On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson


Will Democrats Snatch Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory? So let’s see. We have two old white guys, one of them still the darling of the party’s young left and the other standing for what remains of the party’s center. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, is in many ways a far more creative radical than Sanders, but if he has a lock on the hearts of the lefties, Warren will have trouble gaining traction.

Call me an ageist, but in my view 78 is just too old to run for president. This would likely hurt either Bernie or Biden in the general election.

As for youth, we have Beto. But this party has had far too many young charismatic leaders who were campaigning on a smile and a shoeshine, and putting off deciding what they stood for to be decided later. Such candidates are ready made to be the candidates of Wall Street.

And then we have the identity left. There is a way to talk thoughtfully about race and class in a way that reminds white people and black people of their common interests against the one percent. Demos Action has a brilliant project on this called the Race Class Narrative. It’s all about both/and. I am the wrong person to be saying it, but I wish I heard more of this from the candidates.

Face it, the Democrats will have a hard time winning unless they maximize turnout from black and Latino voters—and they will have a hard time winning unless they can gain back the white working class voters of the heartland who Hillary Clinton lost. Both/and.

This was of course the Obama coalition. But Obama once elected did not deliver enough soon enough. His economic appointees were nearly all Wall Street Democrats.

Regular people are hurting even more than they were when Trump was elected. This election is the Democrats’ to lose.

A true economic populism that bridges race and gender is the key to victory, especially against a president who proved to be a fake populist. Let’s hope the Democratic nominee figures that out.


Just What the Democratic Presidential Field Needs: Two (2) Colorado Centrists. It was a bare two weeks ago that former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Now comes Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who told The Washington Post’s James Hohmann in an interview published today that, Hohmann writes, “he’s inclined to run for president and will decide in a matter of ‘weeks.’”

In the course of the interview, Bennet excoriated a number of progressive policies that have won increasing support among Democrats, leading Hohmann to conclude (I’d say fairly) that Bennet “represents an antidote to the Democratic Party’s leftward lurch.”

That would position Bennet as the sole moderate in the field, along with Joe Biden (if he runs), Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney, Cory Booker (who, if elected, may compel schoolchildren to read David Brooks’s columns), and fellow Coloradan Hickenlooper, among others.

In his interview with the Post, Bennet took particular aim at the suggestion that Democrats should consider increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court—a position to which many Democrats have been driven by the Republican Senate’s refusal even to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, and the prospect that the Court that has emerged since Republicans blew off Garland (and Obama) is likely to strike down any remotely progressive legislation that a Democratic Congress and president might enact.

In opposing increasing the number of justices and in a host of other positions he took in the interview, Bennet made clear his aversion to partisan warfare where Republicans “have their version of one-party rule for a while and then we substitute it with our version of one-party rule.” The problem with that diagnosis is that it’s empirically wrong. Obama, for instance, modeled the Affordable Care Act on a conservative think tank’s proposal, which Mitch Romney subsequently signed into law in Massachusetts—and every congressional Republican nonetheless voted against it. Given what the Republican Party has become, Democrats have one-party rule thrust upon them, and anyone seeking the Democratic nomination for president should understand that or consider seeking a lower office, like, say, City Sealer in Dubuque.

Nonetheless, Bennet says he’s likely to jump in the pool. “I am the person that can bring people together on the other side and actually get stuff done,” he said. Whoops! That wasn’t Bennet; that was Hickenlooper two weeks ago. It’ll be challenging keeping these two guys apart.


Truth Time for Trump’s Turtle. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has been the most loyal of the Trump loyalists. But in his home state of Kentucky, where he is up for re-election in 2020, McConnell is running behind in the polls.

About 33 percent of Kentucky voters approve of the job McConnell is doing, while some 56 percent disapprove. 

Lately, McConnell has had trouble holding his Senate troops. Twelve Republicans defected on the resolution to overturn Trump’s emergency wall declaration, while six voted with Democrats to reject his Yemen policy.

And life will only become more difficult for McConnell once Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is released. There is a great deal of speculation about whether the report will ever be made public. The odds are overwhelming that it will, one way or another.

Congress has demanded it, in a rare show of bipartisan solidarity. Also, Mueller need only produce indictments of the Trump Organization as a criminal enterprise, with Trump (Individual 1) as an un-indicted co-conspirator, and Mueller’s whole case is on the public record.

As the waters rise around Trump, it becomes harder and harder for McConnell to retreat into his shell and continue his role as loyalist to the end. His own neck will increasingly be on the line. He could end up as mocked turtle soup. 


Trump’s Very, Extremely, Seriously Bad Week. This was the week that Trump’s senate supporters began deserting him big time, on the Wall (12 Republican Senate defections), on support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (7 defections) and most ominously, on Special Counsel Mueller’s report, which both parties want made public.

