The Obama Administration’s historic policy changes towards Cuba will be good for the US, the Cuban people and for the hemisphere.
For the Cuban government, this rapprochement is an acknowledgement of their own need to change and open up to their long standing enemy and to the rest of the world. The change inside Cuba that got us to this point was a far more difficult journey than what our nation has and will have continue to travel. In addition to the prisoner exchanges today, Cuba announced that it would release political prisoners, open up to more international institutions, give its citizens greater access to the Internet and allow higher levels of travel and remittances to the country. While our own President took a courageous step today, the steps taken by the Cuban regime were far greater and more significant, amounting to a renunciation of the central organizing principle of their state which has guided them for over fifty years. They are in essence throwing in the towel. This was no easy thing particularly for a leader named Castro.
For the United States, rapprochement with Cuba, along with our recent steps to reform our immigration system, will allow far greater American engagement in the Americas. As our own population today is more than 15% of Latin American descent, and expected to climb to more than 30% in decades to come, further political and economic integration with Latin America is a natural evolution of who America is becoming. These recent steps by President Obama can usher in a new and far more constructive period of hemispheric relations, something that is not just good for economically and geopolitically, but will be demanded by our growing domestic Hispanic population.
It is a bit hard to understand the defense of the status quo by many Republicans. Current policy clearly hasn’t worked, while harming American interests in the region. The new path is resorting to a patient strategy of economic and political engagement that has been the bi-partisan strategic cornerstone of US foreign policy since the end of WWII. So this is no radical path.
Current Cuba policy has also been a political failure for the Republican Party. The Cuban American community in Florida has gone from being an overwhelmingly Republican voting block to one which is now marginally Democratic. This shift has also helped make Democrat a “lean blue” state at the Presidential level. Given that neither the policy nor the politics of the current Cuba policy has worked, it is just hard to see why so many Republicans are defending it.
At NDN, we have worked alongside many other leaders and organizations to bring about these historic changes. In 2004, we ran the first ever Spanish language campaign in Miami challenging the Republicans on their failed Cuba policy. We helped develop the policy the Obama Administration adopted in 2009 which relaxed some restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban Americans. This policy of letting Cuban Americans take the lead in establishing better ties has helped create the political space in Florida allowing these new more ambitious steps. And of course, our good friend and former NDN, Joe Garcia was elected to Congress as a Cuban Democrat in 2012. While Joe lost in November, he is even a more powerful voice for change than ever before.
Taking bold steps so clearly in the national interest of the United States is what we expect from our Presidents. We thank you for your courage and vision, for giving the people of Cuba and the region a chance to chart a better course. And to our members how have partnered and funded our work that has helped bring about these critical changes we say thank you. We have done a lot of good here, together.
Today, I am excited to release the latest installment in our “Renewing Our Democracy” series. This new analysis takes a look at whether due to how few Americans are able to cast a meaningful vote in a Federal elections our electoral system is still capable of conveying the “consent of the governed” to those in power in Washington. This analysis is an early stage, and we welcome and encourage feedback and critiques. The document is available at the bottom of the page to download in pdf form.
Over our many years of work, NDN and its extended family have been at the forefront of a national conversation about how to best improve our democracy itself. While at the DNC in 1993, I put the first American political party on the Internet. We were early champions and supporters of Oregon’s innovative Vote By Mail program which has produced some of the highest voter turnout figures in the nation. We have promoted same day registration, early voting, and eliminating the Electoral College as ways of encouraging broader participation. We were early proponents of “internet based campaigning,” understanding that a digital age politics would make it far easier for people to participate than in the TV “couch potato” age. We have argued that a pernicious small state bias has crept into our democracy, one which is thwarting the will of the majority and a far more diverse US population. We have marveled, and worried, about how the design of our democracy could give one political party is strongest levels of support in seventy years while simultaneously stripping it of control of both legislative chambers. And finally, we were the primary champion of the idea of expanding the early Presidential primary states beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, a reform which for the 1st time allowed people of color to play a truly meaningful role in picking the nominee of the Democratic Party.
It is now a universal belief in the United States that our democracy itself is now longer working as it should. We hope this analysis adds another log to that fire, and puts the issue of the lack of competitive states and races in Federal elections up there with all the more familiar diagnoses of what ails our democracy today.
Every day in our own work we face it – things are changing, new competitors are rising, you have to manage what you have well but reinvent to stay ahead. Few enterprises still around are doing what they were doing in the same way as they were even a few years ago. Managing through change, renewing institutions for a new day and time is the key to success in a time of great transformation.
For a decade now NDN has understood this new landscape and offered solutions for the center-left to adapt and modernize – to renew itself – for a new day. Our work has been creative, prodigious and influential. We’ve helped identify a new coalition; the need to develop and deploy a new generation of post-broadcast TV tools; and have been leaders on emerging fights from Internet Freedom to community colleges to Cuba to immigration reform and a better understanding of why the middle class has been down for so long. For a small institution, we’ve had an outsized impact on the national debate, an impact that has made us a better and more modern political movement.
