What 2014 midterms gave Republicans, 2016 is likely to take away

The Thinker by Rodin

Republicans can be forgiven for crowing about their election wins this month. It’s a glorious feeling to control Congress, even though control means limited power when the White House is in a different party’s hands. No question about it. They did great. They gained eight seats in the Senate, and are likely to gain a ninth after the Louisiana runoff election. They gained twelve seats in the House as well, for a total of 244 out of 435 seats, or 56% of seats, their largest majority since the Eisenhower era. Republicans picked up two governorships, including in surprising states like Massachusetts and Maryland. Republicans also won seven more state chambers, giving them control of the most state legislatures since the start of the Great Depression.

While Republicans did great, they also failed. Their failure was that they did not convince new voters to vote Republican. What they have done is tighten their grip on the states they do control. This was a result of several factors, and includes disinterested voters, energized Republicans and their extreme gerrymandering, plus not a little voter suppression. In short, they stacked their own decks. The South is now a greater shade of red that ever before, but there is little evidence that the color has leached into other states. While governorships in two blue states went their way, there is no evidence that they have changed the tendencies of Massachusetts and Maryland voters to vote for Democrats. These new governors will continue to govern with legislatures controlled by Democrats.

Mainly Republicans were elected because the Democrats put up poor candidates. In Maryland, voters had to choose between their lieutenant governor who really had no accomplishments, but one debacle: overseeing the disastrous rollout of Maryland’s health care exchange. In Massachusetts, Martha Coakley ran a dispirited campaign reminiscent of her loss to Scott Brown some years earlier. Democrats in general ran lousy campaigns this cycle, running away from President Obama’s generally solid accomplishments while offering little in the way of solid accomplishments of their own. It’s no wonder that only 38% of eligible voters voted, a record low turnout. The rest stayed home because there was little to go to the polls for.

After such losses, only stupid Democrats would rest on their laurels. My senator, Mark Warner, came within a percentage point of being an ex-senator. Still, as I mentioned before, generational demographics are becoming inexorable. This is no more obvious that in the 2016 electoral map. Solid and likely Democratic states in presidential votes add up to 257 electoral votes, while Republicans have only 149 electoral votes. 270 are needed to win. Republicans are unlikely to nominate a moderate that might give them a chance at winning. Democrats would have to nominate someone that turns off their base not to lock in their 257 electoral votes. With Hillary Clinton the presumed Democratic nominee, all she has to do is run a conventional campaign that stays on message and she is likely to be our next president.

Republicans picked up so many senate seats in 2014 because they had an almost ideal hand. Democrats had to defend 13 seats in red or purple states. Six seats were needed and Republicans got what looks like 9 of them. In 2016, it’s payback time. Republicans have to defend 24 seats, and 18 of those seats look very competitive. Since Democrats come out to vote in presidential years, it’s likely that Mitch McConnell’s tenure as majority leader will be short lived. The odds that Democrats will recapture the Senate in 2016 are probably greater than 80 percent, despite Republicans impressive Senate wins in 2014.

Republicans can expect to continue to do well in statewide races in 2016, but there are still plenty of warning signs in the decade to come. North Carolina is reliably purple, at least in presidential and senate races, and Georgia’s demographics are swinging this way as well. Even Texas looks vulnerable, and its gerrymandering and disengaged Democrats have kept Republicans’ luck from slipping. At least on the federal level, Republicans look like they may have peaked. Control of the House will continue for sometime, but that is primarily a factor of their heavily gerrymandered states.

One sign that Republicans are not connecting with voters is to see how various propositions fared. A proposition to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas of all places passed handily. The NRA suffered a defeat when Washington State voters passed a background checks bill. Medical marijuana initiatives passed pretty much everywhere. About the only part of the conservative message that resonates with voters are taxes. Marylanders voted in a Republican governor because Democrats passed one tax too many. All that other stuff that Republicans care about, voters overall mostly don’t like. This includes their opposition to gay marriage, an aggressive foreign policy, hostility toward immigration reform, their obvious racism and their contempt for solutions to global warming. In addition in solid blue states, Democrats retained all their seats. They added to their majorities in states like Oregon and California. Jerry Brown was easily reelected governor in California.

A wise Republican strategist would look at these 2014 results and realize they are fundamentally false and a result of a stacked deck. Yes, they won and won impressively, but overall their message did not connect. Voters who bothered to vote voted mostly against the status quo. They can pat themselves on the back for an impressive voter turnout campaign and for maximizing voter suppression efforts. However, these are firewall strategies. They do not change the fundamental dynamics that are underway in this country. Republicans can’t win nationally solely on their solid red bases in the south and middle of the country. And it’s likely their voter suppression tactics won’t work much longer. They need to offer a compelling message to the middle, and they have none other than perhaps limited government. That message may sell. Unfortunately, Republicans are selling austere government, where voters want limited government.

They do have two years to demonstrate that they can govern, but there is little sign that they will do anything differently than they did the last six years. Obstruction is not governance, and while it worked for them in 2014 it is likely to work against them in 2016.

As they say, what goes around comes around.

Democrats are running on empty ideas

The Thinker by Rodin

Writing on politics often feels like déjà vu. After the drubbing (or perhaps it’s more appropriately the shellacking, or maybe even the tar-and-feathering) Democrats took on Election Day, lots of lessons on how to do things differently were busy being debated. It’s 2004 all over again. Democrats beat themselves senseless in 2004 when President Bush won a second term. One thing that was done differently then was for Democratic leaders (primarily to placate the angry progressives) to appoint Howard Dean to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. Dean famously instituted a 50-state strategy, which meant deploying Democrats in all states, in all races, and putting people in the field to recruit candidates and knock on doors to put them on voter roles.

It’s hard to say if this was primarily responsible for Democrats doing so well in the 2006 midterms. In that election, we had the same dynamics Republicans had in this latest election and we won big. Namely, whatever party the president represents suffers in their 6th year. In Bush’s case though a lot of the animus was due to Bush’s failed strategy in the War in Iraq. Republicans were as demoralized then as Democrats were this time around. They knew their war strategy wasn’t working and it depressed their turnout. Democrats won control of the House and Senate in 2006, and leveraged their advantage to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Just as reactions about what Republicans should do now that they are in power are predictable, so I am sad to say were Democrats proposed “solutions”. Progressive Democrats like me largely spent the week after the election self-flagellating ourselves. Our solutions to rectify our situation were mostly a lot of finger pointing. Do any of these arguments sound familiar?

  • Democrats should have run on Obama’s record, not run away from it
  • Democrats should not have acted like wimps
  • Democrats needed a 50-state strategy
  • Democrats should have said what they would do differently
  • Democrats should have spent more time and money on anti-Koch ads

I didn’t give much in the way of money to campaigns this election cycle. It was in part because being retired I had less to give. But it was also due to a lot of milquetoast candidates, a lot of subprime Democrats simply trying to hold onto power, and a fundamental disagreement on how most candidates were running their campaigns. I was not inspired. In an earlier post, I mentioned my disgruntlement at fundraising strategies I was subjected to. The blistering emails were relentless and they all pretty much conveyed this message: their candidate would fail if I didn’t pony up more money right now. Not one of these emails from candidates and their fundraising managers tried to sell me on how they were going to effectively use the money I gave them.

Blanketing the airwaves with ads, if you have the money, is a time-honored means of getting your candidate’s message out. In truth though voters of both political stripes are inured to these campaign ads. We all think they contain doublespeak and don’t believe any of them are authentic. Mainly though these ads are a piss poor way to spend money. You might as well take that money and throw it down the drain. They speak of desperation.

Here’s what I really want to know about a candidate:

  • How do you stand on the issues I care about?
  • What is your plan for winning the election?
  • How are you going to engage Democrats and independent voters and bring them to your side?
  • What sort of campaign do you have to knock on doors of likely voters and get them to the polls?
  • In a short sentence, what best distinguishes not just from your competition, but also as a Democrat?
  • How will you be spending any money I give you?

Nationally, the Democratic Party has simply resumed bad habits. It quickly abandoned a 50-state strategy the moment Dean left the DNC and most of them were happy to show him the door. Dean changed the dynamics and ruffled feathers. He was not a comfy DNC chair. He tried to actually orchestrate the process of recruiting, promoting and electing Democrats. He worked to find and promote candidates that promised to do things that Democrats cared about and gave them a reason for voting. Once back in power Democrats resumed bad habits: mostly fighting with themselves. This resulted, among other things, in a watered down health care reform bill that principally rewarded the insurance industry. Individual senators became demanding and petulant instead of working cooperatively. It turned off voters and put the Republicans back in charge of the House in 2010, and now the Senate in 2014.

If you want more of the same, keep doing what you are doing. Democrats in Congress are busy doing just that. Harry Reid will keep his leadership post, but as minority leader. So will Nancy Pelosi. A corporation, which had so many years of “bad return on investment”, would toss these “leaders” out on their ears. House and Senate Democrats though simply cannot summon the nerve to do what’s in the best interest of their party. The predictable result will be the usual position papers and talk of new strategies with little in the way of follow through.

Defeat shows that the leadership cannot lead, so new blood is needed. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, should be the new minority leader in the Senate because she can articulate a compelling message and has the focus and determination to change the dynamics. Her promotion is to help with the Democratic message. I guess that’s good but hardly sufficient.

Democrats are largely riding on electoral dynamics. The good news is that so are Republicans. With Republicans though you can see where the new energy comes from: its Tea Party wing. They are the ones that really care. For Democrats, the energy is in its progressive wing. Smart Democrats should be fostering progressive candidates. For 2016 though the savvy Democrats and Republicans understand the dynamics will favor Democrats, and Congressional Democrats will be glad to ride that wave. It probably won’t bring them back the House, as the seats are too gerrymandered, but there is a better than even chance that Democrats will reclaim the Senate. That is, unless they nominate more of the same uninspiring candidates they did this time.

I am not as convinced as some that should Hillary Clinton run for president that she will be a shoe in. I was not enthusiastic for her in 2008 and I doubt I will be any more enthusiastic in 2016. It would be nice to have a female president, but I see little likelihood that she could change the dynamics in congress anymore than Obama did.

Savvy Democrats should be looking at 2020 and investing time and money to switch governorships and state houses from Republican to Democrat. In 2020 a census will be held, and it will trigger reapportionment. It will be state legislatures that will redraw congressional districts. Without a power shift there, the 2020s will likely be a lot more of what we’ve seen so far in the 2010s: a general absence of government. If you consider yourself a true patriot, this is where you should invest your time and money.

Election 2014 postmortem

The Thinker by Rodin

The victors write the history they say. Those who show up write election results. That Republicans won a majority of the U.S. senate last night, as well as added to their majority in the House, did not surprise me at all. The only thing surprising was that Democrats did not do worse.

Democrats were of course hopeful, but most of us did not have a misplaced hope. Midterms tend to favor the power out of party, particularly in a president’s second term. Republicans also had an almost ideal environment for making gains. Many seats, particularly in the Senate, were ripe for the picking because Democrats held them in Republican leaning states. So it’s no surprise that it’s goodbye David Prior and Kay Hagan.

In general where there was some hope of Democrats eking out a victory, they didn’t, and that was due to the general dynamics of who took the time to vote: mostly Republicans. Republicans voted disproportionately because they cared more about the election, and that was because they are out of political power, not to mentioning their ever-festering hatred of Obama. Democrats did not vote for the most part and stayed home, same as in 2010. With rare exceptions, Democrats only exercise their majority during presidential years.

Unquestionably there were dynamics that made it harder for Democrats. One of the overriding themes was Obama fatigue. The truth is most of the events Obama got dinged for yesterday were beyond his control, but certainly Obama has set a tone since his reelection that has turned off many. He used to be seen as cerebral and cool. Now he is seen as haughty and detached. Mitt Romney would have been just as stymied and ineffectual addressing Ebola and the rise of the Islamic State as Obama. Actually, it is likely he would have been more ineffectual, as government spending would likely be lower if he were president, and there would be fewer resources to draw upon.

