First, a media mea culpa. It’s not easy to be self-critical in public. So kudos to Perry Bacon Jr. for his new FiveThirtyEight piece, “How the media bungled the John Kelly story.” Bacon includes himself — and many others — among those who misjudged the goals of President Trump’s chief of staff, and Bacon tries to understand why. His honesty makes his argument more persuasive.
Tax politics. The Republican playbook on taxes looks like this: Package a huge tax cut for the rich with a small tax cut for everyone else, and then criticize Democrats for being against middle-class tax cuts. It’s been a mostly successful strategy, too.
In 2008, President Barack Obama finally came up with a successful response. He proposed larger middle-class tax cuts than John McCain, his opponent, and kept bragging about those cuts. By the final weeks of the race, Americans saw Obama as more of a tax cutter than McCain was.
Today’s Democrats are at risk of being dragged back into the old politics of tax cuts. Since President Trump’s tax bill passed, Republicans keep talking about the middle-class benefits in the law, and the poll numbers for both Trump and congressional Republicans have risen.
Recent television ads in Indiana and Missouri — taken out by the Koch brothers’ advocacy group — are typical. They’re meant to damage those states’ Democratic senators, who are both running for re-election. “Senator Claire McCaskill said she’d support tax cuts for hard-working Missourians,” the narrator in one ad says, “but when she had the chance, she said no, voting against tax cuts for you, standing with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, instead of us.”
Democrats have been too slow to respond to these attacks. Maybe they’ve been distracted by Russia and everything else. Or maybe they assumed that the tax bill would stay unpopular, like it was late last year. Whatever the reason, the inattention has been a mistake.
Similarly, a liberal advocacy group and two research groups released a strategy memo that argued: “Democrats continue to have winning messages on health care and the economy, but right now voters are not hearing them. That must change.”
There are signs that Democrats are starting to get more aggressive. In doing so, they’re running a version of the 2008 Obama strategy. Democratic groups are now running their own ads in Indiana and Missouri, denouncing “out-of-state billionaires” for misleading attacks on “our senator.” The ads explain that Democrats favored a “middle-class tax cut” rather than one that overwhelmingly favored the rich and that could lead to cuts in Medicare and Social Security.
This case is harder to make politically than Obama’s, given that he had a detailed tax-cut plan he could constantly mention. Today’s Democrats do not. Still, they should get more disciplined about making the case against the Trump tax plan. Ultimately, it really is a bad deal for most Americans.
Gerrymandering, continued. The initial discussion of Pennsylvania’s new congressional map — including my analysis — emphasized “partisan balance”: the idea that the map would make the partisan split of House seats similar to the split in the popular vote. A party that wins about half the vote will win about half the seats.
Emily Bazelon of The Times argues that this is the wrong point to emphasize. The bigger priorities in the new plan seem to be creating competitive congressional races and keeping existing geographical boundaries (like county lines) intact. That’s no coincidence. Most states require congressional maps to respect geographic boundaries, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has specifically said the state’s new map should respect boundaries for the sake of promoting competitiveness.
Partisan balance is a bit different. It’s a perfectly admirable goal. In fact, it should probably be the No. 1 goal in drawing congressional districts. But it’s not a court-approved reason to throw out a current map. Which would explain why Pennsylvania’s new maps focus on keeping counties intact and creating a bunch of close races.
For more, read Bazelon’s tweets or a piece by Rick Hasen, a law professor who specializes in election law. On the same subject, Sean Trende, an elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, has some good thoughts about the philosophy of gerrymandering.
Source: The New York Times