What should the 2018 message be?

I got it– “We’re not Trump!”  That should get things 90% of the way there.  Seriously.  That said, I’ve read some interesting takes on the Democrats’ “message” in the last few weeks.  I truly think “Not Trump” really is a successful strategy, but sure, some other themes, too:

Margot Sanger-Katz on the Democrats pushing health care (as well they should):

After nearly a decade of playing defense on the issue, Democratic congressional candidates around the country are putting a health care message at the center of their campaigns. After the Republicans’ failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Democrats have detected a newfound concern that the consumer protections established under the law might go away. And that fear has turned into a potent campaign theme.

More than a quarter of working-age adults have a pre-existing health condition, like asthma, diabetes or cancer, that might have locked them out of the insurance market in the years before Obamacare, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Surveys show that far more have a friend or family member with a serious medical problem. Because health problems tend to pile up as people age, the older voters who tend to turn out most reliably in midterm elections experience such worry disproportionately.

“I completely can see why they’re excited to be able to talk about this issue again,” said Mollyann Brodie, a senior vice president at Kaiser, who runs the group’s public opinion polling. The foundation’s most recent survey, released last week, found that pre-existing conditions had become the most important health care concern among voters, ranked the most important campaign issue for many of them over all. “I agree with the strategy, based on our polling and everyone else’s polling. It’s a time when it is going to work.”

It’s not just red-state Democratic senators who are focusing on pre-existing conditions. The issue is coming up in House races across the country. Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ticked off districts — in Arkansas, Washington, New Jersey — where it’s a major campaign theme. In markets with close races, the committee is running its own advertisements on health care.

The Democratic mantra for this election should basically be “Republicans want to take away health care for people with pre-existing conditions.”  Of course it is more complicated than that, but this has the advantage of actually being mostly truthful and personally potent for millions and millions.

In an idea near-and-dear to my own research, Catherine Rampell says, let’s make it about the kids:

Democrats have been casting about for a winning theme this November. Here’s one suggestion: Kids.

After all, despite once declaring themselves the party of family values, Republican politicians have more recently ceded this territory. The GOP is now the party of state-sanctioned child abuse, of taking health care away from poor children, of leaving young immigrant “dreamers” in legal limbo.

It is GOP policy, and GOP policy alone, that has ripped thousands of immigrant children from their parents and locked them in cages, where they cannot be held or comforted when they cry…

There is a theme here. Trump and his partisans care mostly about indulging constituencies of the past.

The tools that normalized Japanese American imprisonment during World War II are being deployed against asylum-seeking immigrants today. 

Which gives Democrats an opening to fight for the future. Starting with proposals focused on children.

And I don’t mean only the obvious proposals like “don’t rip babies from their mothers’ breasts.” There are lots of popular, ambitious ideas that could improve children’s well-being — and pay dividends in an economy that requires turning today’s children into tomorrow’s healthy, productive, taxpaying adults.

Such proposals include expanding access to high-quality early-childhood education, a cost-effective strategyfor reducing future criminal-justice system costs and other social spending.

Or offering parents paid leave, which is supposedly a priority of the Trump administration, though aside from a recent Senate hearing, still hasn’t gotten much traction.

Or expanding parents’ access to Medicaid, which has been shown to improve health outcomes for their children.

These are all objectives that are not only important to the women and millennials who increasingly dominate the Democratic base. Policies such as paid family leave and early-childhood education have broad bipartisan appeal, too.

Because, hey, it’s not exactly controversial to be pro-child.

And Steve Israel argues that we need to just let candidates work it out bottom-up:

But my fellow Democrats have it wrong that they need a national-message template in the first place. Past elections have shown that the most effective messaging is local and specific to each district…

At one point, we sent a survey to every House Democrat, asking for suggestions for a succinct national message. The responses included: “Make It in America”; “Rebuild the Middle Class”; “When Women Succeed America Succeeds”; and various slogans and themes emphasizing jobs, health care, campaign-finance reform, free college tuition, equality, opportunity, security, and, in one case, access to contraception. (After all that, we came up with: “A Stronger America: A New American Security Agenda.” It didn’t take.)

It’s difficult to get all Democrats on a single coherent message, because of the precise problem we identified with our survey: There’s just too much ground to cover. Republicans don’t have these same issues. Meetings of the Republican conference generally offer all the brilliant diversity of its members’ Brooks Brothers ties. Aside from a few hand-wringing moderates, GOP members of Congress are bound in ideological lockstep. They’re parroting the White House—and being parroted by Fox News—on taxes and spending, terror and immigration, and any other hot-button issue that can frighten voters, including who uses which bathrooms. It’s easy to impose message discipline on a group like this: When you look alike and think alike, you’ll inevitably sound alike, too.

