The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

What Lessons Can Dems Take From Conor Lamb’s PA Victory?

The Daily Escape:

Lambs are carried by a donkey in a side-saddle carrier, moving to their summer feeding grounds, Lombardy Italy – 2018 photo by Elspeth Kinneir. Lamb riding on a donkey. A metaphor for how Conor Lamb was carried to victory in PA?

This week, at least, the Lamb carried the donkey in PA. The LA Times thinks that Conor Lamb’s victory is due to the failure of the GOP’s tax cuts to mean much on the ground in PA:

The most dangerous outcome for Republicans in Tuesday’s special House election was not the prospect of a Democrat taking over one of their seats. It was the shrugging off by voters of the party’s biggest legislative achievement: the tax cut measure that Republicans hoped would be their major campaign message as they head toward a turbulent midterm election.


Though the popularity of Trump’s tax plan has grown since it was passed last year, it stalled as an election issue in Pennsylvania, leading Republicans to shift away from it late in the campaign in search of another topic to energize supporters of state legislator Rick Saccone.

If Republicans can’t run on their $Trillion tax cut, they may be well and truly screwed. Some right wing outlets are saying that Lamb is really a Republican sheep in Democrat’s clothing, but that’s simply political spin. Let’s take a look at Lamb’s positions.

He took a few Republican positions:

  • Opposed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker
  • Supported gun ownership
  • Supported Trump’s tariffs

He was a Democrat on others:

  • Opposed to the Trump tax cuts
  • Supported Obamacare
  • Supported labor unions

On abortion, Lamb was Obama-like: Personally opposed, but wants it to be safe and legal.

His positions resonated. Public Policy Polling’s exit polling indicated that health care was another top priority issue to voters in his district. And that voters believed Lamb’s views were more in step with theirs, saying Lamb better reflected their views by 7 points (45% to 38%) over Saccone. It didn’t hurt that voters in this heavily Republican district disapproved of the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act by 14 points (53% to 39%).

Tax cuts were the Republican’s early message in the district, but Business Insider reports that ads mentioning the tax law by Saccone’s campaign dropped from nearly 70% of all messages in the first two weeks of February, to less than 1% by early March.

Is the Lamb strategy for victory a road map for Democrats? The NYT thinks so. They report that Lamb has given the Democrats a road map for Trump country.

Wrongo disagrees. Each congressional district has its own issues that will energize its voters. What works in one will not necessarily work in all. Perhaps Conor Lamb’s strategy would work in borderline red districts, or in purple areas. But what may be a winning argument in PA wouldn’t work on the ground in LA.

National Democrats wisely chose to keep a largely low profile in this election, except for visits by Joe Biden, who many consider a local. The GOP did not stay away. Trump, Pence, and Donald Jr. all visited the district. Towards the end of campaigning, the GOP even tried saying that Lamb was “not one of us”.

That failed, because Lamb is clearly a local. His family is well-known. He’s part of a local Democratic dynasty. And after college and then the Marines, he came back to become a federal prosecutor.

When we think about broad messages that will resonate everywhere, it should be that Trump ran as a populist, driving what Nancy Tourneau has called “the politics of resentment”.

But Trump has governed just like any conventional conservative Republican.

That may explain why Democrats who were willing to roll the dice with him in 2016 didn’t respond to messages about the GOP’s tax cuts in the PA-18 election.

Maybe, people feel they gave Trump a chance, and now, they’re saying that they didn’t like the results.


The GOP’s Message and the Democrat’s Response

The Daily Escape:

Lake Blanche, UT – 2017 photo by exomniac

We watched the State of the Union (SOTU) speech at the Mansion of Wrong. Outside, it was 15° and very windy. That also appeared to be the climate in the House chamber during Trump’s speech, which Wrongo saw as largely a basket of glittering generalities; rhetoric without action; lies instead of facts; and marching band patriotism. Chants of “USA, USA” in the House chamber should be beneath our politicians, but sadly, some want us to appear to be a banana republic to the rest of the world.

Americans don’t ask their politicians for much, and apparently, willingly accept even less than that without a whimper.

Wrongo wants to focus on the Democratic response to the Trump speech. Roll Call says that there were at least five responses, of which two were “official”, in that they were authorized by the Democratic Party. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA), grandson of Bobby Kennedy, delivered the English-language Democratic response. Virginia Guzman, the newly elected, and first Latina to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, gave an official Spanish-language response.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California offered an unofficial response to the presidential speech, as did former Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland.

