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The Daily Strategist

July 28, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Dan Balz's "If voter turnout is key, why is it so low?" rounds up the reasons and possible cures for low voter participation in mid term elections.

Brendan Nyhan has a good post at The Upshot on the folly of the 'Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency."

Long-term unemployment is plummeting.
Falling-LTU.jpg

The GOP appears ready to squander many millions of taxpayer dollars on a doomed impeachment effort ---even though 65 percent of voters think it is a bad idea, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released Friday.

How many millions would the Republicans spend? One clue is that they spent more than $40 million taxpayer dollars on Ken Starr's impeachment ploy, and Republican leaders are even less anchored to prudent management of taxpayer dollars today.

From The Hill, Mike Lillis quotes DCCC chair Steve Israel on Democratic strategy to use the House's August break to underscore who is really responsible for "the do-nothing congress": "August will be about our action versus their inaction," Israel said..."We'll be talking about how they have stalled on everything, and we have a specific series of initiatives to jumpstart the middle class. That is going to be August."

Tim Devaney writes, also at The Hill, that "Business groups alarmed by rise of 'micro-unions' in workplace."

Some disturbing stats from Robert Reich's "The rise of the non-working rich" at The Baltimore Sun: "In 1979, the richest 1 percent of households accounted for 17 percent of business income. By 2007, they were getting 43 percent. They were also taking in 75 percent of capital gains. Today, with the stock market significantly higher than where it was before the crash, the top is raking even more from their investments...The six Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined (up from 30 percent in 2007)."

So why aren't voters more ticked off about inequality? Eduardo Porter mulls over some possible answers at The Upshot. "Researchers at the University of Hannover in Germany propose a simpler reason: Voters don't demand more redistribution because they don't grasp how deep inequality is...Evidently, nobody has a clue: In every one of the 26 nations, most of them in the developed world, for which they collected data, people believe that the income gap is smaller than it really is. And using perceived rather than actual inequality, the median voter theory works much better: Where people believe inequality is worse, governments tend to redistribute more...Unsurprisingly, Americans suffer from a pretty big perception gap. They think an American in the middle of the income distribution makes only 4 percent less than the national average, according to Ms. Engelhardt and Mr. Wagener's research. In truth, the American in the middle makes 16 percent less."


July 25, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



From David Lauter's L.A. Times post, "Democratic strategists prescribe populism to cure party ills": "Stanley Greenberg, who has advocated populist economic arguments since before his stint as Bill Clinton's White House polling chief, made a similar argument this week in releasing a new survey of voters in 12 Senate battleground states. The poll showed that some voter groups that are key to Democratic chances are significantly "underperforming" relative to 2012, Greenberg said. That's bad news for Democrats. But the survey, which tested the impact of different political arguments on voter intentions, indicated that a "populist economic narrative" could motivate those voters, even in states that traditionally lean Republican. The subjects Greenberg tested included raising the minimum wage, stronger laws to guarantee equal pay for women, closing corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans."

Democrat Paul Davis leads by 8 points in KSN News poll in bid to take KS governorship away from Republican Sam Brownback.

At latinpost.com Nicole Rojas reports that "Latino Voter Turnout Likely Down in 2014, but Immigration Reform Will Still Affect Results." Rojas quotes Patrick Oakford of the Center for American Progress: "Colorado has one of the fastest growing Latino electorates in the United States, and a lot of the races right now in Colorado are really close. So the Latino vote will matter," Oakford said...Latinos will particularly be influential in Colorado 6th District, where incumbent Republican Congressman Mike Coffman will face off against Democrat Andrew Romanoff. "It's a really close election. Mike Coffman narrowly won his previous election, and Latinos are going to be crucial to that," Oakford said."

NYT's Jeremy W. Peters reports that anti-choicers are polishing their message with a new spin that sounds like it's from Frank Luntz's playbook.

At Pew Research Center Drew DeSilver addresses one of the most consequential of questions of electoral politics in the U.S., "Voter turnout always drops off for midterm elections, but why?" Lots of good numbers and analysis here, but could it be as simple as the reality that low-information voters are more likely to cast a ballot in presidential elections?

