Why Trump’s Poll Numbers Should Worry The GOP

Last week, Fivethirtyeight partnered with Survey Monkey to look at a very particular group of Trump voters, unenthusiastic Trump voters.  Surveying 7,000 adults who supported Trump, these voters comprised 15 percent of respondents and it is not a stretch to say they helped swing the election his way.

Per the survey, their are significant policy and demographic differences between this group and enthusiastic Trump supporters.  While unenthusiastic Trump supporters were strongly white and middle aged, 37 percent had college degrees compared to 25 percent of enthusiastic Trump backers.

More importantly for the GOP’s political health in the age of Trump, only 75 percent identify as Republican or Republican leaning compared to 91 percent of the other cohort.  The better news for the GOP is despite Trump’s early setbacks 74 percent of the group still approve of Trump.

What should worry Republicans about this group the most though is they have different policy priorities than the President.  It is important to keep in mind that Trump ran the most unorthodox GOP campaign for the Presidency in a generation.  As a result, some of the positions the President took run against traditional conservative views.

This could prove to be a problem going forward with unenthusiastic Trump voters.  For example, unenthusiastic Trump supporters rated healthcare as their highest policy priority while enthusiastic Trump supporters rated it fourth, well behind immigration and terrorism.  Both groups rated the economy as the highest priority by varying margins.

This has already played out in the policy arena.  When Trump and Congressional Republicans were trying to pass the AHCA they found little support among traditional conservative and moderate lawmakers (reflecting their constituencies).  This shows up in the survey among the two groups.  Unenthusiastic Trump supporters only approved of the President’s handling of the issue with 54 percent.  By contrast, 88 percent Trump’s strongest backers approved of his handling of the issue.

Trump might be maintaining the allegiance of his unenthusiastic backers by continuing to spend time focusing on traditional conservative causes like the Supreme Court.  Fully 86 percent of these voters approved of his pick of Neil Gorusch for the High Court.  Ominously for Democrats attempting to scandalize Trump to death, three-fourths of reluctant voters think the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is a distraction.

Again though, Republicans under Trump might struggle to hold these voters loyalties.  On his budget, 80 percent of enthusiastic Trump supporters approve.  But among the unenthusiastic group,  barely half do.  Trump’s budget significantly hikes defense spending and it is possible fiscal conservatives are objecting to this hike.

Combined with differing policy perspectives warning bells should be ringing in Republicans heads.  Trump ran as a law and order candidate promising an unorthodox set of policy positions.  This means some of Trump”s policy priorities (largely based on class and geographic appeal) might fall flat with this crucial group.

It may be starting to show.  The survey found 15 percent of reluctant Trump supporters plan to vote for the Democratic candidate for their district in 2018 though the caveat is a generic candidate can be whatever a voter wants.

Still, this explains why Republicans are so closely watching the results of GA-6.  The district is ripe with the kind of unenthusiastic voters the party needs to hold the district.  Unlike Montana or KS-4, the enthusiastic Trump vote in rural areas does not exist in GA-6.  As Kansas showed, Republicans are falling further in metro areas (see Witchita County returns) making their need to hold unenthusiastic Trump supporters more important than ever.

Now, here comes the caveat to the survey’s findings.  It is one poll and the results in GA-6 showed a majority of voters still backed Republicans.  Approval polls showing Trump in the low 40’s still have him well above water with his own party and Democrats might be overplaying their hand with pure opposition to everything he does.

Still, Trump’s approval ratings are not good to put it mildly.  The most endangered Republicans are the members sitting in districts full of the more educated, affluent Republicans that felt Trump was the less of two evils.  If Trump’s lagging poll numbers and this survey are any indication, Republicans should be pulling out all the stops to protect these members and their majority.

Millennials Aren’t Saving The Democratic Party

Still smarting over a humbling defeat in 2016 and a daunting Congressional map in 2018 the party is looking forward to 2020.  Specifically, because of President Trump’s persistent weakness with Millennials and their potent growth they are poised to offer the party a pathway forward to power.

Writing in the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein lays out the basic Democratic premise.  By 2020, the share of the electorate represented by Millennials is expected to eclipse Boomers.  They continue to oppose Trump at higher rates than other generations of voters and Democrats hope Trump makes the GOP irreversibly racist in their eyes.