This isn’t what Democrats should aspire to. Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill was correct in saying that “all politics is local,” and nothing in politics is more local than message. Democrats have won all the progressive seats they can win. The path to the majority is taking those remaining districts that are evenly divided or leaning Republican, and whose voters aren’t motivated to turn out over the prospect of impeaching the president or abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It seems so obvious, but it’s lost on so many: A message that resonates in downtown Brooklyn, New York, could backfire in Brooklyn, Iowa—which happens to be located in a Republican district that’s now highly competitive. Midterm elections, which are fought in dozens of ideologically diverse media markets, should be thought of like tuning your car radio on the interstate. You’ll pick up that great country-and-western station in some markets, National Public Radio in others.

Yep, I’m all on board for that, too.  Though, I’d say mostly go with “Not Trump” and “Republicans really will take essential health care protections away from you and/or your loved ones.”


My take for Slovakia

Here I am blogging a lot on a day I still desperately need to finish a syllabus.  Guess it will be a late night.  Anyway, I did just write out some thoughts for Slovakian Pravda, so I figured I might as well share them here… [Bold is the Andrej Matisak’s questions]

While Donald Trump probably pushed all norms of what is “normal” for the US President did two courtroom dramas of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen just create probably the worst day of his Presidency as with Cohen’s case his former lawyer claims that Trump (a candidate for federal office as legal papers say) directed him to make payments that violated campaign finance laws? It is hard to imagine that Trump can escape this totally unscathed. What effect it might have on his Presidency?

think, this is the worst day of his presidency.  But honestly, I think I’m far from alone in now distrusting my ability to predict when Donald Trump will actually pay serious political consequences for his actions.  There is a strong consensus that he is in serious legal jeopardy, but, for now, the political consequences remian quite uncertain.  Thus far, Republicans in Congress seem willing to protect him at basically all costs.  One has to wonder what would happen if he actually did shoot someone on 5th Avenue in NYC (as he once claimed he could get away with).  That said, his approval is around 40% and a normal president would probably be above 55% in this economy.  And if he manages to fall down to 30% or so,that is pretty close to politically disastrous, especially with the 2018 midterms coming.  I think, as always, the question becomes what will it take for his remaining 35-40% base to finally abandon him.  And now, we just don’t know.  It is hard to dismiss guilty pleas and verdicts as “fake news,” but a lot about Trump has already been dismissed (e.g., “locker room talk”)

Short version: I just don’t know what to expect politically, but it does seem pretty clear that for their to be any genuine accountability for Trump, Democrats need to win back the House in the November elections.

Manafort simplified

Nice interview with Jeffrey Toobin in Slate and this paragraph summing up Manafort is just terrific:

It was just a totally squalid story about a guy stealing money. Basically, the story of the Manafort case was that when he was making money he cheated on his taxes. When he ran out of money, he lied to banks to get money under false pretenses. That’s all it was, which made the president’s comments tonight about what a wonderful person Paul Manafort is all the more reprehensible because it’s not like you could excuse Manafort’s behavior as some sort of misguided patriotism. This was just a guy who wanted money for his ostrich jacket. There was nothing to this except greed.

Meanwhile, in Fox News world

I did wonder what Fox News.com is making of yesterday.  Here’s their lead story:

Because I see Fox in the gym I was already vaguely aware of “missing white girl.”  How utterly perfect for them that it appears to be an illegal immigrant responsible for the murder.

The criminal-in-chief

Short version: Donald Trump is a criminal who has surrounded himself by criminals.  Seriously, that’s pretty much impossible to honestly dispute.  Longer version, David Graham:

Yet what Cohen did say is plenty damaging to the president. While the bank- and tax-fraud charges do not involve the president, the campaign-finance charges indisputably do. Cohen made the payments—$130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 to McDougal—through shell companies. He said Tuesday that the payments were intended to influence the election, making them a violation of campaign-finance laws, and that he had done so at the direction of the candidate.

That exposes several lies that the president made about the hush money. The White House initially denied that Trump had any knowledge of the payments. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president said in April. Later, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani said Trump had repaid Cohen as part of a retainer. In May, Trump disclosed the reimbursements on an ethics form. In July, Cohen released a recording in which he is heard discussing the payments with Trump during the campaign…

The harsh treatment for Cohen points to the bleak big picture for Trump. Hisformer trusted lieutenant is headed to prison. At the same time that Cohen was in court in Manhattan, a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, delivered guilty verdicts on several of the 18 criminal counts against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. (Jurors deadlocked on others.) One of the witnesses in that trial was Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, who also pleaded guilty to federal crimes. Trump’s first national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, and a campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, have both pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents. It has become banal to point out that almost any of these would have constituted a monumental scandal under any other president, but it remains true and important.

Nor are these troubles likely to dissipate any time soon. No matter how many times Giuliani calls for it, there’s little indication that Mueller will wrap up his investigation by September 1. The Senate Intelligence Committee continues its work as well. The Cohen plea could have been much worse for Trump, but there’s little relief for the president in sight.

