Political Animal

Yes, the Democrats Can Win Romney Republicans

I was correct in predicting (along with Nate Silver) that most of the post-mortems on the special election in Georgia’s 6th District would be “dumb.” Specifically, I said that the fact that election was going to be close was the most important thing we needed to know and that discovering who actually won wouldn’t add much value.

Now, I’ve been arguing strenuously for some time that the Democrats are at risk of making a big miscalculation if they put all their hopes in consolidating their gains in affluent well-educated suburbs and do not address their weaknesses in rural and small town areas. So, on the surface you might think that I’d shake my head in agreement with this tweet:

Our own David Atkins made the same observation a bit more expansively in a piece last night in which he argued that “There is no Democrat so seemingly non-partisan that Romney Republicans will be tempted to cross the aisle in enough numbers to make a difference.”

But this takes my argument too far.

When I did my analysis of the presidential election results in Pennsylvania, I noted that Hillary Clinton had done much better than Barack Obama had in the Philadelphia suburbs. In my own Chester County, which is an affluent, highly-educated, traditionally Republican area, Clinton won by more than 25,000 votes. By contrast, Obama won Chester County against McCain and lost it to Romney, both times by less than a thousand votes.

Most of those 25,000 votes came from “Romney Republicans.” Something similar happened in Georgia’s 6th District.

Year Office Results
2000 President George W. Bush 68% – Al Gore 32%
2004 President George W. Bush 70% – John Kerry 29%
2008 President John McCain 62% – Barack Obama 37%
2012 President Mitt Romney 61% – Barack Obama 38%
2016 President Donald Trump 48% – Hillary Clinton 47%

Of course, we can get bogged down in defining what we mean by our terms. What exactly distinguishes a “Romney Republican” from a Trump voter? I think people are trying to create a distinction between working class Democrats who defected to Trump and more affluent and professional Republicans who defected from Romney. But that’s not a dichotomy that quite works in this case because the theory is that Romney Republicans won’t defect.

Let’s try to be clear about what we mean. Hillary Clinton won a lot of votes in the suburbs from people who had voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney. She lost even more votes from folks in small towns and rural areas who had voted for Barack Obama.

So, if I understand what Jeet Heer and David Atkins are saying, it’s basically that the Democrats can’t make much more progress in the suburbs than they’ve already made and that the easier task is to win back Democrats that they’ve recently lost. Either that, or they’re just wrong about how likely Romney Republicans are/were to defect.

I don’t have a strong opinion on which would be the easier task. But I do know that so far this trade has not favored the Democrats. The left’s votes are already too concentrated and I can make this point clear fairly easily.

When suburban Chester County was voting 50-50 in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, it was possible for the Democrats to also win down ballot seats. And the Democrats have succeeded in electing representatives from Chester County to the state legislature. Gaining 25,000 votes at the top of the ticket helps, but the area is still competitive. But in many other counties in Pennsylvania, the Democrats went from winning 50 percent or 40 percent to winning only 30 percent or 20 percent. The result is that many more legislative seats became so lopsidedly red that downticket Democrats no longer have a fighting chance.

In this sense, not all votes are equal. It’s more valuable for the Democrats to add a voter in a rural area than one in a competitive suburb, and rural votes are definitely of more use than added votes in seats where Democrats are already winning by comfortable margins.

What distinguishes Georgia 6th District is actually that so many Romney Republicans have already defected that it’s become a competitive seat. It’s definitely worth contesting for exactly that reason. Perhaps we’ve reached the limit on how many defections there can be, but that’s uncertain.

My concern is that even if the Democrats start winning at least some seats in places like Georgia’s 6th District, this is part of an overall shift in the electorate that doesn’t seem to favor the left. It would work somewhat well if the tradeoff were 50-50, with every lost rural vote being matched by an added suburban vote. So far, this hasn’t even been close to being the case, but it would at least allow the Democrats to win blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan in presidential contests again. Yet, that would still be an even trade that favors the GOP because it would make their lock on state legislatures all the stronger and reduce how many seats they have to worry about defending.

So, I disagree strongly with the idea that the Democrats haven’t and cannot win over Romney voters in affluent well-educated suburbs. I see little reason to believe they’ve tapped that source out, either. But it runs the risk of solidifying and even accelerating a realignment of the electorate that empowers the right.

The Democrats should not leave competitive seats on the table. The answer is not to abandon efforts to makes gains where they’ve already been making them. The answer is to have a dual strategy that can do two things at once, which is to work on solidifying gains while also working even harder to reverse recent losses.