But, this analysis (Democrats, not Brownstein’s), is overly simplistic at best and devoid of data at worst. Consider, that in 2000 Bush and Gore split the youth vote.  A mere four years later Kerry won them by nine and Obama carried them by a massive 36 and 30 point margins.  Trump lost Millennials by a small margin than Romney.  Not necessarily an indication of an increasingly liberal bloc.

Of course, not all Millennials are the same.  Trump did not need to do better with all Millennials.  Just certain Millennials.  For comparison, Romney and Obama actually ran close to even among college educated white Millennials.  But among blue-collar Millennials Romney won by 10.  Now flip the script and Hillary ran circles around Trump with white, college educated Millennials.  But Trump won blue-collar Millennials in the right states by massive margins.

Take a look at some of Brownstein’s analysis.  “Exit polls found Trump reduced the GOP deficit among those younger voters compared with Romney in 2012 in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and he actually carried voters under 30 in Iowa. In all of those states except Michigan, Clinton’s vote share among those younger than 30 fell by double digits compared with Obama’s, while Trump improved by 7 to 9 percentage points over Romney. Trump also significantly improved over Romney among young people in New Hampshire and Maine, two mostly white states. Even in the coastal and Sunbelt states where Trump’s vote share among young people was either stagnant or slightly below Romney’s, Clinton’s numbers usually lagged Obama’s, sometimes significantly, as more Millennials drifted away to the third-party options.”

Further complicating Democratic hopes, the share of college educated Millennials in many of the swing states heading into the 2020 election are unlikely to change by a significant percentage.  Sure, Democrats might find somebody better able to appeal to them but odds are good that will turn off their college educated base.  Everything in politics involves a trade-off.

Just look at how the baby boomer vote has shifted over the years.  In 2000, Bush and Gore deadlocked.  But in every election since they have become increasingly Republican.  Unlike Millennials, Boomers also vote far above their actual demographic numbers.  Millennials, not to much.

Democrats would counter Millennials might even turn Georgia or Arizona, perhaps Texas, in four years.  But if they could not pull it this year when every dirty secret about Trump was aired, what are the chances it will happen in 2020?  If nothing else, no higher.

In 2016, Clinton put a massive amount of importance on their votes.  She had reason according to the polls.  Again, according to Brownstein, “In one survey for the liberal groups Project New America and NextGen Climate, which looked solely at Millennials across 11 battleground states, three-fourths of them described him as a racist; roughly an equal number said he was biased against women; and almost 70 percent said they would be “ashamed” for the country if he won.” Yet, on Election Day, Clinton only won 55 percent of their votes.

A common theory batted around about this is that these voters were drawn third party candidates because of James Comey.  But the only exit poll to ask third party supporters who they would vote for if it was Trump or Clinton found a massive 55 percent would not even show up.

Further presenting problems for Democrats in the run-up to the midterms is Millennials have horrible turnout in midterms.  In 2010 and 2014 turnout dropped precipitously from the prior Presidential elections.

It is also unclear how late generation Millennials and the up and coming Social Media generation will shape the path of the youth vote.  John Sides notes that generations of voters tend to lean more towards the opposite party than the one of the President they grew up under. Worse, while the youngest voters are the most diverse they also seem to behave the most conservatively on fiscal issues.

Predicting long-term is a horrible business in politics.  But, we do know Millennial turnout is likely to drop next year.  Even if it it increases massively in 2020 the Presidential map will likely be fought on turf more favorable to the GOP than not.  Whether Millennials can, and will, help Democrats beyond that is the question.

My word of advice for the party.  Don’t put all your eggs in that basket.  Just ask how that turned out for Hillary Clinton.

 

 

 

 

Democrats Looking To Take Back House Have a Tough Road To Hoe

Recently the DCCC released its list of targets for 2018 (I have some initial thoughts here).  Some of the targets on the list raised eyebrows such as eight districts that voted for Trump by an eye popping 20 points or more.  But, while the list also featured some perennial targets (VA-10, CO-6, FL-26) it also had some interesting newcomers.

None seem more interesting than TX-32 and TX-7.  Pete Session’s 32nd district in Texas, anchored in the Dallas suburbs, swung 17 percent to Clinton.  But, while this was happening, Pete Sessions won reelection 71 percent to 19 percent (against a 3rd party libertarian candidate).

Meanwhile, the 7th district, based in the Houston exurbs, also swung wildly to Clinton.  Republican John Culberson won reelection but by a mere 13 points (compared to Sessions).  Romney won the district by over 20 points four years earlier.

