Democrats

What the Georgia Runoff Told Us

by D.J. McGuire

Tuesday night was Election Runoff Night in Georgia. The results give some hope – and some concern – to both parties.

For the Republicans, victory was sweet for Brad Raffensperger, who held off a strong challenge from Democrat John Barrow to win the Secretary of State position. For Democrats upset at how Raffensperger’s predecessor (Governor-Elect Brian Kemp) handled the job, the defeat was bitter.

That said, it wasn’t all good news for the GOP. Republicans usually do better in runoffs than on Election Day in Georgia, and this was no exception. However, Barrow’s margin of defeat was more than a percentage point lessthan Clinton’s in 2016.

If the Democratic nominee in 2020 merely repeats that one-percent-plus improvement across the nation, then Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and the presidency goes to them – while Florida would be close enough for another of those hand recounts. If Republicans were hoping this election showed a post-midterm return to normal for them, they’re in for a disappointment.

For the Democrats, the loss was painful, but instructive. Barrow, a former Congressman from east Georgia, actually outdid his former running mate Stacey Abrams in rural vote share, but he underperformedin the Atlanta suburbs. Gwinnett County, which went to Abrams by more than 12 points, went for Barrow by barely more than one. Cobb County actually flipped back to the GOP (Abrams won it by nearly 10 points).

Then there was turnout, which wasn’t even 40% of what was seen on Election Day.

Now that we have Barrow’s defeat to add to the story, some things stand out.

First, Stacey Abrams was a better candidate than initially recognized.Conventional wisdom says Barrow, a white male with rural ties, should have done far better than Abrams. He didn’t – even on Election Day it was the performance of the Libertarian in his race that forced the runoff; his share of the vote was lower than Abrams’ share up-ballot. The fact that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce stayed neutral in the race should have been a clue. As it is, now we have some data behind it.

Secondly, the suburbs matter everywhere. Even GOP-leaning states saw their suburban areas pull away from them. They just had enough rural voters to make up the difference. In Georgia, though, they managed to stem some of their losses here, which was enough to counter a weaker rural presence against Barrow. Democrats clearly saw that appealing to rural voters at the expense of the suburbs has consequences – and not good ones.

Finally, African-American candidates help Democrats. One could call Georgia 2018 a microcosm of the Obama 2012 to Clinton 2016 turnout effect. African-American turnout fell from 2012 levels, enough not just to lower Clinton’s popular vote margin but also to turn the Electoral College against her. Now, we saw an African-American “progressive” (I use the quotes because what most conservatives think a “progressive” is and a candidate who doesn’t earn the opprobrium of the local Chamber of Commerce are two very different things) still do better in Georgia than a moderate white ex-Congressman.

I don’t think it’s just about turnout, though. Democrats are caught in an argument about how to rebuild their coalition. Do they attempt to win back “white working class” voters in rural areas? Or do they look to growing their already large margins about racial minorities and younger voters?

For yours truly, neither is as important as winning over center-right independents and moderate Republicans who stuck to Trump in the hope of getting a standard Republican administration and are struck with horror at the rampant trade warrior instead. Those voters are far less likely to cross over to a Democratic Party trying to outdo Trump on protectionism or isolationism – the kinds of things that obsess Democrats worried about “white working class” voters.

It might just be that African-American, Hispanic, or other non-white Democrats – who are spared the advice about “white working class” voters because (1) too many people shallowly assume they can’t win those voters over or (2) many assume that said voters also have serious racial animus behind their support for Trump – can spend more time appealing to supporters for freer trade and genuine internationalism. Whether those candidates themselves appreciate that in 2020, of course, remains to be seen.

In short, Republicans have reasons to be happy and worried, while Democrats have reasons to be frustrated just hopeful, about the elections to come over the next two years.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Is the Past Prologue for Democratic Presidential Candidates?

by D.J. McGuire

The events of the last 24 hours (for which we did a special episode – you can listen here) have led many to wax nostalgic over Watergate (euphemism, people, euphemism). It’s also led me to ponder the era between then and now, and I’ve found something that could be ominous for nearly all of the potential 2020 Democratic candidates (including my preferred choice, Congressman John Delaney).

The early 1970s gets harder to remember with every year (the past is like that), but we should not forget that the American people’s revulsion with Washington corruption neither began nor ended with Richard Nixon. This was the era of the Church Committee hearings with subsequent intelligence reforms, campaign finance law reform, and a serious rethink of the structure of economic regulation. Right and left had their own answers to the conundrum of corruption – smaller government for the former, cleaner government for the latter.

One other result that has dramatically impacted the nation has been noticed less: the effect on presidential elections. We’ve had 11 of them since Nixon’s resignation. Here are the highlights:

  • Permanent coalitions are not in vogue: Republicans have won 6 elections; the Democrats, 5. Democrats have won the popular vote 7 times; Republicans, 4. Only once has a party won 3 in a row (GOP: 1980-88). Prior to Watergate, it happened five times.
  • More instability markers: Four times the winner did not win a majority of the popular vote. More to the point, the popular vote winner lost the election twice. That had only happened three times in the previous 184 years.
  • In only six of the the elections did the voters also give the winning party control of the House of Representatives – two of them were in elections where the president elected did not win the popular vote.
  • Yet one consistency came through: the candidate with less experience in Washington was elected nine out of eleven times – including three of the four times an incumbent president was re-elected.