After reading Aaron Blake's "Americans hate Congress. They will totally teach it a lesson by not voting," noting that turnout was twice as high in percentage terms 50 years ago, I wondered if maybe many Americans are too time-challenged/exhausted to get informed about local elections.

At The National Journal Norm Ornstein posts on "The Existential Battle for the Soul of the GOP: What happens when extremism becomes mainstream?," and observes "The most interesting, and important, dynamic in American politics today is the existential struggle going on in the Republican Party between the establishment and the insurgents--or to be more accurate, between the hard-line bedrock conservatives (there are only trace elements of the old-line center-right bloc, much less moderates) and the radicals." Ornstein then presents a remarkable catalogue of radical right-wing crazy talk. This one should be a keeper/sharer. Ornstein concludes, "when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon."

NAACP set to make voter suppression the central focus of its annual convention, which begins Saturday.

At Bloomberg News Mike Dorning explains why "Obamacare Fight Carries Risks for Republicans in 2016 Swing States."


July 24, 2014

Curbing Enthusiasm About the "Enthusiasm Gap"



The "enthusiasm gap" as a predictor of electoral outcomes is one of the Pew Research Group's less valuable contributions to political analysis. So I took a few shots today at Washington Monthly at Pew's latest offerings on this subject:

Pew is back with its latest estimates of the GOP "enthusiasm gap" at this point in the midterm cycle. Here's the relatively good, or perhaps relatively not-so-bad, news for Democrats:
Today, the Republicans lead on a number of key engagement indicators, though in some cases by smaller margins than four years ago. Currently, 45% of registered voters who plan to support the Republican in their district say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in prior congressional elections; that compares with 37% of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate. The GOP had a 13-point enthusiasm advantage at this point in the midterm campaign four years ago (55% to 42%) and the Democrats held a 17-point advantage eight years ago (47% to 30%).

However, as many voters who support the Republican in their district say they are "absolutely certain" to vote this fall as said this in June 2010. Three-quarters of Republican voters (76%) say they are absolutely certain to vote, compared with 67% of Democratic voters. Four years ago, 77% of Republican voters and 64% of Democratic voters said they were absolutely certain to vote in the fall.

As regular readers have heard me say on many occasions, voter "enthusiasm" is an inherently questionable metric for likely voter turnout, insofar as "enthusiasm" beyond that needed to get one to the polls is wasted unless it's somehow communicated (e.g., via volunteer activity).

Another thing to keep in mind when trying to compare this midterm to the last two is that in 2006 and 2010 the party with the least "enthusiasm" was grossly over-extended, particularly in the House, thanks to prior victories in marginal territory. That's certainly not true of House Democrats today, though you can certainly make an argument Senate Democrats are over-extended in the South.

In any event, these type of surveys are really just a placeholder until late-cycle polls begin to get a grip on the universe of "likely voters."

So Republicans excited about the "enthusiasm gap" should curb their enthusiasm. And Democrats should focus on the hard, practical work of getting people to the polls who will vote for the Donkey Party, with or without high levels of "enthusiasm."


July 23, 2014

Georgia GOP's House Wingnut Replacement Plan



While most of the meager national attention paid to yesterday's Georgia primary runoffs was devoted to David Perdue's upset win over Jack Kingston for the U.S. Senate nomination, there were significant contests also held in the three heavily Republican districts vacated by House members running for the Senate. Remember back in May when people talked about ridding the House of hard-core wingnuts Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, who finished fourth and fifth (respectively) in the Senate primary? Well, their successors are in the same mold, as I noted at TPMCafe today:

Gingrey, never the sharpest tool in the congressional shed, will be replaced by state senator Barry Loudermilk, a more disciplined ideologue who crushed former congressman and 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr in a sign of how far right Barr's former district has drifted. Broun's successor as Republican nominee is a worthily wild candidate, Baptist minister and radio talk show host Jody Hice, famed for homophobic outbursts, and for billboards he put up in an earlier race that replaced the "O" in the president's name with a hammer-and-sickle.

Kingston will not be succeeded by the similarly colorful "constitutional conservative" in his own House district, Dr. Bob "Christian Conservative" Johnson, who lost the runoff yesterday (probably due to elevated turnout attributable to Kingston's campaign) to state legislator Buddy Carter despite support from the Club for Growth and Sarah Palin. But presumably Carter would follow Kingston's lead into movement-conservative repositioning if he were ever to run statewide. That's how Georgia Republicans roll.

