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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Rural Voter

The new book White Rural Rage employs a deeply misleading sensationalism to gain media attention. You should read The Rural Voter by Nicholas Jacobs and Daniel Shea instead.

Read the memo.

There is a sector of working class voters who can be persuaded to vote for Democrats in 2024 – but only if candidates understand how to win their support.

Read the memo.

The recently published book, Rust Belt Union Blues, by Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol represents a profoundly important contribution to the debate over Democratic strategy.

Read the Memo.

Democrats should stop calling themselves a “coalition.”

They don’t think like a coalition, they don’t act like a coalition and they sure as hell don’t try to assemble a majority like a coalition.

Read the memo.

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy The Fundamental but Generally Unacknowledged Cause of the Current Threat to America’s Democratic Institutions.

Read the Memo.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Read the memo.


The Daily Strategist

June 25, 2024

How Craig Scandal Hurts GOP

After decades of snarky Republican comments besmirching the masculinity of Democratic politicians, Dems can hardly be blamed for a little schadenfreude, watching Republicans squirm when members of their ranks are outed for various transgressions of their much-trumpeted “family values.”
On sober reflection, however, there is probably not much benefit for Dems in the latest GOP scandal involving Senator Craig. For one thing, if Craig resigns, Idaho has a Republican Governor. And, guilty or innocent, Senator Craig will likely be replaced by another Republican, as Stuart Rothenberg reports:

Even though it’s an open seat, Democrats still face a very difficult bid in Idaho. George W. Bush won the state with 67% in 2000 and 68% in 2004, behind only Wyoming and Utah. Idaho hasn’t gone Democratic for President since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 when Barry Goldwater (R) won only a handful of states. The last Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race was legendary Sen. Frank Church (D) in 1974. But he lost reelection six years later.

MSNBC’s national affairs writer Tom Curry speculates that the scandal may even help Republicans — “Perhaps he will opt for retirement and open the way for another Republican to run for his seat.” But Curry also notes:

…Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network said “the direct impact of this is that its going to mean a couple of million dollars early” for [Idaho] Democratic Senate contender Larry LaRocco.
…Among Democratic donors nationwide, Rosenberg said, “There’s an enormous amount of money waiting to be deployed. This race goes to the front of the pack in Democratic Senate fundraising.”

While it may seem unlikely that there will be a Senate seat pick-up for Dems in Idaho, the cumulative piling on of GOP disasters could give LaRocca an unexpected edge. Barring the revelation of conclusive proof that Craig was somehow “framed,” the incident will further tarnish the GOP’s image and brand it as the party of hypocritical intolerance. The more Craig protests, the longer the media speculation about his past continues, and he becomes the GOP’s unwelcome poster boy for “family values.”

