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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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No matter who.

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Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

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

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.


No Matter Who.

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

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

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

RIP GOP book by Stanley Greenberg

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

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

Pre-Order Now.

The Daily Strategist

January 22, 2020

About That So-Called “Democratic Litmus Test” on Abortion

There was a brouhaha over a funding decision by the Democratic Attorneys General Association, and I commented on it at New York:

A major part of the vast ideological “sorting out” of the two major parties that’s been underway since the 1960s has been about abortion. Democrats have become the party of abortion rights while Republicans have become the party that wants to re-criminalize abortion (or at least let states do so). There has always been a rump faction of anti-abortion Democratic and pro-choice Republican politicians, supported by a significant percentage of the rank and file, but both numbers have been shrinking for decades.

While there is occasional agonizing in both parties over steps taken, or not taken, to accommodate the abortion policy minority, Republicans seem to worry less about it less than Democrats, who are constantly being accused, or are accusing themselves, of betraying “big tent” principles by being intolerant toward those who would deny women reproductive rights. There’s been a new explosion of fretting this week as a fundraising committee for Democratic attorney general candidates has announced it will only contribute to those who commit to a pro-choice position. The New York Times wrote this up as yet another sign of Democratic “extremism”:

“An association of Democratic state attorneys general will become the first national party committee to impose an explicit abortion litmus test on its candidates, announcing on Monday that it will refuse to endorse anyone who does not support reproductive rights and expanding access to abortion services.

“To win financial and strategic backing from the group, candidates will be required to make a public statement declaring their support of abortion rights. The group, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, recruits candidates and helps their campaigns with financial support, data analysis, messaging and policy positions …

“[O]fficials believe it could have a ripple effect through the Democratic ecosystem, reflecting the changing mores of a national party that has moved sharply to the left in the Trump era and embraced a set of purity tests on divisive social issues.”

That characterization, which pairs the heavily loaded term “purity test” with a claim that the party has shifted in the “Trump era” is at best very misleading. The National Democratic Party has been committed to reproductive rights for at least a quarter-century, and if there’s been any “move,” it would be the deletion of the old Clintonian formula of making abortion “safe, legal and rare” from the party platform. That happened in 2012, well before anyone on the planet imagined Donald Trump might become president. And even that change in messaging had no real impact on Democratic policy.

So why is the Democratic Attorneys General Association making this move? Perhaps they expect that taking a more forthright position will help them raise money from abortion-rights advocates, as it should. But there are two changes in context that indicated a change in positioning.

The huge wave of Republican-generated state legislation restricting access to abortion that has been building since the 2010 GOP landslide, and that has accelerated since Trump’s election and his efforts to reshape the federal courts, has placed state attorneys general on the front lines of the fight for reproductive rights. And while states vary in how much leeway AGs have to resist or at least refuse to defend legislative abortion restrictions, having sympathetic figures in these positions can make a big difference on the margins, as the DAGA indicated:

“The group’s communications director, Lizzie Ulmer, said that the policy change had been in the works for some time, but had become a more serious focus since May, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the state’s six-week abortion ban.

“’It ended up being that this was the right timing,’ she told CNN. ‘The AGs really wanted this to happen, and they were really excited that this was something the committee would be able to do.’”

The other thing that happened very recently is that the only sitting Democratic AG who would flunk the litmus test, Mississippi’s Jim Hood, is leaving office. He ran for governor this year, and lost. So the Times and others can talk about purity tests all they want, but it’s not likely the new position will lead to any “purges,” to use the usual terminology. And any Democratic candidate for one of the 12 attorney general gigs up in 2020 who wants to compete on a “principled” platform of denying women control over their bodies is perfectly free to do so without DAGA’s money.

One reason for all the anxiety about litmus tests is coincidental: One of the rare statewide Democratic anti-abortion pols in captivity, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, was just reelected, giving his party some much-needed southern comfort and frustrating Trump’s many efforts on behalf of Republican Eddie Rispone. Aside from being deep-red, Louisiana is one of those states with a critical mass of both conservative Evangelicals and Catholics. It is unsurprisingly an anti-abortion hotbed. In contrast to DAGA’s position, the Democratic Governors’ Association strongly backed Edwards’s campaign, though you have to wonder if DGA might have been pickier had this not been one of just three contested gubernatorial races in the country this year. It’s not likely that any 2020 Democratic gubernatorial nominees will have a similar position.

Looking at the bigger picture, the idea that Democrats are mostly responsible for abortion-policy polarization is just wrong; it’s been an entirely two-way phenomenon. According to a 2017 Pew survey of partisans, there are significantly more pro-choice Republicans (34 percent saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases) than anti-abortion Democrats (22 percent saying abortion should be illegal in most or all cases). Yet in 2019, the last of the pro-choice Republican House members went the way of the dodo bird. The anti-abortion Democrats for Life of America endorsed two winning House members (Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Collin Peterson of Minnesota), and three winning Democratic Senate candidates (Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia). Just two Senate Republicans (Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) self-identify as pro-choice, and Collins’s bona fides on the topic took a big hit when she put Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS confirmation over the finish line last year.

So Democrats have no special responsibility for the sorting-out of the two parties into one that favors reproductive rights and one that doesn’t. And despite all the “big tent” talk of those who oppose Democrats taking a stand, any opportunity costs for alienating the small group of swing voters who themselves make opposition to legal abortion a personal litmus test are surely offset by the college-educated women and younger voters with whom Democrats have been making their biggest recent gains.

