"The amount of electoral power the Democrats have lost, particularly at the state and local level, is astounding!" "...Once again, making it abundantly clear they will do anything, absolutely anything, to keep a stranglehold on the little bit of political power they have left..."
Rosh Limbaugh (1). Tomi Lahren (2). Neither are voices that Democrats ought to take too seriously, yet here they enthusiastically remind us of an indisputable truth. With the White House, both houses of Congress, and soon to be the Supreme Court, the United States government is now painted a consistent shade of red.
Eight years ago, things looked rather blue, Democratic blue. Obama came into his first term with the help of 58 senators (just shy of that critical 60-seat supermajority), a 256 seat share in the House of Representatives, and supported at the state-level by 28 governorships. Since then- 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016- Democrats have lost ten Senate seats, 63 seats in the House, and 12 of such governorships - and this is just at the federal level (3). The New Republic reports that throughout the Obama-tenure, Democrats have lost over 800 seats in state legislatures, limiting Democratic majorities to a mere 31 of the nation's 98 state legislatures, supported by only 15 Democratic governors (4). Republicans have produced take-overs even in highly blue states such as Washington and Vermont. Blue-crisis is certainly real, yet, it is not as gloomy as those on the right would have us think.
194 house seats, up from 187, truly isn't a lot, when you're vying for a 218-based majority. 48 Senate seats, up from 46, is a nudge, but a very important nudge. At the federal level, the Democratic Party still made gains in 2016. Let us not forget that. The House of Representatives may still be a long shot, merely a small dent to a much stronger machine. Yet, the Senate...the Senate...holds much potential. Despite what we have already seen in these first few weeks, specifically the confirmations of Trump's more controversial cabinet ambitions, going forward, with each radical Trump proposal, finding just three Republicans, any three Republicans, in a political climate where many mainstream Republicans are still rather uneasy about the new President and his ambitions, will not be impossible. It is hard to say if the G.O.P. on the hill will continue to fall in line the way they seem to be doing, or if rising anger among constituents might tip just enough of them back to their former reservations. Nevertheless, the Democrats, at the federal level, have cut-in to Republican margins just enough to make use of future conflicts within these Republican factions. Progressivism is not dead. Democrats are not yet powerless. Yet, if we truly want to put ourselves over the fence in 2018, we must acknowledge and correct the very real problems currently existing within our Democratic message. We must not take the President's foolishness for granted.
“Swing-state voters made their decisions in the final days breaking against me because of the F.B.I. letter from Director Comey,” Clinton explained to a group of donors, as reported by Amy Chozick of the New York Times (5). "So, enjoy President Trump, because Democrats worked hard to get him into the White House [by cheating Bernie out of the nomination]." "I believe there’s a self-righteousness about this that only people with a certain level of privilege [refusing to vote for Clinton] can afford to have." H.A. Goodman of The Huffington Post and Michael Arceneaux of The Guardian have certainly contrasting opinions regarding the strife between mainstream Democrats and those on the further-left who defected for Stein, Johnson, or perhaps even Trump (6) (7). Yet, as Bernie himself would likely say, "What good does it do now?" Regardless if casted on a specific event or specific group, blame, at this point, is absolutely useless and counterproductive. Russian hacking, James Comey, third parties, regardless of whatever factor put Trump and Republicans just over the fence this past November, it doesn't matter. Between announcing a Muslim-ban, promising to antagonize our southern neighbors with a border wall he can only dream to have them pay for, revealing an alarming soft-spot for Vladimir Putin and other global strongmen, and unable to finish a speech without several gaffes revealing how truly incompetent he is, Donald Trump should have never even come close to stepping foot in the White House- period. A man of his utter lunacy should have lost this election by a landslide, and forfeited the popular vote by much more than a two percent margin. Even if Clinton had pulled miracles that night, and somehow recovered Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which were never supposed to be in contention, a close-call victory would still resonate a Democratic failure. If even Trump had lost, but within striking distance, Democrats would still have to be ashamed. In an election between structured policy proposals, and uncultured political upheaval, the latter had won. We need to wag the fingers at ourselves, as a whole, if we are ever to reform and move forward.