A Typology of Politicization

The end of the Gonzales era at the Justice Department has spurred a lot of spin-off stories, most notably about the Bush administration’s systemic habit of politicizing the executive branch of the federal government, with the U.S. Attorney scandal being the most recent example. This is a phenomenon that has been apparent from the very beginning of the Bush presidency, driven from the very top (see Bruce Reed’s amusing and insightful 2004 Washington Monthly piece on the “hack/wonk” imbalance in the Bush White House).
But it’s useful to drill a bit deeper and sort out the various types of political appointments that Bush and his predecessors–and indeed, executives at the state and local government levels–often make, in order to assess their actual impact.
I’d suggest three categories: true hacks; commissars; and ideological transformers.
True hacks are political people (operatives, supporters, even donors, or sometimes their family members) who are given public employment as a reward or as an inter-campaign holding pen, regardless of their qualifications. This is old-fashioned “patronage” of the sort that various waves of civil service reforms dating from the nineteenth century were intended to rein in (leading most often to the creation of even more lavish political jobs at the top of the bureaucratic pyramid). It’s no secret that latter-day Republican administrations in Washington have infested federal agencies with a disproportionate number of true hacks, for a simple reason: if you don’t believe in various agencies’ missions, and don’t have the guts or political capital to abolish them, then it’s tempting to treat them as jobs programs for your friends and supporters.
The Bush administration’s most notable exercises in mass hack hirings were at FEMA during the Michael Brown era, and in Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority occupation regime in Baghdad. It’s probably not an accident that these agencies were responsible for two of the more spectacular failures of the entire Bush presidency.
Commissars are appointees placed in key agency positions to ensure that the political and ideological goals of the administration are pursued regardless of the agency’s formal mission. These are invariably the most hated of political appointees, since they are by definition disloyal to their ostensible superiors, and often spend most of their time keeping tabs on their colleagues. Monica Goodling, the Justice Department White House liaison who’s been in hot water over the U.S. Attorney Scandal, was the perfect example of the Commissar. (Going back a ways, Paul Craig Roberts, now a scourge of the neocons, was installed at Treasury in Ronald Reagan’s first term to ensure fidelity to the supply-side gospel, as noted in David Stockman’s definitive account of the era).
Ideological transformers are appointees, usually at a very high level, whose job is to actively subvert or fundamentally change an agency’s mission, without benefit of legal authorization. If you look at the high subcabinet posts for virtually every agency that regulates corporations in every Republican administration since Reagan’s election, you find a lot of such appointees. Bush 43 has famously made a habit of appointing people to regulatory commissions and science review boards who are foxes-in-the-henhouse, fighting their jobs instead of performing them.
(One of the most bizarre examples of this kind of appointee occurred in 1983, when Reagan named Alfred S. Regnery–of the right-wing publishing family–to head the Office of Juvenile Justice, responsible for anti-child-abuse programs. During Regnery’s confirmation hearings, someone spotted his car at the Capitol sporting a bumper sticker that read: “Have you slugged your kid today?”).
While the current administration hasn’t, to my knowledge, created any new categories of political appointees, there is one unique aspect to its deployment of them. Typically, political appointments soar at the beginning of a presidency, when there are tons of campaign staff to offload; high levels of paranoia about the loyalities of holdover officials; and all sorts of ambitious ideological goals to implement. They tend to tail off later on, though sometimes you see a fair number of true hacks who haven’t gotten rewarded yet get last-minute placeholder jobs. But as the U.S. Attorney scandal itself has illustrated, this administration seems to be engaging in wholesale politicization of the executive branch at an undiminished pace nearly seven years into its tenure. Perhaps the Bushies think the next president will be a Republican who will continue these practices. Or perhaps they simply want to do as much damage to the integrity and competence of the federal government as they possibly can, out of sheer spite and habitual recklessness.

Thompson Slouches Towards Launch

One well-subscribed scenario for the 2008 Republican presidential contest has been that Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson will compete early on for the True Conservative Candidate mantle and an opportunity to take on Rudy Giuliani in the February 5 mega-primary, with Mike Huckabee possibly emerging as a dark-horse alternative.
Romney continues to lead all polls in IA and NH, and Huckabee’s duly made his appearance on Stage Right with a second-place showing at the Iowa Republican Straw Poll earlier this month. But where’s Fred?
There’s a corrosive article by Jonathan Martin up today at the Washington insider publication The Politico suggesting that Thompson’s just too disorganized and dispirited to run a serious presidential campaign.
Back in early summer, one very smart conservative with presidential campaign experience told me that Thompson’s decision about seriously contesting Iowa–one way or another–might well be the biggest turning point in the entire GOP nominating process. Fred’s shown every indication of giving Iowa a pass, instead staking almost everything on breakthrough wins in SC and FL. And the decision might have made sense if he had used the time gained by the delayed announcement of candidacy to create a tight, efficient, well-funded campaign organization.
Instead, says Martin:

Thompson’s plunge into the race, which aides once indicated would happen around the Fourth of July and is now planned for after Labor Day, comes amid increasingly public hand-wringing by supporters over whether he has waited too long to capitalize on the surge of interest that accompanied reports of a potential candidacy more than five months ago.
Beyond the mere anxiety of the waiting game, he has suffered through a summer of stumbles. In a short period of time, Thompson has already been hit with the sort of problems that it takes most campaigns months longer — not to mention a full-blown candidacy — to accrue.

