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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

November 14, 2019

Polls and Impeachment: What We Can Learn from the Nixon and Clinton Experiences

As part of the effort to become an expert on All Things Impeachment, I did some recent historical research, and wrote up what I learned at New York:

Now that Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have, as Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff put it, “crossed the Rubicon” to support impeachment proceedings against President Trump, the big questions are how public opinion might evolve on the subject and then how it might affect the 2020 elections. Indeed, as long as the odds against the Senate convicting Trump on impeachment charges are roughly a billion to one, the political fallout is really the only ultimate question, other than, perhaps, some post-presidential legal consequences for Trump.

As my colleague Sarah Jones has noted, there’s some initial polling showing a quick uptick in support of impeachment in the immediate wake of the Ukraine scandal breaking. And that’s not too surprising: You’d figure the sudden lurch in the direction of impeachment among House Democrats in marginal districts that pushed Pelosi off the fence would be echoed among Democratic voters hearing the same evidence of presidential malfeasance.

But what can we expect in the near future? Obviously, much will depend on the nature of the evidence that unfolds and how the two parties and the media handle it. But there are the two recent precedents: the march toward impeachment of Richard Nixon (who resigned right as the House was poised to impeach him) and Bill Clinton (who was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate). In looking at how public opinion evolved during these two sagas, it’s helpful to distinguish three things: public support for impeachment and removal, the president’s job-approval ratings, and the most immediate electoral consequences.

It’s also important to understand the different timelines of the Nixon and Clinton “scandals.” The televised Senate Watergate hearings began in May 1973, with articles of impeachment not drafted by the House Judiciary Committee until late July 1974, just days before Nixon’s resignation. The Monica Lewinsky scandal went public in January 1998. The special prosecutor’s report from Ken Starr recommending impeachment of Clinton was released that September, with impeachment concluded in December and then the Senate trial in January and February of 1999.

One clear thing about public opinion in both of these incidents is that support for impeachment took a long time to develop in Nixon’s case and never developed at all in Clinton’s. On average, Americans are resistant to impeachment, even of presidents they really dislike.

As a Pew Research postmortem noted, Americans opposed impeachment and removal of Nixon by a 51-to-38 margin in November 1973, even after weeks of heavily watched Watergate hearings and the incident often thought of as the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency: his “Saturday Night Massacre” — the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, followed by the resignation of the attorney general and the top assistant attorney general in protest. Majority support for impeachment and removal did not emerge in Gallup polling until just prior to Nixon’s resignation.

In Clinton’s case, support for impeachment and removal over the Lewinsky scandal was never very high and actually got lower as Congress moved in that direction. Pew started asking this question in March 1998, when allegations of Clinton lying under oath about Lewinsky were far from being generally accepted: “If it turns out that President Clinton lied under oath about having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, do you think that he should be impeached and removed from office, or not?” The yes-no ratio in answering that question went from 40-55 in March to 31-63 in late July to 30-66 in late August. Even after the Starr report was released and the House held impeachment hearings, support for actual impeachment generally ranged from the mid-30s to the low 40s. It never became a popular option.

The biggest contrast between public opinion during Watergate and the Lewinsky scandal, though, involved presidential-approval ratings. In January 1973, the newly reelected (by a 49-state landslide) Richard Nixon had a Gallup job-approval rating of 68 percent. By April, after heavy publicity about Watergate and the forced resignations of Nixon’s top-two aides, his approval rating was down to 48 percent. And by and large, it just kept sinking: down to 31 percent in August 1973, then to 25 percent in May 1974. The Watergate scandal was not, of course, the only thing going on: the economy fell into recession accompanied by “stagflation” (high inflation and slow growth) in November 1973 (just after the OPEC oil embargo, which boosted oil prices fourfold in months), and the Vietnam War was lurching toward its unsatisfactory conclusion. But in any event, Nixon’s unpopularity far outstripped support for impeachment and removal until very near the end of the saga.

Clinton’s Gallup job-approval rating was at 58 percent the week after the Lewinsky story first broke, and if anything improved during the entire saga of investigation and impeachment. It was at 66 percent the week after the Starr report with its salacious details was published and widely read, it rose to a dizzying 73 percent the day after the House impeached Clinton, and it was at 68 percent the day after the Senate acquitted him. The more rarely measured (for sitting presidents, anyway) personal-favorability ratings for Clinton were unsurprisingly softer, but Pew had his favorable-unfavorable ratio at 55-43 the week he was impeached.

As with Nixon, there were other things going on: a sustained economic boom; an extended period of peace and prosperity; an atmosphere of relatively robust bipartisanship despite divided partisan control of the federal government (even as they were trying to remove him from office, congressional Republicans were begging Clinton to work with them on “entitlement reform”); a president who seemed able to “compartmentalize” very well (unlike Nixon, who slowly fell apart under the pressure of Watergate). But ultimately, it’s hard to avoid the impression that Americans didn’t condemn Clinton mostly because they didn’t regard lying about sex as an impeachable offense. An October 1998 Gallup–CNN–USA Today survey asked respondents to compare the gravity of Nixon’s and Clinton’s misconduct, and Nixon was the One by a landslide (his sins were adjudged as worse by a 64-to-10 margin, despite the obvious temptation for Republicans to go the other way).

