washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

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

Read the Memo.

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

Read the Memo.

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

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo.

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

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

June 7, 2023

Political Strategy Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click here for the rest of the article)

Is the Democratic Party Too Far Left? Hughes and Teixeira Debate Rep. Bowman and Garza

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from Intelligence2 Debates:

Is the Democratic Party Too Far Left?

I participated in an Intelligence Squared debate on this question. On the affirmative: me and Coleman Hughes. On the negative: Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. See who you think won!

“Defund the police. Abolish ICE. Redistribute the wealth. These are but a few of the one-liners that have emanated from the liberal wing of the Democratic party in recent years. With the emergence of “The Squad” in 2018 – or what began as four Democratic congresswomen who sought to push their party further left – liberal lawmakers have grown more prevalent in recent election cycles. And with just a slim 51-49 Democrat majority in the Senate, progressives are now eyeing 2024 as a way to strengthen their broader influence. By doing so, some say, the party risks aligning itself with ever more extreme politics, alienating moderate voices, and straying from what made it successful in the past. When President Bill Clinton was in office, they note, only 25 percent of Democrats described themselves as liberal; another 25 percent called themselves conservative, while an overwhelming 48 percent were self-described moderates. The equating of liberalism with Democratic policies, they argue, is a recent and dangerous trend, which makes governing more difficult.

Others argue that the party is finally poised to make good what constitutes the reemergence of the political left, long stymied by the compromising influence of Washington and beltway politics. What’s more, they argue, this renewed focus on issues such as race, climate, income inequality has not only begun to address in earnest issues once paid only superficial notice, but is also electrifying the nation’s progressive base in ways that can win elections.

It is in this context that we debate the following question: Is The Democratic Party Too Far Left?
Arguing Yes: Coleman Hughes (Conversations with Coleman), Ruy Teixeira (American Enterprise Institute)
Arguing No: Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Alicia Garza (Co-founder of Black Lives Matter)
Emmy award-winning journalist John Donvan moderates.”

Click on the Intelligence2 Debates link to hear the podcast.

Political Strategy Notes

Lest Democrats get too optimistic about their great victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, David Daley, author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count and Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy” brings the bad news at The Guardian: “The lack of anything resembling a basic, functioning democracy in an American state placed outsized importance on Tuesday’s state supreme court election, won decisively by liberal Janet Protasiewicz. Her victory flipped what had been a 4-3 conservative majority on a court that not only aided and abetted the newest Republican gerrymander, but only narrowly declined a Trumpian gambit to toss out 220,000 votes from Democratic-leaning counties after the state’s tight 2020 election….The stakes of this race were huge. There’s a good reason why this election shattered records for the most expensive state supreme court race ever. There will be an immediate effort to bring new litigation to un-gerrymander the state’s toxic legislative map. The 1849 anti-abortion law will be challenged before a court that is now friendly to reproductive rights. It will be more difficult for Republicans to use Wisconsin courts in 2024 to subvert presidential election results in a state where the outcome could determine the nation’s leader….Nevertheless, democracy has not been restored in Wisconsin and the threat has not receded. No one should be under any delusion that Wisconsin Republicans, so accustomed to ruling with impunity, will operate any differently. They don’t have to change. On Tuesday, just as voters statewide tipped the court to progressives, a special election for a crucial state senate seat went Republican, ensuring a Republican supermajority. Republicans have already threatened that they might impeach liberal justices, including Protasiewicz….It is dreary to be cynical the day after a hard-won victory that activists worked many years to secure. Yet it is hard not to look at Wisconsin and see Charlie Brown and the football once more. Democrats spend a decade playing by the rules and executing a 12-point plan to undo the after-effects of the 2010 redistricting, step by careful step. And if Democrats win, Republicans use their gerrymanders to take away their power or make some pretend doctrine and take it to their equally unearned and illegitimate supermajority on the US supreme court….One outcome of the news from Wisconsin is that it might finally be clear to everyone that, in today’s America, judges have become little more than robed partisans. But it needs to become equally clear that without a national fix for gerrymandering and structural reform to the US supreme court, that hope in Wisconsin – and perhaps your state next – will be little more than fool’s gold.”