But the most notable response came from a sitting senator who isn’t a Democrat, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He rebutted Trump’s remarks, and in some ways, rebuked Trump and his administration. This is the second year in a row that Sanders has delivered his own speech after the State of the Union. Bernie’s speech was shown on social media, and not on any mainstream TV outlet. You can read the text of his speech here.

Post-SOTU, the Dems are about to get worked over, largely because of their support of the Dreamers. If Chuck Schumer has his way, Democrats are about to charge up DACA hill once again. The outcome is likely to be the same. Wrongo thinks the Dreamers’ cause is just, but it isn’t a good idea to try to ransom them from Trump and the GOP as part of the immigration deal Trump has placed on the table.

Trump wants to alter our immigration system in a very unfair way in exchange for Dreamer amnesty. The question for Democrats is: Should they make the trade? Do they really think that the GOP will start deporting Dreamers in March? Do they think the videos of Dreamers in custody and on their way to homelands they never knew will help Republicans politically?

Take the Dreamers off the table. Proceed with other pressing issues, like funding the government.

And when the DACA protections lapse, there will be a price that Dreamers will have to pay, right along with both Democrats and Republicans, neither of whom would make a deal to extend DACA.

And when Trump wants an infrastructure deal, then Dems should bring up the Dreamers. Change the strategy. Let the “public-private” partnerships he touts for infrastructure be the way he gets his wall, and how Dreamers get amnesty.

It’s important that Dems are right on both the politics and on the merits. Compromise must come on big issues like immigration and infrastructure, and Dems shouldn’t take the first deals offered on either issue.

But to win in 2018 and beyond requires Democrats to offer a strong and compelling platform of their own, one based upon principles. Like health care being a right of citizenship. Like investing in education and infrastructure instead of spending on wars and weapons. Young Kennedy got close to identifying a compelling platform, but he isn’t the messenger for 2018.

There are many people in America who are hurting. Many are under-employed, and not getting the support they need. Simply pointing the finger at Trump is not going to inspire many to go to the polls. Democrats tried this in 2016, and it didn’t work.

People need a positive vision for the USA, and their place in it.

On Tuesday night, Trump would only speak of his plans in very general terms, because he doesn’t have the support in both Houses of Congress to get the job done. While MAGA is a successful campaign slogan, it isn’t a plan for a future that includes all Americans.

Democrats can be a part of the solution, if they find a way to prevent the GOP from taking and holding liberal issues hostage.


How to Blow a “Blue Wave” Election

The Daily Escape:

Tillamook Head Lighthouse, Oregon – 2018 photo by Shaun Peterson

2018 is supposed to be a “Blue Wave” election, but Wrongo has doubts. We spoke yesterday about the pathetic performance of Team Dem during the shutdown. The Financial Times (paywalled) quoted Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

The Republicans are very good at casting this debate [DACA] as being about illegal immigration and Democrats were not willing to own that this was at its core about the Dreamers and to define the Republican position as hurting kids and tearing apart families…The Trump people were clearly thinking about their messaging in advance and preparing ads in advance and there was almost no [Democratic] co-ordination with outside groups and no air cover by Democratic strategists…

That Schumer, Pelosi, et al. had no Plan B shows that they weren’t serious, no doubt because DACA isn’t an important issue for their base, the top 10%. Can the current Democratic Party leaders turn a wave opportunity into another squeaker like they did in 2016?

There is a large group of disaffected and/or disappointed voters who can be claimed in the 2018 Congressional elections. It’s a group of voters so disgusted with both parties that they could, just as easily vote in huge numbers, or stay home in droves.

Democrats said after the 2016 election that one new principle was to “crack down on corporate monopolies”, but since then, have done nothing. Here is a candidate that should be an example to Democrats on the subject of corporate power over the lives of regular people.  Austin Frerick is a 22-year-old running as Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District in Iowa against a conservative Republican. Watch him explain concentrated corporate power in a way that Schumer and Pelosi can’t, and won’t:

(Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.)

The basic skill a politician must have is to bring disparate groups a message about what they want/need, and how to get it. Chuck Shumer, the beacon of Wall Street, can’t be the guy fighting for Main Street voters.  Anything Schumer comes up with will not be the kind of clear and concise message that Austin Frerick can use to win his district.

