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Trump’s Triangulation (and How To Not Fall For It)

Yesterday, leaders of the building trades unions went to the White House, to meet with Donald Trump.  Trump was just signing the executive orders to move ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Dakota Access Pipeline, both projects that many of those unions support.

When they came out, the union leaders spoke glowingly of Trump, who just delivered two projects to them.  In fact, North America’s Building Trades Unions put out this release, which positively gushed about Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is, if nothing else, an avid salesman of himself.  He got what he needed – the unequivocal praise of unions, for the price of just two projects.

Meanwhile, he is pushing through a harshly anti-labor nominee for the Labor Department, opposes any minimum wage, and supports so-called “Right to Work” laws that will end unions. Nowhere in their press release was any warning from the unions that they’d oppose Trump on such moves.

Looking at the whole exercise, I was reminded of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton engaged in what became known as “triangulation.”

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Normalize Part of Trump, Normalize All of Trump

Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer, are already blowing it.

“Sounds good to me!” Schumer recently declared, regarding Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-proposed infrastructure plan.

At the risk of seeming to violate Godwin’s law, Trump isn’t the first authoritarian to propose massive infrastructure activity as the proverbial sugar to make his autocratic, bigoted medicine go down.

“At least he built the Autobahn,” Germans used to declare.

Call it the “it’s not all bad” playbook of authoritarians.  The reason why it works is quite simple.  If they can normalize part of themselves by giving people something they like, then everything about them becomes normalized.

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Progressives Rising

Piggybacking off my post from yesterday, Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo shows some other key victories for the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” in the new Congress.

The Democrats’ progressive wing is enjoying a renaissance since the party’s crushing defeat in the 2014 midterm election, chalking up victories and capturing the attention of congressional leaders on causes near and dear to their hearts.

Some of the change is structural. The election wiped out red state senators and House members in less progressive districts, reducing the new minority party to a more ideologically cohesive unit. The loss of the Democrats’ Senate majority also breaks a four-year holding pattern in which leaders had to cut deals with the conservative-dominated House, making it somewhat easier for them to stand or fall on principle.

“It’s very, very liberating,” said one Democratic Senate leadership aide.

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There’s Something Happening Here….

When I worked for Howard Dean, in the 2004 election, he used to like to quote Harry Truman in his stump speech:

“If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time.”

The point, when Howard Dean said it, was that far too many Democrats were trying to be like President Bush, in 2003, when the President’s popularity was soaring, but Dean was offering a real alternative.  Yet, it could just as easily apply to the many Democrats, especially in the South, who became nearly indistinguishable from Republicans, not just on issue, but in tone.

Lo and behold, the slow burn of so called Blue Dogs completed in 2014, and voters voted for genuine Republicans, across the board.

Finally, it seems like Democrats are finally taking the right lesson away from these losses.  In the past, they always seemed to answer defeat by moving more to the right, assuming the country wanted conservatism.  But, in the past few days, it is becoming apparent that, finally, Democrats realize they need to offer a real choice – a progressive choice.

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Conservatives Are Ready for Warren?

I don’t think this is reverse psychology, or some trick. But some conservatives are now begrudgingly admitting that they find some appeal in Elizabeth Warren’s message.

In particular, this piece by far-right columnist Rod Dreher caught my attention:

But I hope that Sen. Warren will run for president in 2016 to force a national conversation on the Washington-Wall Street power nexus….

A populist who talks like Elizabeth Warren and really means it is a Democrat a conservative like me would consider voting for, despite her social liberalism. As Phyllis Schlafly said back in 1964, in defending Goldwater against the Establishment Republican Nelson Rockefeller, a contest between Warren and Clinton, and a contest between Warren and just about any Republican would give the country a choice, not an echo.

He’s not the only one.  From HotAir to RedState, online bastions of extreme conservatism were actually drawn to Elizabeth Warren’s non-conservative message (and Nancy Pelosi’s, too).

Again, I don’t see this as reverse psychology, or some trick to get Democrats to nominate Warren over Hillary Clinton.  If nothing else, the writers and blogs above are true believers in what they say, no matter how much I may normally disagree with them.  So, I think they’re being genuine, here.

Not so long ago, I wrote about how Warren’s opening argument – her raison d’etre – absolutely would have appeal in the reddest parts of the South.  It’s progressive, but it has the ability to appeal beyond ideological lines.

I think the developing feelings among the online right for Warren’s core message give more credence to that notion.


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MESSAGE MEMO: Defining “them”

There’s no doubt that Elizabeth Warren is person who elicits the most electric response from progressives. She speaks loudly and clearly on the economic issues that progressives most care about, and already is showing that her straight-forward, no-BS dissection of the issues has the power to move an entire caucus.

But this video, released by MoveOn.org in support of an effort to draft her into the presidential race, highlights her extremely smart messaging, and a template progressives need to remember, moving forward.

Right at the start of the video, she corrects a flaw in what, too often, is the progressive message:

“Government does work. It works really well for those who can hire armies of lobbyists. It works really well for those who have armies of lawyers. It works really well for those who can make big campaign contributions. It’s just not working for American families.”

Note in the “us” vs. “them” argument, who she frames as the “them.” It isn’t “the rich.” It isn’t even “corporations.” It’s those who use their money and power to further rig the system in their own favor, at the detriment of our families.

It’s a small, but extremely important, qualifier.

I was reminded of this piece, from earlier in the year, in which a former conservative voter explains why he constantly voted against his own economic interests – for the party “of the rich.”

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Mary Landrieu lost, and nobody cares

There are a lot of reasons that Senator Mary Landrieu got creamed in her runoff election, by Republican Representative Bill Cassidy.

But I think the most compelling reason is encapsulated in the reaction from Democrats, which is one big collective “yawn.”

Heck, even on the most active political blogs on the left, folks were left wondering if there was even a run-off election this weekend, because the blog wasn’t providing updates. When your base doesn’t care, you’re going to lose.

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