But with the events of the last few years, it has become clear that the center-left will need to go through another period of extended reform and renewal. For as successful as the last period was – and it was very successful – our opposition has not stood still, and new and daunting challenges have emerged. As an organization which helped lead the last period of renewal, the team here at NDN is saddling up for what looks to be at least a decade of hard work and innovation ahead.
The support of far-sighted investors in NDN and a few other organizations made this last period of renewal possible. But to fund this next phase we are going back out into the marketplace and asking for your financial support and engagement. Can you help us end the year strong, and hit the ground running in 2015 by making a contribution to NDN today? Whatever amount - $25, $50, $100 and more – all helps us prepare for the vital work head.
In the next few weeks we will be announcing a preliminary set of projects we think are the most strategically important for our community to spend its time on in 2015. I hope you will sign up for this next chapter in our organization’s compelling mission, and start by giving us the resources to make our work over the coming years the best yet.
A few observations about the events of the last few days:
Democrats May Have More Power in the Next Congress than Many Believed – That Speaker Boehner lost 67 of his own conference and needed Democrats to bail him out on a bet-the-Speakership vote suggests that the most important political dynamic in the next Congress will be the management of the GOP’s establishment/Tea Party fissure.
The math for Republicans to see any of their ideas become law is daunting. While depleted, the Democrats have enough power to prevent GOP overrides of Presidential vetoes, and of course Democratic votes are needed to even pass anything through the Senate. To pass a bill, including a budget, Republicans will need Democrats, which will require pursuing an approach likely to alienate anti-establishment Republicans. If President Obama, and leaders Reid and Pelosi can come up with a common strategic approach and keep their troops in line they could end up not just getting more of their agenda through than many expect, but also creating an even greater rift in the GOP ranks.
We found these columns by the Washington Post’s E.J Dionne and Greg Sargent helpful in making sense of this CRomnibus fight. The Huffington Post's Sam Stein quotes me in his early post-CRomnibus take, which is also worth a read through. And for more on the divisions in the GOP and how it will effect 2016 see my recent post-election analysis.
Raising Party Limits May Be Good for Democracy – While the process for raising the giving limits to political parties was indefensible, it might end up making a bad political system better. The post Citizen United political system is moving hundreds of millions of dollars to dark, unaccountable organizations which have no check on the integrity of their speech and do not have to disclose their donations. The practical effect of raising party limits will be to move a great deal of this money back into organizations which are far more transparent and accountable. It will improve the quality of political speech in campaigns; increase the percentage of money spent by accountable, transparent organizations; will weaken Super PACS by denying them an enormous number of their 2nd and 3rd tier donors; and it may even allow more low dollar contributors and average people to participate in the system as large, well funded Party organizations will have more resources to engage every day people in their activities. It is a bit an inconvenient truth for the reform community that only well funded campaigns have the capacity to build systems that engage large numbers of people in a meaningful way.
While the threat of corruption in this new system will increase and be of significant concern, these changes will on balance make the post Citizen United system better and strengthen our democracy in the process.
Cruz and Immigration – The threat to the Republican Party of their new found radicalization on immigration was on full display these last few days. Ted Cruz’s effort to shut down the government may have been reduced to a point of order but he managed to drag three other Senators with national aspirations into his crazy camp: Rand Paul, Rob Portman and Marco Rubio all voted for Senator Cruz on Saturday night. With anti-immigrant warrior Rep. Steve King acting as kingmaker in Iowa, there is incredible pressure for even the more moderate 2016 Republicans to embrace the ugly politics of a revitalized anti-immigrant movement.
If Cruz ends up dragging the entire GOP 2016 Presidential field to the right on immigration, he has new found pressure back in Texas fighting to keep him there or even move further to the right – newly elected Governor Greg Abbot and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick. After a generation of Republican governors who were reasonable on immigration matters, Texas elected a team who are among the most committed anti-immigrant politicians ever produced by the modern GOP. Their stated agenda will continue to pressure Cruz, Perry, Paul and Texas Congressional Members, dragging the national GOP even further away from reasonableness on an issue that is threatening to put the Presidency out of reach for the GOP for years.
The danger for the Republicans can be found in a new Gallup poll, which found Obama’s job approval among Hispanics surging in the past month from 52% to 64%. This is a higher approval rating than Obama had in the fall of 2012 when he won the Hispanic vote 71-27 against Mitt Romney. To be competitive at the Presidential level, it is conventional wisdom the GOP nominee needs to keep the margin with Hispanics to 20 or so points, and certainly not 44 as it was in 2012. While more data is needed, it certainly seems that the ground the President has made up with Hispanics as returned the GOP to an uncompetitive place with this critical group heading in 2016. And of course this is before a year of Abbott/Patrick/Cruz inspired anti-immigrant politics further distances Hispanics from a Party that is making it clear it wants all 11m undocumented immigrants in the US to leave.
