Democrats Slap Donald Trump On the Wrist In the Midterms

The midterms were a mixed success for the Democrats in 2018. Most notably the Democrats took control of the House, but unfortunately this probably means Nancy Peolsi returns as Speaker. They also regained about three hundred of the near one thousand seats in state legislatures they lost over the past decade, have a majority of state attorney generals in the nation, and won some key governorship battles, especially in the midwest. On the other hand, despite a Republican president as terrible as Donald Trump, their midterm gains in the House were historically not terribly impressive for the party out of power, and they did poorly in the high profile battles in the Senate. (I’m waiting to hear Rachel Maddow explain why the Russians meddled in the Senate races but not the House races this year.)

This was far more a slap on the wrist than a shallacking for Donald Trump.

The Senate map was undoubtedly very unfavorable for Democrats, but it will be so virtually every year as long as Democrats are unable to come up with a message to win in the smaller states beyond the east coast. The system of giving two Senators to each state regardless of size makes the Senate extraordinarily unrepresentative. Still, don’t be tempted to repeat the memes showing up since the election regarding winning the popular vote. They are misleading as the entire nation did not vote for Senate, and this can be tilted by which states do vote. This was especially true in 2018 as California had two Democrats running for Senate due to a system where the two leaders in the primary get on the November ballot regardless of party. This leads to a tremendous number of Democratic votes if the mythical Senate popular vote is counted, but only one Democratic Senator.

Democrats are always far quicker to list off the problems which make it more difficult to win than to change their strategy. They showed once again that moving to the right in the hopes of attracting Republican votes does not work. Nor did recruiting veterans help them do any better than expected. I would prefer to see Democrats be more consistent in supporting a reduction in  the role of government in the private lives of individuals–an attitude which might make defense of reproductive rights part of a consistent philosophy that might be accepted in the more libertarian minded portions of the country. Taking a rational anti-war line, as opposed to acting as if they are apologizing for appearing weak on national security, might also help in those areas which are hurt by perpetual warfare–and rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016.

This does note mean that the Democrats don’t have many valid complaints, including regarding voter suppression and gerrymandering. Some of the election results will help, including increasing their strength in several state governments before the next redistricting. While the high profile races in Florida did not turn out as hoped (how badly did campaigning with Hillary Clinton hurt Andrew Gillum?), but there was a victory in passing a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time.

While Democrats continued to struggle in Florida and Ohio, their hopes for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin being more blue in 2018 look favorable after Tuesday’s results, including the defeat of Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Besides possibly giving the Democrats their electoral votes again in 2020, there might be an increased number of representatives as the heavily gerrymandered system of drawing Congressional districts will be replaced by an independent redistricting commission in Michigan.

Other ballot proposals passing in Michigan will make it easier to vote and legalized marijuana for recreational use. Newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer is looking at legislation or issuing executive orders to free prisoners convicted for marijuana related charges which will no longer be crimes after the ballot proposal passed. I did hold my nose and vote for Whitmer, despite her reliance on dark money and financing by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Action such as this will make me happier that I did so. A judge has already put some new marijuana cases on hold.

Medicaid expansion passed in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah, and is also expected in Kansas due to the victory for a Democratic governor. While there is no chance of it becoming law imminently, there are also more Democratic supporters of Medicare for All in the House.

There were victories for various groups. The media has covered extensively how there are more women and people of color in the House. In addition, seven more scientists were elected to the House–all Democrats as the Republican war on science continues.

It remains to be seen how some issues will play out now that the midterms are over. Are we still supposed to be terrified by the caravan? Donald Trump quickly took advantage of having control of the Senate by firing Jeff Sessions.  I never would have guessed that I would see this as a bad thing when Sessions first became Attorney General. On the one hand, Sessions might have been the worst Attorney General in history. On the other hand, Sessions was absolutely right in his dispute with Trump in recusing himself from Mueller’s investigation, and his firing could be a sign that Trump plans to take action against Mueller. I suspect that Mueller has prepared for this by being ready to turn over evidence of financial crimes committed by Trump and his cronies to state prosecutors. Congressional Democrats will also be able to take over the investigation if needed. Hopefully they concentrate on Trump’s financial crimes and obstruction of justice, as opposed to the dubious conspiracy theories popular among many Democrats blaming Russia for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

New York Times Reports, “Democrats Embrace Liberal Insurgents, Demanding New Face for Party”

The Democratic Party establishment has desired to nominate more moderate candidates, even in safe Democratic areas where they could not use their questionable arguments that more moderate candidates are more electable. Earlier in the year we saw examples of how the party establishment has attempted to suppress insurgent candidates. The New York Times notes how the Democratic Party establishment is having problems this year:

…Democratic voters and activists have increasingly succeeded at transforming their party into a more ambitious liberal force. In key races, they have also replaced elected leaders with newcomers who look and sound like the diverse, youthful base that the party relies on in presidential elections but that asserts itself sparingly in midterm elections and down-ballot primaries.