These very different trends in job approval during an impeachment crisis turned out to be a pretty good guide to the electoral consequences as well. Obviously, Nixon left office, but in part because his successor immediately took the very unpopular step of pardoning him, Republicans were drubbed in the 1974 “Watergate election” midterms, losing 49 House seats, four Senate seats, and four governorships. Democrats subsequently regained control of the White House in 1976 in a sharp reversal of the 1972 Nixon landslide.

The 1998 midterms fell smack in the middle of the Republican Congress’s drive toward impeachment of Clinton, and the party that did not control the White House failed to gain House seats in a midterm for the first time since the 1930s. It was considered such a disaster for Republicans that Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned. This development is often cited as a warning to today’s House Democrats about pursuing an impeachment that is not supported by the public. On the other hand, as Ron Brownstein points out, the 1998 midterm was really more of a status-quo election than a rebuke of the GOP:

“[W]hen the House considered impeachment in December 1998, almost all of them voted for at least one of the two articles of impeachment that the chamber approved. (Just four House Republicans, each of them representing districts that voted for Clinton, opposed both articles.)

“And then, after effectively voting to cancel out their constituents’ presidential votes, almost all of the Clinton-district Republicans who sought reelection won it in both 1998 and 2000.”

Republicans, of course, also regained the White House in 2000 (though not without a big assist from the U.S. Supreme Court) after an election campaign in which Al Gore visibly struggled to separate himself from Clinton.

So what are the implications of this history?

First, support for impeachment and removal appears to be a lagging indicator of how the public feels about an embattled president caught in unsavory misconduct. House Democrats probably shouldn’t worry about it that much early on unless the trend lines go south on them.

Second, the number to watch in terms of political fallout is probably not support for or opposition to impeachment or removal but Trump’s job-approval rating. It has, as is universally understood, been amazingly stable (and underwater) throughout his presidency. If it moves up or down sharply, that could be significant. And if it stays the same, at least House Democrats can stop worrying about endangering their party by doing the right thing.

And third, it probably matters less what Americans think Congress should and should not do about Trump than what they think about Trump’s behavior. If House Democrats are right that the Ukraine scandal is both easy to understand and highly incriminating, the trajectory of the president’s popularity may look more like Nixon’s than Clinton’s.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that this is a very small sample of precedents from which we can learn. Chief executives like Nixon, Clinton, and Trump are not the norm. And while there’s almost always some impeachment sentiment kicking around the fever swamps in times of high partisan polarization, this is a situation nearly as strange as the very existence of a Trump presidency. So it would be smart for everyone in the line of fire in the next year or so to keep an open mind and nimble feet.


Voter Registration Increase in GA Gives Dems Hope

Mark Niesse reports that “Voter registration surges in Georgia ahead of 2020 elections” in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and notes that “More than 352,000 people signed up to vote in the past 11 months, the vast majority of them automatically registering when they obtain a driver’s license, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. The influx has boosted Georgia’s voter rolls to a record high of nearly 7.4 million.” Even better, for Democrats:

Many of the new voters are racial minorities or under age 30, both groups that are more likely to support Democrats than Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

About 47% of the new voters who identified their race are minorities and 45% are age 30 or younger, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of a list of voters registered from Nov. 6 to Aug. 12. By comparison, 40% of all Georgia voters are minorities and 14% are age 30 or younger. The voter list was obtained from the secretary of state’s office and provided to the AJC by Fair Fight PAC, a political action committee that supports Democratic parties nationwide.

Niesse adds that “Registrations at driver’s license offices far outpaced voter registration drives, indicating that many of the new voters recently moved to Georgia or turned 18 years old,” which may bode well for Georgia’s Democratic Party. Georgia will elect two U.S. Senators, and every seat in the General Assembly is up for election. Although Trump bat Clinton by  percent in GA in 2016, Democratic candidate for Governor Stacy Abrams came within 1.4 percent (55,000 votes) of winning the governorship last year. Also,

“Rapid population growth and changing demographics in Georgia provide Democrats huge opportunities,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ former campaign manager and a senior adviser for Fair Fight PAC. “Each eligible Georgian who moves to Georgia and becomes a voter is more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.”

Niesse notes further that “About 365,000 new voters have registered each year at Georgia’s driver’s license offices since the beginning of 2017, for a total of 989,000 new voters, according to the secretary of state’s office.” But not all of the registration increase arises from population growth, as Niesse explains:

Meanwhile, traditional voter registration efforts are reaching hundreds of thousands more potential voters…The Voter Participation Center, a voter registration group that targets unmarried women, people of color and young people, sent registration forms to more than 560,000 Georgians last month.