Are references to the Republicans’ “War on Democracy” overstated? Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch doesn’t think so, and he makes a compelling case in his article, “GOP wages an asymmetrical war on democracy because it can’t get the votes.” Bunch references the “sour grapes” comments of the conservative candidate who lost the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, and then notes that “the GOP majority in the Wisconsin legislature are — and this is hard to believe — already talking about impeaching Protasiewicz even before she takes the oath of office. A new state senator who won a special election to give Republicans a supermajority in Madison said he’d “seriously consider” impeaching the new justice, citing the flimsy pretext of her record as a circuit judge in “failing” Milwaukee.” Also, “Anyone doubting Republicans’ impeachment bluster in Wisconsin could take a look around to Nashville, Tenn., where white GOP lawmakers stunned the nation by expelling two Black colleagues and disenfranchising their roughly 140,000 predominantly African American constituents because the men had, from the floor of the Capitol, joined a thousand or so young people protesting gun violence….” Bunch also cites “a flurry of moves including state takeovers of Democratic school boards in large red-state cities like Houston and legislation in states from Georgia to Missouri aiming to sharply curtail power and potentially remove progressive DAs elected by urban voters, such as the impeachment of Philadelphia’s twice-elected prosecutor Larry Krasner. Even Congress got in on the act with legislation to nullify a sweeping criminal justice overhaul that Washington, D.C.’s, majority-Black city council had approved 12-1.” Bunch also notes, “What’s more, this political counterrevolution in legislative corridors is taking place right as the conservative movement’s grand project of the last half-century — a ruthless, multimillion-dollar crusade to install unaccountable, lifetime right-wing judges across the federal bench — is coming to full fruition. Good Friday’s decision by Amarillo, Texas-based federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Donald Trump appointee rooted in ultra-conservative networks, seeking to undo approval of the abortion drug mifepristone after 23 years on the market is a huge end run around democracy in a nation where a majority of voters support abortion rights. Conservatives routinely file lawsuits in Amarillo because Kacsmaryk is that district’s lone judge.”

Bunch also references the Justice Clarence Thomas scandal, Trump’s arraignment and the January 6th riot and writes, “Democrats are waging conventional warfare on the political frontlines — at the ballot box, trying to get votes with the power of their ideas — and in much of America they appear to be winning. It happened on Tuesday, with the coalition that produced the Protasiewicz landslide in Wisconsin, and with Chicago voters rejecting the reactionary, cop-union conservatism of Paul Vallas to elect progressive upstart Brandon Johnson as their new mayor. But then, it’s happened on the bigger stage since 1992, as Democrats have won the national popular vote in seven of eight presidential elections, as the United States grows more diverse and less in thrall to the conservative hierarchies around race, gender, sexuality, and intolerance…. Republicans are responding with an asymmetrical civil war against democracy, constantly looking for the weak points to deploy their IEDs of autocracy, determined to blow up the American Experiment if that’s what it takes to retain power by any means necessary. Their tactics are working well, unfortunately. Darth Vader’s Death Star had just one opening to exploit, but U.S. democracy has many — gerrymandering, the filibuster, the Electoral College, the undemocratic makeup of the U.S. Senate, statehouse power plays against home rule for Black or brown or progressive-minded communities, a take-no-prisoners hijacking of the judiciary. The only shock of Thursday’s next-level expulsion of two duly-elected Black lawmakers in Nashville was the proof that — as Republican ideas become more unpopular — there is no bottom to how low this movement will go….And yet there is also reason for great hope. America’s young people — the ones who left their classroom last week and overran the state capitol in Nashville to plead for real action against gun violence, the ones fighting book bans in their schools and speaking out for radical action on climate — are the bravest and boldest generation this nation has seen in some time. Their moral authority, and their rising power at the ballot box from Eau Claire to Memphis, is why a decrepit GOP is lashing out. History will surely remember what happened in Tennessee as an affront to democracy — and the last throes of a dying movement.”

