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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

April 5, 2020

Bad Moon Rises Over the Iowa Caucuses

When I went to Iowa this last weekend to observe the Caucuses, I had no idea disaster would strike the event’s machinery, and I wrote sadly about it for New York:

For political media and other political junkies, the meltdown in the Iowa caucus results tabulation and reporting system was deeply annoying. TV gabbers were left with little to say, other than to lash out at the people of this proud and sometimes sensitive state. For the presidential campaigns most directly affected by the uncertainty of it all, it was a logistical and messaging challenge of the highest order. Amy Klobuchar showed the way by getting out there first with a happy speech claiming a level of success in Iowa that no one had the hard data to refute — and then jetting off to New Hampshire. Everyone eventually adapted to the weird half-light of the first voting event of the 2020 presidential cycle culminating in a long night with no results at all other than an entrance poll no one trusted.

But for political — and even apolitical — people here in Iowa, this has been a catastrophe all out of proportion to the technical and training glitches that produced it. The caucuses in their complexity have always represented a half-miracle pulled off quadrennially by a vast army of volunteers and a relatively small cadre of professionals. This year’s trebled reporting requirements (forced on Iowa by the national party) and the technological means chosen to accommodate them finally broke the Iowa Democratic Party. And that happened at the worst possible time, when critics and coveters of Iowa’s privileged perch in the nomination process had already built up a head of hateful steam.

“This fiasco means the end of the caucuses as a significant American political event. The rest of the country was already losing patience with Iowa anyway and this cooks Iowa’s goose. Frankly, it should,” Iowa journalism legend David Yepsen told Politico.

Et tu, David?

Here in Des Moines, as the TV pundits spat fire at the caucuses last night, there was a growing sense of horror among locals that this was indeed a breakdown moment for the state’s political influence and legacy. It wasn’t confined to Democrats. This morning, even as taunts from their president echoed across the Twitterverse, Iowa’s Republican governor and senator leapt to the defense of the Iowa Democratic Party and the Caucuses, insisting that Iowa was still “the ideal state to kick off the nominating process.”

But if the nominating process for 2024 and beyond isn’t clear, there’s a feeling of what can only be described as mourning this morning in Des Moines. And best as I can tell, Iowans are not angry about the 2020 caucus meltdown the way so many members of the traveling political circus seem to be. After all, who’s to blame? The state party professionals struggling as always to comply with new party rules under the watchful eyes of campaigns? The hundreds of volunteers, many of them elderly, who couldn’t deal with the new reporting app? The volunteers at party headquarters trying to juggle late-night calls on overburdened phone lines as puzzled and frustrated precinct chairs tried to use the 2016 reporting system? It’s not like Caucus Night was the first random catastrophe of the cycle for Iowa, given the surveying mishap that killed the much-awaited Iowa Poll this last weekend, which fed the uncertainty felt by all going into the contest.

Everyone and no one is to blame for an almost inevitable collapse of a tradition-bound process in which there was too much room for human error. And so people here are now left wondering about the civic and economic consequences of this perhaps being the last of the Iowa caucuses as we have known them since 1972. Iowa haters will enjoy the moment before they set upon one another along the treacherous path to a different “system.” But for Iowans, and the many adopted Iowans who have spent winter weeks and months here every four years, it’s a sad morning.

Political Strategy Notes

In “What Is Next for the Democrats” at The Hill, Former DCCC Chairman Steve Israel writes, “The question for Democrats becomes what next? Should they keep driving down the twisting path of investigations and spurned subpoenas? Or should Democrats slam the brakes on their constitutional responsibility, two words Senate Republicans can no longer say with a straight face, to conduct real oversight of the administration?…The answer is to keep exposing the misdeeds of Trump, while opening a new front on the kitchen table issue of health care in Congress and on the campaign trail. It seems counterintuitive, but Democrats are in a decent, though imperfect, strategic political environment. They have thoroughly discredited acquittal…But harping on inappropriate, impeachable, and illegal behavior will not be enough for Democrats. They will have to exploit one of the greatest electoral vulnerabilities of Trump, which is health care. In a recent poll by Navigator Research, 56 percent of the voters surveyed trust Democrats in Congress over Trump when it comes to health care. This is the largest gap so far in this poll. A poll by Fox News Channel found 54 percent of voters disapprove of how the president is doing on the key issue of health care.”…Maintaining protections for people with preexisting conditions has been a relatively strong platform for Democrats. A poll by the Kaiser Foundation last November found that 62 percent of the public opposed the Supreme Court overturning the protection. In the same poll, conducted just before the 2018 midterm elections gave Democrats a House majority, 75 percent of Americans surveyed thought it was “very important” for the Affordable Care Act to maintain protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

From “What Swing Working-Class Voters in Battleground States Are Thinking” by Marcia Brown at The American Prospect: “Almost half of “persuadable” voters think that President Donald Trump has made no difference in their lives since his term began, according to new survey results of working-class communities in the battleground states of Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin released today by Working America, an advocacy arm of the AFL-CIO…The report also indicated that those who voted third-party in 2016 are now “more than twice as likely to pick the Democratic nominee as they are to stick with a third party.” Also notable is that 86 percent of those who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 say they will support the 2020 Democratic nominee, but only 77 percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016 will vote for him again…The survey turned up pervasive cynicism toward the president’s tax plan passed in 2017. Working America says this shows “surprising potential for voter persuasion against him.” Even among the Republicans whom the group interviewed, only 40 percent had a positive view of Trump’s tax legislation. Writing Monday in the Financial Times, liberal pollster Stanley Greenberg noted that “slashing tax rates for corporations and the top 1 per cent was the last straw” for many such voters. The disfavor toward the tax cut crossed the urban-rural divide: “Regardless of the type of community where voters live,” the report states, “the tax law is overwhelmingly unpopular…In his column, Greenberg observed that “the shift against Mr. Trump among working people [in the 2018 midterm election] was three times stronger than the shift in the suburbs, where the Democrats were poised to flip seats.”

