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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

The political forecasting industry has turned into a seesaw over the Democrats’ future.

Nate Silver says Trump’s base has maxed out, lifting blue hopes. The Cook Report’s congressional editor David Wasserman counters that the GOP has locks on states, the House and the Senate, deflating the prognosis. The Washington Post says not so fast, citing polls finding that Democrats are not losing any ground by embracing the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wing, offering progressives new hope.

The forecasters and their data are not contradicting each other; they have different points of departure, big-picture frames, fine-print arguments and historic contexts. But what is clear is that Democrats are in a very deep ditch, and while there are some signs of hope, their pathway back into national power is anything but assured.

The good news is pegged to the politics of the moment. As Silver observes, “Trump’s problem is that there aren’t many voters who could plausibly be persuaded to join the Trump train, at least not on short notice.”

And no wonder! Beyond being endlessly offensive to blue America, he and Congress’ Republicans don’t know how to lead, coordinate or execute. Hence, 58 percent of the country disapproves.

“It’s not like Republicans have begun impeachment proceedings or Sean Hannity has abandoned Trump,” Silver concludes. “But in his time as president so far, Trump has found more ways to lose supporters than to gain them.”

Silver’s pragmatism suggests Democrats have an opening. Indeed they do: The latest national poll by Quinnipiac University found that, “if the 2018 Congressional elections were held today, voters say 52-38 percent, including 48-37 percent among independent voters, they would like the Democrats to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Indeed, a majority also want a Democratic Senate.

“Voters say 53-39 percent, including 49-40 percent among independent voters, they would like to see the Democrats win control of the U.S. Senate,” Quinnipiac reported. The poll shows the public believes Democrats can do a better job on health care and concerns raised by the working class, and equal numbers believe each party can do a better job on taxes.

What’s the problem, then? These figures might reflect the nation’s voters as a whole, but not the blue-red breakdowns among voters in state and federal electoral districts across the country. How steep a climb it is actually to win power is not conveyed in the latest emails and fundraising blasts from blue political committees aimed at party loyalists—such as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (state races) or Democratic Governors Association (which just launched UnrigTheMap.com).

How steep is the climb? Well, depending on where you look—state legislative majorities, governors, control of the U.S. House and Senate—it spans from bad to worse, sadly.

When it comes to statehouses, 32 of the 50 states have trifectas, where one party controls both state legislative chambers and the governor’s office. This is why it accurately feels like Americans live in two separate countries—because politically, we do. Twenty-six of these monopoly states are red. (West Virginia’s governor left the Dems last week.) Six—Rhode Island, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon and California—are blue.

These red-state legislators are the tribe who created the political maps in 2011 giving the GOP its lock on statehouses and the U.S. House for this decade, as well as launched the lawsuits challenging Obamacare, climate change, abortion rights, LGBT equality, etc. They are not going away. Instead, they define 2018’s and 2020’s political landscape.

Start with the governors, where West Virginia’s Jim Justice jumped ship last week.

“Democrats, who at the beginning of the Obama presidency held 28 governorships, have seen their ranks dwindle to just 15,” wrote the Washington Post’s Dan Balz after Justice flipped. “At some point over the past decade, according to the Republican Governors Association, there has been a Republican governor in 46 of the 50 states,” he said. “Eight years ago, Democrats held the upper hand, controlling 17 states to nine for the Republicans.” That loss of seats means no one vetoes bad right-wing bills.

When it comes to Congress, the task is more than daunting. Why? Because those extreme gerrymandered maps, created by GOP monopoly legislatures in 2011, erased competitive districts and gave the GOP roughly 20 seats more than fair-minded contests would have yielded. That’s according to new analyses from the Associated Press (22 more seats) and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law (16-17 seats).

As redistricting expert David Daley recently told AlterNet about 2018, “I see a really tight map. Democrats need to take back 24 seats and my challenge to people who say the Democrats can take back the House is, name those districts. And you better name more than just 24 because you’re not going to win all of them. Where are the 60 districts that can be targeted, in order to have a fighting chance of taking back half of them?”

What people need to understand about redistricting is that GOP mapmakers segregated each party’s reliable voters. As the Supreme Court’s spring 2017 ruling on North Carolina’s congressional gerrymander noted, that state’s Republicans routinely won House seats with 56 percent of the vote, compared to Democrats routinely getting about 70 percent. The GOP “cracked and packed” that state’s reliable voters to get this result.

