The Sweep: The Eyes of Texas Are Upon the 6th District

Plus: Taxing and spending in the leadup to 2022.

To paraphrase David from our Advisory Opinions podcast, we have an action-packed newsletter today, so let’s dive right in!

Campaign Quick Hits

The ‘Defund the Police’ Campaign Narrative Has Problems: One significant narrative from the 2020 election has been that Donald Trump and Republican candidates over-performed expectations because they were able to tie Democrats to the wildly unpopular “Defund the Police” slogan from the summer, leaving middle of the road voters—and especially non-white and Hispanic voters—deeply uncomfortable with the Democratic Party’s lurch to the left at a time when the murder and violent crime rate was skyrocketing in almost every major American city. The argument goes that the “Defund the Police” rallying cry was a counterproductive shorthand that forced Democrats to explain how “defund” didn’t mean “abolish” and allowed Republicans to make ‘law and order’ a key election issue as everyone was stuck at home watching burning businesses on the nightly news.

I think polling stuff like this has its limits, but I’ll share the data anyway as long as you promise only to use it to inform your thinking and not just accept it as gospel. First, lots of polls found that the slogan wasn’t and isn’t popular with voters. (One recent USA Today/Ipsos poll “found that fewer than one in five respondents back efforts to “defund the police,” while 58 percent are against them.”) 

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But people liking or disliking something is one thing, and people making voting decisions based on that thing is another. One Democratic consultant, Matthew Weaver, tried to measure the impact of the slogan on the actual election, and the Democratic Congressional Committee is sharing his findings with their candidates. Politico’s Holly Otterbein got her hands on it too and described it as follows:  

The GOP attack ads accusing Democrats of wanting to strip resources from cops were not any more powerful than other TV spots run by Republicans. On the other hand, Democratic ads that refuted the GOP’s claims that they were looking to defund the police made a difference: Those candidates who aired such spots performed better than President Joe Biden by 1.5 percentage points for every 1,000 gross ratings points—a measure of advertising impact—run.

As I said, it’s an interesting finding. It also sounds right to me. First of all, Republicans’ overall message was that the Democratic Party had lurched left—and “Defund the Police” was only one part of that campaign. And second, Democrats who responded are the ones most likely to have been pushing back with ‘no, I don’t support defunding our police at all and in fact have supported our police in x, y, and z ways.’ 

That doesn’t mean voters are okay with candidates who do support defunding the police—but only that they think it’s such an insane notion that they’re open to believing that nobody else supports it either.

Only 1,316 Days To Go: C-SPAN’s “Road to the White House 2024” coverage began last week. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, was in Iowa, speaking at a breakfast gathering of the Westside Conservative Club. It was a packed house at the Machine Shed, a well-known local chain that offers “Midwest comfort food” in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale. Pompeo told the crowd, “These elections in 2022 will have a real impact on how 2024 ultimately goes as well, and it’s why I’m out here today.” I bet it is, Mike. 

But leave it to the AP to put it all in context for us: “Believe it or not, C-SPAN has actually begun a presidential campaign cycle even earlier. In February 2005, the network aired speeches by Republican Mitt Romney in South Carolina and Democrat John Edwards in New Hampshire.” 2020 might be the only thing that could make me think about the 2008 Edwards campaign and say to myself “eh, I guess it wasn’t that bad.”

Ron DeSantis Is Riding High On A Wave of Unused Masks: Echelon Insights released its 2024 GOP primary poll, asking Republican voters who they would support if Trump decides not to run. Now, first things first: A poll like this tells you next to nothing about who will get—or even be in the race for—the Republican nomination in three years. But it does tell us something about who Republican voters have heard of and who is top of mind—in other words, getting favorable and consistent coverage in conservative media. 

And so it is no surprise that the person who tops both of those categories—and whose popularity have ticked up almost double digits since they asked this question in February—is the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. He has become the poster-governor for Republicans who view him as someone who didn’t cave to COVID fearmongering, lifted all restrictions in his state back in September, was pilloried for it in the media—and came out with fewer cases per capita than California. Presidential campaigns have been waged (and won) on far less.