Those who like to talk about the GOP "moderating" via "pragmatist" candidates crushing the dying Tea Party Movement need to start taking notice of what's happening below the headlines.


Game On in GA: Nunn in Good Position to Grab Senate Seat for Dems



Georgia Republicans have nominated David Perdue to hold Saxby Chambliss's senate seat for the GOP, and all indications are that it will be a close race against Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn. Some regard Perdue's win as an upset. The AJC's 'Political Insider' Jim Galloway has posted "5 reasons David Perdue shocked Georgia's political world to win GOP Senate nod," noting his money advantage, a possible anti-incumbency trend, his ground game edge and other factors. TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore explains at Talking Points Memo:"

In the end, with turnout barely reaching double-digits, down about 20 percent from the primary, geography appeared to have decided the contest. Perdue augmented his primary advantage in metro Atlanta and middle Georgia just enough to exceed Kingston's base in his coastal congressional district, with Kingston's Atlanta endorsers Handel and Gingrey not delivering enough votes to make up the difference.

With benefit of hindsight, Perdue is much in the genteel conservative mold of Isakson and Chambliss, with the polished, upper-class persona which state Republicans like to have in the U. S. Senate. Unlike Chambliss and Isakson, however, Perdue's sometimes graceless comments and dubious work history present problems, which Nunn's campaign will surely amplify. In their Atlanta Constitution report on Perdue's victory over Rep. Jack Kingston, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy observe:

Perdue now faces Nunn, who has amassed a considerable bankroll and is leading in some early polls. The strength and crossover appeal of the CEO of nonprofit Points of Light -- not to mention the scars of a bloody, nine-week GOP runoff -- have Democrats convinced they could break Republicans' hold on the state.

"There is a clear contrast in this race between Michelle Nunn, a leader who has spent the last 25 years leading volunteer organizations and lifting communities up, and David Perdue, someone who has spent his career enriching himself while oftentimes tearing companies and communities apart," Georgia Democratic Party Chairman DuBose Porter said in a statement. "Georgians want leaders who will fix the mess in Washington, not someone who puts personal profit ahead of regular people."

At the Washington Monthly, Kilgore describes Perdue's vulnerabilities:

...Against Perdue, every weapon used against Mitt Romney would be available, but with Nunn comparing her nonprofit experience with the Republican's money-grubbing and worker-screwing....Perdue's shown a tendency to commit gaffes. He gave a huge opening to Karen Handel in the primary by mocking her lack of higher education in casual remarks that were taped and later released. And in a newspaper interview later on, he mentioned "revenues" as part of the federal budget picture without ritualistically swearing he's die before ever accepting a tax increase, which was turned by his opponents into a dishonest but effective assertion that he'd called for a tax increase. Maybe the GOP would surround Perdue with gaffe-proofers if he won tonight, or insist he limit his entire campaign to the kind of soft-focus saturation ads that made him a contender to begin with.

As Kilgore notes of Perdue in the TPM post cited earlier, "In many respects, he's a deep-fried Mitt Romney with shallower pockets."

If Georgia's swing voters want real change, it's hard to see how they could favor a business-as-usual Republican over Nunn, who has a significant track record doing real humanitarian work. She is also well-regarded by Atlanta's African American community, and if Georgia's Black leaders campaign for her in the state's five largest cities (Atlanta, Columbus, Augusta, Macon and Savannah), she just might pull it off.


July 22, 2014

The Difference in the Senate Battleground? Economic Agenda for Working Women and Men



From Democracy Corps and Womenms Voices Womens Vote Action Fund:

A new poll of the 12 states where control of the Senate is being contested, fielded by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps and Women's Voice Women Vote Action Fund, shows that control of the Senate rests on a knife's edge, but that Democrats' have a powerful weapon in a policy agenda and narrative centered around the needs of working women and men. This survey, the first to poll in all 12 battleground states using a named ballot, reveals a 44-46 race in states that were won by Mitt Romney by 9 points just 2 years ago.

