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Friday, November 09, 2018

What the other side fears most



The US Midterm elections were far better for Democrats than Republicans can admit for political reasons, though they are—and should be—deeply worried. The results show a bright future for the USA’s only truly diverse party, the Democrats, and a dimming one for the country’s only conservative party, the Republicans, precisely because it’s so unrepresentative. The election was built on everything Republicans fear the most.

The video above from ThinkProgress highlights some of the Congressional Districts that had been held by Republicans for decades—until Democrats flipped them. It’s one of the headline stories of the night, but it’s why so many seats flipped that shows where the USA is headed.

Democrats did astoundingly well in districts in suburban areas outside of cities. Those areas have long voted pretty predictably Republican for Congress—until this year. There have been demographic shifts all over the country, and as it becomes browner and more female, a party that’s mostly backed by older white men has become less relevant. But in suburban areas, voters were driven away by the Republican Party.

Many of those districts voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but also for their Republican US Representatives. This year, they flipped those districts. We still need to wait for the dust to settle, but there are some reasons for that are already clear. For example, Democrats campaigned on healthcare, especially protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Republicans in Congress kept voting to take away those protections, and then lied about it in the campaign. Voters weren’t gullible.

Republicans, meanwhile, tried to make the campaign about their new wedge issue, immigration. Exit polls showed that in most of the country, voters simply weren’t concerned about that, looking at other issues instead. Some commentators have said “immigration is the new abortion”, referring to the long-time hot-button social issue Republicans have exploited for political and electoral gain. There’s a lot of truth in that, but their campaign on immigration has more than a little racist tinge to it, something that appeals to Republicans’ base of angry white men, but not to mainstream voters, including white suburban voters, as the results showed.

Democrats picked up seven governorships, including ousting the vile and rabidly anti-union theocrat Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Democrats also defeated the Republicans’ poster boy for voter suppression, the equally vile Kris Kobach, in Kansas. They also elected the nation’s first openly-gay governor, Colorado’s Jared Polis, and by all reports his being gay wasn’t an issue there, but, rather, the progressive Democratic issues he ran on: Universal health care, stricter gun laws, the expansion of public education, and an opposition to fracking. Public education—and Republicans’ hostility to it—was a factor in Democrats’ wins in Wisconsin and Kansas, too.

In state legislatures, Democrats flipped the state senates in Maine (where they already had the lower house and the Governor-elect is a Democrat), Connecticut (where they already had the lower house), and Colorado (where they already had the lower house as well as having the Governor-elect). In Minnesota, they flipped the House, though the Senate is still Republican, making it the only state in the USA with a divided legislature, a situation that last happened in 1914. In New Hampshire, they also took control of both houses. In New York, Democrats took control of the state Senate, which, combined with control of the House they already had, will likely force Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to deliver on the progressive agenda he’s long promised.

So, according the National Conference of State Legislatures, Democrats now control 37 chambers (up 6) and 18 legislatures (up 4), and they have the trifecta—both houses of the state legislature and governor—in 14 states (up seven), and 13 states are divided (this all may change somewhat as races are finalised). This will be important in ending Republican gerrymandering after the 2020 US Census.

The number one reason that Democrats didn’t do better than they did is Republican gerrymandering: Republicans drew the maps to rig elections to try to ensure they would retain control of the US House and state legislatures. In order to beat Republicans, Democrats needed to vastly outperform Republicans, and, in fact, they did: At the moment, and subject to change once all elections are final, Democratic candidates for the US House had a popular vote margin of 9.2 percentage points over Republicans, which is a huge amount. However, because of Republican gerrymandering, they didn’t do as well as they would have if the elections had been free and fair. In 2010, Republicans had a popular vote margin of 7.2 percentage points over Democrats, and they picked up 63 House seats. So, in 2018, Democrats did FAR better than Republicans did eight years earlier, but will pick up HALF as many seats, give or take, as Republicans did. This is why the so-called “down ballot” races for state legislatures matter so very much, and why voter turnout is critical: Controlling redistricting.