…Of Georgia’s newly registered voters since Election Day 2018, more than 31,000 of them mailed their registration forms to election officials, which reflects some of the impact of voter registration drives such as those run by the Voter Participation Center. The center said more than 5,500 forms were returned to the secretary of state’s office as a result of its efforts last year.

ProGeorgia, a group that coordinates registration outreach with more than a dozen organizations, said it’s on track to register 21,000 new voters this year.

“Georgia’s population as a whole is aging,” Niesse notes, “but most older residents are already registered to vote, and new residents are more likely to be young or minorities.” All of which is good news for Georgia Democrats.

However, Georgia Democrats have had their high hopes dashed in recent statewide races, and the GA Republican Party has proven ruthless in suppressing voter turnout. Yet, Trump won Georgia’s 2016 electoral votes by a margin of less than 212,000 votes. With two U.S. Senate seats at stake and good prospects for Dems picking up a House of Representatives seat, turnout is likely to be higher than usual. Some additional resources for Georgia from the national Democratic Party and it’s contributors could prove to be a cost-effective investment.

Teixeira: The Democrats and the Diversity of Suburbs

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

The Democrats have been making some significant gains in suburban America. But it’s important to remember that suburbia is a vast section of America and should not be thought of as just the suburban outgrowths of our largest and most dynamic cities. There is much, much more to suburbia than that. And once you get away from these more cosmopolitan suburbs, the voters (more white, less educated) and Democratic progress look quite different.

I noted this point in various analyses I conducted of the Obama elections. The differences I discussed at the time between small and medium metros and the largest metros remain very relevant. David Hopkins rehearses some of the current data in a very good New York Times op-ed.

“[Democrats] have not extended [their] success to the suburban communities surrounding smaller cities, which remain predominantly — even increasingly — Republican. The suburbs surrounding Jacksonville, Fla., Indianapolis and Grand Rapids, Mich., for example, provide Republican candidates with more than enough votes to compete in, and often win, statewide elections.

To achieve a durable national majority, Democratic candidates will need to expand their appeal to the less diverse and more culturally conservative electorates of the small-metro suburbs, which remain aligned with the Republican Party even in the era of Donald Trump….

The growing partisan divergence separating large-metro suburbs from those in the rest of the country extends to congressional elections….[I]n the nation’s smaller metro areas, where the share of suburban House seats held by Republicans rose to 71 percent after 2018 from 60 percent after the 1994 election, Republicans continue to thrive. Even last November’s “blue wave” hardly threatened Republican incumbents like Warren Davidson of suburban Cincinnati-Dayton, who won re-election by 33 percentage points; Gary Palmer of suburban Birmingham, Ala., who won by 38 points; or Francis Rooney of suburban Cape Coral, Fla., who won by 25 points….

President Trump’s historically strong performance in a string of smaller and more homogeneous suburbs from greater Scranton, Pa., to greater Des Moines proved pivotal in the 2016 election and could well recur in 2020. Broadening the Democratic tent to bring more of these socially traditionalist small-metro suburbanites into the fold would provide the party with a critical electoral advantage, but such gains will be difficult to achieve in an era of growing cultural warfare.”

That’s the challenge. We’ll see if the Democrats are up to it.

Teixeira: It’s the Regional Inequality, Stupid!

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

Anne Kim has a good article up on the Washington Monthly site that draws out perhaps the key political implication of the Muro-Whiton Brookings study on economic divergence between Democratic and Republican districts. After summarizing some of the Brookings findings (which I covered in a previous post) and related analyses and connecting them to regional divergence, she points out:

“These kinds of imbalances cry out for a policy agenda aimed at spreading economic opportunity more evenly across the country. But so far, the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have stuck to universalist policy ideas like Medicare for All, while discussions of inequality have centered on race or class, but not on geography.

To be sure, a few candidates, including Vice President Joe Biden, have a “rural agenda” in their platforms. But the ideas encapsulated in them include relatively narrow default tropes like expanding broadband and helping family farmers. The one nod toward the disparate regional impacts of economic change is on trade policy, but there again, the prescriptions are less about creating new jobs than about posturing on China or regurgitating standard talking points bashing trade agreements. None of the candidates have put forth signature policy priorities that would rejuvenate the moribund economies of the industrial Midwest, or help heartland economies generate the kind of prosperity that their coastal neighbors enjoy.

The absence of a credible Democratic agenda on regional prosperity is one reason Trump has had free rein to exploit and magnify the economic discontent in large parts of the country for his political gain. As wrong-headed and destructive as his policies have been, his supporters can rightly say that Trump has at least acknowledged the significance of their economic decline.

Democrats shouldn’t continue to leave the field to Trump to romp at will.”

She concludes, and very rightly I think:

“Superimpose a map of the electoral college in 2020 and two things immediately become clear. First, Democratic strongholds such as California, New York, and Illinois are nowhere near sufficient to deliver the 270 votes Democrats need to secure the White House. The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, for instance, counts 183 “safe” Democratic electoral votes so far.

