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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.


No matter who.

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

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

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

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.


No Matter Who.

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

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

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

RIP GOP book by Stanley Greenberg

R.I.P. G.O.P.

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

Pre-Order Now.

The Daily Strategist

January 22, 2020

Hurst: Amplified Advantage – Why Education Is Not the Answer to Our Class Problems

At Working-Class Perspectives, Co-Editor John Russo, visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, writes: “We like to think that education is the great leveller, boosting poor and working-class young people into the middle class and beyond. If only more people had access to higher education, the theory goes, we would have less economic inequality. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. As Allison L. Hurst explains in this week’s Working-Class Perspectives, the economic and social advantages that well-off students bring with them into college also ensure then more opportunities after they graduate, while working-class graduates face more challenges.”:

Thirty years ago, after having dropped out of college after just one term, unable to pay for my dorm room, I was unsure if I would ever leave the working class.  Two years later I was a student at Barnard College, an elite small liberal arts college three thousand miles from my parents’ home.  To this day, I am not sure how I made that leap, but it was smoothed over by significant financial assistance from the college.  Unable to pay for my public university, I was able to graduate from one of the best private colleges in the country virtually debt-free.

Now I study higher education and its connection to what we call intergenerational social mobility, the movement (or lack of movement) between classes, comparing children and parents’ occupational outcomes over time.

I have some bad news.  While the path I took was not easy, gaining social mobility through college education is much harder for young people today.  Ironically, even as more children of the working class go to college, the educational attainment gap between the middle class and the working class continues to grow.

How can this be?  For one thing, the bar for “being educated” continues to rise.  As more people earn college degrees than ever before, the kind of college degree increasingly matters.  What type of institution?  What major field of study?  Also important is the level of education – in many fields a four-year degree is no longer enough to assure a middle-class salaried job.  You need a master’s degree, or even a PhD, for some work, even outside of academia.

Scholars of education (including sociologists like me) have known all of this for a while now, which is why so many of us have studied access to colleges and programs.  Colleges have struggled to open their doors to first-generation and working-class students.  They are paying more attention to ways of broadening access, sometimes pushed and shoved into doing so by state boards of higher education.  At the same time, budget cuts at public colleges and universities undercut many of these efforts.

But getting working-class students into colleges is only half the battle.  Keeping them and helping them thrive has proven difficult.  I explore some of the many reasons for this in my first book, The Burden of Academic Success:  marginalization, impostor syndrome, feeling out of place.  Even at open access two-year public colleges and universities that are the most open to working-class students, middle-class students predominate.

My experiences at Barnard reflect why that matters.  I rarely talked to anyone about my family, and, when I did, I regretted the ridicule, mockery, and disbelief.  I knew I was different.  Most of the time I was too busy juggling off-campus work and an overloaded academic schedule to care, but the isolated feeling was always lurking in the background.  If I hadn’t an abundant scholarship, I know I would have left.  As Tony Jack reminds us, “access is not inclusion.”

Getting working-class students into college and keeping them has proven difficult, but not impossible.  Successes – like me, Tony Jack, all the working-class academics out there —  do exist.  Here’s the real problem: even when we succeed academically, the gap between us and everyone else increases after we graduate, as Debbie Warnock’s remarkably honest account of her move into and through the academy so poignantly demonstrates.

In Amplified Advantage: Going to A “Good College” in an Era of Inequality, I demonstrate the many ways that parental resources and class cultures amplify the preexisting advantages of some students, even as colleges provide all students a solid education, expanded social networks, and useful cultural capital.  Based on a national survey of college students attending small liberal arts colleges, interviews, and a follow-up survey with recent college graduates, I found that colleges like Barnard did a lot of things well for their students.  Students generally had frequent interactions with faculty and peers, ample opportunities for doing research outside of class, abundant extracurricular activities, and a lot of institutional support for individual growth.  Given the quality of education and opportunity provided, the average $50,000 annual price tag for elite schools actually seems worthwhile, especially when low-income and working-class students receive sufficient financial assistance.

And yet, for all these colleges do to provide an equal playing field for students (all live on campus, everyone takes small classes, almost everyone is involved in useful extracurricular activities), once students graduate, their experiences and opportunities deviate sharply.  More elite students can leverage their advantages and resources in ways unavailable to other students.  They may, for example, take a risk on joining a start-up company, knowing that they have resources to fall back on if this risk does not pay off.  Others may rely on parental financial assistance to spend a year in New York City working at an unpaid internship or working for a nonprofit in a position that pays very little, expecting that such work will eventually pay off in a more secure and remunerative position.  Still others call on the friends and social networks of wealthy parents in the financial sector to ensure them high-paying jobs immediately after graduation, despite relatively shaky grades. Where elite students can afford to take big risks with potential big payoffs, knowing that the risk is ultimately ensured, working-class students’ choices are heavily constrained by circumstance and necessity.   Even compared with more middle-class peers, who may owe just as much in student loans, working-class students are much more likely to take jobs that they do not like and that do not match their skillsets in order to repay student debt. They may have accrued a ton of social and cultural capital while in college, but they can’t make use of it in the way of their peers.