For Democrats to get a numerical majority in gerrymandered districts, they typically need between 56-58 percent of their reliable voting base to turn out. The GOP’s starting line advantage is before other voter suppression tactics shave off an additional two to three percent from Democrats, such as enacting stricter ID laws to get a regular ballot.

This is the political reality on the ground in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, which, were it not the case, would make the U.S. House blue.

This is where and how Democrats are stuck. Yes, it’s good news that Trump’s popularity keeps falling and that 58 percent of the nation thinks ill of his performance. That’s because federal midterm elections tend to reflect the public’s feelings about the party in power, wrote David Cook of the Cook Political Report.

“It’s fashionable these days to say that Democrats have to stand for something if they’re going to win a House majority and break even in the Senate,” he wrote. “Balderdash. I have never seen a party win a midterm [federal] election on the issues; midterms are always a referendum on the party in power.”

But Democrats face multiple layers of bad luck in Congress, as Cook’s colleague David Wasserman noted in another recent piece.

“Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points—a pretty good midterm by historical standards—they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats,” Wasserman wrote, citing the gerrymanders as setting the stage for the House races, and plain old bad luck for the Senate side of the story. (Senate races are statewide and thus not susceptible to gerrymanders.)

“Democrats have been cursed by a terrible Senate map in 2018: They must defend 25 of their 48 seats, while Republicans must defend just eight of their 52,” he wrote. The long-term prognosis for Democratic control of the Senate is also pretty bleak, he explained.

“In the last few decades, Democrats have expanded their advantages in California and New York—states with huge urban centers that combined to give Clinton a 6 million vote edge, more than twice her national margin,” Wasserman wrote. “But those two states elect only 4 percent of the Senate. Meanwhile, Republicans have made huge advances in small rural states—think ArkansasNorth and South DakotaIowaLouisianaMontana and West Virginia—that wield disproportionate power in the upper chamber compared to their populations.”

Where does this leave Democrats in mid-2017? Many in the national political press, from the Post’s Balz to NPR, are saying the Republicans “have never been so dominant—or vulnerable.”

That assessment is a bit fanciful. When you are this far down, there’s nowhere to go but up. Winning a few state legislative or congressional seats is not taking back majority power. Being a few points ahead of the GOP in recent national polls isn’t enough of an edge to overcome the GOP’s 10-point starting-line advantage conveyed by their gerrymanders and voter suppression tactics in what should otherwise be purple states.

The country’s political divisions are vast, deep, historic and daunting. In short, while Trump might be losing support and struggling to build a border wall, Democrats are struggling to tear down political walls and structural advantage created by the GOP this decade.

“The United States has split into two political nations,” wrote Richard E. Cohen for the Cook Political Report’s upcoming new edition of its Almanac of American Politics. “In each of those distinct coalitions, the majority Republican or Democratic Party separately controls at least two-thirds of the presidential Electoral Votes, the seats in Congress, and the governorships. That leaves the balance of power with roughly 20 percent of the states and voters… [where] the nation’s political control is determined. For the foreseeable future, significant shifts in the overwhelming numbers on each side seem unlikely.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

 

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18 Responses to Despite Trump’s Unpopularity, Democrats Face Long Road Back Into Power

  1. Mr. Rosenfeld assumes the parties are monolithic. Just at the Tea Party of the Right cost the Republicans several seats in 2010; the TPL can do equal damage in 2018.

    Equally, if Democrats are true to form and don’t bother with non-Presidential elections, it will be a long four years.

    We don’t even have to get to my nightmares when Trump, supported by the RWMO and Republicans everywhere, finds reasons to “postpone” the elections.

    Too much? Name me one, just one, time when Trump backed off when told he couldn’t do something. He hasn’t fired Mueller? Yet. Mueller hasn’t done anything threatening so far. Give it time.

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    • Call me crazy, but it sure seems to me that the TPMC did a lot of damage to the Democratic party last November 8th. In the end, I’m a bottom line guy.

      • Hey dt,

        TP Moneyed Class? if so, then calling yourself a “bottom line” guy was a good one.

        Like George Soros? Bill Gates? I saw a troll call Warren Buffett a Democrat, he’s not, but shows that Buffett wasn’t toeing their line. So I’m not convinced that there is a monolithic “Moneyed Class”.

        There certainly is a Radical Right of the Rich. But it’s hardly monolithic.

        Or were you talking about “Radical Centrists”, like Mark Warner?.

        One for you.