You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that “According to one scholar’s research on democracy in the US, Tennessee is indeed the least democratic state in the entire country.” That’s “democratic” with a small “d.” The report, by Zach Beauchamp at Vox continues, “The research here comes from University of Washington political science professor Jake Grumbach, who wrote a 2022 paper (later expanded into a book) developing the first-ever numerical system for ranking the health of democracy in all 50 US states….Grumbach’s State Democracy Index (SDI) grades each state on a series of metrics — like the extent to which a state is gerrymandered at the federal level, whether felons can vote, and the like — and then combines the assessments to give each state an overall score from -3 (worst) to 2 (best).” It is a 5-year old study, conducted in 2018. Nonetheless, “Tennessee’s low score in 2018 has a lot to do with its egregious partisan gerrymanders at both the state and federal level — a problem that only got worse in the post-2020 census redistricting cycle. Research from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project shows that there is not a single competitive seat in the state senate — Democrats are so efficiently packed in a handful of strongly Democratic districts that Republicans have a near-guaranteed super-supermajority (over 80 percent of seats!) in the statehouse’s upper chamber.” Beauchamp provides a map indicating that “Tennessee is by far the lightest-colored state on the 2018 map — meaning it has the lowest score of any state in the country….It’s not exactly clear, from Grumbach’s research, why Tennessee is particularly anti-democratic. But what his research does show is that it’s not isolated: The state is part of a general trend where democracy has degraded in Republican-controlled states.” All of which helps explain why talk of boycotts against Tennessee is increasing. The Republicans who just gutted free speech and democracy and blocked gun safety reform in the Volunteer State may end up costing TN many millions in convention and tourist revenues.

North Carolina’s Party-Switcher Doesn’t Fit Any Precedents

For southern Democrats in particular, the North Carolina legislator whose change of party handed Republicans a super-majority brought back lots of bad memories. But the defector in question didn’t fit any of the major precedents, as I explained at New York:

Party switching has a long if not entirely honorable history, especially in the South. So on its face, North Carolina Democratic legislator Tricia Cotham’s defection to the GOP on Wednesday is mostly shocking because of its impact. Her flip gives Republicans a supermajority in both branches of the state legislature, thus neutralizing Democratic governor Roy Cooper’s veto power for the next two years.

But Cotham’s reasons for switching parties are a bit of a mystery. She served in the legislature for five terms, from 2007 to 2016, and was a standard-brand moderate-to-liberal Democrat. She turned her attention to the U.S. House in 2016, but lost the Democratic primary. Cotham returned to the North Carolina House this year after successfully campaigning on a “platform of raising the minimum wage, protecting voting rights and bolstering L.B.G.T.Q. rights,” according to the New York Times. While legislators sometimes change parties because their district has become more competitive due to redistricting or demographic change, that isn’t the case here. The Charlotte Observer describes North Carolina’s 12th House District as a “Democrat stronghold,” with 60 percent of voters backing Cotham’s former party.

So why did Cotham flip so soon after being elected as a Democrat from a Democratic district? Like most party switchers, she’s adopted the posture that the party actually left her, as the Times reported:

“[Cotham said] she had been bullied by her fellow Democrats and had grown alienated from the party on issues like school choice.

“’The modern-day Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me and to so many others throughout this state and this country,’ she said in a brief speech. She said both she and her young children had been subjected to personal attacks by Democrats in the state, and denounced what she called attempts to ‘control’ her. ‘They have pushed me out,’ she said.”

Local political reporter Steve Harrison told WFAE that Cotham had raised eyebrows by voting with Republicans a few times since returning to Raleigh this year:

“One of the first [defections] came in December when she was the only Democrat to vote for a constitutional amendment that would make members of the state Board of Election elected rather than appointed. And there were others, a bill requiring sheriffs to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

But the moment her voting record really got hostile attention from Democrats came a week ago when she (along with two other Democrats) missed a vote that overrode Cooper’s veto of a bill repealing the state’s pistol permitting law. She reportedly was absent due to a medical appointment related to long-COVID symptoms, and was publicly opposed to the veto override. But at least one local progressive group hinted at “accountability measures” against the absentees, including Cotham.

Was that enough to convince Cotham to turn her coat so soon after being sent by Democratic voters to the legislature? It’s unclear. In her statement defending her decision, she offered a sort of Twitter-made-her-do-it explanation, as the Washington Post noted:

“Cotham, wearing red and standing in front of NCGOP signs, said the turning point in her decision was when she faced backlash for using the American flag and a prayer-hands emoji in her social media handles and on her vehicles.”

Regardless of whether she was pushed or jumped, Cotham now faces certain opposition in 2024 if she runs for reelection; indeed, Democrats are demanding she resign her seat immediately, arguing that it was won under false pretenses. It’s unclear what her new friends in the GOP will do to protect her. “Republicans can redraw the House map and perhaps draw a …seat that leans red, or maybe Cotham just runs for statewide office,” Steve Harrison reported.