In an increasingly unequal world, where elites outpace all others, reforming higher education from within won’t solve the problem. Class inequities shape students’ opportunities from before they enter college and long after they graduate. To the contrary, if we focus on education as the primary tool to level the playing field, we lose sight of the larger battle. As Andrew Sayer cautions, even reform efforts with egalitarian motives “are likely to be twisted by the field of class forces in ways which reproduce class hierarchy.”  In other words, the more we turn to education as a way out of class struggle, the more we may actually end up amplifying advantages of the few.

And we cannot afford to do that now. The time for ignoring the larger class struggle has passed, as we are all implicated in the game that is being played.  Simply put, expanding opportunities does not work because some players start off with extra resources, and they will use all the tools they have at their disposal to amplify their advantages.  Struggles might ensue over the value of those tools, which suit is “trump,” and which advantages accrue the most chips, but as the pot grows bigger and the stakes get higher, the game is still rigged against those who begin with fewer chips.  Do we want to keep playing this game?  Do we know how to stop?  It’s time to stop asking how we can get more people into college and start asking why it matters.

Political Strategy Notes

Joseph O’Neill’s review article “No More Nice Dems” at The New York Review of Books provides an insightful exploration of the GOP’s domination of state governments. A nugget: “And it’s not as if red-state governments have been better. For at least a quarter-century, GDP growth in blue states has exceeded that in red states. Living standards—educational attainment, household income, life expectancy, tax equity—tend to be distinctly higher in blue states. These disparities are mitigated by what economists call “fiscal flows”—blue staters subsidizing red staters in the form of federal taxes. When states go all-in on Republican economic strategies, not even fiscal flows can avert disaster, as the fates of Kansas and Oklahoma have revealed. Some red states even reject fiscal flows: fourteen have refused the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, with predictable consequences. If you wanted to tank the country, or part of it, your best bet would be to get Republicans to run things.”

O’Neill continues: “Republican dominance represents an extraordinary political overperformance. Republican state governments strongly align themselves with the national party leadership—and by conventional measures, and certainly by comparison with the Clinton and Obama administrations, the national GOP has long been a disaster. Every Republican administration from Reagan onward has crashed the economy and exploded deficits. (Trump has already achieved the latter.) Their track record on health care is one of failure. Their handling of national security has been catastrophic (see the September 11 attacks, the rise of ISIS, Trump-Russia, climate change). Their criminality and corruption is scandalous: fraud, perjury, bribery, Boland Amendment violations during the Iran–contra affair, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, theft, and misuse of public funds are just some of the crimes committed by Republican administration officials and operatives—and that’s without counting those chalked up under Nixon and Trump.”

O’Neill, quotes from Meaghan Winter’s  All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States and observes, “As David Callahan, founder of Inside Philanthropy, said, most foundation grant makers end up “thinking like a social worker instead of thinking like a Bolshevik,” the very opposite of the approach taken by those doling out the Koch and Mercer fortunes…Thus the problem isn’t money: “The annual spending of centrist and left-leaning foundations far exceeds the annual spending of the conservative Heritage Foundation or the Scaife Family Foundation.” The problem is that, for around half a century, right-wing donors have spent their money more productively. They have created and supported entities (the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the State Policy Network, Americans for Prosperity, the Federalist Society, etc.) dedicated to developing durable structures of power and fanaticism. Most significantly, they have gradually taken control of state offices—the offices responsible not only for redistricting but for elections and voter registration, for state jurisprudence, and for the local regulation of abortion, health care, workers’ rights, and gun safety.

As for Republican strategy at the state level, “It can’t be disputed that this effort has worked,” O’Neill adds. “Indeed, it has produced a kind of Bolshevik dreamland in which a few billionaire hypercapitalists and libertarian extremists oversee a sizable cadre of professional ideologues and organizers who do the boring, technical, and persistent work of radicalizing, training, rewarding, and controlling conservative legislators, policy theorists, media figures, propagandists, administrators, evangelists, and judges. This produces a self-sustaining vanguard with real power, real expertise, and a ferocious dedication to victory that increasingly surpasses any allegiance to the ethical and civic norms associated with a modern democracy. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, intellectually dishonest judicial rulings, and systematic disinformation are now essential Republican tactics. There’s a reason why the GOP, for all its substantive uselessness, is such a formidable political foe. It plays to win.”

Tom Dickinson notes at Rolling Stone, “Republicans currently hold a three-seat edge in the Senate, 53 to 47. At first glance, the 2020 electoral map looks favorable to Democrats. Republicans must defend 23 seats to the Democrats’ 12. But the terrain is challenging: 20 of the GOP incumbents hail from states Trump carried in 2016…In 2016, every Senate contest went in the direction of the presidential vote…Still, nonpartisan analysts like Democratic chances. “The Senate’s in play,” says Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, which handicaps federal races. “Democrats have enough takeover opportunities to get there without having to win everything on the table.”

