Playing Trump’s Game III: Old, White Men

About the worst epithet among Democrats as of late is “old, white men.” At best, this approach demonstrates a total lack of self-awareness in a party that adores Bernie Sanders. More to the point, it is oblivious engagement in exactly the sort of ageist, racist, and sexist behavior that Democrats claim to hate fervently.

It’s also a lousy way to attract voters. As it turns out, old, white men don’t like being stereotyped negatively any more than, say, young, black men. Needless to say, the right-wing media will be sure to highlight every single incident and even invent a few more. This thoughtless throwaway dig is a cheap and effective way to kiss goodbye to nice slices of the electorate by all but gift wrapping them for the Republicans.

White women, who often patiently work their way up the ladder to find themselves shunted aside once they reach a certain age, may also not appreciate the total celebration of youth over experience. This doesn’t mean ignoring the interests of younger voters on such issues as education affordability. It simply requires not denigrating older voters or experience.

It should be obvious but Democrats should stay out of the business of negatively stereotyping anyone for their identity characteristics. Advocacy on issues of particular interest to specific communities doesn’t require putting other people down based on their age, race, or gender.

In the last gubernatorial election, now-Rep. Anthony Brown hemorrhaged white support. If Maryland Democrats want to win back the Governor’s office, they shouldn’t insult big chunks of the largest group of voters in the state. Gov. Larry Hogan is not making this mistake with nonwhite constituencies.


MoCo Our Revolution Members Push Back on Early Endorsement

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post recently reported on the Maryland chapter of Our Revolution’s plans to issue an early endorsement of Ben Jealous for Governor of Maryland.  Among other things, the Post article said:

“A lot of Bernie Sanders’ supporters — and I was a Bernie Sanders supporter — were unhappy with the lack of transparency in the DNC process,” said Walter Ludwig, a spokesman for the gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who like Jealous is a progressive hoping to draw support from liberal Democrats. “This is no more transparent.”

Aides to several other declared or likely candidates declined to comment on the record, to avoid a potential rift with Jealous’s supporters. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, however, they said they found it strange that Our Revolution wanted to endorse so early in the process, before all the expected candidates had launched their campaigns.

Montgomery County also has an Our Revolution chapter.  Recently, its members were asked on Facebook whether they should initiate their own endorsement process now.  The answer: a resounding no, with every responding member saying it was too early.  Is that what rank-and-file members of the state chapter also think?

Disclosure: Your author is an enthusiastic supporter of Senator Rich Madaleno, who is running as a progressive for Governor.


Rockville Councilmember Palakovich Carr Joins Delegate Race

Julie Palakovich Carr has won two terms on the Rockville City Council in 2013 and 2015. She came in second of the four winners in 2015 and first in 2013. Together, Rockville and Gaithersburg compose almost all of District 17, so Palakovich Carr should start out as a strong candidate. She will not need to give up her seat on the Council to run for delegate, as her term expires in 2019.

The announcement is interesting partly because it’s not clear that there will be a vacancy in the House. While it is well known that Del. Andrew Platt would like to run for Congress, Rep. John Delaney has not made his plans known yet. As far as I know, experienced Dels. Kumar Barve and Jim Gilchrist plan to seek new terms.

Here is Palakovich Carr’s announcement:

Rockville City Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr Announces Candidacy for Maryland State Delegate

July 6, 2017

Rockville, Maryland—Today, Rockville City Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr announced her candidacy for state delegate in District 17, which includes Gaithersburg and Rockville.  Palakovich Carr will run in the Democratic primary on June 26, 2018.

“Now more than ever, we need progressive leadership in Annapolis,” said Palakovich Carr.  “I’m going to fight for the values that people of Rockville and Gaithersburg hold dear: fairness, respect for diversity, and an open and honest government that helps people.”

“From safeguarding our children’s health from fracking and secondhand smoke to protecting law-abiding immigrants from deportation, I have a proven track record of working on behalf of the people in our communities to implement real progressive solutions.

Palakovich Carr was first elected to the Rockville City Council in 2013 and is currently serving her second term.  She is the author of the Fostering Community Trust Act, an ordinance enacted last month, which keeps local police focused on fighting crime rather than using city resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

Palakovich Carr also led successful initiatives to ensure smoke-free air in outdoor dining areas in Rockville, to protect local water quality, to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and to honor and celebrate the community’s diversity.

In 2016, Councilmember Palakovich Carr was recognized as a Leading Woman by the Annapolis Daily Record for her community involvement and professional accomplishments.