Young voters, minority-voters, those blue-collar white voters, the Obama coalition failed this election cycle. Personally, I'd like to think extensive data and research isn't truly needed to figure out why.
"What good does it do now?" Bernie Sanders is right when he suggested that 'Monday morning quarterbacking' is useless in the interest of uniting to move forward. However...however...let's return to the drawing board just a little bit to reveal some evident relationships, if we are ever to better strategize moving forward.
May 6th through June 5th was the period of polling in which RealClearPolitics measured Clinton with at most a +6.5 margin over Donald Trump (8), on that first day. Throughout that same period, Bernie Sanders maintained a +10.4 average when pit against Trump, falling to as low as +4 in one poll, and rising to +15 in another (9). If we extend this period back to February 1st, the Iowa Caucuses, Bernie can be seen trouncing Donald Trump in several head-to-head match-ups: +15, +18, +20, +24. Bernie trails to Trump in just one of the RealClearPolitics reported polls from February onward, by just one percent. Clinton? In this same period from February 1st to June 5th, Clinton trails Donald Trump six times, ranging from -2 to -5. To analyze more clearly, within this same period, RealClearPolitics reported 40 polls of head-to-head match-ups between Clinton and Trump. Between Sanders and Trump there are only 27. Taking this account, Clinton falls to Trump in 15% of reported head-to-head polls, while Bernie falls to Trump in only 4% of them. Of the 40 polls reported between Clinton and Trump in this period, Clinton wins by a 10% margin or more 11 times, over 15% just once. Of the 27 reported between Sanders and Trump, Sanders wins by a 10% margin or more 22 times, over 15% 7 times.
This isn't an argument that Bernie should have been the nominee. This isn't even an argument that Bernie could have necessarily beat Trump come the general election. It is more than a reasonable thought that such polling could totally change come election day, the same polling which ultimately failed us anyway. What needs to be noted, however, is the fact that the far-left candidate appeared to hold more gravity than the centrist candidate. Against our conservative judgments, what we would tend to think otherwise, the centrist candidate did not ever appear to be the more electable. It appears that the more extremist candidate was able to connect with more voters overall.
Still not convinced?
Hello. Bernie is in green, by the way.
I sometimes like to think of Election Night 2016 as the 'Revenge of the Berniecrats,' not in the way that a bunch of stubborn millennials protest-voted for third parties, but in the way that Bernie Sanders so clearly identified a group of working-class voters who were in need a voice, a voice that Clinton failed to represent, which Trump came in to easily sweep up. For the first time that I can recall in my 21-year-old life, the far-left and the right appear to share a political linkage that bypasses the center. For the first time perhaps in my life-time, we are experiencing a political realignment of sorts, and it's all thanks to our President.
"If the election came down to Bernie Sanders and Trump, I would vote for Sanders." My father has been a staunch Republican the entirety of his adulthood. I don't believe he's ever voted for a Democrat. I would have never imagined my father to utter such words upon driving home from campus, Thanksgiving Break. Given this was before the primary season had started, and I would think his opinion would return to the right had this scenario actually unfolded, just the fact that my lifelong fiscally-conservative father even considered voting for a self-identified Democratic Socialist spoke absolute volumes to me. Something isn't normal. "At least if I vote for him, I know exactly what he's going to do..." his mentality appeared to reflect many other Republicans at that time, even known conservatives.
"I think he's an authentic guy." "I've said for a long time, I like and respect Bernie Sanders, because he's honest, he's candid....Bernie is being honest about this." "We are philosophically different, but Bernie was an honest man." "Bernie Sanders is at least honest about who he is...I respect Bernie Sanders for having the guts to tell the truth."
