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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Debate over country song is a right-wing trap for Democrats.

The debate over the song “Try That in a Small Town” is an excellent example of a particularly devious right-wing extremist trap – one that the GOP will use against Democrats again and again in 2024. Dems need to understand what the trap is designed to accomplish, how it works and how to defend against it.

Read the Memo.

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

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

Progressives need to apologize to Oliver Anthony

He understands working people better than they do, he can talk to them better than they can.

Read the Memo.

Why Don’t Working People Recognize and Appreciate Democratic Programs and Policies

The mythology of “Franklin Roosevelt’s Hundred Days” and the Modern Debate Over “Deliverism.”

Read the Memo.

Innovative Study Offers New Insight into White Working Class Voters.

Innovative Study Provides Startling New Insight About Working Class Voters
By Andrew Levison

Read the memo.

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

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

October 2, 2023

Will Huckabee’s Faux Populism Gain Traction?

David Sirota’s HuffPo article “Dems Beware: An Economic Populist Is Rising In the GOP” about the possible elevation of Mike Huckabee to the first tier of the GOP field merits a read from Dem oppo researchers. Whether or not Huckabee gets any more traction beyond his 2nd place finish in the Iowa straw poll, his particular brand of “populist” rhetoric with no policies behind it may catch on with Republicans, on the theory that you can indeed fool some of the people some of the time.
Sirota points out that Huckabee did sign legislation raising the minimum wage and limiting public smoking in Arkansas, both unpopular with the corporate crowd. Huckabee, arguably the cleverest purveyor of one-liners among all the presidential candidates has mastered the folksy delivery that works well with his bogus populist pitch. Sirota quotes some lines from Huckabee speeches Ralph Nader could agree with, but cautions:

I think a lot of Huckabee’s rhetoric is just that: Rhetoric. I say that because while he shows courage in actually talking about these issues that many other Republicans (and some Democrats) refuse to talk about, he supported many typical regressive Republican policies in Arkansas and on the campaign trail today he reverts back to failed right-wing ideologies when he talks about “solutions,” offering up proposals that would actually make things far worse. As just one of many examples, notice that the Atlantic reports that his Iowa operation is being fueled by a group whose single goal is replacing the mildly progressive income tax with one flat national sales tax – a proposal that Huckabee supports even though experts (including top Reagan administration economic officials) admit would result in a massive tax increase on the middle-class and a massive tax cut for those CEO rip-off artists Huckabee rails against.

In his “Huckabee Who?” post at the AFL-CIO Now Blog, Seth Michaels agrees with Sirota about Huckabee’s track record:

Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas is far from a good fit for working families, even though he signed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage and authorize ARKids First, a program that offers health benefits for low-income children…In fact as a presidential candidate, his primary domestic agenda item is a national sales tax that would hit poor and middle-income families the hardest, and he’s spoken favorably about privatized Social Security accounts.

At this point it may seem doubtful that Huckabee could derail Romney’s gilt-edged juggernaut. But Huckabee stands out in the GOP pack, and that’s just the sort of profile New Hampshire voters have often found appealing. Dems should not be caught unprepared by a GOP candidacy fueled by faux populism.

Electoral College Reform — The Right Way

Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times report “States Try to Alter How Presidents Are Elected” illuminates an interesting dilemma for Democrats. Stehhauer writes about the GOP-led effort to change California election law to to apportion the state’s electoral votes by Congressional district, instead of the existing winner-take-all system of allocating state electoral votes. Dems quite correctly see this as a thinly-veiled plot to take some of their California electoral votes, which would surely happen, should the proposal be enacted.
When a recent effort to do pretty much the same thing in North Carolina came close to passing, however, many Dems were encouraged. Why? because Dems would almost certainly pick up a few districts and therefore a few electoral votes in the tarheel state, enough to have put Al Gore in the White House in 2000, if apportionment of electoral votes by district had been in place at that time. (Chris Bowers wrestles with the N.C. reform proposal in his Open Left post here). According to Steinhauer, DNC Chair Howard Dean, on learning of the GOP’s California gambit, persuaded the N.C. Democratic leaders to table the measure until next session.
What’s wrong with apportioning of electoral votes by district? Steinhauer explains it this way:

Had the electoral votes been allocated by Congressional district nationwide in 2000, President Bush’s electoral margin of victory would have been just over 7 percent, or eight times his take that year, according to FairVote.

