There has been a lot of buzz about this Matt Yglesias (“MY” going forward, because I don’t feel like spelling out his last name) essay in Vox about ZOMG SKY IS FALLING FOR TEAM BLUE LOL~!!!!!1.
Just from reading that first sentence, you can already figure out what I generally think about it.
But I’m going to strap on the scuba gear and go deep diving. So, here we go.
The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
Downballot? So what? I’m about to prove once and for all how irrelevant downballot offices and officials are:
Anthony Kennedy versus Kim Davis.
Uh oh…uh oh…
(Drops the mic)
Also consider that there is a severe disconnect between what Republicans are doing with all this power and what the typical voter who made their victories possible expects of them. One of many examples I’ve been harping on this year is Indiana, and its recent RFRA question: The Governor is a Republican, and both chambers of the state legislature are more than two-thirds Republican. Yet, when it was all over, the RFRA bill they ultimately passed was worse than what they started with before they started debating any such bill.
Elections for state legislature rarely make the national news, but they are the fundamental building blocks of American politics. Since they run the redistricting process for the US House of Representatives and for themselves, they are where the greatest level of electoral entrenchment is possible.
State legislatures draw the lines and boundaries and districts that are used for both their own members and for the U.S. House. (Every state legislator and every member of the House) < (The President’s pen and phone slash the Federal executive bureaucracy slash SCOTUS). Also, in legislative terms, if one thinks that matters anymore, the United States Senate is the plutocrat/corporate firewall against any populist uprisings that arise in the lower chamber from time to time, because Senate elections are statewide elections, ergo expensive elections, ergo dependent on the donor class.
Tom Wolf rode a backlash against then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s hard-right policies to victory
Tom Corbett got blamed for Jerry Sandusky, when the reality is that Corbett, while he was state AG, was the first person with public authority to do something about punishing him when he actually found out what he was up to.
One striking fact about this is that the presumption of continued GOP control is so solid that you don’t even get pushback from House Democratic leaders when you write it down. Privately, some backbench Democrats express frustration that the leadership has no plan to try to recapture the majority. In their defense, it’s not like anyone outside the leadership has a great plan either.
Maybe the reason why senior House Democrats aren’t worried is because they don’t have to be worried. Because they know the President will either be a pen and phone Democrat or a squish RINO unwilling or unable to resist the Federal bureaucrats who are largely an eternal fifth estate of the left. Trump being a giant wild card here.
But this isn’t just a parochial issue for the House Democratic caucus. It means that the party’s legislative agenda is entirely dead on arrival at the federal level.
Again, the legislative agenda doesn’t matter, because pen and phone, bureaucrats and SCOTUS.
The GOP, by contrast, has basically two perfectly plausible plans for moving its agenda forward. One is to basically change nothing and just hope for slightly better luck from the economic fundamentals or in terms of Democratic Party scandals. The other is to shift left on immigration and gain some Latino votes while retaining the core of the party’s commitments. Neither of these plans is exactly brilliant, innovative, or foolproof. But neither one is crazy. Even if you believe that Democrats have obtained a structural advantage in presidential elections, it’s clearly not an enormous one. The 51 percent of the vote obtained by Barack Obama in 2012 was hardly a landslide, early head-to-head polling of 2016 indicates a close race, and there’s always a chance that unexpected bad news will hit the US economy or impair our national security.
MY, you need to realize that ZOMG GREAT HISPANIC VOTER TIDAL WAVE LOL~!!!!!1 isn’t real, it’s donor-driven political pseudo-science.
Also remember that the Presidential election is based on the Electoral College, not the popular vote. The 51.1-47.2 Obama-Romney popular vote margin was a 332-206 electoral vote margin, for a 61-39 percent margin. Assuming that the states that were blue in the last four cycles stay blue, even though there is thought that Trump could break through the blue wall in the Great Lakes, that’s 243 guaranteed EC votes for any ole monkey that the Democrats nominate, meaning they start the race with 45% of all EC votes, and 90% of what they need to win. In contrast, the red all four times states only have 175 EC votes, 32% of the whole universe and 64% of the victory line. EC-ily speaking, team blue has a lot more wiggle room and margin for error than team red.
Winning a presidential election would give Republicans the overwhelming preponderance of political power in the United States — a level of dominance not achieved since the Democrats during the Great Depression, but with a much more ideologically coherent coalition.
Is MY not aware that the Republican Party is in the middle of tearing itself apart? If by some fluke some RINO Republican wins, s/he would not be leading an “ideologically coherent coalition,” and if Trump wins, he would not be leading an “ideologically coherent coalition.”
Much of the current Republican infighting — embarrassing and counterproductive though it may be at times — reflects the healthy impulse to recognize that the party lacks the full measure of power that it desires, and needs to argue about optimal strategies for obtaining it.
No, MY, that “infighting” isn’t just a rather loud iteration of a police internecine debate, it’s a consequence/clusterfuck of trying to cram two different political parties into one.
On the Democratic side, the personal political success of Barack Obama has created an atmosphere of complacency and overconfidence. If a black guy with the middle name Hussein can win the White House, the thinking seems to be, then anything is possible.
The key word to understanding that is “black.”
Whatever you make of this agenda substantively, there’s no way to actually enact it without first achieving a considerably higher level of down-ballot electoral success than Democrats currently enjoy.
The pen and phone.
When power is accumulating around the center, as it very very long view historically tends to do, it matters who is at the center, people not at the center don’t matter.