Democrats have made it a point to build infrastructure and compete in districts they ignored last year.  The party has already hired 20 full-time staffers in GOP districts across the nation including the two districts above.  Democrats even went so far as to hold a training for elected officials on how to talk to rural voters.

But, if one wants to look at how Democrats fared in the past in these districts consider 2014 and 2012 in both districts.  Sessions won reelection in 2012 by 19 percent and in 2014 by 27 percent.  Culberson won in 2012 by 24 percent and in 2014 by 28 percent.

There will probably be a lot of talk in the coming months about upscale GOP districts being on the table due to Trump and moderate, highly educated Republicans abandoning him.  But, remember, the same was said of more moderate, swing districts last year.  In many cases a large majority of these districts stayed Republican.

Democrats in traditionally moderate, highly educated swing districts at least have infrastructure and a plan to compete in these districts.  Many of those districts sit in demographically fast changing places like California, Virginia, Florida and Colorado.

But suburban, Texas seats are another matter.  Seats such as these, and other Southern suburban or rural Republican seats are in places where Democrats have not competed in a decade or more.  The party lacks infrastructure, messaging and even a local on the ground presence.

This leaves Democrats scrambling to try and make these seats competitive.  Yet, in a horrible year for Republicans last November, down-ballot Republicans easily resisted the Trump drag.  Likewise, many conventional Republicans in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina outran Trump.  One could even argue in many strongly Republican seats voters behaved the way they did knowing Trump would still win their state.

Democrats are already trying to steal a suburban, Southern district in Georgia (Tom Price’s soon to be old seat) that swung from a 20 point Romney victory to a one point edge for Trump.  Price still won reelection by over 20 points last fall.

Democrats lack a compelling message and the aforementioned campaign infrastructure.  Suburban Republicans might not like Trump but he is not on the ballot and Democrats making that case will need a lot of help from the Donald himself.  Despite his early blunders, Trump does not seem to be obliging them.

 

 

 

The Consequences Of White Identity Politics

After Nov. 8, Nate Cohn of the New York Times tweeted that for the first time whites formed an identity politick and they represented 40℅ of the electorate.  The result was a damning indictment of democratic policies over the last 8 years.

Of course, not all whites are the same. College educated white women either almost or did back Hillary. College educated white men were far less likely to back trump compared to Romney.  But, among downscale and non college educated whites the story was different.

Obama managed to hold his own with white voters lacking a degree, particularly in the north and Midwest. This preference among no college educated whites separated them from their more conservative southern neighbors.  This splitting of the white vote in 2012 made Romney’s 20 point victory among all whites meaningless.

This go-round, Trump made non college educated whites behave in a way they never had before in national elections. For the first time, this block voted like Hispanics or Asians for a Republican candidate.

This allowed trump to ditch the Romney/McCain coalition of 08 and build a narrower but deeper coalition anchored by non college educated whites.

Why It Mattered

Just as all whites aren’t the same neither are states.  Clinton’s wins in diverse, educated states netted her a popular vote win but little else.  Indeed, Trump ran strongest in the white communities that supported Obama.

Trump, by contrast, in cleaning up so strongly in downscale whites communities overpowered democratic margins in the cities and suburbs in many Obama supporting Midwestern states.

So powerful was Trump’s win among non college educated whites he almost overcame a 40 point deficit with minorities in Nevada and won Florida despite a 500,000 vote hole in Southern Florida.

What This Means Going Forward

The 2018 Senate map is brutal for the party. It will be defending 10 seats in state’s Trump won (many predominately rural and blue-collar). The party has good incumbents in every state but even that may not be enough.

But take West Virginia for example.  Prior to George Bush’s first win in the state in 2000, the state had a Democratic governor, all blue federal delegation and a deep blue legislature. Today, the legislature is deeply red and short of the governor and Joe Manchin the machinery of power is held by Republicans. Oh, and the state voted by 40 percent for Trump.

This shift is not unique to West Virginia alone. From rural Maine to Northern Florida the exodus of non college educated whites to the GOP has grown. Last year, it became a flood.

Beyond the Senate, this has huge ramifications for every other elected office in 2018 and beyond. November showed if it is a battle of attrition between urban, liberal votes and ruby red rural areas their is no guarantee of victory for Democrats.