Nate Cohn of the New York Times has a new, good take on Obama’s surge with Hispanic voters.
NDN is joining with millions of others in enthusiastic support of the bold steps the President has taken to improve our antiquated immigration system. Our team has been at the front lines of this consequential debate for many years now, and offers this roundup of our recent and most important work in this area including recaps of events we've hosted with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Deputy Secretary of DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas:
For over nine years, NDN has been a leader in the fight to reform our immigration system. Last week, the President and his team took an historic step forward in improving this anachronistic system, a step that in its own way broke the “gridlock” on an issue of critical importance to our country. As I wrote in US News, the President’s Executive Actions will help grow our economy, better public safety and improve border security. These actions are clearly in the national interest of the United States, and are the kind of bold, ambitious acts we expect from our President. I was fortunate enough to be in a small meeting with the President a few hours before his Thursday night speech, and I can tell you he and his entire team have the passion and commitment to see these important actions through to their successful implementation next year. This powerful commitment was something we also felt in our discussion with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson at an event we hosted on Wednesday, the last major event the Administration held prior to the President’s announcement on Thursday night.
As prominent immigration attorney, David Leopold, and I wrote on MSNBC.com, the political fight over these actions really only began last week. There will be opposition that will need to met head on, and a lot more work to be done. We are taking stock of the current state of play, and evaluating the best way for us to add value in the critical months ahead. If you have suggestions for us, please let us know.
What I really want to say, however, is thank you. Thank you for your financial support, your hard work, and your words of encouragement and challenge during this long hard fight. I am proud of the leadership role we’ve played in what has been one of the more consequential and roughest policy and political fights in Washington over the past decade. While our work is not done, I hope you will savor this moment. Together we’ve fought for policies which will, in a very short time, bring dramatic improvement to the lives of millions of striving, immigrant families. We are a better, more just and safer national today because of these actions. Big steps like these is why many of us do what we do, and while this fight is not done, a big thank you from the DC office for helping make these historic actions possible.
Thank you again, and all of us I think have a bit more to be thankful for this coming Thanksgiving weekend.
The Republicans Are a Far Stronger National Party Today - Next year, the Republicans will have their largest House majority since 1929, 53-54 Senators, control of 32 governorships and 66 of the 99 state legislative chambers. 22 states now have Republicans in control of the Governor’s mansion and in both houses of the legislature. Their very successful redistricting efforts of a few years ago also give them advantages in the ways lines are drawn for Federal and state legislative races that will not be easily reversed until after the next redistricting. This is a formidable achievement by the Republicans in recent years.
It is remarkable that our political system could have given the Republicans this degree of power and control during the set of elections which gave the Democrats their largest back to back national Presidential majorities – 53% and 51% - since 1940 and 1944. It is perhaps this success that allowed national Democrats to become complacent or unconcerned about GOP advances in other areas. But the scale of Republican success in recent years outside the Presidency has altered the balance between the two parties now, and may even leave the GOP a stronger national party than the Democrats over the next decade.
By power I mean all that comes with politics – strength of candidates, bench, staff and consultant talent, fundraising capacity, use of technology and of course control over government and policy. Part of what we are witnessing is the coming to power of the children of Reagan – forty something Gen Xers who came of age during the Reagan era. This age cohort is the most Republican of any age cohort in the US, meaning there are lots of them and they have a great deal of generational support for their politics. This generation of politicians is young, gaining in experience, and will be a force to be reckoned with in national and state politics for a generation to come. To regain power Democrats will have to take on and defeat this increasingly successful and energetic generation of politicians over the next decade, perhaps starting with the Presidential race in 2016 (Christie, Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Ryan, Walker).
So while it is true Democrats have developed a post-Southern Strategy majority coalition, a coalition that is perhaps the best and most durable of the Democratic coalitions since the 1940s, it remains to be seen if it has the political infrastructure and bench to take advantage of this historic opening in the coming years.
Running Away from the President/No National Narrative – Many commentators have already weighed in on this but I think Democrats have to understand that in the modern media age mid-term elections are also national elections, particularly when you have the Presidency. The lack of a forceful narrative and mechanism to deliver it from the White House and national party in 2010 and 2014 allowed the national Republicans to make gains that were greater than the political landscape of those elections warranted. As an old War Room guy, I believe that every attack needs to be countered or it sticks, and that if you are not on offense in politics you are losing. And in neither mid-term did the national party mount a major effort to defend the good works of the President and the Democratic Party.
