Okay, time for some thoughts on "unpopularism," which is the closest I have to a synthesis in this conversation.

In short, the missing piece of popularism is what I’d call agenda control. Agenda control requires controversy. You can’t achieve it if you’re afraid to offend.
The media is attracted to controversy. Controversy requires large or powerful groups to be both opposed ands interested.

Most of the time, that requires some degree of unpopularity in your ideas.
I’m skeptical that polling is that useful a guide to issue popularity, particularly on new issues.

I think it’s more reliable as a guide to which party is favored on broad issue areas, like health care or immigration.
This is a point @DavidShor makes, too. It’s behind his consistent admiration for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders adopts all kinds of unpopular policy ideas and labels, but it’s in service of keeping controversy focused on his broad issues of strength.
Think back to the Medicare for All plan that dominated virtually every Democratic primary debate:

The way it did that was by having unpopular provisions — abolishing private insurance, raising broad-based taxes — that kept it a focal point of controversy.
If Sanders had created a narrowly popularist Medicare plan — like, say, the Buttigieg plan — it wouldn't have given him the agenda control it did.

(Whether that would've been better or worse for him is an open question.)
This is also relevant to Trump: He said lots of very unpopular things on immigration, but the benefit of that, to him, is it kept the media focused on immigration, which was a better cut for him than economics.
Which is to say: One version of popularism holds that the important thing in politics is deciding which popular things you say.

I think a more compelling version asks which unpopular/controversial things you say in order to define the debate and control the controversy.
I don’t think Democrats have thought about this question that clearly for the past few years because Trump himself was the controversial subject that drove their mobilization and dominated the issue agenda.
Viralists see that as a strategy Dems need to try and repeat. It's definitely right that negative partisanship unleash huge energy in modern politics. We just saw its power in the CA recall.

But can Dems do it in the midterm, without Trump on the ballot? I'm skeptical.
And this isn’t just about elections. You see it in legislative fights too.

The stimulus checks defined the fight over the American Rescue Plan in part because they were controversial. They even had Democratic critics, like Larry Summers, which kept them in the news.
The reconciliation bill has suffered for not having a flagship, viral policy like that.

Instead the point of disagreement is the $3.5 trillion price tag, which is just terrible ground for Democrats to be fighting on.
Agenda control is central. You need to choose, in a campaign or a leg fight, what your controversial policy will be, and which kinds of unpopular debates you’re willing to risk to keep the broader debate on more popular terrain.

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More from @ezraklein

12 Oct
Ross’s column today on @DavidShor and the Democrats’ woes is a good opportunity to talk through two parts of this debate that have been gnawing at me.

One is on Obama. The other is on what might be called Unpopularism. nytimes.com/2021/10/12/opi…
First, on Obama:

The popularist effort to remind people that Obama exerted message discipline in 08 and 12 risks underselling the obvious:

Obama was (and is!) Black, liberal, cosmopolitan and in 08, the anti-war candidate. He was a mobilizer first and foremost.
It's easy to forget now but the context for Obama was Kerry’s loss.

There was endless debate about how Democrats could win back “the Heartland,” how they’d lost touch with real America.

This was the era of fetishizing Brian Schweitzer and his bolo tie. nytimes.com/2006/10/08/mag…
Read 9 tweets
11 Oct
So my basic response to this is I think extended periods of divided government are much worse now than they were in past eras.

If you care about, say, climate action, 10 years of divided government is a disaster.
But you don't even need to get to the really big legislative priorities for it to be a problem.

Can you effectively staff the government and replace court vacancies amidst extended, divided government?

Probably not.
The alarm I raise in the piece is that if you care about the governance outcomes I do, the Democrats' Senate outlook is *very* worrying.

That's different than a party being doomed, and people with different governance views will see this one differently!
Read 4 tweets
10 Oct
I largely agree with this.

The debate over how Dems can win more seats through messaging — whether popularism or viralism or something else — reflect them proving unable to deploy my preferred strategy: Winning more seats through governing.
This was my first feature at the Times. In some ways, the Shor piece reflects an admission that Democrats aren't going to pull this strategy off. nytimes.com/2021/01/21/opi…
But two points of realism:

1. 50 Dems, given Manchin and Sinema, were not enough to pass many of the policies I'd prefer. That's why winning more seats matters.

2. The policy feedback loop is weaker than I'd like to admit. Child Tax Credit didn't drive Biden's numbers up.
Read 5 tweets
8 Oct
Shor should speak for himself here, but I started thinking this was true and ended thinking that the difference is that the DLC/Third Way version of moderation had strong ideological commitments popularism doesn't share.
I speak to this very quickly in the piece, but I think it's an important distinction:
The DLC version of moderation, or the Manchin/Sinema version, is about creating a vibe of independence by siding with corporate or status quo interests against progressives.

They'll deploy that strategy against *highly* popular initiatives.
Read 6 tweets
17 Sep
A consistent dynamic right now is Democrats lose elections and obsess about why they lost, and how they could change, and Republicans lose elections and...don't.

But the California recall should really be a moment of reflection for them.
One problem with the way narrativize elections is we focus on the flowers, not the soil. That is to say: We look at candidates as independent of the voters that choose them. But they’re not.

And Elder really, really wasn’t.
He wasn’t endorsed by the CA GOP. He didn't have institutional backing.

He had name recognition, and his Trumpy approach reflected what the CA Republican base wanted.

And that terrified the rest of California, and led to a complete collapse in recall support.
Read 8 tweets
2 Sep
I update my views when policy changes, not before.

Most of of what I emphasize in here, like SB9 and universal pre-k for 4 year olds, passed in the last few months.

In my view, this piece would've been crazy to write in February.
Just one example: The forerunner to SB9, SB1120, had died a few months before, when the Assembly passed it minutes before the clock stopped, and so the Senate couldn't vote on it.

Everyone involved in that fiasco should be ashamed. Valuable lost time. latimes.com/homeless-housi…
One reason I focus on housing so much is I'm less impressed by policy where Newsom and the Dems are just spending down a surplus.

That's good to do in just ways, but that money won't always be there. It's governing on easy mode.
Read 8 tweets

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