Two years ago, the Republican party was putting the latest gains on an unprecedented rise to power. Having just captured the White House (and the power to pick two, and maybe more, Supreme Court justices), the GOP controlled both houses of Congress, two-thirds of the governorships, two-thirds of the state legislatures and thousands of state and local offices. Never in its history had the party of Lincoln had greater power – and not since Reconstruction in the late 1860s were the Democrats in worse shape.
For four biennial election cycles – from 2010 to 2016 — Republicans increased their hold on political power. Democrats were left with a party leadership that was so disliked that people like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were featured in Republican “hit ads”. Running against the popular trend, Democrats accelerated their left-ward drift by naming such hardcore radicals as Tom Perez and Congressman Keith Ellison as the leaders of the Democratic National Committee.
After 2016, the only small grip Democrats had on national power was the supermajority rules in the Senate, which enabled them to block legislation and, in the extreme, use the filibuster. That was it. But they were able to use that power, as well as the support of an allied media, to push back against the GOP agenda.
Even worse for the Democrats was the fact that they had 23 Senate seats up in 2018, with 10 of them in states that Trump had won. By any political calculus, that gave the Republicans a very real possibility of winning enough seats in the Senate to become the supermajority – literally making the Democrats a bicoastal regional party with no … nada … power at the national level.
America seemed to be on the cusp of a generational reign of Republican conservativism. What could possibly go wrong? Apparently, everything. And no party in American history has proven itself to be more capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory than the GOP.
In the wake of the 2018 election, the political tables turned dramatically – unbelievably. It was not a small course correction or even a response to the tradition of the party in the White House losing seats in midterm elections. The so-called blue wave was bigger and more substantial than virtually anyone believed or predicted.
It was more than a numbers game – although winning 40 seats is a “big f**K**g deal” – to use one of Joe Biden’s pet phrases – it is the “who” and “where” of the Democrat victories in both the primaries and the General Election that makes all the difference. It was believed that the Democrats were nominating candidates that could not get elected – but they did.
The House will not only be controlled by Democrats, but by a party that is far more extreme than ever. Socialism gains a significant foothold with congressional newbies who openly proclaim themselves to be socialists and those who do not so self-identify but support the same policies – such as New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, a member of the Socialist Democrats of America (SDA), who will soon assume the chairmanship of the powerful Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of justice in federal courts, administrative bodies, and law enforcement agencies. And yes, the SDA is the same organization that gave us Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez.
Many of the largest states have shifted from purple – with Republican governors – to a deeper shade of red. These include Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. In New England and states like California, the Republican Party has been driven to the point of extinction. The once exclusively Republican and conservative Orange County in California is now totally represented by Democrats – liberal Democrats.
Even in victory, there are ominous signs for the GOP. In hitherto dark red states like Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Georgia, close races indicated a weakening of the Republican strength in Dixie. In fast-growing Harris County, Texas (Houston), every Republican judge up for re-election was defeated. In Georgia — which already has a Democrat Senator due to the political insanity of nominating alleged pedophile Judge Roy Moore as the GOP candidate – the gubernatorial race was verrrrry close. In Texas, Congressman Beto O’Rourke parlayed a narrow defeat into a national booster rocket that has him on the list of serious potential Democrat presidential candidates.
In Florida, Republicans can point with pride to taking down a Democrat senator in Bill Nelson – but it was a very close race. Couple that to the fact that Congressman Ron DeSantis, running for governor, barely beat a supposedly weak Democrat, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. With the loss of various and sundry other offices in the Sunshine State, and you can put Florida at a tipping point. The combination of an ineffective and incompetent Republican Party leadership – especially in the southeastern counties — and the continuing influx of all those Democrats from New York – settling on the east coast – and from Chicago – on the west coast – it does not take a crystal ball to see the future of Florida.
Another statistic that bodes ill for the GOP is the fact that there was approximately a 10-percentage point advantage in the number of Democrat voters over Republican voters. Democrats are the majority party in America by one of the biggest margins since the Great Depression. Overcoming that in two short years is a challenge, to say the least. Unlike Reagan, Trump is not attracting Democrats in sufficient numbers to offset the loss of Republican loyalists. The Republican base is not growing.
