#132 Negative Mount Pleasant

A small town in Wisconsin becomes the site of a completely unprecedented experiment.

A Better Mount Pleasant vs Let’s Make A Better Mount Pleasant
Journalist Larry Tabak’s series on Foxconn in Wisconsin
Economist David Merriman’s paper on the type of financing used by Mount Pleasant
Journalist Brian Merchant’s book which includes a visit to Foxconn campus in China

An Interview with Sruthi Pinnamaneni on Vergecast

Transcript

[THEME MUSIC]
PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt.
So there’s this tiny town in Wisconsin called Mount Pleasant. Population’s just 26,000 people, technically it’s a village. And life in Mount Pleasant is usually as quiet as you’d expect. They’re a suburb of Racine, home of malted milk and the site of some of America’s largest cabbage farms. But that’s the city. Mount Pleasant’s the suburb–place where nothing really happens. Until last year, when the village became the site of a completely unprecedented, massive international experiment.

Foxconn Deal… Or No Deal?

Early in his presidency, Donald Trump said the Foxconn plant in Wisconsin would be “the eighth wonder of the world” because it would spectacularly revitalize American manufacturing. After billions of dollars in tax incentives, the Taiwanese tech company now seems to be reneging on some of what it promised. Sruthi Pinnamaneni is a reporter at the Reply All podcast who made an episode about the deal called  ‘Negative Mount Pleasant’. She talks about how the residents of the Wisconsin village of Mount Pleasant see the deal, and what they’ve been through in the spotlight.

A Democratic Narrative Misses the Reality of 2018

As Democrats move from success in the 2018 midterms to the early stages of picking a 2020 presidential candidate, a narrative is taking root. It holds that the key Democratic voter today is young, liberal and rebellious—in short, a version of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old activist who became the youngest congresswoman ever and who appears to be pushing the party to the left.

There is one problem with this narrative. It largely misses the story of the voters who actually delivered success to Democrats last year—and who may determine the outcome of the next presidential race.

It’s certainly true that there was a lot of energy among young, liberal Democrats in 2018, and that figures to be true again in the new presidential cycle.

Yet the Democratic electorate in 2018—the one that swung House seats and governor’s offices from Republican to Democratic—was neither as young nor as liberal as popularly imagined. AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 self-identified 2018 midterm voters, found that just 15% of those who voted Democratic last November were aged 18 through 29. The largest contingent of Democratic voters—36%—actually were ages 45 through 64.

All told, 60% of Democratic voters were aged 45 or older.

In ideological terms, there is no doubt that the party is moving to the left. An increasing share of Democrats are identifying themselves as liberal. Yet that movement also can be overstated. While half of Democratic voters last year identified themselves as liberal, 48% called themselves moderate or conservative. And moderates outnumbered “very liberal” Democratic voters by two to one.

The attention may be focused on the left, but the actual energy and votes came from the mainstream and the center,” says Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, an organization that supports moderate Democrats.

As has been widely noted, the key voters in 2018 were white suburban women, who showed up in large numbers to vent their anger at President Trump by voting Democratic. Yet many of these suburban women weren’t fired-up liberals, but rather centrists who previously supported moderate Republicans in their districts.

Their switch is why many of those moderate Republicans washed out to sea; their fate was sealed more by moderate women rising up to vote Democratic than because of a left-wing insurrection. Indeed, candidates endorsed by the moderate New Democrat coalition flipped 33 of the 42 House seats that went from Republican to Democrat.

Geographically, the keys to Democrats’ success came not in the party’s coastal enclaves—such as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s district, which was held by Democrats long before she arrived—but rather in the industrial upper Midwest swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. All three states were won by Mr. Trump in 2016, but Democrats won the popular House vote in those states last fall. Democrats also nominated moderates for governor in all three states—and all three won, by a margin of 1.3 million votes.

