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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Seniors Against Trump

Who Are the Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

The Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.


Read the Article.

Democrats – Get Ready for the Inevitable Republican Counterattack

It’s coming, and we should be prepared.
By Andrew Levison

Read the Strategy Memo.

Seniors Against Trump

Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.


Read the Article.

The Daily Strategist

October 24, 2020

Biden Should Raise More Hell About Trump’s Betrayal of Puerto Rico

I was glad to read Matt Dixon’s Politico article, “Biden woos Puerto Ricans in Florida — and gives new hope to state Democrats,” in light of the buzz about Biden’s lagging support from Spanish-speaking voters in the largest swing state. It appears Biden is doing a good job of addressing this concern. As Dixon writes,

Buoyed by promised ad buys, new hires and Joe Biden’s visit on Tuesday to Kissimmee — home to a sizable Puerto Rican population — Florida Democrats are growing more confident of the party’s chances with Hispanic voters as Election Day approaches.

Florida Democrats haven’t been shy about launching attacks at their own candidate and party leadership as Biden and Donald Trump remain neck and neck in the battleground state. But that tune is changing after Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, made a stop in Miami last week and Biden chose Kissimmee for his first in-person campaign appearance.

In The Miami Herald, David Smiley, Bianca Acasio Padro and Alex Daugherty note:

Polls have shown a tightening race in the state — a must-win for President Donald Trump — and suggest that Biden is struggling to win over Latino voters. An Equis Research survey of more than 1,000 Latinos in Florida completed Aug. 25 found Biden up 53% to Trump’s 37% in the state. That’s well ahead of Trump but behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 support. Among Puerto Ricans, who make up about one-third of Florida’s 2.4 million Hispanic voters, the Equis Research poll found Biden up 62% to 28% over Trump.

In Kissimme Biden outlined a far-reaching relief plan to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation following Hurricane Maria. Biden’s plan will “make it easier for Puerto Rico to get federal assistance after years of fighting with the Trump administration for help in the wake of devastating natural disasters, boost payments to the island’s Medicare Advantage System and expand coronavirus services.” His plan would also restore utilities. Dixon notes, further,

For years, the political fight for Florida’s Hispanic vote has centered on South Florida, home to huge patchwork of Hispanic voters, including conservative-leaning Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. That focus is starting to shift to Central Florida, where more than 1 million Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans have become a powerful voting block that has helped offset conservative Cuban voters. Florida’s complex Hispanic electorate now makes up 17 percent of all registered voters.

“We are going to have a full-court press in the Central Florida region,” Biden campaign adviser Christian Ulvert said. “The Puerto Rican vote is critical, and the campaign is going to work hard to earn every one of their votes.”

I hope that Biden’s visit will be followed by a tsunami of ads pointedly attacking Trump for his shameful neglect of Puerto Rica’s devastation, holding him accountabvle for his insults of Puerto RTicans and his betrayal of a people who have provided more than their share of military veterans, who have fought courageously under the U.S. flag. Florida has a disproportionate share of active military, as well as veterans (1.5 million), so it wouldn’t hurt to slant some of the ads towards them, urging them to stand in solidarity with Puerto Rican vets. The budget for such an ad campaign is surely in place. As Dixon notes, “Biden’s visit on Tuesday builds on excitement over a $100 million ad pledge from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a portion of which will target Hispanic voters throughout the state. Detailed plans for the commitment have been kept under wraps, but the ad campaign will focus on Hispanic turnout.”

Florida allows only one week of early voting, from Saturday, October 24, 2020 to Saturday, October 31, 2020, with dates and hours varying based on locations. Given the state’s sorry history of voter suppression, Democrats will emphasize banking as many early votes as possible.

Teixeira: Trump’s Minnesota Mirage

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

Minnesota, despite the noisy assertions of the Trump team, was always going to be a very heavy lift for him in this campaign. Back in November, I wrote with John Halpin:

“The Democratic candidate in 2020 will seek to keep the Democratic streak going, while Minnesota, given the closeness of the 2016 result, will be on the short list of states that Trump targets to try to expand his coalition. This may be difficult; he is quite unpopular in the states, with a current negative net approval rating of -15.

Nonwhites were just 11 percent of Minnesota voters in 2016. Asians/other race were the largest nonwhite group at 4.5 percent and they supported Clinton 50-36 percent. Blacks were 4.3 percent of voters and went heavily for Clinton by 90-6 percent. Hispanics were just 2 percent of voters and supported Clinton 61-30 percent. In addition, white college graduates, an unusually large 36 percent of voters, backed Clinton by 22 points. The bright spot for Trump was white non-college voters, 54 percent of the voting electorate, who favored him by 21 points….

The logical strategic choice for Trump would be to enhance his 21-point margin among white non-college voters from 2016. A 10-point margin shift in Trump’s direction among this demographic group would result, all else remaining the same, in a 3-point GOP victory. A more difficult target would be to reduce his deficit among white college voters by 10 points; that would result in a narrow 1-point victory for him.”

Well, none of that is happening for Trump. That last two polls of MN, by New York Times/Sienna and CBS/Yougov, each have Biden ahead by 9 in the state. Not only has Trump failed to increase his 2016 margin among white noncollege voters by that 10 point target, he has failed to increase it at all, down by 5 points in the CBS poll and cut in half in the New York Times poll. And among white college voters, he is losing by several points more than he did in 2016 according to both polls.

Sure, it’s still possible Trump could take the state. But right now, it looks like a mirage.