Should that mood of insurgency prevail on Election Day, it could set the stage for an even more tumultuous phase of redefinition next year: A liberal base that feels validated after November may be unlikely to heed calls from party leaders to pick their battles in the new Congress, or to approach the 2020 race with sensitivity to more conservative sections of the country. The next presidential primaries could become a climactic test for the awakened Democratic base, with women and candidates of color holding an appeal others might struggle to match.

Martin T. Meehan, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, a state rocked on Tuesday by primary upsets, said Mr. Trump had helped fuse once-fractious Democratic constituencies into a powerful alliance for primary season. Mr. Meehan, now the president of the University of Massachusetts, likened it to earlier moments of political realignment, when ethnic groups like Italian-, Irish- and Greek-American voters learned to work together in the middle of last century…

The most dramatic upsets have come in New York, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old activist and former bartender, defeated Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democratic boss in Queens and Washington, in a June primary; and Massachusetts, where Ayanna Pressley, a 44-year-old member of the Boston City Council, on Tuesday wrested the nomination away from Representative Michael Capuano, a 10-term progressive she branded as passive and conventional. Both women channeled liberal alarm at Mr. Trump and at social inequality in their own communities, and promised an unyielding fight for change…

In some revealing open-seat races, Democratic voters have also flouted the directives of party leaders and embraced inspiring activists. They nominated Jahana Hayes, an African-American educator, for Congress in Connecticut over a candidate approved by the state Democratic Party, and picked Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee, for governor of Florida over a field of better-funded candidates that included the scion of an imposing dynasty.

…Democratic insurgents predict that the party’s shifting attitude toward primary elections is more likely to intensify than recede. As Republican power brokers have found in recent years, once-potent instruments for enforcing partisan hierarchy have diminished in value: Political newcomers have deftly used online fund-raising and social media-based campaign tactics to replace the access to big donors and television airwaves that party leaders can more easily control.

And in Washington, as the number of Democratic upstarts elected to Congress grows, party leaders may face new pressures in navigating primary elections..

In keeping with Massachusetts political convention, Mr. Capuano mobilized a set of muscular institutions behind him, drawing endorsements from labor unions and influential Democrats including Boston’s mayor, Martin J. Walsh; Deval Patrick, the state’s first African-American governor; and black congressional leaders like John Lewis and Maxine Waters.

All that support was not decisive, and Ms. Pressley won by 17 points.

Sam Yoon, a former member of the Boston City Council, said Ms. Pressley’s victory had exposed a momentous cultural transition in the party. Mr. Yoon, 48, mounted a campaign nearly a decade ago against the legendarily iron-fisted former mayor, Thomas M. Menino, attempting unsuccessfully to energize young progressives and minority communities in a movement for change.

“I think the dynamic is just wide-open now,” Mr. Yoon said. “The establishment doesn’t have the hold that it used to.”

While we are undoubtedly seeing a reaction against Donald Trump, the changes in the Democratic Party are likely to be more a reaction to how the party leaders forced a candidate as conservative as Hillary Clinton on the party in 2016–and the excitement created by the campaign run by Bernie Sanders. The winners this year also make a mockery of the bogus “Bernie Bros” smears used by Clinton supporters against the left. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Jahana Hayes, and Andrew Gillum are certainly not the stereotypical white male Bernie Bros which Clinton supporters falsely claimed made up their opposition.

Among those now excited by the successes of the left are Barack Obama, who has returned to public life this week in a speech praising Medicare for all: “Democrats aren’t just running on good, old ideas like a higher minimum wage. They’re running on good, new ideas like Medicare for all,” Obama said. Perhaps Obama should have backed Sanders in 2016 over the Clinton, who campaigned against the plan. At very least, someone who had become president with promises of hope and change should have realized that a candidate as conservative and corrupt as Hillary Clinton was a poor choice in a year when voters demanded change.

Donna Brazile Shows How The Democratic Party Establishment Has No Respect For Democracy

Much has been written accurately demonstrating the authoritarian tendencies of Donald Trump, but a consequence of our two-party system is that far too many people ignore a similar lack of respect for democracy by leaders of the Democratic Party. Donna Brazile showed how the Democratic Party rigged the nomination for Hillary Clinton in a book last fall. In recent statements she inadvertently adds additional evidence of the lack of respect for democracy among the Democratic leadership.

The Democratic Party recently voted to reduce the power of superdelegates by not allowing them to vote on the first ballot as long as the nomination was contested. The real benefit of this is that it it will probably eliminate the tendency of the news media to include superdelegates in their counts early in the nomination process. In 2016 this helped Clinton tremendously, when added to the other mechanisms used by the party to essentially rig the nomination for her, by having counts showing her substantially ahead of Sanders. This played into her strategy of making her nomination appear to be inevitable. Superdelegates will still be able to vote on other matters, such as convention rules, enabling them to play a major role should there be a contested convention even prior to a hypothetical second ballot.