In 2014 the failure to define the election on Democratic terms was particularly impactful. It not only didn’t give Democrats a reason to engage more enthusiastically in the election, it left the message playing field open for the GOP to fill the closing months of the elections with issues like the Central American migrant crisis, Ebola and ISIS that ended up causing true harm to the Democratic brand and successfully fired up GOP voters – particularly older white voters who turned out in very large numbers.
Looking ahead to 2016, I think it would be wise for the entire party, but particularly its Presidential aspirants to learn the lesson of Gore 2000 and the 2014 mid-terms: you cannot run away from the President of your party. Doing so leaves candidates with all of the downside of that President and none of the upside. And while many are disappointed with how the President has performed in recent years, the net effect of his policies and of Democratic governance have been well worth trumpeting: strong GDP growth, falling unemployment rates and deficits, soaring stock markets; tens of millions now insured and the health care cost curve being bent; a hugely successful national energy strategy that has lowered fossil fuel prices, expanded domestic production while advancing renewable energy and taking needed steps toward combating climate change; an immigration strategy which has both humanely lifted the threat of deportation from millions of striving undocumented immigrants while ensuring the border is far safer, etc. In his final two years the President can burnish this record through policies focused on the middle class and broad economic growth, successful management of tough foreign policy challenges, completion of Atlantic and Pacific trade deals and needed additional reforms to the immigration system. But to ensure that the public understands all that has been done, the President must become far more energetic in selling his accomplishments to the American people, and bringing other Democrats along with him.
By owning the economic and policy successes of the Obama Era, it also allows Democrats to draw a very stark contrast between the economic policies of the last two Democratic and Republican Presidents. The last two Republican Presidents brought recessions and exploding deficits. The last two Democratic Presidents brought growth and declining deficits. This contrast will be useful as we enter the Presidential season and a whole host of Republican candidates who already sound if they are running for George W. Bush’s third term.
GOP Does Not Have A Lot of Ideological Running Room In The Next Congress – It is going to be interesting to see how GOP leaders approach their agenda next year. Given the success of the Democrats on the economy, deficits, health care, energy and climate policy and border security, where exactly does the GOP go that is different from where we already are? Cutting taxes or increasing defense spending as some Republicans have suggested would increase the deficit. Attempts to cut domestic spending beyond what has already been cut have already failed in the Republican led House last year. Repealing the ACA would strip tens of millions of people of their health insurance and increase the deficit. Cut subsidies for renewable energy? Really?
So while we should expect investigations and fights over critical social issues, it is not surprising that the GOP’s agenda so far has been modest. Corporate tax reform becomes possible if it is revenue neutral or generates more revenue. Boots on the ground in Iraq? Don’t think so. Opposition to an Iranian nuclear deal? Perhaps. Finding common ground on a Middle East strategy in the next two years might be challenging, but it is not clear that the GOP really has an alternative approach at this point.
This leaves me an area where I think we could see significant bi-partisan cooperation – shoring up and modernizing the liberal international order. As we’ve written before, in a time of great global change America must do more to ensure our values and the system which has produced so much prosperity and avoided great wars prevails. One could imagine the White House and GOP Congress working to pass the nearly completed, geo-politically vital Atlantic and Pacific trade deals; bolstering NATO and the EU in combating the very real Russian threat; assembling a global coalition to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and leave behind a better public health care system in the region; along with our partner Mexico, develop a long term strategy to bring greater citizen security and prosperity to Mexico and Central America; and leading a global effort to keep the Internet open and free.
While this kind of broad, strategic partnership is possible, the way the Republicans closed this election makes me concerned about the appetite for global engagement we may see in the new GOP majority. Many of the GOP’s ads run in the last few months of the campaign were deeply xenophobic – Ebola, ISIS, border/scary immigrants – and all sorts of combinations of them together. How the GOP pivots from putting up walls to tearing them down will be one of the more interesting issues to watch over the next few years.
The GOP Senate Majority Is Likely To Be Unstable, and Perhaps Short – Running the Senate GOP Conference these next two years will be no easy feat. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will face challenges from a bigger pool of Tea Partyish hardliners in his conference; struggles with aligning with the even more conservative House; the challenge of having up to 4 members of the conference run for President; and perhaps most importantly, the difficult math of passing anything through the Senate.
Let’s look at getting to 60. Assuming the GOP ends up with 53 or 54 Senators next year, they will need to get 6 or 7 Democrats and hold all of their own to pass legislation. Of the 34 Senators up for re-election next year, 24 are GOP held seats, just 10 are Democratic, and only 2 Democrats are likely to face tough races (even these – CO, NV – fare far better for Democrats in a Presidential year). For the Republicans 7 of these 34 seats come in states Obama won twice and are likely to go Dem again in 2016 – FL, IA, IL, NH, OH, PA and WI. Of these 7, 4 – FL, IL, PA and WI – were won with less than 52% of the vote in a high water mark GOP midterm election. Confirming what a tough map the GOP will have in 2016, Republicans will also be defending three states likely to be very competitive next time – AZ, GA, NC. The Senators from these states are simply going to have a hard time consistently aligning with the more conservative part of the conference as they will be facing much more Democratic leaning electorates in their states next cycle.