Political Strategy Notes

Some useful message points from “Trump doesn’t care if wildfires destroy the west – it didn’t vote for him” by Robert Reich at The Guardian: “Starting with his unilateral decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump has been the most anti-environmental president in history…He has called climate change a “hoax”. He has claimed, with no evidence, that windmills cause cancer. He has weakened Obama-era limits on planet-warming carbon dioxide from power plants and from cars and trucks. He has rolled back rules governing clean air, water and toxic chemicals. He has opened more public land to oil and gas drilling…He has targeted California in particular, revoking the state’s authority to set tougher car emission standards than those required by the federal government…In all, the Trump administration has reversed, repealed, or otherwise rolled back nearly 70 environmental rules and regulations. More than 30 rollbacks are still in progress…Americans have a clear choice. In a few weeks, when they decide whether Trump deserves another four years, climate change will be on the ballot…The choice shouldn’t be hard to make. Like the coronavirus, the dire consequences of climate change – coupled with Trump’s utter malfeasance – offer unambiguous proof that he couldn’t care less about the public good.”

WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. frames this political moment succinctly “It is former vice president Joe Biden, the challenger, who has the sunny view. The heart of his argument is that there is nothing wrong with our country that can’t be cured as long as we throw Trump out of office…A big Biden win would help Democrats take control of both the Senate and the House, creating a real opportunity to govern effectively. Okay, never underestimate the Democrats’ capacity to tear each other apart. But confronting a pandemic and an economic catastrophe would concentrate minds. Every Democrat, from center to left, would understand that blowing it this time would cause irreparable damage to themselves and to the country…And while the differences across the party’s wings are real, they’re also exaggerated. Between single-payer health care and simply expanding Obamacare, there’s a lot of room for compromise. Ditto on how to combat climate change and expand access to education and training. And the economy is in sufficiently dire shape that boldness, in both a short-term recovery plan and a long-term investment strategy, could look simultaneously like realism to centrists and a “New New Deal” to progressives.”

The downer post of this edition of Political Strategy Notes has to be Amy Walter’s “Electoral College Rating Changes: Florida and Nevada Shift Right” at The Cook Political Report. As Walter writes, “Today we are making two ratings changes in Pres. Trump’s favor, moving Florida from Lean Democrat to Toss Up, and Nevada from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat. summer, Biden held a 308 to 187 lead.” Chalk it all up to the normal ebb and flow of electoral politics in the U.S. in September. Regarding the largest swing state, Walter notes, “Bottom line: a more competitive Florida contest is good news for Pres. Trump, who can’t afford to lose this state. Even so, many Democrats never expected Biden to be able to win here, having long written off the Sunshine State as a loser. This isn’t to say that Biden can’t win here. Or that Trump is certain to lose it. The race is simply too close to call. It moves from Lean Democratic to Toss Up.”

Now for the upper, Ella Nilsen’s “The ways Democrats could retake the Senate majority, explained” at Vox. Nilsen sees Medicaid expansion as a key issue in senate races in several states, and notes, “Democrats, meanwhile, are running a playbook that was successful in many 2018 House races: backing moderate candidates and focusing on health care and jobs in the middle of a pandemic that has millions of newly unemployed people losing their health insurance along with their jobs. Democrats will highlight Medicaid expansion as an issue in states that didn’t expand it, including North and South Carolina, Kansas, Georgia, Texas, and Alabama. They’re already going after North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis for his role in rejecting Medicaid expansion when he was leading the state legislature…Biden and Democratic Senate candidates alike are hoping that message will appeal todisaffected suburban voters — especially women — who voted for House Democrats in 2018.”

Also, Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Miles Coleman note at Crystal Ball that “Joe Biden is better positioned to win the presidency than Donald Trump, but it would be foolish to rule out another Trump upset…Trump’s potential winning map would look a lot like 2016, with perhaps a few changes; Biden’s potential winning map might feature Democratic advances in the Sun Belt and retreats in the Midwest compared to past winning Democratic maps…We are moving the single electoral vote in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, which pushes our Electoral College count to 269 electoral votes at least leaning to Biden, 204 at least leaning to Trump, and 65 Toss-up electoral votes (Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin)..We now have Biden right on the precipice of an Electoral College majority, with 269 electoral votes at least leaning his way. Although we have them as Toss-ups, we also think Biden is in a good position to carry Arizona and Wisconsin, as of today. That would put him at 290 electoral votes…Florida and North Carolina are significantly closer. Of the Leans Republican states, Trump’s leads in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and Texas, as well as for the single ME-2 electoral vote, appear to be quite small.”

It ain’t over till it’s over, but here are some political odds just calculated by the numbers-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight of “weird and not-so-weird possibilities: The chances that these situations will crop up”: “Trump wins the popular vote, regardless of whether he wins the Electoral College” – 13 in 100; “Biden wins the popular vote, regardless of whether he wins the Electoral College” – 87 in 100; “Biden wins in a landslide, defined as winning the popular vote by a double-digit margin” – 30 in 100; and  “Biden wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College” – 11 in 100.”

By now, you have probably read at least one “What If Trump Loses And Won’t Leave?” articles, and the number of such screeds already out there is a testament to the fragility of the ‘world’s oldest democracy.’ But read one more, Geoffrey Skelley’s take at FiveThirtyEight, in which he concludes, “But even if the worst scenarios don’t come to pass, the fact that we lack a neutral electoral arbiter is surely a ticking time bomb for our democracy. Such an institution may sound difficult to create, but many individual states have used judicial panels to successfully sort through close elections, and other democratic nations have far better laws to adjudicate contested elections. For now, though, in the absence of such measures, the peaceful transfer of power hinges on the expectation that that is how American elections work, but that may be increasingly hanging in the balance, as anyone living in this incredibly polarized era of U.S. politics will tell you.”