Donna Brazile reminded us that the Democratic Party leadership has many other ways of getting the results they want when she tweeted: “Democrats voted to removed automatic delegates from the first round of voting. But we still have seats at the table. We are still in the room and very much capable of setting the menu.” It is rather shocking that she had no reluctance to admit this, countering the desires of Tom Perez to at least give the illusion that the Democratic Party’s nomination process is fair and honest.

Of course Brazile is correct, with the party using methods as such front-loading southern states, along with superdelegates, to increase the chances that a more moderate, ideally southern, candidate would be chosen. The party greatly increased their actions to hand Clinton the nomination in 2016 with tactics including limiting debates, the deal described in Brazile’s book to essentially give Clinton control of the party, changing fund raising rules during the campaign to help Clinton, making it harder for Sanders supporters to vote in some states, and Harry Reid’s games in Nevada. The party establishment will continue to be able to limit democracy by limiting our choices.

Brazile went further in showing contempt for democracy in an op-ed today in USA Today. I do not believe it is a stretch to assume that this represents the attitudes of others in the party establishment. Brazile complained about the loss of her power, writing as if she and other superdelegates are entitled to decide the nominees and override the decisions of the voters:

According to the new rules, we superdelegates won’t be able to vote on the first ballot at the convention. Or on any ballot, unless there’s a tie or some other sort of deadlock in the process.

So, we superdelegates are now what? Merely the mechanism you default to in case of a tie? Great. I’ve fought for the Democratic Party my entire life, and now I’m one notch above a coin toss.

She argued that the “party faithful” deserve their power to override the decisions of elected delegates for the work they have put into the party, failing to understand that in a democracy power should go to those who receive the votes. She claimed that, “the superdelegates aren’t the infamous ‘smoke-filled room’ full of ‘old white men’ deciding the fate of everybody else.” Having greater racial and gender diversity does not change the fact that having decisions made by the superdelegates are just as undemocratic as the smoke-filled rooms. She argues that “I earned my place at this table,” but in a democracy the table should be made up of those who have been elected to be there.

It would be different if we had a multi-party democracy, or if we were talking about a minor party. I would not mind if those who have built the Libertarian Party limited their nominees to those who have a roughly libertarian philosophy as that would not limit our overall choices. However, in the current duopoly, the system is rigged so that the either the Democratic or Republican Party nominee will win virtually all elections. Supporters of the major parties certainly make that point clear when they insist that this is the case and try to guilt us into voting for their candidates.

They don’t even allow other parties to participate in debates, with participation controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates, controlled by the Democratic and Republican Parties. As a result, the two-party duopoly limits views which are considered. The parties essentially differ on reproductive rights, some differences in taxation rates, and on how much is spent on social programs. The elections rarely offer a choice on matters such as continuing our state of perpetual warfare, mass surveillance, or the drug war and mass incarceration.

The Democratic Party remains stuck in the past, seeing current elections as filtered by the 1972 loss by George McGovern. For Democrats to say that they should not nominate a candidate of the left because McGovern lost badly back in 1972 would be like Republicans saying they should not nominate a conservative because Barry Goldwater lost badly in 1964.

A better parallel for Democrats to think about would be fifty years ago when the party leadership rigged the nomination for Hubert Humphrey, instead of allowing an anti-war candidate supported by the party’s base to be the nominee. This resulted in the Democrats losing to Richard Nixon, comparable to how the Democratic Party lost to Donald Trump after the party leadership rigged the nomination for pro-war candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Our most realistic chance of having a real choice in elections is to have the ability for candidates outside of the system to have a fair shot at the major party nominations. It is not fair for Democrats to both support a system which only allows those they consider to be true Democrats to run, and to simultaneously support a system which intentionally makes it extraordinarily difficult for outsider candidates to win outside of the two-party system.

The reality is that the rules changes by the Democratic Party were far too limited. Superdelegates should be entirely abolished. Our entire electoral system also needs to be overhauled, included rank-choice voting and proportional representation. These are necessary so that people like Donna Brazile can no longer set the entire menu of which people we can vote for and which issues are considered during elections.

Democrats Voting On Eliminating Superdelegates This Week–Will They Vote For Or Against Democracy?

A political party which uses superdelegates should not be able to use Democratic in its name. This week we will see if the Democratic Party continues to oppose democracy as the DNC votes on a proposal to eliminate superdelegates at their meeting in Chicago.

There have been proposals to eliminate superdelegates for years, including a recommendation by the Democratic Change Commission in 2009. More recently the Unity Commission recommended reducing the number of superdelegates. This has been expanded to a proposal which would remove the ability of superdelegates to vote for the presidential nominee on the first ballot, but they would still be able to vote on convention rules.

In 2016, the DNC worked to clear the field for Hillary Clinton early in the race. When Bernie Sanders did subsequently attempt to run against her, he was faced with the news media broadcasting delegate counts showing him to be way behind before a single vote was cast, playing into Clinton’s strategy of inevitability.

The proposal to prevent superdelegates from voting on the first ballot would make it much harder for a candidate with the support of superdelegates to take advantage of this, assuming recent trends hold and the nomination is decided on the first ballot.