Indeed, it seemed last year Democrats finally maxed out their vote in urban Philly, Detroit and elsewhere. While they made gains in the suburbs they were either in deeply red states or outvoted by rural areas.  In short, massive Democratic margins in urban cities finally did stopped saving the party.

Where Democrats Went Wrong

Over at RealClearPolitics, chief elections analyst David Byler proposed an interesting hypothetical, would John Edwards coalition have been better than Obama’s?  His point is not to say one is/would be better but underscore the current Democratic coalition requires the party to alienate itself from rural, white voters.  These are not consistently Republican voters (just ask rural voters in Pepin County, Wisconsin) but the voters that have historically split their votes.  Until recently.

Back in 2002, “The Emerging Democratic Majority” was coined by Democratic strategists Ruy Texiera and John Judis.  Judis has backed away from the theory more recently than Texiera due to the identity politics conundrum it has created for the party.  But, the theory argues that Democrats could create a permanent majority if they managed to appeal to white-collar, upscale men and women, held around 70-75 percent of the minority vote and at least received 40 percent of the blue-collar, white vote (the book posited 50 percent).

Obviously Democrats have never paid attention to the chart below showing the GOP margins among the blue-collar white vote (borrowed from Byler) increasing since 1998.  If they had the party might have done more to re-calibrate after 2004 or, more recently, 2010 and 2014.  Because, Democrats have come nowhere close to hitting Judis and Texiera’s blue-collar support benchmark since the theory was penned.

Instead, what Democrats have done is create a coalition heavily dependent on college educated women, minorities and affluent, coastal elites.  Byler posits the EDM theory would have looked like a cleaned up John Edward’s, explains why and then points out he is not sure this would have won Democrats the election last year but helped them come close.  I argue it would (but that is an article for another day).

Edward’s was a candidate who could appeal to almost anybody.  He was an economic progressive in the mold of older, Southern Democratic populists and focused on economic inequality.  He was pro-LBGT rights and abortion but he also was an adamant supporter of the death penalty and supportive of gun rights.  In his bid in 1998, Edward’s ran much better than any statewide, federal Democratic candidate since.  Whereas Clinton relied on urban cores and a few college counties in the state, Edward’s won by winning a fairly diverse set of voters.

A fairly large number of Democrats in 2006 and 2008 won election by running Edward’s like campaigns that managed to coalesce a diverse socially liberal, fiscally centrist, urban and rural coalition.  But, with the nomination of Obama in 2008 (as opposed to Clinton or Edwards) the party decided to take a different course.

Democrats went all in on winning the minority and urban vote.  They embraced cosmopolitanism and its values including shoving gay marriage, abortion, and LBGT rights down Middle America’s throats.  Even after 2010, no effort was made to move to the middle on rural/urban issues or even social issues.  Democrats managed to maintain their urban coalition at the increasing cost of their rural support.  If not for Obama’s populist appeal in 2012 he might well have lost to Romney.

The 2016 election was the fulfillment of the choice Democrats made to craft a supposedly unassailable coalition of minorities, urban and college educated voters.   But, the consequences of that decision are now blindly obvious.  Democrats have a massive number of safe Congressional seats due to geographical variables and self-sorting.  The party is ensured of winning at least 15 states in the Electoral College (and about 200 votes) and is getting increasingly strong in Sunbelt, red states.  But, in the meantime, their hold on increasingly rural and red Midwestern states has finally slipped.

The Result Is Trump and His Blue-Collar Coalition

Alienated from the Democratic Party, the ultimate irony of 2016 is that blue-collar, white voters backed a rich, white guy who bragged of having gold plated toilet seats in his New York Penthouse.  In Trump, these alienated voters saw a champion.

In massive numbers in dozens of counties across the Midwest, Pennsylvania and rural Maine, Trump dominated by unheard of margins.  Exit polls show he won blue-collar whites by 40 points nationally.  Critically, in blue-wall states, Trump was the first Republican to see support in rural areas and the suburbs finally outweigh Democratic support in urban cores.

Due to the coalition Democrats have assembled they now face an existential crisis.  Do they oppose Trump, these blue-collar voters champions, in an effort to win over some of these critical voters or do they en-masse oppose The Donald to keep their progressive and minority base?  As I recently pointed out, there are many different opinions in the party on this front.

As more data comes out from the election we should know more about how blue-collar voters behaved in critical counties and states.  But, if exit polls are to be believed, as well as county and precinct level results, Trump built a coalition based on Democratic alienation decades in the making.