Trump’s victory in the Electoral College was a bit of an anomaly. For several years, Democrats – and their control on the biggest of the big states – have given them a starting-line advantage. That remains. In fact, with the increased potential of winning states like Texas, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Democrats could have a lock on the presidency for the foreseeable future.
So, how did this all happen? How did the tables turn so dramatically and so fast?
Starting at the top, there is Donald Trump. No matter what one thinks of his policies or his style, he won the nomination and the election as one of the most unpopular candidates ever to serve as the standard bearer for a major party since the Democrat put up Senator George McGovern in 1972 — a race that also paired-off two of the more unpopular political figures of their time – the other being Richard Nixon. Despite the ongoing Watergate scandal – that would later bring him down – Nixon won a landslide victory largely due to the advantages of incumbency, ending the Vietnam war, a fairly good economy AND the extraordinary unpopularity of McGovern.
In 2016, Trump was pushed across the finish line because of the enormous power of the Republican tsunami that began in 2010, the Electoral College system and the extraordinary unpopularity of Hillary Clinton. The fact that Trump lost the popular vote by the widest margin of any candidate who became President should have been the first warning sign. Trump’s challenge was to get past the negatives that nearly cost him and the GOP what should have been an easy and convincing victory. Instead, he doubled-down on the worst aspects of his personality – his pugnaciousness and propensity to make needlessly provocative and controversial statements, often a bit too far removed from obvious truths.
Though his diehard fans will most certainly disagree, Trump, the man, is disliked by the vast majority of Americans – including many who remain supportive of his appointments, policies and accomplishments. At every turn, Trump seems determined to prove that even the most picayunish, dishonest and outlandish criticisms of him have validity. He has helped the Democrats to destroy his credibility.
Trump’s unfavorable rating – hovering between 50 and 55 percent — consistently tops his favorable rating — generally in the mid-40s. But there is factor that rarely gets considered by all those television pundits. Those who do not like Trump, REALLY do not like him. They hate him. It is emotional and deep. This triggers motivation – determination to fight back, resist and, most importantly, vote. It was this depth of disdain that drove up the Democrat anti-Trump vote in the 2018 election – costing some 40 Republicans their seats in Congress.
That is why in 2018 Democrats were smart and successful in making the midterm election a referendum on Trump – not his policies and accomplishments, which the public likes a lot better than they like him. In a complete lapse in strategic understanding, Trump, himself, aided the Democrats by also saying the election was about him. It was a c’est moi strategy that was bound to backfire.
The blame for the shellacking the GOP took in 2018 does not rest on the shoulders of Trump alone. Not by a longshot. The congressional leaders deserve a good portion of that blame. Without a supermajority requirement in the House, the Republicans could have churned out popular bills at a Gatling gun pace.
Speaker Paul Ryan seemed to be reluctant to do that because he knew that Democrats could block legislation in the Senate because of the supermajority rule. So what? It would have been far better for the public to see the kind of positive legislation the Republicans were prepared to enact – and then see who was blocking it.
But there was another problem — a lack of unity. Democrats operate more like it’s a parliamentary system, where members adhere to a unified platform and policies. They vote in lockstep. Republicans tend to govern as if each legislator was a policy-maker unto him or herself. As the old cliché goes, Republicans were a party of “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” Maverick show-boaters like John McCain, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse and Bob Corker not only undermined platform unity but actually became part of the Democrat strategy of blocking legislation. They also became the useful idiots for a news media eager to play partisan politics against the GOP.
After voting repeatedly to replace Obamacare in the previous administration, — when their votes did not count – Republican congressmen suddenly discovered that they had no unanimity when their votes actually mattered, and action could have been taken. Their repeated failed attempts to score with the ball at the goal line and three downs to go made them look like the high school freshman team in the first game of the season.
Besides healthcare, they failed to address immigration, DACA, real spending cuts, THE wall and a myriad of other major issues. They underperformed anticipation by far. The people of America understandably started to wonder why they ever put these folks in charge.
When one considers just how effectively the Democrats blocked and counterpunched when they were the minority party across the nation, it is frightening to contemplate what they can do – and will do — with some real power. The Republicans are going to have to go into the locker room and come out with a totally different strategy in the second half – or their winning season is over.