Amid a surfeit of timidly-stated headlines about Trump’s super-spreader rallies in Nevada, here are a few which meet the standard of honest journalism: “Nevada governor: Trump ‘taking reckless and selfish actions’ in holding rally” by John Bowden at The Hill; “‘Shameful, dangerous and irresponsible’: Nevada governor blasts Trump for indoor rally against state rules” by Timothy Bella at The Washington Post; “Trump held an indoor rally in Nevada against medical advice. Only supporters whose faces would be on TV were required to wear masks” by Tom Porter at Business Insider; “Trump’s risky rallies are straight out of ‘Hunger Games’” by Dean Obedallah at CNN opinion. But for snarky chuckles, you can’t beat “Trump Says He’ll “Negotiate” Third Term, Warns Democrats Will Rig Election” by Daniel Politi at slate.com. Headlines, good and bad, are nearly always written by editors, and good articles are too often crippled by lame headlines. Most of the networks reported on the rallies from outside the indoor gatherings in Nevada, but the white house press pool and some local reporters had to go inside. Their unions should speak up.

Marshall: Why Dems Must Kill the Filibuster – If They Get the Chance

In “Who Supports Ending the Filibuster?” at  the Editor’s Blog of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes:

Two big non-policy/legislative questions and decisions will determine the politics of the coming years. One is whether there is an audit of the executive branch after Trump leaves office, if he loses the election on November 3rd. But just as important in its own way is whether the Senate filibuster is abolished. You can basically guarantee that no progressive legislation will ever get passed as long as the filibuster exists. The filibuster is undemocratic to start with. But the Republican party’s extreme use of it along with their locked in small state advantage mean that the GOP has what amounts to a permanent veto on all legislation and a guaranteed veto of any progressive legislation.

Marshall shares his concerns about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s position on killing the legislative filibuster, should he become Senate Majority Leader:

The current thinking from Chuck Schumer seems to be that, assuming the Democrats win the Senate, he’ll keep abolition in his back pocket if Republicans obstruct legislation. This is a bad, bad idea. We’ve seen this movie before. In 2009, a group of Republican Senators – who clearly had no intention of ever supporting any health care insurance reform legislation – got President Obama and Democratic Senators to waste a year and water down legislation by engaging in meandering and ultimately bad faith negotiations.

Just as importantly, this ‘hold it in reserve’ approach will inevitably shape all potential legislation from the outset. The shape of legislation you write to pass with simple majorities is quite different than legislation you craft to try to coax Republican senators into allowing you to pass legislation with 51 votes.

It all comes down to a simple point. The legislative filibuster needs to end on day one of the next Congress. And if Democrats control the chamber it can happen. But will it?

Marshall urges his readers to ask their U.S. Senators to declare their positions on “abolishing the legislative filibuster on day one of the next Congress” and report back to him.

Republican senators have used the filibuster as a sledgehammer to smash hopes for any progressive legislation under McConnell’s scorched earth rule of the senate. Ironically, however, the 60-vote requirement worked against the Republicans this week, as they failed to pass a “skinny” (watered down) Covid-19 relief bill to give some cover the Republican senators, who feared going home to their constituents without without passing at least a token relief bill.

Yet Marshall is right. If Democrats win a Senate Majority, scrapping the filibuster should be the top priority — if they want to leverage their momentum and mandate before it fades and actually pass needed legislative reforms.

Sun Belt or Rust Belt: the Strategic Choice Remains

Looking back at something I wrote at the beginning of the election cycle about the strategic battleground, I revisited the key question at New York:

Soon after the 2018 midterms, I reviewed the evidence about where Democrats made gains and suggested it still wasn’t clear which strategy the party should adopt in trying to recover from the 2016 loss to Trump:

“The two most obvious regional strategies for Democrats are to win back the heartland/Rust Belt (depending on how you think about them) states that Trump narrowly carried despite a strong history of going the other way: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There are two similar additional states that Obama carried twice: Iowa and Ohio.

“At the other end of the spectrum are Sun Belt states that were already quite close (Florida and North Carolina) or that have recently been trending Democratic (Arizona, Georgia, and Texas) at varying rates.”

The midterm numbers didn’t really indicate one path or the other:

“In the end, the Democratic presidential strategy for ejecting Trump in 2020 will follow the polls — hopefully better and more frequent polls than those taken by the Clinton campaign in those heartland states that ultimately cost them the election of 2016 — and perceived opportunities.”

So here we are less than two months away from Election Day, and with early voting beginning almost immediately, and the best strategic path is still unclear. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump nationally by 7.5 percent. If Biden maintains that sort of lead through Election Day, then the Electoral College will take care of itself and the Democrat will win very comfortably across the range of battleground states in both competitive parts of the country.

But if the national race tightens, the battleground situation gets much more complicated. Again using FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Biden’s currently trailing in Georgia and Texas, and has a lead under 2 percent in Florida and North Carolina. Of the realistic Sun Belt targets for Democrats, Biden has a robust lead only in Nevada (6.4 percent), which Democrats carried in 2016, and Arizona (4.7 percent).

In the competitive Rust Belt states, Biden’s national lead is matched only by his advantage in Wisconsin (7.5 percent). He has a decent cushion as well in Michigan (6.6 percent) and Minnesota (6.2 percent), and a slimmer one in Pennsylvania (4.1 percent). He’s trailing, however, in Ohio and Iowa, which means they probably become winnable only in the midst of a big Biden victory.

So all in all it looks like a Rust Belt strategy makes the most sense for Biden, right? Ron Brownstein suggests that could be the case:

“Exactly eight weeks before Election Day, Biden has strong opportunities to recapture states that President Donald Trump won in 2016 both in the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt. But public and private polls consistently show that Biden is running slightly better in the former group of battlegrounds — centered on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — than the latter, which include North Carolina, Florida and Arizona …

“[Biden’s] potential to improve on Hillary Clinton’s showing with older and blue-collar Whites means that even if he falls short in some or all of the Sun Belt states that many in the party see as its long-term future, he could still reach 270 Electoral College votes by recapturing Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the three big Rust Belt states that Trump dislodged from the Democrats’ ‘blue wall.'”

