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The Daily Strategist

May 3, 2016

Democratic Brand Needs Focus



NPR political blogger Danielle Kurtzleben has a post up which will make Democrats wince and and Republicans cringe: "Democrats' Brand Is Bad, But Republicans' Is Way Worse."

Kurtzleben explains that the Democratic Party's "net favorability rating has fallen off steeply in the last few years, and it's been negative or near-negative since 2010, according to multiple polls." However,

The Republican Party is viewed more negatively than at any time in a generation. According to the Pew Research Center, the GOP currently has its lowest net-favorability rating since 1992, the farthest back that Pew has data on this question. (Net favorability is the share who see the party favorably minus the share who see it unfavorably.)

It's not just Pew. CBS News in March also found the GOP's unfavorability rating at 66 percent -- the highest since the first time they asked that question, in 1984. Right now in that poll, the GOP is at negative-38 net favorability compared to Democrats' negative-2.

NBC News has Republicans at negative-24 (27 percent positive, 51 percent negative) to Democrats' negative-3 (38-41). (The GOP score is only a few points off from the party's all-time low of 22-53 in the poll.)

Gallup likewise finds a similar pattern -- plummeting GOP favorability which, while not at record lows, is currently mostly sticking below the Democrats' numbers.

Kurtzleblen adds that the low favorability/approval figures cling to the candidates, as well. It's difficult to determine whether the candidates or their parties are the collateral damage here, but it is an inextricable relationship.

On a positive note, one key difference is that Democrats are having a healthy internal debate, which holds the potential for improving the 'brand.' Sen. Sanders has elevated key issues, including Wall. St. reform, restoring unions and reducing the role of money in politics, as Democratic policy priorities.

Despite the GOP's more severe image meltdown, Democratic Party leaders are understandably frustrated by their inability to sustain positive favorability and approval ratings for the party -- even though they are the only party which has provided majority support for reforms that actually serve the needs of middle-class and low-income families.

Might one reason be that Democrats don't really toot their own horn? Dems are pretty good at blasting the Republicans and their candidates in social media forums, but less effective on television, where the GOP seems to have more impact.

Having an entire network helps the Republicans, no doubt. As more and more Americans cut the cord, however, isn't there an opportunity for Dems to create a heavilly-publicized streaming network that tells their story and explains, not just the historical achievements, but also the more recent accomplishments of Democratic leadership? These include private sector job-creation, deficit management, expansion of health care coverage, environmental protection and other needed reforms.

Dems might also benefit from a national ad campaign, not promoting candidates directly, but rolling out the legislative accomplishments -- and proposals -- of the party. Republicans, with their roots sunk deep in the advertising industry, have long understood that you have to assertively sell the product, regardless of its quality. It's time for Dems to get that clue.

Dems don't have to worry much about an improvement in the GOP's bickering image, at least in 2016. But Dems do need a robust messaging program to improve their image, if the victories of 2016 are not rendered inconsequential by the next midterm elections.


May 2, 2016

Political Strategy Notes



If you are concerned about voter suppression in the upcomming election, consider joining "Video the Vote," a national coalition of citizens who are committed to using their cell phone video camera widget to make sure abuses of voting rights they witness are documented and posted on the internet. Here's a video introduction to the project (and more print background on the project right here):

At The Plum Line Greg Sargent reveals Trump's "glass jaw" -- his tendency to conflate the voters he is talking to in the primaries with those in the general election.

Wow: "In losing disastrously, Trump probably would create down-ballot carnage sufficient to end even Republican control of the House. Ticket splitting is becoming rare in polarized America: In 2012, only 5.7 percent of voters supported a presidential candidate and a congressional candidate of opposite parties...Were he to be nominated, conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states -- condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation's civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible.' -- from influential conservative columnist George F. Will.

Alex Roarty's "EMILY's List Strategy Questioned After Big Losses" at Roll Call probes the reasons why EMILY's List-endorsed candidates lost 4 of 5 key races. Although Kate McGinty won the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in PA, List endorsee Donna Edwards lost the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in MD, as did two other congressional candidates for MD 4 and 8, and a candidate for the PA-8 congressional district. Roarty discusses speculation that Emily's List contributions were provided too early in the Edwards-Van Hollen race, and perhaps there was too much spending on other safely-Democratic seats.

Salon.com Dave Masciotra explains why "We must shame dumb Trump fans: The white working class are not victims: It's not smug liberalism to point out Trump backers are low-educated. What's dangerous is to sympathize with them." Wiser, I would say, to save the ridicule for candidates, instead of voters.

Andrew Ross Sorkin's "President Obama Weighs His Economic Legacy" in The New York Times Magazine provides plenty of statistics, talking points and soundbites Democratic candidates and campaigns will find useful, not only in defending the Obama Administration's record, but also for promoting progressive values as cost-effective in the real world. Here's one of many revealing quotes and insights from the President during his interview with the author: "If you ask the average person on the streets, 'Have deficits gone down or up under Obama?' probably 70 percent would say they've gone up," Obama said, with some justifiable exasperation -- the deficit has in fact declined (by roughly three-quarters) since he took office, and polls do show that a large majority of Americans believe the opposite."

At The Daily Beast, Will Marshall notes "A new PPI poll provides fresh evidence that the pragmatic center's demise has been greatly exaggerated. Swing voters still exist, and they likely will play a decisive role in determining which party wins control of the White House and Senate in November...The PPI survey examined four presidential battleground states that also feature competitive Senate and House races this year: Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Nevada. We found that just over 20 percent of electorate in these swing states is made up of voters who lend their support equally to Democrats and Republicans, do not strongly identify with either party, and did not vote for the same party in the last two elections." Marshall argues further that a more centrist mix of economic policies is the key to winning these voters, even if it means alienating voters with more strongly-held populist beliefs.