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Marshall Cohen, Ellie Kaufman and Lauren Fox share “Five takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s bombshell testimony,” including: “US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland changed the course of the House impeachment inquiry Wednesday, over the span of several hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee with the television cameras rolling for a global audience…Sondland recounted several conversations between himself and Trump about Ukraine opening two investigations: one into Burisma, a company where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son was on the board, and another into conspiracies about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 US election…Up to this point, a key Republican argument has been that none of the witnesses spoke directly with Trump and they offered only secondhand information. Sondland’s testimony about his many conversations with Trump on the matter are crucial to Democrats countering that talking point…While Sondland said Trump had never expressly told him that US military assistance was contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, the ambassador said he was “under the impression that, absolutely, it was contingent.” As for strategic implications, the Democratic hope is that Sondland’s testimony will compel a few Republicans who value the Constitution and those who can smell an impending GOP disaster to re-evaluate the wisdom of party discipline at all costs.

Meanwhile, another trio of CNN Politics scribes reveals “8 takeaways from the November Democratic debate.” Among the insights explored by Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Gregory Krieg: “Democratic voters are overwhelmingly focused on finding a candidate they believe can beat President Donald Trump. In Wednesday night’s debate, the party’s leading contenders offered their clearest arguments yet about how they plan to do that…Subtly jabbing their rivals, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris said that Democrats can’t win without rebuilding former President Barack Obama’s diverse coalition of supporters…”The question black women voters have for us as candidates is: Where you been, and what are you gonna do?” Harris said.” Sen. Harris sparkled more than any of the other candidates in the debate. But Sen. Amy Kobuchar “made her most forceful case yet that her history of winning in red and purple portions of the Midwest — despite the reality that in politics, “women have to work harder” — give her a strong claim to the centrist lane in the 2020 primary field.”

In “Your blow-by-blow Twitter recap of the fifth Democratic debate, Jessica Sutherland’s exhaustive coverage of the debate at Daily Kos notes: “The debate’s all-woman moderation team featured Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, Ashley Parker of WaPo, and NBC White House Correspondent Kristen Welker…Maddow kicked things off with impeachment, of course, noting Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s bombshell revelations about the military aid-for-Biden investigation agreement Donald Trump sought from Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky…Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked if she would convict the president.Warren didn’t hesitate to agree, told people telling people to “Read the Mueller report.” Further she vowed to never take a big donation and give anyone an ambassadorship in exchange for it…Minnesota Sen. Klobuchar called out Trump’s “impeachable conduct,” vowing to look at each count and make a decision. She asserted that the impeachment is about saving democracy, noting that “This is a pattern with this man.” Quoting Walter Mondale’s “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace,” she declared that the minimum standard that Donald Trump is failing to meet…Next, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders almly called Trump “corrupt” before warning against becoming obsessed with him. He shifted to healthcare and wealth inequality, before demanding that legislators “walk and chew gum at the same time.”…South Bend Mayer Pete Buttigieg asserted that Trump’s conduct was appalling, before making a similar call for legislators to forward the impeachment inquiry while also legislating.

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s take on the Atlanta debate, in his Washington Post column: “Imagine a debate that drove the political pundits crazy and warmed the hearts of policy wonks and voters curious about how politicians might solve problems. What would it be like to have presidential candidates score few points against each other but lay out in some detail what they’d do about family leave, housing, climate change, voting rights and a slew of other issues?…You don’t have to imagine. That pretty well describes the fifth Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night. It covered a much broader range of concerns than the earlier encounters, including an extensive set of queries on foreign policy. While the contenders tangled over a few issues — notably, as always, health care — they avoided fireworks, cracked the occasional joke (Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota especially) and spent far more time in vehement agreement than they did in loud disagreement.”

“This was the debate that sent a signal that Democrats differ far more with Trump and the Republicans than they do with each other,” Dionne explains. “The question that came to mind after some of the harsh and more narrowly focused brawls earlier in the year was: How could this party possibly unite? The question that dominated on Wednesday was: Do these contenders really disagree all that much?…Of course, they do disagree, as Warren and Sanders especially wanted to make clear by way of contrast with their more moderate adversaries. But it was a salutary break from an all-Trump, all-the-time Washington to hear discourses on how to build houses, how to make college affordable and how to help families care for their kids. It offered hope that politics might, someday, be about more than the antics of a self-involved, corrupt and out-of-control chief executive.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was overshadowed in the debate by the fireworks between Sen Harris and Rep Gabbard and then Sen. Booker and former Vice President Biden. It was a rough day for Warren, who was also sharply criticized in Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT column, “The Danger of Elizabeth Warren: Even if she wins the presidency — hardly a sure bet — she may jeopardize Democrats in the House and the Senate.” As Edall writes, “Under pressure, Elizabeth Warren has retreated from the idea of immediate implementation of Medicare for All, but she remains committed to the progressive core of her candidacy.” However, notes Edsall, “polarizing candidates diminish turnout in their own party while boosting turnout among opposing partisans…Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, analyzed the pattern of Democratic victories in 2018 House races and found that “those who supported Medicare for All performed worse than those who did not, even when controlling for other factors…As much as the Warren program has mobilized many Democratic primary voters, polls show that significant numbers of swing voters — wavering Republicans repelled by President Trump and moderate to conservative Democrats — do not share Warren’s appetite for major structural change, preferring incremental change and the repair of existing programs, like Obamacare.”