This is how it works. Support is solid, until it starts to crumble, and then it can crumble fast. 

Nancy Pelosi would be wise not to throw more cold water on impeachment. Let the facts come out, and let the process play out. 

Yes, it would be terrific to beat Trump at the polls. But the more cornered he is, the crazier he becomes. And it’s best to get him out of office sooner rather than later.

So let’s see what Mueller has. Let’s see what House investigations unearth. And let’s savor the process of Republicans deserting Trump. 

We will known soon enough whether an impeachment is in the cards. In the meantime, no avenue should be foreclosed. 


Beto: The Tabula-Rasa-for-President Candidate. Among the gazillion Democrats now running for president, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who announced his candidacy today, is the most unformed.

His brief tenure in the House gives few clues as to his politics, though he did support centrist Democrat Seth Moulton’s challenge to Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader in 2016. His relatively near-miss challenge to Republican Senator Ted Cruz was due in no small measure to Beto’s charisma and Cruz’s lack thereof, but also to the rapidly changing demographics of the Texas electorate.

Beto’s extended musings before he announced today, and the announcement itself, provide equally infinitesimal guidance as to his politics. We know he supported the NFL players who took a knee. He’s against the border wall and assault weapons, for granting citizenship to many undocumenteds and for some form of universal health coverage. That’s about it.

In theory, participating in the primary debates, and being confronted by questions from voters and reporters on the campaign trail will compel him to say something more specific about what he’d hope to do as president.

In practice: Who knows? As the story on his declaration of candidacy in today’s Washington Post notes, “When asked [during his Senate campaign] about policy on the campaign trail, O’Rourke often answered not with a specific remedy, but with a call for Texans to solve the problem together, allowing him to remain vague in many of his positions.”

It’s hard not to get the feeling that he’ll ask voters to vote for him because, well, he’s Beto. In an interview with him that Vanity Fair just posted, when asked about the presidential contest, he replied, “Man, I’m just born to be in it.”

You have to hope Democratic voters ask a little more of him than that. 


This Just In: Rich People Game College Admissions for Their Kids (Stop the Presses!) So 50 very wealthy people did everything from pay test takers to bribe coaches to fake athletic records to get their kids into college. Are we shocked—shocked?

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that this scandal is just a grotesque extreme of business as usual. Rich kids get to attend better high schools, get all kinds of test prep help, have helicopter parents who edit college essays, are able to cut in line because their parents can pay full tuition, do not have to hold part time jobs, can take gap year enrichments, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Not to mention what's delicately termed legacy admissions.

All this reflects the toxic intermingling of the positional advantages of social class with the ever more corporate college business model. Have a look at this brilliant Prospect classic by Chuck Collins on all the ways rich kids get a leg up. 

And don’t get me started on how college enrollment-management departments game the US News rankings to get the largest number of full-tuition kids with the highest board scores. 

It's an old story. Some long-dead German radical termed this "the social reproduction of class." And the more corrupt the elite and the more unequal the society, the worse it is.

If we are scandalized, it’s time to address the deeper corruption. As Michael Kinsley famously observed, the real scandal is what’s legal.


Wanted: A Few Great Young Journalists. Since 1997, the Prospect has sponsored what’s been called “the best starter job in journalism.” It’s called The American ProspectWriting Fellows program—and we have two openings for the fall.

Fellows get to spend two years with the magazine, work closely with our editors, and publish a wide range of articles, from print feature pieces to web commentaries. Most of our fellows are straight out of college. A few have a little more experience.

As a matter of principle, we pay well, so that this is not limited to rich kids subsidized by parents. It’s one of the best things that we do.

By the time they graduate, our fellows are among the finest and best-trained journalists of their age cohort—as borne out by the careers they go on to pursue. 

Our alums include some of America’s most distinguished young journalists, including Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias of Vox and Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo. These Prospect alums invented whole new genres as well as new online publications.

Also Nick Confessore and Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times; Adam Serwer at The Atlantic, Tara Zahra, who was a 2015 MacArthur genius award winner; Dana Goldstein, now a respected education and criminal justice writer; Richard Just, editor of The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, law professor and public intellectual Jed Purdy—a total of nearly three dozen.

We prize diversity, and each fellow class usually includes one person of color.

If you are interested in applying, or know someone who might be interested, please check out this page. We have rolling admissions. Our first deadline is March 30. We have rolling admissions. Our first deadline is March 30.


When “Moderate” Democrat is a Euphemism for Naïve Democrat. Yet another Democrat has joined the presidential scrum: former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. And here’s what this self-described “extreme moderate” had to say when announcing his candidacy:

Ultimately I’m running for president because I believe that not only can I beat Donald Trump, but that I am the person that can bring people together on the other side and actually get stuff done.