Kyle Kondik presents a stunning chart in his Crystal Ball post, "Incumbency Still Powerful in Primaries," indicating that, since 1946, only 1.6 percent of House of Reps members lost their battles for renomination.

Paul Waldman has a perceptive American Prospect post on "The real Stakes in the Veeptakes," noting that "...the choice of a running mate matters very little for the final tally on Election Day, but can be critical to the administration's success." Waldman makes a strong case that Biden has been one of the most impressive Vice Presidents in U.S. history, and he offers some insights about the current names being bandied about as possible Democratic running mates. He also shares some funny quotes about the Vice Presidency, including "Daniel Webster would turn down the office by saying, "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead."


April 29, 2016

"Tea Party of the Left" a Bad Idea



As someone semi-obsessed with the need to find ways to mobilize Democratic-leaning voters--especially young people--to participate in midterm elections, I was initially enthused about an initiative launched by former Bernie Sanders organizers focused on 2018. But then I saw the details, and reacted appropriately at New York:

[T]he closer you get to the Sandernistas' Brand New Congress initiative -- the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections -- the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It's not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a "brand-new Congress" in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees. Or so says key organizer Zack Exley:
"We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment," Exley said. "Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn't defeat incumbents."

Republicans, too?

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is "the key to it being a successful idea" and there's enough overlap between Sanders' platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC's goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump's current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

"This will allow Republicans to say 'Yeah, I'm a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don't believe all Muslims are terrorists," he said. "It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology."

Yes, that was what I feared: The discredited notion that lefties and the tea party can make common cause in something other than hating on the Clintons and Barack Obama is back with a vengeance. And worse yet, Donald Trump -- Donald Trump -- is being touted as an example of a Republican capable of progressive impulses because he shares the old right-wing mercantilist hostility to free trade and has enough money to scorn lobbyists. Does your average Trump supporter really "believe climate change is real" and disbelieve that "all Muslims are terrorists"? Do Obamacare-hating tea-partiers secretly favor single-payer health care? Do the people in tricorn hats who favor elimination of labor unions deep down want a national $15-an-hour minimum wage? And do the very activists who brought the Citizens United case and think it's central to the preservation of the First Amendment actually want to overturn it?

It's this last delusion that's the most remarkable. If there is any one belief held most vociferously by tea-party activists, it's that anything vaguely approaching campaign-finance reform is a socialist, perhaps even a satanic, conspiracy. These are the people who don't think donors to their political activities should be disclosed because Lois Lerner will use that information to launch income-tax audits and persecute Christians. The tea folk are much closer to the Koch brothers in their basic attitudes toward politics than they are to conventional Republicans.

But there persists a sort of "tea envy" in progressive circles. Here's Salon staff writer Sean Illing in a piece celebrating Brand New Congress:

Real change in this country will require a sustained national mobilization, what I've called a counter-Tea Party movement. While their agenda was nihilistic and obstructionist, the Tea Party was a massive success by any measure. And they succeeded because they systematically altered the Congressional landscape.

Well, you could say that, or you could say the tea party's excesses cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2012, and produced an environment that's made Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the GOP's only two options for this year's presidential nomination. Indeed, you can probably thank the tea party for the likelihood of a very good Democratic general election this November.

But that will again produce excellent conditions for another Republican-dominated midterm in 2018. It sure would make sense for progressives to focus on how to minimize the damage in the next midterm and begin to change adverse long-term turnout patterns. Expending time, money, and energy on scouring the earth looking for Republican primary candidates willing to run on a democratic-socialist agenda will not be helpful.



How Sanders Message Can Help Dems Win



Yamiche Alcindor's New York Times article, "Bernie Sanders, Shifting Tone, Takes On Democratic Party" signals a new stage in the Vermont senator's campaign. No one should expect Sanders to fold his campaign anytime soon, and he already has more than enough delegates secured to be a force at the Democratic convention. But his comments at his speech yesterday in Springfield, Oregon do indicate that the Democratic presidential campaign -- and the Democratic party's efforts to win down-ballot -- are entering a delicate, potentially transformative phase. As Alcindor explains:

Senator Bernie Sanders spent Thursday afternoon laying out in more detail than usual his views for shaping the Democratic Party's agenda and the need for elected officials to focus on achieving progressive political goals.

The change in his campaign tone -- focusing less on attacking Hillary Clinton -- comes as the Vermont senator lays off staff members after several tough losses on Tuesday. Though Mr. Sanders remains adamant that he wants to win the Democratic presidential nomination, his shift hints that the senator is looking past the nominating fight and toward a future role in shaping the party.

Sanders made one of the best statements thus far about what the central message of the Democratic Party ought to be, if it is to win not just the white house, but majorities in the Senate, House and make gains in the state legislatures. As Alcindor quotes Sanders:

"The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests?" Mr. Sanders asked the crowd. "Do we stand with the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor? Or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies? Now our job is not just to revitalize the Democratic Party, not only to open the doors to young people and working people -- our job is to revitalize American democracy."

That's about the clearest short statement of what the Democratic Party must decide that has been made so far. If Democratic leaders can rise to Sanders' challenge, and unify to make that the party's clear brand, this could be a pivot towards a new era of progressive change.