This survey also shows that Democrats have a way to improve their fortunes. They are currently being held back by a serious underperformance with unmarried women, who give them just an 11-point advantage on the vote. But engaging in a populist economic debate and attacks on Republicans with a strong emphasis on women's issues brings these critical voters back in the fold. It also may be the critical strategy in the open battleground Senate seats.

An "in your shoes" populist narrative about people's economic struggles, a policy agenda about finally helping mothers in the workplace and making sure those at the top are paying their fair share are issues, and, most important, a critique of Republicans for their polices that hurt seniors and women result in significant gains with unmarried women and other key electoral targets when matched against the Republican agenda and could prove the difference between majority or minority-leader Harry Reid come next January.

Key findings:


  • Unmarried women are, perhaps, the most important target for Democrats across this senate battleground.


  • The senate race in this battleground is tied and stable, with Democrats held back by underperformance among base RAE voters and unmarried women.


  • The Democratic incumbents in this battleground are much better liked than Obama and have significantly higher ratings than their Republican opponents. Their approval rating is 6 points above that for the president.


  • Two dynamics could shift this race: the president's approval in these states is just 37 percent, but stable. Meanwhile, the Republican Party, and particularly the Republicans in the House, is extremely unpopular. And regressions show that sentiment about House Republicans drives the SENATE vote more strongly than sentiment about Senate Republicans.


  • Democrats have a message that can move the vote. A populist economic narrative, including strong messaging around the women's economic agenda, moves the vote in Democrats' favor when matched against a Republican economic narrative with big gains in the open-seat race and the state that Obama won in 2012.


  • A critique of Republicans for their positions on seniors, women's economic issues and women's health are powerful and help move the vote among younger voters and women, as well as help move the vote in some of the most competitive races in the battleground.


  • And a debate about money in politics, particularly over a Constitutional Amendment to repeal Citizens United and a proposal to get big money out of our campaign system, results in further gains.


  • Exposing unmarried women to the economic message shifts their support for Senate Democrats from +11 to +20.


  • The economic agenda for working women and men includes a cluster of powerful policies on helping working mothers, equal pay and equal health insurance, and making sure that the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share.


  • Unmarried women are the pivotal group of the debate, as Democrats currently underperform even their 2010 margin significantly, but these voters move strongly in response to the debate.


  • Voters in this Republican-leaning district are split on the electoral impact of the Republican candidate supporting the Hobby Lobby decision, but the issue provides an opening for Democrats to make a powerful critique on Republicans on the issue of women's health. The issue is very powerful with unmarried women and other key blocs of women.

Read the full memo here.


Creamer: United Airlines' Outsourcing Jobs to Company That Pays Near-Poverty Wages Is Shameful



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo:

On October 1, United Airlines is planning to outsource 630 gate agent jobs at 12 airports to companies that pay near-poverty level wages. The airports affected include Salt Lake City; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pensacola, Florida; Detroit and Des Moines, Iowa.

As a result hundreds of employees who formerly made middle-class, living wages will be forced to transfer to other cities, take early retirement or seek employment elsewhere. Union employees who have been with the company for years -- many making a respectable $50,000-per-year salaries -- will be replaced by non-union employees who will be paid less than half -- between $9.50 and $12 per hour.

Nine-fifty an hour is a poverty-level wage if you are trying to support a family -- and $12 barely exceeds the poverty level. In fact at $12 a family of three makes so little that they are eligible for food stamps.

That, in effect, means that United and its subcontractor will be subsidized by American taxpayers for the food stamp payments made to their new low-wage workers.

United's move to convert middle-class jobs into near-poverty level jobs is shameful -- it's that simple.

And United's move to cut employee pay is emblematic of corporate America's systematic campaign to lower wages and destroy the American middle class in order to increase returns to Wall Street shareholders. It is exactly the kind of action that must come to a screeching halt if the middle class is to survive -- and our children are once again be able to look forward to prosperous secure lives.

Remember that United is not slashing wages in order to compete with firms that pay cheap foreign wages. You have to use American workers to run your gate operations in the United States.

United claims it is outsourcing these jobs to improve its financial performance. The company lost $609 million in the first quarter -- though last year United netted over $1 billion for shareholders overall. And over the last four quarters, earnings and revenue figures for the airline have been increasing quarter over quarter, which overall have left investors pleased.