This, however, raises even more questions. Will Republican voters really embrace a candidate who just ran on standard Democratic issues? Is her pro-LGBTQ record really compatible with the state party that gave us the first anti-transgender “bathroom bill”? What will GOP voters make of Cotham co-sponsoring a bill codifying abortion protections in January? And will they embrace a woman who once took to the floor of the North Carolina House to talk about her own abortion, calling it a “deeply personal decision” and claiming that GOP lawmakers just want to “play doctor”?

Local TV station WBTV, which interviewed Cotham on Tuesday night, said she “would not commit to positions on specific legislation but indicated she was open to supporting new abortion restrictions.” So anyone anxious to know what kind of consequences this very strange political move will have for abortion rights in North Carolina will have to keep guessing for now.


Towards Class-based Affirmative Action in Education

In “A New Path to Diversity” at Dissent magazine, Richard Kahlenberg proposes a novel approach to promoting diversity in education that has the potential to unify, instead of divide people:

The impulse behind racial affirmative-action programs comes from a very good place: the desire to provide extra support to Black, Hispanic, and Native American people—groups that have been oppressed throughout American history. But it appears that these programs will soon be outlawed. The U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to jettison racial preferences following oral arguments in October in cases challenging the admissions processes at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. And regardless of their legal status, these programs are unpopular. Three-quarters of Americans—including 59 percent of African Americans—oppose using race as a factor in college admissions.

The good news is that there is a politically popular and legally sound alternative that can produce high levels of racial and economic diversity: preferences based on socioeconomic disadvantage. While the U.S. Supreme Court has long been wary of government policies that treat people differently on the basis of race, the modern Court does not have this sort of hesitation about programs that treat citizens differently on the basis of economic status—from the progressive income tax to means-tested programs like food stamps.

Prominent left and liberal voices in the 1960s and ’70s, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, advocated for this sort of approach, arguing that affirmative action based on class disadvantage could help address the legacy of slavery and segregation. Recent researchfinds that although preferences based on income alone are unlikely to produce sufficient racial diversity at selective colleges, the consideration of additional factors, such as family wealth and neighborhood poverty levels, can lead to high levels of both racial and economic diversity.

Kahlenberg notes that “Colleges fiercely resist the class-based approach to creating racial diversity, however, because the current system of racial and legacy preferences, which mostly benefits well-off students, is cheaper than providing financial aid for low-income and working-class students.” He provides examples showing how the concept of class-based policies also promote equal opportunity.

In his conclusion, Kahlenberg writes,

Polls find that this sort of class-based affirmative action garners support from almost two-thirds of Americans. And such policies could help the left move beyond the kind of unpopular liberalism that preaches diversity while shunting class to the margins.

The irony is that a conservative Supreme Court decision could provide a boost for progressive multiracial coalition building. Right-wing divide-and-conquer efforts have historically sought to motivate white working-class people to vote their race rather than their class. Moving from race-based to class-based preferences will remind working-class people of all colors what they have in common.

The Republicans have been skillful in leveraging culture war issues to distract their supporters from getting involved in multi-racial coalitions for needed educational reforms. Making socioeconomic fairness a priority in college admissions and funding could help promote broader support for public education reforms that serve everyone – and make Democrats look good for leading the way forward.

Don’t Expect Trump’s Legal Drama to Go Away Before Voters Vote in 2024

Amidst all the speculation involving Trump’s Manhattan indictment and his presidential campaign, I decided to issue a warning for those who think the two things can be separated, and wrote it up at New York:

Many have observed that Donald Trump’s felony indictment in Manhattan this week is already boosting his standing among GOP primary voters, at least temporarily, while prospectively depressing his standing among swing voters in the general election. Trump’s Republican rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination desperately need to make his hypothetical “electability” problem an issue in the primaries. But as my colleague Eric Levitz points out, it’s tough to make that argument while Trump is in court, ostensibly fighting the good fight against liberal “persecution” as the vast majority of the Republican Party cheers him on:

“[I]n the eyes of the conservative base, to attack Trump is to aid and abet the president’s persecution at the hands of Soros and his minions. To question his electability, meanwhile, is tantamount to calling on Republicans to let the terrorists win.”