Sanders' comments included a sobering assessment of why Democrats have booted numerous electoral opportunities in recent years:

"The problem we are having now is not, in my view, that the Republicans are winning elections," Mr. Sanders said. "The problem is that the Democrats are losing elections. In November of 2014, the midterm elections, 63 percent of the American people did not vote; 80 percent of young people and low-income people did not vote. And I think the reason for that is the Democratic Party up to now has not been clear about which side they are on on the major issues facing this country."

This is why the Repubicans are so nervous about Sanders, even though he is not the front-runner. It's the fact that Sanders understands the importance of a strong, simply-stated message identifying the Democratic Party as the best hope for America's middle-class, as well as low-income families. Yesterday, Donald Trump even tweeted encouragement for Sanders to run as an Independent, even though Sanders has made it crystal clear that's not going to happen.

It can be argued that Hillary Clinton has done well-enough as it is, having received over 3 million more votes than has Sanders (and 2 million more than Trump) in the primaries thus far. But Clinton is winning more because of her impressive record of experience and her effective campaign strategy and management than her message, which remains a little too ambivalent for many progressive Democrats. The worst mistake would be for her to miss the opportunity Sanders his presenting: to keep doing what she has been doing to win, but also refocus the Democratic message in a direction that is more appealing to progressives and working-class voters.

Sanders is really talking about the swing voters she is in danger of leaving on the table, and who can make a difference between a narrow victory and a Democratic landslide. These voters may well stay home, or worse, vote for Trump, if down-ballot Dems, as well as Clinton, fail to leverage the unifying message Sanders presents.

Win or lose, Sanders will be bringing over 1500 delegates ot the Democratic convention, more than enough to earn serious respect for his views about refocusing the Democratic message. Everything depends on how well he and Clinton respect and treat each other in the months ahead, and the quality of their working relationship to secure the broadest possible Democratic victory on November 8th.


April 28, 2016

Political Strategy Notes



At the Washington Post Abby Phillip and Sean Sullivan report on Democatic preparations for November in three key swing states: "In Virginia, Ohio and Florida -- the three biggest swing states in the last election -- the Clinton campaign is teaming up with state and national Democratic organizations to build voter files, organize thousands of volunteers, register tens of thousands of voters and raise the funds necessary to compete against a Republican opponent." Philip and Sullivan provide encouraging breakdowns of Democratic preparations in the three states, but note that Republicans are also registering voters in impressive numbers, due to interest in their primaries.

Alice Ollstein warns at ThinkProgress that "North Carolina's 'Monster' Voter Suppression Law Could Swing The Election."

William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P., is a founder of the "Moral Monday" movement has a New York Times op-ed on voter suppression in the south, and why it is critical that congress pass The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the protections ripped away by the Supreme Court.

Ed Kilgore's "Cruz Names Fiorina As Veep Pick -- Smooth Move or Last Gasp?" provides an insightful take on the latest GOP gambit to prevent Trump from winning the GOP presidential nomination. At this stage, says Kilgore, it's a long shot to stop Trump in the pivotal states of IN and CA, made even less likely by Fiorina's unimpressive track record in both politics and business. Cruz supporters nonetheless hope that the Fiorina ploy will persuade enough voters that she brings added value to the potential GOP alternative ticket, as an attack dog targeting Clinton.

At The Fix Amber Phillips erxplains why "Why Tuesday was a very good night for Senate Democrats," spotlighting the victories of Katie McGinty and Chris Van Hollen in their respective PA and MD senate primaries, as Democratic establishment-favored candidates.

Not a shocker, but the new Pew Research Center study indicates that, since 1994, "something changed. College-educated Americans became increasingly persuaded to agree with the typically left-leaning position on a whole range of questions, and the percentage of "consistently liberal" college grads skyrocketed from 5 percent to 24 percent in two decades, according to Pew's study...Over that same period of time, those with lower education levels also moved to the left -- but by only by a little bit. Of Americans who only finished high school, the percentage who hold "consistently liberal" beliefs only rose from 1 percent to 5 percent...Highly educated adults -- particularly those who have attended graduate school -- are far more likely than those with less education to take predominantly liberal positions across a range of political values," Pew's report says. "And these differences have increased over the past two decades.," reports Jeff Stein at Vox.

Alan I. Abramowitz, Senior Columnist, Sabato's Crystal Ball unveils the latest findings from his Democratic Forecasting Model, which has thus far proved more accurate overall than the polls.

At the San Francisco Chronicle John Wildermuth and Joe Garofoli explore a question that will interest politically-engaged Dems, "Will young Sanders backers stay and steer Democrats leftward?" The authors quote Ben Wikler, Washington, D.C., director of the progressive hub MoveOn, which endorsed Sanders: "If Secretary (Hillary) Clinton is the nominee, then she has to make it crystal clear that the message of the resurgent progressive grassroots has been taken to heart...And if the Democratic convention reflects the values and boldness of the ideas that we've seen in the primary -- and not a tack back to the center -- then I think (Sanders') people will be on board." Further, write Wildemuth and Garofoli, "That surge of young, enthusiastic and progressive support for a longtime independent congressman and senator who wasn't even registered as a Democrat until last year should be a loud wake-up call for the party, said Simon Rosenberg, founder of NDN, a center-left think tank..."This presents Democrats with an enormous opportunity to make their case" to many young people who are more identified with Sanders and his progressive ideals than with any particular party, said Rosenberg, a veteran of former President Bill Clinton's campaigns. "The question of whether these folks become Democrats is up to the Democratic Party itself."

Paul Krugman explains why Trump is the last guy voters should want to answer "The 8 A.M. Call" telling the President that "financial markets will melt down as soon as they open."