“But for progressives in 2020,” Dickinson says, “Mitch McConnell’s seat in Kentucky is the holy grail. Trump took the state by 30 points in 2016, but a Democrat claimed victory in the governor’s race in November. The senator’s approval rating in the state — 33 percent — is nearly as bad as defeated incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin’s. McConnell’s opponent, retired Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a former F/A-18 fighter pilot, is fresh off a competitive 2018 House race and raising money like a presidential candidate — $10.7 million in the third quarter. McGrath is casting McConnell as a creature of Washington, bought by special interests, who has “turned his back on the people of Kentucky” and failed to deliver on bread-and-butter issues from infrastructure to the opioid crisis. “The guy’s been around 34 years,” she tells Rolling Stone. “If he cared about this stuff, something would have been done already.” McConnell runs strong campaigns and won’t lack for resources, but in a recent survey he was up by just one point, within the margin of error.”

In his Monday campaign round-up, Steve Benen notes at Maddow Blog: “Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the only 2020 Democratic candidate to have won a statewide election in a red state, ended his presidential campaign this morning. His departure means that former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is the only current or former governor in the race…former Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania ended his Democratic campaign yesterday…the party’s 2020 field now stands at 16 candidates…The Associated Press reported over the holiday weekend that a super PAC formed to support Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential campaign is shutting down. The report added, “The group’s founder, San Francisco lawyer Steve Phillips, indicated in a news release Wednesday that Dream United had struggled to raise money.”…Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign picked up a new congressional supporter over the weekend with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) endorsing the senator, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose Democratic presidential bid has struggled badly to earn support from minority communities, worshiped yesterday at North Carolina’s Greenleaf Christian Church, which is pastored by the Rev. William J. Barber II.”

At Roll Call, Nathan Gonzales explains “House ratings changes: A dozen races shift toward Democrats,” and observes, “With a combination of Republicans’ self-inflicted wounds, slow recruiting, or suburbs continuing to shift against the president, Democratic chances of winning improved in a dozen House races in recent weeks.” Gonzales bullet-points individual House races, and adds, “the 2020 House battlefield now includes 39 vulnerable Democratic seats, 30 vulnerable Republican seats, and former Republican/independent Justin Amash’s district in Michigan…There’s still time for Trump’s standing to improve enough to boost lower-tier House GOP candidates, for a significant backlash to develop against Democrats for pursuing Trump’s impeachment, or for GOP House candidates to strengthen their campaigns. But right now, Democrats are most likely to maintain their majority in the next Congress.”

Ronald Brownstein addresses a critical question at The Atlantic,”Will John Roberts Constrain Trump? “Few questions may shape the president’s remaining tenure more than how often the chief justice steps in to limit executive powers.” Brownstein writes, “whether Trump stays in office for one more year or five, one of the key variables will be whether Roberts’s ruling in the census case was an exception or a signal of his determination to limit presidential authority. Most observers consider it unlikely that any of the four other Republican-appointed justices—including Trump’s two nominees—will break from the president on many, if any, big cases.” Loyola Law professor Jessica Levinson notes that “Roberts has far more often expressed support for broad executive authority of the sort Trump is asserting, she says. Asked how much of an impediment she expects Roberts to pose, she said, “Based on his public comments and his writings in other previous cases, I think the indication is not that much.”…The one countervailing force, Levinson and other experts noted, is Roberts’s reluctance to have the Court viewed as simply another extension of the partisan conflict between Republicans and Democrats. His attempt to avoid that characterization led Roberts to publicly rebuke Trump last summer for insisting that there are “Obama judges” and “Trump judges.”…But that consideration was not enough to dissuade Roberts from participating in other five-four party-line decisions that have dealt with Trump’s powers. “We are kidding ourselves that he is a moderate,” Levinson said. “Let’s none of us pretend that he doesn’t have a view of broad executive power.”..Still, Roberts could ultimately be the last man standing in the GOP with the ability to say no to a president who barrels through law and custom. Few questions may shape Trump’s remaining tenure more than how often Roberts steps into the breach.”

Demonizing Trump’s Critics

Yes, America is polarized about Donald J. Trump. But elements of his base of support are more polarized than anyone else, as I discussed at New York.

In my piece on Rick Perry telling the president he was the “chosen one,” I noted this was pretty standard fare among Christian right opinion leaders and politicians. But at roughly the same time, we got an indication from two other prominent Trump fans that it’s not enough to endow this strange and heathenish figure of manifold wicked ways with the cloak of divine sanction; his critics must be cast in the same apocalyptic drama as instruments of demonic forces. Seriously. Veteran adviser to Republican presidents on matters moral and spiritual, Peter Wehner, scathingly writes it up for The Atlantic:

“During his November 21 interview with [Franklin] Graham, [Eric] Metaxas, a Salem Radio Network talk-show host, asked the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, ‘What do you think of what is happening now? I mean, it’s a very bizarre situation to be living in a country where some people seem to exist to undermine the president of the United States. It’s just a bizarre time for most Americans.’

“Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, responded, ‘Well, I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying—’

“At which point Metaxas interjected, ‘I would disagree. It’s not almost demonic. You know and I know, at the heart, it’s a spiritual battle.'”

In Evangelical-speak, “spiritual battle” or “spiritual warfare” means a test of power between God and Satan (or his demonic minions), with human souls and the fate of all Creation in the balance. Describing one’s opponents as on the wrong side of a “spiritual battle” is simultaneously an expression of the most extreme hatred available to a Christian, and a rationalization for it on grounds that the object of demonic possession is not entirely responsible for becoming the devil’s workshop (it’s a variation on the old conservative Christian dodge of “hating the sin but not the sinner” when it comes to, say, being gay). In the context of politics, Graham, who has been busily ruining his father’s good name since he took over Billy’s ministries in 2000, and Metaxas, a veteran culture warrior, are suggesting that the moral and spiritual superiority — nay, necessity — of Trump and his party are so resplendently obvious that only a turn to the darkest side imaginable can explain it, as Wehner writes:

“They didn’t make the case that Trump critics are sincere but wrong, or even that they are insincere and unpatriotic. Instead, they felt compelled to portray those with whom they disagree politically as under demonic influences, which for a Christian is about as serious an accusation as there is. It means their opponents are the embodiment of evil, the “enemy,” anti-God, a kind of anti-Christ.

“There is no biblical or theological case to support the claim that critics of Donald Trump are under the spell of Satan. It is invented out of thin air, a shallow, wild, and reckless charge meant to be a conversation stopper.”

The rationalizations these people go through to treat Trump as God’s champions requires an incredible, almost comic, amount of huffing and puffing. Here’s Metaxas being quoted after Trump’s outrageous comments on the white-nationalist rioters of Charlottesville in the infamous “spiritual biography” of the president that David Brody and Scott Lamb published in 2018:

“We’re going to stand up for Trump a hundred times more. It’s been unbelievably despicable the way he’s been treated. And I think there’s some kind of demonic deception. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it begin to compare it to in my lifetime.”

Actually, yes, he has: in the attacks Christian right leaders incessantly made on Bill Clinton when his moral failings went public — moral failings that now seem tepid compared to those of his current successor in the White House. Wehner delivers an impressive jeremiad about what Graham and Metaxas are overlooking by way of mocking the latter’s claim that Trump’s Christian critics are splitting hairs over theological differences:

“Trump’s Christian critics don’t really care whether he leans more in the direction of predestination or free will; what troubles them is that he’s a pathological liar engaged in an effort to annihilate truth as a concept; a conspiracy-monger; and a misogynist and bully who dehumanizes his critics and mocks former prisoners of war, the parents of fallen soldiers, and people with disabilities. What upsets them is Trump’s open admiration for brutal dictators, including Kim Jung Un, who ranks among the worst persecutors of Christians in the world; his easy betrayal of everyone from his wives to allies like the Kurds; and his history of engaging in predatory sexual behavior. What alarms them is that we have a president who fans the flames of ethnic and racial hate, who is willing to pressure foreign nations to dig up dirt on his political opponents, and who was the subject of a nearly 500-page report by a special counsel offering a portrait that was damning and went unrefuted.”

Presumably, Graham and Metaxas would sadly shake their heads at this indictment, and conclude that their former Republican ally has been captured by Satan just like everyone else who doesn’t understand the 45th president’s very special kind of holiness.

Teixeira: Why the Democratic Presidential Nominee Will Run on Medicare for All Who Want It

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

OK, I’m Calling It: The Democratic Nominee Will Run on Medicare for All Who Want It

Unless it’s Bernie and that’s just not going to happen. Check out the Quinnipiac Poll results below. Notice any difference between voter reaction to single payer Medicare for All and public option Medicare for All Who Want It? Yup, pretty drastic including absolutely massive swings among both white college and white noncollege between the two questions.

I just don’t think any nominee, including Warren who’s already backtracking, can ignore these data and associated political trends.

The Times has run two useful articles in the last few days highlighting these political trends. The first was on how the public option is drawing in voters who aren’t sure about Medicare for All/single payer.

“Polls suggest that some voters have become unnerved by the price tags of the Warren and Sanders’ “Medicare for all” plans and the fact that they would abolish private health insurance. Support for such an approach has narrowed in recent months, as people have begun to understand what it would involve. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll of voters in four battleground states — Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — found that 62 percent of those who are undecided or are still persuadable believe that “a national Medicare-for-all plan that would eliminate private health insurance” is a bad idea….

If Ms. Warren was hoping for a second look from Democrats alarmed by her single-payer plan, she found one in Betsy Loughran, 79, of Tamworth, N.H. Ms. Loughran, who used to run a nonprofit social services agency, said she found Ms. Warren’s proposal for an interim public option “much more palatable, frankly” — so much so that she would now consider donating to her campaign.

“It would be no slam dunk even to get a public option through Congress,” said Ms. Loughran, adding that Ms. Warren’s full-throated support of “Medicare for all” had made her more interested in centrist candidates like Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar. “But if Elizabeth backs off and has a transition plan that would allow people to keep their private health insurance, that makes much more sense.”

The other Times article covered the many Democratic politicians and leaders who are running hard toward the public option and see Medicare for All/single payer as politically unviable in the 2020 election.

“Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has said it would be a “terrible mistake” for the party nominee to support Medicare for all, is urging Democrats to embrace a more unified message against Mr. Trump. That feels unlikely in the midst of a heated primary campaign where health care has emerged as a significant difference between the candidates.

“Democrats need to start talking about the contrast with Trump on this,” said Mr. Brown, who has not endorsed a candidate in the primary race. “The conversation should not be Democrats fighting over the path to universal coverage.”

Congressional candidates are frequently asked whether they agree with the policy; candidates in all 10 of the most competitive Senate races have said they do not support it, preferring to keep their health care message focused on expanding Medicaid, protecting the Affordable Care Act and slamming repeal efforts by Republicans.”

When Sherrod Brown talks, I listen! Anyway, I think the wind is blowing pretty hard toward Medicare for All Who Want It. I expect it to carry the day.

Goddard: 2020 Electoral College Map Shows Challenge for Dems

Taegan Goddard’s “2020 Presidential Election Interactive Map” below allows you to tweak the electoral vote total in various ways by clicking on the (grey) “battleground state” and changing it’s color to red or blue, depending on your expectation (270=blue/red victory). Of course this is way-early guessswork, but at least you can make it data-driven guesswork by analyzing recent polling data from some of the sources listed below.

It can be argued that there are a few more than just six battleground states, perhaps as many as a dozen by some estimates. But any credible list would feature these six as leading swing state probabilities. Goddard’s interactive electoral vote map:

2020 electoral vote map

Goddard’s sources, “currently based on the consensus of the following forecasts and polling data:

Feel free to find some more recent data sources in particular states for tweaking the map. Goddard will be “updating the consensus map as more forecasts come in” and invites readers to “use the 2016 electoral map or the 2018 midterm election voteas the starting point for your own electoral forecast.”

He notes, also that “Because most states allocate their electoral votes on an “winner-take-all” basis — the exceptions being Maine and Nebraska, which split their electoral votes by congressional district” and “If the election results in a 269 to 269 electoral vote tie, then the House of Representatives convenes to choose the president.”

As the battleground state with the largest number of electoral votes, Florida is critical to the strategy of both parties. “If Trump were to win Florida again, Democrats would need to recapture three Midwestern states in the Rust Belt — or find substitutes — to win the presidency,” Goddard writes. “If Democrats win Florida, any one of the three Rust Belt states would secure the presidency, unless Trump can pick off another blue state that Democrats won in 2016.” PA has the battleground’s second largest total number of electoral votes, after FL

Noting that, in 2016, Trump “carried three “Rust Belt” states that many expected Democrats to win: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania,” Goddard adds that “Trump won these three states by less than a combined 80,000 votes, or just .06% of the 137 million votes cast. But that was still enough to get Trump to the 270 to win.”

Alternatively, “Some say Democrats could pursue a “Sun Belt” strategy and perhaps win Florida plus North Carolina, Arizona, Texas or Georgia. All of those states went to Trump in 2016, but there are some indications from early polling that at least some might be among the battleground states in play in 2020.”


Teixeira: We Already Know the Forces Moving For and Against Trump for 2020, We Just Don’t Know the Net!

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

Ron Brownstein does a nice job laying out the forces and counterforces that will determine the outcome of the 2020 election. They are:

“The three biggest challenges looming in 2020 for Trump, many analysts agree, are:

* The recoil from his definition of the Republican Party in white-collar suburbs, including many that previously leaned toward the GOP.

* A feedback loop in which his efforts to mobilize turnout among his core supporters are producing an offsetting turnout surge among key Democratic groups, particularly African Americans.

* An unremittingly confrontational personal style that appears to be alienating a broad swath of female voters, including some of the non-college white women who helped drive his 2016 victory. That behavior was exemplified by Trump’s tweet last week attacking former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in bitterly personal terms.

Trump’s principal political assets on the other side of the ledger are his success at consolidating and energizing the Republican base and deepening the GOP’s dominance among white voters who live outside of major population centers, identify as evangelical Christians or lack college degrees, especially the men in each of those groups.”

If I had to pick a demographic that I think will determine the 2020 result in the last instance, I would be tempted to pick white noncollege women. If his evident softness among this group translates into a lack of vote support next November, I think it’ll be very hard for him to win.

“In Wisconsin polling by the Marquette University law school, Trump’s approval rating among non-college white women averages just 42% through his presidency; the latest Muhlenberg College survey in Pennsylvania found that he led Democratic Joe Biden among them by just 5 percentage points (after beating Hillary Clinton by 20 points with them there in 2016, according to the exit polls). Recent state surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report likewise put Trump’s approval among non-college white women at just 42% in Michigan, 43% in Wisconsin and 46% in Pennsylvania. Nationally, an average of the weekly polls conducted since July by the Nationscape project, launched by the Democracy Fund and UCLA political scientists, found that Trump’s approval among non-college white women who are not evangelical Christians — who account for most non-college white women in the Rust Belt — stood at just 41%.”

But it’s still way early. Keep your eye on the trends mentioned by Brownstein but remember: it’s not just the trends; it’s how they net out. That’s the big and, at this point, unanswerable question.

Political Strategy Notes

Isaac Chotiner explains “How Democratic Candidates Win the African-American Vote” at The New Yorker and interviews Fredrick Harris, professor of political science at Columbia University, who has written extensively about African-American politics, who notes: “For the first time, black turnout surpassed white turnout in 2012. I do think it will depend on some degree of enthusiasm about the candidate. But I think the Party didn’t do enough last time around to put money into mobilizing these voters. I think that was a crucial mistake by Senator Clinton. And so I think there are two sides to this: how motivated people are going to be, and what kind of resources the Party’s going to put in place in order to get these voters out to vote…I think the Vice-Presidential candidate is going to be an important factor, because if it’s a person like Stacey Abrams—who does have the “friends and neighbors” sensibility, who, after her loss in Georgia, has become a national celebrity in the Democratic Party and loved by many black voters—that could make the difference.”