A scientist by training, Palakovich Carr has a Master’s degree in Biology from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Boston University.  She and her husband, Eric, have a son.

Prior to being elected to the City Council, Palakovich Carr served two terms on the city’s Environment Commission, chaired an advisory group on infrastructure and redevelopment, was vice chair of the City Services and Budget Working Group, and chaired the Watersheds Committee.


Playing Trump’s Game II: White Privilege

(See the introduction of this series in Part I: Are Democrats Buying into Trumps’s Narrative?)

There is a reason that Democratic congressional candidates who have made striking gains from Kansas to Montana to Georgia haven’t included “check your privilege” in their stump speeches.

Democratic appeals to working-class whites as screwed by the system and middle-class whites as under enormous pressure don’t even get a chance to work when the party simultaneously says they’re privileged. It’s easy to understand why people living paycheck to paycheck who feel bad they can’t get their kid something nice for Christmas resent being called privileged.

The privilege narrative communicates that Democrats think whites have everything handed to them. Most people, even if they acknowledge the advantages that gave them a leg up, think their talents and striving played a critical role in their achievements. Moreover, parents of all races hope to help their kids get ahead.

As a result, focus on racial advantage comes across to individual white voters as a dismissal of their problems and a denigration of their success. Exhorting whites to “check their privilege” is heard as telling them to shut up and that their interests should go to the back of the line. Not a winning appeal to any group.

Some argue that one only needs to explain white privilege properly to white people. But when a party’s message requires defensive explanation—and not one amenable to a sound bite—it is already losing. In any case, once you’ve told voters that their concerns should count less, they’re not even interested in listening.

It’s easy to deride white voters as “snowflakes” if they don’t cotton to white privilege narratives. Of course, this approach just adds to the perceived insult. Said snowflakes will continue melting away if they sense Democrats disrespect them. In other words, there is a real cost when privileged progressive whites say “check your privilege” to show (off) their cultural sensitivity.

My point is not to debate the veracity of white privilege but to argue that it is a political loser. As a message, it sets one group against another, which is exactly the game that Trump likes to play. Losing elections, of course, prevents Democrats from enacting meaningful measures like those taken by Maryland Democrats on issues from policing and sentencing reform to the DREAM Act.

Making one’s case in the context of a unifying American narrative has broader appeal. One reason the DREAM Act had so much support was that it appealed directly to a thread running through American history. Descendants of immigrants can understand well the desire of people to come here to work hard for a better life.

Of course, the bill’s title echoed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech in which he warned America of the dire consequences of ignoring black demands for justice but also inspired by calling for America live up to the best of its ideals in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial.


What Can We Learn About 2018 from Google Trends?

By Adam Pagnucco.

A fascinating, but rather depressing, article in Vox makes the following allegation: political scientists can learn as much, or more, about political sentiment from Google Trends as they can from polls.  The reason?  People are more honest with Google in their search behavior than they are with pollsters.  Subjects that they might never admit would be of interest are in fact searched when no one is watching!  Search data may not tell us which candidate will get the most votes.  But it can tell us what voters are thinking about when they head to the ballot box.  And that is definitely politically relevant.

Let’s do an exercise using Google search trends by people in Maryland over the last twelve months.  First, let’s look at searches on five issues that Democrats often run on: public schools, transportation, health care, climate change and diversity.  The chart below shows relative search frequency on each of these terms.  The horizontal axis shows weeks over time.  The vertical axis shows search frequency as an index relative to the peak of the most popular search term in the data set (which is set at 100).  In this issue set, public schools wins out, with an average search index of 22 out of 100.  Health care gets 20, followed by climate change (18), transportation (11) and diversity (8).

Next, let’s look at five issues that Republicans often run on: guns, taxes, illegal immigration, crime and terrorism.  Taxes is number one here, with an average search index of 37 out of 100.  Crime gets 25, followed by guns (19), terrorism (3) and illegal immigration (1).

Now let’s compare the top two Democratic issues (public schools and health care) to the top two Republican issues (taxes and crime).  Public schools wins this set with an average search index of 24, followed by taxes (15), crime (10) and health care (8).  The fact that public schools gets a higher search index than taxes would seem to be good news for Democrats.

There is another search term that rivals these four: Donald Trump.  When Trump is inserted into the mix, he gets an average search index of 17 for the past twelve months, followed by public schools (13), taxes (8), crime (6) and health care (5).  Much of this is due to spikes in Trump interest around the general election and the inauguration, although he has held his own against the other search terms for most of this year.