April 27, 2016

When Hillary Meets Bernie in Philadelphia



Like most political analysts, I've felt for a good while--certainly since her big win in New York last week--that Hillary Clinton had the Democratic presidential race well in hand, and is increasingly the prohibitive favorite. From a Democratic Party unity point of view, I've been looking ahead at how the two candidates and their followers reconcile in Philadelphia. Most analyses of this challenge approach it from Sanders' perspective, discussing which demands he ought to make for endorsing his vanquisher. I wrote an analysis from Clinton's point of view for New York yesterday, before the five-state northeastern primaries results came in (they confirmed Clinton's standing by adding to her pledged delegate lead).

[T]he strategic question for Clinton of how to achieve a "soft landing" in Philadelphia with a united party and Sanders and his devotees fully onboard will [soon] grow sharper.

There is little question that Sanders himself is preparing to make his enthusiastic support at the convention and in a general-election campaign conditional on substantive and political concessions; he's been telegraphing his determination to place his stamp on the party as a consolation prize for some time now. At Monday night's MSNBC "town hall" event, he took the clever tack of projecting his disgruntlement onto his supporters rather than personalizing it:

If we end up losing, and I hope we do not, and Secretary Clinton wins, it is incumbent upon her to tell millions of people who right now do not believe in establishment politics or establishment economics, who have serious misgivings about a candidate who has received millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests, she has got to go out to you and to millions of other people and say, you know, "I think the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and take on the private insurance companies and the greed of the drug companies and pass a Medicare for all."

As noted by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, Clinton's response to Sanders's apparent lack of interest in achieving party unity without major concessions was basically to shame him via the example she set in 2008:

"Then-Senator Obama and I ran a really hard race; it was so much closer than the race right now between me and Senator Sanders," Clinton said, adding that this time around she is far ahead of Sanders in the delegate count and total number of votes. "We got to the end in June, and I did not put down conditions. I didn't say, 'You know what, if Senator Obama does X, Y and Z, maybe I'll support him. I said, 'I am supporting Senator Obama because no matter what our differences might be, they pale in comparison to the differences between us and the Republicans.' That's what I did."

At the time, Clinton said, 40 percent of her supporters said they wouldn't support Obama.

The trouble with this analogy is that her campaign had few, if any, substantive arguments with Obama's, and no particular demands for procedural changes in the nominating process either. The implied sexism many Clinton supporters saw in the eagerness of elites to get behind Obama was a grievance that could, and could only, be mitigated by tokens of respect for the vanquished candidate and for women, not by platform planks or process reforms.

The crusade for a "revolution" in the Democratic Party represented by the Sanders campaign is another thing entirely, and thus the kind of unconditional surrender she offered to Obama was never really on the table. If Clinton wants a peaceful convention, some concessions are probably in order. Selecting which to make and which to reject will be a delicate process. Where doubling down on shared positions to make them more of a priority is an option -- as it is on, say, overturning Citizens United or pointed rhetoric on income equality -- Clinton should have an easy time "caving" to Sanders's demands. Even on some more detailed policy positions, hedging is entirely possible, as shown by Clinton's recent willingness to concede that a carbon tax is one possible way to deal with greenhouse-gas emissions, or her contention that breaking up big banks may now be justified under Dodd-Frank. On the "political reform" front, it wouldn't be that hard for Clinton & Co. to punt the idea of universally open primaries to some post-convention commission, which is generally how Democrats have always dealt with such matters.

But if Sanders and his supporters decide to go to the mats on "Medicare for all," it will be more difficult for Clinton to surrender inconspicuously, especially if the planted axiom is that opposition to a single-payer system can only be explained by whorish submission to private health insurance and pharmaceutical interests, as Sanders generally insists.

The ultimate calculation Team Hillary must make is how much Sandernista unhappiness it is safe to accept, and within that calculation, whether the prime objective is a happy convention or minimizing possible defections in November.

Since presidential politics is ultimately about winning the general election, Clinton could probably afford to honk off Bernie and his devotees to some extent in Philadelphia if she is reasonably certain they'll turn out for the Democratic ticket in November. And that's where she and other Establishment Democrats have really caught a break from Republicans this year.

Experts may differ on the exact value of negative versus positive mobilization strategies, but there is not much question that either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz -- at present the overwhelming favorites for the GOP nomination -- would offer a virtual laboratory experiment in maximizing negative mobilization for Democrats. There are few if any Bernie Sanders policy priorities on which Cruz does not hold a near-opposite position. That's also true to a considerable extent of Trump, with the added ingredient of an implied extra-constitutional threat to civil liberties that makes the word fascism spring easily to the lips of precisely the kind of people most likely to feel the Bern. To put it another way, if Hillary Clinton has to make policy concessions to convince liberal and "very liberal" voters to turn out to smite Cruz or Trump, then the general election may already be lost.

So in the final analysis, convention optics may be the central consideration for the Clinton campaign in figuring out exactly how much kowtowing to Sanders and his fans is in order, recognizing that too many concessions could convey a weakness that would offset the gains from early party unity. If Clinton makes it clear early and often that there are limits to the gestures she is willing to make, then Sanders's leverage over her will accordingly be diminished.

All Clinton has to do in the meantime is actually win the nomination without bruising any more feelings than is necessary.


Marshall: Overlooked Poll Merits Attention



In his Talking Points Memo post, "The Most Important Poll You Didn't See," Josh Marshall calls attention to an interesting poll that has been underreported by the usual suspects. Marshall reports that."the Harvard Institute of Politics just released a detailed poll on the opinions of millennial voters, particularly voters between 18 and 29 years of age. The results are a very, very big deal."