But, of course, if you are actually asked who won this poll with an impressive 35 percent, it is “unsure.”

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With thoughts of San Jacinto and Glorious Alamo

Audrey has a piece up on the website today looking at the special election race heating up in Texas’ 6th Congressional District. 

On May 1, voters in this almost-purple suburban district will head to the polls to pick among 23 candidates. Cue every political pundit in America! Tea leaves are everywhere! 

Here’s a taste of the piece:

Michael Wood voted for Donald Trump in 2020 because of his strong record on deregulation, Israel, the 2017 tax bill, and Supreme Court justices. 

“You line all that up against—in early November 2020—an increasingly radicalized Democratic Party that was talking about packing the Supreme Court, abolishing the filibuster, statehood for Puerto Rico, statehood for DC, Medicare for all,” he said. “So in November 2020, I felt like I didn't really have a choice, which is why I voted for Donald Trump.” 

His tepid support for Trump leading up to November 3 has since evaporated. “Everything since Election Day, including January 6, really shook me to the core,” he said. “The commander in chief of the most powerful military in the history of the world, leaning on local elections officials in Georgia to ‘find’ a few thousand ballots? That’s outrageous. And if a Democratic president had done that, Republicans would be in the streets screaming ‘sic semper tyrannis.’ ”

Wood is one of 23 candidates running in Texas’ 6th Congressional District race to succeed the late Rep. Ron Wright. Wright, who had been battling lung cancer, died in February after testing positive for COVID-19. The race will proceed as a special election: If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote on May 1, the top two contenders will compete in a midsummer runoff.

The race includes 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one independent, and one Libertarian. Among the list of GOP hopefuls is Susan Wright, Ron Wright’s widow. She is a member of the State Republican Executive Committee and has already racked up a hefty list of endorsements from local Republican officials. 

Other familiar names on the GOP side include former attorney and former WWE wrestler “Big Dan” Rodimer—whose “own the libs” campaign video compares Nancy Pelosi to a bull—and state Rep. Jake Ellzey, who lost to Ron Wright in the district’s 2018 Republican primary by 4.4 percent. Two former Trump officials are also competing for the seat: former assistant administrator for the Small Business Administration Sery Kim and  former chief of staff of the Department of Health and Human Services Brian Harrison.

But Wood is a Trump voter running on an explicitly anti-Trump platform. A former infantry officer in the Marine Corps and small business owner in Fort Worth, he thinks this off-year special election is an opportunity for Texas Republicans to finally move beyond “Donald Trump, QAnon, and conspiracy theories.” 

“If we can pull this off, I really do think that it's going to create a domino effect that will carry into the 2022 midterms,” said Wood, who was endorsed earlier this month by Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s Country First PAC. He said that winning this race would empower Republican candidates nationwide with a new vocabulary in a post-Trump era. “They can say, ‘I understand why you supported Donald Trump. Maybe I even supported him in years past. But now is the time for the good of everything that we care about to move past him,’ ” Wood said. 

But can an anti-Trump candidate win a Republican primary in Texas? After all, this is the state whose own attorney general, Ken Paxton, filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results in four battleground states where Biden won. And let’s not forget that in December, Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West—upon hearing the news of the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Paxton’s lawsuit—issued a statement suggesting that so-called “law-abiding states” should perhaps “bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”

Texas’ 6th Congressional District runs from the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth to about an hour south of Dallas. “It's the first bellwether, if you will, for what the future of the suburbs in Texas will look like,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based GOP consultant working for Wood’s campaign. “The suburbs of Texas now look like the suburbs in many other places in the country, they’re diverse, they’re typically highly educated, high income. So I think now that we don't have Trump on the ticket, it's not about the presidential race.”

“This is the first salvo and the battle for the soul of the Republican Party and the conservative movement going forward,” Steinhauser said.

Read the rest of the piece here, including a lot more from Audrey’s interview with Michael Wood. 

