The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 14

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 14

This week:

  • From ‘Crumbs’ back to ‘Mediscare’ for Democrats
  • McCaskill is too smart to defend Hillary Clinton
  • Pence takes the fight to Heitkamp’s territory

House 2018

Republicans have suddenly taken heart from generic ballot polls in the last week or two. For example, CNN now gives the Democratic candidates a mere six-point edge over Republicans,

down from 16 points a month ago. Quinnipiac now gives them a six-point edge, down from 10 points in early March and 15 points in late February.

Should Republicans get excited? Could there be a midterm resurrection?

Well, it’s hard to think so after they lost their recent race in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. That loss is a big deal — these polls might just be a statistical blip. In our estimation, Democrats must still be favored to take over the House.

Yet even with Democrats holding every ace, and having even just won a big election, it’s worth asking whether they’re blowing it even now.

Back to the Democratic future: Those old enough to remember the pre-Obama Democratic Party can tell the difference between it and the party Obama led to two large presidential victories. The Obama-era party projected itself as a forward-looking and positive organization. It won when it made voters feel good about change and reinforced those good feelings with a sense of moral superiority via liberal social values. It was an exercise in projecting positive energy and permitting the ordinary voter to feel as smug as possible.

The Obama-era party wasn’t really so much about scolding people as it was about making them feel like they were part of something bigger. And yes, there were costs to this strategy. Senior citizens and white voters became much less Democratic, for example. But these methods worked at the time and created at least temporary Obama-driven majorities, at least in the two elections in which he personally ran.

The pre-Obama party, on the other hand, was a very different party. It was a party of mother-hen scolds who were going to tell you they had to raise your taxes — much like Pelosi has been saying recently. It was the party of “Mediscare” and of guarding the “Third Rail” of entitlements from “risky schemes” — more on that in a second.

It was also a party that lost five of the last seven presidential elections, and frittered away what seemed like permanent control of Congress in 1994.

When you hear House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., disparaging bonuses that workers are getting as a result of the recent tax cuts as “crumbs,” which Democratic Party does it make you think of?

Republicans best card — provided conditions continue or improve — is the economy. Their tax cut bill is increasingly popular as people come to realize it isn’t the tax hike that Democrats puzzlingly claimed it was.

And Democrats seem conflicted as to how they should talk about the economy, and about how much credit or help they should be offering Trump.

On the one hand, the DCCC has publicly released polling across 52 swing districts. The resulting memo serves as a warning to Democrats not to get too crazy about all this #Resistance and impeaching Trump business. In fact, the DCCC recommends that Democratic candidates “must express a willingness to work with the President when his agenda might help the district.”

The DCCC poll also shows that a majority of Americans (56 percent of them) are confident about the economy. Even if only 40 percent of them specifically credit Republicans for the improvement, this carries a pretty big risk for Democrats as well.

The specific advice to Democratic candidates is “not to talk about the improving economy as ‘a great thing,’ but to shy away from describing it in ‘negative terms that cause people to tune us out.’”

But that doesn’t match up with what Nancy Pelosi is telling her team. She penned them a memo last week effectively extending and expanding the “crumbs” strategy. She’s sent them off for their Easter Recess with instructions to go home and trash the 2017 tax cut for any audience they can gather together.

The DCCC warns to “not appear out of sync with what people believe about the economy.” Compare that to what Pelosi says:

“The American people rightly fear how the GOP Tax Scam will lead to devastating cuts to Medicaid and Medicare….We must continue to amplify the truth about the GOP Tax Scam and the threat to Medicare.”

So yes, we’re back to “Mediscare” again. And by the way, looming cuts to Medicare as a result of the 2017 tax bill are not actually something regular people fear. But it is worth noting that if you put something like that to them in a push poll — as the DCCC did in its commissioned polling — it can cause respondents to become less supportive of the tax bill.

And so Democrats are going to talk up looming cuts to entitlements as a way of stemming the growing support for the December tax bill. But do Medicare cuts seem like they’re coming right now? They do this at the risk of seeming like real Debbie Downers about an economy that most people see as doing pretty well.

Senate 2018

Missouri: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D, is no dummy. As the most vulnerable Senate incumbent in America, she recognizes that there’s no reason to be loyal to the biggest loser in today’s Democratic Party. When Clinton says that Trump’s followers live in the backward backwaters of America — Missouri, for example — she needs to be “more careful,” McCaskill said. What’s more, given Clinton’s high-handed attitude, she can “completely understand” why voters got behind Trump.

Well, yeah.

North Dakota: Vice President Mike Pence will be doing a lot of stumping in Red states with key Senate races, and he showed last week that he’s not at all afraid to get his hands dirty with campaign attacks.

His shot at Democratic North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is a smart one, coming in a state where Trump performed well and where his agenda remains popular. Pence is a great figure for wielding the negative campaign hammer during the 2018 cycle because he doesn’t suffer the same personal unpopularity as Trump.