It looks like Hillary has the Democratic Party nomination all but locked up right now. We’re down to recriminations and sour grapes and I-told-you-sos and calls for party unity. Bernie’s still talking a big game but Hillary’s already gearing up for her victory lap and Trump has started ignoring Cruz and Kasich in favor of taking potshots at Hillary and mocking the media for its notion of what “presidential” looks like while the media tells us that he is, in fact, presidential. All of this is maneuvering and posturing for the big show that will consume all of us between now and November. All of this ignores the one thing no one in America is able to recognize. Whether Hillary wins by 90 points or Trump becomes America’s most wildly unqualified President-elect since Zachary Taylor the Democratic Party is going to lose.
We’ve been hearing tales of the death of the Republican Party for years. In 2008 there were gleeful reports of the end of all things Republican Party. John McCain went from being one of the most respected politicians in America to a has-been joke accompanied by a word-salad shooting moron in a matter of months while the Democratic Party Ascendant had Barack Obama and still had Hillary waiting in the wings. In 2012 when the Republican Clown Car was whittled down to a bafflingly wealthy board with an amazing head of hair with no chance of winning the pundits looked at the vast wasteland of Republican benchwarmers and also-rans and asked yet again if the Republicans would soon go the way of the Whigs, the Anti-Masonic Party, and the American Party.
What all of this ignores is the fact that the Republican Party is far stronger now than it was in 2008. The Republican Party won the most important political race of this generation in 2010 while the Democratic Party was asleep at the switch. Don’t believe me? Let me throw three names at you: John Kasich, Scott Walker, and Rick Snyder.
What do all three of those men have in common? All three were inaugurated as state governors in January of 2011. All three followed a Democratic Governor. All three are currently governors of old, mainline Union states whose men had heroic tales of fighting the Confederates in the Civil War. All three had a long tradition of leading the way on labor rights issues. All three states went to Barack Obama in 2008. The states in question are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
You may recognize all of those names. John Kasich is, of course, the current answer to the question, “Hey, who’s the other guy who’s still in the Republican race for some reason?” Scott Walker is famous for having to run another race for his own job shortly after being elected when it turned out that he mostly wanted to tell teachers to go fuck themselves. Rick Snyder, meanwhile, let the city of Flint, Michigan drink and bathe in delicious lead water for a year or so.
The Republican Party didn’t just grab a few governor’s offices in 2010. They took control of the House and very nearly managed to grab the Senate. The Senate seat grab came at the cost of the Illinois Senate seat that had belonged to Barack Obama, although there was the weird influence selling scheme by Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris had already vacated the seat by the time Mark Kirk was sworn in. The big loss in 2010 came in — wait for it — Wisconsin, where liberal stalwart Russ Feingold was booted in favor of Ron Johnson, as dingbatty a Tea Party dingbat as any of the other Tea Partiers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other Republicans who won the governorship in formerly Democratic-governed states. Rick Scott took Florida and became the first governor to push for drug testing of welfare recipients. He also refused to say that he knows anything about climate change while governing a state that’s slowly drowning. Paul LePage got the governor’s seat in Maine with just under 39% of the vote and proceeded to just be the worst. Sam Brownback won in Kansas and decided to use it as a laboratory for Republican financial policies of cutting taxes to the rich and services to everyone else and Kansas is suffering heavily from lack of funds. But it’s okay because Kansas is going to pay you $2,500 the state doesn’t have if you check the genitalia of everyone in their public restrooms and find that someone has an outtie where there should be an innie.
So, in short, in 2008 the Democratic Party won the Oval Office and majorities in both houses of Congress. The pundits started asking if that would be the end of the Republican Party. Two years later the Republicans had taken basically everything back but the office of the President. We should all have such a difficult death.
This whole change came about because of the Tea Party, a pseudo grassroots organization that was fueled by equal parts racism, religious bigotry, hatred of the poor, and generalized rage at the Other. Much ado was made about how the Republican Establishment wasn’t a fan of the Tea Party and either the Tea Party would take over the Republican Party or the Republican Party would splinter into a Mainline Conservative faction and a Tea Party faction. This, it was reported, would be the death of the Republican Party as a force in American politics.
We all know that didn’t happen. I’m now convinced that the Republican Party will long outlive the Democratic Party. This, of course, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. The Republican Party is the party of old people, after all. Its supporters will soon die out and its ideologies will soon become irrelevant. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The simple fact of the matter is that it’s the Democratic Party is irrelevant. There is no nationwide plan. They look at the major grassroots, socially-driven, progressive movements in this country and they respond with shrugs at best and lectures at worst. The Democratic Party did nothing to help Occupy or Black Lives Matter. The Democratic Party gave up the high ground on North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” and let Starbucks and Target and Bruce Springsteen take up the fight.