Of course many establishment Democrats oppose this threat to their power. Not unexpectedly, some even see this change as a Russian plot (demonstrating  one of many reasons why we desperately need new leadership in the Democratic Party).

Norman Solomon, author of Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis, points out the irony of this vote taking place in Chicago:

The 1968 Democratic National Convention remains notorious mainly because of bloody clashes in the streets of downtown Chicago, where thousands of antiwar protesters encountered what a federal commission later called a “police riot.” Passions were also fraught inside the convention hall. From the podium, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut denounced “Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”

But it’s less well known today that much of the mayhem in the streets and the angry dissent inside the amphitheater a half-century ago stemmed from the well-grounded belief that the Democratic establishment had rigged the nominating process for its candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Many of the delegates for the two antiwar contenders at the convention, Sens. Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, were incensed at the party’s disregard for the will of the voters.

About 70 percent of the votes in the presidential primaries had gone to antiwar candidates, including Sen. Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated the night of his election victory in the California primary in early June. Yet the party conferred its nomination on Humphrey, a supporter of the still-escalating Vietnam War who had stayed out of the primaries ― but still ended up with more than two-thirds of the delegates at the national convention. The undemocratic process deepened the divisions inside the party and weakened public support for its ticket, aiding Richard Nixon’s narrow victory in the November 1968 election.

In other words, the Democratic establishment candidate lost in both 1968 and 2016 due to rigging the nomination for unpopular candidates as opposed to giving the nomination to the types of candidate who could win in fair primary system.

Eliminating superdelegates is an important step towards supporting democracy, but just one of many important steps. We also need to have the Democrats eliminate their other rules which help them rig their nominations, including front-loading primaries in southern states, and changing fund-raising rules and the debate schedule as in 2016.

It is an even worse attack on democratic principles when the democratic party both works to keep out true liberal and progressive views, while working with Republicans to limit the influence of third parties. The Intercept recently looked at a bill which was introduced by Democrats, although with limited support,which would help to promote real choice in elections:

In 2017, a group of House Democrats, led by Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, introduced H.R. 3057, the Fair Representation Act, which would require every congressional district in America to use ranked-choice voting. It would also require districts to be redrawn by independent redistricting committees, which would diminish the effects of partisan gerrymandering, and it would require the installation of multimember districts — a reform that would allow voters in each district to elect multiple lawmakers instead of just one, so that more people would be represented.

…advocates of ranked-choice voting raised the benefits of alternative voting schemes when, after Michigan’s recent governor’s race, the results suggested that if the third place candidate, who branded himself as a progressive, had been reallocated in a ranked-choice system, Abdul El-Sayed, a genuine progressive, might have come within arm’s reach of winning.

Europe provides several examples of other voting alternatives. French President Emmanuel Macron, for instance, ran on introducing greater proportional representation in the French legislature, and is slowly making good on that promise. Under proportional representation, parties are allotted seats based on the total percentage of the vote they get. Under that system, if Democrats were to receive 51 percent of the vote, Republicans 44 percent, and Greens 5 percent, they’d each get that percentage of seats in Congress.

Proportional representation is how elections are run in countries like Sweden, Germany, and Israel. It’s no surprise that legislatures in these countries often have seven or eight different political parties with significant clout, which then work together in coalitions on legislation, offering far more choices to voters.

By contrast, American political parties tend not to offer third-party voters any sort of election reform plans — even to win over their votes.

Ideally, if we are successful in reducing the influence of superdelegates, the long-term goal should be to both totally eliminate superdelegates and to institute these other reforms.

Two Candidates Running As Bernie Sanders Style Progressives In Michigan Threaten To Split Vote, With Only One Worthy Of Progressive Support

There has been a lot of talk lately about an anti-establishment fervor in the Democratic Party, largely fueled by both dissatisfaction with the status quo and the manner in which the DNC rigged the rules to block challengers to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Clinton’s inability to beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump cast more doubt on the party establishment’s strategy of promoting moderate candidates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over party insider Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district Democratic primary gave additional hope for progressive and true liberal Democrats hoping to beat the party establishment. In Michigan efforts to beat establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer (who would still be far preferable to GOP front runner Bill Schuette) for the nomination for Governor might be thwarted by two candidates running as progressives in Michigan who are likely to split the vote.  However, only one is a true progressive.

While both Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar are running as Bernie Sanders style progressives, only El-Sayed looks like the real deal. The Intercept has had multiple articles exposing Thanedar as an opportunist. In a new article today, The Intercept shows how they differ on health care, but first recapped the case against Thanedar:

In Michigan, businessperson Shri Thanedar has spent millions of dollars on television ads casting himself as “the most progressive Democrat running for governor,” and promising that he would bring single-payer health care to Michigan.

“Health care is not a privilege; it is our fundamental right. I will bring single-payer health care to Michigan,” Thanedar says in a TV commercial. “Agree? Vote for Shri.”

But there’s reason to be skeptical.