        Many years ago there was a man who thought he had no brains. After many adventures he met a man who told him, that there were many politicians and Captains of Industry with no more brains than he. What they have is a Diploma. He was given a Diploma, and suddenly was a Doctor of Thinkology. But did he actually have more brains?

        What if we make college free? Will it add to the brains of the students, or will it just hand people diplomas? If everyone has diplomas are they anything special?

        • I thought later that I should have just called it the TPC as opposed to your TPL. I was thinking of Hillary saying in 2015 that she gets accused of being “kind of moderate and center.” “I plead guilty”, she said. Hence, TPMC.

          What was that bottom line again last November 8th? She may have cleaned up in a handful of areas, giving her 2.9 million more total votes, but Trump won an astonishing 84% of the counties. Does the TPC look like it worked?

          On the surface of it, it seems like it might make sense that going too far to the left may have the same negative consequences for the Dems that some TP candidates had for the GOP. Depends how we’re defining too far to the left. I do know one thing though; the moderate center didn’t work last November.

          I think the nation is going into unusual times, and a little stronger progressive voice might be needed. Just my opinion.

          What if we make college free?, you ask. Not sure, but probably the best argument for free college is Donald Trump’s voting base.

          • Helpy,

            Liberal, Conservative, TPL, TPR, all the labels are irrelevant. They don’t admit a specific definition.

            60 years ago C. Northcote Parkinson wrote that Parliaments need to be seated as the British, two sets of benches facing each other. That way you know who is on your team and who the opponents. The original is well worth the read.

          • A guy who has weird and completely invented issues with what “race” I supposedly am is not a liberal, and should stop pretending he is one.

          • The very labels of liberal or conservative are meaningless. There’s no solid definition and more an exercise in futility than anything else.

            People are human. There’s no way to sub-divide us beyond that.

          • The label – the quote – is one that he, himself, posted. It is insanely hypocritical for an abusive racist to constantly claim they are a liberal. That is – quite literally – all I care about here.

          • Although it can be slightly fuzzier elsewhere, I can see a clear delineation between liberal and conservative in America, with exceptions. Read Breitbart and the Huffington post, or this website. They don’t seem a whole lot different?

          • Well, at the outer areas you can make the call. It’s the middle area that’s the problem. Where does liberal start and conservative stop? Various organizations have “test” votes that they use to rate Legislators. How many “wrong” votes does one get before being unable to claim the wanted label? Does the label bind us to anything?

            Both Lincoln & Rudyard Kipling have convinced me. I’ll go into specifics if you choose.

          • First off, in a world of possibilities, does Trump’s latest response thanking Putin for expelling the 755 US personnel from Russia count as the most juvenile? Ha Ha, I was looking for a way to fire those people anyhow(?). Even for Trump that strikes me as absurd.

            Does college make you smart, or does it reflect the smarts you already had?

            It’d certainly provide any number of jobs for College Professors, unless, of course, you’re utilizing the video classes and on-line courses. The practicalities and specifics become important. As does the cost.

            Currently employers use the college degree to weed out candidates. When everyone has the degree, will they hire them all or merely find a higher, MA, level to use as the requirement? Degree inflation as it were.

            The idea of a vast “silent majority” of Liberals/Socialists hiding out there, refusing to vote because no one truly reflects “liberal values”, is both unproven and unprovable. Just as the Goldwaterites, to this day, insist that their Candidates lose because they are not sufficiently Conservative, you will always be able to insist that your losers were not sufficiently Liberal. The definitions or Liberal/Conservative are too fuzzy.

            TPL Candidates routinely lost when dealing with the Democratic voter base in the primaries. You really think they’ll do better in the national level? Yes, the vast “liberal silent majority” will come out for the “Right Candidate”. Except that Right Candidate never seems to be the one on the ballot.

          • Hillary Clinton was about as “silently” liberal as it gets. That didn’t work. I still think that as America continues its’ long slow descent into higher levels of poverty and excessive income equality in our new gilded age, a stronger progressive/left voice will be more appealing in the future. Hillary lost a lot of Obama’s two-time voters in the rust belt. They got conned by a fraud artist who actually seemed like more of a populist in a few areas, than the Democratic candidate who appeared to stand for nothing.

            I still don’t know what she campaigned on other than, “look at Trump, the guy’s a clown — who’s voting for that?” (not that she didn’t have a point)

            Now mind you, if the Republicans revert back to their traditional far right, anti-populist, wingnut candidates in the future, even a Hillary type might be good enough. I’m just not all that sure.

  2. If the article is about the Democrats, how come it has a picture of an independent vanity candidate?

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