For Trump’s GOP foes, the shift from a political landscape dominated by his legal battles to a normal primary season can’t happen fast enough. Unfortunately, that’s very unlikely to happen anytime soon. He still faces possible criminal indictments in Atlanta (for Team Trump’s alleged election interference) and Washington (for Trump’s alleged responsibility for the January 6 insurrection and mishandling of classified documents). There is also potentially noisy civil litigation pending in New York (E. Jean Carroll is suing Trump for defamation because he accused her of making up her rape allegation against him).

But even if Trump somehow avoids additional indictments and high-stakes encounters with the federal and state justice systems, the Manhattan case that is already proceeding could drag on and on, ensuring that Trump’s legal woes will dominate headlines throughout the 2024 election cycle. Per the Washington Post:

“Trump’s lawyers have until August to file challenges to the case accusing him of hiding a payment to an adult-film actress before the 2016 presidential election to keep her quiet about a sexual relationship she says she had with Trump years earlier. Those filings may coincide with the first Republican debate of the primary season, which is also scheduled for August.”

And don’t hold your breath for the actual trial to get underway:

“On Tuesday, prosecutors floated a trial date in January, right before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Feb. 5. But Trump’s legal team suggested a spring 2024 date would be more “realistic,” which the judge sounded open to.”

These preliminary timetables do not fully take into account Trump’s long history as a legal guerrilla who is willing and able to manipulate court proceedings via constant motions, appeals, collateral lawsuits, and delay tactics. As the New York Times recently reported, if Trump thinks it’s in his interest to slow things down in court, he definitely knows how:

“Attack. Attack. Attack.

“Delay. Delay. Delay.

“Those two tactics have been at the center of Donald J. Trump’s favored strategy in court cases for much of his adult life, and will likely be the former president’s approach to fighting the criminal charges now leveled against him if he sticks to his well-worn legal playbook …

“Mr. Trump’s intensely litigious nature has made his strategy more visible over the years than it might otherwise be. He has long used delay tactics in legal matters that emerged from business disputes, and since becoming a politician he has repeatedly tried to throw sand in the gears of the legal system, using the resulting slow pace of litigation to run out the clock until seismic events shifted the playing field.”

Team Trump’s power to dictate the pace of the proceedings against him will likely be enhanced by prosecutors fearful of being perceived as unfair to the former president. Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis has to be aware of a new Georgia bill (which Governor Brian Kemp will almost certainly sign) allowing a state commission to supervise or even remove local prosecutors accused of malfeasance. And in Washington, Joe Biden’s Justice Department will be sensitive to claims that the president is trying to legally harass, if not imprison, his most likely 2024 opponent.

So Trump-haters fantasizing about the former president being frog-marched to prison in leg-irons before he can reach for the White House again should get over it. Between the lengthy New York legal process and the possibility that Trump could prevail in court, not to mention the endless appeals if he is found guilty, there won’t be some deus ex machina that suddenly shuts down his campaign.

That also means Republican 2024 candidates aren’t going to be able to wait until the indictment circus ends to make a case against Trump’s renomination. His legal status will remain uncertain throughout the presidential race, and warnings that his liberal persecutors may eventually triumph won’t go over well with GOP primary voters. And it’s unlikely that any objective indicators will make the point for Trump’s GOP rivals: Polls taken after the indictment show him not only enjoying a surge in the 2024 nomination contest but improving his position slightly against Biden in trial general-election heats (and doing just as well as Ron DeSantis). Add in the fact that most Republican primary voters are aware of how much Trump underperformed expectations in both 2016 and 2020 and you have an “electability” case against the 45th president that could wind up being feeble and yet all that Trump’s rivals can muster. The bottom line is that time is emphatically not on their side.

