Lessons from the shutdown
Like many Democrats, I cheered upon hearing about Trump’s surrender to Nancy Pelosi over the Trump shutdown. But that happiness was nothing compared to the anguish I felt on election night 2016. As a result, my singular focus, and I believe the singular focus of all Democrats, needs to be electing a Democratic President and Congress in 2020.
It’s easy given Trump’s terrible approval rating to assume that a victory is certain. I have done it myself at times. But we cannot forget the institutional advantages the Republicans have coming into 2020. In the House, they still have gerrymandering on their side. Remember that it took the Democrats winning the popular vote by 8 points — a margin of 53.1 to 45.2 — to win the House. That is the largest midterm popular vote win in history, and it is what it took for the Democrats to win the House. But even with that vote, we couldn’t take the Senate. That brings me to the second institutional advantage the Republicans have.
There is a small state bias that impacts both the Senate and the Presidency. Remember, Wyoming (population 573,720) and Vermont (population 623,960) have as many Senators as California (population 39,776,830). And due to this bias, Trump was able to lose the popular vote by more than 3 million votes and still win the Electoral College vote by a healthy margin. Both of these facts are the result of compromises made in drafting the Constitution over 200 years ago in which the Founding Fathers sought to reassure smaller states that they would not be subjected to the tyranny of the larger states. The unfortunate result is that today, Republicans have a built-in advantage since Democrats congregate in larger states while the G.O.P. dominates most smaller states.
The 2018 election did give us some guidance as to how we need to proceed in 2020 to be successful. For example, the winning Democratic message had to do with people’s pocketbooks and their health. Democrats attacked Republicans for attempting to take away their health care. These attacks were so successful that Republicans resorted to simply lying about what they had done in Congress, claiming to favor protecting insurance for pre-existing conditions. Where Democrats were successful, the election turned on this issue.
Where Democrats were unsuccessful, the election turned on cultural issues, namely the Kavanaugh nomination. Indeed, Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) all saw their polling drop after they announced their opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. All of them were defeated. And indeed, it is worthy of note that the only Democratic Senator sitting in a state won by Trump who survived the 2018 election with a healthy margin was the one who voted for Kavanaugh’s nomination: Joe Mancin (D-WV).
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s personality disorder
My son when he was in high school had a name for people like Brett Kavanaugh : douchebag. There. I’ve said it.
We saw a similar dynamic during the recent Trump shutdown. Polls widely showed the public blaming Trump for the shutdown, and his favorability rating has been cratering. There was much reporting on the economic impact the shutdown was having upon the lives of the federal workers and contractors as well as its potential impact upon the economy at large. Again, when the discussion is about Trump’s handling of the government and the economy, especially with regard to the pocket-book issues of average Americans, his rating falls.
It is instructive to note that Trump’s negative rating right now is among the worst he has experienced. He had a similarly negative rating during the debate over his tax cut, which has been widely, and correctly, perceived as a give-away to the rich at the expense of the middle class. Again, Republicans suffer when the discussion is about people’s pocket-books.
On the other hand, the controversy surrounding a viral video of the Covington Catholic High School student wearing a MAGA hat smirking at a native American beating his drum created outrage among the left, but it also helped rally the conservatives. Plenty has been written about this event and I have nothing to add to that debate. But it is worthy to note that a number of conservatives who have been critical of Trump, such as David French of the National Review and David Brooks of the New York Times came to the defense of the student and his supporters.
It is not by accident that Sarah Huckabee Sanders devoted much of her press briefing to that event… the Republicans were energized by it. They perceived it as another example of white men being victimized by these “other” groups (women, African Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ people, other minorities) and their well-educated liberal elitist supporters. In other words, just like Kavanaugh.
Wag the dog comes to life
Nowadays, truth is stranger than fiction. At least in the movie, people had to believe the story
If we as Democrats hope to recapture Congress and the White House in 2020, it is essential that we take this message to heart. We cannot be distracted by the cultural red meat that Trump and the Republicans will throw out to their supporters in the lead-up to the 2020 election. After all, remember their efforts to publicize the fictional caravan of immigrants in 2018. These are the issues that divide us as a country. Instead, we must remain focused on the issues that unite most Americans: giving everyone a fair shot at the American dream. If we make the election about that, then we stand to have another reason to celebrate on election night 2020.
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