As for Judis and Texiera, their theory of the EDM has fallen flat.  Judis argues it has turned the Democratic Party into a minority based, identity politics party and Texiera has said little about it since 2003.  The white voters the theory relied on to stay in the Democratic camp have only been with the party in a few elections (2006, 2008 and 2012) since the new millennium.

Republicans have their issues but Democratic problems run much, much deeper.  They encompass virtually every aspect of American politics and thus cannot be solved overnight.  If nothing else, maybe this will make Democrats re-calibrate.

Do Democrats Have a Redistricting Plan?

gettyimages-464686108-640x480At long last, Democrats have a national redistricting strategy.  Or so they claim.  On Friday, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced the formation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) which aims to combat GOP legislative majorities by waging court challenges and utilizing ballot initiatives to create nonpartisan commissions to draw legislative and Congressional lines. Democrats have long blamed gerrymandering for the GOP takeover of 2010 but are loathe to acknowledge the GOP won 66 seats in 2010 under old lines that FAVORED Democrats.

The NDRC is Democrats answer to the GOP’s Republican State Legislative Committee’s REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project).  Launched in 2009, REDMAP was a well funded joint project between the party and third party groups that spent millions on data infrastructure and the 2010 election results.  Since that time, the GOP has locked in its majorities in many states (though some gerrymanders have been undone by the courts and citizen initiatives).

According to the NDRC’s website “Republican gerrymandered districts after the 2010 Census have put Democrats at a massive structural disadvantage. That’s why the most important turning point for the future of the Democratic Party will take place in 2021: when states redraw their Congressional and state legislative lines.”  Additionally, “The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) is an organization of Democratic leaders enacting a comprehensive, multi-cycle Democratic Party redistricting strategy over the next 5 years and beyond.”  Beyond ballot initiatives and court challenges the NDRC will also focus on winning legislative contests in the years ahead.

Missing from the NDRC is any answer for how they will confront the non-gerrymandering aspects of their coalition. Democrats are good at arguing at how Republicans disenfranchise urban and minority voters but they refuse to admit these voters tend to do it to themselves.  By this I mean the majority of the Democratic votes in many states is locked into urban and dense suburban areas and is hard to find anywhere else.  While this makes gerrymandering for the GOP easier it also makes gerrymandering harder for Democrats to accomplish even if they are in control.

Take for example the state of Minnesota. After the 2016 elections the GOP controlled both chambers of the state legislature under a court drawn map favorable to Democrats.  The GOP lost their initial majority in the state legislature in 2012, regained the house in 14 and retook the state senate last year.  The GOP did not really have to do anything to facilitate this advantage.  Democratic policies like MCare (the state exchange) and the party becoming more cosmopolitan has cost the party seats just about everywhere else. Currently, Democrats do not control a single state senate district Romney won while the GOP does not control a single, urban Minneapolis seat.  The GOP gets the better end of the deal.

The Democratic argument that gerrymandering and voting laws are the reasons why the GOP has such a strong advantage in the states is partly true.  But, it is only partly true.  The polarization, both racial and geographical, in our politics means that Democratic voters pack themselves into areas where millions of votes are wasted (see an example here).  This means for Democrats to have any hope of establishing a decade long majority in many states they will have to practice their own form of gerrymandering.  And it will likely be far worse than the GOP’s.

To see an example of this dynamic take a look at Illinois legislative districts. Until last year, Democrats had veto proof majorities in the legislature to stop Bruce Rauner.  Democrats built this advantage by creating incredbly ugly House and Senate districts that mixed rural, conservative areas with dense, urban and Democratic suburbs (ironically, no liberal complains about this).  The Congressional Democratic gerrymander has already started to fall apart because the party could not fit down-state, rural areas into urban districts.  Democrats aimed to create a 13-5 majority in the Congressional delegation.  It now stands at 11-7 with a Democratic district being carried by Trump by double-digits.

Of course Democrats are silent on their partisan gerrymanders.  Maybe it is because they fall apart as we have seen in Illinois and in Minnesota.  But, even in purple Colorado they have fallen apart as well.  The state has a split legislature (even with term limits).  The current map, drawn by a Democrat appointed district judge, did everything to give Democrats a majority in the state senate.  It created huge GOP vote sinks in rural areas and unified Democratic leaning suburbs.  Urban Denver was kept intact while trending GOP Douglas County districts were merged with liberal Araphoe county precincts.  Yet, despite this, the GOP holds a slim one seat majority in the state senate because of the Democratic insistence on appealing only to cosmopolitan voters.

