Republicans eye new front in education wars: Making school board races partisan

“Republicans across America are pressing local jurisdictions and state lawmakers to make typically sleepy school board races into politicized, partisan elections in an attempt to gain more statewide control and swing them to victory in the 2022 midterms.

Tennessee lawmakers in October approved a measure that allows school board candidates to list their party affiliation on the ballot. Arizona and Missouri legislators are weighing similar proposals. And GOP lawmakers in Florida will push a measure in an upcoming legislative session that would pave the way for partisan school board races statewide, potentially creating new primary elections that could further inflame the debate about how to teach kids.

The issue is about to spread to other states: The center-right American Enterprise Institute is urging conservatives to “strongly consider” allowing partisan affiliations to appear on ballots next to school board candidates’ names, as part of broader efforts to boost voter turnout for the contests. A coalition of conservative leaders — including representatives of Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute and Kenneth Marcus, the Education Department civil rights chief under former Secretary Betsy DeVos — have separately called for on-cycle school board elections as part of sweeping efforts to “end critical race theory in schools.”

In Florida, school boards are among the last elected officials who blocked policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis. If Republicans succeed in pushing the state to strip school board elections of their nonpartisan status and gain more representation on school boards, they could break the last holdouts who regularly defy the governor.”

“Making school board races partisan could make an already heated political landscape even more contentious”

““I do think party labels would produce more informed voters,” West said. “But, at the same time, it would likely accelerate emerging trend of nationalization of local education politics.””

Germany’s new government has big plans. It might be a shock after Merkel.

“And despite the differences, the three parties are unified around some big things. All three are fairly socially progressive, for example, on things like LGBT rights, and the coalition has proposed an agenda including greater protections for trans people and ending restrictions on blood donations from gay men. The parties, too, may have different ideas of what progress means, but they are coalescing around the idea that Germany has to move a bit forward, and faster, to tackle challenges like climate change.”

“The coalition wants to lower the voting age in Germany to 16. It wants to legalize weed, an issue Merkel never really got behind. Climate change was a big issue among all parties during the 2021 elections, and this agreement speeds up the timeline for Germany to abandon coal, from 2038 to 2030. The plan also calls for social investments, like building 400,000 affordable housing units and raising the minimum wage to 12 euro an hour.”

Why Bipartisanship In The Senate Is Dying

“There were once plenty of senators who represented states that voted for the other party for president. Between 1960 and 1990, roughly half of all sitting senators fit into this group. But over the last three decades, that number has plummeted”

” Likewise, in an earlier political era, many senators shared their state with a senator from the opposite party. Not only did this serve to reinforce the electoral reality that either party could win a state, but it also gave such senators an obvious bipartisan partner in the Senate, particularly on issues of concern to their home state. Today, though, only 12 senators..have a colleague who’s from the other party.”

“because Senate elections were more about local issues, both parties were able to compete nationally. Voters didn’t care as much whether they sent a Democrat or a Republican to Washington. What mattered was whether they sent somebody who could represent their state well. And senators could prove their worth by bringing home federal funding for roads and bridges — just the kind of issue that used to facilitate bipartisan dealmaking.
But today’s political campaigns and voters care far less about roads and bridges. They care far more about national culture-war issues — and which party controls the majority in Congress. As a result, Democrats can’t win in much of the Southeast and the Mountain West, and Republicans are now perpetual losers in the West and the Northeast. Only the Southwest and the Midwest remain competitive, and that’s only because state populations are currently balanced between liberal cities and conservative exurbs.

It’s also why bipartisanship in the Senate is waning. Republican senators in solidly Republican states do not have to worry about winning over some Democrats; the senators’ general election win is all but assured. Rather, the most likely way they could lose is if they face a primary challenge to their right. And the most likely way they could draw such a challenger is if they were to publicly work with Democrats.”

“even for senators who want to publicly prove their bipartisan bona fides, the problem is that party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prefer votes that draw sharp contrasts between the two parties. Divisive partisan politics help with campaign fundraising in an era of increasingly ideological donors (both big and small). And high-stakes elections mobilize and excite voters. Bipartisanship, in contrast, muddles the stakes and blurs the lines.”

“Biden worked harder than Trump to foster a bipartisan deal. But arguably, it was the Democrats’ threat of eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation that pushed McConnell into supporting a bipartisan agreement in a way that bolstered Sinema and Manchin’s faith in bipartisanship. This is hardly a sustainable formula for bipartisan dealmaking on major issues.