Second, many of the swing states Democrats will need to win fall squarely within the “other America” in need of help. These states include the industrial upper Midwest—Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan—as well as Pennsylvania and Colorado. Four of these also happen to be states that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.

Some liberals no doubt worry that nodding to the economic woes of blue-collar heartland America somehow validates the nationalism, MAGA-ism, and outright racism that Trump has unleashed. Nothing is further from the case. Reviving the heartland to help all Americans prosper is ultimately not about blue states versus red states, but about reviving the national project now in jeopardy.”

Teixeira: Is Warren Electable?

Is Warren Electable?, Take 2

Some interesting new data from Democracy Corps, which show her running about as well against Trump as Biden (49-42 vs. 49-41). I was particularly encouraged by the chart below, which shows her doing relatively well among white working class women. This is a trend to keep an eye on, given the probable centrality of these voters to the 2020 election result.

Chart on Warren's Electability

To read Teixeira’s earlier post on Warren’s electability, click here.

Political Strategy Notes

In “Early polls show voter support for impeachment is growing,” Li Zhou writes at Vox: “Two new polls this week highlight the same trend: voter support for impeachment is growing. Both surveys were conducted amid a dizzying week of developments in Washington, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry as well as the emergence of a whistleblower report regarding a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky… According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll that was conducted between September 24 and 26, support for impeachment across party lines now stands at 43 percent, an uptick from 36 percent just last week. Similarly, a HuffPost/YouGov poll, also fielded between September 24 and 26, found that the margin between those backing impeachment and those who oppose it was expanding. In this week’s survey, 47 percent supported impeachment, while 39 percent opposed it, compared to 43 percent and 41 percent that felt the same way in a previous September poll. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll that was held on September 25 also found that 49 percent of voters favor impeachment proceedings.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Dhrumil Mehta adds, “Of the five polls from which we have data so far, one is from a high-quality telephone pollster — Quinnipiac. And their latest poll shows a 5-percentage-point increase in support for impeachment overall and a 12-percentage-point increase among Democrats since they were last asked the question in July. Keep in mind, too, this poll went into the field on Sept. 19 — a full day before The Wall Street Journal first broke the story of Trump’s call with Zelensky, and only stayed in the field through Monday, the day before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry…But, of course, it’s important to note that all of this polling is reallypreliminary. Even over the course of this week, a lot has happened that the polls don’t account for…Americans may still be digesting the flurry of news and deciding how they feel about it.”

Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe update the pro-impeachment tally at nbcnews.com: “By the weekend, as they headed out on a two-week congressional break, 225 of 235 House Democrats, had backed some form of impeachment action, according to NBC News’ latest count. One independent, Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., also backed impeaching Trump…That meant more than 95 percent of the caucus had voiced support for some type of action on impeachment, and only 10 holdouts like [NJ Rep. Jeff] Van Drew remained — the pressure on them from all sides increasing, with each of them now potentially decisive in any possible vote to actually impeach the president…Those holdouts all represented districts Trump won in 2016.”

Daniel Bush asks “Will Trump impeachment strategy help 2020 Dems – or backfire?” at pbs.org. Bush notes, “If they go forward with impeachment proceedings I think it completely changes the dynamic of the election,” said Joe Keefe, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party…Pelosi’s decision to publicly back the Democrats’ ongoing impeachment investigations may buoy progressive Democrats who support a more aggressive approach against Trump, Keefe said…But he argued a drawn-out, highly partisan impeachment fight could also energize Trump’s base in New Hampshire and elsewhere and motivate moderate Republicans who may not be ardent Trump supporters to come off the sidelines and support the president in the general election next year…“It’s a mixed blessing for Democrats,” Keefe said.”

“However the revelations of Trump seeking to leverage military aide to Ukraine in return for the latter investigating Joe Biden changes the calculus.  It does so for several reasons.  One, the gravity of the problem is greater with apparently clearer evidence of the president inviting a foreign government to interfere in US elections.  Two, it involves direct abuse of power by the president to leverage US military aid for personal partisan purposes.  Three, for Democrats, it is direct attack by Trump on a presidential front runner and if the former is not sanctioned or punished for that, who knows what ever other dirty tricks might occur…But additionally, two other variables come into play.  The first is that now a majority of House Democrats support impeachment.  Two, it is the issue of time. Timed precisely, a Senate trial would get maximum political payoff for Democrats.  This is why Pelosi is reconsidering impeachment now.” – from “The 2020 Democratic Impeachment Strategy and Why it Makes Sense Now” by David Schultz at Counterpunch.