The Democratic response to Trump’s SOTU:

In Thomas B. Edsall’s New York Times column, “If Bernie Wins, Where Will He Take the Democratic Party?,” he writes, “The next step is the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, where Sanders currently has a strong 8.6 percentage point lead, according to RealClearPolitics. If Sanders wins New Hampshire, there will almost certainly be an establishment-led drive to block him from the nomination.” Edsall cites “Republican efforts to demonize Sanders, which are certain to start in earnest if he becomes the nominee,” and adds, “Sanders stands out among the leading Democratic presidential candidates in that none of the others have accumulated as many potentially debilitating liabilities as he has over 50 active years in politics…Sanders’s positioning on the far left has been crucial to mobilizing pluralities of Democratic primary and caucus voters. But many studies show that in general elections, the nomination of more extreme candidates has alienated moderates and driven up voting for the opposition — in this case the Republican Party…

However, notes Edsall, “Sanders’s ascendancy in the nomination fight places the Democratic Party in a double bind. Not only is he potentially a dangerously weak general election candidate but, if an Anybody-But-Bernie movement materializes and successfully defeats him at the convention, Sanders supporters — more than backers of any other major candidates — are likely to bolt on Election Day and vote for either a third-party candidate or even Trump (as many Sanders supporters did in 2016), or sit out the contest altogether. In 2016, more than 7 million votes were cast for third-party candidates, more than enough to have given the election to Hillary Clinton…A January 22-23 Emerson College survey asked Democratic primary voters “will you vote for the Democratic nominee even if it is not your candidate?” 87 percent of Joe Biden supporters said yes, as did 90 percent of those backing Elizabeth Warren and 86 percent of those aligned with Pete Buttigieg. 53 percent of Sanders supporters said yes, 16 percent said no, and 31 percent said they were undecided.”

On the other hand, Edsall adds, “There are election analysts, including a number of conservatives, who say that they believe that Sanders would be a credible nominee with a good chance of beating Trump.” He quotes Matthew Yglesias, who says “The Vermont senator is unique in combining an authentic, values-driven political philosophy with a surprisingly pragmatic, veteran-legislator approach to getting things done. This pairing makes him the enthusiastic favorite of non-Republicans who don’t necessarily love the Democratic Party, without genuinely threatening what’s important to partisan Democrats…At the end of the day, Sanders’s record is not nearly as scary as many establishment Democrats fear. His ‘revolution’ rhetoric doesn’t make sense to me, but he’s been an effective mayor and legislator for a long time” Edsall concludes, “Now it may be that the country is ready to elect as president a 78-year-old angry democratic socialist calling for revolution. But if I were a partisan whose top priority was to bring the Trump presidency to an end, I would not bank on it.”

Nate Silver shares some insights from FiveThirtyEight’s post-Iowa forecast: “Now that we finally have some clarity on Iowa’s results — with 86 percent of precincts reporting — we’ve turned our primary model back on, including its estimates of the potential fallout from Iowa…The model shows former Vice President Joe Biden’s chances of winning a majority of pledged delegates being halved — from 43 percent before Iowa to 21 percent now…Who gains from Biden’s decline? Well, a little bit of everyone. The model thinks Iowa was more good news than bad news for Sen. Bernie Sanders…His chances have advanced to 37 percent, from 31 percent before Iowa, making him the most likely person to achieve that majority…Pete Buttigieg’s chances are also up, to 6 percent from 4 percent before…Buttigieg still has his work cut out for him in building a broader coalition; it’s going to require a big bounce in states and among demographic groups where the former mayor is not currently strong…Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s majority chances are also slightly up, according to our model, having improved to 10 percent from 5 percent before. That’s because in a more chaotic field, with at least one of the front-runners (Biden) potentially falling back into the pack, her roughly 15 percent of the vote in national polls could eventually give her some opportunities, even though none of the next three states look especially promising for her.”

Janell Ross reports “Tidal wave of voter suppression’ washes over states, lawyer says” at nbcnews.com: “States across the country have, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, moved swiftly and repeatedly to reshape almost every element of voting. Lawmakers are using a variety of race and age-neutral measures with explanations as pragmatic as cost and as prudent as election security. Now, with Election Day less than 10 months away, a range of lawsuits are pending or have recently been resolved challenging what Marc Elias, a lawyer working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, described as “nothing short of a tidal wave” of voter suppression targeting black and young voters…“We are seeing stark levels of voter suppression efforts,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said. “In a post-Shelby world, the burden falls to citizens and civil rights groups to monitor and challenge all that is going on. But what’s really made this worse is what’s happening at the Justice Department. “…States are engaging in aggressive voter roll purges, polling site closures and uneven voting resource allocations that, in some cases, violate the law, Clarke said.”

Ross provides detailed updates on current voter suppression campaigns underway in a number of states: “In Texas, officials in mostly white Waller County, citing cost concerns, announced that they would not make an early voting site available on the campus of a historically black university. Then the state passed a law effectively requiring other communities to take similar action…A Tennessee law threatens third-party groups that register citizens to vote with criminal penalties if they make mistakes on forms or the forms arrive incomplete. The state’s governor, a Republican, said the law will make elections fairer…And in Florida, state lawmakers overrode the results of a ballot initiative restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Lawmakers who opposed the initiative insisted it was up to them to define what constitutes a completed sentence…months after more than 1.6 million Florida residents with felony convictions regained the right to vote, Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislatureimplemented a law requiring that individuals pay fines and fees associated with their convictions before being able to vote.”