On the other hand, United management is unhappy that its stock is not performing well relative to other airlines, so they have begun a systematic campaign to cut costs.

But whatever their financial needs, big companies cannot be allowed to solve them by exploiting the people who work for them by paying near-poverty wages.

In America we believe that you should have the opportunity to strike it rich. But you should not be allowed to do that by exploiting other people. You can make all the money you want so long as you pay your employees a living wage first.

Over the last 30 years per capita productivity and per capita gross domestic product have both increased by almost 80 percent. If the benefits of that increase were widely distributed, most average Americans would be 80 percent better off today than they were 30 years ago.

But instead average wages have stagnated -- and most normal people are struggling just to keep up. That's because almost all of that increase has been siphoned into the hands of the top 1 percent and out of the pockets of middle-class families.

United's outsourcing plan is one of the methods that has been used systematically by corporations and Wall Street banks to achieve this result.

And it is exactly the kind of action that we must stop if we are to prevent America from becoming a society composed of a tiny number of wealthy semi-aristocrats and a massive number of workers who barely make enough to make ends meet.

The victims of United's outsourcing will not just be the employees and their families. The move will contribute to the increased proportion of gross domestic product going to wealthiest Americans and the big Wall Street banks -- and lower the proportion going to everyday Americans.

That means that ordinary Americans will have less money to spend on the increasing number of goods and services that our increasingly productive economy produces. If this trend continues the inevitable results will be to lower demand for products and services, lower economic growth and fewer jobs.

It is ironic that one of the stations United is outsourcing is Detroit -- the very location where Henry Ford raised the wages of his employees because he understood that in the long run, it was better for business if his employees made enough to buy the cars the produce.

Today, short-term bottom lines seem to be the only benchmark that guides economic decision makers at America's largest corporations and Wall Street Banks.

United is not the only airline to resort to massive outsourcing of middle class jobs. According to the Wall Street Journal:

American said the vast majority of its domestic airports already are staffed by Envoy or other contractors. Delta said only 42 of its 230 domestic airports employ Delta employees exclusively. Thirty-three airports have Delta workers as customer-service agents and Delta Global Services workers employed as ramp workers. In 80 airports, Delta Global Services workers perform both functions. Another 75 airports use other outside vendors.

Delta Global Services is Delta's own non-union subsidiary.

The new round of outsourcing just builds upon United's past actions:

According to the Journal:

United said it employs its own workers at 47 of 227 domestic airports and 27 airports use a mix of United and vendor employees. Fully 153 airports use outside handlers. United has said that as many as 30 more airports may be targeted for outsourcing...

United's move to cut employee wages also reflects a broader view of big corporations and Wall Street banks, that the work of ordinary people should not be remunerated with middle-class salaries at all.

"It does make economic sense," Michael Boyd, a consultant at Boyd Group International, told the Wall Street Journal. "It's not a $40,000 job to load bags. Cleaning planes is not a $20-an-hour job."

Really? I suppose clipping coupons and hanging out at the country club is a multimillion-dollar job. Or making successful bets on Wall Street is a billion-dollar job.

Continue reading "Creamer: United Airlines' Outsourcing Jobs to Company That Pays Near-Poverty Wages Is Shameful" »


July 21, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Hats off for the top 'regular guy' actor James Garner -- also a lifelong Democrat who supported the campaigns of "Dennis Kucinich (Congress in 2002), Richard Gephardt, John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and various Democratic committees and groups," according to wikipedia. He was one of a handful of leading actors who supported MLK and sat in the third row during King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Below is a clip of Garner in one of his best performances as a reluctant warrior (he had two purple hearts in real life) in "The Americanization of Emily." But don't miss his hilarious portrayal of RJR Nabisco CEO Ross Johnson in "Barbarians at the Gates," either.

FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten probes the data to determine whether or not "Voters Are Rational in Midterm Elections."

Shout out to the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, along with supporting pollster and message-developer Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, for providing the leadership needed to make San Diego the largest American city to enact a minimum wage hike. Naturally, the fat cats are already scheming to undermine the victory.

David Montgomery has an interesting report at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader on the troubles of the South Dakota Democratic party, and what various players say is needed to repair the damage left by the upcoming retirement of Sen. Tim Johnson.