There really isn’t an analogous group for the Republicans to target on the Democratic side. The 2016 potentially vulnerable Dems, Reid and Bennett, are in the leadership and will not be inclined to break with their party. There are only 5 Senators in redder states who might from time to time vote with the Rs – Donnelley, Heidkamp, McCaskill, Manchin, and Tester. So even if the GOP has 54 Senators next year, it is hard to see how McConnell routinely or even occasionally gets to 60. At 53 Senators, it gets harder still.
Pulling against the GOP “gang of 7” and other non-conservative Senate GOPers will not only be a more conservative Senate, but a more conservative House with less need to accommodate Democrats. Legislation coming out the House is likely to be more conservative than what comes from the Senate, making it harder for McConnell to get to 60 to reconcile bills with the House. Certainly one would expect President Obama to be far more aggressive in issuing veto threats early in these legislative fights to put even more pressure in the Senate for Dem heavy Rs and more conservative Dems to oppose whatever comes out of the Republican House Majority.
The Senate map is so favorable to Democrats in 2016 that it will put the Rs on the defensive politically from day one, something that may encourage McConnell’s team to be even more cautious of the hard line House than usual. Taken together, it is a bit hard to see how the Republicans can make their possible new found control of Congress anything other than messy. The issue next year will not be what President Obama does – his agenda is well established at this point – but what can this new and potentially unstable Congressional majority do.
Our System Needs Reform – In just these past four elections the US political system will have given one Party its biggest back to back majorities at the Presidential level in 70 years, while also stripping it of both Houses of Congress. From a political science/design standpoint, it is frankly hard to produce election results like this in a political/electoral system even if one tried.
And it gets worse. In 2012 Democrats won more one than 1 million more votes in the House than the GOP but didn’t win the chamber. In 2014, according to the final major national media poll, registered voters favored the Democrats 46-42, but it was a wave for the Republicans. Only 37% of eligible voters participated in 2014, and less than 10% of all voters were able to participate in a close Federal contests with all that it entails – ads, voter contact, political debate, voting. Results like these should raise legitimate questions about whether our government still has the “consent of the governed” as just too few people are determining who has control in Washington.
There is so much wrong with the system now – unregulated money, difficulty of voting, an anachronistic Electoral College, an already reactionary small state basis made worse by high concentrations of recent immigrants in a small number of states – for the center-left to not make political reform one of its highest priorities in the years ahead.
Reinvigorate the Democratic Party – President Obama and his team should leave his fellow Democrats a reinvigorated DNC with a new mission. He should establish a “2024 Project,” one focused on doing what is required for Democrats to roll back recent GOP gains and come out of the next redistricting as the dominant political party in America with majority control in the Senate, House and state houses and legislatures across the country. At the core of this project must be strategies to expand the new majority coalition built in recent years into terrain critical for winning more control in Congress and in the states.
Among the more operational things the DNC should take primary lead on now is recruiting and training a new generation of candidates and operatives needed to beat a new generation of Republicans, expanding and turning out the new majority coalition, and advancing efforts to make it easier for people to vote in every state and locality in the country. A $50 to $100m fund should be put aside for a national paid media effort in off-year elections too.
Too many of these important responsibilities have been left to others parts of the center-left ecosystem. It is time for the most important piece of this ecosystem – the Democratic Party itself – to be challenged to fulfill its rightful and vital role as the enterprise charting the future of all Democrats over the next decade.
We will be issuing a separate memo on the Hispanic vote soon.
NDN’s Corey Cantor contributed to this memo. Please send feedback and corrections directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on twitter at @SimonWDC.