Teixeira: Understanding Polarization

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

Ezra Klein’s new book, Why We’re Polarized, has been getting generally positive reviews, especially for its extensive summary of a vast literature on social psychology, group identities and emotional reasoning. How highly one values the book therefore depends a lot on how illuminating one finds this literature about our current political situation. I am less enthusiastic than some about this literature so I was less enthusiastic about the book

And I did feel the book had a serious weakness which Francis Fukuyama correctly noted in his review of the book in the Washington Post:

“The bottom line of Klein’s argument is that polarization was driven fundamentally by race. The Republican Party has become the home of angry white voters anxious that the United States is turning into a “majority minority” society, as California already has, a reality epitomized by the election of Barack Obama.

There is no question that race played an important part in the 2016 election and that for many Trump voters, cultural identity was a more significant factor than economic self-interest. It is otherwise impossible to explain why so many working-class whites supported Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, a policy that benefited them above all.

But cultural identity is fed by many factors besides race, and understanding this complexity is very important if the Democrats hope to win back the Oval Office and Congress. Failure to appreciate the legitimate grounds for resentment by populist voters is a general failure of liberals everywhere, from Turkey and Hungary to Britain and the United States, and one of the reasons they keep losing elections…..

Klein dismisses economic drivers of populism like globalization and the loss of working-class jobs, noting that if those were the fundamental issues, then left-wing populism rather than the nativist variety should have seen a big upsurge in support.

There is no question that race has resurfaced in an ugly manner in American politics, driven by an overtly racist president. But culture and identity are much broader than race. Gender is at least as important: Men have been losing status and economic power to women in workplaces and families steadily for the past generation. Many people in 2016 didn’t so much support Trump as vote against Hillary Clinton, who represented to them a certain kind of self-satisfied feminism and came into the election with very low trust and favorability ratings.

The urban-rural divide that Klein correctly notes as central to the red-blue division encompasses a host of cultural values beyond race, related to religion, patriotism, respect for traditional sources of authority and other lifestyle issues. Working-class whites in rural areas have undergone a social decline epitomized by the opioid crisis, which has led to a drop in male life expectancy in the United States. As Angus Deaton and Anne Case have argued, this is a result of despair engendered by job loss and social isolation.

Opposition to our current immigration system does not necessarily have to stem from xenophobia and racism: Polls from Gallup and Pew show that more than 60 percent of Americans have positive views of immigration but more than 50 percent worry that so much of it is illegal. High culture today is produced in liberal agglomerations like New York, Los Angeles and London, and it has created a kind of intellectual snobbery that is bitterly resented by people who don’t like being dismissed as ignorant racists.”

I feel this is rather a big miss in a book that purports to explain our current level of polarization and the rise of right populism. Such a miss of course is consistent with the current world outlook of not just Klein and his website Vox but a wide swathe of contemporary liberal opinion in and around today’s Democratic party. In my view, if we’re ever going to become de-polarized that outlook needs to change.

You will not be surprised to learn that such a change is not among Klein’s recommended list of fixes for the polarization problem. That’s a pity.

Iowa Mess Robs Winner – Whoever That Is – of Election Night Victory Buzz

From “Vote-reporting mess leaves Iowa with no victor on caucus night” by Stephen Collinson at CNN Politics:

Amid anger, chaos and confusion, candidates took to the stage at their caucus headquarters one by one — at a time when the victor would normally be expected to bask in the spoils — to give versions of their stump speeches before heading on to the next contest, in New Hampshire next week…The logjam threatens to rob the eventual winner of the caucuses of some of the early bounce from their victory and is a poor look for a party trying to prove it is up to taking on Trump’s fearsome political machine. It might offer candidates who do worse than expected some cover and is already raising questions about Iowa’s place at the front of the presidential calendar…The campaigns are livid.

So much for the town hall glorification vibes Iowa has milked so enthusiastically in recent years — a much tougher sell going forward. Presidential candidates, their staffs and media have roamed the state for the last year, spending millions of dollars and boosting the state economy enormously. That tradition may now be toast, if future Democratic presidential candidates have their wits about them. Ditto for the Democratic Party.

The top Democratic candidates gave variations of their stump speeches to fill the dead time while the TV networks were caught flat-footed. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the first to seize the opportunity to grab some freebie national publicity. She rose to the occasion and delivered a pretty good speech. The other candidates followed Klobuchar, but struggled to match her energetic delivery.

As Collinson writes, “One candidate, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, made a shrewd move to fill the political vacuum and gave a pseudo-victory speech — grabbing the television spotlight in the absence of results giving other more favored candidates the win…We know there are delays, but we know one thing — we are punching above our weight!” Klobuchar said.”

All in all, whoever did worse than expected in the caucuses won the night, because their loss and their opponent’s victory will be overshadowed by reportage of the Iowa mess, and much of the public will likely shrugg off the tally as tainted by incompetence. Somewhere, former Mayor Bloomberg is glad he didn’t waste time in Iowa.

The explanations for the screw-up, including a knee-jerk quick denial of outside interference, were nearly as lame as the vote and delegate counting process. With benefit of hindsight, the whole process was way too complex, with its metrics for “viability,” “preference cards,” “re-alignment” and “state delegate equivalents” — requiring lots of ‘splaining. Dems should not overlook one obvious lesson: keep it simple.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called it a “Rube Golberg machine.” Esquire’s Charles Pierce said the disaster ought to be the “death knell” for Iowa’s caucus, which is inherently anti-democratic. Even before the vote count mess, former Senator Clare McCaskill criticized the caucus as “designed by Republicans” and discouraging participation. CNN commentator Ronald Brownstein said it shows that “caucuses have outlived their usefulness.”

Republicans, of course, will be piling on with the snarky one-liners. Dems will remind them that they  won’t even hold primary elections in many states, denying some of their presidential candidates any consideration at all.

