Welcome one and all to the continuing shitshow saga that is the American political spectacle. When you last tuned in in 2016, the Ur-fascist narrowly beat out the neoliberal cancellation of the future, and we’ve been on a wild ride for the last two years as Republican majorities in Congress and a stacked SCOTUS run ra mpant. In this piece, Felix picks apart the whys and whens; candidates and races to watch, forecasting and polling, and what this all means down the line.
Firstly - where do we get this stuff, anyways? The Cook Political Report in very high regard, as with Sabato’s Crystal Ball and, obligatorily, FiveThirtyEight (and if you’re a fan of satire, good ol’ Chapo Trap House). Felix only gets one issue a week, folks; best hunting for up-to-date info elsewhere.
First up: I’m endorsing a straight-Dem ballot. They’re practically Tories anyways - at least the bad ones (i.e. most of them). Don’t @ me, have you seen the news lately?
As always, send all angry correspondence to comment editor Charlie Titmuss, please (and, while you’re at it, get a life).
So what’s happening anyways?
Congressional and gubernatorial elections. Governors in a handful of states are up for election, as are some locals (town selectman, or whatever - nobody cares). These folks often turn into presidential candidates, but there’s not much interesting (at least since Cynthia Nixon lost her bid in the primaries to Andrew Cuomo in NY).
The really spicy races are for the House. 35 Senate seats are up, but they’re mostly held by Dems, and hence there’s not much chance at all to break the majority (538: 1 in 7 chance as of writing). However, Democrats are projected to take the House (538: 6 in 7).
How’s it been going?
Interestingly. Candidates like Beto O’Rourke have given candidates like Ted Cruz (R-TX) runs for their money - literally. O’Rourke raised lots of dosh, and Republicans ended up spending more in the state than they anticipated (remember, two years ago Cruz was thought to be presidential material, or at least by degenerates). The race is a toss-up. Others, like Andrew Janz (v. incumbent Devin Nunes, R-CA-22) have run fairly competitive races (though Nunes’s real opponent is the Fresno Bee). Unfortunately, Janz doesn’t see to be able to pull off the balance - the district is currently forecast as likely R.
The Republicans are their same loathsome selves. “DON’T INTERRUPT ME, JASON!” Cruz snapped at a debate moderator asking him about civility in politics. They’re dog-whistling racists and are more decidedly pro-Trump than ever. I guess this is how a cult of personality is established?
More macro-view plz.
Okay; Democrats need to pick up 23 seats for a majority in the House. The NY Times estimates (among races in districts not dyed in the wool) 15 seats that lean Dem, held mostly by Republicans, and about 30 tossups - all Republicans. There are another 29 lean-R seats that are already R; the Dems should then have the mileage they need to pick up the majority. FiveThirtyEight is calling a +39 seat gain for the Democrats on average, with an 80% chance of picking up anywhere between 19 and 59 seats. This will get us there.
Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to pick up a seat or two in the Senate. This is somewhat unfortunate - slim margins are always better when whippping votes isn’t really a thing - but as long as the gain is small, it’s manageable, especially with control of the House.
Will the blue wave actually come about?
There’s the regular ol’ opposition surge (folks content with the status quo are not as motivated to vote as those who don’t like what’s going on). Couple this with anti-Trump sentiment and you have a storm on your hands.
Remember: this is a president who hit historically-low approval ratings (he’s hovering at around 40% now - higher than usual, but most of the people pulling that lever foam at the mouth, so take it with a grain of salt). His administration is objectively the worst in American history. We’re living a nightmare that never seems to end (has it really been near two years already?).
Consequently, there has been a massive surge in early voting. Early voting among young people is up 500% in Georgia, with historic highs hit around the country; turnout is projected to be up 150% over the 2014 midterms (mirroring the 2016 elections, 50% of the 18-to-29 demographic voted, as opposed to the pitiful 19.9% turnout in the 2014 midterms) - a good bellweather for turnout here, considering anti-Trump sentiment is concentrated in young voters.
Another factor is the prevalence of identity politics in the current political climate - with just cause, considering the present administration. For example, trans rights do not matter in the slightest to the current administration. Coupled with fiery rhetoric, the current political climate is experienced as an existential threat to trans people. Extend that - do you guys remember Mike Pence as the guy who wanted to electroshock gay people into being straight with funding taken from AIDS treatment? Maybe we could bring back lynching, just this one time.
People are still sensitive to the id-pol case against Trump; it’s a valid argument worth listening to, and it’s gonna move voters to the polls.
Then again, there are some not-so-good features of the election that definitely don’t work in the Dems’s favor. For example, voting machines in Texas have been changing Beto votes to Ted Cruz (and somewhat vice versa, though most of the reports I’ve heard suggest it’s going majority towards Ted). Election machines are ludicrously compromised; Georgian infrastructure isn’t even supported by the vendor any more. Gerrymandering also affects House races, providing a systemic disadvantage to Democrat voters (to the extent that they need ~55% of the popular vote to take the House).