Over the last year, investigations by The Intercept have revealed many facts which cast doubt on Thanedar’s progressive branding. He donated thousands of dollars to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, he was spotted clapping and nodding approvingly at a Marco Rubio presidential rally, and several Michigan political consultants have claimed that Thanedar once consulted them about possibly running as a Republican.

The Intercept interviewed Thanedar and found that “Thanedar’s much touted single-payer health care ‘plan’ appears to be nonexistent.” In contrast, they found that former Detroit Public Health chief Abdul El-Sayed “has a detailed strategy for how to accomplish it.” However, Thanedar is likely to split the progressive vote due to having spent much more on advertising. The Intercept notes:

Last month, he released a plan to establish “Michicare,” which would levy payroll and business taxes to establish state-funded public coverage for all Michigan residents…

But despite having a more well-developed plan, El-Sayed’s middle-class background means he does not have the same resources to advertise his health care plan as does Thanedar, who, not without controversy, made a fortune in the chemical testing industry.

As a result, there’s a real risk that the public might be misled.

The article also notes how this will impact the race against establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer:

But by coopting a progressive message and splitting the progressive vote, Thanedar has helped Whitmer, an establishment candidate, take a comfortable lead.

Whitmer is the daughter of former Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Richard Whitmer. She’s the only Democratic candidate in the race who does not back single-payer, saying that it’s not “realistic” in Michigan at this time. BCBS Michigan lobbyists threw a fundraiser for Whitmer earlier this year. And she’s currently taking heat from an unidentified group who have paid for ads attacking her from accepting “big money” from insurance companies.

El-Sayed has been endorsed by Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, The People for Bernie, Our Revolution, the Progressive Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, Democracy for America, and after her victory in New York, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whitmer has a long list of establishment endorsements. I am not aware of any significant endorsements for Thanedar but the Grosse Pointe Democratic Club has issued an anti-endorsement for Thanedar warning Democrats NOT to vote for him.

Democrats Need The Right Policies, Not Just A New Slogan

Despite a decade of losing while standing for little other than being slightly more moderate than Republicans, Democrats have concentrated on cosmetic changes such as seeking the right slogan. Their latest, rather unoriginal, idea for a slogan is to “drain the swamp.” In contrast to relying on slogans, Samuel Moyn  professor of law and history at Yale, has written that Democrats need to look at the right policies.

Writing in The Guardian, Moyn noted an op-ed in The New York Times saying liberals “come off as judgmental scolds” and alienating potential voters. Remedying this is only part of the solution:

…policy matters much more than politeness. The trouble with American liberalism is not the rhetoric, the selling or the advertising; it is not even the product to sell, as if politics were marketing. Rather, liberals need to forge policies that allow Americans to identify or imagine common interests. The problem is not the bait chosen to lure voters but the whole idea of politics as fishing – as if voters across the country are suckers to be lured into one camp or another. Perhaps liberals, searching for a path forward into the hearts and minds of voters, need to pay heed to Missouri’s state motto: not “rule me more nicely”, but “show me”.

In looking for the “right policies,” Moyn mentions income inequality, as well as another which I have often noted has been receiving far too little attention, “ending the endless war on terror.”

The last two presidents of the United States have each been elected as antiwar candidates, even though each went on to govern militaristically. An antiwar coalition in the making – starting with proposals to drastically reduce America’s counterproductive use of force abroad – is likely to be powerful in future elections too. But liberals will have to give up their concessions to the national security state and their fears of coming off as unpatriotic in order to exploit this opportunity.

Rather than nominating an anti-war candidate, the Democrats nominated one of the most hawkish politicians in recent history in 2016, with one analysis showing that this did hurt Clinton in the general election. While well below the vote of the major party candidates, Jill Stein (Green Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) received around twice as many votes as their parties received four years previously. Others do not vote as they do not see either major political party as being worht voting for. A major party which took up an anti-war platform could likely pull in many voters who are reluctant to vote for either party at present.

I am pleased to see Moyn recommend ending the war on terror, but I also have one other wish. Liberals need to concentrate more on fundamental liberal principles of individual liberty, and keeping the government out of the private lives of individuals. We currently have a huge contradiction in our politics with the Republicans claiming to be the party of freedom and limited government, while frequently advocating policies of greater government intrusion in the private lives of individuals. This is largely because of an inconsistency on the part of Democrats. Republican voters might be more willing to accept support for reproductive rights if described as part of an overall platform of supporting individual liberty. Of course this only works if Democrats are consistent and avoid nanny state policies, or a health care plan dependent upon an individual mandate, which was one reason for Democratic losses in recent years.

Despite Their Gestures, Democratic Candidates Continue To Take Corporate Money

Democratic candidates  increasingly feel like they must swear off corporate contributions, but Zaid Jilani at The Intercept shows that this might just be a cheap gesture. He writes:

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, D-Calif., became the latest lawmaker to swear off all donations from corporate political action committees, telling a radio host in mid-April that she made the move after being asked about it at a town hall by a constituent.