The Fight of Our Lives

Every morning I start off with the best of intentions. I’m going to read the news and write about issues that are emerging. And then I run across stories like the one today about how this White House seems intent on making life a living hell for any brown person in this country. Or about how the EPA director wants to silence scientists. And then I get depressed.

When I turn to what liberals are talking about, I hear arguments over whether Democrats should be reaching out to Trump or Romney voters. I hear otherwise sane liberals writing about how Democrats need a substantive agenda after hearing other folks rail that Hillary Clinton was too wonky. I hear endless arguments over whether Democrats should go after white suburbanites or white rural voters, the college educated or non-college educated.

All of this makes me want to scream, “What the hell is wrong with you people?”

In this country right now we have a Republican House Speaker who bragged about his dream of getting rid of health care for poor people since he was attending keggers in college. We have a Republican Majority Leader in the Senate who is working in secret to take health care away from millions of people in order to give a tax cut to his rich friends. And we have a Republican President who…well, that one is going to require a list.

  1. After only five months in office is under investigation for obstruction of justice and whether or not his campaign coordinated with the Russians to win the election,
  2. Lies an average of 4-5 times a day,
  3. Doesn’t seem to know the basics about how our government works,
  4. Doesn’t seem interested in learning anything about how our government works,
  5. Is obviously mentally unfit to be president,
  6. Adheres to no real ideology other than sexism, racism and xenophobia,
  7. Attacks anyone who attempts to hold him accountable,
  8. Is constantly under suspicion because he won’t release his tax returns or divest himself of business holdings,
  9. Has the self-control of a two year-old,
  10. Vacillates between being a laughing stock and an opponent to our allies abroad,
  11. Has an obvious preference for brutal autocrats,
  12. Has assembled a staff full of white nationalists and those whose history has been spent undermining the very mission of the agencies they are running.

I am reminded of that time during the presidential campaign when Obama warned us that democracy and justice were on the ballot. He was right. When I get depressed its because I feel like I’m losing my mind as we watch the very foundations that have held this country together being slowly stripped away one little piece at a time. We keep focusing on that one little piece, which is understandable. But that means we’ve zeroed in on a tree when the whole forest is in the process of being burned down.

In light of that it seems ridiculous to be arguing about whether or not we need to appeal to people who live in the suburbs or rural areas. Just as most of the disagreements on the left that we’re hearing about right now seem trivial in comparison to the challenge we face. This is an “all hands on deck” moment where we need to take in the big picture of what’s going on and understand what is at stake. That is why what Adam Gopnik wrote resonated with me so powerfully.

What’s needed against Trump now is what has been found in France—not an ideologically narrow, politically focussed opposition but the widest possible coalition of people who genuinely value the tenets of democracy, meaning no more than the passionate desire to settle differences by debate and argument, rather than by power and cruelty and clan.

We can disagree over the specifics of how we get to universal health care, or whether Democrats should push for free college for everyone. But those kinds of arguments don’t capture the two major battles that are front and center right now. The first is whether or not we’re going to roll back the progress we’ve made as a country over the last 50-60 years, and the second is whether or not our democracy will survive this assault. I’m ready to reach out to anyone who’s willing to take on that fight right now.

This, to me, is the fight of our lives. If you’ve ever wondered how you would react during the major challenges this country has faced over our history, now is your time to find out.

The Republican Health Care Bill Would Worsen the Opioid Crisis

Many people see Ohio as ground zero of the opioid epidemic, and it’s easy to see why. So many dead bodies are showing up at county coroners’ offices that they’ve recently had to resort to calling the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and asking for cold-storage trailers to handle the overflow. Things would be considerably worse, however, if not for the expansion of Medicaid that Governor John Kasich accepted as part of the Affordable Care Act.

In Ohio, more than a third of the approximately 700,000 people who enrolled in Medicaid after the expansion began in 2014 reported some drug or alcohol dependence, according to a recent study by the state.

The vast majority did not previously have health insurance.

Asked what the Republicans’ planned cuts to Medicaid would do the people who are using the program to get treatment for their addiction to painkillers and heroin, Dr. Shawn Ryan, president of BrightView Health, a network of drug treatment clinics in Cincinnati, responded, “It would essentially write off a generation. It would be catastrophic.”

Opioid addiction is notoriously hard to beat, which is why we see things like Methadone clinics that have no parallel with recovering alcoholics or cocaine addicts. It’s not unusual for people with an opioid addiction to relapse repeatedly even after getting lengthy treatment, which is why most families couldn’t dream of paying for the cost of all the rehabilitation and counseling efforts that are required. Lack of medical coverage for addiction and mental health is basically a death sentence for most addicts.