WaPo's Philip Rucker and Robert Costa have an informative round-up of the array of Democrats making moves to get into position for a 2016 run, including Amy Klobuchar, Martin O'Malley, Kristen Gillbrand, Andrew Cuomo and others.

But some, if not most of them, may really be running for Hillary Clinton's veep, suggests Chris Cillizza at The Fix.

National Journal's Emma Roller rolls out "Elizabeth Warren's 11 Commandments of Progressivism."

Re Wendy Davis's run for Texas Governor, Dan Balz reports, "Jeremy Bird, who set up Battleground Texas, said there is a path to victory for Davis: turning out registered minority voters who often stay home; registering unregistered minority voters; and attracting the support of suburban white women. She will do better among African Americans and Hispanics than the polls now show, he said."

Macer Hall of the Daily Express reports that British Labour party Leader Ed Milliband, who is being advised by David Axelrod and Stan Greenberg, is due in the U.S. this week, no doubt looking for guidance and support in his quest to restore a Labour majority. Apparently, the UK's electorate is as polarized as our own.


Will Black Voters Make History in November?



Amid new reports that African Americans had a higher turnout percentage than their white counterparts in the 2012 general election, Nate Cohn writes that "Black Southern Voters, Poised to Play a Historic Role" at NYT's the Upshot. Cohn explains:

Nearly five decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voters in the South are poised to play a pivotal role in this year's midterm elections. If Democrats win the South and hold the Senate, they will do so because of Southern black voters.

The timing -- 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 49 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act -- is not entirely coincidental. The trends increasing the clout of black voters reflect a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. White voters who came of age as loyal Democrats have largely died off, while the vast majority of black voters have been able to vote for their entire adult lives -- and many have developed the habit of doing so.

Cohn then drops this:

This year's closest contests include North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia. Black voters will most likely represent more than half of all Democratic voters in Louisiana and Georgia, and nearly half in North Carolina. Arkansas, another state with a large black population, is also among the competitive states.

Cohn notes also that African American voters upset the tea party's plans to replace Republican Sen. Thad Cochran with one of their own.

No pressure or anything, African American voters, but it's kind of up to you to save America from descent into tea party madness. The African American vote has been pivotal for Democrats for a long time. But this year ups the ante, as Cohn projects,

... There has not been a year since Reconstruction when a party has depended so completely on black voters, in so many Southern states, in such a close national contest...If Democrats win this November, black voters will probably represent a larger share of the winning party's supporters in important states than at any time since Reconstruction.

Such statistics also reflect the failure of too many white voters to vote in behalf of their own economic interests, and yes, the Democratic Party's frustrating inability to effectively counter the GOP's politics of distraction.

Getting down to cases, Cohn continues,

Nowhere has the remigration done more to improve Democratic chances than in Georgia, where Democrats have a chance to win an open Senate seat this November...The state's growing black population will give her [Michelle Nunn] a chance to win with less than one-third of the white vote, a tally that would have ensured defeat for Democrats just a few years ago.

And the same resources Dems put into turning out African American voters in GA to elect Nunn senator could also elect Jason Carter governor. That would be an historic Democratic twofer --- in a big way.


July 18, 2014

Beutler: Senate Takeover Would Bring GOP Problems



In his post "The 2014 Midterms Matter More Than You Think: Winning the Senate would finally put Republicans on the spot" at The New Republic, Brian Beutler explains why a GOP takeover of the upper house would burden their party with elevated expectations they won't be able to satisfy:

Republican hardliners in Congress and their enablers on the grassroots right will expect a Senate takeover to translate into the kinds of results they've been denied thus far. No more blinking in budget showdowns. No more balking at the prospect of confrontation.

But by the time those fights roll around, the presidential contest will be in full swing, and to the extent that mollifying the base would be politically damaging to the Republican party nationally, Congressional leaders will be more reluctant than they are now to do so. If GOP voters nominate a member of the Senate or House, that person will be linked to the Congressional party and all of its hijinx. If they nominate a governor or a former governor, that person will feel tremendous pressure to draw contrasts and divide the party ahead of the election. Those are both outcomes Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would like to avoid.