It’s easy to forget that — despite the blue trends in the Sun Belt and the red trends in the Rust Belt — Trump did better in the former in 2016, notes Brownstein:

“Trump and the Republican Party have demonstrably lost ground across both regions. But because Trump began with less margin for error in the Rust Belt states, the consequences of that erosion have been more severe for him there than in the Sun Belt.”

One big obstacle to a Biden Sun Belt strategy is the relatively high resistance of white voters — both college-educated and noncollege-educated — to Democrats in the South, which is probably the combined effect of high levels of Evangelical conservative religious affiliation and racial polarization in states with large minority populations.

Polling aside, there are reasons Team Biden might want a selective Sun Belt strategy in the home stretch. Florida, in particular, is a state Trump barely carried in 2016 and can really not afford to lose this year. But the current situation in the Sunshine State offers a reminder that it’s not just Democrats who are capable of geographic targeting. Trump is remaining competitive in Florida in no small part because he is doing extremely well among Cuban Americans and other Latinos concentrated in south Florida. These voters may have been the most important targets of all that endless and redundant socialist-bashing at the Republican National Convention.

It’s entirely possible that Trump simply cannot be reelected this year (legitimately, anyway) thanks to his poor handling of COVID-19, the collapse of his “greatest economy ever,” and accumulated public disgust with his character and personality. And it’s also possible that nothing the campaigns do will significantly affect the results in individual states. But at the margins, small things could make a big difference in a crazy-close election. The odds are high that if it is crazy-close, we’ll again be looking at the Rust Belt states that shocked the world in 2016.

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Stephen Collinson comments on the political fallout Bob Woodward’s revelation that Trump knew of the severity of the Covid-19 virus threat, but decided not to inform the public, even though it would have saved lives: “When Trump’s time came — in February — we now know that he perfectly understood the pernicious nature of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. But while he told Woodward in a phone call “this is deadly stuff” and that the pathogen caused a viciously contagious illness much worse than the flu, Trump didn’t level with the American people. In fact, he deliberately misled them and failed to prepare the government for a vast national effort. Worse, for weeks he continued to misinform the country about the severity of the pathogen that caused the worst global pandemic in 100 years…The 190,000 American families who lost loved ones and could never say goodbye, the millions of unemployed, the business owners who went bust, a generation of kids who haven’t been in class for months and everyone else self-distanced from their regular lives now face the same question: How different would things have been had the President done his job properly?…the latest controversy probably won’t help him win back defections from suburban voters and will bolster Biden heading into their first debate in three weeks.”

“The pandemic has killed some 190,000 Americans, and 8 in 10 of the deaths reported have been among those 65 or over,” Clare Malone writes in “Why Trump Might Be Scaring Off Older Voters” at FiveThirtyEight. “President Trump’s delayed and fractured response to the outbreak appears to have reshaped the political dynamics for older Americans. Four years ago, he won voters 65 or over by a margin of 13.3 percentage points. But looking at an average of the nine most recent national polls, voters age 65 or over1 favored Biden to Trump by 49.5 percent to 45.7 percent…Despite these provocative pro-Trump images coming out of Florida, the shift toward Biden is evident in the state, a key to winning the Electoral College. A late August Quinnipiac University poll in Florida showed Biden leading Trump among older voters, by 54 percent to 44 percent and another late August poll of Florida voters, this one by Public Policy Polling, showed Biden in the lead among the same group,2 by 52 percent to 47 percent. This stands in contrast to the sentiments of older Florida voters at around this time four years ago.”

Trump’s epic mismanagement of the response to the pandemic is further amplified by his relentless undermining of the Affordable Care Act, as well as his failure to offer any reforms of America’s profit-driven health care “system.” Framing the arguments for comprehensive national health care coverage is tricky at this political moment. But German Lopez shares some compelling statistics at Vox, including: “If the US had the same death rate as the European Union overall, nearly 84,000 Americans wouldn’t have died from Covid-19 (out of the nearly 190,000 who have died so far)…If the US had the same death rate as Canada, nearly 109,000 Americans wouldn’t have died from Covid-19…The US is doing about seven times worse than the median developed country, ranking in the bottom 20 percent for Covid-19 deaths among wealthy nations. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost as a result.”

At The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuval explains “How the Biden Campaign Can Turn Trump’s ‘Strength’ Into a Weakness,” and writes, “For all of Trump’s boasts that jobs are returning, the country is still down about 11.5 million jobs. Temporary furloughs are turning into permanent layoffs; long-term unemployment is rising: Some 29 million Americans were drawing unemployment in mid-August…He and the Republican Senate oppose raising the minimum wage. They oppose proposals for employer-paid parental leave and sick days. The Biden campaign should be pounding the reality of Trump’s economy over and over again while talking about what Biden would do to create jobs and lift wages. Instead, the Democratic convention focused largely on Trump’s lack of character and empathy. Biden traveled last week to Pennsylvania, where the jobless rate is 13.7 percent, and…he talked about looting and violence rather than about jobs…too many Americans still give Trump unwarranted credit for the economy…Too many working people believe that while Trump is a cad, he is their cad, on their side. That’s his strength — and it’s where Democrats should focus. Bringing down Trump won’t take lies or exaggerations. Just lay out the truth and hammer it over and over to turn Trump’s “strength” into a weakness.”