Republican politicians and their leader have focused on the US Senate, which figures since they picked up seats (a net gain of two at the moment, having flipped three to the Democrats flipping one). That’s bad news for the country, but absolutely no surprise at all. Democrats were defending 26 seats—the most in decades—and 10 of those were in states that voted for the Republican nominee in 2016. The Republicans, meanwhile, only had to defend nine seats, most of which were completely safe. The surprise here isn’t that Democrats didn’t do better, it’s that they didn’t do far worse.

So, here’s what can we learn from all this. First, the electoral system is rigged to elect Republicans. Second, support for parties in legislative races, including Congress, is shifting, and that favours Democrats. Third, the performance of Democrats overall paints a hopeful, inclusive future, as compared to the dark, fearful, and often bigoted picture painted by the Republican Party and its politicians.

The only way to get around the rigged electoral system is to massively increase Democratic turnout, and that will be MUCH easier to do in 2020, a presidential election year. Democrats also need to get more state legislature houses and governorships to ensure Republicans don’t control the redistricting after the 2020 Census. This is a temporary measure until we can get redistricting away from the control of politicians, and under the control of independent non-partisan commissions.

The current realignment of the parties is driven, in part, by the stark and rigid partisanship in the USA generally. Urban people favour Democrats, rural people favour Republicans, more now than ever. By alienating suburban voters, the Republicans have driven more votes to the Democratic side. Republicans may be able to fix that by moving away from the far right, but there’s no evidence they will, can, or even want to do that, neither at the top of their ticket in 2020 or in any other race. So, the switch of suburban voters from R to D is likely to grow and will stay at least and until either the Republican Party moderates (highly improbable), or until a new mainstream conservative party emerges (possible, though so difficult as to be unlikely; even if one emerges, those votes will still be lost to the Republican Party, and that would still help Democratic candidates).

Democrats offer a much more inclusive and future-focused party than the Republicans do. Consider the US House races alone. As Robert Borosage put it in The Nation:
The new Democratic House is expected to feature over 100 women. A new wave of progressive legislators—younger, more female, more diverse, more progressive—will energize the Democratic caucus. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Abby Finkenauer (IA-1) are the youngest women ever elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) and Jahana Hayes (CT-5) will be the first African American congresswomen from their states. Veronica Escobar (16th District) and Sylvia Garcia (29th District) will be the first Latina women in the Congress from Texas. Ilhan Omar (MN-5) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) will be the first Muslim women in the Congress, and Deb Haaland (NM-1) and Sharice Davids (KS-3) the first Native American women in the Congress.
Add to that the LGBT+ people elected to offices for the first time, and all the progressive state ballot measures that were approved, and the future for the USA is surprisingly bright—once the current dark times have passed.

The harsh, cold reality is that the USA is still in a very dark and dangerous place right now, with a president determined to promote hatred, bigotry and divisiveness for personal political gain, and he leads a party that lets him get away with extremist and racist language without any protest or even mild criticism. His hardcore supporters may only be about a third of the population, give or take, but they can do a lot of damage to the country. If they intimidate or frighten enough people into silence or inaction, they can become far more powerful than their minority numbers would otherwise permit.

But the forces allied in darkness ARE a minority—never forget that! Republicans created this mess, first by fanning the teabaggers in 2010, then by failing to control their presidential nomination process to ensure they had a qualified and mentally/emotionally stable candidate. But Democrats, that diverse group, which is often fractious because of that diversity, can fix it. Democrats show a way forward, one that embraces diversity, rather than cowering in fear of it. Democrats are working for a future that moves the country forward, rather than trying to push it backward into darker, less tolerant times. And Democrats want government to work for ALL the people—and the planet itself—and not just the extremely privileged few at the very top.

Over the next two years, there will probably be many Constitutional crises caused by the current occupant of the White House. He, and his party, will try to divide and distract and disrupt, and Democrats must not let them. Democrats must avoid rising to the bait, and instead remain focused on trying to move the country forward. If they do that, Democrats will be able drive away the darkness and actually start moving the country forward, but it’s something they have to earn the right to do.

In the meantime, ordinary people need to get busy. There’s a lot of organising to do, and that is what Republicans fear most of all.

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