While it would have been nice to pick up a few electoral votes in N.C., it would have weakened Dems’ arguments against the same reform in CA.
Republicans can’t be credible in appealing for the apportionment of electoral votes by district as a “reform.” Last year, the California Assembly passed a bill to award all of the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.
The most promising way to get rid of the electoral college is the interstate compact approach, in which a group of states with a majority of electoral votes (270) each passes legislation committing all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. According to the National Popular Vote Bill website,

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states will win the Presidency. In April 2007, Maryland became the first state to enact the bill. So far, the bill has passed 11 legislative chambers. In 2007, the bill passed the Arkansas House, California Senate, Colorado Senate, and North Carolina Senate as well as both houses in Hawaii, Illinois, and Maryland. In 2006, the bill passed the Colorado Senate and both houses in California.

The NPV website has a nifty map showing the progress of the reform on a broader scale. Rob Richie and Ryan O’Donnell of Fairvote further explain the approach in their TomPaine.com post here.
The NPV campaign does seem to be gathering momentum. This may be our best shot at preventing a replay of the 2000 debacle.

Three New Voices

Beginning this week, TDS will be expanding its blogging corps to include three young thinkers and activists who will periodically provide fresh new content to The Daily Strategist. We are proud to welcome:
Austin Bonner: Austin has worked in communications on Capitol Hill and at a DC think tank, a congressional campaign, and, currently, a nonprofit that uses technology to connect low-income people around the world with the economic mainstream. She has also written for publications including the Austin American-Statesman, SPIN and TPMCafe.com. Austin is a graduate of the University of Texas and a proud Ann Richards Democrat.
Matt Compton: Matt Compton is an editor for the Democratic Leadership Council and Progressive Policy Institute. In 2006, he was appointed by Governor Mike Easley to serve on the North Carolina Progress Board. Compton worked for the North Carolina Democratic Party during the 2004 election as a member of the House Caucus campaign committee. He graduated with a degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Sam Drzymala: Sam is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, who currently works as an online organizer for a progressive nonprofit group. He is an avid student of politics and social science, as well as a dedicated campaigner and advocate. You are as likely to meet him canvassing for Democratic candidates as at a live blues or jazz show. In his free time, Sam enjoys reading only the nerdiest political science literature and playing kickball with his friends.
We’ll be adding additonal voices in the future, but all will continue to promote the TDS mission of Democratic unity and civil debate on the long-term issues affecting Democratic strategy.

Rove’s Legacy

The big political news this morning–announced, appropriately, via an exclusive interview with Paul Gigot on the Wall Street Journal editorial page–is that Karl Rove is leaving the White House at the end of this month.
There’s already some speculation that Rove is leaving to get out of the spotlight of congressional (and perhaps criminal justice system) scrutiny of the Bush administration’s many crimes and misdemeanors–or, to follow a very different theory, to join the presidential campaign of Fred Thompson, due to announce next month. We’ll know soon enough about that proposition. But it’s as good a time as any to assess the legacy of this strange, frightening, and ultimately defeated man.
Tne first place to stop in understanding Rove’s legacy is the masterful profile of Rove published in The New Yorker by Nicholas Lemann in August of 2003 (indeed, the title of today’s Gigot piece, “The Mark of Rove,” alludes to a term used by Lemann to denote acts of political skullduggery not directly attributable to Rove, but bearing his “mark”).
Lemann’s main thesis is that Rove’s M.O. was perfected in a series of campaigns in Texas (and I could add, in Alabama) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led to a Republican takeover of the state, top to bottom. From a strategic point of view, the “marks of Rove” were: (1) an abiding belief in ideological polarization, particularly on highly emotional issues, as the One True Way to win elections, not only by solidifying the conservative base but by forcing swing voters to pick sides on favorable terms; (2) a direct-mail specialist’s attention to electoral segmentation and what is now known as “micro-targeting;” (3) an insistence on the use of policy initiatives to attract, reward or punish specific constituencies; (4) an intense focus on the nexus between politics, policy and partisan funding sources; (5) a complete lack of inhibition about nasty, negative political tactics; and (6) a taste for secrecy and indirection.
It’s hard to identify any political or policy triumph or defeat during the Bush administration that is not essentially attributable to one of Rove’s characteristic traits. It’s true that Rove probably had little to do directly with the failed occupation of Iraq or the abandonment of New Orleans after Katrina. But on the other hand, rewarding Republican campaign contributors and activists with fat contracts and jobs in Iraq certainly bore some “mark of Rove,” as did the administration’s favoritism towards Republican-governed Mississippi and Alabama after Katrina.
In the end, all Rove’s designs ultimately backfired. Rovian polarization ultimately united the Democratic Party in intense opposition to Bush. Failed politically-driven policies, and the corruption borne of constituency- and funder-tending by the White House and Congress, ultimately drove independents into the arms of Democrats, And one of Rove’s prize swing-voter initiatives, immigration reform, blew up spectacularly, alienating the GOP’s conservative base and Latino voters as well.
It is sometimes forgotten that the peak era of Rove’s influence, the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, produced a no-margin-for-error win and narrow Republican majorities in Congress, despite the unexpected windfall to Rovian politics provided by 9/11. It’s seemed like a long way down for Bush and the GOP since then, but in truth, Bush’s popularity was never high except in a few crucial moments.
As an American citizen, I am personally happy that this man will soon no longer be on the public payroll. But for political analysts, it will be important to deconstruct the various theories of the “boy genius,” which seemed so darkly brilliant not that long ago, to identify the fatal arrogance and folly that was there all along.