Some thoughts on this very close election on a beautiful fall morning in Washington, DC:
2014 Predictions: A Dead Even Race – We enter Election Day with an enormous number of critical races in statistical dead heats. Making predictions in this environment is a bit tricky (wish the media had held back a bit more), but my predictions for 2014 were once again submitted to the Hill’s Election Prediction contest. Proud to have won this competitive contest in both 2012 and 2008, I predict Democrats will end up with 51 Senators and control the Senate after the Georgia run-off. My admittedly optimistic analysis has been bolstered by the final WSJ/NBC poll, the last major media poll in the field this year. In what might be the poll closest to the actual results, it shows the national race dead even. Democrats have a 46-42 advantage with registered voters, and are tied in the Congressional Generic, Senate Battleground and in vote interest. These findings comport with many of the polls in the individual races these last few days showing them true toss ups, and the effect of strong Democratic ground games kicking in. Analysis of the poll from Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann has this fascinating data showing the Congressional vote preference (Congressional Generic) progression from their previous polls:
Aug. 2014: GOP 49%, Dem 41% (GOP +8)
Sept. 2014: GOP 49%, Dem 44% (GOP +5)
Mid-Oct. 2014: GOP 46%, Dem 44% (GOP +2)
Now: GOP 46%, Dem 45% (GOP +1)
If the GOP Takes the Senate, Tenure Likely to Be Unstable, Short – Even if the GOP takes the Senate, it is not clear who will really be in charge of the Congressional agenda. Whoever is the GOP’s Majority Leader will face challenges from a bigger pool of Tea Partyish hardliners in his conference; struggles with aligning with the even more conservative House; the challenge of having up to 4 members of the conference run for President; and perhaps most importantly, the difficult math of passing anything through the Senate.
For argument’s sake, let’s give the Rs 51 in the Senate next year. This means they will still need to get 9 Democrats on board to break any filibuster. Of the 34 Senators up for re-election next year, 24 are GOP held seats, just 10 are Democratic, and only 2 Democrats are likely to face tough races (even these – CO, NV – fair far better for Democrats in a Presidential year). For the Republicans 7 of these 34 seats come in states Obama won twice and are likely to go Dem again in 2016 – FL, IA, IL, NH, OH, PA and WI. Of these 7, 4 – FL, IL, PA and WI – were won with less than 52% of the vote in a high water mark GOP midterm election. These Senators are simply going to have a hard time aligning consistently with the more conservative part of the conference as they will be facing Democratic electorates in their states next cycle. There will be no similar gang of Democrats being pressured to vote with the Rs, however. Given this it may be hard for the GOP Senate Leader to get to 50 votes on some major GOP priorities next year, let alone 60.
Pulling against this GOP “gang of 7” will not only be a more conservative Senate, but a more conservative House. Speaker Boehner had a hard time rallying his caucus behind his priorities in this Congress. The anti-establishment Tea Partyish wing of the GOP will be stronger, and the establishment wing weaker in the coming Congress. This means that whatever comes out of the House over the next two years is likely to be even more conservative than before. This will make getting to 50, and to 60, even harder in the Senate next year. Certainly one would expect President Obama to be far more aggressive in issuing veto threats early in these legislative fights to put even more pressure in the Senate for Dem heavy Rs and more conservative Dems to oppose whatever comes out of the Republican House Majority.
The Senate map is so favorable to Democrats in 2016 that it will put the Rs on the defensive politically from day one, something that may encourage McConnell’s team to be even more cautious of the hard line House than usual. Taken together, it is a bit hard to see how the Republicans can make their possible new found control of Congress anything other than messy. The issue next year will not be what President Obama does – his agenda is well established at this point – but what can this new unstable and fragile Congressional majority do.
Not A Lot of Good News in the 2016 Map for the GOP – At this point, it doesn’t look like the GOP has done very much to weaken the Democratic Electoral college advantage of recent years. Most of their Senate wins will come from outside the Presidential map. In critical 2016 states – FL, GA, MI, PA, WI – the GOP is showing ominous weakness in Senate and/or gubernatorial races. Hard to argue that dead even Senate races in CO and IA are big bright spots, though the GOP’s success in Ohio this cycle could become significant in 2016. Whatever GOP strategic gains might come from Ohio moving to be a true Presidential toss-up are likely to be offset by Democrats adding two Red states – AZ and GA - to their 2016 targets.
All of this comes against the backdrop of an electorate becoming 2 percentage points less white every four years, making the GOP’s 2016 Presidential Hill that much higher to climb. In 2012 the electorate was 72% white. Due to inexorable population trends, it is estimated to be just 70% white in 2016. Additionally, far more Millennials will be of voting age in 2016, and though the Dem advantage with this group may not be what it was, it is still significant and there will be more of them in coming elections. The math means that even a lower vote share for Democrats with Millennials in 2016 might not translate into the GOP gaining any additional net vote given the expanding voting age Millennial population.
No Evidence of Any Big Shifts in the Hispanic Vote - Election Day may tell a different story, but today there is no evidence of a statistically or politically significant shift in the Hispanic vote in the US. The most recent Pew Hispanic poll – perhaps the most credible independent poll of Hispanics - released just a week ago has the 2014 Hispanic vote at 2-1 Democrat, 57-28, or about where Obama ended up in 2008. Diving deeper into the data, the favs/unfavs also show 2008 level numbers, which of course may leave the GOP a bit better off than 2012 but far away from being competitive at the Presidential level. In their pre-election poll from a few weeks ago, the Democratic leaning pollsters at Latino Decisions have the numbers even worse right now for Republicans: 59-25 in 2014, and 55-20 in 2016. And in their recent state polls in CO, FL and NC traditional Democratic advantages are holding, and there is no sign of Republican gains.