But the unavoidable question for other state Democratic parties this morning: Would it be wise to adopt a hand-count ballot system pretty damn quick?

All of the candidates were surely glad to close their election night speeches with “On to New Hampshire” — and they really meant it.

Linkon: The Class Culture War

The following article by Sherry Linkon, professor of English at Georgetown University and a faculty affiliate of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

New York Times columnist David Brooks has proven himself both interested in and repeatedly confused by the working class. A few weeks ago, in a piece arguing that Bernie Sanders is wrong to blame capitalism for economic inequality, Brooks wrote that “Class-war progressivism always loses to culture-war conservatism because swing voters in the Midwest care more about their values — guns, patriotism, ending abortion, masculinity, whatever — than they do about proletarian class consciousness.” He goes on to point out that working-class wages are going up faster than incomes for top earners, which he cites as evidence that capitalism benefits everyone.

As with so many debates about how Democrats could win support from working-class voters, Brooks presents a false choice between class and culture that betrays his inability to make sense of how class works.

Brooks chastises Sanders for misunderstanding capitalism, but Brooks misunderstands how closely class and culture are intertwined. I’ve spent the last 25 years studying that relationship, especially the way economic restructuring didn’t just undermine the social position of working-class people but also brought changes to working-class culture. Many of the “conservative values” Brooks identifies are tied to economic conditions. And class consciousness explains why, after years of stagnation and a huge shift of income and wealth to the richest Americans over several decades, some working-class people are finally gaining a little ground.

In Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown, John Russo and I argued that a “politics of resentment” emerged in that community during the years when its steel industry was collapsing. That resentment spread throughout the region during the decade after the mills closed. Some of it was directed at institutions that people had long counted on to serve their interests – business, unions, government, churches, all of which had failed to protect them from the economic and social costs of tens of thousands of lost jobs. It grew as politician after politician made and broke promises to help. It festered as people read national media stories about how deindustrialization was part of a process of “creative destruction” that would revitalize the economy, a claim that in some ways proved true – but mostly for well-educated people on the coasts and in big cities, not for displaced steelworkers.

Resentment is a cultural response to economic struggle, and it has political consequences.  In Youngstown in the early 1980s, it translated into strong support for a mob-connected, crass, political outsider, county sheriff Jim Traficant, who had stood on laid-off workers’ front lawns and refused to let them be evicted when they couldn’t pay their mortgages. Youngstown voters elected Traficant as their congressman in 1984. He served until convicted of crimes in 2002.

Forty years after Traficant’s rise, the politics of resentment have become a national (and in many ways global) trend, leading voters to reject candidates they view as elitist and entrenched in favor of those who promise to challenge and change the status quo. While we don’t think of Barack Obama as benefiting from the politics of resentment, the belief that government needed fresh blood and new ideas drew many to support him, including many white working-class people who, some feared, would never vote for a black man. Resentment contributed to Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, especially after he was heard dismissing “47%” of voters at a high-ticket fundraiser. Hillary Clinton made the same blunder in 2016, famously dismissing Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables,”while Trump seemed to have successfully channeled Traficant’s populist bluster.

Among the cultural values Brooks identifies as central to the cultural wars is masculinity. I agree that this is an important cultural issue for many working-class men who feel anxious about their place in the world and therefore defensive about men’s roles. But that, too, has economic roots. When industrial jobs that offer good pay and benefits go away, men feel more than just an economic loss. For generations, a key element of masculinity was the ability to support a family. While the family wage has long been a thing of the past, men still struggle with shame and frustration over not being able to be good providers. Equally important, few of the jobs that have replaced industrial work offer men opportunities to demonstrate traditional masculine qualities like strength, toughness, or power over machinery and materials. Contemporary working-class jobs, most of which are in the service sector, pay less – not just in dollars but also in the kind of validation that these men seek.

Let’s consider the other half of Brooks’s argument, too. It’s true that wages for lower-level workers are rising, and yes, the rate of growth these days is faster for lower-income workers than for management these days. That sounds great, but it’s hardly proof that capitalism works well for everyone. Has Brooks forgotten the recent history of economic inequality? Inequality.org maps it all out clearly, showing how the incomes of the top 1% doubled between 1968 and 2017, while poverty rates held steady. Incomes for top earners have soared from around $633,000 annually in 1979 to more than $2.7 million in 2017, while incomes of the bottom 90% — that’s most of us, folks – rose by less than $10,000 a year, all the way to a grand $36,000.

But, okay – things are getting better. Why would that be? It isn’t because of productivity, as Brooks claims. Productivity and pay both increased at about the same rate between 1948 and 1979, but then productivity continued to rise while wages stagnated. A tighter labor market also makes a big difference, though it’s hard to imagine it will be enough to ever make up for the disparities of the last two decades. As the Economic Policy Institutenoted in 2018, “while wages are growing for most workers, wage growth continues to be slower than would be expected in an economy with relatively low unemployment.”

Even more important in Brooks’s misunderstanding of working-class politics is his refusal to acknowledge that class consciousness might have had anything to do with wages going up. Since 2014, 29 states and 44 localities have raised the minimum wage in their jurisdictions. And sorry, David, that’s not because bosses don’t “have workers by the throat.” It’s because workers organized to fight for economic justice. The Fight for $15 and dozens of living wage campaigns that led to states and cities hiking the minimum wage offer great examples of class consciousness in action.

No doubt, conservative politics, including opposition to immigration and gun control as well as the anxiety some white Americans feel about the country’s changing demographics – not to mention more overt white supremacism – will play a role in this year’s election. But if Democrats want to win working-class votes, they shouldn’t buy into Brooks’s either/or vision. Instead, they should recognize that what people earn, the jobs they do, the state of their communities, and their values are all intertwined.