These problems include a whole host of staff departures; infrequent and lackluster candidate appearances; and most of all, money shortages. Even Thompson himself is sending out signals that fundraising isn’t going that well. And potential donors can’t be too happy about writing checks to pay for staff who are likely to hit the bricks after a few weeks of exposure to the proto-campaign.
Still, Fred’s running second in virtually every national poll of Republicans, illustrating the powerful unhappiness of GOPers with the field. And he’s neck and neck with Rudy in SC.
But he’d best get a move on. As an actor, Thompson surely understands that his assigned role in the campaign narrative is as the Establishment Conservative: a safe alternative to his flawed rivals who also has some general-election potential. And that’s why for Fred-Heads, reading articles like Martin’s in a beltway outlet like The Politico must feel like hearing (to borrow a phrase from a very different Thompson, the late Hunter) the Hound of the Baskervilles snuffling and howling on your front porch.

Mining the Latino Vote

Democratic night-owls who saw C-SPAN2’s broadcast late last night of the illuminating panel discussion “Perceptions of Latino Voters” woke up today bleary-eyed, but substantially better-informed about a pivotal demographic in American politics that is experiencing explosive growth. Unfortunately, C-SPAN is not yet making the program available on streaming video, but it can be purchased for $29.95 from C-SPAN. The panel featured several impressive Latino political luminaries, including Sergio Bendixen, Luis Fraga, Lindsay Daniels and Cesar Martinez.
Fortunately, however, some of the information that was discussed on the program is available in a report entitled “The Latino Electorate: Profile and Trends,” by Lindsay Daniels and Clarissa Martinez De Castro for the National Council of La Raza Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project (free download here). The report features interesting discussions that have a direct bearing on political strategy for those seeking Hispanic votes. A few facts from the study:

’04 Latino Voter Participation rate: 28% (compared to 65.8% for whites and 56.3% for African Americans. The gap shrinks significantly when “citizens of voting age” are compared.)
5 states with highest Latino voter registration as a percent of total in 2004: NM 33.7; TX 22.4; CA 17.3; AZ 14.3; FL 11.2
Hispanic share of ’06 electorate (according to exit polls) 8%
Latino self-identified registered Democrats outnumber their Republican counterparts 2-1.
3.6 million Hispanics were eligible to become citizens in 2004.
The Latino vote split 49-49 for the Democratic and Republican candidates for Florida Governor in ’06. (Bendixen attributes most of the improvement for Democrats to growth of Florida’s non-Cuban Latinos)

The even-better news for Democrats is that big spikes in Latino citizenship applications are being reported, and in last night’s C-SPAN2 panel, Bendixen said that Hispanic disenchantment with the GOP appears to be at an all-trime high. Clearly, Democrats have a strong interest in supporting easing of the “path to citizenship” for Latinos living in the U.S.

Red States Turning Purple?

Markos Moulitsas, who’s apparently on SurveyUSA‘s subscriber list, has posted nine SUSA state general election head-to-head polls testing Hillary Clnton against Giuliani, Thompson and Romney. Six are from states that Bush carried in 2004 (AL, KY, VA, OH, MO, and NM), three from the West Coast blue states (CA, OR, WA).
In the red states, HRC leads Guiliani everywhere but in MO and AL; leads Thompson in all but AL; and leads Romney in all six. The Kentucky numbers (HRC up 5 over Rudy; up 7 over Thompson; up 12 over Romney) are especially amazing, since Bush carried the state by 20%. Less surprisingly, she enjoys double-digit leads over all the GOPers in the three west coast states.
None of the polls are up on SUSA’s web site, and we also don’t know at this point if they tested other Democrats. But since a lot of the primary jostling has been about allegations that this or that candidate is stronger or weaker in red and purple states, it will be most interesting to see some real data on where they stand. The best guess now is that HRC’s strong showings reflect solid Democratic gains since 2004.