Ford and Markos: Slugfest or Lovefest?

The much-anticipated face-off between DLC chairman Harold Ford, Jr. and DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas on Meet the Press happened this morning. And it wasn’t quite the slugfest most people expected. Ford nicely undercut the netroots-demonizing reputation of the DLC by repeatedly praising the importance of the netroots to recent Democratic successes, and pledging to attend next year’s Netroots Nation (nee YearlyKos) gathering. And Markos abandoned his usual DLC-is-dead line by treating Ford’s organization as representing a serious faction in the Democratic Party–and indeed, by agreeing to debate Ford in the first place. Both men made a lot of billing and cooing noises, and ended the session with a handshake.
Each of them did, on the other hand, try to land a low blow.
Ford ill-advisedly (if briefly) referenced allegedly anti-semitic diaries and/or comments at DailyKos, a red herring reflecting a misunderstanding of the site’s open operating method, and misrepresenting its main content. He should not have gone there.
And Markos sought to illustrate the DLC’s alleged Republic Lite nature by tying it to “DLC Chairman” John Breaux’s role as “the architect of the Bush tax cuts.” But (1) Breaux’s DLC chairmanship ended in 1993; (2) the DLC relentlessly and totally opposed Bush’s tax cuts (viz. here), and has argued for repeal of high-income tax cuts ever since; (3) Breaux was not the “architect” of the Bush plan, but simply a senator who unfortunately traded support for the final plan in exchange for concessions that increased the payoff to low-income Americans; and (4) the DLC’s comment on Breaux’s compromise product was to compare it to putting earrings on a warthog: “Sure, it looks better, but it’s still a warthog.” I don’t have any idea why Markos tried this particular tack, but it showed some very shoddy research.
There were a couple of classic “dialogue of the deaf” moments, as when Ford touted Jon Tester and Jim Webb as centrist Democrats who won in 2006, and an incredulous Markos–who has long viewed both candidates as living refutations of the DLC–spluttering a bit. (Tester did beat a primary opponent who was long identified with the DLC, but it was hardly a netroots/DLC referendum, and best I could tell, most DLC-types in VA supported Webb from the beginning).
Over at DailyKos, the general take, unsurprisingly, is that Markos destroyed Ford, mainly because of a short moment when Markos chided the Tennessean for criticizing Harry Reid on Fox News (not being a Fox News viewer, I can’t referee that one). And I’m sure DLCers will react just as positively to Ford’s performance.
In the end, most of the real arguments between Ford and Markos were scrambled in cross-talk, or were conducted in such “code” that most viewers probably had no idea what they were talking about. The residual impression was of two people arguing about who most desparately wants Democrats to win, and who is most open to the other’s point of view–and then that handshake.

Short Straws

Yesterday’s Iowa Republican Party Staw Poll is being generally billed as a win for Mitt Romney (who finished first), a potential breakthrough moment for Mike Huckabee (who finished second), death for Tommy Thompson (who finished sixth), a big missed opportunity for Sam Brownback (who finished third despite significantly outspending Huckabee) and pretty much a wash for everybody else, including non-attendees Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
But the other story line was a sharp drop in participation (from nearly 24,000 to just over 14,000) as compared to the last competitive Straw Poll in 1999. Giuliani’s spinners will undoubtedly try to claim that his supporters depressed turnout by staying home. But in truth, Iowa Republicans have been in a deep funk since their terrible November 2006 election night (when they lost two U.S. House seats, both chambers of the state legislature, and the governorship), with attendance notably sagging at most GOP events in the state. Add in the palpable unhappiness with the 2008 presidential field, and you’ve got a party that is in trouble in what has been one of the most competitive states in the country.