First, millennials map, in a more exaggerated form, the views of the general public on the top candidates. They have very favorable impressions of Bernie Sanders (54/31); fairly unfavorable impressions of Hillary Clinton (37/53) and extremely unfavorable impressions of Donald Trump (17/74.)

So what about Clinton's problem with millennials? Well, in a race against Donald Trump it basically disappears. Among 18 to 29 year olds, Clinton beats Trump 61% to 25% to 14% undecided/"don't know".. .

That's great news. But digging a little deeper, Marshall illuminates even better prospects for the future of the Democratic Party:

In Spring of 2015, this age group wanted the Democratic party to win the next presidential election by 15 points (55% to 40%). Now, a year later, that spread has increased to 28 points (61% to 32%). Notably, this is irrespective of candidates. It's Democrat versus Republican. Also for the first time in 5 years the number of self-identified Democrats is higher than self-identified independents. Dem 40%; Indy 36%, GOP 22%.

Take all that together and you come away with pretty clear evidence that over the course of the Democratic primary young voters have become more attached to progressive politics and the Democratic party. One read of this is that the primary process itself - as divisive as it has sometimes seemed - has deepened young voters' identification with the Democratic party.

None of this means that Democrats can kick back and expect a decent youth turnout. That's always a dicey proposition. But it does suggest that, with sustained encouragement, this constituency could help secure Democratic control of the white house and congress well into the future.


April 26, 2016

Obama's Role in Party-Building



From Juliet Eilperin's Washington Post article, "Obama, who once stood as party outsider, now works to strengthen Democrats":

Barack Obama rose to prominence as a different kind of Democrat, an outsider who was not part of the establishment and who would chart a separate course. Eight years later, the president finds himself working hard to restore a party from which he was once eager to stand apart.

Obama has presided over a greater loss of electoral power for his party than any two-term president since World War II. And 2016 represents one last opportunity for him to reverse that trend.

Obama was indeed a "different kind of Democrat," not simply because he is an African American, but also because he was able to articulate an inspiring vision of hope and opportunity more convincingly than did the 2000 and 2004 Democratic presidential nominees. But Eilperin may be overstating the case a bit in calling Obama an "outsider." He didn't trumpet his outside status as loudly as did other candidates we have seen more recently, mostly Republicans, like Trump and several others.

Eilperin's statement that Obama "presided over" the loss of electoral power sounds a little like his neglect of his party's health caused the GOP's success in 2010 and 2014 non-presidential elections. Yes, the President is the leader of his party and is accountable to some extent for his party's political health. But as Eilperin later clarifies:

Many factors have contributed to Republicans' gains on the state and federal levels, including a concerted push by their donors to target state races and a midterm election that allowed them to lock in favorable congressional district lines.

The "concerted push" was an unprecedented GOP effort, fueled by the Republican organizational Frankenstein, the tea party. Losses for Democrats have included 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 913 state legislative seats, 11 governorships and 32 state legislative chambers.

Another factor that should be addressed is the Democrats' comparatively weak candidate recruitment. As late as this year, for example, Democrats failed to field a candidate in a potential swing congressional district in VA.

So what is the President now doing to restore Democratic strength down ballot? Eilperin writes:

...The president's two successful White House bids have vastly upgraded the party's voter outreach infrastructure by expanding the national voter file the Democratic National Committee first started in 2006. And they point to the huge increases in the number of Democratic campaign volunteers -- from roughly 252,000 in 2004 to 2.2 million in 2012 -- as evidence of that upgrade.

"Barack Obama has single-handedly modernized the Democrats' ability to wage campaigns on the local level," said Jim Messina, who managed Obama's re­election campaign.

...In December, the heads of three party committees met to develop a joint redistricting strategy, and Obama signed a redistricting fundraising appeal for the Democratic Governors Association in January. Even former members such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have been asked to attend fundraisers on behalf of state lawmakers in states such as Ohio.

No doubt many Democratic leaders want the President to focus more on raising money and providing support for the party's candidates. But the final six months of every president's tenure are going to be increasingly focused on legacy-building and achieving significant reforms to help create a more secure nation and world.

Party-building may seem to be a parochial challenge compared to that. But really, it's an important part of the president's legacy -- especially when his party is the only one that strives to serve human needs of all Americans.


April 25, 2016

Political Strategy Notes



Political data junkies, take note: Philip Bump of The Fix has an interview with Joe Lenski, executive VP of Edison Media Research, which conducts polls for the National Election Pool (NEP), a group of six media organizations including Fox, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and the Associated Press, on the topic, "How exit polls work, explained."

The Nation's Ari Berman reports, "New York Had the Second-Lowest Voter Turnout So Far This Election Season: Among states with primaries, we are only beating Louisiana." Apparently the fact that the two front-runners of both major parties are New Yorkers is a bit of a yawner for the state's voters.

Alex Kotch of Facing South addresses the two faces of corporate political priorities, in which "Companies opposing Mississippi's anti-LGBT law helped elect its proponents." Much the same could be said for corporate immigration policies and political spending.

At Wapo Politics Matea Gold and Jose A. DelReal ponder the "Trump Makeover" and find scant support outside of his campaign for the notion that it is doable.

"You know, I can't snap my finger and tell people what to do. But what I will do is do everything that I can to make sure that somebody like a Donald Trump or some other right-wing Republican, does not become president of the United States..." - Sen. Bernie Sanders, from a transcript of his interview by George Stephanopoulos at ABC This Week, via PoliticusUSA.