To be sure, the NDRC is not a policy orientated organization.  It cannot dictate to the party what legislative policies the party should pursue.  But it should recommend to the party a change of course in rhetoric.  Democrats have a systematic weakness in the states because their party appeals only to urban interests and rural and suburban voters have noted.  This helps lock Democratic votes into districts that waste votes while GOP voters are better distributed in suburban/rural areas.  Democrats can draw districts, like in Illinois, that merge urban/rural but they are incredibly ugly, non-compact and not very full-proof.

Until Democrats come up with a way to solve these issues no amount of gerrymandering will be able to help a party beholden to interests out of touch to voters in many states. This partly helps explain why Republicans since 2012 have consistently had about a +4 percent edge in the number of seats they control in the House compared to their popular vote total.  Democrats, even if they got every map they wanted, could never accomplish the same.

Democrats Need More Than An Unpopular Trump Next Year and After

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Senator-Elect Maggie Hassan (D-NH), was one of the party’s top recruits this cycle and one of their few successes.

Democrats want to forget this year and who can blame them.  They blew a winnable Presdential election, gave up 2 Governorships  and gained few Senate and House seats.  They did not gain legislative seats and even gave up blue Vermont to a Republican Governor.  Today, Republicans have total control in 25 states compared to Democrats 5.

The 2016 election was the first time in recent memory where not a single D/R Senate candidate won in a state the opposite party’s presidential nominee took.  But, Governorships did not follow suit.  Indeed, of the 12 Governorships up in 2016 almost half (5) were won by D/R candidates not of the victorious Presidential candidate’s ilk.  Republicans took Vermont and New Hampshire while Democrats won West Virginia, Montana and North Carolina.

If you compile the margins between gubernatorial and Presidential results the difference was a whopping 17 points.  Compare that to the difference between President and Senate in the 13 most competitive states being 5 points.

If you read an article talking about the lean of one state or another there is no way you’d be able to guess the results of many state’s gubernatorial contests.  Jim Justice won West Virginia by 7 points while Trump won it by 42 points.  Republican Phil Scott won Vermont by 7 points in a state Trump lost by 26 points.  Steve Bullock won by 4 points in a state Trump won by 20.

These big margin differences did not just occur in states where a D/R gubernatorial candidate won while the opposite party’s Presidential candidate carried it.  In Missouri and Indiana, Trump won both states by about 20 points.  Republican gubernatorial candidates carried them by only 6.

While polarization has increased at all levels of voting, especially the federal level, state level results are not tied as closely to Presidential results.  For example, in 2014, 76 percent of states that had voted for the Republican or Democratic nominee in 2012 backed a similar party’s Senate candidate.  But, that number was just 12 percent for Governors.

There is quite a bit of literature on why gubernatorial results are not tied to the partisan lean of a state.  Senators and Congressmen/women serve in DC with the President.  Governors, on the other hand, govern in their respective states, deal with different issues and often have more time to personally get to know voters (just ask Phil Scott in Vermont).

On the surface this looks good for Democrats coming into 2018.  States that voted for Trump might be willing to throw their lot in with local Democrats if they hit on the right issues.  Afterall, voters in North Carolina responded to Roy Cooper’s campaign to end toll roads and repeal HB-2.

But, it might be good news for Republicans too.  If Trump is unpopular it suggests that Republicans could outrun Trump and insulate themselves by campaigning on local issues. Not only could Republicans hold purple states in the Midwest and South like Florida, but states like Massachusetts and Maryland might stay red due to the popularity of their GOP Governors.

Democrats have ample reasons for wanting to capture at least some Governorships in 2018.  First, a majority of legislation is crafted at the state level.  We have seen the political results of this via Scott Walker’s Collective Bargaining Reform, Rick Snyder’s Right to Work law in Michigan or Sam Brownback’s elimination of income taxes in Kansas.

Secondly, Governors and the legislatures draw congressional and legislative lines after the 2020 census.  If Republicans hold onto blue and purple states they could lock in their majorities for another decade or more.  This has legislative repercussions as well for obvious reasons.