Fred’s Faith–and Obama’s

We all know that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has become an issue in the Republican presidential nominating contest, as has Sam Brownback’s Opus Dei-assisted conversion to Catholicism, and Rudy Giuliani’s tenuous links to Rome. But now there’s a fourth GOP candidate whose faith is in question: Fred Thompson.
It probably started with James Dobson’s infamous statement back in March about Thompson that he “didn’t think he was a Christian.” Focus on the Family later issued a weasily “clarification” suggesting that Dobson had actually meant he didn’t know one way or another about Fred’s faith.
Inquiring minds wanted to know, so (as explained in an illuminating article in The Christian Chronicle) it soon came out that Thompson was baptized in, and has occasionally been identified with, the Churches of Christ. But his second marriage, in 2002, was performed in a United Church of Christ service in Illinois.
As you may or may not know, the similar-sounding Churches of Christ and United Church of Christ are about as similar as a hound dog and a chili dog. The former is a very conservative but loosely organized quasi-denomination that split off from the mainline Disciples of Christ in the early twentieth century, mainly over opposition to the use of musical instruments in church. The latter, formed from the Congregationalist and certain German Reformed churches in the 1940s, is the most liberal of trinitarian American protestant denominations; the UCC happily ordains openly gay and lesbian clergy, and performs same-sex unions. (Indeed, its position casts an interesting light on active UCC member Barack Obama’s own position that denominations, not the state, should determine access to “marriage.”) Ironically, the denomination the UCC is closest to is the Disciples of Christ.
Having spilled a ridiculous number of words at NewDonkey.com back in October 2005 (sorry, link is not available but you can find it in the archives of that site, in case you’re interested) trying to explain Harriet Miers’ relationship to the Churches of Christ, I can tell you that the CofC’s intensely decentralized nature and hostility to creeds and theological speculation have made it difficult to divine its members’ views on much of anything other than biblical inerrancy and liturgical primitivism. Indeed, other conservative evangelicals have been known to complain the CofC’ers are laggards in the fight to ban abortion.
So where does Fred fit in? I dunno, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to have to start showing up at church somewhere. And he probably won’t be rubbing elbows with Barack Obama in the UCC.

Mobilization, Persuasion, and Partisan Contrast

[Note: the following is cross-posted from a diary at DailyKos] As someone who has devoted a big chunk of his professional life over the last few years trying to promote constructive dialogue between netrooters and New Democrat types (most recently here), I wasn’t exactly happy to see Markos use an out-of-context 2005 quote from me to exemplify the unbridgeable, eternal gap between the two perspectives on Democratic politics.
He invited me to post this diary to respond.
The quote, which appeared in a Ron Brownstein piece in The National Journal, was this:
“We are more of a coalition party than they are. If we put a gun to everybody’s head in the country and make them pick sides, we’re not likely to win.”
The context of the quote was a long conversation with Brownstein about how Democrats needed to deal with the Rovian “polarization” strategy. And all I was trying to say was that counter-polarization was an insufficent response for Democrats, given the enduring ideological tilt of the electorate, for many decades, towards the center-right. I did not say, imply or mean that Democrats needed to “move to the right” or “blur the differences between the two parties.” Au contraire. The whole point was that Democrats had to complement a mobilization strategy with a persuasion strategy designed to pull swing voters in our direction over time. “Standing up” to Bush and the GOP, and offering clear choices between the two parties, I thought then and think now, is essential, but the choices we offer have to be attractive to people who aren’t reflexively on our side.
As it happens, today, as opposed to 2005, we’d likely win the “gun to the head” test. But that’s not just because Democrats are suddenly “standing up to Bush;” it’s because his record, and his party’s complicity in that record, are abysmal, and the whole world knows it. The tangible consequences of Republican misgovernment are at least as important as the “noise” we make about it. That matters because Bush is going to leave office soon, and like it or not, if Democrats want to build an enduring progressive majority, we’ll have to seal the deal with millions of voters who will be vulnerable to Republican arguments that W., like Nixon before him, failed because of personal incompetence and imperial delusions rather than conservative ideology.
Ironically, a fair number of netroots folk seem to be buying into the same kind of triumphalism that New Democrats were sometimes guilty of during and just after the Clinton administration: we’ve found the keys to the kingdom about how Democrats can win elections now and forever, world without end. The netroots played a crucial role in the 2006 victory, just as the DLC undoubtedly played a crucial role in Clinton’s 1992 victory. But in both cases, Republican failures had as much to do with the outcome as Democratic successes, and the enduring challenge is how to not only moblize but expand the Democratic base, bringing back a natural Democratic majority that really expired way back in the 1960s.
There are a variety of sub-issues I could get into here, most notably the peculiar belief that Clintonian “triangulation” was the primary cause of the 1994 debacle, and of the stupid “change the subject” campaign strategies of congressional Democrats during the long struggle back to a majority.
But I’ll leave it here for now, resisting my old-guy tendencies to get into historical debates. If my perspective is truly the prime example of netroots/New Dem disagreements, then maybe we’re more united than you might think.

