Thoughts on the 2014 Midterm Elections and Liberalism’s Future
I am writing this on November 4, 2014 at 9 PM Pacific Standard Time. The Republicans have taken back the Senate by at least a 52 vote majority. This result should surprise almost no one. It was a midterm year and the President’s Party usually does poorly during the 6-year itch. The Democratic Party was also facing a lot of tough races in very red territory. The more surprising changes are in the governorships. Brownback, LePage, and Scott have earned their reelections or seem poised to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It is hard to tell whether Brownback helped Roberts or Roberts helped Brownback. Here are some random thoughts. There is still a chance that the Democratic Party can win the governorships in Maine, Colorado, and Kansas as of writing.
1. The Solid South is the Solid South. The only difference is that the Solid South used to be Democratic and now it is Republican. This is not going to change anytime in the immediate future. Maybe North Carolina and Virginia will be purple states but I think they will be largely red except during Presidential years. The Democratic Party did manage to keep control of the Kentucky House of Representatives which is good news for Kentuckians who use the ACA for insurance.
2. The Democratic Party is becoming a party of the Northeast and Coastal West and Upper Mid-West. Gina Raimondo was able to win the governorship of Rhode Island despite tough choices she made on pension reform. LePage seems to be narrowly winning Maine because an independent candidate took away votes from the Democratic nominee, this also happened during his first victory in 2010.
3. Polls generally show that Democratic voters want their part to compromise but Republicans reward politicians who stick to principle. I think this is largely true but might slowly be changing. There is a growing discontent among Democratic Party supporters (especially the liberal wing) about Democratic candidates who are mealy-mouthed about Democratic and Liberal ideals.
4. #3 is going to make it especially hard for Democratic politicians to win elections in Southern States because they are going to have a hard time attracting financing from Democratic voters and supporters outside their states. The Democratic base is slowly but surely getting more liberal and less likely to put up with candidates who feel like backstabbers. True liberals like Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken will get money from the base but people like Grimes will not. Pryor might strike an interesting middle-ground because he did not hide from the ACA as much as Grimes.
5. Cuomo easily won his primary and reelection but I think there is going to be a war brewing between the DLC-Corporate wing and the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Of course this has always been the case. But Teachout won 35 percent of the New York Primary vote and that is saying something. What is interesting is that her victory came from the Northern suburbs and from residents of New Brooklyn who are largely white, middle or upper-middle class, and college educated. Cuomo destroyed Teachout in NYC. There has always been a liberal and good government wing to the Democratic Party but this wing often is very unwilling to play the intricacies of urban voting which retains a lot of old school and machine elements. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party seems much better at playing urban politics. Silicon Valley united with the Asian community to elect Ed Lee and get a lot of nice tax breaks that barely helped San Francisco. Silicon Valley also worked hard against Air BnB skeptic David Campos. The other version of this fight was an eager chance to take out Rahm Emmanuel until his likely challenger bowed out because of a brain cancer diagnosis.
6. The liberal base of the Democratic Party is much smaller than the conservative base of the Republican Party but they are not so small that they cannot be ignored.
7. The country is in a very cynical and depressed mood even though things are roughly on the uptick according to the statistics. I think this is because a lot of people are still traumatized by what happened to them and to people they knew during the Great Recession and because most of the gains in the recovery have gone to the rich. This would explain the success of ballot measures to raise the minimum wage tonight.
8. Again almost everyone expected 2014 to be a Republican year. Many pundits suspect 2016 will be a Democratic Year because the GOP needs to defend seats in unfriendly territory and Democratic voters get more excited in Presidential years.
9. There will probably still be a lot of gridlock because the GOP has a more solid lock on the House. Jon Chait doesn’t think the Democratic Party has a chance of retaking the House until 2020. Chuck Todd thinks 2022 is more realistic as a hope for a Democratic majority in the House. So we might see almost ten years of gridlock if this is true.
10. All things considered, social liberalism did pretty well this year on some fronts. Same-Sex Marriage is quickly becoming the law of the land, voters are becoming more fed up with the War against Some Drugs, and a person amendment was defeated in Colorado despite Republican victories for the Senate seat and probably the Governorship. Income inequality also seems to be a concern as evidence by the victories for measures raising the minimum wage.
There is an old Max Planck quote: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” The same is true in politics. The GOP still faces their aging demographic problem with a large base that is much older and much whiter than the rest of the American population. There is also a seeming split between old Generation X who were teenagers or college students during the Reagan years and younger Generation X members like myself who are not old enough to remember Reagan but are old enough to remember Gingrich and his hypocrisies and how Bush II destroyed the Clinton surplus (around the time we graduated from college.) I come from the same generation as Paul Ryan but our worldviews were shaped by very different events.
The one note of caution I will raise is that the Big Sort does have the potential problem of turning all voters into Pauline Kael. There could very well be a large number of socially and fiscally conservative late Generation Xers and Millennials that I don’t know about because I don’t live near them, I don’t talk to them, and I don’t know them.