“From aiming to register hundreds of thousands of new voters to earlier and better on-the-ground canvassing, and from investing millions of dollars in recruiting local organizers to more finely focused outreach efforts on a sizable Hispanic and African American communities, Democrats are going all out to reverse the notion that Florida is unassailable Trump country,” Richard Luscombe writes in “The Democratic war council working to turn Florida blue in 2020” at The Guardian. “New voters are needed, lots of them, and in May the party announced a “monumental” $2m investment to register 200,000 statewide before the 2020 election.” In addition to health care and the climate crisis, Dems see wage inequality as a potentially pivotal issue for mobilizing turnout in key urban areas. Much of the effort will focus on “Miami and other tourist-rich areas of Florida, such as Orlando and Tampa,” where many “work in lower-paid, service-industry jobs including hotel, retail and food service…In Orlando, the median service-class wage is $24,057, the lowest in the country, according to the 2017 US census community survey, and in Miami it was little higher at $26,532.”

From Michael Tomasky’s “A Dem for All Seasons?” in The New York Review of Books: “So it might turn out that all this hand-wringing about the Democrats is misplaced. On the other hand, if they should have learned one lesson from 2016, it would be about the perils of overconfidence. They need to put the Obama coalition back together. And they mustn’t choose between Obama-to-Trump white working-class voters and younger, more multiracial and “woke” voters. They need both. It’s the nature of the Democratic coalition, which is far more diverse—racially and ideologically—than the Republican one. Right now, the two current front-runners are speaking to only part of the coalition. The nominee will be the one—Biden, Warren, or in this still-fluid contest perhaps someone else entirely—who can best reassure the other part.”

In his Counterpunch article, “The Democratic Party’s Missing Electoral College Game Plan,” David Schultz, professor of political science at Hamline University and author of Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter, explains: “Democrats need a strategy to hold all the states they won in 2016 and then how to pick up Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin.  Yes, they could try to flip Arizona, Georgia, or Texas as some pipedreams hope for, but the reality is winning them is distant and difficult.  They key is flipping critical swing states…their electorates are generally to the left of recent Republican Party presidential candidates and to the right of Democratic Party candidates.  In many ways they are states more centrist than the non-swing states, and certainly more in the middle compared to the overall Democratic Party base…what we know is that who is a swing voter is less and less likely to be someone who moves back and forth between voting Democratic or Republican and more so whether they swing into or out of voting.  Democrats did badly in 2016 because swing voters, especially suburban  females, stayed home or did not vote for them…In 2018, those suburban females came out for Democrats.  Winning in 2020 is getting these women to vote.  What we know about these voters is that they are socially moderate to liberal but are not left of center.”

Also at The Guardian, Chis Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, shares some telling statistics about the Democratic victory in the Louisiana Governor’s race in his article, “How did Democrats win Louisiana? With classic progressive populism“: “Aside from Trump’s diminishing power to inspire voters, what else might Louisiana tell us about the country’s political landscape heading into 2020? One lesson is that, if Democrats hope to succeed in 2020 – not only in the presidential contest, but all down-ticket races – they must energize and mobilize their base. In much of the south, this means African American voters. Edwards only got a majority in one congressional district, but the 85% of votes he won in the heavily African American, disproportionately urban 2nd district made all the difference. Between the 12 October primary and last weekend’s runoff in the governor’s race, turnout in the second district jumped by 42,000 voters – a critical boost in a race Edwards won by just over 40,000 votes statewide…That mobilization didn’t happen by itself. The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, a group of progressive community organizations in Louisiana, contacted 900,000 voters in the fall elections – mostly in communities of color – through door visits, phone calls and text messages. National groups like Black Voters Matter raised visibility about the elections in African American communities. And teachers, a key force in Edwards’ first victory in 2015 as well as Democratic governor-elect Andy Beshear’s recent win in Kentucky, also mobilized tens of thousands of voters.”

Harold Meyerson offers some perceptive observations at The American Prospect, including “One of the oddities of the ongoing Democratic debate about how the United States can get to universal health coverage—an achievement every other nation has somehow managed to pull off—is that no one ever asks the presidential candidates about their fallback positions. But if American history has any lessons to offer, it’s that major social and economic reforms always get enacted piecemeal, over time. And so when questioning the current crop of presidential aspirants as to the plans they’ll put forward, we also need to know their criteria for accepting or rejecting the halfway-house health coverage policies likely to emerge from Congress…Given the lack of anything like consensual support—not just in the nation, but in the Democratic Party itself—for Medicare for All, how should supporters of Medicare for All (like myself) respond? The most sensible course is to push for the most we can get, which, if we have a Democratic president and Congress in 2021, should be along the lines of taxpayer-supported Medicare for anyone over 50 or under 26, raising the income threshold for eligibility for those between 26 and 50, allowing individuals still not eligible to buy into the plan, and allowing employers to buy in for their employees as well. Such a plan would mark a massive expansion of the public responsibility for Americans’ health care…”

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, takes a look at open seat House races and notes, “Whoever decides to not seek reelection to the House will add to the retirements we’ve already seen this year. So far, 28 House seats are going to be open in next year’s elections, meaning that there will not be an incumbent on either the primary or general election ballot. Additionally, there are four vacancies in the House right now. We’re not counting these as true open seats, because presumably new incumbents in these seats will be seeking full terms in their own right after winning forthcoming special elections…Of 28 open House seats, Republicans are defending 20 while Democrats are defending only eight…Of eight the Crystal Ball rates as competitive, Republicans are defending all but one…Open seats, along with pending redistricting in North Carolina, give Democrats a small buffer as they defend their majority…Democrats stand to benefit more from retirements than Republicans. Also, significant one-off events, like Amash’s defection and the North Carolina redistricting, are making life harder for the Republicans…That’s why the Democrats continue to be favorites to hold the House of Representatives majority.”

In another Crystal Ball article, “The Governors: Party Control Now Near Parity,” Kondik writes, “Following the 2019 elections, Republicans retain a narrow 26-24 edge in governorships…But that’s a big shift from mid-2017, when Democrats held just 15.” However, “A majority of Americans, a little less than 55%, will live under Democratic governors once Gov.-elect Andy Beshear (D-KY) takes office next month…There are only a relative handful of gubernatorial races next year. The big prize is North Carolina, where Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) is a modest favorite to win a second term in the only large state that will feature competitive races for president, Senate, and governor next year. The GOP’s best target is the open seat in Montana, and that’s also the governorship likeliest to flip.”

Many on the right are yearning for a dialogue. They are the real silent majority” writes Egberto Willies at Daily Kos. “Democrats are going to win in 2020. The right, while trying to delude themselves are losing sensible people. I believe the response to polls on the Republican side but strongly believe it is just a tribal abstraction. Enough people will switch which will provide a solid win for progressives. That said, Democrats can have a landslide of monumental proportion if they add empathetic engagement on the right. I am not talking about asking them to be either progressive or a Democrat. I am talking about creating the narrative that you are tolerant of their Republicanism and conservatism. But at the same time ask them, for the sake of their children, their families, their friends, that in the privacy of the voting booth, to do what is best for their personal economies. Speak our values in their language. This humanist uses Jesus a whole lot…Many consider engaging the other side is either a fool’s errand or undeserved engagement. The thing is, this isn’t about being nice. It is about being necessary. We need more than fifty plus one for transformational change.”

JFK’s Complicated Legacy

Like most older Baby Boomers, I vividly remember John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. So on the 56th anniversary of that tragedy, I wrote about his legacy at New York.

JFK’s truncated presidential tenure and youth (he was 46 when he died) has complicated his legacy through a combination of what-ifs and revisionist arguments, not to mention the many political figures, including multiple representatives of his large family, who claimed to be carrying the banner he dropped when he was felled in Dallas. A cautious and sometimes conservative politician who was a zealous cold warrior, Kennedy became for many — particularly the African-Americans who benefited from the civil-rights legislation his successor Lyndon Johnson pushed through Congress as a memorial to him — a symbol of 20-century liberalism. In no small part that was because his brothers Bobby and Teddy embraced the full-throated progressivism that many thought Jack was evolving toward when his life was cut short.

He was more properly a transitional figure. In his famous inaugural speech he pointed to himself as the representative of “a new generation of Americans — born in this century.” His political career and presidency triggered the beginning of a major realignment of the two major political parties, even as, in his own election in 1960, he hung onto just enough of the old southern segregationist wing of his party to narrowly beat Richard Nixon, benefiting from an expanded urban ethnic constituency (he won an estimated 80 percent of the Catholic vote, as the first Catholic major-party nominee since Al Smith) and an enhanced Democratic advantage among the African-Americans who would soon gain growing electoral clout as Jim Crow came to an end.

Civil rights wasn’t the only area in which JFK represented a cautious leftward turn in his party. In 1960 he campaigned avidly for what became the Medicare program after his death, as Julian Zelizer recalls:
“Labor leaders cheered when Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy announced his support for Medicare during his 1960 Presidential campaign against Richard Nixon. Kennedy was no radical, but he believed that health care was one area where the government needed to have an expanded role. Kennedy saw the revised health-care bill as attractive in principle, as well as fiscally responsible, because workers would pay for the benefits that they would eventually receive. On August 14, 1960, Kennedy visited Hyde Park to celebrate, with Eleanor Roosevelt, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Social Security, and he used the occasion to promote Medicare. The program was desperately needed in ‘every city and town, every hospital and clinic, every neighborhood and rest home in America—wherever our older citizens live out their lives in want and despair under the shadow of illness,’ the candidate said.”

As president, JFK was also planning an anti-poverty initiative that later blossomed as LBJ’s “War on Poverty.” An endless amount of speculation has surrounded the question of Kennedy’s responsibility for the Vietnam War, and what would have happened to the U.S. anti-communist effort in southeast Asia had he lived out his term (and perhaps won a second term). Probably the best guess is that he would have escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the short term, but would not have exhibited the personal stubbornness that led Johnson to keep expanding the war even when it was becoming obvious it couldn’t be “won.” Remembered so often as an “idealist,” Kennedy was nothing if not pragmatic.