For all of the gleeful discussion of how 2008 was a sign that the Republican Party was in its death throes the Republicans gained ground. For all of the speculation that Donald Trump will destroy the Republican Party the Republicans keep gaining ground. The Republican Party has a strong coalition because the Republican Party has a coalition based on hate and fear. It doesn’t matter if the voters hate taxes or government or gays or brown people, they all hate something. And Donald Trump hates and fears the same things they do just as strongly as they do.
I do not for a moment believe that the powers that be in the Republican Party actually give a shit about whether or not Trump wins the nomination. The Kochs and the Adelsons and the dark money groups know something that most of America doesn’t: the office of the President doesn’t actually matter. It’s a sideshow. Get a stranglehold on 50 governors and 50 state legislatures and a plurality of Congress and the President could be a magical unicorn that farts jobs programs and shits healthcare vouchers and it won’t matter.
The Republican rank and file will go to the polls in November. They will vote for Trump. Whether or not Trump wins it won’t matter, though, since those very same voters will also vote for Louie Gohmert and Chuck Grassley and David Vitter and they’ll go back to the polls in two years to vote for Louie Gohmert and Rick Snyder and Bruce Rauner while the Democratic Party takes a nap and maybe lectures social progressives on what they need to do to get on the Sunday morning shows and the front page of HuffPo.
If Hillary loses, which is not a bet I’m currently willing to take, the Democratic Party will eat its own tail. It will turn on Bernie’s supporters and wag its finger and tell all of those damn Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros that it was their fault. The thing about it is, though, that those same lazy Millennials and misogynistic BernieBros flock to rallies and march in protests and love Elizabeth Warren. So maybe it’s not that they’re too lazy to vote or hate women but that they’re looking for something authentic and they see it in Bernie and Warren and don’t see it in Hillary and the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party needs to find ways to leverage enthusiasm for Bernie but it won’t. How do I know this? We saw it in 2008 with Howard Dean. Dean, for those who can remember things that happened 12 years ago, was the presumptive frontrunner going into the 2004 election. He lost, badly, but became the DNC Chair and formulated the 50-State-Strategy, which was an attempt to counter the Republican tendency to make sure they had people running for every seat from President on down to County Coroner. Dean’s strategy was crucial for the Democratic Party wins in the 2006 mid-term and 2008’s visit to the woodshed with the Republican Party. How was Dean rewarded after the 2008 election? He was kicked to the curb.
See, it’s conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party that some seats just can’t be won and, as such, no money should be spent on those seats. It was Dean’s belief that you lose 100% of the seats you don’t put a candidate up for. Dean’s primary opponent was Rahm Immanuel, also known as Obama’s first Chief of Staff and the current mayor of the soon-to-be-formerly-great city of Chicago. It doesn’t take too much to figure out how Dean ended up on the outside of the fight.
I can assure you, as someone who has taken the Democratic ballot in several primaries and seen that half of the sheet is blank, that it’s frustrating and demoralizing. This primary season I wanted to vote for Bernie. I was also proud to get a chance to vote for Tammy Duckworth. After that most of the boxes on my ballot were blank. All that does is signal that in November those same boxes will have a name with an R next to it and no name with a D.
So let’s review. The Democratic Party doesn’t care about trying to win seats in districts that are in Chicago’s collar counties. The Democratic Party would rather that the people from Occupy and Black Lives Matter go home and be quiet and speak with their votes. When those people do speak with their votes for Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party scolds them for dragging out Hillary’s coronation.
Meanwhile, the unfettered id of the Republican Party runs amok. “Hey, I hear you hate Muslims. So do we!” say Trump and Cruz. “What’s that? You’re worried that the Mexicans are taking your jobs? We’ll build a wall!” “You don’t like the gays getting married? Here’s a bill that will stop all that from happening!”
And that’s the lesson the Democratic Party needs to take from the death throes of the Republicans in 2008 and 2010. There will always be Tea Partiers. There will always be angry people. The rank and file of the Republican Party isn’t united in their love of low capital gains taxes or Evangelical Christianity. It’s united in the fact that the people who vote Republican are deeply, existentially, afraid of something and are looking for someone to tell them that they’re not alone in their fears. They’re looking for someone to tell them, “Yes, we are standing here on the ramparts and we will defend you from that big, scary monster.”