This reality is important for Democrats as candidates begin drifting onto the 2020 presidential battlefield. The prevailing narrative suggests not only that the advantage goes to a fresh face who excites the party’s young progressives—think former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas or Sen. Kamala Harris of California—but that such a choice has the best chance of success against Mr. Trump.

And maybe that’s the case. But consider the alternative, suggested by the reality of the midterm election results: The votes that will spell the difference for Democrats lie not on the left and on the coasts, but in the center and in the industrial Midwest.

That’s where Mr. Biden enters the picture. Perhaps the 76-year-old former vice president is too old. He certainly doesn’t meet the desire for “new blood” in politics cited last week by former President Obama.

On the other hand, if the Democrats’ key votes in 2020 will lie among centrists in the industrial Midwest, the more moderate profile of the favorite son of Scranton, Pa., will be an attractive one. Moreover, if voters generally are looking for somebody who knows how to get things done rather than simply create controversy, the guy who once prevented a government shutdown by cutting a big budget deal with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell may have some appeal.

It’s too early to know, of course—but there is more than one narrative at work for Democrats.

Could an Amy Klobuchar Solve Democrats’ Dilemma?

They seek a presidential candidate who appeals to both their liberal coastal base and to Midwestern working- and middle-class voters

When asked recently who Republicans should fear most in the 2020 presidential campaign, two prominent GOP figures, both women speaking independently of each other, gave the same response: Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

A third Republican, a male, asked which kind of candidate Democrats should want, replied: “They need a boring white guy from the Midwest.”

So, there you have it: The dream ticket of Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Case closed, cancel the primaries, on to the general election.

So if all that creates an opportunity for Democrats in 2020, here’s their dilemma: Can they pick a candidate who can blend the party’s conflicting impulses?

This may seem a long ways off, but the reality is that most Democrats thinking of running for president—and the number probably runs into the 20s—plan to make their decision over the next several weeks, so they can move out starting in early 2019.

As this drama begins, the key question is whether the party will find somebody who appeals both to its coastal base dominated by progressives, upscale college graduates, millennials and minorities, or choose someone who is more appealing to traditional working- and middle-class voters in industrial Midwest states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which helped Democrats reclaim the House in this year’s mid-term elections.

.. The winning lottery ticket, of course, goes to somebody who can appeal to both. And that’s why Ms. Klobuchar’s name—and profile—attract attention. She’s a woman, obviously, which is important at a time when newly energized women are a growing force within the party. She pleased her party base in the hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh when she challenged him about his use of alcohol, but did so in a sufficiently calm and understated manner that she won an apology from Mr. Kavanaugh after he initially responded angrily.

.. She also won re-election this year with more than 60% of the vote in the one state Trump forces lost in 2016 but think they have a legitimate chance to flip their way in 2020.

.. The question is whether she or anyone can put together a policy agenda that pleases both party liberals, who are pushing for

  1. a Medicare-for-all health system,
  2. the demise of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement system and an
  3. aggressive new climate-change action plan, and more moderate Midwestern voters, who may be scared off by all of those things.

Ms. Klobuchar’s policy priorities may suggest a path. To address health care, the top priority of Democratic voters, she advocates a step-by-step approach, one that seeks to

  • drive down prescription drug costs by opening the door to less-expensive drugs from Canada,
  • protect and improve the Affordable Care Act, and
  • expand health coverage by considering such steps as allowing more Americans to buy into the Medicare system.

.. She’s talked of a push to improve American infrastructure that would include expanding rural Americans’ access to broadband service, paying for it by rolling back some—though not all—of the tax cuts Republicans passed last year. She pushes for more vigorous antitrust enforcement, more protections for privacy and steps to curb undisclosed money in politics

.. For his part, Sen. Brown, a liberal who this year won Ohio as it otherwise drifts Republican, offers a working-class-friendly agenda that combines progressive impulses for government activism to drive up wages with Trumpian skepticism about trade deals and corporate outsourcing.