Political Strategy Notes

Stephen Collinson explains why “A week like no other looms in American politics” at CNN Politics: “After a brief respite over the weekend, senators will return to President Donald Trump’s Senate trial on Monday to hear closing arguments from Democratic House impeachment managers and the President’s legal defense team…Hours later, and after months of exchanges on the campaign trail, Democratic voters finally begin their search for a candidate to make Trump a one-term President in Monday night’s Iowa caucuses…The commander-in-chief will hit back the next night, weaving a narrative of prosperity at home and strength abroad, as his reelection pitch reaches new intensity in his annual “State of the Union” address…And then after finally breaking their own enforced silence with speeches from the floor, senators will Wednesday undertake their gravest possible duty in voting on whether to make Trump the first impeached President to be ousted in US history. Spoiler: Republicans will ensure that Trump is acquitted of high crimes and misdemeanors and will leave it up to voters to decide his fate.”…“But it is unusual for three events with the potential to set the tone of a crucial campaign and the political year ahead to unfold in such a compressed time frame — one that encapsulates the sense-scrambling reality of Washington in the bewildering Trump era…The next three days will reveal the political forces shaping the nation’s present — like Trump’s relentless dominance of the Republican Party and the desperation of Democrats to consign him to a single term…They will also unleash chain reactions that will shape the run up to November’s election and will reflect divisions widened by impeachment.”

“In Monday’s contest,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic, “the Democratic candidates will be more reliant on metro areas—particularly those with large numbers of young adults and white-collar suburbanites—than even four years ago: Among the state’s 99 counties, just seven will award 53 percent of the delegates at stake…These changes create the most obvious challenge for former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who are relying heavily on older and more establishment voters based in rural communities and smaller cities. Bigger turnout in college towns like Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa, will benefit Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont—though critics complain that the rules of the caucus are designed to undercut the clout of college towns. Bigger turnout in the white-collar suburbs around Des Moines, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids could primarily benefit Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg—though both Biden and Klobuchar are hoping to remain competitive in those areas too.”

Brownstein adds, “None of the cities in Iowa is that large by national standards: The Des Moines metro area has about 650,000 residents. Still, the trends in the state are familiar in two ways: First, the largest urban areas are fueling its population growth. The seven Iowa counties that will award the most delegates at the caucus are Polk (Des Moines), Linn (Cedar Rapids), Johnson (Iowa City), Scott (Davenport), Black Hawk (Waterloo), Story (Ames), and Dubuque. But the big three—Polk, Linn, and Johnson counties—are the ones most propelling the state’s growth: Since 1990, they have accounted for fully two-thirds of Iowa’s modest total population increase of 375,000…The second trend is a growing urban-rural divide: Like elsewhere, Iowa Democrats are losing ground in rural areas, even as they pick up voters in metro areas.”

Brownstein notes further, “With the latest Iowa polls indicating a close contest, the result on caucus night may come down to whether turnout is close to the roughly 170,000 who voted in 2016 or whether it matches or even exceeds the record 240,000 who voted in 2008. Among Iowa observers, the general consensus is that Biden, who is dependent on more moderate, older Democrats who regularly attend the caucuses, has his best chance to prevail if turnout falls on the lower end of that range. But if the total vote surges, Biden “could just get swamped,” Rynard told me…A big turnout on Monday will almost certainly underscore how thoroughly the Democratic center of gravity in Iowa has shifted toward the state’s largest population centers. But how such an elevated turnout divides between young people and college-educated suburbanites could ultimately decide which candidate leaves the state with the most powerful tailwind.”

Regarding the Iowa caucuses, Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has been moving up in Iowa polling, is closing out with a pragmatic pitch to voters: “Klobuchar can unite our party and perhaps our nation…She knows how to get things done.”…Primary voters, however, rarely reward the ‘practical’ choice. What gets someone to the polls — especially to a caucus on a Monday night in the dead of winter — is passion. But, we also know that Democratic primary voters have been telling us for months that their number one priority is beating Trump. Iowa has always prided itself on its sophisticated voting electorate. Woe to the candidate who thinks he or she can drop into Iowa unprepared for serious discussions about ethanol or the cost of soybeans. But, go there today, and you’ll hear voters discussing which Democrat is best positioned to win Pennsylvania or Michigan more than you will overhear talk about which one best understands Iowa issues. We will learn on Monday night if Trump — and the prospect of beating him — will supply the energy and passion that biography or policy once did.”

In his column, “Bloomberg’s Moment May Arrive,” Charlie Cook observes, also at The Cook Politial Report: “In my mind Joe Biden is still a fragile front-runner, with somewhere between a 40 and 50 percent chance of winning the nod. There are those who would bestow the title of front-runner on Bernie Sanders, who currently is polling in first place in both Iowa and New Hampshire. My hunch, however, is that he would have a hard time going the distance, for reasons I’ll get to in just a moment. My odds for Michael Bloomberg are in the 20-25 percent range, with the remaining 30-35 percent spread out between Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or someone else. To be clear, these aren’t shares of the vote, but chances to win. I know I’m bullish on Bloomberg; this is definitely a contrarian view, but one that might make some sense…The profile of Bloomberg voters is that they’re 50 or older, college-educated, and somewhat centrist. Well, you have just defined the supporters of Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar as well. If none of those three are thriving, what do you think will happen?”