In “Election Beat 2020: Where did all the swing voters go?,” Harvard professor Thomas E. Patterson, author of Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself?, writes at Journalists Resource: “The hostility that many partisans have for the other party is a larger driver of the vote than might be assumed. Party identification was once the best predictor of how people would vote on election day — Democrats lining up behind their party’s candidate and Republicans backing their party’s nominee. But party identification no longer has that distinction. When Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster examined post-1990s elections, they found that “ratings of the opposing party were by far the strongest predictor” of vote choice. “The greatest concern of party supporters,” they write, “is preventing the opposing party from gaining power…So how many undecided voters are there at the moment and how will they respond to Trump and Biden in the campaign’s remaining weeks? They  number less than 10% of self-described likely voters, down even from recent campaigns and a mere third of the number of presidential campaigns of a few decades ago. It’s unlikely that either candidate will capture a super-majority of the undecided. Typically, the split is within a narrow range, enough to tip a razor-thin election but otherwise a footnote in post-campaign analyses.”

In his New York Times column, Thomas B. Edall asks “Can Trump eke out an Election Day victory by focusing attention and capitalizing politically on the looting and fire-setting associated with some of the Black Lives Matter protests spurred by the police killing of Floyd and other African-Americans?” In response, Edsall quotes from several studies and experts on political attitudes, including “Christian Davenport, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan and the author of “Media Bias, Perspective and State Repression: The Black Panther Party,” who “does not believe there will be much movement either to the left or the right among racially conservative whites. In an email, he argued that The truth of the matter is that there is probably very little that could take place during the protests that would shift the opinion of some whites. Their positions are fixed already and they would likely only see the negative manifestations which you could almost always find during extended campaigns.

Edsall adds, “But Trump continues to trail Biden in head-to-head surveys. Unlike Nixon or Bush, Trump’s appeals to law and order have not yet paid off in the polls. Why not?…I think my colleague Ron Brownstein may have pinpointed the reason Trump has had trouble capitalizing on the violence in a Sept. 3 Atlantic article, “The Huge Snag in Trump’s Re-election Pitch”: The biggest problem with Trump running on restoring order is that his performance in office has caused many voters to view him as the candidate of disorder. Edsall notes further, “An August 27-28 Yahoo/YouGov survey asked registered voters “which comes closest to your view, ‘Trump will protect us from the chaos’ or ‘Trump is the source of the chaos’?” 30 percent chose protect and 50 percent said Trump was the source of chaos…A more recent September 2-4 CBS News survey asked whether Biden and Trump are “trying to calm the situation down” or “trying to encourage fighting.” By 49-30, voters said Biden was trying to calm the situation while, in the case of Trump, voters said he was trying to encourage fighting by 47-39.”

Regarding he politics of marijuana legalization in 2020, Natalie Fertig and Paul Demco write at Politico: “As more states legalize medical marijuana, recreational cannabis, or both — at least four states will put recreational legalization on the ballot in November — over 250,000 people remain in prison for nonviolent drug offenses at the state or federal level. According to the ACLU, Black people are on average four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people — and in some states the ratio is as high as 10 to one — even though studies have shown they use the drug at comparable rates…According to his campaign, Biden believes that “no one should be in jail for using marijuana.” He supports removing criminal penalties and expunging past records, but wants to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. The Controlled Substances Act is a list of all federally banned substances which became law in 1970, and it has five tiers, or “schedules.”…In July, the DNC adopted Biden’s position on cannabis — a step back from the pro-legalization platform of 2016. But advocates reason now that the former VP’s platform is essentially in line with the MORE Act, arguing that both want to remove criminal penalties, expunge records and let states decide how to further legalize.”

Lest it get lost in the daily deluge of Trump’s moral atrocities, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “the Justice Department’s move to intervene in the defense of President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says he raped her should have friends of freedom shouting from the rooftops. For the U.S. government to substitute itself for Trump as the defendant puts the department at the disposal of one man, forces taxpayers to cover the costs of the president’s defense in what is a quintessentially private matter and is plainly aimed at preventing the public from learning more about the charges in the lawsuit before the election…Barr’s minions are, quite literally, trying to deny [Trump’s accuser] Carroll her day in court. At taxpayer expense…Which is why voters need to resist becoming numb to forms of corruption that not only violate the norms of good government but also threaten to undermine equal justice and democratic rule. They are the only ones who can stop Trump.”

Mail Ballot Requests Heavy, and Heavily Democratic

With voting by mail about to begin, the first clear statistics on who will cast mail ballots are significant, so I wrote it up at New York:

Until now, the prospect of people voting by mail in unprecedented numbers in November has been mostly speculative, based on what happened in this year’s primaries, along with polling, and a general long-term trend towards this method of voting. But now as states are releasing data on general election mail ballot requests, it’s all getting very real, as the Associated Press reports:

“Mail balloting is set to begin Friday in the presidential election as North Carolina starts sending out more than 600,000 ballots to voters — responding to a massive spike in requests that has played out across the country as voters look for a safer way to cast ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic….

“In 2016, just one-quarter of the [national] electorate cast votes by mail. This time, election officials expect the majority of voters to use the method. Wisconsin has already received nearly 100,000 more requests than it did in the 2016 election. In Florida, 3,347,960 people requested ballots during the 2016 election. The state has already received 4,270,781 requests.”

And so far (from states that can and do track the party ID of mail ballot applicants) the Democrat tilt of those who plan to vote by mail is unmistakable:

“The GOP has historically dominated North Carolina mail voting, but this year the people asking for the ballots are generally not Republicans. Democrats requested more than 337,000 ballots, and independents 200,000, while only 103,000 were sought by Republicans. Voters in the state can continue to request the ballots up until Oct. 27, though that may be too close to the Nov. 3 election for them to receive the ballot and return it to their local elections office in time.