Edsall continues, “Strategically, if Warren wins the Democratic nomination, the election would become not only a referendum on Trump — favorable terrain for Democrats — but also a referendum on Warren’s program, a far less certain proposition…A presidential campaign based on the set of proposals Warren has put forward faces not only an assault from the right, but a mixed reception from the extensive network of Democratic policy mavens, including a number of economists…“Many of Senator Warren’s proposals are indeed radical and could have unintended consequences,” Jeffrey Frankel, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, wrote by email. He added: ‘I fear that by far the worst of the unintended consequences of making these proposals during the campaign is to get Donald Trump re-elected.'”

“On Nov. 15, Warren announced that if elected, she would wait until her third year in office to “fight to pass legislation that would complete the transition to full Medicare for All,” Edsall notes. “Warren’s new stance appears to be an acknowledgment of the fact that her proposal to replace all health private coverage with Medicare for All does not carry majority support even among Democratic primary voters, a liberal constituency, much less the general electorate…In a survey released on Oct. 19, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that ‘more Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer voting for a candidate who wants to build on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in order to expand coverage and reduce costs rather than replace the ACA with a national Medicare-for-all plan…In addition, Kaiser ‘found broad support for proposals that expand the role of public programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as a government-administered public option. And while partisans are divided on a Medicare-for-all national health plan, there is robust support among Democrats, and even support among Republicans, for an expansion of the Medicare program through a Medicare buy-in or a Medicaid buy-in proposal.”

In closing this edition of Political Strategy Notes, Russell Berman warns at The Atlantic: “it was left to the two black candidates onstage last night, Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, to warn their fellow candidates—and voters watching at home—that they take black voters, and especially black women, for granted at their peril. The issue came up initially when Harris was asked about her criticism of Buttigieg’s campaign after it published a stock photo of two black people who were from Kenya, not the United States. Harris declined to re-litigate that mini controversy, instead using the moment to bring up the Democratic Party’s historic neglect of black women. “The larger issue,” she said, “is that for too long, I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party. And have overlooked those constituencies. And they show up when it’s, you know, close to election time, and show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before…Both Booker and Harris might fall short in their own candidacies for president, but they delivered a message last night that as they seek to energize black voters, Democrats still have more work to do.”

The Trump GOP’s deepening fractures

From a new DCorps/Greenberg Research memo by Stanley Greenberg and Chad Arthur:

President Donald Trump has a loyal base of support among the Evangelicals, Observant Catholics, and Tea Party who form 70 percent of the party, and only a few brave elected Republicans are likely to oppose him. But strong anti-Trump fractures run through the remaining blocs of McCain conservatives and moderates, both those who identify with the party and those who have left it, and even some Trump loyalists. So, it should not be surprising that 10 to 15 percent of Republicans in current polls support impeachment or vote for a 2020 Democratic candidate or a third party candidate. And if that endures or grows, these trends represent a mortal threat to President Trump in 2020.

While Trump has pushed the proportion of McCain conservatives and social liberal moderates in the party down from 41 to 35 percent, the remaining GOP voters have become much more assertive about their doubts about the president. After three years of President Trump’s tweets and perceived impulsiveness and divisiveness, Republican doubters are much more willing to raise and defend their criticism, even in a small room with fellow Trump voters. It is as if their doubts have been building through three years of watching President Trump and uncomfortable conversations in their families and at work – and suddenly, they say, “don’t get me wrong,” and blurt out their issue.

They also watched long segments of the president’s rallies, press availabilities outside the White House, and the State of the Union only affirm what they already thought. He talks nobody back from their doubts, but instead, confirms that the polarization will only continue. Watching Trump leaves even his supporters worried, not excited, about the next stage of the Trump project.


Dems Face Challenge in Western PA

Salena Zito’s column, “Pennsylvania 2020: It’s Complicated,” quoted here from the Danville Register and Bee, provides some insights for Democratic prospects in the state. Noting that “The Democrats have gone from a 13-5 minority in the House to a 9-9 split” in PA’s congressional delegation, Zito adds,

But if the Democrats want a victory, they must hone their message. Because here’s the other takeaway from last week’s statewide elections: The western suburbs around Pittsburgh are deepening their allegiance to the GOP.”

As Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist in western Pennsylvania, puts it: “Philadelphia got bluer, and western Pennsylvania got redder.” In short, not all suburban voters are alike.

“Go too far left on policy positions like banning fracking or Medicare for All or taking people’s guns away anywhere outside of the counties of Philadelphia and they might repeat the same mistakes of 2016,” says G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College.

Zito also quotes Jeff Brauer, political science professor at Keystone College, who explains that “The big question will be the extent of enthusiasm of his [Trump’s] nonsupporters in the state,” Brauer added. “If that outweighs his base support, that will swing the election against him. It’s something he shouldn’t underestimate.” Further, Zito notes,

This year, Democrats crushed Republican candidates in suburban Philadelphia’s Delaware, Chester and Bucks counties. But Democratic municipal officeholders in the traditionally blue suburban counties around Pittsburgh, such as Beaver, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene, were swept out of county government in favor of Republican candidates. And in commissioners races across the state, Republicans actually flipped more counties than Democrats: Six went from Democrat to Republican, while five went from Republican to Democrat.