And Adam Davidson:

he President of the United States is now, formally, implicated in a criminal conspiracy to mislead the American public in order to influence an election. Were he not President, Donald Trump himself would almost certainly be facing charges. This news came in what must be considered the most damaging single hour of a deeply troubled Presidency.

On Tuesday morning, it was still possible to believe that Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort might be exonerated and that his longtime attorney Michael Cohen would only face charges for crimes stemming from his taxicab business. Such events would have supported Trump’s effort to portray the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” perpetrated by overzealous, partisan prosecutors. By late afternoon, though, Cohen, the President’s long-time adviser, fixer, and, until recently, personal attorney, told a judge that Trump explicitly instructed him to break campaign-finance laws by paying two women not to publicly disclose the affairs they had with Trump. At precisely the same moment, Manafort was learning of his fate: guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, with the jury undecided on ten other counts.

The question can no longer be whether the President and those closest to him broke the law. That is settled. Three of the people closest to Trump as he ran for and won the Presidency have now pleaded guilty or have been convicted of significant federal crimes: Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn. The question now becomes far narrower and, for Trump, more troubling: What is the political impact of a President’s criminal liability being established in a federal court? How will Congress respond? And if Congress does not act, how will voters respond in the midterm elections? …

We will know far more about Trump, his business, and his campaign in the months to come. The country will be moving down two tracks simultaneously. There is one track of investigation and prosecution in which more of the people close to Trump fall or coöperate and the man himself appears increasingly vulnerable and desperate.

There is the other track, though, in which he remains President. He will likely successfully transform the Supreme Court and imperil the environment, immigrants, consumers of financial products, and others. Those who carefully study Trump and those around him know where this story likely ends—in humiliation and collapse—but we can’t underestimate his embrace of mendacity and deflection. Shortly after the fateful hour, Trump flew to West Virginia for a rally with some of his strongest supporters. The crowd, referring to Hillary Clinton, chanted, “Lock her up.”

I am glad that Mueller is out there doing his thing and that even if Trump himself is, so far, avoiding accountability, the net is tightening around him.  That said, how said that our nation has elected a so obvious crook.  This is literally not the least bit surprising to anyone paying attention at all in 2016 and not totally blinded by partisanship.  But, it still is sad.

Great advice for college students

I had a lot of great conversations with brand new college students last week.  Among other pieces of advice I shared, one of them was basically… faculty one-on-one time is the most under-utilized resource at the university.  So many students just don’t appreciate this fact at all, or are totally intimidated, or are just after their degree and nothing more.

Loved this Frank Bruni column from this weekend on how to get the most out of college:

But others do have the freedom to tailor their time. They just neglect to take advantage of it. My friend Eric Johnson, who provides guidance to underprivileged students at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, put it to me this way: “The more you regard college as a credentialing exercise, the less likely you are to get the benefits.”

Johnson is as thoughtful and insightful about higher education as just about anyone I’ve come across. The wisest students, he said, “move into a peer relationship with the institution rather than a consumer relationship with it.” They seize leadership roles. They serve as research assistants.

And they build social capital, realizing that above all else, they’re in college “to widen the circle of human beings who know you and care about you,” [emphases mine] he said. That’s perfectly put…

But perhaps the most important relationships to invest in are those with members of the school’s faculty. Most students don’t fully get that. They’re not very good at identifying the professors worth knowing — the ones who aren’t such academic rock stars that they’re inaccessible, the ones with a track record of serious mentoring — and then getting to know them well…

Walker is an example of what a mammoth study by Gallup, Purdue University and the Strada Education Network has found. Previously known as the Gallup-Purdue Index and now called the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, it has questioned about 100,000 American college graduates of all ages about their college experiences, looking for connections between how they spent their time in college and how fulfilled they say they are now.

The study has not found that attending a private college or a highly selective one foretells greater satisfaction. Instead, the game changers include establishing a deep connection with a mentor, taking on a sustained academic project and playing a significant part in a campus organization. What all of these reflect are engagement and commitment, which I’ve come to think of as overlapping muscles that college can and must be used to build. They’re part of an assertive rather than a passive disposition, and they’re key to professional success.

Great advice.  If you are a college student, follow it.  If you are an NC State student, you know where to find me.  And you know where to find organizations to get yourself involved.

Help me with my syllabus?


Last time I taught PS 302 Campaigns & Elections was 2014.  I don’t need to tell you that things have changed a lot since then.  If you recall reading any particularly compelling work about the 2016 election (and I’m not talking journal articles here, but analytical pieces in Vox, the Atlantic, New Yorker, New York, Politico, NYT Magazine, etc.) please pass them my way by comment here or email.  (Class starts Thursday, so now or never).  For reference, here’s my 2014 syllabus.


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