Political Strategy Notes

Take a peek at the Cook Political Report’s “2023 Cook PVI℠: District Map and List (118th Congress),” which provides a measure of the “partisanship” of each of America’s 435 congressional districts. As the report notes, “In August of 1997, the Cook Political Report introduced the Cook Partisan Voting Index (Cook PVI) to provide a more accurate picture of the competitiveness of each of the 435 congressional districts. With the 2022 PVI release, we made a slight change to how we calculate PVI scores: instead of using a 50/50 mix of the two most recent presidential elections to assess partisanship as we had done in the past, we switched to a 75/25 weighting in favor of the more recent presidential cycle. Using the updated formula, we are now re-releasing PVI scores for every Congress since the 105th (1997-1998).” Hover your mouse/finger over any congressional district in their interactive map, and the pop-up tells you the number of the district, the name of the incumbent, his or her party identification and the 2023 PVI. For the “118th Congress District Map and List (2023-2024)….The 2023 Cook PVI scores were calculated following the 2021 round of redistricting, using 2016 and 2020 presidential election results. They are identical to the PVI scores released in 2022.” For example, the PVI for NC-12 (incumbent Alma Adams) is D+13, meaning the district leans Democratic by 13 points, based on the results of the 2020 and 2016 presidential elections, weighted for the more recent 2020 results. One of the most competitive districts in the U.S., IA-3 (incumbent Republican Zach Nunn) has a PVI of R+3. Glancing at the interactive map, we learn such tidbits as the mountain west states of UT, CO and NV have no deep red districts, while most of the land in PA’s districts are in deep red territory. NM is bathed in light blue, with no red districts, while GA’s Democratic strength is heavily concentrated in metro Atlanta. The 2023 hover map is a freebie, but access to PVI charts before 2016 runs through a paywall.

Some nuggets from “The last 48 hours revealed the GOP’s intractable 2024 dilemma: Trump and pro-lifers own the Republican Party. That’s bad for its political future” by Zack Beauchamp at Vox: “First, Donald Trump was formally indicted in New York — a move by prosecutors that appears to have unified the party around him, cementing his already rising poll numbers and making it harder to imagine the GOP ever moving on. This is despite the fact that 60 percent of Americans approve of the indictment, and he remains politically toxic among the majority of Americans….Second, Republicans lost control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in an off-year election — a campaign where abortion was “the dominating issue,” per University of Wisconsin political scientist Barry Burden. The repeal of Roe v. Wade brought back an 1849 state law, never technically repealed, that banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy (with an exception for the mother’s life). Janet Protasiewicz, the liberal candidate in the Supreme Court race, openly campaigned on her support for abortion rights. She won by a comfortable margin in a closely divided state — yet another sign that strict abortion bans are seriously unpopular….Third, the Florida Senate on Monday approved a six-week ban on abortion — a bill pushed and supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The GOP’s most plausible non-Trump candidate has now tied himself to one of its most unpopular policy positions with a proven capacity to power Democratic electoral wins….“Banning abortion without any exceptions is probably as unpopular, or more unpopular, as defunding the police,” David Shor, a leading Democratic data analyst, told me last year. After Dobbs, “abortion went from being a somewhat good issue for Democrats to becoming the single best issue.”

Piling on here, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes, “The victory of liberal Milwaukee Judge Janet Protasiewicz over conservative Dan Kelly was nonpartisan in name only. Her win ratified the importance of the two issues that helped Democrats block a Republican wave in November: abortion rights, in the wake of Dobbs, and the battle for democracy, in the wake of the Trump presidency. Protasiewicz prevailed by 11 points a state Joe Biden carried in 2020 by less than one. And in a bitter Chicago race for mayor, Brandon Johnson, a little-known county commissioner six months ago, edged out former schools executive Paul Vallas, who expected to ride deep anxieties about crime into City Hall….Both are Democrats, but Johnson painted Vallas as a closet Republican who had once said he would convert to the GOP and had been heard calling the impeachment effort against Donald Trump “a witch hunt.”….Wisconsin was a case of exceptional Democratic unity and mobilization. Protasiewicz not only overwhelmed Kelly in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison but also held down his margins in traditionally Republican areas.” But Dionne also observes that “In what may be the key message from both contests, [WI Democratic Party Chair Ben] Wikler argued that Democrats needed to address the crime issue directly in order to pivot to the broader messages on which they can win elections….“The essential thing for Democrats is to make clear that they care about public safety and then to make clear which candidate takes freedom seriously,” he said. “You have to do both things. The right-wing argument about crime only works if it’s not effectively neutralized.”