Kyle Kondik takes a look ahead at “The Road to Milwaukee: How the Democratic Primary Will Unfold” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and writes, “These early contests will get loads of attention throughout the month, although the dirty little secret is that, together, they only account for a pittance of the delegates that will be awarded in the primaries and caucuses. There are 3,979 of them up for grabs in 57 contests, with 1,991 required for a majority…Every year, there is a Super Tuesday, this year on March 3. But it may be more appropriate to look at the March 3-March 17 span as “Super Two-weeks.” A flood of contests bookended by two ethnic holidays — Illinois’ Casimir Pulaski Day (celebrated in honor of a Polish Revolutionary War hero the day before Super Tuesday on March 2) and St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 — may effectively decide the nomination…By the end of the Super Two-weeks, more than 60% of all the delegates will have been awarded. There may be a clear leader at that point who could be effectively impossible to catch given the Democrats’ proportional delegate allocation rules, or no clear leader at that time, making it hard for any candidate to capture a majority of the delegates by the end of the nomination season.”

At Daily Kos, Chris Reeves writes, “As the Iowa caucus comes to a close on February 3, we begin to really gear up for New Hampshire on Tuesday, Feb. 11. Eight days doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but eight days can make a huge difference in where campaigns are and what potential resources are available to them. Campaigns leaving Iowa without delegates will be seen as wounded, mortally so. While some campaigns—thinking specifically of Bloomberg and Steyer—could proceed as long as they wish as vanity campaigns from those who can self-fund, other candidates will find that fundraising and staff support will quickly fade post-Iowa if they do not perform well…The story out of Iowa will happen in a few stages. First, we’ll get the results, but then we will find out which candidates can hold together enough staff and donors to stay active. Some campaigns will absolutely close down. Some will thin themselves, focusing whatever they have left on New Hampshire. Others will just wait and see. Winning campaigns will staff up and start to push more chips into the table to try and play to win.”

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Progressives and moderates: Don’t destroy each other” at The Washington Post: “The Democratic campaign was destined to entail an argument about the party’s direction for the next decade. Is this election about restoration, after the madness of Trump’s time in office? Or should the accent be on transformation, to grapple with the underlying problems that led to Trump’s election in the first place?…Like so many of the binaries in politics, the restoration/transformation optic captures something important but is also a false choice. The country can’t simply pick up where it left off before Trump took office. The radicalized conservatism that dominates the Republican Party will not go away even if he is defeated. The inequalities of class and race that helped fueled Trump’s rise have deepened during his presidency. You might say restoring the norms that Trump threatens requirestransformation. And the majority that opposes Trump is clearly seeking a combination of restoration and transformation…What should bring moderates and progressives together is an idea put forward long ago by the late social thinker Michael Harrington: “visionary gradualism.” The phrase captures an insight from each side of their debate: Progressives are right that reforms unhinged from larger purposes are typically ephemeral. But a vision disconnected from first steps and early successes can shrivel up and die. Vision and incremental change are not opposites. In our nation’s history, the two have reinforced each other — for example, in protecting the environment, achieving social security for the elderly and assistance to the unemployed, protecting civil rights, and expanding health insurance coverage. This lesson will apply for any new Democratic president, no matter which wing of the party she or he represents.”

Teixeira: Biden Electability

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

The data continue to suggest Biden is a stronger candidate against Trump than Sanders. Below are some data from G. Elliott Morris, who does political data for the Economist, and from Alan Abramowitz.

They clearly show Biden is better overall and in swing states against Trump than Sanders. If the election is not close and favors the Democrats, perhaps either of these candidates could win. But if it’s close, Biden’s superior appeal could mean the difference between victory for the Democrats and defeat.

Therefore, we come back to the point I made yesterday: the Sanders electability case rests entirely on the assumption that his candidacy will send turnout through the roof, while Biden would leave many voters sitting on their hands. That Sanders’ turnout bonus would supposedly make up for any differences in candidate appeal we see in the data right now.

Tomorrow I will examine the plausibility of this assertion in light of data from 2016, 2018 and recent polls.

Teixeira: Can Sanders Overcome Liabilities and Energize Progressive Voters?

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


There’s no doubt that it’s here, as a spate of polls confirm. Not that Sanders is the front-runner overall, as the chart from 538 below shows. But he has definitely improved his position significantly, even as Warren’s has radically declined. This is obviously excellent news for the Sanders campaign on the cusp of the Iowa caucuses with the New Hampshire primary right behind.

So Sanders looks more like a plausible nominee than he ever has before in this campaign. But could he beat Trump?

Of course he could in the weak sense that it’s possible, given that Trump is so unpopular and that Democrats seems so motivated. But is it likely?

That’s the big question. The Sanders campaign and most of his supporters would naturally answer this in the affirmative. Their theory of the case, as far as I can make it out, is pretty simple. Bernie will so energize potential Democratic voters that any losses he might incur among swing or moderate voters will be drowned under a tsunami of Democratic turnout. Indeed, Sanders generally argues that this is the only way the Democrats can win the election; a more moderate candidate will fail to generate this turnout and will lose.

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Sanders will, after all, have a lot of liabilities to overcome. They are well-summarized by Jonathan Chait in a blistering polemic on the New York magazine site:

“Sanders has gleefully discarded the party’s conventional wisdom that it has to pick and choose where to push public opinion leftward, adopting a comprehensive left-wing agenda, some of which is popular, and some of which is decidedly not. Positions in the latter category include replacing all private health insurance with a government plan, banning fracking, letting prisoners vote, decriminalizing the border, giving free health care to undocumented immigrants, and eliminating ICE…

Sanders combines unpopular program specifics in the unpopular packaging of “socialism.” The socialist label has grown less unpopular, a trend that has attracted so much media attention that many people have gotten the impression “socialism” is actually popular, which is absolutely not the case.