“The Democratic lead in mail ballots isn’t only in North Carolina. In Maine, 60% of requests for mail ballots have been made by Democrats and 22% by independents. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have requested nearly triple the number of absentee ballots as Republicans. In Florida, where the GOP once dominated mail voting, 47.5% of requests have come from Democrats and 32% from Republicans.”

Now normally, that would indicate higher general interest in voting among Democrats, and perhaps an impending blue tsunami. But the president’s months-long campaign against voting by mail is clearly a big, and perhaps the biggest, factor in creating this partisan tilt, so it’s unclear whether it would exist otherwise. The other implication of the early evidence on partisan splits in willingness to vote by mail is that the Red Mirage scenario – where the first votes counted on Election Night are in-person ballots that skew heavily Republican, leading to a premature Trump victory claim coupled with delegitimization of subsequently counted mail ballots as fraudulent – remains a very real threat.

Greenberg: Trump’s Failure to Address Covid-19 Crisis, Health Care Reform Cuts His Support from Working-Class

In “How Trump Is Losing His Base: Focus groups with working-class and rural voters show the deep health care crisis in America, and trouble for Trump’s re-election,” Stanley B. Greenberg reports at The American Prospect:

The heartbreaking health care crisis that is ravaging working-class and rural communities threatens to cut short Donald Trump’s political career, and demands a forceful response from opposition Democrats. It will teach big lessons about how to reach working people who are struggling, regardless of color.

That is clear to me after listening to white working-class voters in Zoom focus groups for the American Federation of Teachers and Voter Participation Center in the first week of August, outside of metropolitan areas in rural Wisconsin, the Mahoning Valley region in Ohio (also known as Steel Valley), northern Maine, and suburban Macomb County, Michigan.

Greenberg notes that “The results of these sessions also fit with the results of a phone survey I conducted of working-class voters in the 16 battleground states,” and “The Republican House margin dropped 13 points across the white working class” in the 2018 midterm elections.

Greenberg calls the pandemic “the perfect storm,” and notes further,

I have never seen such a poignant discussion of the health and disability problems facing families and their children, the risks they faced at work, and the prospect of even higher health care and prescription drug costs. The final straw was a president who battled not for the “forgotten Americans,” but for himself, the top one percent, and the biggest, greediest companies.

That is why most in the Zoom focus groups pulled back from President Trump. Three-quarters of these voters supported Trump in 2016, but less than half planned to vote for him now. Even those who still supported him did not push back when other participants expressed anger with his doing nothing about health care, fostering hatred and racism, dividing the country, siding with the upper classes, and having no plan for COVID-19. This is a life-and-death issue for them, as much as nearly any other group in American society.

He adds that “Like lots of other working people, they are looking for a leader who will make big changes in health care, fight for working people over big business, and unite the country to defeat the current economic and public-health crisis.” In addition, “In today’s working-classand rural communities, health care is everything. In introductory remarks, participants in the focus groups went right to the personal health care crises they were facing every day.”

Greenberg shares some statistics regarding the prevalence of helath disabilities in working-class communities, and explains,

Across the country, 12.6 percent of the population has disabilities, rising to 15.1 percent in rural areas. Black and Native American populations are more likely to have disabilities than their white counterparts. The rate is over a quarter for those 65 to 74 years old and half of those over 75 years—all groups that are overrepresented in these rural areas. And structural racism has played a powerful role here: 20 percent of Blacks with disabilities were employed at the beginning of this year, compared to 30 percent of whites and Hispanics with disabilities.

Then I looked at census data for the congressional districts where these sessions were being held. It was a new window into America in the pandemic. In suburban Macomb County, the disability rate looks like the rural areas, with 14 percent of both whites and Blacks disabled. In northern Maine, the numbers show one in five with disabilities, slightly more for whites. In Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District, both one in five whites and Blacks are disabled. And seniors in these areas are even more disabled than other rural Americans.

So COVID violently brought together the personal health crises of these people and the failed and corrupted government response, breaking their emotional bond with Trump.

Just throw out the words “health care,” and people relayed a train of horrors: a “$16,000 deductible,” employers throwing them off health insurance, “ridiculous” premiums, a $400 bill for their asthma medicine paid for out of pocket. They spoke of the frustrations of making too much money to be eligible for Medicaid but not enough to stay in the solid middle class. They explained how people avoid treatment because they can’t pay the associated costs. “The way we deliver health care is just unbelievable,” said one woman from Michigan, “the amount of waste and how much it costs to let people go bankrupt to pay for medical bills.”

While some of the respondents were critical of the shortcommings of the Affordable Care Act, they believe that Trump “failed to take the virus seriously and has just made a mess of it. They think he is failing at the most important issue for them…Respondents despaired about the lack of a national plan of action, with everyone “just left on their own.” Greenberg adds,

In emails we asked the participants to send to President Trump, you can feel that the spirit that led them to join the working-class revolt is just broken. While some hope he will get back in the right direction, most used their email to express their deep disillusionment. You can feel that they wanted a president who didn’t divide the country and make it a “laughingstock” (two writers used that exact word) internationally. They wanted a president who put the interests of the people, not just big business, first.

“I supported you in the beginning over Hillary but in the end unfortunately, you show me you’re just not for the people,” wrote one man from Wisconsin. “You lied to the American people about COVID,” wrote another. “You are everything that is wrong with America, you have effectively ruined this country,” added a woman from Ohio. “Congrats, you suck.”

Greenberg concludes, “COVID has shattered so many lives, but also seemingly insurmountable political barriers. The great majority of working people, regardless of color, are desperate for a government that stops taking direction from the pharmaceutical companies, and brings the boldest feasible changes to our health care system.”

Teixeira: Riot On?