Harris joins five other senators who have vowed not to take corporate PAC contributions: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. …

Swearing off corporate PAC money can be one positive step a lawmaker can take towards reducing the corrupting influence of money on politics. But it’s far from enough.

The reason is that money from PACs – corporate or otherwise — comprises a relatively insignificant portion of these senators’ campaign contributions, raising the question of whether curtailing donations from corporate PACs will really make a difference. Critics think it doesn’t, noting that the bigger threat of influence comes from wealthy donors who don’t funnel their cash through PACs. But for politicians looking to seize on public discontent with the influence of money on politics, the decision makes for an effective messaging ploy.

Michael J. Malbin, a campaign finance researcher at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, pointed out to The Intercept that Harris has received only a small amount of her total campaign funding from PACs. “However, she also received many of her itemized contributions from individuals whose income is derived from their work as corporate executives,” he said.

Benjamin Page, a long-time researcher of political decision-making at Northwestern University, agreed. “Refusing to take corporate PAC money makes a nice symbol, and I suppose we should give it some credit.  But far more money comes from wealthy individuals,” he wrote in an email. “That is much more important, and I believe it tends to corrupt both the Republican and the Democratic party.”

OpenSecrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, tracked and categorized PAC donations between 2013 and 2018. The data reveals that most of the senators who’ve sworn off corporate PAC money received more from large individual donors — donors giving $200 or more, who can be regular people but also corporate executives and lobbyists — than from PACs in that time period.

  • Cory Booker: 10.37 percent of Booker’s campaign funding has come from PACs, 76.40 percent of which is from business PACs. By contrast, 72.12 percent of Booker’s campaign funding is from large individual donors.
  • Maria Cantwell: Just 0.62 percent of Cantwell’s campaign funding has come from PACs of any kind. In contrast, 73.61 percent of her campaign funding has come from large donors.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand:6.95 percent of Gillibrand’s campaign funding has come from PACs. Of this proportion, 65.73 percent is from business PACs. Meanwhile, 62.15 percent of her fundraising has come from large individual donors.
  • Kamala Harris: 4.89 percent of Harris’s campaign fundraising has been through PACs; 41.07 percent of this total has been from business PACs. By contrast, 64.99 percent of her campaign funding has come from large donors. (Though the OpenSecrets analysis covered a five-year period, in Harris’s case, it only goes back to 2015, when she first ran for U.S. Senate.)
  • Bernie Sanders:1.73 percent of Sanders’s funding has come from PACs. Of that, 7.27 percent is from business PACs. 17.70 percent of his funding has come from large individual contributors.
  • Elizabeth Warren: Just 1.4 percent of Warren’s campaign money has come from PACs. Of that, 12.91 percent is from business PACs. Large individual donors made up 29.72 percent of her campaign funding.

These figures make clear that the senators are giving up relatively little money by swearing off donations from corporate PACs — it just isn’t a very big portion of their overall campaign funding. Which raises the question: Is it really possible that the system is being corrupted by sums of money this small? If not, then politicians — and the voters they’re looking to win over — need to look closer at how big money is corrupting Washington.

There are further examples of how corporate influence is not diminished by this gesture, with Kirsten Gillibrand being just one example:

UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS Boston professor emeritus Thomas Ferguson is one of America’s leading academics who studies the influence of money in politics; he is the brain behind “the investment theory of party competition,” which says that politicians are essentially driven by donors, their true political base.

He doesn’t think much of senators disavowing corporate PAC money. “It’s an absolutely cheap gesture that means nothing, that’s why they do it,” Ferguson said in an interview. He pointed out that corporations can also run their money through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and that these senators haven’t disavowed the comittee’s backing.

A close look at Gillibrand’s and Booker’s top donors makes clear just how little it matters when senators swear off corporate PAC money. Gillibrand’s 11th-largest donor is Morgan Stanley, which did not give a penny of its money to Gillibrand through a PAC. Instead, Morgan Stanley employees donated $40,425 to her campaign committee as individuals. Of the $814,463 that she has received from the securities and investment industry, just $70,500 came from PACs.

Gillibrand was one of the Democratic senators who voted down an amendment that would have broken up Wall Street’s largest banks in May 2010. Jeff Connaughton, an aide to then-Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., who co-wrote the amendment, noted dryly in his book that an Obama administration Treasury official later boasted that if the administration had supported the amendment, it would have passed, but because they didn’t, it didn’t. Speaking about the amendment four years later, Warren noted that it “had bipartisan support, and it might have passed, but it ran into powerful opposition from an alliance between Wall Streeters on Wall Street and Wall Streeters who held powerful government jobs. They teamed up and blocked the move to break up the banks.”

This was contrasted with how Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have raised money:

A better path to limiting the influence of big money is for senators to simply develop a small donor base that supplants large donors of any sort, Ferguson said. “Let them say they won’t take money over, you know, a particular limit — $500, $750, whatever you like,” he suggested.

Page agreed. “What we really need from candidates is reliance on small donations, if possible, as was done by Bernie Sanders and (to a lesser extent) Barack Obama,” he wrote to us.