Beutler adds that Republicans would likely create confrontations with the White House over Obamacare, greenhouse gas regulations, nominee confirmations and impeachment, to name a few issues. While "Obama can counter each these impulses with a veto pen, the bully pulpit, and a determined minority party in Congress," the Republicans will be expected "to behave like a governing party. And to succeed they'd have to overcome the impulse to behave like the opposition." Not an easy challenge to meet when their tea party flank is screaming for blood at every turn.

Beutler concedes that "The flip side, of course, is that Republicans would gain agenda setting power." But the problem is that the GOP lacks a popular agenda. Sure, many Americans want tax cuts for themselves, but the Republicans would have a tough sell ahead in pitching the rest of their agenda, particularly weakening environmental and financial regulations, greasing the skids for corporate tax dodges, restricting reproductive rights of women and gutting the popular provisions of Obamacare.

In short, the GOP would finally have to own and better explain its agenda in the spotlight, instead of just bashing away at Democrats. It wouldn't be pretty.

All of that said, however, Democrats still have a huge stake in doing better than expected in November. Every senate seat held could make a tremendous difference, if not before 2016, then certainly afterwards.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



July 24: Curbing Enthusiasm About the "Enthusiasm Gap"

The "enthusiasm gap" as a predictor of electoral outcomes is one of the Pew Research Group's less valuable contributions to political analysis. So I took a few shots today at Washington Monthly at Pew's latest offerings on this subject:

Pew is back with its latest estimates of the GOP "enthusiasm gap" at this point in the midterm cycle. Here's the relatively good, or perhaps relatively not-so-bad, news for Democrats:
Today, the Republicans lead on a number of key engagement indicators, though in some cases by smaller margins than four years ago. Currently, 45% of registered voters who plan to support the Republican in their district say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in prior congressional elections; that compares with 37% of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate. The GOP had a 13-point enthusiasm advantage at this point in the midterm campaign four years ago (55% to 42%) and the Democrats held a 17-point advantage eight years ago (47% to 30%).

However, as many voters who support the Republican in their district say they are "absolutely certain" to vote this fall as said this in June 2010. Three-quarters of Republican voters (76%) say they are absolutely certain to vote, compared with 67% of Democratic voters. Four years ago, 77% of Republican voters and 64% of Democratic voters said they were absolutely certain to vote in the fall.

As regular readers have heard me say on many occasions, voter "enthusiasm" is an inherently questionable metric for likely voter turnout, insofar as "enthusiasm" beyond that needed to get one to the polls is wasted unless it's somehow communicated (e.g., via volunteer activity).

Another thing to keep in mind when trying to compare this midterm to the last two is that in 2006 and 2010 the party with the least "enthusiasm" was grossly over-extended, particularly in the House, thanks to prior victories in marginal territory. That's certainly not true of House Democrats today, though you can certainly make an argument Senate Democrats are over-extended in the South.

In any event, these type of surveys are really just a placeholder until late-cycle polls begin to get a grip on the universe of "likely voters."

So Republicans excited about the "enthusiasm gap" should curb their enthusiasm. And Democrats should focus on the hard, practical work of getting people to the polls who will vote for the Donkey Party, with or without high levels of "enthusiasm."


July 23: Georgia GOP's House Wingnut Replacement Plan

While most of the meager national attention paid to yesterday's Georgia primary runoffs was devoted to David Perdue's upset win over Jack Kingston for the U.S. Senate nomination, there were significant contests also held in the three heavily Republican districts vacated by House members running for the Senate. Remember back in May when people talked about ridding the House of hard-core wingnuts Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, who finished fourth and fifth (respectively) in the Senate primary? Well, their successors are in the same mold, as I noted at TPMCafe today:

Gingrey, never the sharpest tool in the congressional shed, will be replaced by state senator Barry Loudermilk, a more disciplined ideologue who crushed former congressman and 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr in a sign of how far right Barr's former district has drifted. Broun's successor as Republican nominee is a worthily wild candidate, Baptist minister and radio talk show host Jody Hice, famed for homophobic outbursts, and for billboards he put up in an earlier race that replaced the "O" in the president's name with a hammer-and-sickle.