Democratic candidates, who tend toward cowardice, exacerbated the problem by running away from Obama in their reelection and election campaigns. The underlying dynamics of our economy are actually pretty good. Those millions of jobs that Mitt Romney promised to create in four years? Obama created all of them in less than two years. Inflation is at historic lows. Unemployment is below six percent. No modern president has been better for stockholders in recent times. All this is good for the economy, but very little of this prosperity trickled down, mostly due to obfuscation by Republicans on issues like increasing the minimum wage. Voters though simply look at their own pocketbooks and if they don’t see prosperity they blame it on whoever is in charge. The truth is that both parties share blame here. The failure of prosperity to move toward the middle class is a result of dysfunctional government, not of Democratic governance in particular. Republicans would simply not play ball with Democrats these last six years, and it has proven to be a good political strategy for them.

By voting for Republicans, voters simply heaped on the dysfunction and kicked any real solutions to our problems to 2016, where they probably won’t be resolved again. The sad reality is that we voted last night to point fingers, not to solve any real problems. So among those applauding the results last night were our enemies. Barring some summoning of the national will that seems absent, this election simply contributes to the likely demise and dis-unification of the United States of America. In that sense we hammered a nail in our own coffin.

Rant of the month

The Thinker by Rodin

I haven’t had a rant all month, but it’s not from lack of opportunities. There is so much political craziness going on before midterm elections next week that it’s hard to choose what to rant about. Then I read this today and it managed to ring all my bells:

Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama’s deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.

What did this senator in a very uphill battle to retain her U.S. senate seat actually say?

I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.

To her credit, Mary Landrieu is not walking her comments back. But why on earth should she? What could possibly be more obvious than the truth of her statement? Of course historically the bulk of slavery in the United States occurred in the southern states. What could be unfriendlier to blacks than being enslaved? We fought a civil war principally so blacks could enjoy freedoms, freedoms that were subsequently largely taken away from them, if not by regular lynchings, then by Jim Crow laws that set up poll taxes to keep blacks from voting.

But even if you selectively forget all that arguably dated history, upon hearing Landrieu’s remarks the only thing you can really say is, “Well, duh!” It’s been decades since a black has been lynched in the south, thank goodness, but it’s quite obvious that blacks in the south are still being discriminated against and harassed every damned day because of the color of their skin. That Republicans reacted so vociferously clearly indicates that they are sensitive to the issue. And that’s because it’s so obviously true.

I know I would be much happier if they would simply come out and admit they are a party principally full of racists that are out to promote racial inequality. Most of their anger is still directed against blacks, but of course it’s not just blacks, just principally blacks. They don’t much like Hispanics, at least the “illegal” ones, as if a person can be illegal. And of course they are working actively to make sure anyone they don’t like (principally blacks of course) can’t vote. This is not the least bit American, of course, but they have zero qualms about doing anything they can get away with to disenfranchise those they don’t like.

Let us count just a few of ways blacks in particular feel unfriendly behavior from those in charge in the south:

  • They are stopped and questioned by police in greatly disproportionate numbers compared with whites
  • They form a majority of the prison population in the south despite being in the minority
  • They are the ones who are shot and/or killed most often, principally by whites, who feel threatened by them, even when no crime has been committed. Trayvon Martin is the obvious example here, although there are plenty of others that did not make the papers. It’s okay for whites to shoot blacks to “stand their ground”. If a black did the same to a white, does anyone in the south honestly think the black would get off?
  • Their states disproportionately have onerous voter ID laws, often requiring only certain picture IDs in order to vote, pictures that are hard to attain and cost money to acquire
  • These same states have cut back or eliminated early voting or mail in voting, making it harder for these people who often work two or more jobs to vote affecting, of course, principally blacks
  • If blacks can make it to vote on Election Day, they tend to wait in longer lines, discouraging them from casting a vote, because they get fewer voting machines per voter than more well moneyed and whiter precincts
  • Whites at polling sites question their right to vote harass many of them. Some take pictures and engage in other forms of harassment.
  • They often get misleading robocalls about voting on or before Election Day, sending them to wrong precincts, providing them with bogus information on credentials they will need or telling them they are not allowed to vote
  • Since blacks form the bulk of the prison population, and many are convicted of felonies, they often lose voting privileges for life
  • Just today we have a story of a Texas judge caught on tape saying he doesn’t want blacks to vote.