In that regard, Warren and Sanders deserve an honorable mention, as they are the only senators in this group of six who got the majority of their campaign funding from small individual contributors since 2013. Nobody else comes close.

It’s easy to imagine lawmakers getting swayed by a pool of donors from a big bank or fracking company who give them $2,000 donations; it’s less easy to imagine that if the politicians build a donor base of people throwing in relatively small amounts, that they’d fall under pernicious influence.

(The Onion had an amusing article on this topic in 2016, with the headline: “Bernie Sanders Clearly In Pocket Of High-Rolling Teacher Who Donated $300 To His Campaign.”)

Nancy Pelosi Defends Party’s Intervention In Primaries As Progressives Protest

The tape released this week of a Democratic Party leader trying to get a progressive to drop out of a Congressional primary has raised far more attention to the issue. The tape was initially posted by The Intercept and I also posted it here yesterday.

Nancy Pelosi has further angered progressives by speaking out in support of this practice. The Washington Post reports:

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) defended her party’s electoral operation on Thursday, after a candidate in a contested Colorado primary released audio tape of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) urging him to quit the race.

“I don’t know that a person can tape a person without the person’s consent and then release it to the press,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “In terms of candidates and campaigns I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”

…The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has thrown its weight in the race behind Jason Crow, an attorney and veteran running a more center-left campaign than Tillemann, who supports universal Medicare and other planks of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) campaign platform. In the December conversation, Hoyer told Tillemann that “a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation” to back Crow, and that it would continue to do so.

“Staying out of primaries sounds small-D democratic, very intellectual and very interesting,” said Hoyer, according to the tape. “But it was clear that it was our policy and our hope that, early on, try to come to an agreement on a candidate that we thought could win the general, and to give that candidate all the help we could give them.”

While Nancy Pelosi rationalize this as “the realities of life,” as I pointed out yesterday, this long-standing strategy has been a disaster for Democrats. The claim that more conservative candidates are more electable has not held up. The Democratic leadership has a terrible record of choosing more “electable” candidates. They lost control of both houses of Congress and around 1000 state seats in state legislatures in a decade based upon this misconception. The ultimate example of how the party’s strategy conflicts with reality came when they violated the party’s by-laws to rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton, the one candidate who could not even beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

While we have known that this has been an issue for some time, including in a Texas Congressional race this year, having the taped evidence has also led to the loudest protests I have heard so far from progressives within the Democratic Party. USA Today reports:

Progressive groups that support Tillemann are going ballistic over what they say is yet another example of establishment Democrats meddling in primary elections.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee says it’s raising money for three candidates, including Tillemann, that the DCCC has pressured to drop out.

“There is a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and Steny Hoyer and his corporate cronies already lost,” said Stephanie Taylor, PCCC’s co-founder.

Democracy for America Executive Director Charles Chamberlain called for Hoyer to resign or “be removed” from House leadership.

“We saw what happens when Democratic Party leaders put their fingers on the scale in primaries in 2006 through 2016, when we lost nearly 1,000 elected offices up and down the ballot,” he said.

Democratic Leader Caught On Tape Trying To Force Progressive Candidate Out Of Congressional Race

The Democratic leadership, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have shown they are not our allies as they repeatedly attack the left, have purged progressives from the DNC, and attack more liberal and progressive candidates who are often more in tune with the voters. The Intercept secretly recorded Steny Hoyer, the second highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, trying to pressure a progressive candidate, Levi Tillemann, to drop out of a race. They described Tillemann as “an author, inventor, and former official with the Obama administration’s Energy Department.” From their account:

He focused his campaign on clean elections, combatting climate change, “Medicare for All,” free community college, and confronting economic inequality and monopoly power. Another candidate for the nomination, Jason Crow, a corporate lawyer at the powerhouse Colorado firm Holland & Hart and an Army veteran, meanwhile, appeared to have the backing of the Democratic establishment, though it wasn’t explicit. In November, it became clearer, as Crow was named by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to the party’s “Red to Blue” list, which the committee specifies is not an endorsement but does carry symbolic weight.

With Hoyer in Denver, Tillemann met the minority whip at the Hilton Denver Downtown to make the case that the party should stay neutral in the primary and that he had a more plausible path to victory than the same centrism that Coffman had already beaten repeatedly.

Hoyer, however, had his own message he wanted to convey: Tillemann should drop out.

In a frank and wide-ranging conversation, Hoyer laid down the law for Tillemann. The decision, Tillemann was told, had been made long ago. It wasn’t personal, Hoyer insisted, and there was nothing uniquely unfair being done to Tillemann, he explained: This is how the party does it everywhere.

Tillemann had heard the argument before from D.C. insiders and local Democratic bigwigs, all of whom had discouraged him from challenging the establishment favorite. The only difference was that for this conversation, the candidate had his phone set to record.