After Gonzales

The resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, coming after many months of typically stubborn Bush refusals to consider his removal, is getting puzzled reactions for its timing. But I’d say it’s par for the course for a president who has never minded flip-flopping so long as he didn’t have to admit it.
Reports that Bush is going to nominate Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as Gonzales’ replacement, however, raise a different kind of timing problem. This week will be full of reminisicences of Hurricaine Katrina, which occurred two years ago. As Douglas Brinkley’s book The Great Deluge recently reminded us, Chertoff played an especially ignominous role in the indifferent and incompetent federal response to that disaster. So I’d guess if Chertoff is the choice, the announcement will be delayed for a week or so.
But even if Bush goes with a less controversial nominee like Larry Thompson, the confirmation hearings will obviously be dominated by all the questions Gonzales has refused to answer about Justice Department political practices and the administration’s Divine Right approach to its legal prerogatives. Perhaps this will serve as a distraction to the impending Iraq debate, or perhaps it will simply intensify an atmosphere characterized by an out-of-control presidency that refuses accountability for any of its works and any of its agents. This is one moment where virtually all Democrats will agree on a full-throttle, no-holds-barred fight.

GOP Candidates’ Family Problems Not Likely to Sway Voters

Democrats who expect a boost from the messy personal lives of GOP presidential candidates should think again, according to Ariel Sabar’s recent article in the Christian Science Monitor. Sabar’s case is mostly historical — with the exception of Gary Hart in 1988, there are no cases of Presidential candidates being undone by their failures as parents or spouses. Sabar points out that American voters were forgiving of adultery even back in the Victorian era, when Grover Cleveland admitted siring a child out of wedlock. Sabar cites the examples of Bill Clinton’s marital problems and Reagan’s status as the only divorced President, both of whom remained highly popular, and notes further:

In Pew Research Center polls this year, only 9 percent of Americans said a divorce would make them less likely to vote for a presidential candidate. The percentage who said they had “old-fashioned values about family and marriage” dropped over the past two decades from 87 percent to 76 percent.
…in the Pew polls, the biggest turnoffs in a presidential candidate – atheism and a lack of political experience – had little to do with their divorce count or the number of phone calls they get each week from their children. The most appealing traits were military service and Christian faith.

Most of the current speculation on the topic centers around the fallout of Rudy Guiliani’s divorce from his second wife, and his continuing status as a GOP front-runner. While his troubled marital history can’t help him, Sabar makes a convincing case that it’s unlikely to be the pivotal issue that turns many voters against him.