Edwards Ahead in Race for Union Endorsements

In the wake of the AFL-CIO’s decision not to endorse any Democratic presidential candidates before the primaries, Open Left‘s Chris Bowers takes a shot at predicting the breakdown of endorsements by individual unions.
Bowers sees Edwards with the strongest chances to win the endorsements of the Steelworkers, Firefighters, Carpenters, Transport Workers Union, Machinists, Boilermakers and UNITE-HERE. In the comments on Bowers’ article, ‘Peter from WI’ says Edwards is in position to get the the endorsements of two giant unions, the Teamsters and SEIU, as well, but he also believes that most national unions won’t endorse anyone before the primaries. Tasini at Daily Kos gives Edwards the inside track to win endorsements from the Laborers and UFCW. Bowers doesn’t say anything about the UAW specifically, but he says Edwards “also seems to be competitive among every other union in the country, with the exception of the American Federation of Teachers.” Edwards recruitment of former Rep. David Bonoir, a trusted supporter of the UAW, as his national campaign manager, however, may give Edwards the cred to get the UAW’s embrace.
The AFT endorsement will likely go to Clinton, according to Bowers, and he also gives her a chance to get the nod from the Firefighters, Teamsters and AFSCME (The New York Times reports AFSCME is “leaning” toward Clinton). Obama is “in the running” for endorsements from AFSCME, SEIU and the Teamsters.
Apparently none of the “second tier” candidates are given much of a chance to get major union endorsements, despite all of them having generally pro-labor records (with some significant disagreements about trade). Some state and local union affiliates free to make separate endorsements, however, may spread their support more broadly over the Democratic field.
Edwards, the son of two union organizers, has campaigned energetically for union support, as part of his strategy to win the votes of one of the largest swing constituencies, the white working class. (For more on this, see Fortune Magazine Washington bureau chief Nina Easton’s CNN article, “John Edwards: Union Man“). Although most workers are not union members, the unions provide money, muscle and credibility for their endorsees, and many unorganized workers take favorable note of the AFL-CIO endorsement in the general election.
Happily for all the Democratic candidates, whoever wins the Democratic nomination will get the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, and it is certain to be labor’s strongest effort ever.

The First Domino Falls

It’s been apparent for a good while that the Florida legislature’s decision earlier this year to move its 2008 primary date to January 29 would likely set off a domino-effect series of changes in the nominating calendar. Well, the first domino will fall today, according to The Washington Post, which is reporting that the South Carolina Republican Party will announce it has moved its primary to January 19.
Under New Hampshire state law, its Secretary of State is not only authorized but required to ensure that the Granite State’s primary is at least a week before any others. And Iowa state law requires that its caucuses be held at least eight days prior to the first primary.
Assuming NH wants to stick to its ancient tradition of voting on a Tuesday, the SC decision basically forces NH to move to January 8 at the latest. Count back eight days from that, and you have Iowa caucusing on December 31, 2007, which isn’t terribly likely. So the best guess is that Iowa would move to a date prior to Christmas. (On the other hand, as David Yepsen, Iowa’s top political reporter, notes today, there’s some legal precedent for the parties being able to preempt state law and hold the caucuses less than eight days prior to NH, avoiding the December scenario. But the decision will be fraught with controversy, and could also produce different caucus dates for the two parties.)
What does all this mean in terms of the 2008 presidential election? It will almost certainly create the longest general election campaign in living memory (unless, as a few observers think, the heavy concentration of early primaries creates the first contested convention since 1976). Beyond that, the consequences really depend on whether you believe the current calendar magnifies or reduces the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire. Either way, expect the calendar craziness to lead to a lot of talk about comprehensively reforming the nominating process prior to 2012.