The Pew Hispanic poll has data which suggests that advocates on both sides may have exaggerated the impact of the President’s delay in taking Executive Action on the Hispanic vote. Only 24% of Hispanics in this poll say they are unhappy (disappointed/angry) with the delay in Executive Action, and only 6% say they are angry. 76% either had no opinion about the delay, or supported it – three times as many as were disappointed or angry. These findings reinforce that what we are seeing is a slight dip in support for Democrats in this community but no real structural change.
Claims from Republican interests of their gains with Hispanics thus seem to be far more wishful thinking than data-driven analysis at this point.
And while the possibility of a Bush on the ballot in 2016 might improve the Rs standing with Hispanics, the underlying trends are far worse for the Republican Party than is commonly understood. The last four years has seen a dramatic escalation by the GOP in advancing policies hostile to Hispanic and immigrant interests, while Democrats have perhaps advanced an agenda that is among the most pro-Hispanic and immigrant of the modern era. Depending on the candidates the two sides choose, and the agenda their allies in Congress advance, it is far more likely that over the next two years the Democrats will be able to make this stark contrast clearer they have this cycle than the opposite taking place - the Republicans switching core positions on things like the ACA, minimum wage, opposition to CIR and the President’s coming Executive Action, deportation of DREAMers, cutting federal education spending and advocating voting restrictions. Remember that the only potential 2016 GOP candidate with an unequivocal embrace of Comprehensive Immigration Reform is Jeb Bush. So there is no real evidence in the data of GOP gains with Hispanics, and the path for them to regain critical lost ground seems politically out of reach.
Our System Needs Reform – Assuming the GOP takes the Senate tonight, in just three elections the US political system will have given one Party its biggest back to back majorities at the Presidential level in 70 years will also stripping both Houses of Congress from that Party and giving it to their opposition. From a political science/design standpoint, it is frankly hard to produce election results like this in a political/electoral system even if one tried.
And it gets worse. In 2012 Democrats won more one than 1 million more votes in the House than the GOP but didn’t win the chamber. In 2014, according to the latest major national poll, registered voters favor the Democrats 46-42, and likely voters are split evenly 46R-45D. Yet the Republicans are likely to make significant gains in both the Senate and House. It is at this point a realistic possibility that the Democrats could win more votes nationally in 2014 and end up with the GOP controlling both Houses of Congress. Results like these should raise legitimate questions about whether something has gone wrong with the way our democracy works these days, and reinforce the need for the center-left to make political reform one of its highest priorities in the years ahead.
In a recent essay, I raised related questions about whether with so few people voting in contested races every two years our democracy is still capable of providing the “consent of the governed” as imagined by The Founding Fathers. And of course there are many other issues – the role of money, the difficulty of voting, the pernicious development of a true small state basis in our Congress, the anachronistic Electoral College and more. I hope in the coming months the chattering classes in Washington can start having a serious conversation about what is happening in our political system, and whether there are things we can do to make it better.
The DNC Should Have A Single Minded Mission: Expanding the Electorate – The return of the mid-term turnout problem for Democrats, and what appears to be early evidence of success in mitigating it in targeted Senate races, suggests a new and very concentrated mission for the DNC: single minded focus on closing this gap, and advancing efforts to make it easier for people to vote in all 50 states. While these efforts are already underway at the DNC, they needed to be stepped up, funded and staffed at a level commensurate with the challenge.
Can a Party Run Away From Its Own President in the Mid-Terms? I have long doubted that a Congressional Party has the capacity to distance itself from its own Presidential candidate or President. I fall in the camp that believes Democrats should have found a way to run on their record this cycle, as 6 years of a Democratic President has made once again made the nation far better than he found it (been true of both Clinton and Obama, not true of either Bush). Whether that narrative was an easy one to sell or not we will never really know for while it is statistically true it was never really tried. Democrats managed to get all of the downside of President Obama this cycle and far too little of the upside.
The across the board policy successes of President Obama on the economy, deficit, health care reform energy policy and border security also leaves the GOP very little running intellectual and policy running room in the next Congress, and reinforce how little of a mandate the GOP will have in 2015-2016. Will be interesting to see how exactly GOP leaders criticize plummeting deficits, gas prices, unemployment and uninsured rates; declining costs of health care; very strong stock market valuations and GDP/growth rates; significant advances in renewable and traditional energy production; and a net undocumented flow of zero and declining crime rates all along the US-Mexico border. Do we think in any kind of serious and sustained debate the GOP will be able to convince the US public that Obama has been a bad President given all this, and that they somehow could have done a better job? Assume this is possible, but it sure isn’t a given.