Compounding those vulnerabilities is a long history of radical associations. Sanders campaigned for the Socialist Workers’ Party and praised communist regimes. Obviously, Republicans call every Democratic nominee a “socialist.” But it’s one thing to have the label thrown at you by the opposition, another for it to be embraced willingly, and yet another thing altogether to have a web of creepy associations that make it child’s play for the opposition to paint your program as radical and dangerous. Viewing these attacks in isolation, and asking whether voters will care about Bernie’s views on the Cold War, misses the way they will be used as a stand-in to discredit his entire worldview. Nobody “cared” how Michael Dukakis looked in a tank, and probably not many voters cared about Mitt Romney’s dismissive remarks about the 47 percent, but both reinforced larger attack narratives. Vintage video of Bernie palling around with Soviet communists will make for an almost insultingly easy way for Republicans to communicate the idea that his plans to expand government are radical.”

It’s hard to believe that these liabilities won’t cost Sanders a significant number of votes from more persuadable voters toward the middle of the political spectrum. So it all comes down to whether Bernie and his brand of politics really can produce the bonanza of votes he promises from an “energized” progressive electorate.

Again, could be, but I have my doubts. I’ll detail them with an empirically-based (naturally) analysis in a future post.

Iowa, Obama and African-Americans

An old argument about Iowa popped back up this week, so I addressed it at New York:

Many Iowa Democrats are proud about their caucuses giving Barack Obama his first electoral win in 2008, in part because it showed Obama’s cross-racial and trans-partisan appeal (his campaign conspicuously turned out independent and even Republican voters in Iowa). In response to the perennial complaint about the state’s unrepresentative demographics, Iowans often tout their role in Obama’s rise as evidence of their broad-mindedness and lack of racism.

But these understandable claims have become conflated with the less defensible proposition — or “myth” as its critics rightly call it — that Iowa’s white Democrats “allowed” African-Americans in later states like South Carolina to support him. The myth has come back up in connection with dubious suggestions that whoever wins Iowa may suddenly experience a breakthrough with the black voters currently inclined to support Joe Biden. Astead Herndon has the story:

“It has become political lore, repeated on cable airwaves and by Democratic campaign consultants, even presidential candidates. In 2008, as the story goes, black voters were uncertain about Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy until he won the Iowa caucuses, after which they rallied around him over the onetime front-runner, Hillary Clinton …

“The persistence of the narrative that Iowa made Mr. Obama has long irritated some of his advisers, who said that this recollection from 2008 had led campaigns astray since then, discounted the agency of black voters and minimized the robust grass-roots strategy that Mr. Obama’s team undertook in the South …

“’Black voters aren’t waiting for white people to tell them what to do,’ [Obama pollster Cornell] Belcher said. ‘It’s racist. It’s racial paternalism.’”

I sympathize with Belcher’s complaint. As I noted in a post earlier this year on Kamala Harris’s failure to implement Obama’s 2008 strategy, the future president was already doing well with black voters nationally and in South Carolina before his Iowa win (unlike Kamala Harris at a similar juncture in this cycle):

“A late-July 2007 Pew survey of African-American Democrats showed Obama winning 34 percent — trailing Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent in that demographic but still within striking distance. By contrast, a late-July 2019 Quinnipiac poll had Harris at 7 percent among black voters, far behind Biden’s 55 percent …

“Obama was running very close to Clinton among black South Carolina Democrats in August 2007 (Clinton was at 44 percent, Obama at 41 percent, according to Insider Advantage). Meanwhile, a late-July 2019 Monmouth poll of black South Carolina Democrats showed Biden leading Harris by 51 percent to 12 percent …

“Obama had built a solid 54-21 lead over Clinton among South Carolina’s African-Americans by December 2007, before Iowa. Afterward, he did surge to his eventual 78-19 landslide among black voters in the Palmetto State, but he built that win over an extended period of time.”

Now is is not a myth — much less a racist myth — to say that his performance in Iowa gave Obama a significant boost among African-Americans in later states. Then, as now, black and white voters alike cared about electability, and nothing raises confidence in electability like winning, particularly if you are a freshman senator hoping to become the first African-American president of the United States.

If a 2020 Iowa winner gets a bounce in South Carolina — or New Hampshire, or Nevada, or anywhere else — it won’t be because voters elsewhere are looking to Iowans and yearning for enlightenment. It will be because prevailing in the first actual real-live test of the cycle is a good sign for a candidate hoping to go the distance and take on Donald Trump.

Political Strategy Notes

What direction should Democratic strategy take if Republicans block witnesses from the Senate impeachment trial? In terms of messaging, Sen Kamala Harris’s comment that “there cannot be a true acquittal if there has not been a fair trial” is a good start. Taking a step back and looking at 2020 senate campaign strategy, a GOP witness shutdown would also give Democratic senate candidates additional leverage in close races. Republican obstruction of witnesses slimes their own party. They will undoubtedly hope that the damage fades by November; Indeed they are betting on it. How that pans out depends to a great extent on how well Democratic candidates, activists and especially the media remind voters of GOP witnesss obstruction in the months leading up to November 3rd. In races against the very few Republican senators who voted for witnesses, Democratic opponents will focus more on their final votes to let Trump off in a trial that banned witnesses. Meanwhile, Democratic ad-makers should get busy compiling video footage of Republicans squirming on camera as they try to justify their complicity in naked obstruction of justice. That ought to make genuine Constitutional conservatives of a once-great political party cringe in shame.

Alan I. Abramowitz explains the “Democrats’ Dilemma: Ideology, Electability, and the 2020 Presidential Nomination in Iowa and the Nation” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and notes, “The evidence displayed in Table 3 provides some empirical support for the belief of many Democrats that Biden has a better chance of defeating Trump than Sanders. On average, Biden outperforms Sanders in matchups with Trump nationally and in 11 of 12 potential swing states for which polling data are currently available. The difference is slightly larger in the swing state polls than in the national polls. And the differences between the two Democratic candidates are generally small. Thus far, in the national polls and in most of the swing states, including the three that were critical to Trump’s Electoral College victory in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — both Sanders and Biden are leading Trump…The fact that the differences in general election performance between Biden and Sanders are fairly small, especially in the national polls, is not surprising given the deep partisan divide that exists over the incumbent. A presidential election with a running incumbent like 2020 is largely a referendum on the incumbent. The vast majority of Democratic voters would be expected to support any of the leading Democratic challengers over Trump.”