Robert Kuttner addresses the big question for Dems in his article, "Will Bernie's People Back Hillary in November?" in The American Prospect. Kuttner also provides a sobering reminder about the timing of the conventions and the image Dems must project: "Remember, the Democrats will meet in Philadelphia on July 25 to 28. That's just a week after Republicans gather in Cleveland on July 18 to 21. Republicans are primed to make fools of themselves and split down the middle, with the likelihood of an independent protest candidacy (either Trump as sore loser or a business Republican as a rump candidate). With that prologue, Democrats will want to look adult and united."

Virginia's Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe has restored voting rights to more than 200,00 VA citizens, who have completed sentences for felony convictions. As the NYT editorial board notes, "Virginia was one of four states, along with Iowa, Kentucky and Florida, that placed a lifetime bar on voting for anyone convicted of a felony. All other states except Maine and Vermont impose lesser restrictions on voting by people with felony convictions...To people who have served their time and finished parole, Mr. McAuliffe said in a statement: "I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes." It is the largest restoration of voting rights by a governor, ever. "There's no question that we've had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans -- we should remedy it," he said. In Virginia, one in five blacks have until now been unable to vote because of a felony conviction."

For those who doubt that felon disenfranchisement laws are intended to undermine African American voting rights, Janai S. Nelson, associate director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a professor at St. John's University School of Law, shares this in her NYT op-ed on the topic: "A 1906 report quoting the former Virginia state senator Carter Glass forecast that voting laws passed in 1902 would "eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government."

Turns out that this Vice Presiddent is a guy you want in your corner --- particularly if you are a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate. At Politico Edward Isaac-Dovere reports on "Joe Biden's 2016 campaign: The Senate." As the author notes, "A Harper poll taken right after Obama and Biden endorsed showed 57 percent of Pennsylvania Democrats saying that the vice president's support would make them more likely to support a candidate (58 percent said the president's support would). Other public and private polls haven't asked the same question, but campaign strategists are confident that the numbers would hold true in nearly every state."


April 22, 2016

The Case for Clinton-Warren



I realize that idle speculation about future contingencies that may not arise is an occupational hazard for political writers. But I did address a fairly inevitable topic at New York earlier this week: the possibility of a Clinton-Warren ticket:

HRC campaign chairman John Podesta [told] the Boston Globe that "there will be women on that list" of possible vice-presidential choices when the time comes for ticket-making. A separate Globe article speculated that Janet Napolitano, Jeanne Shaheen, Amy Klobuchar, and Patty Murray could join the junior senator from Massachusetts as women under consideration for the gig.

Let's get serious, though. Unless Podesta is just conducting old-school constituency-tending via the process of "mentioning" women along with various other demographic categories as potentially supplying a Clinton running mate, speculation should begin and end with Elizabeth Warren. No credible candidate of either gender or from any background could so quickly and definitively prevent the party split that tensions between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have threatened to create. Yes, in theory Democrats could nominate a "unity ticket" of Clinton and Sanders; neither has ruled that out. But the crow-eating and ego-stroking involved in that scenario probably exceeds the obstacles that prevented an Obama-Clinton unity ticket in 2008.

Besides, is there really a sizable body of Sandernistas out there who would be dissatisfied with Warren on the ticket? She's the candidate many of them hoped and prayed for in the first place. And despite an unimpeachable record on the anti-Wall Street themes that most excite Sanders supporters, Warren has few of his weaknesses: She's well under 70, has not made a habit of calling herself a "socialist," and will never be played by Larry David on Saturday Night Live.

The objections to a Clinton-Warren ticket are not terribly credible. Yes, Warren is from blue-state Massachusetts, not a battleground state. Recent research, however, has pretty conclusively demonstrated that a running mate doesn't make his or her state significantly more winnable, which reduces the allure of Warren Senate colleagues like Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown. And yes, Warren would not break any glass ceilings that Clinton is not already breaking at the top of the ticket. But with 92 of 94 major party tickets since the Second Party System emerged in 1828 being composed of two men, can anyone seriously object to one composed of two women? I suspect the first crass joke from Donald Trump about two chicks on the ticket would be pretty severely punished by the swing voters who already look dimly on him and the contemporary GOP anyway.

Conversely, choosing Warren would reinforce the historic nature of the ticket, much as Bill Clinton's choice of fellow young southern moderate Al Gore in 1992 reinforced his claims to be a "different kind of Democrat" and the avatar of generational change. That partnership worked out pretty well, or would have had the U.S. Supreme Court not had different plans for the country in 2000.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza today all but rules out a Clinton-Warren ticket on one vague ground -- a lack of "personal chemistry," which if true could be a big problem, but he cites zero evidence of that particular hunch -- and one specific one: Clinton doesn't really need to mend fences with the kind of left-bent voters who are concerned about her integrity or her relationship with Wall Street. He calls Warren "a specialized pick to fix a very particular problem -- which doesn't exist yet and likely won't."

There's a pretty easy test for Cillizza's proposition: polling Clinton partisans on how they feel about a ticket that includes Warren. If there is this unbridgeable division in how the two women view the world, as Cillizza suggests, it should extend to Clinton's supporters, and I betcha it doesn't. And far from being the break-this-glass-in-the-case-of-emergency option, Warren would be, in the eyes of most political observers across the spectrum, a more substantial figure than just about any pol you could name.

I wrote this aware that the case I made for an Obama-Clinton "unity ticket" back in 2008 didn't bear fruit. But now the decisive shoe's on the other foot.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



April 29: "Tea Party of the Left" a Bad Idea

As someone semi-obsessed with the need to find ways to mobilize Democratic-leaning voters--especially young people--to participate in midterm elections, I was initially enthused about an initiative launched by former Bernie Sanders organizers focused on 2018. But then I saw the details, and reacted appropriately at New York:

[T]he closer you get to the Sandernistas' Brand New Congress initiative -- the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections -- the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It's not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a "brand-new Congress" in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees. Or so says key organizer Zack Exley:
"We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment," Exley said. "Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn't defeat incumbents."