Zito adds that, “In 2016, Hillary Clinton did what all Democratic presidential nominees have done since 1992: creamed the Republican opponent in Philadelphia and its suburbs. She even flipped then-Republican stronghold Chester County by over 20,000 votes, a spot Barack Obama was unable to win in 2012.” However, “she essentially lost the rest of the state.” Zito concludes,

This deepening Republican support outside of the Philadelphia suburbs remains a threat to the Democratic nominee, a threat that many political professionals ignored in 2016 and continue to ignore to this day.

“The Democrats still have to choose a palatable presidential candidate who has a measured message as an alternative,” Brauer said. They must “appeal to working-class Trump voters in order to win the state in 2020.”

Some Dems argue that a big turnout in Philly and its ‘burbs should be adequate to win the state’s electoral college votes. That strategy requires a massive mobilization of African-American and progressive women voters. But if Dems rely on eastern PA alone, they may be inviting another disaster.

Teixeira: Only progressive economics can stop future Trumps

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

The Washington Post magazine’s package on the Democrats’ move to the left included a piece I wrote. I featured that the other day but there were some other pieces that I wanted bring to people’s attention. I particularly liked this take by Dani Rodrik, who puts Trumpism and the response of the left in its proper, big picture context. Rodrik’s (short) piece in its entirety:

“Somewhat less than a third of likely voters say they will support President Trump in the 2020 election regardless of the Democratic Party nominee, according to the annual American Values Survey, conducted in recent months by the Public Religion Research Institute. This leaves more than two-thirds of the electorate up for grabs.

Whether progressive candidates on the left — Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — can claim a large enough share of these potential swing voters will depend less on inherent ideological predispositions than on the framing of the policy issues. True, the term “socialism” evokes mostly negative connotations among Republican-leaning voters. At the same time, according to the PRRI survey, nearly half (47 percent) of Republicans think “progressive” describes them somewhat or very well. And health care and jobs are two of the top three critical issues for uncommitted Americans. (The other is terrorism.)

Academic studies show that the disappearance of good jobs and attendant economic anxieties are key drivers behind the rejection of centrist politicians at the polls in both the United States and Europe. The areas of the country that went for Trump in 2016 after having voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 lagged significantly behind the rest of the country in expanding employment and economic opportunity. Their relative position has continued to deteriorate in the first two years of Trump’s administration.

Trump won in those “flipped counties” by wrapping a nativist narrative around their residents’ discontent. A progressive Democratic candidate would instead offer remedies that directly treat the causes — by redressing fundamental power imbalances in the economy and through public investment in education, social programs, infrastructure and job creation financed by more-progressive taxation.

The choice that the Democratic Party faces is this: It can treat Donald Trump as an aberration and prop up an economic regime that reproduces the status quo ante with cosmetic fixes. Or it can treat Trump as a symptom of an unsustainably unjust economic system that needs to be reformed at its core. Only the latter path will prevent the emergence of future Trumps.”

That’s a key point about the long game on Trumpism. It’s not just a matter of winning the 2020 election, as important as that is.

Teixeira: The Wisdom of Crowds (of Democrats)

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

Far be it from me to interrupt the ongoing weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among many Democrats about the current conflicts within the party. But it’s worth pointing out: some of these debates are actually winding up in the right place!

Perry Bacon Jr. at 538 has been following these internecine debates closely and has attempted a typology of the different kinds of Democrats fighting it out. In his most recent piece, he takes stock of which wings of the party seem to be faring the best on the various issues under discussion. On two key ones, health care and wealth/corporate power, it seems to me that the winners in his scrupulously fair assessment also correspond to the positions the Democrats would do well to advocate in the general election against the Evil One. So that’s a good thing!

Health care:

“On M4A, I would argue that the more moderate wings have the upper hand for now. You can see that in the Buttigieg and Harris campaigns, in which both felt the need to shift their rhetoric away from M4A. Polling suggests Democratic voters have fairly positive views of M4A, but Democrats also really like more incremental approaches (like building on Obamacare or “Medicare for all who want it”). And full-fledged M4A is fairly controversial with the broader electorate.

If Sanders or Warren makes it to the general election, he or she will face a lot of pressure from the broader Democratic Party to soften his or her health care stands. In fact, Warren is already doing so, putting out a plan last week that essentially would put off a full push to put all Americans under Medicare for All until her third year in office.”

Wealth/corporate power

“If the more progressive wings of the Democratic Party have lost ground on health care, I think they might be winning the intra-party debate over how Democrats should approach the wealthy and corporations….

We don’t have a lot of polling on say, whether voters want their candidates to attend big-dollar fundraisers. But a number of polls, like the Marist one above, suggest the wealth tax is fairly popular. And the broader concept that the wealthy have too much power is even more popular — basically unifying Democrats and even getting some Republican support. And politically it’s hard to really defend the wealthy. No candidate wants to say, “If I am president, I guarantee my big donors will have special access to me.”

So in terms of taking on wealthy individuals and big companies, the center-left is generally moving toward the left’s positions (at least publicly).”

Maybe Democrats aren’t so dumb after all!