This means that Hickenlooper, while holed up in Denver, has failed to notice what the Republicans have become over the past, say, 40 years. In his defense, he’s been busy keeping the state’s oil and gas industry from the receiving end of much needed regulations. On the plus side, he did get a Medicaid expansion through a divided legislature, but so did John Kasich in Ohio, and Kasich is a Republican who had a Republican legislature.  And as mayor of Denver before he became governor, Hickenlooper did get the city to adopt universal pre-K for four-year-olds, but the number of rightwing Republicans in the Denver City Council was never very high.

The last Democratic president able to “bring people together on the other side” wasn’t Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter. It was Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded in getting many Republicans to vote for the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. But that wasn’t fundamentally because of “the Johnson touch;” it was because liberal Republicans still walked the earth in 1964 and 1965. Conversely, the failures of Obama, Clinton and Carter to win similar crossovers weren’t due to their deal-making deficiencies, but to the fact that the share of Republicans who are liberal, or even moderate, has dwindled virtually to naught.

Corralling people “on the other side” depends on who those people are and what they believe. Before a Hickenlooper or any other Democrat can win their support for anything, those people have to be radically different from who they’ve become, from who they are today. If John Hickenlooper doesn’t understand that, if his grasp of current realities is that flimsy, he has no business running for president. 


Can This Party Be Saved? Okay, Dems: In one ring of the circus we have a major internal war over Anti-Semitism. 

Absolute defenders of Israel-right-or-wrong will have to get used to the fact that there are legitimate criticisms to be made. And at the same time,  critics of Israel need to take more care to avoid triggering stereotypes.

Is that logical? Yes. Is it easy? No. And AIPAC should please get down off its high horse and stop pretending that it doesn’t play into the dual loyalty libel against patriotic American Jews by demanding fealty to the Israeli government. Good luck to that.

That’s just one ring of the identity circus. In another ring, we have The New York Timesreporting on (and helping to stoke) demands that all Democratic candidates, in order to keep faith with African American citizens, agree to support reparations for the descendants of slaves. Would that reparations were remotely mainstream politics, but they aren’t.

And in another ring, illegal border crossings from Mexico are setting new records, and Trump’s approval ratings, incredibly, are up. Trump’s wall should be an easy win for Democrats, but how to talk sensibly about the rights of undocumented immigrants when Trump in his bullying way is addressing the rights of Americans?

It is never easy being the party of the rainbow. It’s much easier being the party of hate.

Finally, how to have a clear message and winning message on all this when different constituent party groups are at each other’s throats--and twenty different presidential contenders are sending twenty different messages? 

I’ve always contended that the unifying theme is populist economics, but it’s clear that these other, intensely felt issues are not going away. Somehow, people passionate about a dozen separate causes need to find a way to unite behind one overarching cause—ridding this Republic of Donald Trump.

Otherwise, Democrats will just keep playing to the script written by my pal Steve Bannon, and we can look forward to a second Trump term.


In Praise of Thinking Too Big. The censorious centrists have been berating progressives for thinking too big. Medicare for All is impractical. Taxing the rich seems too socialistic. A drastically higher minimum wage might cost some jobs. Free higher education could help some affluent kids. A Green New Deal is over the top.

Basically, an ideological preference is masquerading as tactical advice. Most of these centrist souls, by coincidence, don’t support Medicare for All, or other expansive public programs. But are they wrong on the tactical advice?

If you look at the history of great progressive breakthroughs, from the abolition of slavery, to the enactment of Social Security and the Wagner Act in the 1930s, to the great Civil Rights Acts and Medicare in the 1960s, they began as the dreams of the radicals, with moderates as the naysayers.

I vividly remember a Jules Feiffer cartoon from about 1967 lampooning an anxious moderate critic of the Vietnam War, carrying a sign saying “A Little Less Bombing.”

Take a close look at the history, and in the end game the landmark laws get watered down some to be enacted. But they would not have become law at all had not the radicals begun by asking for the whole loaf.

In the case of Medicare for All, as the Prospect has repeatedly shown in several pieces, it’s fiscally impossible—too big a tax hike—to get there in a single stroke. But it makes great sense to extend Medicare to all 55- or 50-year-olds—my colleague Paul Starr calls this Midlife Medicare; or to have an optional buy-in for everyone who wants one. And then extend it to the whole population.

Yet Medicare for All is exactly the right slogan, aspirationally as they say. If you don’t start big, you end up puny. And Lord knows, Democrats ever since Carter and Clinton have had far too much puny. Programs that are puny do not transform lives for the better. The result is Trump.