Just after the euphoria for liberal Democrats following the big win in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race and the Chicago Mayor’s election, comes a big bummer, the flipping of North Carolina’s state legislature into a veto-proof majority for Republicans.  The party-switcher in this instance is NC State Rep. Tricia Cotham, who won her last election as a Democrat by 20 points in Charlotte’s ‘burbs. At CNN Politics, Dianne Gallagher and Devon M. Sayers note that “Cotham’s switch could have major implications for lawmaking in the Tar Heel State. Republicans already held a supermajority in the North Carolina Senate. Cotham’s flip gives them 72 seats in the state House – and enough votes in both chambers to override any veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.” Cotham trotted out the predictable blah blah about how the Dems no longer rep her pristine values. Cotham, whose mother, Pat Cotham, was a DNC member and whose ex-husband, Jerry Meek, was chair of the state Democratic Party, was first appointed by Democratic Governor Mike Easley to fill a seat vacated by a retirement in the state legislature in 2007. NC’s Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton commented that ““HD112 is a 60% Democratic district….And they did not choose to elect a Republican. They chose to elect a Democrat.” In the past, she claimed to support abortion access, voting rights reforms and a doubling of the minimum wage, all of which are opposed by state Republicans. There is usually a power politics and/or other lucrative reward behind the stated reason for a decision to switch political parties, but it often takes a while before it becomes clear.  There are always some careerists who more interested in their own success than the public good sprinkled among razor-thin majorities, particularly in state legislators. Unfortunately, there are no recall provisions in NC law.

Dems Win an Important Race in Wisconsin

Democrats have won what may be 2023’s most important election. As Eric Bradner reports at CNN Politics:

Democratic-backed Janet Protasiewicz will win Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election, CNN projects, flipping majority control in liberals’ favor in what could be the most consequential election of the year with abortion access, election rules and more on the line in the key swing state.

Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County circuit court judge, will defeat conservative Daniel Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, in a race that shattered spending records on state judicial elections. Her win likely breaks an era of Republican dominance in a state that has been ensnared in political conflict for more than a decade.

The race was a critical gauge of whether and how the issue of abortion is motivating voters nearly a year after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The state’s high court is poised to settle a legal battle in the coming months over Wisconsin’s 1849 law that bans abortion in nearly all circumstances.

Conservatives currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court. But the retirement of conservative Justice Patience Roggensack put that majority at stake.

Wisconsin is one of 14 states to directly elect its Supreme Court justices, and winners get 10-year terms. Judicial races there are nominally nonpartisan, but political parties leave little doubt as to which candidates they support. Spending in this year’s race – which reached $28.8 million as of March 29, according to the Brennan Center – far surpassed the previous record for spending on a state judicial contest: $15.4 million in a 2004 Illinois race.

It doesn’t look like there will be a yuge outpouring of election denial regarding the results. Protasiewicz won by double digits, 55.5 percent to 45.5 percent, with 95 percent of the vote counted, according to the Associated Press.  Bradner notes, “Kelly acknowledged his defeat, telling supporters at his election night event that “this didn’t turn out the way we were looking for.” Bradner adds,

Democrats saw the race as an opportunity to end Republican dominance in Wisconsin that began with Gov. Scott Walker’s election in 2010 – a victory that was followed by the passage of union-busting laws and state legislative districts drawn to effectively ensure GOP majorities, all green-lit by a state Supreme Court where conservatives have held the majority since 2008.

Walker lost his bid for a third term to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in 2018. But Evers has been hamstrung by the Republican-led legislature, with the conservative Supreme Court breaking ties on matters such as a 2022 ruling during the once-a-decade redistricting process in favor of using Republican-drawn legislative maps rather than ones submitted by Evers. The decision cemented Republicans’ solid majority in the state legislature.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is also positioned to play a critical role in determining how the 2024 election is conducted and settling disputes that arise.

The court played a pivotal role in the outcome of the 2020 election in Wisconsin: Justices voted 4-3, with conservative Brian Hagedorn joining the court’s three liberals, to reject former President Donald Trump’s efforts to throw out ballots in Democratic-leaning counties. And last year, the court barred the use of most ballot drop boxes and ruled that no one can return a ballot in person on behalf of another voter.

Further, Bradner explains, “But the most immediate battle likely to reach the justices as early as this fall is over Wisconsin’s 1849 law that bans abortion in nearly all circumstances….In a debate last month, Protasiewicz said she was “making no promises” on how she would rule. But she also noted her personal support for abortion rights, as well as endorsements from pro-abortion rights groups. And she pointed to Kelly’s endorsement by Wisconsin Right to Life, which opposes abortion rights.”

In a closer election yesterday, the more liberal candidate, union organizer and Country Commissioner Brandon Johnson, was elected mayor of Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, according to The Associated Press.