To be sure, Congress can still accomplish some lower-profile bipartisan lawmaking (like a recent major upgrade of our drinking-water and wastewater systems) through what Matthew Yglesias and Simon Bazelon have dubbed “Secret Congress.” It turns out that members of Congress can still work across party lines when issues are relatively noncontroversial and there is not much media attention.

Indeed, if you look beyond the partisan media’s name-calling, you can find surprising amounts of bipartisan activity”

“But “Secret Congress” works only because it’s secret, and it’s secret only because the issues are not high-profile enough to draw the public spotlight. But if the only bipartisanship that happens in Congress happens on uncontroversial one-off issues, this leaves the most important issues of the day to wither on the shoals of a 60-vote threshold in the Senate or, more commonly, in the gridlock of a divided government.”

“partisans are the most hostile to compromise — especially those individuals whose racial, religious and cultural identities line up most strongly with one party. But the partisan sorting that has aligned these identities so closely with one party over the last several decades is precisely the reason why voters have come down so hard on politicians who compromise. The more that national political conflict is centered on abstract moral issues and the identity of the nation, the more any compromise feels like a surrender.

To recreate the conditions that allowed bipartisanship to flourish in the Senate once upon a time seems unlikely anytime soon. Instead, the most bipartisan-oriented senators are the most endangered. Manchin is a dying breed. His eventual replacement in West Virginia will almost certainly be a Republican.”

Kyrsten Sinema Is Confounding Her Own Party. But … Why?

“Most Democrats in Congress are united around the Democratic agenda, but a small number of senators and representatives have so far been able to hold up its passage. “I need 50 votes in the Senate. I have 48,” President Biden said last week, regarding his social spending bill. As for who is standing in the way, his blame was clear: “Two. Two people.”

Those two people are Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. The two moderates have forced Democrats to water down several priorities (such as election reform and the $3.5 trillion budget bill) and are blocking more ambitious reforms entirely (such as abolishing the filibuster). But while congressional observers — from the commander-in-chief on down — usually mention Manchin and Sinema in the same sentence, it’s a mistake to lump together their resistance to their party’s priorities. Manchin’s centrism is unsurprising: He has been a conservative Democrat his entire career, and his home state of West Virginia is so red that it might be politically impossible for him to move left, even if he wanted to.

But neither is true of Sinema. Once a staunch progressive, Arizona’s senior senator has taken a hard turn to the right. On the surface, that appears to have been an effort to make her more electable by courting moderate and conservative voters. If so, she may have overcompensated: Arizona is no West Virginia, and no other swing-state senator has vexed Democratic leadership so thoroughly. In fact, Sinema’s established such a firm anti-progressive reputation that she may have lost the support of enough Democrats to endanger her reelection just the same.”

“Democrats are lucky that Manchin is in the Senate at all. Because of how red West Virginia is, a typical senator from the state would almost certainly be a Republican.2 Indeed, based on Trump’s margin in West Virginia in 2016, we’d expect that a generic replacement for Manchin would have voted in line with Trump’s position 89.3 percent of the time during his presidency. Manchin, though, voted with Trump just 50.4 percent of the time — a lot for a Democrat, but not a lot considering the partisanship of his home state.

Using the same methodology, we’d have expected a generic replacement for Sinema to vote with Trump just 39.8 percent of the time — a reflection of the purpler partisanship of her state and her congressional district at the time. Yet Sinema voted with him 50.4 percent of the time too, as much as Manchin. That made her the only Democratic senator who voted with Trump significantly3 more often than expected based on the politics of senators’ states. Her voting record during the Trump years looked more like Manchin’s, Sen. Joe Donnelly’s, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s or Sen. Claire McCaskill’s — all Democrats from substantially redder states.”

“If Sinema is acting moderate for electoral reasons, she clearly disagrees with the conventional wisdom about how moderate a swing-state senator needs to be. On one hand, maybe she has a point: Donnelly, Heitkamp and McCaskill all lost reelection in 2018, as did Sen. Bill Nelson, whose home state of Florida is about as purple as Arizona but who voted with Trump less often than Sinema did. All four voted with Trump significantly less often than we’d have expected given the partisanship of their state, suggesting that Sinema’s strategy of hewing closer to expectations might have been smarter. (Although this doesn’t justify her approach of voting with Trump more often than expected.) On the other hand, political science research has found that candidates and congressional aides are really bad at assessing where voters stand on the issues. One 2013 study found that politicians overestimated by several percentage points how conservative their constituents were, in direct contradiction of Sinema’s entire theory of the case.”

“Sinema is presumably betting that Democrats who dislike her will vote for her regardless, and that at least some Republicans who like her will vote for her, too.”

“If Democratic opinion of Sinema sinks low enough, she could even be in danger of losing in a primary.”