It’s probably best not to credit or blame JFK for the political dynasty his family created after his death; that was more the work of his father, who pushed all his sons toward high political office. After two subsequent Kennedy presidential campaigns (one ended by RFK’s assassination in 1968, the other by Ted Kennedy’s loss to Jimmy Carter in 1980), the dynasty gradually wound down, and at this point JFK’s grand-nephew Joseph P. Kennedy III, a U.S. House member from Massachusetts, is its chief scion. This latest Kennedy pol is now challenging incumbent Democrat senator Ed Markey next year, seeking to renew a tradition whereby the Bay State was represented in the Senate by a Kennedy from 1952 until Ted’s death in 2009. In an interesting echo of JFK’s inaugural address 58 years ago, the 38-year-old Joe Kennedy is running as the candidate of generational change against the 73-year-old Markey: “This is the fight of our lives, the fight of my generation — and I’m all in.”

And thus the family business continues.

Teixeira: A Trump Surge in Wisconsin?

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

A Trump Surge in Wisconsin?

Well, maybe. The latest WI survey from the widely-respected Marquette Law School poll has Trump ahead of Biden by 3 in a trial heat matchup. It is just one poll, but it does serve as a fair reminder that Trump will likely be very competitive in this area of the country.

More broadly, here is my take on the poll and related issues around WI and 2020.

I think it’s fair to say that WI will be tough for the Dems, relative to MI and PA. The polling data, including this latest Marquette poll, are consistent with that. That said, I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape about the new poll; in August, the Marquette poll had Biden ahead by 9; it’s somewhat hard to believe things have changed that much in WI since then. The RCP rolling average still has Biden ahead by 3 in the matchup–worse for sure than MI and PA but still ahead. I’d need to see a few more surveys before I conclude Trump really is running ahead in the state. Of course, if we do see confirmation from several more polls, feel free to turn up the worry knob!

Contextual information for thinking about WI and 2020:

In 2016, Trump carried Wisconsin by 0.8 percentage points and just 23,000 votes. Prior to 2016, Democratic presidential candidates carried Wisconsin for seven straight elections from 1988 to 2012. But two of those victories were razor-thin, won by less than half a percentage point.

Democrats fared better in 2018. They carried the House popular vote by slightly less than 9 points. However, Republicans held all of their House seats and, on net, kept the same number of state legislative seats. But Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin easily won reelection by 11 points, and Tony Evers narrowly defeated incumbent Scott Walker by a point to recover the governor’s mansion for the Democrats and, in the process, break the Republican trifecta hold on state government.

The Democratic candidate will hope to continue the trends that manifested themselves in 2018, while Trump will try to build on his winning coalition from 2016. Trump has a -5 negative net approval rating in the state, which is slightly better than his approval rating in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Nonwhites made up just 10 percent of Wisconsin voters in 2016, distributed roughly as 4-3-3 between Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/other races and favoring Clinton by 85, 37, and 17 points, respectively. Clinton also had a strong advantage among white college graduates of 15 points (54 percent to 39 percent), which is better than her performance among this demographic group in either Michigan or Pennsylvania.

But there were also more white noncollege voters, 58 percent, in Wisconsin than in either Michigan or Pennsylvania. These voters favored Trump by 19 points.

In 2020, Blacks’ share of eligible voters should remain about the same, while Hispanics should go up by 0.7 points and Asians/other races by 0.4 points. White college-educated voters should also go up a full point, while white noncollege voters should drop by 2.3 points. These changes, favorable for the Democrats, would be enough to just barely move the state into the Democratic column if turnout and partisan voting preferences by group remained the same as in 2016.

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

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

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

Teixeira: Obama’s Advice for Common Sense Democrats

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

Barack Obama: Common Sense Democrat

Tax the rich and don’t do dumb stuff. I like it!

“Democrats should focus less on the “tactical disagreements” among the candidates, Mr. Obama said, and avoid making false choices between appealing to white working class voters or minority voters, or between energizing the party’s base or reaching out to independents and Republicans….

Mr. Obama…warned against demanding that the party’s hopefuls meet inflexible standards.

“I’m always suspicious of purity tests during elections,” Mr. Obama said. “Because you know what? The country’s complicated.”…

“When you listen to the average voter — even ones who aren’t stalwart Democrats, but who are more independent or are low-information voters — they don’t feel that things are working well, but they’re also nervous about changes that might take away what little they have,” he said.

At the same time, Mr. Obama said he was open to the idea of higher taxes for the wealthy, adding that the conversation around the country has changed dramatically since his campaigns.

“I’ve got a lot of room to pay more taxes — and I already pay really high taxes,” he said. “That’s one area where I guarantee you where you will get Joe six-pack and the single inner-city mom agreeing. They would like to see a little bigger share of the pie and you know, the rent is too damn high.”…

“At the end of the day, we are going to need everybody,” Mr. Obama said. “We will not win just by increasing the turnout of people who already agrees with us completely on everything.”