Republicans, too?

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is "the key to it being a successful idea" and there's enough overlap between Sanders' platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC's goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump's current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

"This will allow Republicans to say 'Yeah, I'm a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don't believe all Muslims are terrorists," he said. "It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology."

Yes, that was what I feared: The discredited notion that lefties and the tea party can make common cause in something other than hating on the Clintons and Barack Obama is back with a vengeance. And worse yet, Donald Trump -- Donald Trump -- is being touted as an example of a Republican capable of progressive impulses because he shares the old right-wing mercantilist hostility to free trade and has enough money to scorn lobbyists. Does your average Trump supporter really "believe climate change is real" and disbelieve that "all Muslims are terrorists"? Do Obamacare-hating tea-partiers secretly favor single-payer health care? Do the people in tricorn hats who favor elimination of labor unions deep down want a national $15-an-hour minimum wage? And do the very activists who brought the Citizens United case and think it's central to the preservation of the First Amendment actually want to overturn it?

It's this last delusion that's the most remarkable. If there is any one belief held most vociferously by tea-party activists, it's that anything vaguely approaching campaign-finance reform is a socialist, perhaps even a satanic, conspiracy. These are the people who don't think donors to their political activities should be disclosed because Lois Lerner will use that information to launch income-tax audits and persecute Christians. The tea folk are much closer to the Koch brothers in their basic attitudes toward politics than they are to conventional Republicans.

But there persists a sort of "tea envy" in progressive circles. Here's Salon staff writer Sean Illing in a piece celebrating Brand New Congress:

Real change in this country will require a sustained national mobilization, what I've called a counter-Tea Party movement. While their agenda was nihilistic and obstructionist, the Tea Party was a massive success by any measure. And they succeeded because they systematically altered the Congressional landscape.

Well, you could say that, or you could say the tea party's excesses cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2012, and produced an environment that's made Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the GOP's only two options for this year's presidential nomination. Indeed, you can probably thank the tea party for the likelihood of a very good Democratic general election this November.

But that will again produce excellent conditions for another Republican-dominated midterm in 2018. It sure would make sense for progressives to focus on how to minimize the damage in the next midterm and begin to change adverse long-term turnout patterns. Expending time, money, and energy on scouring the earth looking for Republican primary candidates willing to run on a democratic-socialist agenda will not be helpful.


April 27: When Hillary Meets Bernie in Philadelphia

Like most political analysts, I've felt for a good while--certainly since her big win in New York last week--that Hillary Clinton had the Democratic presidential race well in hand, and is increasingly the prohibitive favorite. From a Democratic Party unity point of view, I've been looking ahead at how the two candidates and their followers reconcile in Philadelphia. Most analyses of this challenge approach it from Sanders' perspective, discussing which demands he ought to make for endorsing his vanquisher. I wrote an analysis from Clinton's point of view for New York yesterday, before the five-state northeastern primaries results came in (they confirmed Clinton's standing by adding to her pledged delegate lead).

[T]he strategic question for Clinton of how to achieve a "soft landing" in Philadelphia with a united party and Sanders and his devotees fully onboard will [soon] grow sharper.

There is little question that Sanders himself is preparing to make his enthusiastic support at the convention and in a general-election campaign conditional on substantive and political concessions; he's been telegraphing his determination to place his stamp on the party as a consolation prize for some time now. At Monday night's MSNBC "town hall" event, he took the clever tack of projecting his disgruntlement onto his supporters rather than personalizing it:

If we end up losing, and I hope we do not, and Secretary Clinton wins, it is incumbent upon her to tell millions of people who right now do not believe in establishment politics or establishment economics, who have serious misgivings about a candidate who has received millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests, she has got to go out to you and to millions of other people and say, you know, "I think the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and take on the private insurance companies and the greed of the drug companies and pass a Medicare for all."

As noted by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, Clinton's response to Sanders's apparent lack of interest in achieving party unity without major concessions was basically to shame him via the example she set in 2008:

"Then-Senator Obama and I ran a really hard race; it was so much closer than the race right now between me and Senator Sanders," Clinton said, adding that this time around she is far ahead of Sanders in the delegate count and total number of votes. "We got to the end in June, and I did not put down conditions. I didn't say, 'You know what, if Senator Obama does X, Y and Z, maybe I'll support him. I said, 'I am supporting Senator Obama because no matter what our differences might be, they pale in comparison to the differences between us and the Republicans.' That's what I did."

At the time, Clinton said, 40 percent of her supporters said they wouldn't support Obama.

The trouble with this analogy is that her campaign had few, if any, substantive arguments with Obama's, and no particular demands for procedural changes in the nominating process either. The implied sexism many Clinton supporters saw in the eagerness of elites to get behind Obama was a grievance that could, and could only, be mitigated by tokens of respect for the vanquished candidate and for women, not by platform planks or process reforms.

The crusade for a "revolution" in the Democratic Party represented by the Sanders campaign is another thing entirely, and thus the kind of unconditional surrender she offered to Obama was never really on the table. If Clinton wants a peaceful convention, some concessions are probably in order. Selecting which to make and which to reject will be a delicate process. Where doubling down on shared positions to make them more of a priority is an option -- as it is on, say, overturning Citizens United or pointed rhetoric on income equality -- Clinton should have an easy time "caving" to Sanders's demands. Even on some more detailed policy positions, hedging is entirely possible, as shown by Clinton's recent willingness to concede that a carbon tax is one possible way to deal with greenhouse-gas emissions, or her contention that breaking up big banks may now be justified under Dodd-Frank. On the "political reform" front, it wouldn't be that hard for Clinton & Co. to punt the idea of universally open primaries to some post-convention commission, which is generally how Democrats have always dealt with such matters.