Kingston will not be succeeded by the similarly colorful "constitutional conservative" in his own House district, Dr. Bob "Christian Conservative" Johnson, who lost the runoff yesterday (probably due to elevated turnout attributable to Kingston's campaign) to state legislator Buddy Carter despite support from the Club for Growth and Sarah Palin. But presumably Carter would follow Kingston's lead into movement-conservative repositioning if he were ever to run statewide. That's how Georgia Republicans roll.

Those who like to talk about the GOP "moderating" via "pragmatist" candidates crushing the dying Tea Party Movement need to start taking notice of what's happening below the headlines.


July 17: GOP Foreign Policy Rift Is For Real

We hear so many misleading reports about "civil war in the Republican Party" that it's sometimes hard to see the real thing when it appears. But while Republican divisions over domestic policy are usually over strategy and tactics rather than ideology, there are growing signs the battle over international affairs could be the most serious in a very long time. That was the subject of a column I did this week for TPMCafe. Here are some excerpts:

The sharp exchange last weekend between Rick Perry and Rand Paul over Iraq -- and more broadly, its relationship to the "Reagan legacy" in foreign policy -- may have seemed like mid-summer entertainment to many observers, or perhaps just a food fight between two men thinking about running against each other for president in 2016. But from a broader perspective, we may be witnessing the first really serious division in the Republican Party over international affairs since the 1950s....

Yes, there was scattered GOP opposition to LBJ's and Nixon's Vietnam policies and a brief conservative reaction against Nixon's and Ford's detente strategy with the Soviet Union. And throughout the period of consensus, there were small bands of paleoconservative and libertarian dissenters against Cold War and post-Cold War GOP orthodoxy. But unless you think Pat Buchanan's paleoconservative foreign policy views were a significant spur to his occasionally impressive 1992 and 1996 primary challenges (I don't), none of this dissent rose to the level of a real challenge to party leadership, and generally lay outside the mainstream of conservative opinion.

The current discussion of Iraq among Republicans should not obscure the fact that party elected officials dutifully lined up behind the Bush-Cheney drive for a "war of choice." Ninety-seven percent of House Republicans and 98 percent of Senate Republicans voted for the resolution to authorize the invasion. Republican backing for the later "surge" was nearly that unanimous, despite rapidly eroding public support for the war. Indeed, John McCain's identification with the "surge" was crucial in making him acceptable to rank-and-file conservatives in 2008.

The current argument being fronted by Perry and Paul is different in three important respects. First, public opinion among Republican voters over what to do right now in Iraq is notably divided, with (according to an ABC/Washington Post poll last month), 60 percent opposing the deployment of ground troops that the Cheneys are promoting and 38 percent opposing the air strikes Perry favors.

Second, this strain of GOP reluctance to embrace a fresh war in Iraq (supplemented by significant evidence of "buyer's remorse" over the 2003 invasion) is not, like past anti-interventionist sentiment on Libya or Syria, just a function of reflexive opposition to Obama, whose position on Iraq is not that different from a majority of Republican voters.

And third, GOP divisions on foreign policy are very likely to sharpen as we move into the 2016 cycle, partially for competitive reasons but also because the candidates will be forced to project their own vision of America's role in the world and not simply play off Obama's record. And while Paul and Perry have staked out early and sharply divergent turf (as has to a lesser extent Marco Rubio, another neocon favorite), it's possible other candidates will find intermediary positions--viz. Ted Cruz's claim that he stands "halfway between" John McCain and Rand Paul on foreign policy. It will be quite the contrast from the 2012 cycle, in which the entire field lined up in support of traditional conservative positions favoring higher defense spending and aggressive confrontation with Iran, Russia and China, with the lonely exception of Rand's father Ron.

I've observed elsewhere that while Rand Paul has a lot of support from GOP rank-and-file on Iraq, and has been clever in projecting his longstanding call for eliminating assistance to the Palestinian Authority into a pro-Israel measure, he's not quite into the party mainstream just yet. Republicans reflexively favor higher defense spending and lethal aggressiveness towards America's enemies, real and perceived. It's not clear Paul's amalgam of libertarian and Old Right perspectives on the world will pass muster with elites or with the GOP rank-and-file. But he'll certainly force long-buried issues out into the open.


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