Political Strategy Notes

In “You can forget about the predicted political backlash against Democrats for impeachment,” at CNN Politics, Julian Zelitzer writes that “one thing seems certain: The predicted political backlash over impeachment that Democrats were frightened about will not be taking place. Republicans won’t have an easy time employing the standard partisan witch hunt argument…The case that House Democrats are making to the public about how Trump and his inner circle abused presidential power, skewed foreign policy for personal gain and then tried to hide and obstruct the investigation that followed the revelations is becoming overwhelming. The President himself keeps helping Democrats build their case through his tweets and public statements…Democrats will be able to vote in favor of articles of impeachment with a rock-solid case to support their decision and a clear picture for the public about why the party feels the need to take these steps.”

If you are wondering “Why Deval Patrick Is Making A Late Bid For The Democratic Nomination,” Perry Bacon, Jr. has some answers at FiveThirtyEight: “…I think the real opening for Patrick is essentially to replace Buttigieg as the candidate for voters who want a charismatic, optimistic, left-but-not-that-left candidate. Patrick, I think, is betting that there’s a Goldilocks opportunity for him — “Buttigieg but older,” or “Biden but younger” — a candidate who is viewed as safe on both policy and electability grounds by Democratic establishment types and voters who just want a somewhat generic Democrat who they are confident will win the general election…On paper, Patrick seems fairly similar to Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — charismatic, black, left-but-not-that-left. But he has two potential advantages over them. First, Patrick has a last-mover advantage — he’s seen how the other candidates have run and can begin his candidacy by taking advantage of their perceived weaknesses. As a new candidate, voters might also give him a fresh look in a way that perhaps the two senators haven’t been able to get…Patrick can now enter the race knowing that he is aiming to win Democrats who self-identify as “moderate” and “somewhat liberal,” basically conceding the most liberal voters to Warren and Sanders.”

From Dylan Scott’s “Elizabeth Warren’s new Medicare-for-all plan starts out with a public option” at Vox: “In her new health care agenda for the first 100 days of her presidency, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) makes a tacit concession: The health care plan Democrats are most likely to pass in the near term is a robust public option…Warren rolled out a laundry list of health care executive actions on Friday that she said she plans to take in her first few months as president, making her the first Democratic candidate to offer such a robust administrative playbook…She also laid out her plan to get to Medicare-for-all, beginning with passing a bill at the start of her presidency that would create a new government health plan that would cover children and people with lower incomes for free, while allowing others to join the plan if they choose. It’s a particularly expansive version of a public option…Only later, in her third year in the White House, does Warren say she would pursue Medicare-for-all legislation that would actually prohibit private health insurance, as would be required for the single-payer program that she says she, like Bernie Sanders, wants.”

Brad Woodhouse explains why “Why Democrats are winning on health care” at The Hill: “The elections last week confirmed what we know to be true — health care is the number one issue for voters. Just as health care propelled House Democrats to win the majority in 2018, it once again delivered for Democrats in 2019 and is poised to be the issue that helps Democrats win elections in 2020…We are roughly a year from the 2020 elections and there’s every indication that health care will remain at the very top of voters concerns. Between now and then there will be a likely decision in the Trump-Republican lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which, if successful, would strip coverage from 20 million Americans and protections from 135 million more with pre-existing conditions. Democrats should be reminding voters of that fact every day…Looking ahead to next year, the argument for Democrats to keep winning on health care is a simple and effective one: focus on costs, focus on expanding access and contrast Democrats’ positive vision with that of Republican’s repeated and ongoing efforts to sabotage American health care.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes, “Perhaps the best that Democrats can do is persuade voters who already disapprove of Trump to fully back his removal. In the most recent Quinnipiac national survey, Trump’s supporters remained a brick wall on impeachment: Among voters who say they approve of his overall job performance, 99 percent oppose impeachment. Just 8 percent of those voters said he was acting to advance his personal, rather than the national, interest in his dealings with Ukraine…But voters otherwise skeptical of Trump aren’t as unified in their views about removing him. In the same poll, 94 percent of voters who disapprove of Trump’s performance say he was pursuing his own interests in Ukraine. A considerably smaller share of those voters, 81 percent, said they believe he should be impeached and removed. Similarly, just 79 percent of those who said he was pursuing his personal interests now support his removal. With the hearings, Democrats may have a chance to close the gap between those who express a negative opinion about Trump and support his removal, and those who think similarly but don’t want him removed.”

“The gap between those groups is especially pronounced within two key blocs in the modern Democratic coalition: college-educated whites and young people,” Brownstein continues. “While 60 percent of college-educated whites said Trump was acting in his own interest in Ukraine, and 58 percent disapprove of his job performance, just 47 percent backed his removal. The gap was even more pronounced among young adults ages 18 to 34. Sixty-seven percent thought Trump was pursuing his own interests in Ukraine, and 61 percent disapprove of his job performance. But, again, only 47 percent supported his removal. With other groups important to Democrats, including seniors and African Americans, there was a smaller gap between negative attitudes toward Trump and positive feelings toward his removal.”