Mitt Romney. Ted Cruz. John McCain. Glenn Beck. In that order (10). To think that Republicans, including some our nations most profound conservative voices, are actually lending praise to someone on the polar opposite of the spectrum, really has to make you ponder. To reiterate once more, this is not an argument that Bernie Sanders should have been the nominee. This is a call to recognize that Bernie Sanders, supported by his progressive counterparts, has identified a common argument and a common voice that has transcended the political spectrum, which we, as Democrats, must acknowledge if we hope to move forward. What is this argument? Who are these voices that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump seemed to have mutually championed, entirely bypassing Clinton?
Let's start with what the progressive-left and right, notably alt-right, do not agree on. This political linkage is not based on LGBT issues, abortion, other social issues nor most economic issues. This political linkage between the Progressive-Left and the Alt-Right exists more or less upon three mutualities, but mutualities that were absolutely the most critical this election cycle, drawing the two together in the most odd and ironic way possible.
Both the Progressive-Left and the Alt-Right have campaigned on non-interventionist foreign policy. Regardless of what Donald Trump may or may not have said in 2003, and despite the fact that he seems to be flirting with more active intervention in Syria, he, alike Bernie Sanders, spent the campaign months highly critical of both Bush and Obama era foreign policy. Iraq, Libya, Syria, all of which Hillary Clinton had direct involvement in, were all cited as foreign-policy blunders by both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders echoed this Trump-coined America First mentality where domestic issues ought to clearly take precedent over foreign entanglements. "Six trillion dollars in the Middle East, we could've rebuilt our country twice," Donald notably asserted in one of the general election debates (11). Together with his high criticism of George W. Bush for beginning the Iraq debacle, which he staunchly insists that he was always against from the beginning, Trump deviates from traditional Republican foreign-policy of direct intervention. By convincing his base away from the traditional Republican foreign policy of direct intervention, toward a mentality more traditionally associated with the left, Trump instigates this first facet of political shifting.
The second major facet of this '2016 Progressive-Alt Right linkage' is, by now our favorite word, populism. Populists in very different ways, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump equally establish a threat to the mainstream political establishment of their respective parties. To the many Americans frustrated by the stale, do-nothing culture of establishment Democrats and Republicans alike, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump represent a potential cure. While I personally do not agree, as we are beginning to see, that a mega-billionaire can truly represent the voice of the people, it is merely a no-brainer that a political outsider with a reputation for successful enterprises could satisfy the countless Americans hungry for change to the status-quo, in need of a new economic future. Bernie Sanders, by very different means, promised a similar alleviation of what he equally identified as a struggling middle-class. Messages of Democratic-Socialism on one end, and messages of laissez-faire 'Reaganomics' on the other, the means are certainly different, but the ends are certainly the same, and both messages speak directly to the same group of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, in the way that Clinton, a long-perceived member of the political establishment, could never quite be able to do. These voters were presented with essentially two directions, and when one faded, defeated by an establishment message on one side, too similar to the status quo, they merely chose the other that was left.
Within such populist rhetoric, largely to these same rust-belt voters, lies one, specific, critical issue, which to me, determined the entire election: trade. This was an awful election for proponents of free trade. "He's [Bernie] right about the system being rigged, but he's also right about trade. Our trade deals are a disaster. They're killing our jobs. They're killing our families. They're killing our incomes." Trump praised Bernie at the end of the Democratic primary while encouraging many of his disaffected voters, hesitant to vote for Clinton, to join his movement (12). NAFTA, Panama, and now the TPP, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have equally been skeptical of trade agreements from their beginnings. The math is certainly subject to debate, it's hard to determine how much we exactly benefit or detriment from international trade deals. What is certain, however, is how rust-belt voters understand their economic decline. After a generation of American manufacturing, back when 'Made in America' was common on the tags of most apparel and toys, it's hard to explain to an unemployed American, who recently lost his or her job after the plant or factory in which they worked permanently closed doors and moved over seas for cheaper labor, that somehow these trade deals are benefitting them as well. To many, it appears that these trade deals help the rich while alienating the working class. Hillary Clinton was doomed to lose this argument, despite her insistence during the campaign that she was against the TPP, simply because her husband will forever be remembered for NAFTA, and she will forever be associated with one of this country's most critical trade deals. In addition, despite the reality of both candidates net-worth, Hillary Clinton was made out to be a figurine of the corrupt, money-hungry establishment, while Trump got to enjoy this delusion that he is the working-class hero. On the most critical issue of the campaign, evidenced by the ultimate colors of rust-belt states come election night, the Progressive-Left and Alternative-Right reached consensus, bypassing centrists of both parties which thought otherwise, of which Hillary Clinton was forever doomed to be associated with. This election came down to a working-class revolt against free-trade, of which Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were the only perceived options. As one left the scene, the working-class was forced to chose the other.
