Future of Democratic Party

Column: Rediscovering the Democrats' North Star

US News and World Report has published Simon's seventh column, "Rediscovering the Democrats' North Star," in his weekly Op-Ed series that will every Thursday or Friday through the end of the year.

Be sure to also read his recent column, "Trouble Ahead - 4 Scandals That Could Alter the Trump Presidency," in which Simon looks at four looming scandals that could alter the trajectory of the Trump Presidency – unprecedented levels of public corruption, collusion with Russia to alter the outcome of the election, the FBI’s late intervention and Melania’s immigration troubles.

An Excerpt from "Rediscovering the Democrats' North Star"

To successfully counter what will be a very aggressive Republican legislative agenda next year, Democrats will be have to be unusually focused and disciplined. At a strategic level we will not just have to make clear what we are against, but also what we are for, what we will do different if once again given the chance to govern. With all that in mind, I offer up an early sketch of a focused agenda that can help animate the Democrats' opposition in the coming years:

Prosperity and Security. While there are many issues we must tackle together in the coming years, there are two that matter more to the nation and the American people themselves than the others – getting ahead, and feeling safe from threats.

The good news for Democrats is that our track record on the economy and keeping us safe is strong, and gives us a lot to work with going forward. On the economy, Obama will leave office with the nation at near full employment, GDP at a robust 3.2 percent, incomes rising since 2013, 25 million more with health insurance, his "all of the above" energy strategy having made us more energy independent while accelerating the growth of renewables, the deficit is half of what it was and the stock market at all-time highs.

For Democrats, this is second consecutive stint in power that we have left the economy far better than we found it. We simply have to become more purposeful about telling this story – since the end of the Cold War there has been more jobs, rising incomes and lower deficits with the Democrats, and job loss, declining incomes and higher deficits with the Republicans. We enter the coming debates about the budget and the economy as the only party which has successfully produced sustained prosperity for America over the past generation of our political life, and we cannot let up in this fight.

On "security," as it has been discussed in this year's campaign, Democrats have simply ceded too much ground to the Republicans of late. By most measures Americans are far safer today. Violent crime, killings of police, Americans killed by terrorists, military causalities are all far lower than during the George W. Bush administration, and in some cases, at all-time lows. The net flow of unauthorized immigrants into the U.S. has dropped from 400,000 a year net under Bush to zero under Obama – a remarkable achievement. Immigrants commit crimes at rates lower than native born Americans, and the economic achievements of the two largest immigrant groups – Asians and Hispanics – are impressive by any measure. Despite historically high levels of immigration, the American "melting pot" has once again done its thing, leaving us a better, stronger and more diverse nation than before. These accomplishments are meaningful, and well worth defending.

On the Middle East and terrorism, Barack Obama will leave office not the first nor the last president disappointed about what was achieved. But on the rise of the Islamic State group, we have to recognize that it grew from the internal political failings of two sovereign nations, Syria and Iraq, caught in the middle of a broader regional struggle between Sunni Arabs and its proxies and Iranian supported Shia forces. Creative thinking is needed here from all sides, thinking that recognizes that there is no "bombing them into the stone age" military solution to the region's troubles. The path forward involves expanding the increasingly successful military and counter-terrorism already in place, vigorously pursuing a regional reconciliation between Sunni and Shia, vigilant efforts to counter the Islamic State group's online reach, and Marshall Plan like efforts to modernize and strengthen those nations in the region wanting to put this violent age behind them.

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.

A New Generation Of Democrats Will Have To Rise

As background, NDN produced a post-election memo in 2014, “A Wake Up Call For Democrats” which covers some of the ground in the memo below. The original version of this memo was published on the Wednesday after the election, and has been updated.  You can also find our thoughts in a series of post-election articles in Time, TNR, the Washington Post and others sources, and in this new US News op-ed, "Rediscovering the Democrats' North Star."

Clinton wins more votes, Dems gain in Senate and House – Yes, a bit spinny given the outcome, but true. Trump has won the Presidency, getting fewer votes than Clinton and winning his big 4 states - FL, MI, PA, WI - by less than 1.5%.  What is remarkable is that Democrats have now won more votes in 6 of past 7 Presidential elections, one of the best runs for a political party in US history and yet have very little to show for it.  In the exits last night Democrats had meaningful advantages in Party ID and favorability, and Barack Obama had a 53/45 approval rating. A plurality of voters even said they were better off than they were four years ago.