Edwards Boxes Bill Clinton’s Shadow

While it doesn’t represent as big a challenge as that facing Republicans in dealing with the undead legacy of George W. Bush, Democratic presidential candidates, past and present, have had to take some position on the very different legacy of Bill Clinton.
The subject was obviously central, and occasionally debilitating, to Al Gore in 2000. In 2003, Howard Dean, then the Democratic front-runner, did a speech characterizing the Clinton administration as a semi-successful exercise in “damage control” in a right-tilting Washington.
Today the Democratic candidates’ take on the Clinton legacy is complicated by the fact that the 42d president’s wife is the front-runner for the nomination.
Part of Barack Obama’s stump speech suggests that all the controversies of the Clinton Years are part of a baby boomer generational conflict that the country should simply get beyond. But he doesn’t criticize The Big He in any particular way.
Two marginal candidates have been willing to voice the semi-submerged hostility in some Left/netroots precincts to Bill Clinton’s political and policy views. Mike Gravel comes right out and says he thinks Clinton sold out the party to corporations. And Dennis Kucinich frequently suggests that Clintonism has made it hard for voters to tell the difference between Ds and Rs (an assertion, BTW, that got him booed at the YearlyKos conference a few weeks ago).
But until yesterday, no major presidential candidate Went There. In Hanover, New Hampshire, John Edwards delivered a speech that combined Obama’s anti-nostalgia rap with a Gravel/Kucinich-style assault–implicitly at least–on Clintonism, past and present, as representing a corporate-dominated Washington culture of corruption and impure compromise.
To be sure, Edwards doesn’t mention either Clinton by name. But the speech is loaded with all sorts of dog-whistle code phrases for Left-activist criticisms of the Clinton administration’s politics and policies, denouncing “triangulation,” “legislative compromises,” “corporate Democrats,” “Democratic insiders,” “Washington establishment,” and a “corrupt system” that was prevelant long before Bush took office. And these phrases were generally deployed in a way that suggests moral equivalence between Bush and both Clintons (“We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.”).
Lest someone think he was talking about, say, Ben Nelson, Edwards broke code with one phrase: “The American people deserve to know that…the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent.” And the MSM certainly hasn’t had any problem understanding what Edwards was talking about.
IMHO, this should be troubling to any Democrats concerned about party unity and winning in 2008. It’s one thing for Edwards to argue that his (often-impressive) policy platform is more thoroughly progressive than HRC’s, or even that HRC is captive to a timid, incremental approach appropriate to the 1990s but not to today’s circumstances. And had Edwards couched his remarks with one-sentence acknowledgements of the vast differences between Clinton and Bush administration policies, and the even vaster differences between HRC’s approach to every major domestic issue (the sole subject of the speech) and that of every GOP candidate, nothing he said would be objectionable to unity-minded Democrats.
But he didn’t do that. And speaking as someone with no personal stake in anybody’s campaign, I hope he backs off this tack and at least gets into the habit of defending all Democrats against the sure-to-emerge Republican claim (especially if they nominate a candidate with no prior congressional service) that Bush’s sins were attributable to a Washington culture he shared with his predecessor and his predecessor’s wife. Edwards can emulate Obama and simply argue it’s time for a new politics and new policies. But if Hillary Clinton winds up being the Democratic nominee, it will not be helpful if her GOP opponent can quote John Edwards to the effect that she can’t possibly offer change.

Reaching the Searchers

Google is the biggest search engine on the planet. In the month of June, in the U.S. alone, its algorithms delivered answers to 3.9 billion questions. That’s fully half of the search traffic in the country.
AdWords is the service that enables Google to pay for all those searches. If you use Google, you’ve seen AdWords — it powers the text advertisements that show up on the right side of your search results.
AdWords works like this: the advertiser bids in an auction for search terms, creates a block of text to display with the search results, and then pays a cost per click every time someone follows the ad to their website. Even though Google only makes pennies on each ad, this service is the reason for the company’s billions in revenue. And because advertisers only pay when someone actually clicks on their text, hundreds of people can see the ad, and it won’t cost the buyer a thing.
This is all to say that Google and its ads are one of the most important media outlets on the web. You’d think that the presidential campaigns would recognize that, but for the most part, you’d be wrong.

Wikipedia and Self-Interest

Aside from relative merits of Wikipedia as a source of information, the recent development of Wikipedia Scanner—a program that tracks the IP of addresses of computers where edits to the site originate—raises new questions about information management for campaigns and elected officials in a cycle awash in information.
The ability to easily identify who is making changes to Wikipedia has made all kinds of news—with little interesting analysis. On Capitol Hill, Congressional Quarterly says the thousands of edits made on House computers mean staffers have “too much time on their hands.” For Tennessee Congressman David Davis’ press secretary, editing his boss’ profile on Wikipedia led to a House Ethics Committee inquiry, punishment in the form of classes in “appropriate conduct”, and one really embarrassing AP story.
So, does this mean staffers should leave Wikipedia alone? No. They can’t—if only because the site is too well-known and widely-used to let errors and unfair comments stand.