Once again, it is certain that there are many issues of which the Progressive Left and Alternative Right will never align on. Border Security, Immigration, LGBT Rights, Women's Rights, Social Justice, Minimum Wage, Tax Policy, Health and Education Policy, Government Spending, the list can continue onward. Yet, the most prevalent three discussions of this cycle, trade, foreign policy, and 'establishment politics' directly linked the two together, and provided the bridge in which certain voters, perhaps independents, non-ideological voters, could easily sway to either side. As the Democratic Party cut off one, they simply fell to the other. Despite Hillary Clinton's attempt to reach out to this demographic, further misled by failed polling, by her history and reputation, she simply could not be the 'working class champion' that she needed to be in order to win this election.
We associate Donald Trump and the Alt-Right with the issues most vile to us, playing on fears of terrorism, violent extremism, even beyond statistical logic, scapegoating immigrants as the source of our nation's problems. While those well within the Trump-base may certainly profess these concerning ideas, it wasn't those same people who handed him the election. Election night proved, as echoed by the Bernie Sanders message, that the small 80,000 vote margin that determined today, was an economic vote, a vote for protectionism, a vote against inefficient government, a vote to prioritize American workers over those abroad. That is what determined this election, and that is what Democrats will need to harness, once again, if we are to recover our lost message. Protectionism, non-interventionism, government out of the hands of elites, these are the values of Democrats. Free-trade, interventionism, and corporate influence in our politics have always been the tenets of the Republican Party. Donald Trump won, pushing himself over that fence, by asserting our own values better than we could.
Our candidate, despite all of her achievements, and all that she has done for women and families, and in-part due to the Republican's decades long smear-campaign against her, simply did not have ability to communicate these same values with authenticity. This is why we lost. 'Dynasty Democrats' are no longer able to champion the working-class, instead they have become establishment icons now perceived as against them. It will take new blood, blood that is not afraid to work outside of the center, in order to recover the message that the establishment class has forfeited.
I do not necessarily agree with the Progressive-Democrats on everything, many wont. I do not agree with Bernie's notion that Scandinavia ought to be a role-model for our economic future. I personally believe, perhaps more as more of a centrist in this regard, that America's economic policy ought to be as free and laissez-faire as possible, so long as that the 'American Dream' is defended with minimum wage, education, healthcare, and the correct equilibrium of social programs, as I believe complete laissez-faire jeopardizes opportunities for the working class in favor of elites. Yet, regardless of where I might be tempted to place myself upon whatever spectrum, it is clear the Progressive voice of this party, the Warrens, the Sanders, the Ellisons, ought to have a much larger voice, going forward in the mean-time. Otherwise, we will we be doomed to suffer the 'Berniecrats Revenge' in every election here on out.
Like many of you, I was immediately drawn to the Bernie Sanders campaign. Whenever conservatives or even certain Democrats characterize Sanders’ millennial base, they always assume that we were simply voting for free college or for “pie-in-the-sky” socialist ideas. That’s not the reason I voted for Bernie and that’s not the reason I waited in lines for hours to see him speak at Rec Hall. Sure, tuition-free school would be great. Also, I agree with many of the ideas that critics called fantasy. However, Bernie won my vote and my support by acknowledging the crucial first step in getting progressive ideas implemented. Bernie called for serious campaign finance reform, including a repeal of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case. Bernie brought the issue of money in politics to center stage in this election cycle. As Progressives, it is our responsibility to continue fighting to get big money out of politics.