The GOP, a party that has won more votes in a national election only once since 1988, amazingly has more power today in Washington than any time since 1928.  That our system could produce this outcome is one of the things that makes America exceptional.

The exits confirm that last night was not a repudiation of the Democratic Party’s agenda, or a significant affirmation of the direction Trump wants to take the country:

-48% said Obamacare was just right or didn’t go far enough, 47% said too far
-70% said illegal immigrants should stay, 25% said deport
-41% approve of building the wall, 54% say no
-48% said criminal justice system treats blacks unfairly, 43% fairly
-31% say they are better off today, 27% worse off, 49% same

Even on the issue of global trade, 42% said trade takes away jobs, 38% said creates jobs.

So what this means in practical terms is that it is hard for Trump and the Republicans to claim a clear mandate. They have only won one more votes in a national election once since 1988, and will have to work hard in the coming months to build majority support for their agenda.

Dems Need A Big Discussion About Turnout, Our Coalition – Democrats need to have a robust debate about why we’ve had such a hard time replicating Obama’s success with the majority coalition he built in 2010, 2014 and again in 2016. No doubt that the Trump campaign impressively outperformed expectations in most national polls. But an early and quick read on the data suggests that once again the Democrats did not meet their targets with their own voters – and in this race resources were not an issue. More on this issue in future memos.

Younger Americans Are Much More Democratic – Using the national exit polls, voters under 45 went for Clinton 53% to 39%, and those 45 and over went for Trump 52% to 44%. 56% of the electorate was 45 and over, 44% under 45. Maximizing the under 45 vote – people who came of age after Reagan’s Presidency – remains one of the highest demographic priorities for Democrats. Not sure what it means yet, but the 4 states that cost Clinton the election last night – FL, MI, PA, WI – have very low %s of Millennials compared to other states.

For more on Millennials and the youth vote, see our new report on Millennials, this excellent post-election report from Tufts/Tisch/CIRCLE, and Democracy Corp's election night survey showing the Millennial share of the electorate grew from 19% in 2012 to a remarkable 29% in 2016. 

Huge Mistakes By Clinton Campaign - It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Clinton campaign both badly misread the election in the final months, and made terrible decisions about the allocation of its campaign resources and candidate time.  This new article by Sam Stein in the Huffington Post captures the failures in Michigan and Wisconsin.  But it goes deeper than just those two states. Discussions have to be had about huge overinvestments in IA, NC and OH, and whether AZ should have been a prime target general election target from June on.  As of 11/20, Clinton's margin in AZ is only 3.6%, better than the Democratic performance in IA, NC and OH (see our new memo on AZ, and the strong showing for Dems in CA and TX too).  Politico just published a new report on how the Clinton campaign blew Michigan - and it is tough reading.  And then there is the question of Trump's far more aggressive general election campaign schedule, something that no doubt made a difference in a very close race. 

Given the financial advantages and unified party behind the campaign, the team running Clintonworld will have to explain to the rest of us about what appears to be fatal misjudgements in the general election. 

Thanks Comey! – According to the exits, of the 26% of people who made up their minds in the last month, Trump won them 49%-39% (yes during the period of the debates, the Access Hollywood video). Of the 73% who made up their minds before the last month, Clinton won 51%-46%. Very hard to not conclude from this data that the Comey intervention in the election was consequential.

Not sure all of us have yet processed the unprecedented intervention of a foreign government and the FBI in this election. With Rs in charge of Congress and the White House, will be hard to have this conversation next year but it is a conversation that needs having. 

Political Reform – Given the obvious concerns about a “rigged” system that no longer works for everyday people, why Hillary Clinton never developed a serious conversation around reforming our politics remains one of the great mysteries of the 2016 election. See my piece from December, 2012 about why political reform had to become central to the politics of the center-left in the years ahead. 

A New Generation of Democrats Will Have to Lead Now – The Obama Presidency and the 24 years of leadership provided by Bill and Hillary Clinton will now yield to a new era for the Democratic Party. Surveying the landscape – Schumer, Kaine, Booker, Sanders, Warren, Becerra, Michael Bennett, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Joe Kennedy, the Castros, Tulsi Gabbard, etc – Democrats have a very promising set of leaders capable of carrying the Party forward.

Democrats will also have to become far more purposeful about preparing for the generational handoff from Boomer generation politicians to younger ones. The Democratic Party is a young, diverse and growing party. Its future success will depend on advancing leaders who can connect with and excite these voters. 

Big questions now about what the Obamas do, and the role they play in what comes next.