David de la Fuente, senior political analyst at Third Way, identifies “The 99 House Districts That Will Determine Dems’ Fate,” with respect to the presidency and Senate, as well as in the House. “There’s a lot on the line in 2020,” de la Fuente writes, “but 99 seats now held by House Democrats will likely determine who occupies the White House, sits in the Senate Majority Leader’s office, and holds the gavel in the House of Representatives’ chamber. Some are nail-biter swing districts, and some are cakewalks where the outcome of the race is not in doubt. But each in their own way has an outsized influence on the contests that will shape America’s immediate political future. That is to say, all House districts are about equal in population but not in electoral relevance. In this paper, we rank the 99 districts on a five-point political Richter scale that measures how much these races can potentially shake up the political landscape…In our current system, there are places where structural realities make getting more Democratic votes fruitless in the big scheme of creating a Democratic federal government trifecta. If you want to see Democrats make progress on anything at the federal level in the next decade, you should pay close attention to the ninety-nine districts where gaining votes will deliver greater victories.”

Froma Harrop writes at CNN Politics that “Democrats might ask themselves why President Donald Trump is so intent on smearing former Vice President Joe Biden with phony scandals. Why isn’t he doing the same to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s been climbing in the polls and has a shot at becoming the Democratic nominee for president?…The clear answer is that Biden, in his own words, could “beat him like a drum” — and while Warren could win against Trump, her victory does not look like a resounding one, according to recent polls. In Trump’s view, Biden poses the greatest threat and must be destroyed. And what better way than to wound Biden to the point that Democrats might think he’s more trouble than he’s worth?…Biden is still a stronger bet against Trump in crucial swing states like Wisconsin and Ohio, compared to Warren. The most recent Wisconsin poll pitting Democrats against Trump has Biden winning by 9 points, while Elizabeth Warren is tied with the President. In Ohio, Biden is the only Democrat who can beat Trump. According to the most recent Quinnipiac pollfrom July, Biden leads Trump by 8 points, while Sanders and Warren both trail the President by 1.”

In her Washington Monthly article, “How 2020 Democrats Are Missing the Message on the Economy: The candidates have yet to tackle the growing problem of regional inequality,” Anne Kim observes, “The 2020 Democratic primary has seen no shortage of big, ambitious ideas—the nationalization of health care via “Medicare for All,” free college, free child care, and the cancellation of student debt, just to name a few…But there’s one big idea still missing: how to fix the stark and growing disparities between the parts of the country that are prospering and those that are falling behind. Regional inequality is perhaps the greatest challenge to America’s economic and political future, but 2020 candidates have yet to tackle, let alone acknowledge, the problem. It’s an omission that could have long-term substantive consequences for Democrats…But so far, the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have stuck to universalist policy ideas like Medicare for All, while discussions of inequality have centered on race or class, but not on geography…None of the candidates have put forth signature policy priorities that would rejuvenate the moribund economies of the industrial Midwest, or help heartland economies generate the kind of prosperity that their coastal neighbors enjoy…The absence of a credible Democratic agenda on regional prosperity is one reason Trump has had free rein to exploit and magnify the economic discontent in large parts of the country for his political gain. As wrong-headed and destructive as his policies have been, his supporters can rightly say that Trump has at least acknowledged the significance of their economic decline…Democrats shouldn’t continue to leave the field to Trump to romp at will…As the Monthly’s Daniel Block has argued, the emerging geography of this divided America means Democrats must broaden their appeal and reach heartland voters if they want to win in 2020 and beyond. Democrats don’t have the luxury of writing off “flyover country” to rely solely on their base in major coastal cities.”

Trump’s War on California Escalates

As a resident of California, I’ve been following this story, and wrote up the latest development for New York:

Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has generally been more interested in relaxing rather than strictly enforcing laws regulating pollution. Keeping water clean, in particular, has not been a priority, as the Los Angeles Times observes:

“Earlier this month, the agency [EPA] announced that it was rolling back Obama-era protections on wetlands and streams — regulations that environmentalists said are necessary to protect drinking water but that farmers and developers have long opposed.

“Under Trump, the EPA has also delayed setting a drinking water safety standard for a class of cancer-causing chemicals, known as PFAS, that has been found in public water systems throughout the country.”

So the EPA’s suddenly stern attitude about water pollution in California, which it blames partly on the homeless, is pretty clearly just another front in the administration’s ongoing war with the Golden State:

“The Trump administration notified California officials on Thursday that it is ‘failing’ to meet federal water-quality standards, attributing this in part to homelessness.

“An oversight letter addressed to Gov. Gavin Newsom alleges that San Francisco, Los Angeles and the state “do not appear to be acting with urgency to mitigate the risks to human health and the environment that may result from the homelessness crisis.”

“EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler warned that the agency is ‘concerned’ about the state’s handling of public water systems.

“’The agency is aware of the growing homelessness crisis developing in major California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the impact of this crisis on the environment,’ Wheeler wrote. ‘Based upon data and reports, the agency is concerned that California’s implementation of federal environmental laws is failing to meet its obligations required under delegated federal programs.'”

You may recall that Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the coal industry, and also a former aide to Senator James Inhofe, author of that great environmentalist tomeThe Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

It’s clearly not a coincidence that on a recent fundraising trip to California, the president spent considerable time mocking the Democrats who govern the state and its largest cities for a homelessness crisis that he and his allies attribute to excessive regulation — particularly environmental regulation. This was his parting shot, as reported by NBC News:

“From Air Force One, Trump, who had been in California for a two-day fundraising trip, blamed the homeless population for environmental issues. ‘There’s tremendous pollution being put into the ocean,’ he said, noting ‘there are needles, there are other things.’

