base. Some of those people were won over in Georgia, Arizona, and even Pennsylvania—Erie County had been Democratic, went for Trump in 2016, and then went narrowly for Biden. Though I don’t think Bernie would’ve won, I think he was right that you have to push universal programs, you have to have economic populist messaging, and if you don’t do that, you’re prey to falling into the culture wars.”

At Crooks and Liars, Mike Lux writes, “I am convinced that Democrats can win those two Georgia Senate seats and win the 2022 midterms. In Georgia, I have full confidence in the Stacey Abrams strategy of winning by inspiring, mobilizing, registering, and turning out people of color and young voters. But I also think that tactically, we have to invest the resources we need to compete with the right-wing infrastructure on social media, because if we are not going toe-to-toe with them, they will swamp us in the end. And message-wise, we need to show voters we are fighting for working families on the economic issues that matter the most to them. We have to showcase Mitch McConnell as the barrier to all the good things we want to do, the same way our Clinton team successfully showcased Gingrich in the 1990s. Remember: in most midterms the president’s party loses seats. But in 1998, we picked up seats by building our campaign around Gingrich blocking everything good on the issues people cared about in their lives….Republicans have been running ads with spooky music saying Democrats want to change things. We should say: damn right we do. We want to give you a $15-an-hour minimum wage. We want to create millions of new infrastructure and green energy jobs. We want to tax people worth more than $50 million dollars and use the money for jobs and child care. We want to rein in drug prices and student debt. We want to make government work for the people again — not Wall Street billionaires — and that’s not socialism, it’s just good governance….We can win in Georgia, and win the midterms. We just have to show the people which party is fighting for them and which isn’t.”