Getting money out of politics is the most important factor in making any sort of progress on almost any issue. We can be vocal about any issue that we want, and swing huge numbers of people to agree with us, but if our elected officials have a financial incentive to dismiss said issue, it will be dismissed. Big money in politics has given an extreme edge to the super-rich. The top one-percent of Americans contributed about 68% of campaign funding in the 2012 midterms. (4) A 2014 study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page of Princeton University shows the impact that donors have. Gilens and Page analyzed 1,779 policy outcomes over a 20 year period, and concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” (1) Compared to average citizens, or those around the 50th percentile of income distribution, individuals at the 90th percentile were found to have their preferences matched in policy 15 times as often. (1) Another study, conducted by Joshua Kalla and David Broockman at Berkeley, consisted of a political organization contacting 191 congressional offices requesting meetings to discuss a pending bill. (1) The members of this organization were randomly assigned the identity of either constituent or campaign donor. Of the people identified as constituents, 5 percent were given access. However, those identified as campaign donors saw that number jump to 19 percent. (1) It is becoming increasingly clear that “We the People” is becoming “We the super-rich.”
Campaign finance is an extremely complicated issue. In many cases, there are limits to the amount of money an individual can give. An individual can contribute a maximum of $2,700 to campaign committees per election cycle. Sounds reasonable enough. However, Super-PACs, which are supposedly aligned but independent of political campaigns, can accept an unlimited amount of money, and thus can be funded by a handful of large donors. In fact, we can see exactly who funds these Super-PACs because it is required that their donors are disclosed. On the other hand, donations can also be filtered through something called a 501(c)(4), in which the identity of the donors is not required to be disclosed. (2)
In almost every case, this money is essential to the politician’s election or reelection chances. House candidates that outspent their opponents in the 2012 midterms won 95% of those elections. (4) This isn’t because money buys elections, it’s because without substantial backing you aren’t even in the running. There is a common misconception that the influence of money in the American political process is one where the politician accepts a large sum of money and then does whatever his or her donor wants. This would look like the following: Jane Doe is all-about combating climate change, but big bad Rex Tillerson comes in with his millions (that he made for the company that helped discover global warming, but that’s for another blog post) and pays off Doe, who proceeds to vote against any sort of climate regulation. This isn’t normally how things work. The large donors instead find candidates that already align with them on issues, and fund them. To go back to our example, Rex Tillerson would find a candidate who, say, thinks global warming is a hoax, and backs that canidate financially. In many cases these donors give money to multiple candidates that all agree with them, which can even be seen in the possibly hundreds of millions that the DeVos’s have given to Republicans over the years.
Additionally, Politicians have to go in search of donations, especially those involved in less-covered House races, and this process takes up crucial time. Representative Rick Nolan (D-MN) estimates that representatives spend on average 30 hours per week on the phone pursuing donations. (5) This is crucial time that could be spent on the issues that these representatives are elected to address, but instead is spent telemarketing.
Combating big money in politics is the first domino that must fall if we are to make real progress on the issues that are important to us. It will be extremely difficult to make progress on an issue like climate change if the fossil fuel industry continues to fund politicians that deny climate change’s existence. It will be extremely difficult to combat rising income inequality without first putting the average American on equal footing with the Wall St. executive. The same can be said for almost any issue that was part of our platform. Money in politics is the dam that has to break. There are many avenues through which to do this. Personally I am associated with Wolf-PAC, a group fighting for the states to ratify a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, and I encourage you to explore this option. However, I encourage brainstorming to find the most efficient way to solve this issue, as I believe that getting money out of politics is the most influential battle that we can fight.
Penn State College