Dave Spencer on the challenges facing a Red and Blue Congress – and the future of their parties
The 2018-midterm elections were clearly a referendum on Donald Trump. The president told everyone he was on the ballot, and according to network exit polls, two-thirds of voters agreed and said he was a big factor in how they voted – and the resulting “blue wave” was very real. So, the question for the red team is, what is going to be left of the Republican Party when the Trump era is over? As an estranged Republican, I have to ask – what if Trump doesn’t run or loses in 2020, where does that leave us?
Even if you didn’t like George W. Bush or Barack Obama, you could say they both had a governing philosophy and a set of principles. Conversely, what the current “Republican” president espouses aren’t even traditional Republican principles. So, what comes after this cult of personality fades away or is forced out of power? Even though he says he’s running for re-election, a lot will happen in the next two years, including the Mueller investigation and multiple investigations into the administration by the now-Democrat-controlled House.
Tapping into and maximizing the emotions of working-class whites got Donald Trump elected in 2016, as he skillfully made this group feel like a minority “in its own country.” The problem with that strategy, in addition to its being very cynical and divisive, is that the fastest-shrinking demographic group in the country is working-class white men. The GOP is also facing a much more challenging Senate map in 2020, with 22 Republican seats on the line (more than a few of which are in now blue or purple states), while the Democrats will only need to protect 12 seats.
Meanwhile, thanks to a strong gubernatorial performance, many voting districts will be redrawn to favor Democrats, following the 2020 census. On top of that, every month, 50,000 more Latinos become eligible to vote and On Election Day, a stunning 54 percent of those who voted said immigrants “strengthen our country.” The GOP lost the national popular vote by seven points, but lost the debate over whether immigrants are an asset or a burden by 20 points. The bottom line for Team Red: demography is destined to collide with the current Republican structure.
And what about Team Blue? The Democrats winning the House achieved their goal of having a check on the presidency and bringing back some accountability in government. With the GOP keeping the Senate, I believe that the soundest strategy for Democrats in their first 100 days, as hard as it will be, is to resist the urge to immediately issue subpoenas, start investigations and most of all, initiate impeachment. Obviously, there will be calls to action against this administration – and rightfully so. But right now, it’s critical to address the important issues where Congress could actually begin the process of solving problems.
First and foremost, Nancy Pelosi (assuming she becomes speaker) should organize her members to make sure the House continues to focus on health care – the biggest winner for them in the mid-terms, as well as addressing economic issues, such as minimum wage and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to people that don’t have children. Her goal should be to propose and promote legislation that the public wants the most and the president can refuse the least.
Another big winner would be an infrastructure bill that covers three essential bases: one-third good, old-fashioned spending; one-third public-private partnerships; and, most important, one-third local-community involvement. If Democrats can do this, they have a chance of succeeding and showing the nation that we’ve got a Congress that’s finally doing something. That would put the pressure on the Republican-controlled Senate to step up or be blamed for continuing the partisan gridlock. If Pelosi can keep her team in order and really make people think that they’re trying to govern, Democrats will take the first key step to winning in 2020.
Back to the red team: the only way the GOP can remain a long-term viable party is by accepting demographic reality. Regrettably, I have seen no indication of this and the president has driven his recently adapted party in the opposite direction. Ten percent of 2016 Trump voters supported Democrats this year, and 40 percent of moderate Republicans either voted Democratic or stayed away from the polls altogether. In key swing states that went to Trump in 2016 – Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania – Democratic Senate candidates won by more than double digits. The blue wave in the House gave Democrats a new majority that is nearly half women, a third people of color, the first two Muslims in Congress and record numbers representing the LGBT community, showing that at least one party is getting the message that our country’s electorate is inevitably changing.
My continuing hope is that every American will take advantage of the one way President Trump has actually made America greater – getting tens of millions of citizens re-engaged in their political system. Many have joined the uprising through rage, some through adulation, but wherever their loyalties lie, increased participation in the democratic process is a win for our entire nation.