“’We’re going to be giving San Francisco — they’re in total violation — we’re going to be giving them the notice very soon,’ Trump said.

“’The EPA is going to be putting out a notice and you know they’re in serious violation and this is environmental, very environmental,’ Trump said. ‘And they have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.'”

Wheeler’s letter indicates that Trump wasn’t just trolling Californians and the homeless when he complained that homeless people keep wealthy people like himself from going about their important business. In theory, the EPA could take over enforcement of clean water rules in the state, though that would be pretty bad for clean water. But the targets of the administration’s ire are pretty hot about it, as Nathan Click, Governor Gavin Newsom’s spokesperson, told the Washington Post:

“’The president is abusing the powers of the presidency and weaponizing government to attack his political opponents,’ Click said. ‘This is not about clean air, clean water or helping our state with homelessness. This is political retribution against California, plain and simple.'”

There’s a lot of that going on, particularly when it comes to environmental protection:

“In recent weeks, Newsom and other top California officials have denounced Trump for targeting the state on several fronts. In the past month alone, the administration has moved to revoke the state’s long-standing right to limit air pollution from cars, began investigating an agreement with four automakers for possible antitrust violations and threatened to withhold federal highway funds if California does not do more to clean up its air.”

Just yesterday, California attorney general Xavier Becerra announced he was participating in a 17-state effort to stop the administration’s evisceration of the Endangered Species Act. It’s the 62nd federal lawsuit Becerra has launched against Team Trump.

By sheer coincidence, Wheeler’s “notice” to California came out the same day as a Los Angeles Times analysis of new polling data suggesting that Trump is “on track for the poorest showing by a Republican presidential candidate in the state since the Civil War.” POTUS almost certainly could not care less.

Teixeira: Tell Me Again How Economic Trends Have Nothing to Do With Trumpism

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

The release of new data from a Brookings/Wall Street Journal collaboration provides a reason to revisit the utterly bizarre contention that economic trends have nothing to do with the rise of Trumpian politics. I don’t know how anyone can look at the charts below, drawn from the Brookings report, and continue to maintain that economic trends are largely irrelevant to the fissures in our politics and the cultural/racial concerns that, in a proximate sense, seem to drive them.

Authors Mark Muro and Jacob Whiton note in the Brookings report:

“[I]t’s clear that a series of genuine, penetrating [economic and demographic] shifts have been happening at warp speed through the last decade. These shifts are massively altering the two parties’ economic identities.

For one thing, the two parties have in just 10 years gone from near-parity on prosperity and income measures to stark, fast-moving divergence.

With their output surging as a result of the big-city tilt of the decade’s “winner-take-most” economy, Democratic districts have seen their median household income soar in a decade—from $54,000 in 2008 to $61,000 in 2018. By contrast, the income level in Republican districts began slightly higher in 2008, but then declined from $55,000 to $53,000.

Underlying these changes have been eye-popping shifts in economic performance. Democratic-voting districts have seen their GDP per seat grow by a third since 2008, from $35.7 billion to $48.5 billion a seat, whereas Republican districts saw their output slightly decline from $33.2 billion to $32.6 billion.”

Muro wrote in response to a query from Tom Edsall:that Democrats are winning in the “very powerful, dense, and prosperous economic areas that increasingly dominate the American economy….Democrats control the places that are most central to American economic power and prosperity.”

And we expect this divergence not to have political effects? That doesn’t seem plausible. As Edsall notes:

“A growing body of work demonstrates that scarcity, economic stagnation and relative decline are powerful factors driving intensified conservatism on issues of race, culture and immigration.”

Edsall also provides some interesting comments from political scientist Ronald Inglehart, whose work is sometimes invoked to defend the thesis that economic change has nothing to do with the current culture clash.

Inglehart made the case that a “combination of economic insecurity and cultural insecurity has contributed to the Trump vote.”…Most critical, in Inglehart’s view, is that treating economic and social issues separately creates a false dichotomy:

“The interaction between insecurity caused by rapid cultural change and economic insecurity drives the xenophobic reaction that brought Trump to power and is fueling similar reactions in other high-income countries. And the rise of the knowledge society is driving this polarization even farther.”

Here Inglehart appears to be departing from the common trope of many of his fellow political scientists whose approach has been simply to emphasize anti-immigrant sentiment and different forms of cultural/racial resentment, since they have tended to be the strongest predictors of Trump support in various quantitative studies. I applaud Inglehart’s view since, after all, how much does the standard political science approach really tell us? After all, it should not be a huge surprise that voting for an anti-immigrant, racially resentful candidate is predicted by, well, being anti-immigrant and racially resentful. But why now and why so much support for a candidate with those views? This is the really interesting and important question.