In his New Republic article, “The Vigilante President,” Alexander Hurst warns “As impeachment and the 2020 election loom, Trump’s hard-core supporters are poised to unleash a wave of violence against their enemies.” Hurst echoes a concern shared by other progressive commentators. Indeed, from what we know of Trump’s bullying and penchant for threats, it’s hard to imagine him gracefully accepting a repudiation at the polls. There is every reason to believe that he will try to incite intimidation and violence. Hurst writes that, “Trump has made the prospect of violence more palpable. Since Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into the president’s attempts to strong-arm Ukraine’s government into targeting Joe Biden, Trump has labeled the House of Representative’s constitutionally enumerated actions “a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of the United States of America!” He has said that a successful impeachment would “cause a Civil War.” He has called for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading the impeachment proceedings, to be arrested for treason, while reminiscing about the death penalty punishment that crime had routinely carried. During an October rally in Pittsburgh, he mock-pleaded with his supporters, “Make sure you don’t hurt them, please. Thank you.” There will likely be some violence if Democrats win the presidency by a close margin. But there is no evidence that a significant number of Trump supporters are ready to risk their futures and indeed their lives by committing serious violence on a national scale. It would nonetheless be wise for Democrats to have a plan for addressing outbreaks of violence.

The Atlantic has a primer on “The Electoral College’s Racist Origins” by Wilfred Codrington III, a fellow at Brennan Center for Justice of NYU School of Law, which progressives may want to keep handy for the day when Dems have the power to abolish it. Among Codrington’s insights: “…The nation’s oldest structural racial entitlement program is one of its most consequential: the Electoral College. Commentators today tend to downplay the extent to which race and slavery contributed to the Framers’ creation of the Electoral College, in effect whitewashing history: Of the considerations that factored into the Framers’ calculus, race and slavery were perhaps the foremost…The populations in the North and South were approximately equal, but roughly one-third of those living in the South were held in bondage. Because of its considerable, nonvoting slave population, that region would have less clout under a popular-vote system. The ultimate solution was an indirect method of choosing the president, one that could leverage the three-fifths compromise, the Faustian bargain they’d already made to determine how congressional seats would be apportioned. With about 93 percent of the country’s slaves toiling in just five southern states, that region was the undoubted beneficiary of the compromise, increasing the size of the South’s congressional delegation by 42 percent. When the time came to agree on a system for choosing the president, it was all too easy for the delegates to resort to the three-fifths compromise as the foundation. The peculiar system that emerged was the Electoral College.” Even today, Codrington notes,  “The current system has a distinct, adverse impact on black voters, diluting their political power. Because the concentration of black people is highest in the South, their preferred presidential candidate is virtually assured to lose their home states’ electoral votes. Despite black voting patterns to the contrary, five of the six states whose populations are 25 percent or more black have been reliably red in recent presidential elections.”

It appears that former Vice President Joe Biden may have written off the youth vote. As Owen Daugherty reports at The Hill, “Biden defended his reasoning to not legalize marijuana on a federal level if elected president, saying there is not “enough evidence” as to “whether or not it is a gateway drug.”…“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Biden said, according to Business Insider. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”…Biden, as he has throughout his time on the campaign trail, said he supports medical marijuana and insisted possession of the substance “should not be a crime.”…But he also said Saturday that he thinks the decision to legalize marijuana should be left up to individual states.” If Biden loses the Democratic nomination by a close margin, his ‘gateway drug’ rationale will likely provide fodder for post-mortems attributing his defeat to being “out-of-touch.”

A Quarter Century Later, Prop 187 Still a Warning to Republicans

An anniversary creeped up on me that I decided to mark at New York:

In November of 1994, California voters approved Proposition 187, a Republican-backed ballot measure restricting rights and benefits available to undocumented immigrants. Originally sponsored by GOP assemblyman Richard Mountjoy, the initiative was quickly adopted by GOP governor (and former U.S. senator) Pete Wilson, who was running for reelection. Prop 187 passed by a comfortable 59/41 margin, and Wilson, who had been running well behind Democrat Kathleen Brown (sister of once and future governor Jerry Brown) in early polls, won by an equally comfortable 55/41 margin. It was arguably the high tide of Republican strength in California.

But it was also the beginning of the end of GOP hegemony in California as well, as Libby Denkmann recalls at LAist:

“It was the fall of 1994. On TV, popping up between episodes of Murphy Brown and The X-Files, ads for Governor Pete Wilson’s reelection showed grainy video of people running into the U.S. from Mexico.

“’They keep coming,’ a narrator intoned. ‘Two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won’t stop them at the border, yet requires us to pay billions to take care of them …’

“[W]ith 25 years’ worth of hindsight, many argue the short-term ballot victories came at a massive long-term cost for the GOP.

“Prop 187 awakened the political power of Latinos in the Golden state …

“Pete Wilson is remembered by some as the Republican governor who launched a thousand California Democrats’ careers.”

The initiative was never really implemented:

“Several anti-Prop 187 groups challenged the measure with lawsuits immediately, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. On Nov. 16, U.S. District Court Judge W. Mathew Byrne issued a temporary restraining order against the initiative’s implementation.

“Altogether, five lawsuits would be filed challenging the measure. On Dec. 14, 1994, U.S. District Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer issued a preliminary injunction, blocking implementation on a majority of the measure’s provisions.”

When Democrat Gray Davis succeeded Wilson in 1999, the state stopped appealing adverse judicial rulings against Prop 187, and it became a dead letter — except for the fact that it positioned the Republican Party as hostile to immigrants in a state rapidly being reshaped by immigration.

Veteran Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton suggests that Prop 187 was just one of the factors in the decline and fall of the Golden State GOP, but it was a very important one:

“Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who has been highly critical of the GOP for several years, notes that when the Cold War ended, the aerospace industry collapsed in California. The manufacturing base also deteriorated. That sent Republican middle-class engineers and blue-collar workers fleeing to other states looking for jobs.