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

Protest-associated violence continues and shows no signs of going away. In Rochester Friday night:

“Police fired pepper balls and tear gas, and authorities said officers were hospitalized with cuts, serious swelling, burns and bruises from “projectiles and incendiary devices.” A bus stop went up in flames, and patrons hurriedly left restaurants where people threw tables and broke glass amid protest chants.”

BLM leaders, such as they are, appear either unwilling or unable to stop it, despite the obvious fact that such violence is bad for their movement and progressive politics in general.

By and large, liberals and progressives have seemed remarkably untroubled by this unfortunate development. Probably the main reason for this is that, so far, it hasn’t had much of an effect on Biden’s lead over Trump and general Democratic chances in 2020.

There are several reasons for this. One is that Biden has generally said what he needed to say in terms of condemning violence on all sides, albeit with a bit of a lag at times. But the main reason is that Trump is held in very low esteem by most voters and is not viewed as a trusted agent to deal with race relations and tamping down violent conflicts. So, voters may detest violent protests but so far that does not make these same voters feel like switching their support to Trump if he does not already have it.

This situation may not last forever. Yes, America in 2020 is not America in 1968 and Trump is not nearly as clever a politician as Richard Nixon. But if public opinion about the protest movement becomes negative enough, it could affect the political climate in a way that would hurt Biden and other Democrats.

Consider these recent public opinion data summarized by Geoffrey Skelley on 538:

“Americans are less inclined to view as peaceful those protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha compared with those who were protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. This week’s survey from The Economist/YouGov found that 41 percent of Americans considered the protesters themselves “mostly peaceful,” while 40 percent said they were “mostly violent.” This marked a sizable departure from early July, when the pollster last asked this question — back then, 54 percent viewed the protesters as more peaceful, while only 31 percent viewed them as more violent. And late last week, a Yahoo News/YouGov survey found that a majority of Americans — 54 percent — thought the protests had gone too far, compared with 31 percent who said that they hadn’t.”

David Byler of the Washington Post notes:

“Earlier this summer, Americans solidly backed the protests against police brutality and racism. But that support has been diminishing in recent weeks, in particular after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., and ensuing riots. According to YouGov, 46 percent of respondents say that “protesters want to destroy America” comes closer to their view than the milder “protesters want to improve America.” While support for the Black Lives Matter movement spiked in June, opposition has been rising since.”

Byler, while he notes, as do other political observers, that so far Biden has ridden out this storm without much damage, outlines the potential problem for Biden:

“The riots pose a danger for Biden. If riots continue to dominate coverage of the protests, the public will probably become more critical of the broader movement. Trump’s dream scenario — Americans slow the spread of covid-19, the economy recovers and his campaign successfully ties Biden to the looting and rioting — could still come to pass.”

So the complacency of progressives and liberals around protest violence seems foolish. Just because something has not happened yet does not mean it will never happen.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that some on the liberal left seem inclined to make excuses for rioting, looting and arson on the grounds that it is the frustrated outcry of the oppressed….and besides it’s just buildings, they’ve got insurance, etc. This unbelievably lame and morally bankrupt attitude is encapsulated by the respectful hearing accorded to Vicky Osterweil’s new book In Defense of Looting. Rather than ignoring this demented manifesto the author and her screed have been respectfully covered in revered liberal outlets like NPR, the New Yorker and the Nation. This is not a good sign.

Cathy Young puts it well in a terrific article on Arc Digital on The Politics of Riots:

“Ultimately, progressive attitudes toward violent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement are shaped by the belief that the protests are on the right side, the rioters are simply good guys driven too far by frustration and despair, and whatever damage they may do pales in comparison to the slaughter of black people by racist forces.

But for one thing, this view ignores the fact that many of the violent protesters are genuine radicals whose motives are not identical to peaceful protesters’. Some want violent revolution. Some just want to break stuff.

For another, it ignores the fact that while too many innocent Americans — especially black Americans — are killed by the police, far more black lives are lost in places where the social order starts to collapse. This summer’s spike of violent crime in Chicago is one example. “We talk about Black Lives Matter, but I’m sick and tired of what’s going on in these streets,” Erikka Gordon, a black Chicago resident, told ABC7 recently after losing two nephews to gun violence.”

So let’s get our priorities straight: the rioters are not good guys and what they do is harmful not helpful. They are enemies of the progressive cause and will continue to be so even if Biden gets elected. It’s time liberals and progressives jettisoned their illusions on this score and made their opposition to these tactics crystal clear.

Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Here’s a Smarter Way for Biden to Attack Trump: Don’t just call him a bad person (that’s old hat). Call him a bad populist,” at Bloomberg Opinion, conservative pundit Ramesh Ponnuru has a messaging tip for Biden: “Trump poses an unusual problem for his opposition. He’s “a target-rich environment,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He has befuddled his opponents by giving them too much to react to. It keeps the Democrats from having a disciplined message about why Trump sucks.”…Depending on the news cycle, the anti-Trump message may be that he is a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or a racist, or a threat to democracy, or a failure, or a bad person, or a golfer. His Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, seems convinced much of the time that most voters have already rejected Trump as unfit for the presidency and that he need only establish himself as a decent alternative. He may be right. A similar campaign strategy might have worked in 2016, too, if the Democratic nominee that year, Hillary Clinton, had not been so widely disliked.”

“If the race gets tight, though,” Ponnuru continues, “Biden may have to tighten his focus, or find himself wishing that he had done it earlier. Already each sign that Trump is closing the gap in the polls, especially in swing states, is giving panic attacks to Biden supporters who don’t want to relive the surprise of election night four years ago…Biden will have to continue to make the case that Trump has failed the country: That’s part of any challenger’s campaign against an incumbent president. And while voters generally have firm views on how well Trump has performed, it is more plausible that some of them will change their views on that question than on his basic character in the remaining weeks of the campaign. But such changes in opinion are more likely to result from changes in condition — in the state of the economy, and in the course of the coronavirus — than from anything either campaign says…What might make a difference, though, would be for Biden to make the case that Trump’s populism is a scam: that he says he’s fighting for Americans, but is really in it only for himself and his friends. The night he was elected he promised to stand for “the forgotten men and women of our country,” but then immediately surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs alums.”

