This week’s episode of The Brief was set against a backdrop of partisan deadlock, as Democrats and Republicans continued to wrangle over a stimulus bill to offer additional relief to American families amid the ongoing pandemic and vaccine shortages across the country. Hosts Markos Moulitsas and Kerry Eleveld discussed messaging around the COVID-19 relief bill, growing the Democratic base in rural areas, and the situations playing out in statehouses across the country as Republicans continue to assert their waning influence over the general American populace. Featured guests included Matt Hildreth, executive director at RuralOrganizing.org, and Carolyn Fiddler, state politics expert and communications director for Daily Kos.
Markos and Kerry opened the show by talking about the coronavirus relief bill and how opposition to the legislation on the part of Republicans could set the stage for their party’s poor performance in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Republican senators are now saying that they could outright vote against the bill in unison, signaling an unwillingness to cede any policy ground henceforth. As Markos said,
I’ve been amazed at the Republican Party and their reaction to the COVID relief bill. They’re threatening Democrats with withholding all their votes—they’re saying, “Since you’re not listening to us, we’re not going to give you any votes.” And I can’t think of a better political outcome than a 100% Republican-Democratic split on the COVID relief bill, because then the messaging in 2022—it’s so crystal clear, right? One party helped you out; the other party did its best to not help you out. What are they thinking? What’s going on over there?
Kerry pondered this question as well, as the widespread—and bipartisan—support for continued relief during this time has been supported by polling: “This COVID relief bill and most of the elements of it, especially and including the $1,400 relief … these poll well individually, and as a package … it polls at around 70%, with a really high majority support among Republicans, even among Republican voters.”
Matt Hildreth was this week’s first guest, and he shared his thoughts on how 2020 went for Democrats in rural areas, how to continue improving Democratic performance in rural areas—which are often neglected by the Democratic Party—and why it’s so important to push back against the idea of rural America being completely white.
Rural America is complex, and quite simply, not a monolith. Many people of color call these areas home, as Hildreth explained:
There are actually three times more people of color in rural communities than farmers … when you’re talking about rural people of color, it’s a lot closer to 20%. Twenty percent is a lot of people nationally, but it’s even more when you start looking at the South, and I think that’s why we’ve had so much success in the South recently. I think Democrats have finally understood that rural doesn’t mean white, they’ve really, I think, leaned into rural communities of color in places like Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona.
One crucial strategy his organization is using, Hildreth said, is to conduct “exit interviews” to talk to rural organizers about their experiences in the field, talking to people and knocking on doors—so they could actually hear about what they’re seeing on the ground, in communities. Of the sample of rural people they seek to engage, approximately 30% are people of color. Their main challenge right now, Hildreth said, is to get people more involved: “The whole point is to get people to organize their community, not just to sign a petition.”
Kerry asked what folks can do to support groups like RuralOrganizing, and Hildreth replied:
Getting past this urban-rural divide, there is so much that folks in larger cities can do in terms of resourcing local leadership. New Georgia Project would be a great one, PODER in North Carolina is another one, Down Home is another one. These are people who are doing the tough work, day in and day out, and I think that those places where we get easier progressive wins—if we could start volunteering time or resources to help expand the base in these other communities, that would be a big win for all of us.
Next, Markos and Kerry chatted about the shifting state of the Republican Party right now, which is currently deciding whether it’s a party of Trump or a party of conservative principles.
Markos discussed voters who might be registered as Republicans but no longer can be considered reliable voters for their candidates: “They’ve been bleeding that support in the suburbs … We’re seeing the slow erosion [of the party] … the problem is going to be the Dixiecrats, people who remain in one party but start voting differently.”
Next, Fiddler joined to weigh in on current happenings at the state level, where Republicans control a majority of statehouses. Ultra-conservatives are winning in this battle between moderate and conservative Republican lawmakers, Fiddler said, which is dynamically changing the nature of power and policy in legislatures. In particular, she brought up the “Big Lie” that is being peddled by many GOP lawmakers, which is that Donald Trump somehow “won” the 2020 presidential election. This lie, she noted, is being propagated among many conservative Republican legislators, and they’re using it to push dozens of new voter suppression measures. That is only part of the reason it’s so important for activists to become attuned to their local and state politics, Fiddler urged.
On this schism and pull towards extremism within the GOP, Fiddler noted,
It is bad for the governance of the country. It is, however, going to help Democrats electorally in these races to have a choice between reasonable and very very extreme [Republicans]. However, once you get below the statewide level, you’re going to have a whole new set of problems brought about by redistricting.
Redistricting, in which maps will be redrawn (mostly) by state legislatures, presents a fresh set of challenges for Democrats seeking to maintain or expand power in 2022 and beyond.
We might get one more election where Democrats are running in districts that are not specifically newly tailored to elect more Republicans, but if it’s not 2022, it’s going to be 2024, and we’re going to get a whole new set of maps that screw over Democrats all across the country.
Lastly, Kerry echoed Fiddler’s sentiments regarding the importance of paying attention to state politics: “I just want to make one last point about something Carolyn said … she said, ‘Hey, pay attention to what’s happening in your own state legislature.’ And it’s hard, in many places, to even get access to that information, and it makes it so much easier for Republicans to sell their base on their lies about what’s happening in the state legislature when there isn’t good reporting.”
You can watch the full episode here: