This new op-ed originally appeared on 1/18/15 on MSNBC.com as a part of their "State of America" series. You can find the full piece on their site or below.
While the GOP’s latest rejection of immigration reform has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, the reality is that the United States is already undergoing a major societal shift as a result of significant Hispanic migration. And 2015 – regardless of Republican opposition – looks to be a tipping point. Consider:
In 2014, the Hispanic unemployment rate dropped by a quarter in a single year, from 8.4% to 6.5%. One estimate suggests that fully one-third of all Hispanics without health insurance gained insurance in the first full year of President Obama’s health care reforms, dropping from 36% uninsured to just 23%. Over the past generation, the Hispanic dropout rate has seen similar, dramatic improvements, going from about 35% in the 1990s to 13% last year.
Millions of undocumented Hispanics living in the U.S. will see dramatic socioeconomic gains through the president’s commonsense reforms to the immigration system. Early data from the two-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program show that even in its early days, DACA recipients saw significant gains in their income.
As the Mexican-American population has soared, trade between the U.S. and Mexico has taken off. Mexico is now the America’s third largest trading partner – reaching record levels in 2014 – and its second largest export market. As the Mexican economy has improved and modernized in the post-NAFTA period, the flow of Mexicans into the U.S. has dropped to record lows. What appears to be the end of the Great Mexican Diaspora has helped contribute to a very dramatic slowdown in the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. during Obama’s presidency.
A CBS News poll released last week showed that even after months of contentious debate and aggressive GOP counter-legislation, 69% of the country wants the 11 million undocumented immigrant population to remain in the US; 62% support the President’s actions and 55% want them to remain in place. It appears that the public is rejecting renewed, intense GOP efforts to force the millions undocumented immigrants living and working among us to leave.
Since the United States changed its immigration policy in 1965, the Hispanic population has grown from 3 million to 53 million. This growth has been part of a much broader and historic wave of immigration which has put America on a trajectory to become a “majority minority” nation by 2044.
The explosion of Hispanics in the U.S. is a very recent phenomenon, suggesting that we may be indeed at a tipping point in the United States where we see the community making historic gains in socioeconomic status and broad acceptance by the majority population. It may be too early to call the Hispanic migration a success, but it is sure looking like that is where we are headed, soon.
All these developments make Republican opposition to the underlying policies which have helped usher in this era of progress far more inexplicable. Perhaps the two most intense areas of GOP policy engagement in the past two years – rolling back the Affordable Care Act and attacking the president’s immigration reforms – are both efforts that would disproportionately harm Hispanic families.
Similarly, Republicans have proposed cuts in school funding and appear to be headed toward opposition to the president’s new community college initiative – also efforts which would disproportionately harm Hispanic families. In fact, the newly-passed House immigration legislation goes far beyond opposition to the Obama’s reforms and includes provisions to expedite the deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, putting the GOP not just against Hispanic advancement and assimilation but even their physical presence in the country.
Nevertheless, the great wave of Hispanic migration our nation has witnessed over the past fifty years is increasingly looking like a success. Hispanic Americans have made particularly significant economic strides in recent years. The public has rejected the worst of the GOP’s attacks on undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and appear accepting of the far more diverse America of the 21st century. The economic experiment of expanding our trade relations with Mexico has produced exploding levels of trade between our two countries, and an historic era of modernization and progress in Mexico itself.
While the politics of immigration will remain contentious in Washington for years to come, we may have hit a tipping point where this recent wave of Hispanic migration is becoming understood as a success for the immigrants themselves and the nation as a whole – a historic change that has made the State of our Union stronger.
Simon Rosenberg is the president of NDN/New Policy Institute, a pro-immigration reform think tank based in Washington, D.C.
It is important to note that the emerging House GOP immigration strategy is deeply consistent with their approach from the 113th Congress. In both 2013 and 2014, in what was their only substantive response to the bi-partisan Senate immigration bill, the House GOP passed laws overriding the use of prosecutorial discretion mandated in the “Morton Memos.” Prosecutorial discretion has been the basis of a series of sweeping improvements in the immigration system advanced by the Obama Administration since 2010, including DACA in 2012 and the 2014 Executive Actions (DAPA).