Table 3: Polling averages of Biden and Sanders vs. Trump

Abramowitz is author of “The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump.”

Most of the media coverage of the current Democratic presidential race has lately focused on front-runner Biden and Sanders. Elizabeth Warren has lost some support recently. But she is still a formidable candidate in key swing states. Richard Parker makes the case for Warren at The Nation, and notes, “Warren has also been consistently effective in helping elect other Democrats—allies a president will desperately need. In 2018 alone, she raised $8 million for congressional candidates, then personally called all 172 of them to offer her support and went on to meet with 61 of them face-to-face to lay out how to best deploy that support. She firmly grasps the reality the media’s relentless, monocular focus on the presidential race misses: that in order to deliver bold change, the next president will need a Congress that shares (rather than checkmates) an agenda with the White House…Her opposition to Wall Street’s endless predations has also been consistent, courageous, and persuasive—and tied directly to her recognition that 40 years of growing income and wealth inequality won’t be reversed without the reregulation of finance…She played public and behind-the-scenes roles in crafting the still-unused powers of the Dodd-Frank Act to tame Wall Street and in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Washington’s first new (and under the Democrats, demonstrably effective) regulator since the New Deal…In her skill and dedication campaigning for other candidates; in doggedly shepherding tough, controversial bills through Congress; and in constructing a significant federal agency from scratch, Warren has demonstrated her ability to both win elections and govern.”

At Roll Call, Jacob Fischler provides some insights about the urgency of Democrats getting more pro-active in the fight against Repubican gerrymandering: “The state legislative campaign arms of both parties said wins in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin would help win congressional majorities for the next decade. Those six states send a total of 116 representatives to the U.S. House — more than a quarter of the entire voting body. Republicans outnumber Democrats in their combined delegations, 69-46, with one vacancy in Wisconsin…Both chambers of the legislature in all six states are now held by Republicans, and all empower their legislatures to draw congressional district lines…The first election cycle of a decade carries added importance because the winners will use the new census to draw district lines, which generally stay in place for 10 years. By percentage, the closest chamber to flipping is the Pennsylvania House, where Democrats would need to win 4.9 percent of seats now vacant or held by Republicans for a majority. The greatest gap is in the Georgia Senate, where Democrats would have to flip 14.3 percent of all seats…Matt Harringer, a spokesman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on state legislatures, said the party was caught off-guard in the 2010 cycle, when Republicans spent heavily in state races and netted close to 700 seats nationwide…The DLCC said on Jan. 16 it would spend $50 million on what it called its “Flip Everything” campaign. And at least one Democrat-aligned group, Swing Left, is also spending in state legislative races, choosing targets based on redistricting.”

Regarding redistricting opportunities in Texas, Fischler notes, “The Texas House, for example, hasn’t seen a Democratic majority in 18 years. The party would need to pick up nine seats this cycle to change that trend…Texas’ size — it’s the largest not to use an independent commission for its maps — and projected growth make it critical for both parties this cycle…If Democrats can successfully make the Lone Star State a battleground, it will help the party outside the state’s borders as well, forcing Republicans to draw resources from other competitive states…“When Republicans are going to be forced to defend Texas and spend millions and millions of dollars there, it makes it harder for them to spend in a place like Minnesota,” Harringer said…Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, pointed out that a number of suburban congressional seats have trended blue the last few cycles, further helping the effort to take over the Texas house…Flipping a chamber in Texas, as in Florida, Georgia or Wisconsin, would break a Republican trifecta — control in both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. In all states but Minnesota, one party controls both legislative chambers going into the 2020 elections.”

Fischler adds, “Flipping a chamber in Texas, as in Florida, Georgia or Wisconsin, would break a Republican trifecta — control in both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. In all states but Minnesota, one party controls both legislative chambers going into the 2020 elections…Ballot-box battles represent one front of an expanding struggle over legislative maps, as both parties have stood up their own organizations to fight for better maps for their side. That may involve courtroom battles, advocacy for state initiatives or political campaigns. For instance, the NDRC’s separate foundation filed the state court suit that resulted in North Carolina’s new maps…Democrats don’t even have to flip entire chambers in some cases to increase their power over maps. In Kansas, the DLCC is aiming to flip enough seats to break GOP supermajorities in each legislative chamber. Such a win would give Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly real veto power, without the possibility that her veto could be overridden on party-line votes…In Ohio, a new redistricting process requires that at least half of both parties vote for the new lines in order for them to go into effect. Rodenbush said that means that every seat Democrats gain there matters, even if they don’t flip the entire chamber.”

“A few months back, Republicans held a secret meeting to plot their strategy for gerrymandering America’s congressional and legislative districts after 2020. It was attended by nearly 200 GOP lawmakers from across the country. But now, leaked audio of the meeting is exposing the GOP’s grand strategy and outlining exactly what they have planned to make this takeover happen…In the recordings, Republicans exchanged tips for disguising illegal racial gerrymandering from the courts and discussed lying to the public about their true intentions. But their intentions couldn’t be clearer: The GOP is prepared to carve up the country and silence Democratic voters for another 10 years…a list of Republicans who were at that meeting was also leaked – and we have a chance to defeat some of them in elections this year, stopping right-wing gerrymandering plans in their tracks…Brett Kavanaugh and the conservative Supreme Court knew exactly what they were doing when they greenlit right-wing partisan gerrymandering last summer – and now, Republicans are already preparing to lock Democrats out of power for another decade, if they get the chance.” — From a Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) e-blast. Those who want to help the DLCC fight gerrymandering, can do so right here.