And there’s the usual voter suppression efforts…
What’s this about voter suppression?
Voter fraud is not a big deal. There were four cases of voter fraud in the 2016 elections. Unfortunately, this does not stop Fox News from adopting the concept into their rhetoric. This is a pretext to carry out broad voter-suppression efforts - in the form of stringent and surprisingly-early voter registration deadlines, ludicrous voter ID laws, and closing ballot boxes in cities with majority-minority individuals (e.g. Dodge City, Kansas - a town with 30,000 Latino folks and not one single polling place).
Obviously, these efforts are kept somewhat hush-hush (nobody wants to be known to act anti-democratically, after all), but the idea is to give an edge in marginal cases. If you’re working two full-time jobs to make rent, do you have the time or energy to drive an hour to the next city over just to pick up your special voter ID (in some states, not even your driver’s license is sufficient). This brings about a disproportionate turnout - the few percentage points needed, in many cases, to eke an election (or at least to improve your odds).
Take the race for governor of Georgia - Democrat Stacey Abrams is subject to the rules set by secretary of state Brian Kemp. Her opponent? Brian Kemp. One bus full of black seniors heading towards the polls was intercepted by the police. One “exact match” ID law he passed threatens to suppress 50,000 voters. Jimmy fucking Carter stepped out of retirement to tell Kemp to resign. Kemp’s response has been to dogwhistle about “outside agitators” - familiar to anyone who studied the Civil Rights Movement, because this is how leaders would speak about black people without really speaking about black people. So much so, in fact, that the term has its own fucking Wikipedia article.
How is Trump reacting?
Well, Trump’s new thing is promising to cancel the 14th amendment - jus soli, or citizenship from birth in the country. This has been well-established (and well-tested) law since the 1890s and has its roots in being one of the ones passed because of the whole slavery thing. Obviously Trump doesn’t like the position - so, he thinks he can write an executive order to trample the Constitution (hahaha - it doesn’t work like that).
There’s also the bullshit caravan story. It’s better as a jazz standard, IMO. God, I hope this gasbag implodes.
And the rest of the Republicans?
Cowardly. Absolutely cowardly. Apparently they’ve been begging the Democrats not to do any digging, because they know in their hearts the Dems will pick the House back up, and it’ll be a bad time for Rohrabacher (R-CA) and anyone like him. They have skeletons in the closet and that closet will be pried open.
The Republicans will take the Senate.
Besides the obvious maintained control over every branch of government, a Republican House would be a nightmare; it will be read as tacit approval of the status quo, and McConnell, Trump, & Co. will be more emboldened than ever, and give even more license to those working in bad faith to prevent meaningful investigation into the wrongdoings of the present administration. Current forecasts say this eventuality is unlikely, but the prospect alone is rather bleak. Additionally, the success of voter suppression tactics remains to be seen - the Abrams-Kemp race, for example, is currently in a dead heat.
If the Dems take Congress, though - all of a sudden, committee control will be passed to the blues, and it becomes much more difficult for Republicans to impede investigations (into, for example, emoluments clause violations - of which Trump is very, very guilty).
In terms of the Democrats - bellweather primaries in MA and NY showed that the progressive wing of the party is gradually picking up steam; as the districts are dyed-blue, we will greet a small but growing cohort of millennial candidates - who even describe themselves as socialists! While the libs on top (Pelosi, Schumer, et al) want to maintain their neoliberal hegemony, the narrative is shifting, as it must; running another centrist neoliberal in 2020 would be suicide. Candidates are beginning to posture for the race already; Sanders is the clear frontrunner, with others (Biden, Bloomberg, Booker) lining up.
The Dems will oppose Trump; that much is certain. Whether or not they’ll split like bad mayo is another. We’re in for a raucous few years, folks.
What’s this about the Dems?
Obviously the centrist position has hit the bumpers. Nobody takes id-pol rhetoric without support for socio-economic programs and projects such as nationalized infrastructure banking, Medicare for all, expanded Social Security, and free/cheaper university tuition. Without these programs, individuals are left living precarious lives; they become isolated, atomized - they begin to believe that there is no coherent policy option to rectify their woes, as none are seriously discussed in the upper echelons of the political establishment. This is the standard critique of neoliberalism. This is not to say the cultural positions are bad; this is only to say that the political basis is incomplete, and the cancellation of debate on these issues forces individuals to seek alternatives - like Trump. Trump’s nomination was a perfect storm; the election could’ve been had if Clinton had put forth better ideological projects, as opposed to her bullshit appeal to realpolitik. Not exactly inspirational.
The point is that we’re looking at a very different political landscape in the next few months, one where the Dems will have much more ground for critiquing Trump, and much more power to enforce it. But if they make the same mistake as in 2016, they are bound to lose in 2020.
Any parting words?
This is bullshit.