Lastly, parties have to have a bench to draw rising stars from.  Obama has cost the Democratic Party 12 Senate seats, 63 House seats, and over 900 legislative seats (including 2016).  The Democratic bench has been reduced to a shell of itself and many times the parties look to their Governors for policy ideas and candidates for President.  Part of the reason why Clinton faced such weak competition for the Presidency is because Democrats lacked a bench to draw from.  Republicans had so many choices they could not even fit every candidate on a single debate stage.

Democrats fielded few strong candidates this cycle.  In top-tier races in Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana the party either went with second-tier candidates or legacy candidates (Ohio and Indiana).  In every case, Democrats lost.

Of course, Democrats have time to retool and test their messages.  Nowhere will this be more important than the Virginia gubernatorial election in 2017.  Until 2013, the state had elected Governors not of the incumbent President’s party.  However, 2013 might be an outlier only because the GOP nominated a deeply flawed and ideological nominee.

Democrats will probably pick up some Governorships and legislative seats in 2018.  They should be considered heavy favorites in New Jersey next year and a slight favorite in Virginia.  But, Democrats will need more than an unpopular Trump to carry them if 2016 is any indication of a trend.

 

 

 

 

Of Democratic Dreams and 2018

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Heidi Heitkamp, (D-ND) is one of those 2018 Senators up for reelection in a ruby red, Trump state.  As a result, she has said she would work with Trump on areas they agree on.

Chuck Schumer incensed his base last week when he said he could work with Trump.  The liberal blogosphere went crazy, particularly here, arguing that working with Trump is a recipe for disaster for Senate Democrats.

Of course, if you look at the Senate map for 2018 the map is downright horrific.  Ten Democrats sit in states Trump won and only a single Republican sits in a Clinton state.  By default, you would think this means some of these Democrats, particularly in MO, MT, WV, IN and ND would want to distance themselves from the party’s national brand.

Running counter to this belief is Democratic dominance from the 50s to the 90s in Congress.  For the most part Republicans worked with moderate GOP Presidents and a Democratic Congress to pass major legislation.  The result was permanent minority status.  But, as soon as Newt Gingrich and his “revolutionaries” came around in the early 90s the GOP gained continual power power in Congress for a decade.  Indeed, since 94 the GOP has held the House in 9 of the last elections and the Senate 6-11.

This cycle for the first time in modern electoral politics, not a single Senate D/R candidate won a state of the opposite party’s Presidential nominee.  Democrats came up short in Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Florida (just to name a few) while Republicans lost in Nevada and an agonizingly close race in New Hampshire.

It is the New Hampshire race that stands out though and shows how electoral history can be made by a few hundred votes.  Flip 250 votes in New Hampshire and Ayotte would have won reelection and a state Trump lost.  So despite the argument politics is increasingly polarized there are signs a good candidate can still win or at least be competitive.

Not more than 4 years ago we witnessed a Presidential contest that featured plenty of ticket-splitting.  Democrats won Senate contests in Missouri, West Virginia, Montana, Indiana and North Dakota.  All states Romney won by hefty margins.  Republicans won an open Nevada Senate seat.  A state Obama won.

These candidates all had things in common.  They ran away from their national party’s worst tendencies and showcased their best.  Admittedly, many of these candidates had the luxury of running against flawed opponents but still.

All this is a round-about way of saying that having a party leader who stresses pragmatism, as Reid once did, and Schumer does now, is not necessarily a bad thing for a party facing a daunting Senate map.  If Trump is popular come 2018 at least vulnerable Democrats can say they worked to make the system better.  If Trump is not, they are sure to benefit from voters turning out against him.  They might even get a few 2016 Trump voters to boot.

Contrary to the belief that undying opposition to the incumbent party in the White House stands the Democrats of 2006 and 2008.  Believe it or not, Democrats worked with Bush in 05 to pass immigration reform.  It was Republicans who derailed it.  Meanwhile, Democrats were smart and attacked Bush on corruption and reforming Social Security.  In 2007 and 2008 Democrats, even while in control of Congress, again worked with Bush to provide funding for the War in Iraq and domestic programs.

Ironically, this might be the only route available for Democrats to avoid losing seats in 2018.  Undying opposition to a Trump Presidency might make liberal voters swoon and GOP voters sour on Trump but if you are sitting in a Trump +20 state you need a lot of liberals to vote and a lot of sour Republicans not to.  And I hate to break it to Democrats but the odds of that happening are really, really small.