So should Trump-chanting Democrats celebrate?  Not so fast.  There is a politically relevant search term that trumps Trump: jobs.  A straight-up comparison between jobs and Trump shows the former search term blowing away the Tweeter in Chief 54-17.  That three-to-one edge held up roughly the same in the Baltimore and Washington metro areas and on the Eastern Shore.  In fact, the only time in which Trump had more searches in Maryland than jobs was around the general election.

What does all this mean?  Maybe not much.  Google Trends is a very new source of data subject to much interpretation.  It has almost none of the mathematical science built around it that polling has.  That said, here’s a suggestion.  Donald Trump is indeed on the minds of Marylanders.  But they are thinking much more about jobs.  To the extent that Trump fixation detracts from the Democrats’ ability to promulgate a positive economic message, Governor Larry Hogan will benefit.


Playing Trump’s Game I: Are Democrats Buying Into Trump’s Narrative?

Talking about race is rarely easy. In the wake of the 2016 election, it has become even more difficult on the Left because many people are understandably very angry and fearful. America elected a candidate who freely trafficked in racist and sexist rhetoric during his campaign. Trump attacked Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Muslims, Jews, and revealed his misogyny towards women in both business and politics.

Much of that anger, hurt and fear has been directed towards whites, whose increased support for the Republican candidate was crucial to his election. People who wanted to believe that America is better than Donald Trump were deeply let down by their fellow citizens, overwhelmingly white, who voted for them.

Maryland Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Sen. Gail Bates and Del. Kathy Szeliga have stood with him. Gov. Larry Hogan has mostly stayed strategically silent but backed Trump’s divisive actions on immigration and other areas.

Some have argued that Democrats should just give up on most white voters, as too racist and a shrinking part of the electorate. This viewpoint dangerously oversimplifies. Although whites threw the election to Donald Trump, they also gave enough votes to Barack Obama to make him president twice. Indeed, Barack Obama gained a higher share of the white vote in 2008 than Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or John Kerry won when they ran for president.

Moreover, Democrats don’t need to win back most white voters in order to win—even small gains among whites would have been enough to deprive Trump of his electoral college victory. Giving up on white voters is political folly. Increases in the rising black, Latino and Asian vote won’t be enough alone to win many of the states moving in the Democratic direction, at least in the medium term.

Additionally, geographic distribution renders capturing more white votes key to Democratic control of federal and state legislatures as well as the presidency. In Maryland, white votes will determine the outcome of legislative elections in most seats targeted by Republicans, such as those held by Sens. Kathy Klausmeier and Jim Mathias, and whether Democrats retain their ability to overturn gubernatorial vetoes in both houses  of the legislature.

All of the anger and fear whipped up by Trump has engendered outrage helpful in whipping up Democrats to fight Trump’s many excesses and to mobilize for the next election. To the extent that outrage buys into rhetoric that supports Trump’s framing of politics in racial terms and perceived by whites as hostile, it aids Trump’s efforts to unify whites behind him and further divide the country.

Democrats also cannot assume that they will retain as high a share of nonwhite votes. A less polarizing Republican candidate could easily attract more of the voters that Trump worked so hard to alienate in 2016. Trump left them with little choice but many would welcome conservative candidates who were not viscerally hostile.

Fortunately, most of this sort of rhetoric is easy for Democrats to avoid without giving up on either the party’s economic or equality agenda. Treating whites with respect and taking their interests seriously is not a zero-sum game that requires disrespecting and ignoring African-American, Latino, or other nonwhite voters.  As it turns out, raising people up and promoting fuller inclusion and equality does not require dividing America on racial lines. The bad news is that, based on progressive social media feeds, this seems unlikely to occur.

In the current state of polarization and heightened outrage among both parties, racial topics have become virtually toxic unless one goes reiterates dominant viewpoints with accusations of racism and sexism ready to fly among both Democrats and Republicans. As a result, these posts focusing on how Democrats can better white voters may jar some readers.

Nonetheless, over the next few days, I hope to outline a few narratives that Democrats should avoid if they want to expand their coalition to include more white voters. This doesn’t mean I think there are not issues particular to specific other key, important Democratic constituencies. By acting more politically adroit, Democrats will be better positioned to address them. Democrats need to think strategically and not play Trump’s game of racial fear and division.