“Meanwhile, he says, the burgeoning tech industry attracted many left-leaning ‘progressives’ into California.

“’All three of them’ — 187, loss of middle-class jobs and the tech explosion — ‘happened at the same time,’ Madrid says. ‘Any one of them would have upset the Republican Party.'”

You could say the same thing, of course, about the national Republican Party that has bent the knee to the demagogic leadership of Donald J. Trump. One of its most notable features is an updated version of the anti-immigrant revolt first exemplified by Prop 187. But you could argue that the MAGA movement generally reflects a refusal to adjust to irreversible demographic, cultural, and economic trends (Ron Brownstein calls the Trump base the Coalition of Restoration as opposed to the anti-Trump Coalition of Transformation). Like the 1994 Republican campaign in California, it worked temporarily. But it’s not a good prescription for long-term success:

“Dan Schnur, who was Wilson’s spokesman in 1994 and is now a political communications professor at USC and UC Berkeley, says: ‘What killed the Republican Party in California wasn’t Prop. 187. It was their refusal to adjust. California changed. And California Republicans refused to change with it.'”

They’re still trying to dig out of the rubble.


Teixeira: Paging Elizabeth Warren – Yet More Evidence That Medicare for All Is a Loser

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

Paging Elizabeth Warren: Yet More Evidence That Medicare for All Is a Loser

Reminding folks of earlier poll data:

The latest CBS News poll finds that a 66-30 majority would like to see a Medicare-type health insurance plan available to all Americans. But among that two-thirds who want to see Medicare availability for all, it’s 2:1 against having all private insurance replaced by the Medicare-type plan. That leaves the hardcore Medicare for All/the hell with private insurance crowd down to a little over 20 percent.

Typical result; there’s lots more. Medicare for All is a loser with the general voting public.

And now we have additional evidence from Alan Abramowitz’ analysis of 2018 election results. The very short summary:

“A regression analysis comparing the performance of 2018 Democratic House candidates shows that those who supported Medicare for All performed worse than those who did not, even when controlling for other factors.”

He concludes with these words of wisdom:

“It is possible that the estimated effect of Medicare for All was a byproduct of other differences between supporters and non-supporters. For example, supporters might have taken more liberal positions on a variety of other issues as well as Medicare for All. Even if that is the case, however, these findings are not encouraging to supporters of Medicare for All. They indicate that candidates in competitive races who take positions to the left of the median voter could get punished at the polls. Democratic presidential candidates would do well to take heed of these results, particularly as the eventual nominee determines what he or she wishes to emphasize in the general election.”

Table 1: Support for Medicare for All among Democratic House candidates by district partisanship

Notes: District Partisanship based on 2016 presidential vote margin. A handful of districts were not included because there either was no Democratic nominee or the Democratic nominee had not yet been determined at time of survey release.

Source: Survey of Democratic House candidates by National Nurses United and data compiled by author.

Political Strategy Notes

At Mother Jones, David Corn has a perceptive take on why “The Democrats’ Impeachment Strategy Is Simple—and Risky.” As Corn writes, “Less is more. ..That’s the mantra for the House Democrats, as they take their impeachment inquiry into a new phase: public hearings. For weeks, the House committees leading this effort—the intelligence, foreign affairs, and oversight committees—have narrowly focused on one matter: the Trump-Ukraine scandal and the tale of Donald Trump apparently abusing the office of the president to obtain political dirt that could influence the 2020 election. Sure, there are a lot of other issues that Democrats have previously raised as possible grounds for impeachment—Trump allegedly obstructing justice (per the Robert Mueller report), Trump regularly violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump separating children from their parents at the border, and more—but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team determined that their best bet was to zero in on one episode of wrongdoing and leave the rest alone. “It’s the KISS strategy,” one senior House Democratic staffer says. “Keep it simple, stupid.” And as one House Democrat puts it, the goal is a “medium-sized impeachment.” Nothing too elaborate, nothing too hard to follow. After the somewhat complicated Trump-Russia scandal fizzled politically, Pelosi and her crew want to base impeachment on a straightforward and comprehensible narrative. Avoid tangential plots and the need for timelines, flowcharts, and complex explanations. Don’t get hung up on the past and the 2016 election. Skip all the Russia stuff—and don’t mention Mueller ever again. Trump tried to extort a foreign government to screw with the upcoming election—and that’s impeachable enough…a medium-sized impeachment—one that ducks the totality of Trump’s misconduct—could provide the Republicans greater opportunity to fast-track a trial, quickly dismiss the entire mess, and offer what Trump will embrace as a clean bill of health. Still, if that’s the scenario that plays out, Trump will be stained—and perhaps so will some Republican senators who stick with him (depending on how the case is presented). Yet at this stage, there is no telling what the ramifications will be for the 2020 election. You can now game out it assorted ways—it helps Trump, it hurts Trump, it makes no difference. This election is likely to be shaken, rocked, and rolled by a variety of factors that no one, no matter how strong a sense of imagination they possess, can predict at this point.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. reflects on the differences between the Nixon and Trump impeachments and the strategic implications: “Gallup recently contrasted its surveys on removing Trump from office with comparable polls about Nixon in August 1974. Gallup found that while 92 percent of Republicans rejected removing Trump last month, only 59 percent felt that way about Nixon…Other polls have found somewhat more Republican support for driving Trump from office, and it’s also true that by August 1974, the country had gone through more than a year of highly public Watergate inquiries…Nonetheless, no one can deny how much partisan polarization has deepened since Nixon. Moreover, with the 2020 election looming, Democrats have much less time than their forebears did 45 years ago. And they are operating in an information environment that is not conducive to sober reflection…Democrats hope that piling up evidence offered almost entirely by people with no political axes to grind will shift public opinion against Trump. Republicans hope to obscure the facts by arguing that there is no such thing as objective truth anymore because anyone who says anything critical of Trump must have a partisan motive…”