Folks Should Be Careful About Calling This A Change Election – While there is clear evidence “change” was something people sought, the country is neither as angry or disquieted as some have been suggesting. Let’s go through some data here. Incomes have been going up for four years. 2015 saw the largest income gains for American workers in the recorded economic history of the United States. The unemployment rate is under 5%. Violent crime, the killings of Americans by terrorists and the killing of police are all at rates far lower than during the Bush Administration. The uninsured rate is at historic lows. Heath inflation, the biggest driver of the deficit, has been lower this decade than in a generation. Energy prices are low, America has become a net energy exporter, and the growth of renewables is exploding. The net flow of unauthorized immigrants into the US has gone from 400,000 a year under Bush to zero today, while trade with Mexico has more than doubled.

And public opinion confirms this. In a recent Gallup poll 62% of Americans said things are getting better. 53% of Americans report that things are good in a recent CNN poll. President Obama’s approval rating is in the mid to high 50s, the highest mark of his second term and higher than President Reagan at the end of his Presidency. A recent Bloomberg poll found only 28% of Americans saying that since Obama’s election they are worse off, with 21% saying things are the same and 49% better. While the exits last night found fewer people saying better off, the number saying worse off was about the same – 27%.  And in the exits, 37% said the next generation will be better off, 34% said worse.  This simply isn't rebellion level numbers folks. 

The exits also asked a direct question – which candidate quality mattered most? 39% said “can bring change,” and they went 83% to 14% for Trump. This is a plurality, not a majority. 

This is not to say that we don’t have challenges, or that that there isn’t disquiet in the American electorate. But it is not a majority sentiment of the public at large, and was not even close to being a majority sentiment of those who voted last night. But it is a majority sentiment of Republican voters as this party break out of recent CNN data suggests:

Source: CNN/ORC poll data from September 1-4, 2016. According to this CNN/ORC poll, 53 percent of Americans believe economic conditions in the US are good. The question asked in the survey was: “How would you rate the economic conditions in the country today -- as very good, somewhat good, somewhat poor, or very poor?” See our recent report, “America Is Better Off And Safer Today” for citations for the data in this section.

Memo: 2016 Through A Millennial Lens – Some Initial Thoughts

One of the more dramatic and potentially disruptive demographic developments in recent American politics has been the explosion of Millennials into the American electorate. In terms of voting age population, Millennials now equal the other large American generation, the Boomers. 70m Millennials will be voting age in 2016, 20m more than 2012 and 35m more than 2008.

We’ve already seen the impact a big demographic change can bring to American politics. In 2004, George W. Bush won the 6 states in what we call the “Latin Belt” – AZ, CO, FL, NM, NV and TX. Today, due to rising numbers of Hispanic voters in these states, higher levels of turnout and an embrace of the Democrats, Clinton is likely to win 5 of these 6 states. Coming a few years later than a big transformation of formerly Red California, several polls of late have Texas within margin of error. Democratic gains in these heavily Hispanic states have changed the electoral map.

The same will be true for Millennials. But as they’ve been voting about 2 to 1 for Democrats it would make sense for us to begin to see disruption inside the Democratic Party first – something we did see in the Presidential primary this year with Bernie Sanders. What impact is this big Millennial surge having on the general election? We won’t know until after November 8th, but we offer some initial thoughts below. For the purposes of this analysis, we broke down each state by share of Millennial population, and ranked them. You can find that breakdown with an explanation of the methodology we used at the end of this document.

Top States by Millennial %

Bottom States by Millennial %

Alaska, Texas, Utah – three traditionally Republican states that appear to be leaning far more towards the Democrats than many anticipated are in the top five states in terms of Millennial share of their population. Alaska is 3rd, Utah 4th, Texas 5th.

A look at the recent CBS track of Texas which found the race 46% Trump 43% Clinton shows what an impact their Millennial surge is having on the partisan orientation of the state. For comparison we offer the national breakouts from this week’s Economist/YouGov poll, which had the national race 46% Clinton 43% Trump. For the record, this poll has the national 18-29 year old Trump a little lower than others. But you get the idea.


 

We put the Economist demographic breakdowns into a graph, below.  It is important to note here that the demographic break that is emerging isn’t just with Millennials.  Under 45s are now leaning dramatically towards the Democrats (essentially people who came of age after the Cold War ended).  The obvious conclusion from this data is that if these rough partisan affiliations hold as more younger people enter the electorate and vote they will make the country and many states far more blue.  The first states to be effected will be those with the largest Millennial share – states like the three above.  

We put the Economist demographic breakdowns into a graph, below. It is important to note here that the demographic break that is emerging isn’t just with Millennials. Under 45s are now leaning dramatically towards the Democrats (essentially people who came of age after the Cold War ended). The obvious conclusion from this data is that if these rough partisan affiliations hold as more younger people enter the electorate and vote they will make the country and many states far more blue. The first states to be effected will be those with the largest Millennial share – states like the three above.

The Big Battlegrounds – Another interesting trend is recent erosion of Florida and Ohio for Clinton. Both are in the bottom tier of states by Millennial population – Ohio clocking in at 42nd, and Florida 47th. Something Democrats will have to watch going forward is many of the important battlegrounds have below average Millennial percentages. MI is 40th, WI 41st, OH 42nd, PA 43rd, FL 47th, NH 49th, ME 51st (we include DC here as a state). If older people are trending a bit more Republican, these states provide fewer Millennials to make up that lost ground; but even these states are feeling the effect of this flood of new young voters.

The Millennials Are Coming – Since 2008, the country has gained 35m more Millennials of voting age. Assuming a 50% turnout rate and 2 to 1 support for Dems, this is about 6m net new votes for Democrats. As Millennials age and their turnout rates increase, the number of Millennial voters will increase as will their political influence. It is hard to see how today how this isn’t anything but an existential threat to the current Republican Party – their nominee is losing under 30s by more than 20 points even in Texas today, and between 25 and 40 points depending on the poll for the nation as a whole.

We will report back in the days after the election to see how this all plays out.

Note: We have ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia in descending order by 2016 Millennial percentage. All the raw data is from the 2015 census. The “2016 Percentage” column approximates the # of Millennials 18 and older as a percentage of the total population of each state. It uses the 20-34 totals and takes 60% of the 15-19, given that people aged 17, 18 and 19 could vote in this election. This is an approximation of course, and we acknowledge the actual percentages will be a bit smaller given that not every 205 17 year old will be old enough to vote this year, and the populations of most states will have increased.

The “2018 Millennial column” looks at the percentage of Millennials per state assuming all 2015 15-19 year olds would be old enough to vote. Like in the first formula, this is construction is an approximation. Things will no doubt change in all these state between 2015 and 2018, but these are still apples to apples comparisons.

We would like to acknowledge that we leaned heavily on data from the Pew Hispanic Center, the Pew Research Center, and the US Census Bureau for this analysis.

Report: In A New Global Age, Democrats Have Been Far Better for the US Economy, Deficits and Incomes

Overview – This report looks at the economic performance of the two American political parties when in the White House since the end of the Cold War.  You can find the full report below, as an attachment. 

We use 1989 as a starting point for comparison because when it comes to the American and global economies, the collapse of Communism and the non-aligned movement ushered in a new, truly global economic era, one very different from the one that came before. It is thus fair to see how the two parties have adapted to the enormous changes this new era has offered, and whether their policies have helped America prosper or struggle as we and the world changed.

As you will see from the following analysis, the contrast between the performance of the Democrats and Republicans in this new economic era is stark: 2 GOP Presidencies brought recessions, job loss, higher annual deficits, and struggle for workers; the 2 Democratic Presidencies brought recovery and growth, job and income gains, and lower annual deficits.

Based on these findings it is fair to assert that over the past generation the Democratic Party has been far more effective at crafting effective responses to a new economic era than the Republican Party. This case is bolstered, of course, when recalling the GOP’s spirited predictions of economic calamity when opposing both the 1993 Clinton economic plan and budget and the 2009/2010 Obama stimulus and “job-killing” Affordable Care Act.

The Republicans have gotten it wrong now in four consecutive Presidencies.

While it will not be the subject of this short report, our findings raise questions about whether the characterizations of the US economy as one not producing income and wage gains either over 40 years or over the past 15 years are accurate. It would appear that a more accurate description of the US economy in recent years is that with smart policies, Americans can prosper even in a more challenging and competitive global age.

Key Findings From The Report:

Job Growth: Over the Clinton and Obama Presidencies, more than 30m new net jobs were created. In contrast, during the two Bush Presidencies, approximately 3.5m jobs were created.

GDP Growth: Both Democratic Presidents saw the GDP rate rise during their Presidencies. The first President Bush saw GDP hold steady during his tenure. The second President Bush saw GDP decline.

Unemployment Rate: Both Democratic presidents saw more than a 3% point decrease in the unemployment rate during their terms. The Bushes saw increases in the unemployment rate by more than 2% and 3% points respectively.

Income: Both Bush Presidencies saw Americans experience decline in their median income, while during the Presidencies of Presidents Obama and Clinton Americans experienced gains. The newly reported 2015 increase in median income of almost $3,000 is the largest ever recorded since statistics began being kept in 1967.

Deficits: Both Democratic presidents saw dramatic improvements in the annual deficit during their tenures, with Clinton turning large structural deficits into annual surpluses and Obama cutting the annual deficit he inherited by one half. Both Bushes saw increases in the annual deficit on their watches, with the second President Bush seeing a more than ten-fold increase in the annual deficit during his presidency, one of the greatest explosions of debt in US history.

Public Opinion About the US Economy: Survey after survey finds Americans believing that things are far better, and improving. According to one new report, the President’s job approval on the economy stands at its highest mark since 2009. A new report from Gallup finds fully 80% of Americans are satisfied with their current standard of living.

Healthcare: The uninsured rate has plummeted, while the growth of health care costs – a significant driver of the US budget deficit – has slowed. Slower cost growth and healthier Americans are good for the American economy, businesses and the nation as a whole.

Energy: President Obama’s “all of the above” approach has a rousing success for the nation, increasing domestic production, lowering energy costs for American businesses, lessening our dependence on foreign sources of energy while giving the US a leg up on the new energy technologies of the future.

Again, you can find the full report, below, complete with lots of charts and graphs. Enjoy. 

Report: Presidential Primary Debate Audiences

This memo looks at the audiences the Presidential Primary debates received in 2016 and 2008.  The Republicans have completed their full 12 debate schedule for the 2015-2016 cycle.  We now have the final numbers for the debate audiences for the Democrats and Republicans.  The top line analysis can be found below, and tables of the audiences of each debate which received ratings in both 2016 and 2008 can be found on pages 4 and 5 of the full memo, attached (at bottom).  More information about the debate over the 2016 debates can be found in our backgrounder (Updated on Wednesday 5/25/16).  

Summary 

2016, Republicans – 12 debates, 186.3m total viewers, 15.53m viewers per debate.   

2016, Democrats – 9 debates, 72.03m total viewers, 8m viewers per debate. 

2008, Republicans – 14 debates, 42.87m total viewers, 3.07m viewers per debate.

2008, Democrats – 16 debates, 75.22m total viewers, 4.7m viewers per debate (Dems had another 10 debates which were not rated, so total viewership was higher than 75.22m).

Key Findings

GOP Dramatically Outperforms Dems in 2016 and Rs in 2008 – In 2008, the 16 Democratic debates outperformed the 14 GOP debates by more than 53% per debate (4.7m per debate vs 3.07m).  In 2016, the 12 GOP debates have outperformed the 9 Democratic debates by a much larger margin, over 94% per debate (15.53m vs 8m).  It is a dramatic reversal. 

The 12 GOP debates have produced more than 5 times the audience per debate than their 14 debates produced in 2008, and almost 5 times the total audience.  The 9 DNC debates produced almost twice the audience per debate that the 2008 debates produced, but, in aggregate, produced a total audience 3 million less than the 2008 debates produced.  

Democratic Debate Schedule Struggles to Match 2008 – Despite very large audiences for the debates this cycle, the smaller number of Democratic debates (9 compared to 12 GOP in 2016 and 26 in 2008) means that the total audience of the Democratic debates in 2016 was 3 million less than the 2008 Democratic total, and 114m less than the 2016 GOP total.

DNC’s Original Debate Schedule Audience – The DNC’s original six debate schedule produced an audience of 48.4m.  After requests from many, including the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, the DNC added four debates on February 3rd.  The DNC also smartly brought in CNN to augment its PBS and Univision debates.  These improvements in the schedule brought an additional 24m viewers, 8m from the CNN re-broadcasts and 16m from the three additional debates conducted so far.  Augmenting the original schedule increased the overall Democratic debate audience by 50%. 

The Townhalls – While the audiences for the CNN town halls were not significant, the formats were.  Each of these programs gave viewers a window into the candidate the more rigid debate formats have not.  They have been an important innovation this cycle by the DNC, and in coming years should be given more prominence.  Our guess is if adequately promoted with more time, viewership for these town halls could be far more significant.  

 

Audience Per Debate

              

 

Total Audience

 

"A Wake Up Call For Democrats" - Simon's 2014 Post-Election Memo

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 srosenberg@ndn.org.   You can also follow me on twitter at @SimonWDC.

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