The secretly taped audio recording, released here for the first time, reveals how senior Democratic officials have worked to crush competitive primaries and steer political resources, money, and other support to hand-picked candidates in key races across the country, long before the party publicly announces a preference. The invisible assistance boosts the preferred candidate in fundraising and endorsements, and then that fundraising success and those endorsements are used to justify national party support. Meanwhile, opponents of the party’s unspoken pick are driven into paranoia, wondering if they are merely imagining that unseen hands are working against them.

Hoyer bluntly told Tillemann that it wasn’t his imagination, and that mobilizing support for one Democratic candidate over another in a primary isn’t unusual. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chair of the DCCC, has a “policy that early on, we’d try to agree on a candidate who we thought could win the general and give the candidate all the help we could give them,” Hoyer told Tillemann matter-of-factly…

In races in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Nebraska, California, and beyond, progressive candidates are finding that the DCCC has mobilized support for moderate candidates with access to early campaign cash at the expense of progressives. As we’ve reported, many first-time candidates are told by the DCCC that before they can even be considered, they have to perform the “rolodex” test to show they can raise $250,000 or more from the contact list on their phone.

In February, the DCCC made the unusual move to release opposition research, the term of art for political dirt, against activist Laura Moser, who the party viewed as too liberal to win in the 7th Congressional District of Texas, a Houston-area seat. The strategy, however, appeared to backfire. Moser placed second in the Texas Democratic primary, meaning she’ll have a shot at the nomination in the May 22 runoff…

To a certain extent, people like Elizabeth Warren and people like Bernie Sanders have been ostracized by the party, and they have been marginalized by the establishment to the extent that is possible,” says Tillemann. “But the fact of the matter is that the people are crying out for genuine leaders, and the people are crying out for a solution to inequality and systemic injustice, and to the extent that I am fighting for those solutions, then I think there will be a powerful constituency for that.”

I’m proud to be on the side of truth,” he added. “I’m proud to be on the right side of democracy, and I’m proud to be on the right side of free and fair elections.”

The recording could be heard in the video below, which also has animation added:

This practice calls into question whether there is any point in liberals and progressives to support the Democratic Party if they are ignoring small-d democratic principles to promote more conservative candidates? They appear to want either conservative businessmen or ex-CIA agents. As Jimmy Dore pointed out, out of 102 competitive Democratic Congressional primaries in 2018, “44 involve candidates with a military-intelligence or State Department background, with 11 districts having two such candidates, and one district having three.”

Putting ethics aside, it isn’t even good politics. The claim that more conservative candidates are more electable has not held up. The Democratic leadership has a terrible record of choosing more “electable” candidates. They lost control of both houses of Congress and over 1000 state seats in a decade based upon this misconception. The ultimate example came when they violated the party’s by-laws to rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton, the one candidate who could not even beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump.

(more…)

Hillary Clinton Falls To New Low In Poll–Fewer Have Positive View Of Clinton Than Trump

The Democrats received an electoral gift in 2016 with an opponent as terrible as Donald Trump. They could have probably nominated a name taken at random from the phone book and beaten him. Instead the Democrats rigged their nomination for the one politician in American who was worse. Since losing the election, polls have repeatedly shown Clinton’s approval to be even lower than Trump’s atrociously low approval rating, and the streak continues. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds those with a  positive view of Clinton at a new low of 27 percent, with Donald Trump at 35 percent.

The Wall Street Journal has this analysis:

Right before the election, the share of people who viewed Hillary Clinton unfavorably was 10 points larger than those with a favorable view of her, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll — a bigger gap than any other recent losing presidential candidate. Our latest poll is a reminder of just how unusual a figure Mrs. Clinton is in terms of her unpopularity.

Historical WSJ/NBC polling shows that recent losing presidential candidates — Mitt RomneyJohn McCainJohn Kerry and Al Gore — experienced post-election declines in positive sentiment. But Mrs. Clinton’s dropoff is a bit steeper–her positive rating is at a new low of 27%, compared with 52% who have a negative opinion. That spread of 25 percentage points is greater than President Trump’s, who is under water by 18 points.

Her negative numbers make her something of a natural target for Republicans who want to associate their opponents with her as the party heads into a potentially difficult midterm election this fall. In doing so, they have managed to put some vulnerable Democrats in states Mr. Trump easily won, like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, on the defensive. That was driven home last month when Democrats took distance from comments Mrs. Clinton, attending a conference in India, made about middle-American Trump voters.

The question is how much of a factor she will really be in 2018. It’s important to keep in mind that “she’s not on the ballot,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted part of the April poll, told me. He said that there are many “ticked off Democrats who might not like her, but given [Mr. Trump is] the incumbent … he’s the focus of most of their anger.” People in our poll who view both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton negatively help illustrate this thinking. In 2016, these voters — those who we negative on both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton — preferred a Republican Congress; now, they, like other voters, say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress.

They are probably right that the key factor here is that Clinton is not on the ballot. Having Donald Trump in the White House will probably hurt Republicans far more this year than objections to Hilary Clinton. This poll should remind Democratic candidates of the need to keep Clinton away.