Civil Rights activists in the 1960s didn’t win the prize on day one, but they never took their eyes off the ball once they achieved a few small wins. It’s important to remember that in the 1960s, the Party’s leadership was aligned with their Main Street supporters. But today, Democrats in Congress and their usual Democratic supporters have little in common. Schumer/Pelosi are not seeking the same prize as Main Street Democrats. They are captured by the monied elites, and have no message directed at the little people. Their only message is “Russians! Trump!”.

So far, Dems have won a few special elections, and won the Governorship in NJ, which should never have been lost to Christie in the first place. It’s time for the progressives in Congress to stage an actual coup, replacing today’s leaders with a few of their own. Otherwise, 2018’s messaging will be: 2016 – the sequel.

Will Wrongo be wrong again? Will the Democrats win with their current leaders? Or will they field so many unpalatable mainstreamers, backed by no message at all, that few will vote for them?

We’ll know in just a few months, and then, 2020 is just around the corner.


Monday Wake Up Call – January 22, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Atrium of Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town South Africa – 2017 photo by Ian Baan. A grain silo is reborn as South Africa’s answer to London’s Tate Modern

Why are we trying to maintain the illusion that our political system functions? The press would have us believe that the shutdown is simply the result of one unfortunate Senate vote. From the BBC:

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

But, the NYT reports:

In fact, it was Mr. Trump who opted not to pursue a potential deal that he and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, had hashed out over lunch at the White House on Friday. The proposal would have kept the government open, funded a border wall and extended legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, while including disaster aid funds and money for a federal children’s health insurance program. Mr. Kelly later called Mr. Schumer to say the agreement lacked sufficient immigration restrictions.

What a wonderful way for Trump to start his second year in office. He and his staff have proven that they are absolutely terrible at presidential leadership. It’s not just that they have no desire to govern, it’s that Trump and his cabinet think all that matters is making his Republican base happy.

There have been possible bipartisan deals in the run-up to shutdown that would have passed the Senate and House with both Republicans and Democrats voting for them. But clearly, Trump’s and the GOP’s strategy is to force the Dems to eat a shit sandwich, and when they refuse, to blame them for the shutdown.

That’s not how the “both sides ballet” is supposed to work: The plotline is that the Republicans go crazy, take a few hostages, and the Democrats (the adults in the room), negotiate the release of some of the hostages in exchange for the Republicans getting to shoot a few, and also getting a fully-fueled getaway plane, and a sackful of tax cut money.

Schumer held up his end of the bargain; he offered Trump a deal that was friendly to his racist agenda in exchange for the Republicans keeping the lights on for a few weeks.

No dice from the Orange genius.

It’s interesting how the 60-vote requirement in the Senate in order to end a filibuster, and bring a floor vote, became normalized. When McConnell started filibustering damn near everything Obama wanted, the media accepted it uncritically as part of the political process. It was clear that once the Democrats were in the minority, the filibuster would suddenly become an extreme act once again, and the Dems would be excoriated for using McConnell’s normal legislative tool.

And that’s exactly what’s happening. The Republicans “need” Democratic votes in the Senate to get past a filibuster. And now, we are seeing Trump and Fox News, along with plenty of Republicans talking about how the filibuster has to die.

It isn’t clear who the current impasse will help or hurt in November. But America needs to wake up to the fact that our politics no longer work. Fewer Right Wing ideologues in the House and Senate is the only thing that will turn the ship around.

America has to wake up, and vote them out in November.

To help America wake up, let’s listen to Texas singer-songwriter James McMurtry’s December 2017 song “State of the Union”, in which he takes aim at fascism and racism. The song is a satire. It doesn’t just point fingers as much as it outlines our contentious politics:

Sample Lyrics:

My brother’s a fascist, lives in Palacios,
Fishes the pier every night
He holsters his Glock in a double retention.
He smokes while he waits for a bite.
He don’t like the Muslims. He don’t like the Jews.
He don’t like the Blacks and he don’t trust the news.
He hates the Hispanics and alternate views.
He’ll tell you it’s tough to be white.

It’s the state of the union I guess

It’s always been iffy at best

We’ll do all we’re able

With what we got left

It’s the state of the union I guess

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.