The objective of this GOP strategy is remove the ability of DHS to prioritize (and de-prioritize) the deportation of those apprehended by the immigration justice system. In their view removing this common every day law enforcement practice from a massive law enforcement system, as Greg Sargent reports in this recent piece, would allow DHS to re-establish the threat of imminent deportation over the entire undocumented population (which began to be removed through the 2010 Morton strategy). The only reason to do that is if the longer term objective was to block all efforts at legalization and force the remaining 11m to leave through “self-deportation.” The only reason to fight common sense provisions to prioritize the deportation of felons over law-abiding, tax-paying moms is if you believe that the fear of imminent deportation is an essential tool of immigration policy – and the only reason it would be would if the goal was not eventual legalization but removal/self-deportation. Focusing so much energy on deportation prioritization only makes sense if you believe there will be millions to deport.
All Republicans supporting this initiative need to be asked directly about their vision for the 11m already here. By supporting this legislation, it is clear their goal is for them to leave, not stay. Early media appearances by GOP supporters of this bill have seen Republicans being less than honest about the longer term goal, evading the question by suggesting that border security needs to come first and not answering the question. Journalists should not let them off the hook for the decision of go/stay is the most important question in the immigration debate today and folks should be clear about where they stand on this.
On a related note, the current GOP arguments about the border itself are a bit ridiculous. In recent years, due to greater cooperation with Mexico, additional resources on the border, and the deterrent effect the post-Morton strategy of far greater pursuit of illegal entrants/border crossers has brought, the net flow of undocumented immigrations into the US has gone from 400,000 a year under Bush to zero under Obama; and crime along the US side of the border itself has plummeted. The government has made significant strides in border security in recent years, in part due to the Morton prioritization of border crossers/illegal entrants for deportation. Unraveling Morton would actually be a setback for border security not an advance.
The success of the President’s border strategy can not only be measured in the very real gains we’ve seen in security, but in during this period of progress in security we have also seen an explosion of trade and tourism across our southern border. US-Mexico trade will clock in over $600b in goods and services in 2014, almost DOUBLE what it was in the first year of the Obama Administration. Mexico is now the US’s second largest market for our exports. That we have both dramatically increased border security while overseeing a huge increase in legal tourism and trade with Mexico will go down as one of the more significant policy successes of the Obama era.
A new report released earlier today from ICE, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operation Reports FY 2014, contains another year of data showing how Obama era policies have made our immigration system better and border safer.
As background, the undocumented immigrant population in the United States swelled from 3m in the early 1990s to 12m by 2007. After 9/11, and accelerating in the middle part of the last decade, there became a bi-partisan effort to both stop the flow of unauthorized migrants and reform a domestic immigration system badly out of date and inadequately equipped to deal with a undocumented immigrant population of this size. After legislative efforts to reform the system failed for the 3rd time in 2010, DHS pragmatically initiated a series of reforms designed to help the immigration enforcement/justice system cope with a population far beyond what is funded and equipped to deal with. Known as the Morton Memos, these reforms among other things directed the immigration enforcement/judicial system to prioritize two types of unauthorized immigrants for deportation from this vast pool of more than 10 million – those caught entering the country without authorization, and those apprehended in the interior with criminal records.
As the charts and graphs below show, these reforms brought swift and significant reform to the system. The prioritization of border removals has helped keep the net flow of undocumented immigrants to zero after 15 years of gains of on average 500,000 or more, while also helping bring the crime rate down along the US side of the US-Mexico border. In the interior, prioritizing felons not families, the system has become far more focused on removing criminals and leaving law abiding, tax-paying families alone. These reforms have neither “ratcheted up” nor weakened enforcement. They have made our enforcement system smarter, more effective and better. And, as we learned this spring and summer, the many years of investment in capacity building and far better use of limited resources enabled the US government to successfully manage an extraordinary crisis when it hit our border.
The success of the changes begun by DHS in 2010 laid the groundwork for the Executive Actions the President took a few weeks ago. As the President said, his answer for what to do about our broken immigration system was to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. But after nine years of trying that path and being blocked, the President simply had to act. The immigration system we have today was never designed or built to handle an unauthorized population of more than 10m people, many long settled and with deep family ties to the community. By even further refining the enforcement priorities to the border and serious criminals in the interior, the Executive Actions will maintain our successful border policies, make it far easier to remove true criminal threats from the interior rapidly, unclog our badly clogged and unjust immigration judicial system, while freeing up law abiding immigrant with deep family ties to make even greater economic contributions to their country.
Reviewing this new ICE data it is clear that the reforms made by DHS a few years ago were smart and effective. Our immigration system is better and our border safer. The recent Executive Actions built on these reforms, and will in the coming years, even without Congressional action, make our nation safer and our immigration system far better and more humane.
For a much deeper dive on these issues, be sure to read our recent report: “NDN/NPI Report on Central American Migrants and President Obama’s Immigration/Border Enforcement Record.”
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 email@example.com. You can also follow me on twitter at @SimonWDC.