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out this Washington Post profile on Big Dan, who has “no known connection to the 6th District.” This guy ran for Congress in Nevada ... last year … and is now running with an—umm—quite different approach. 

Last up, Chris dives into one of the most salient “pocketbook issues” in any midterm election: taxes.

The Tax Man Cometh

As Democrats regard the coming battle over tax increases, they do so very much with next year’s midterms on their minds. While the members of the blue team agree that the time is right for a tax hike on top earners, they hold the view for different reasons. And those differing motives may dictate the outcome and the political implications of the tax-increase effort. 

If Democrats fail to deliver more stimulus spending, it may dampen their chances for holding onto the Senate and House. On the other hand, if the cost of doing so is either an unpopular tax increase or even more deficit spending, the stimulus victory may prove pyrrhic.

First, we have to understand that tax increases on wealthy Americans appear to be quite politically popular. This survey from the Pew Research Center shows 58 percent of Americans support higher taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year. A plurality of every demographic group—except for those from high-earning households, natch—supported an increase. Twice as many Republicans (44 percent to 21 percent) thought such taxes should be raised rather than lowered.

Like both of his two most recent Democratic predecessors, President Biden wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. And like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Biden says he wants to do so in order for the rich to pay their “fair share” of new spending for programs he says will be beneficial to the middle class and poor. And like Clinton, and to a lesser degree Obama, Biden also says he wants new taxes for the sake of fiscal responsibility and the health of the economy.

Biden this week will be rolling out his proposal for $4 trillion in infrastructure spending and subsidy. But there is growing concern among those in the Clinton/Biden wing of the party that dumping another dose of federal largesse into an already hot economy may produce the same kind of runaway inflation that was triggered by all the guns and butter doled out during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Larry Summers, grand vizier of center-left economists, is among those loudly warning about inflation, and Wall Street is certainly listening.

Senate Democrats and staffers tell me the Biden administration is making no secret about concerns about too much deficit spending, both for the political optics and the practical considerations about inflation. But the “new Democrats” of the Clinton era are pretty old these days—and thin on the ground. What’s hot now is “equity” and anxiety about income inequality.

Summers’ concerns, sneered at as a “Cassandra-like critique” by the WaPo, get no love from the post-liberal left. By this way of thinking, neither debt nor inflation are worthwhile considerations. This school of thought holds that the Federal Reserve can manipulate the national economy in such a way that there can never be too much spending or borrowing, and the need will never arise to hike interest rates beyond minimal levels to keep things in check. Since it’s been so long since Americans suffered the piteous consequences of inflation, many on the left feel pretty breezy about such things.

The reason the new, new left wants to jack up taxes on the wealthy is for straight income redistribution. To Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others, the problem isn’t just that some people don’t have enough, but that other people have too much. This is how ideas like confiscating personal fortunes, dead since the days of Huey Long, made their way back into the Democratic mainstream.

For Biden, Summers and those of the old left, presumably including Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, tax increases are a tool that can be used to reduce deficit spending and set a break against inflation. For Warren and economists like Thomas Piketty, the tax hikes are themselves the object. Yes, the revenue they generate for other spending is good, but beside the point. The new left has no evident worry about debt or inflation but lots of worries that the American upper class is pulling away from the pack.

The common ground: Both Biden and Warren & Co. desperately want to spend a great deal of money in the next year or so. Ironically, the people who most adore higher taxes may tend to be less insistent. If Warren could have the new spending with no tax hike or nothing at all, I bet she’d take the money and run. 

There are lots of questions around the coming spending push. Can Democrats figure out a way to do big chunks on 51-vote “budget reconciliation” votes? Can Republicans do what they did on Obamacare and re-define the understanding of the proposed tax increases as being aimed at the middle class? Will a hot economy reduce interest in more spending, especially given inflation concerns? Would Biden cave in and try to jam though an infrastructure plan on credit if the economy stalls?

However those questions are answered, the responses will be read by the light of the looming midterms.