But if Sanders and his supporters decide to go to the mats on "Medicare for all," it will be more difficult for Clinton to surrender inconspicuously, especially if the planted axiom is that opposition to a single-payer system can only be explained by whorish submission to private health insurance and pharmaceutical interests, as Sanders generally insists.

The ultimate calculation Team Hillary must make is how much Sandernista unhappiness it is safe to accept, and within that calculation, whether the prime objective is a happy convention or minimizing possible defections in November.

Since presidential politics is ultimately about winning the general election, Clinton could probably afford to honk off Bernie and his devotees to some extent in Philadelphia if she is reasonably certain they'll turn out for the Democratic ticket in November. And that's where she and other Establishment Democrats have really caught a break from Republicans this year.

Experts may differ on the exact value of negative versus positive mobilization strategies, but there is not much question that either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz -- at present the overwhelming favorites for the GOP nomination -- would offer a virtual laboratory experiment in maximizing negative mobilization for Democrats. There are few if any Bernie Sanders policy priorities on which Cruz does not hold a near-opposite position. That's also true to a considerable extent of Trump, with the added ingredient of an implied extra-constitutional threat to civil liberties that makes the word fascism spring easily to the lips of precisely the kind of people most likely to feel the Bern. To put it another way, if Hillary Clinton has to make policy concessions to convince liberal and "very liberal" voters to turn out to smite Cruz or Trump, then the general election may already be lost.

So in the final analysis, convention optics may be the central consideration for the Clinton campaign in figuring out exactly how much kowtowing to Sanders and his fans is in order, recognizing that too many concessions could convey a weakness that would offset the gains from early party unity. If Clinton makes it clear early and often that there are limits to the gestures she is willing to make, then Sanders's leverage over her will accordingly be diminished.

All Clinton has to do in the meantime is actually win the nomination without bruising any more feelings than is necessary.


April 22: The Case for Clinton-Warren

I realize that idle speculation about future contingencies that may not arise is an occupational hazard for political writers. But I did address a fairly inevitable topic at New York earlier this week: the possibility of a Clinton-Warren ticket:

HRC campaign chairman John Podesta [told] the Boston Globe that "there will be women on that list" of possible vice-presidential choices when the time comes for ticket-making. A separate Globe article speculated that Janet Napolitano, Jeanne Shaheen, Amy Klobuchar, and Patty Murray could join the junior senator from Massachusetts as women under consideration for the gig.

Let's get serious, though. Unless Podesta is just conducting old-school constituency-tending via the process of "mentioning" women along with various other demographic categories as potentially supplying a Clinton running mate, speculation should begin and end with Elizabeth Warren. No credible candidate of either gender or from any background could so quickly and definitively prevent the party split that tensions between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have threatened to create. Yes, in theory Democrats could nominate a "unity ticket" of Clinton and Sanders; neither has ruled that out. But the crow-eating and ego-stroking involved in that scenario probably exceeds the obstacles that prevented an Obama-Clinton unity ticket in 2008.

Besides, is there really a sizable body of Sandernistas out there who would be dissatisfied with Warren on the ticket? She's the candidate many of them hoped and prayed for in the first place. And despite an unimpeachable record on the anti-Wall Street themes that most excite Sanders supporters, Warren has few of his weaknesses: She's well under 70, has not made a habit of calling herself a "socialist," and will never be played by Larry David on Saturday Night Live.

The objections to a Clinton-Warren ticket are not terribly credible. Yes, Warren is from blue-state Massachusetts, not a battleground state. Recent research, however, has pretty conclusively demonstrated that a running mate doesn't make his or her state significantly more winnable, which reduces the allure of Warren Senate colleagues like Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown. And yes, Warren would not break any glass ceilings that Clinton is not already breaking at the top of the ticket. But with 92 of 94 major party tickets since the Second Party System emerged in 1828 being composed of two men, can anyone seriously object to one composed of two women? I suspect the first crass joke from Donald Trump about two chicks on the ticket would be pretty severely punished by the swing voters who already look dimly on him and the contemporary GOP anyway.

Conversely, choosing Warren would reinforce the historic nature of the ticket, much as Bill Clinton's choice of fellow young southern moderate Al Gore in 1992 reinforced his claims to be a "different kind of Democrat" and the avatar of generational change. That partnership worked out pretty well, or would have had the U.S. Supreme Court not had different plans for the country in 2000.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza today all but rules out a Clinton-Warren ticket on one vague ground -- a lack of "personal chemistry," which if true could be a big problem, but he cites zero evidence of that particular hunch -- and one specific one: Clinton doesn't really need to mend fences with the kind of left-bent voters who are concerned about her integrity or her relationship with Wall Street. He calls Warren "a specialized pick to fix a very particular problem -- which doesn't exist yet and likely won't."

There's a pretty easy test for Cillizza's proposition: polling Clinton partisans on how they feel about a ticket that includes Warren. If there is this unbridgeable division in how the two women view the world, as Cillizza suggests, it should extend to Clinton's supporters, and I betcha it doesn't. And far from being the break-this-glass-in-the-case-of-emergency option, Warren would be, in the eyes of most political observers across the spectrum, a more substantial figure than just about any pol you could name.

I wrote this aware that the case I made for an Obama-Clinton "unity ticket" back in 2008 didn't bear fruit. But now the decisive shoe's on the other foot.


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