And frankly I don’t think the answer, in a broad sense is that hard to find. A toxic interaction between economic change and cultural reaction is entirely consistent with the historical record on the rise of right populisms. As political scientists Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick and Christopher Trebesch have shown in their paper , “Going to Extremes: Politics after Financial Crisis, 1870-2014”, covering 140 years, 800 general elections and 20 countries, far right populist parties driven heavily by xenophobia towards immigrants and minorities typically experience a surge in support in the aftermaths of large and lingering crises. And, as economist Claudia Goldin noted in her study of immigration policy debates in the US in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, “Almost all serious calls for the literacy test [to stem the flow immigrants] were preceded by economic downturns. … and few economic downturns of the era were not accompanied by a call for [immigration] restriction in the halls of Congress.”

So whey are we so surprised that Trumpism is happening now? We shouldn’t be. The answer is right in front of our noses. We also shouldn’t be surprised if Trumpian-style populism here and in other countries continues to be a huge problem if current economic divergences continue.

Chart on Partisan Polarization

Teixeira: Public to Democrats – ‘Here’s What We Want!’

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

The public is trying to tell the Democrats how to beat Trump! The latest messages are contained in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The poll asked about support for a series of proposals that have been advanced by various political actors. The graphic below helpfully compares the views of Democratic primary voter with those of all registered voters.

How Voters Agree and Disagree with Democratic Policy

Here’s the deal: if Democratic primary voters support a given proposal but the general electorate does not, that’s probably a proposal to shy away from. Really, the public is trying to help the Democrats out here! Note particularly, the very high support among all voters for allowing universal access to Medicare and the poor ratings for banning fracking, eliminating Obamacare, Medicare for All that eliminates private insurance and, at the very bottom, providing government health care to undocumented immigrants.

Let’s not make this beating Trump business harder than it has to be.

Political Strategy Notes – Impeachment Edition

WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares some insights on impeaching Trump: “There is nothing positive for Trump in the readout, which ratified House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to open a formal impeachment inquiry. “It’s interesting that the White House would release this thinking it would help the president,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said in an interview. “They’re so far down the path of corruption that they wouldn’t see how it implicates the president.”…That the Ukraine allegations abruptly and fundamentally altered the politics of impeachment means that House Democrats need to act in a precise, expeditious and disciplined way. Battles over who has jurisdiction over what, lengthy arguments over what should and should not be included in the articles of impeachment, personality clashes — none of these should complicate action on what is now a clear-cut case involving a deplorable abuse of power…This is why many swing-district Democrats who had been reluctant to endorse a path to impeachment are now open to acting…This new clarity of mission is why Pelosi’s announcement Tuesday came as such a relief. Democrats on both sides of the impeachment question were never in doubt about the depth of Trump’s venality, but they did not expect him to hand them so much ammunition to make their case. They dare not let internal politics get in the way of performing their duty.”

In his post, “If This Is Trump’s Best Case, The Ukraine Scandal Is Looking Really Bad For Him” at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver writes, “As far as polling evidence for how the public feels about Ukraine, there isn’t much of it, but there is some, and it isn’t great for Trump. A YouGov poll on Tuesday asked voters how they’d feel about impeachment if Trump “suspended military aid to Ukraine in order to incentivize the country’s officials to investigate his political rival”; 55 percent of voters supported impeachment in that case, 26 percent opposed it. The problem is that, so far, the delay in military aid has not been proven to be related to Trump’s requests of Zelensky on Biden.1 We don’t know how much that matters to the American public. Hopefully, pollsters will ask voters different versions of questions about impeachment over Ukraine that can test the importance of the quid pro quo. Meanwhile, polling from Reuters/Ipsos suggests that while relatively few Americans knew much about the Ukraine scandal before today, those who had heard of it were more supportive of impeachment.”

More than half the House of Representatives support impeachment inquiry,” CNN Politics reports. “There are at least 218 House Democrats — according to a CNN count — who publicly stated support for impeachment proceedings. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican who has since become an independent, has also called for an impeachment investigation, bringing the total number of representatives to 219, or just over half of the 435-member chamber…Reaching the halfway mark on this issue is a significant development as a majority of the House would be needed to vote to impeach the President in order to send the process to the Senate…there has been a surge in support — more than 75 House members in about three days — of launching such an inquiry… However, CNN’s count includes many Democrats who say they support an impeachment investigation but are still waiting for the results of the probe before deciding whether to finally vote to impeach Trump.”

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall makes the case that “economic decline was — and is — a compelling factor in generating conservative hostility to social and cultural liberalism.” Edsall mines data from scholars writing at Brookings, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and the European Journal of Social Psychology, to conclude that “The relative material deprivation of many Republican voters that continued into the first two years of the Trump administration reinforces their sustained dedication to Trump, even as the regions of the country where they disproportionately live fall further behind.” In addition, “Conversely, the exceptional success in 2018 of Democratic House candidates in well-to-do, highly educated, formerly Republican districts suggests that Democrats gain from prosperity.” And “As the 2020 election approaches, we can expect Trump not to be deterred by the prospect of impeachment. He will embrace it…he is willing to gamble on his ability to profit from a climate of chaos and threat, to rely on ever-present sense of crisis to fortify and expand his base.”