Malachi Barrett reports at mlive.com that “A new Democratic advertising campaign launched to win back rural Midwest voters highlights a Michigan woman who expressed embarrassment for supporting President Donald Trump…American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research group and political action committee, dropped $3 million on commercials that began airing Wednesday, Nov. 13, in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The ads, which feature first-person testimonials from former Trump supporters, as part of a larger effort to flip white, working-class voters in battleground states…The organization is aiming to cut into Trump’s margins in traditionally Republican parts of Michigan, according to a strategy memo shared with MLive…Trump won the state by a slim margin of 0.3%, less than 11,000 votes. American Bridge believes rural white voters could make the difference in 2020…The group doesn’t expect to win a majority of those voters, just enough to tip the scales. A smaller margin of victory among white working-class voters was critical to Democrats’ historic wins in the 2018 Congressional elections, American Bridge said in a statement.”

Here’s one of the ads from the campaign:

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court decides that Trump can hide his tax returns from congressional scrutiny, it looks like they will publicly revealed. As Alex Johnson reports at nbcnews: “A federal appeals court on Wednesday let stand a ruling allowing lawmakers to subpoena President Donald Trump’s accountants for years of his financial records. A lawyer for the president promised to appeal to the Supreme Court…On an 8-3 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to grant a hearing before the full court, upholding a ruling last month by a three-judge panel of the court to allow the subpoena…The decision means that unless Trump appeals to the Supreme Court and wins, the House Oversight and Reform Committee can enforce its subpoena ordering the accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP, to hand over any documents in its possession related to accounts of the Trump Organization dating to January 2009.” There is no word as yet regarding how long it will take for congress to get the returns, pending high court review.

“Priorities USA is focusing on Latinos early,” reports Laura Barron-Lopez at Politico. “The Democratic super PAC is launching a sustained digital effort to woo Latinos in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, according to details of the plan provided to POLITICO…This time they are starting before 2020 and in a state that is at the heart of President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts. The digital ads which will run on Facebook and YouTube, cover pocketbook issues that Florida Latinos care about, according to the super PAC. The group didn’t specify the amount of money being spent on the Latino outreach program…The digital program includes digital banners, audio and pre-roll ads. The program also includes promoting news articles across Facebook focused on the impact of Trump’s policies on Latinos in Florida…Priorities USA said the ads will be about rising health care costs, wages, and Trump’s racist rhetoric and immigration policies.”

At The Daily Princetonian, Zachary Shevin conducts an interview with Andrew Gillum, former Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Florida. Gillum shares the following insights about how Democrats can win in Florida in 2020: “If you’re serious about winning this state, we’ve got to make the investment now. It boggles the mind how I hear and see and read people saying that Florida is now lost for Democrats. We got closer in the race for governor than any Democrat had in 24 years — 0.4 percent difference, 30,000 votes, at eight-and-a-half million votes cast. How in the world do you conclude that the biggest swing state in the country, the one state that could deny Donald Trump the presidency, is a state you give up on? That doesn’t make sense…The truth is, is that Florida does a terrible job on the Democratic side organizing outside of major election cycles. Republicans, however, organize inside and outside of election cycles…So what our strategy … is that, you know, we want to invest early on in registration, or reengagement. And when I say reengagement, I mean people who were registered to vote in ’16 and did not show up at the polls — right —  nationally, six million people. In Florida, there are four million eligible, registered people in my state who we got to go out there and get registered, not to mention reengage.”

As for pivotal issues, Gillum said, “Well, climate change is a real deal in Florida, so that’s going to be important for voters in my state. I also believe that health care is going to be important for voters that are sick. Whether you have it or not, in the state of Florida, and frankly around the country, when your premiums are increasing year over year over year, where Republicans are attempting to usher in the ability for insurance companies to yet again deny you coverage based off of preexisting conditions … We need a candidate who is going to speak to what can be done, if they were to be elected President, to help alleviate the unfair burden that saddles far too many families who are terrified of getting sick.”

From “Medicare for All a Vote Loser in 2018 U.S. House Elections” by Alan Abramowitz at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “An analysis of the impact of Medicare for All on the 2018 House elections indicates that Democratic challengers and open seat candidates in competitive districts who endorsed a version of Medicare for All similar to that proposed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren did significantly worse than those who did not. This negative effect, close to five points of margin after controlling for a variety of other factors, was clearly large enough to affect the outcomes of some House contests…It is possible that the estimated effect of Medicare for All was a byproduct of other differences between supporters and non-supporters. For example, supporters might have taken more liberal positions on a variety of other issues as well as Medicare for All. Even if that is the case, however, these findings are not encouraging to supporters of Medicare for All. They indicate that candidates in competitive races who take positions to the left of the median voter could get punished at the polls. Democratic presidential candidates would do well to take heed of these results, particularly as the eventual nominee determines what he or she wishes to emphasize in the general election.”