“It may be her donors. In a September report, liberal group Accountable.US found that Sinema raised at least $923,065 from business interests that opposed Biden’s budget reconciliation plan, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a longtime Sinema ally. She’s also been the recipient of large donations from the pharmaceutical industry, which critics have blamed for her opposition to letting Medicare negotiate down drug costs. Of course, it’s possible that the causation is reversed — that such interest groups are donating to her because they like her positions on these issues.”

“Another explanation for Sinema’s centrism could be that she genuinely believes in it. In her 2009 book “Unite and Conquer,” Sinema described how she was initially frustrated at her inability to get things done in the state legislature — so she decided to stop being a “bomb-thrower” and start working with Republicans. Perhaps now, after so many years of embedding with the GOP to get things done (this is the first time she has ever served in a legislative chamber controlled by Democrats), she has internalized the conservatism of her peers — and even embraced bipartisanship as a policy goal unto itself. (That would explain her fierce opposition to ending the filibuster and her dogged negotiation of a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill earlier this year.)”

Why The Two-Party System Is Effing Up U.S. Democracy

“in the U.S., one party has become a major illiberal outlier: The Republican Party. Scholars at the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have been monitoring and evaluating political parties around the world. And one big area of study for them is liberalism and illiberalism, or a party’s commitment (or lack thereof) to democratic norms prior to elections. And as the chart below shows, of conservative, right-leaning parties across the globe, the Republican Party has more in common with the dangerously authoritarian parties in Hungary and Turkey than it does with conservative parties in the U.K. or Germany.”

“People in countries with majoritarian(ish) democracies, or two very dominant parties dominating its politics like in the U.S. — think Canada, Britain, Australia — have displayed more unfavorable feelings toward the political opposition.”

“another team of scholars, Noam Gidron, James Adams and Will Horne, shows that citizens in majoritarian democracies with less proportional representation dislike both their own parties and opposing parties more than citizens in multiparty democracies with more proportional representation.1”

“This pattern may have something to do with the shifting politics of coalition formation in proportional democracies, where few political enemies are ever permanent (e.g., the unlikely new governing coalition in Israel). This also echoes something social psychologists have found in running experiments on group behavior: Breaking people into three groups instead of two leads to less animosity. Something, in other words, appears to be unique about the binary condition, or in this case, the two-party system, that triggers the kind of good-vs-evil, dark-vs-light, us-against-them thinking that is particularly pronounced in the U.S.”

How Much Do Americans Really Care About Bipartisanship?

“voters like bipartisanship more in theory than in practice. But that doesn’t mean bipartisan support isn’t still important politically. Voters may prefer more partisan policy results, but their stated desire for bipartisanship means that politicians can still benefit by at least trying to work together.”

Why Joe Manchin Is So Willing And Able To Block His Party’s Goals

“Because voters increasingly back the same party in congressional and presidential races, only six of the 100 currently serving senators are from a different party than the one their state backed in the 2020 presidential election.1 Even among that group, Manchin stands apart. Hillary Clinton and Biden were completely trounced by Donald Trump in West Virginia in 2016 (42 percentage points) and 2020 (39 points), respectively. But in 2018, Manchin won in West Virginia (by 3 points) despite an aggressive GOP effort to defeat him.

In fact, considering the extreme GOP lean in West Virginia, Manchin’s 2012 and 2018 victories are two of the most impressive wins of any American politician in the 21st century.”

“However he is doing it, though, Manchin’s winning a very red state gives him incredible power. He is a lifelong Democrat and seems committed to the party. But he doesn’t really owe Biden, his fellow Senate Democrats or the formal Democratic Party much of anything — his political brand is really separate from theirs.”

“it’s not clear that Manchin’s behavior is totally, or even mostly, electorally driven. First, we’re not positive that Manchin will run again. The West Virginian will be 74 in August. So, if he seeks another term — he’s up for reelection in 2024 — he would essentially be planning to remain in the Senate until he is 83.”

“even if Manchin is running and thinks he can win, it’s not totally clear that his moves right now to limit Biden’s agenda are that electorally helpful. Manchin no doubt benefits electorally from keeping some distance from the Democratic Party. At the same time, can Manchin really earn a lot of votes by pushing Democrats to offer people $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits instead of $400, as he did during the stimulus negotiations? Will West Virginia swing voters in 2024 remember and appreciate that Manchin wouldn’t go along with Biden’s nominee to run OMB? On both questions the answer is probably not. In fact, on the most-high-profile issues (the stimulus package, Trump’s impeachments), Manchin tends to vote with his party.”