Sean Collins has “5 questions Attorney General William Barr should answer about Trump’s call with President Volodymyr Zelensky” at Vox. Collins writes that “Barr’s statements to Congress, particularly those he gave during May testimony about his handling of the release of the Mueller report, have many Democrats concerned the attorney general will attempt to shield the president from inquiries — including a recently launched impeachment inquiry — into potential wrongdoing and that he will refuse to investigate the allegations Trump faces.” The questions include: “1. Did President Trump discuss a Biden-Ukraine investigation with Barr?…2. Did William Barr mislead Congress?…3. Is the Department of Justice protecting Trump?…4. Does William Barr believe a president is above the law or immune to outside scrutiny?…5. Will William Barr recuse himself from upcoming DOJ investigations?”

At The American Prospect, Paul Starr probes a question of growing consequence for Democrts, “Is It Too Late to Impeach Trump?” Starr writes, “Even now, Democrats do not have strong electoral reasons to impeach Trump. Impeachment may not work out to their political advantage; a failed impeachment is not necessarily a good start to an election campaign to oust an incumbent. But, come what may, they have to proceed for the only reasons that truly justify impeaching and convicting a president—the defense of America’s constitutional system and its national security…By attempting to use a foreign power to win election a second time, Trump has forced even reluctant Democratic congressional leaders to move ahead on impeachment. It was bad enough that Trump escaped consequences for the efforts in his 2016 campaign to secure help from Russia and for his solicitousness as president to Vladimir Putin. Another such failure of our constitutional system, this time in connection with Ukraine, would only further embolden Trump to use the formidable powers of the presidency to entrench himself in office…If it becomes standard procedure in the United States, this will be a very different country from what we thought it was.”

Also at The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner writes, “The people who said that impeachment would be a distraction from the 2020 election were wrong, both before Trump’s Ukraine gambit, and even more so now. The 2020 election is about many things, but foremost among them are Trump’s abuse of office and the rule of law. Impeachment brings that front and center…Skeptics also argued that the Republican-controlled Senate would never vote to convict, so why bother? This is also wrong. As public opinion moves, so does Senate opinion. It will be very salutary for Democrats to put Senate Republicans on the defensive, as they try to excuse the indefensible…Republicans were contemptuous of Trump in 2016, and their loyalty to him is purely expedient and transactional. If he becomes seen as fatally damaged goods, that loyalty could evaporate…We are into a new act of this farce. It took Trump to give Democrats a backbone, but we will now see a newly emboldened Democratic House and a whole new dynamic.”

However, in his Daily Beast post, “Dems Worry Rudy Would Send Impeachment Hearing Off the Rails,” Sam Brodey warns that Giulani’s likely appearance before congress could create a circus-like distraction. “If Congress is to get to the bottom of President Trump’s efforts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Rudolph W. Giuliani is an obvious choice for the witness list…But Democrats are split as to whether he would do more harm than good to their nascent impeachment inquiry and some expressed concern that hauling a loose cannon like Giuliani in front of a committee would risk a replay of the circus-like atmosphere created by Trump loyalist and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski—a scene few Democrats are eager to recreate…Democrats are already well aware of the challenge presented by a loose cannon Trumpworld figure, and they still feel burned by Lewandowski. The former Trump campaign manager’s combative five-hour session before the House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 17 amounted to a massive middle finger to Democrats, who afterward privately panned the hearing as a disaster…Given Giuliani’s track record of theatrics and his fierce loyalty to the president, some Democrats worry that his testimony wouldn’t contribute to legitimate fact-finding but rather turn Democrats’ sober-minded mission into a complete circus—as well as slow down an impeachment proceeding that nearly all Democrats believe needs to be completed with the utmost speed.”

At The Nation, Jeet Heer presents “The Case for Keeping Impeachment Clean and Simple: Though Donald Trump has committed many crimes, best keep the focus tightly on the Ukrainian scandal,” and observes, “A quick impeachment is likely to be followed by the Republican Senate’s deciding Trump should not be removed. There might be a few GOP defections: Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado are the most likely to turn against Trump. Not nearly enough to reach the steep threshold of 67 votes. Still, such an impeachment would have made the essential point: Trump overstepped the rules of democracy…After a quickly executed impeachment, Democrats can return to other urgent political matters: choosing a presidential nominee and defeating Trump. The impeachment, if done narrowly and in a focused way, will then serve the cause of making the political case against Trump. A lengthy impeachment that looks at all his offenses could have the opposite impact: It might drain the political oxygen out of the presidential nomination process and impede the task of building an anti-Trump majority…Impeachment is both a legal and a political process. To have a politically effective impeachment, Democrats need to keep it clean, simple—and quick.”