Finally, in what should be one of the major stories of 2014, the total meltdown of the conservative experiment in Kansas, and the struggles/loses of GOP governors in FL, PA, MI and WI reinforce that while 2014 might be a good election for the GOP politically, it has not been a good one for them ideologically. A dead even national vote, power potentially granted by a handful of races decided by a few thousands votes, no big argument, significant setbacks and struggles in big states does not a mandate make. The potential for overreach by a new GOP Congressional majority is very real, and may be hard to avoid.
More to Come - Look for an update (and perhaps corrections) later this week.
This article, co-written with Dr. Robert Shapiro, originally appeared in Roll Call on October 27th, 2014. In addition, they also published an earlier op-ed on Puerto Rico's economic circumstances, entitled "To Restore Prosperity, Puerto Rico Should Look to Ireland."
America’s sunniest place, Puerto Rico, faces dark days, and the likelihood is rising that Washington will be asked to step in. While the rest of the United States recovers economically, the commonwealth’s economy remains stuck in a decade-long recession. Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate is double that of the mainland U.S., despite one of world’s lowest labor participation rates. And with such prospects, nearly 10,000 Puerto Ricans every month leave the commonwealth for the mainland.
It’s actually even worse. For years, fixed business investment in Puerto Rico has grown at half the average rate of the 13 Caribbean nations, and recently foreign investors have been cashing out their Puerto Rican financial assets and closing their Puerto Rican operations. And the commonwealth’s public debt is rising at such an unsustainable rate that Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded it to junk status.
The first rule for such dire times is that the government should do whatever it can to rebuild confidence and draw in new investment. Yet, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla seems intent on steering in a different direction. First, he rattled bondholders by forcing through new legislation of doubtful constitutionality that allowed Prepa, the island utility, to restructure its debt. And after losing a court case to one of the island’s major banks, the governor is threatening to defy the judgment.
The case involves Doral Financial Corporation, which years ago overstated its earnings and consequently its taxes. After years of negotiations, the Commonwealth Treasury had agreed to provide Doral with $230 million in tax refunds over five years, until Padilla’s treasurer unilaterally the agreement. And when Doral won the case in court a few weeks ago, the governor decried the result as “immoral” and said it would be against the public good to abide by the decision.
Not only did the commonwealth’s government unilaterally renounce its contractual obligations to Doral and now threaten to defy the courts; officials also have warned Doral’s executives that unpleasant investigations will follow, and a whispering campaign against the bank and its top management is in full swing. And if Puerto Rico’s rejection of the court’s ruling persists, the consequences for Doral, a major island employer and mortgage lender, will be dire. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has said unless Doral can book the $230 million refund, it will find itself with inadequate reserves and possibly forced to close.
In the next few weeks, Padilla will ask Wall Street to float almost $2.5 billion in new bonds. Even before the Doral case was decided, Moody’s had ranked Puerto Rico as the second most likely place in the world to default on its debts — right after Argentina, which has since defaulted on its debts. In addition, the Government Development Bank is also said to be virtually broke. Now, the governor must ask himself why anyone would lend Puerto Rico that kind of money when its government renounces its contracts and questions the rule of law.
The new offering could fail, or it could “succeed” with a very high coupon rate. In either case, Washington intervention appears to be rising. Indeed, Padilla may already have a federal bailout in mind. True, it’s difficult to imagine Congress or the White House going along. But if a disastrous default is the other alternative, and a bailout of some kind happens, it will cost Puerto Rico dearly. Congress has the authority to take control of the island’s fiscal affairs — and that will be the price for any federal guarantee or bailout. Like the financial controls used to address the District of Columbia’s fiscal crisis in the late 1990s, Padilla would find Congress managing Puerto Rico’s payments to creditors, pension obligations and overall budget.
The commonwealth has time to avoid this drastic scenario, if the governor is prepared to reverse course and do what it takes. He could start by signaling to American, Puerto Rican and foreign investors alike that Puerto Rico’s government keeps its word and respects the law. He could accomplish much of that by honoring his Treasury’s agreement with Doral and respecting the court’s recent judgment in that case. Once that is behind them, Padilla and his advisers should consider Ireland’s model of economic development. The goal is to make Puerto Rico the preferred jumping-off point for foreign multinationals to enter the U.S. market. The basic method is simplify taxes, reform regulations and expand public investments in ways that attract large foreign direct investments from Latin America, Asia and Europe.
The first step, however, is to govern responsibly.
Robert Shapiro, chairman of the Washington advisory firm Sonecon and former under secretary of commerce (1997-2001), has been an adviser to Doral. Simon Rosenberg is the founder and president of NDN, a Washington think tank.
In addition, Simon Rosenberg and Dr. Shapiro also published an earlier op-ed on Puerto Rico's economic circumstances, entitled "To Restore Prosperity, Puerto Rico Should Look to Ireland."