The Republicans are having difficulty getting support for their Medicaid cuts from their own Senate caucus precisely because the program’s expansion has been so critical and successful in saving lives in the opioid battle, with Ohio Senator Rob Portman leading the fight to lessen the impact of their legislation.

Without some opioid funding, Mr. Portman cannot vote for the bill, he said, adding, “Any replacement is going to have to do something to address this opioid crisis that is gripping our country.”

…“The opioid issue has been a particular concern of mine and has been for years,” said Mr. Portman, who has been leading the efforts with Senator [ Shelley Moore] Capito [of West Virginia]. “The reality is we have the worst drug crisis that our country’s ever faced, and it’s being driven by opioids.”

So far, however, Portman hasn’t been staunch enough in his insistence on this point. The current draft of the Senate bill calls for even deeper cuts than the House bill that President Trump criticized as too “mean.” All Portman has accomplished on that front is to postpone when the devastating cuts begin to kick in. He also has a proposal to set up a separate revenue stream for treating addiction, but so far he hasn’t won support for it.

The emerging Senate bill, like the one approved narrowly by the House in early May, would end Medicaid as an open-ended entitlement program and replace it with capped payments to states, Republicans said. But starting in 2025, payments to the states would grow more slowly than those envisioned in the House bill.

Republican senators from states that have been hit hard by the opioid drug crisis have tried to cushion the Medicaid blow with a separate funding stream of $45 billion over 10 years for substance abuse treatment and prevention costs, now covered by the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But that, too, is running into opposition from conservatives. They have been tussling over the issue with moderate Republican senators like Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Susan Collins of Maine.

The opioid epidemic is hitting Pennsylvania nearly as hard as it is hitting Ohio, but Senator Pat Toomey is the one leading the conservative charge to eliminate Medicaid spending and the resistance to Portman’s efforts to mitigate the resulting carnage.

Donald Trump, of course, promised repeatedly to do more to fight the crisis and help people get treatment. And he knows that many of the communities that were most supportive of him in critical Rust Belt states have been the most devastated by opioids. It would seem to be in his self interest not to break those promises, but he isn’t showing any leadership on the issue as the Senate struggles to release its health plan sometime tomorrow.

It’s also a mistake to think that the crisis is limited in any way to Trump’s areas of the country. The opioid crisis is extremely bad in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s hitting people in even the most affluent communities and school districts in the country.

The problem is big enough that it could single-handedly sink the Republicans’ effort to pass the American Health Care Act. And it should.

What Isn’t a Secret About McConnell’s Health Care Bill

One thing that McConnell’s strategy of keeping his health care bill a secret accomplishes is that reporters like Ed O’Keefe can say ridiculous things like this:

There are two problems with that analysis. The first is that it gives McConnell a pass for what Steve Benen called “a legislative heist.” In other words, it dismisses the problems posed to our democratic processes. To the extent that secrecy works, it will be repeated and the Senate ceases to be a deliberative body. Why not just let all the opposing party go home and allow the majority to legislate?

But this idea that there will be “enough in there that people like” is a complete fantasy (unless, of course, you happen to be a one percenter who will get a huge tax cut as a result of this bill). Kevin Drum did a good job of explaining that a few days ago.

…a reconciliation bill is not allowed to increase the deficit, so if you get rid of the taxes you also have to get rid of at least the same amount of spending.

This means that Senate Republicans have limited options. They can either (a) make the House bill more generous, which means not cutting taxes as much, or (b) keep all the tax cuts, which means cutting spending as much as the House bill.

I think we can all agree that option B is far more likely, can’t we? And cutting spending means cutting health care.

Donald Trump can go on suggesting that the House bill is “mean” or that the Senate bill needs “more heart.” But the only way to get “enough in there that people like” and still pass it via reconciliation would be to forgo some of the tax cuts for the wealthy. That isn’t going to happen because, for Republicans, the tax cuts are what Obamacare repeal has always been about.

Notice that at the end of the segment above, O’Keefe says that the goal for Senate Republicans is to simply lower the number of people who will lose their health coverage compared to the 23 million that were projected in the House bill. So if CBO says that only 17 million will lose their coverage, Republicans will score that as a win. That is as deeply cynical as you can get.

While no one has seen McConnell’s bill yet, there is nothing very secretive about what is going on here. The only remaining question is whether or not there are at least three Republican Senators who have the courage to stand up to this legislative heist.