” the West Virginia senator seems to sincerely disagree with the dominant view among Democrats that the GOP is totally unwilling to work with Democrats when a Democratic president is in office. Manchin argues that there is real potential for bills pushed by Biden and Democrats to get support from at least a few GOP lawmakers if Democrats really try to work with the GOP. He is balking at changing the filibuster rules in part because he thinks that bipartisanship is possible but neither party is trying hard enough.”

“The evidence is considerable that the overwhelming majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill aren’t going to support any major policy initiatives backed by a Democratic president. So Manchin’s view of his GOP colleagues seems somewhat untethered from reality. But his optimism about the potential for bipartisanship makes sense from his perspective. After all, Manchin is friendly with a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill, most notably Collins. He and a bipartisan group of lawmakers were key figures in passing a COVID-19 relief bill in December.”

“Manchin may not see the contentious issues of the day — in particular, the filibuster and voting rights — in the extremely high-stakes, democracy-in-peril, “Jim Crow in new clothes” way that other Democrats do. West Virginia is not Georgia, which has a Republican coalition dominated by white people trying to hold on to power by any means necessary against a growing Democratic coalition in which people of color are the majority. West Virginia’s non-Hispanic white population is 92 percent, much higher than the nation overall (60 percent). I’m not suggesting that Manchin doesn’t care about Black voting rights, but he doesn’t have a huge Black constituency pressing him on this issue, as only 4 percent of West Virginians are Black (compared with 13 percent in the nation overall).”

” it’s entirely possible that Manchin really cares about voting rights but thinks that getting rid of the filibuster and passing election-reform legislation on party-line votes is bad electorally for the broader Democratic Party (not just for him) and worse than Democrats trying to win elections even after some of these GOP-backed voting laws are in place. Manchin, as I noted earlier, seems deeply committed to the Democratic Party. But he might disagree with the dominant electoral thinking in the party. After all, emphasizing bipartisanship is Manchin’s strategy, and he’s the one winning in a super-Republican state.”

“Manchin seems to be ideologically to the right of most congressional Democrats, electoral considerations aside. In a Democratic Party that is increasingly organized around pushing for economic and racial equality, Manchin and the party’s more liberal members are essentially from different planets. There is little evidence that Manchin got into politics to implement his deeply held vision for changing the American economy (like Sen. Elizabeth Warren) or its racial policies (Sen. Raphael Warnock). Manchin is more an old-style politician. He grew up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia (Farmington), where his father and grandfather had both been mayor. In 1982, at age 35, he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates and climbed the ladder from there — state senator, secretary of state, governor, U.S. senator.
“Joe Manchin was always a center to center-right Democrat,””

“Put all that together and the Democratic Party’s fate is in the hands of a man who doesn’t owe the party anything, can’t support some of its agenda for electoral reasons and probably just disagrees with some of that agenda anyway. Much of the Democratic Party believes that the biggest problem in politics is that the GOP is becoming anti-democratic and that this anti-democratic drift is an emergency for the country. Manchin sees the Republican Party as including people he can work with and seems to think that the biggest problem in politics is that elected officials on both sides aren’t being bipartisan enough. This difference in views between Manchin and much of the rest of the party may be irreconcilable. But if they aren’t reconciled, Manchin’s view will win out, because he has a deciding vote and seems very much willing to use it.”

The Rise of the Biden Republicans

“For four decades now, that historic upheaval and the quest for the support of Reagan Democrats has defined American politics, from the rise of Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats”—which Greenberg, as Clinton’s pollster, had a central role in crafting—to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” to Barack Obama’s poll-tested evisceration of Mitt Romney’s venture capital experience, to Donald Trump’s white-grievance mongering and tirades against NAFTA. After Obama won Macomb in 2008 and 2012, Trump captured it in 2016 and 2020.

Then something important happened: In leaning too hard into white identity politics—and perhaps being too focused on what he thought Reagan Democrats wanted—Trump accelerated the rise of a new voting bloc that is, in many ways, the mirror image of the Reagan Democrats.

Call them the Biden Republicans.

Like the Reagan Democrats, they’re heavily white and live in suburbs. But where the Reagan Dems are blue-collar and culturally conservative, Greenberg sees the Biden Republicans as more affluent, highly educated and supportive of diversity. Historically, they identified with the Republican Party as their political home. But the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seem to care more about white grievance and keeping out immigrants; seem to care more about social issues and “owning the libs” than about child-care payments and college tuition. They don’t consider themselves Democrats—at least not yet—but they are voting for them, delivering them majorities in the House and Senate, and making Joe Biden just the fourth candidate in the past century to defeat an incumbent president.”