The Tea Party didn’t destroy the Republican Party because as far as the Republicans were concerned the Tea Party was a giant, angry focus group. Trump’s supporters are much the same. The entire Trump campaign has normalized hate and bigotry to a degree that would make Barry Goldwater blush. No matter what happens in November of 2016 the Republicans will take that information and run with it in 2018 and again in 2020.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, begs Black Lives Matter to quiet down and told Occupy to go home because they might make it harder to work with the Republicans. Those self-same Republicans who seven years ago said it was their entire job to keep Barack Obama from accomplishing anything while he was President. On one level they failed, since Obama got quite a bit accomplished. But even when Obama pushed through a victory, like the ACA, the Republicans still managed to functionally stop it from working in states like Texas by just refusing the Federal subsidies. They also made sure it was a horribly written law hated by basically everyone from the start.
Occupy should have been a refreshing of the Democratic Party. Black Lives Matter should be the signal of the start of a new Civil Rights Movement. The enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders should be a wake-up call that a huge chunk of the country is clamoring for a real progressive bent to the supposedly liberal Democratic Party. That’s simply not happening. The Democratic Party is pushing away those they should embrace.
It should be said at this point that the Democratic Party has had a pretty good track record with gay rights and women’s health issues these last few years. But even those victories have to be written down with big, fat asterisks. For every step forward at the Federal level there are huge steps backward in the Red States. Gay marriage is now the law of the land but Republican lawmakers down in the states are doubling-down with discriminatory laws. Planned Parenthood and similar organizations have been all but pushed out of the South because legislators have been allowed to write bizarre, specific laws and then change them on a whim.
What it all comes down to is the idea that a big, splashy win is meaningless if it doesn’t bring about real, helpful change. The Democratic Party focuses on big wins while the Republican Party focuses on little victories because the Republicans know that the little victories add up. The Oval Office is a big win but six governors, seventy Congresspeople, and a whole bunch of state legislators are a heap of little victories. We know from American history that the little victories mean more.
In 1876 the Republicans got the White House. The Democrats got the little victory of the end of Reconstruction. This set the stage for Jim Crow and allowed racist policies to rule the South until the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1963. The Civil Rights Act was a big win. In 1964 the Republicans started their string of little victories with the Southern Strategy. That strategy, as I’ve talked about before, is why we are where we are today.
There are real people in America who are hurting. Transgender people in North Carolina are being told they aren’t allowed to use the bathroom because they’re sexually violent. Black kids in Chicago and St Louis are being shot by the police who are supposed to help them. Toddlers in Flint have developmental defects from drinking lead water. The state of Illinois is no longer paying its bills because Bruce Rauner has made sure there isn’t a budget for nearly a year. Kansas appears to be at a breaking point but Brownback keeps doubling down.
Each of these things costs us something. Each of these things is another step down the road to ruin. It’s not inevitable. It’s not irreversible. But as long as the Republicans keep finding a new way to harness hate and anger while the Democrats keep seeing the progressive grassroots as a hindrance we’ll keep walking down that road.
The Democratic Party either needs to wake up or move aside. Anything else is a death spiral of irrelevance and ruin.
This is one of the subplots of the 2016 Presidential race that just completely boggles my mind. The news media mocked Trump when it looked like he was just running to sell more books last year. As this bizarre farce has gone on the news has started telling us that, no, really, he can totally be President, you guys. Look! He’s learned how to use a teleprompter! And he went three whole sentences without kicking Ted Cruz in the nuts, metaphorically speaking! So President. Much gravitas.
A.K.A. the Know-Nothings. That’s my second favorite political epithet behind the Mugwumps.
The whole thing with Snyder is actually significantly worse than it looks if you do a little digging. One of the reasons it got to that point in the first place was because of the Emergency Financial Manager position in Michigan. It was a law originally created in 1988 to give the state the ability to step in and fix broken financial situations in municipalities. One of Snyder’s first acts as Governor was to drastically expand the scope of the Emergency Financial Manager’s power. The people of Michigan slapped the revision down but then Snyder pushed a similar bill through in 2012. Flint was living under Snyder’s rule when the city’s Emergency Financial Manager switched from Lake Huron water to Flint River water.
So, y’know, fuck Rick Snyder.
2010 also included an off-cycle Senate election that followed the death of Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. In that election the woefully inadequate Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican empty suit and former underwear model Scott Brown. In 2012 Scott Brown got his ass handed to him by Elizabeth Warren because Elizabeth Warren is one of the five or so politicians in America who is actually good at their job. Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Dick Durbin, and Tammy Duckworth are the other four.
Here in the civilized world we call people who go into public restrooms and force other people to show them their genitals “sex offenders.” I guess things are different in Kansas.
And, for that matter, 1964.