“This type of criticism overlaps with some of the other attacks on Trump,” Ponnuru adds, “It touches on his dishonesty and his failure to deliver on promises. Without being narrowly addressed to white working class voters in the Midwest, it speaks directly to some of the people who backed Trump last time after having voted for Democrats previously. It takes their concerns seriously, and gives them a reason to change their minds instead of trying to shame them for giving Trump a chance. At the same time, it doesn’t alienate other types of voters that Biden needs, such as those who voted for third parties last time…And if that’s not enough to appeal to Biden and his aides, they should reflect that criticizing Trump this way is sure to drive him to new heights of rage.”

From “Biden outlines post-Labor Day strategy to win White House” by Amie Parnes at The Hill: “Joe Biden’s campaign plans to double-down on its strategy in the final two months of the campaign, ramping up the argument that President Trumpowns the coronavirus response and record-high unemployment facing the nation…During the all-important post Labor Day stretch, Biden plans to hit the road, as he has started to do in recent days, traveling to key swing states to hammer home those arguments…They also want to underscore a message casting Trump as a reprehensible president unfit to lead the country or command the troops…Another Biden ally close to the campaign put it this way: “Our message is working. We are systematically addressing the biggest problems on people’s minds,” including the pandemic, the economy and racial inequality…Another “longtime Biden ally” said “We need to keep saying ‘Look at Trump’s America. Look what’s happened during his time in office.’ This isn’t some mythological time. This is his mess.”

Parnes writes, further, “Democrats have done a good job of telling voters why we should fire Trump. Now we need to go further and persuade them to hire us,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party…But the Biden campaign also needs to play defense at the same time. Smikle said the Democratic ticket needs to “counterpunch daily and paint a rich vision of the future under Democratic governance.”…“Biden and Harris need to keep Trump from having the last word,” he said…Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton who experienced what it’s like to oppose Trump in 2016, said Biden “should leave nothing unanswered.”

At The Cook Political Report, David Wasserman explains why “For Biden to Prevail, He’ll Need to Survive a Trump Onslaught Targeted to Working-Class Whites,” and argues, “So far this summer, Biden has polled spectacularly in suburbs — even historically GOP ones in the Sun Belt — thanks to his strength among college-educated whites. In an average of live-interview polls taken in August, Biden led Trump among that group 56 percent to 39 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 50 percent to 38 percent lead in final 2016 polls. But he’s also polling impressively among whites without college degrees: August polls show Biden trailing Trump 35 percent to 57 percent among that group, narrower than Clinton’s 30 percent to 58 percent deficit in 2016…However, against the backdrop of civil unrest in Kenosha and Portland, Biden’s support in the latter group is more fragile. Although Biden, a Catholic from Scranton, has long been considered something of a patron saint of blue-collar Democrats, blue-collar whites tend to pay less attention to politics per day than others and live in pro-Trump settings where the local news and information ecosystem, driven by Facebook and other social media sites, is much friendlier to Trump’s view of the world.”

But Wasserman also warns, “As Labor Day approaches, Biden remains very much on offense but is entering a phase when he’ll need to play “prevent defense” against Trump’s increasingly bellicose attacks. Without the kind of door-to-door field effort the Trump campaign has proven willing to undertake, Biden will likely have no choice but to air swing state ads forcefully confronting Trump’s assertions about riots and police funding…On the current trajectory, Biden has outstanding chances to flip traditionally GOP-leaning states like Arizona, Florida and perhaps even Georgia and Texas. But if he were to fail to effectively counter Trump’s appeals to working-class whites, Minnesota and Wisconsin could turn into the next Iowa and Ohio.”

The overall trend line in House of Reps races favors Democrats on this Labor Day, as Kyle Kondik notes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which has an impressive track record in prediction accuracy: “We are making 14 House rating changes, 10 in favor of Democrats and four in favor of Republicans. The changes don’t really impact our overall House assessment, which is that we are not expecting much net change in the makeup of the House…Overall, we now have 232 districts at least leaning to Democrats, 192 districts at least leaning to Republicans, and 11 Toss-ups. If we split the Toss-ups roughly down the middle (6-5 Republican), we’d be looking at a 237-198 Democratic-controlled House, or a two-seat gain from the 235-200 Democratic House elected in 2018.”

“So how is the heartland doing?,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. asks in his latest Washington Post column. “How much has Trump done for the working people whose votes he needed to carry states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio?…Precious little. Even before the economic downturn induced by the pandemic, the areas that were crucial to Trump’s electoral college victory lagged behind the rest of the country…A Wall Street Journal study published last September found that in 77 “blue-collar and manufacturing-reliant counties across the Midwest and Northeast” that swing heavily to Trump, employment “grew by 0.5% in 2017 and 0.6% in 2018, lower than the 1% job growth in the prior two years, before Mr. Trump took office.” The counties also trailed the national growth rate of 1.5 percent in 2017 and 1.3 percent in 2018…Similarly, a New York Times study published in December found that Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan were among the 10 lowest-ranking states in the nation for job growth during Trump’s tenure. Pennsylvania, along with closely contested Minnesota, ranked in the bottom half of states for employment expansion…ratio of CEO compensation to worker compensation — which was “only” 21 to 1 in 1965 — has continued to rise. The ratio was 293 to 1 in 2018. It was 320 to 1 in 2019. Happy Labor Day!”