As for President Obama, he’s hardly the first Democratic president to get a hard time south of the Mason-Dixon Line. John F. Kennedy died from the bullet of a redneck in Dallas. Even fifty years ago they were hostile to liberal Democrats in the south. But anyone who doesn’t think that Obama’s race isn’t a huge factor in the way he is loathed by Republicans in the South clearly isn’t looking very hard:

  • There have been numerous examples in the south where Obama has been hung in effigy, often with accompanying racist signs and slogans.
  • It doesn’t take much looking to find racists signs about Obama in the south. Often you just look at the bumper of the car ahead of you.
  • Upon his election as president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared it would be his mission to completely undermine Obama’s agenda. This included filibustering all judicial appointments, a policy that would still be ongoing had not Senate Democrats changed the rules after the start of the last Congress.
  • The language used by Republicans about Obama is frequently racist.
  • So many of them believe he is a secret Muslim and was born in Kenya, and promote it on news outlets
  • So many of them don’t believe his birth certificate is legitimate

Of course there are reasons for Republicans not to like President Obama that are not racist, but no modern Democratic president, even Bill Clinton, has come close to getting the complete obfuscation and stonewalling that President Obama has gotten. Rather than simply oppose him, Republicans have proven they will shutdown the government in order to get their way, and stonewall his appointees when they can to keep him from governing. They will put party before country.

This response was knee jerk and predictable, but no one, especially those who are protesting Landrieu’s remarks, believes their remarks were sincere. Their actions speak louder than words. Just a couple of the items I documented above would be plenty of evidence of overt and damning racism.

Republicans are a party consisting mostly of racists unwilling to compromise on pretty much anything. They are spoiled and pigheaded brats. It’s hard to think of anything Landrieu could have said that was milder in acknowledging the obvious problem of racism in the south today.

Lessons in campaign histrionics

The Thinker by Rodin

I am politically active so I contribute to political campaigns. I don’t contribute a whole lot of money, particularly now that I am retired. During a given election cycle I try to at least throw a few hundred dollars toward worthy candidates. I must say though that I don’t enjoy it very much. This is because once you give you will be petitioned ceaselessly to give more. Worse, once you are on one mailing list your email address will be shamelessly sold or given away to others. The result is a predictable avalanche of emails in my inbox from all sorts of Democratic candidates and progressive causes pleading for money.

Pleading for money is to put it mildly. Pleading implies maybe a little humility and supplication. Not for these campaign managers. I wish I could turn them off but simply cannot. I occasionally go on unsubscribe binges but it never does more than reduce the volume of pleas a bit. My email address simply gets passed around or the candidate will conveniently forget I unsubscribed, particularly as a particular FEC reporting deadline nears.

If I had been more proactive I would have created a junk email account for this sort of mail. I don’t know why, but when I started out giving email to campaigns I sort of assumed that people of a better sort populated them. Apparently they are recruited from hucksters outside carnival sideshows.

Since I don’t have a whole lot of money to give, I have to be very selective about which candidates get my money. Fortunately, I spend a significant part of my day reading about politics, so I feel I am well informed. Most recently I gave these donations:

  • $10 to Jim Mowrer. Jim is running for Iowa’s 4th congressional district. He’s trying to win in bat shit crazy Steve King’s district. How crazy is Steve King? Well, he’s an open racist and xenophobe. He wants an electrified fence on the border with Mexico and he complains that drug smugglers crossing the border on foot have calves the size of cantaloupes from hauling drugs on their backs. Iowans are supposed to be sensible people, but those in this district have yet to prove it because they keep reelecting this clown. I hope my modest donation to Jim might help knock some common sense into these voters. But probably not.
  • $25 to Michele Nunn. She’s the Democrat running for Senate in Georgia. Polling suggests she has a better than even chance to change the seat from red to blue. Her opponent, David Purdue, is the worst sort of Republican, bragging about his ability to outsource jobs. Georgia is slowly swinging blue anyhow, and the Nunn brand carries some traction in the state. Giving to Nunn is an excellent use of my money and recent polls suggest she has a better than even chance of winning.
  • $25 to John Foust. This genuinely open seat is in my district, Virginia’s 10th, which has been filled by Republican Frank Wolf the whole time I’ve been in it. He’s retiring but the Republican candidate Barbara Comstock is trying to convince voters that she’s a moderate while voting for infuriating stuff like transvaginal ultrasounds while in the Virginia legislature. Comstock will probably win this slightly red district, as it stretches all the way to Winchester, but probably only for two years as it keeps getting bluer. Still, it’s worth a donation to see if I can live in a blue district for however short a time before we relocate.
  • $25 to Mark Warner. He is running for reelection against Ed Gillespie and is virtually certain to win. Ordinarily I would not give Mark any money, as he is quite popular and suspiciously moderate. But lately I’ve decided the dynamics in Congress won’t change unless we have more moderates, so I’m giving Warner money. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s a good guy.
  • $25 to Bruce Braley, running to keep retiring Tom Harkin’s Iowa senate seat blue. He’s running against a kind of crazy Tea Party type, Joni Ernst. She’ll probably win despite her crazy views, simply because of Obama fatigue and Republicans are chomping the bit to vote, while Democrats will probably fail to engage during midterms, as usual. But maybe a little nudge from me we can keep the seat blue.
  • $25 to Mary Landrieu. She’s got a tough challenge retaining her seat in the red state of Louisiana, but her opponent Bill Cassidy is as usual pretty extreme, and maybe too extreme for Louisiana, but probably not. I disagree with her on lots of stuff, but I’d rather have her on team blue.

I’m not sure how much more I will give, but one thing’s for sure. Apparently there is no chance of Democrats winning at all unless I give great gobs of money every day to all sorts of candidates. At least that’s pretty much the crux of all the emails coming into my email box: it’s a few seconds before a nuclear winter. Most of these are beyond ludicrous and have recently reached the frighteningly embarrassing stage. Here are some from my recent emails:

  • John Foust, or at least his campaign manager says, “we’re going home” because they can’t compete against a $1M ad buy from one of John Boehner’s PACs. But there are links to instantly give them anywhere from $5 to $250 immediately in the email anyhow.
  • Mark Warner, or rather his campaign manager, says this multimillionaire needs more money in spite of being more than ten points ahead of Ed Gillespie in lots of polls. He says Ed Gillespie just bought $400,000 in TV ads, but that’s not true. Gillespie just canceled his advertising, basically understanding he doesn’t have a chance.
  • Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader of course, says disaster is imminent for Democrats, but maybe not if I cough up some money. Democrats are going to lose house seats this cycle but there was no chance they would regain the majority anyhow. Losses though should be minimal. That’s the upside of all these highly gerrymandered districts. Nancy could work on recruiting better candidates for those few districts that are open. In any event, to really change the dynamics in the House we have to work at getting a majority of Democratic governors and legislatures in place for 2020, when the legislative districts will be drawn. That’s a better use of my money.
  • There were no less than four emails from Brad Schneider’s campaign in the last twenty-four hours, which is surprising because I have no idea who he is. For some reason he thinks were BFFs.

Negative ads seem to be effective in persuading voters. Apparently campaign managers believe that histrionic emails are the only way to effectively shake the donation tree these days. Issue them frequently and the scarier they sound the more effective they believe they will be.

Whereas the truth is all of us donors are suffering from extreme campaign fundraising email fatigue. A recent shrill email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where I actually worked in the 1980s had me composing a reply:

“You know, I get conservatively 25 pitches like this a day. If I gave $25 to each plea, I would be donating $625 a day or over $225,000 a year. That’s more than double what I earn every year! Stop it! Just stop it! I’ll contribute when I can afford it to the candidates I feel deserve my hard earned money.”

Of course I followed the unsubscribe link. Unsurprisingly, the DCCC never replied back. And within days, new solicitations from the DCCC were filling up my inbox.

Perhaps a good use of my time in retirement would be to set up a donation site where donations are given anonymously, or at least not shared with candidate organizations. Donors deserve some respect, not this relentless email harassment. In any other context, it would be illegal. Yet there is no equivalent to mass opt out list like there is for telephone solicitations. In fact, everyone in Congress would be hostile to the very idea. They depend on the money tree.

I wish they would give me some peace. For a few days after the election, I may get some. But I am sure it will quickly restart.