The data point to a clear recommendation for the Democrats in 2020: do not nominate someone with more than four years experience in Washington D.C. Of course, that would rule out nearly every Democrat considering a run: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Delaney, Sherrod Brown, etc. Even Kemala Harris, whose Washington tenure started 17 days before Trump’s, might have pause.

Granted, Trump himself “broke” more than a few rules in 2016, but he didn’t break this one. Moreover, the Trumpenproletariat’s instinct for whataboutism is likely to make voters even less likely to value experience in the nation’s capital. Democrats might want to look to Governors. One of them, Montana’s Steve Bullock, is already considering a run. Moreover, when incumbent presidents have lost in the post-Watergate era (1976, 1980, and 1992), a Governor has defeated them. Every time.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

The World America Abandons (Before Coming Back to Rescue It)

by D.J. McGuire

For understandable reasons, most Americans assume that Donald Trump is a one-man wrecking crew, determined either to destroy or to reshape the current global order. In reality, however, the international order that has held in place in the Atlantic for over 70 years (and in the rest of the world for roughly 30) has been fraying for some time, and Trump is himself as much a symptom as a cause. The regions of the world are turning away from each other, and American frustration has now led to its acceleration under Trump. The result will be a world of regional powers – until one of them tries to assert global dominance, forcing the United States out of its coming stupor to lead the democratic world once more.

The Fall of the Global Order

The chief goals of the “western world” from 1945 through 1990 (and the entire world since 1990) have been greater political and economic freedom, via democracy and freer trade. Even those who were most threatened by these tenets paid lip service to them for roughly a quarter century.

Events of the last decade have challenged this. The Great Recession revealed the dark side of international economic connections. The rise of a revanchist Russia has greatly damaged the democratic world’s confidence in itself. The behavior of the European Union towards Greece and Italy shattered the notion of the EU as a force for democracy and progress. The “Global War on Terror” revealed the apparent limits of American patience with extended military engagements. Xi Jinping’s increasing grip on the Chinese mainland has combined with economic instability to create a dangerous vacuum in justification for his dictatorship. Finally, the dramatic increase in continental sources of American energy has begun shifting America’s view of its interests abroad (especially in the Middle East).

As a result, “It’s a small world after all” has become more a dark warning than a cheery sentiment – and the peoples of said world are acting accordingly. Had this just been the United States experiencing this, the rest of the world would have simply reoriented the system with a new hegemon, and there are eager candidates for the role. Yet none of them are in a position to stake the claim, and they all have regional matters to address.

The Coming Regional Order

As a result, when the present global order falls – likely on a glide path, but falls nonetheless – it will likely be replaced by an unstable mix of regional powers: China, Russia, the EU, and the less engaged United States. The first two will be looking to expand their power without to contain potential dissent within. The European Union will attempt to turn its continental reach into real power via internal reform and centralization. The US will be trying to find a balance between reducing its obligations to the rest of the world and protecting its interests, which time will show to be far more global than the electorate currently realizes.

In theory, the Chinese Communist Party need not concern itself with electorates. In practice, legitimacy can arguably be more tricky for tyrannies than for democracies – which in part is why tyrannies resort to wars, mass incarcerations, huge development projects, etc. For the CCP, greater power abroad combines with stoking resentment of outsiders at home to give it enough legitimacy to stay in power (for now). So long as the US was blocking its regional objectives, the CCP had become (accidentally and ironically) the most likely power to challenge the US on a global scale. A retreating America will open up regional opportunities for the regime – especially in Southeast Asia and Taiwan (whose gutsy, independent democracy won’t survive the new order). While some of this will bring alarm to other capitals, the CCP can use their North Korean puppet regime as leverage until its usefulness expires – at which point Beijing can simply make the problem go away by annexing it.

The Vladimir Putin regime, by contrast, has a slew of international allies and interests left over from the former Soviet Union, and Putin hasn’t been shy about using them (especially in Syria). However, his fixation has largely been with his “near abroad” (i.e., the former Soviet republics), and an America willing to withdraw from the global stage would give him the free hand there he has craved. Like the CCP, Putin has relied upon anti-foreign resentment and increasing power (and, in his case, actual territory) for his regime’s legitimacy. That will likely continue, to the detriment of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the Baltic states.

For the European Union, the problem is legitimacy – or lack thereof. The transition from trading association to intertwined economy was quite a success, the next step (to full-blown nation-state) has not gone nearly as well. The EU’s challenge will be sorting out what it is, and how it governs itself, so it can be strong enough to reject encroachments from outside. It will arguably be the most inward -looking regional power for some time.

That leaves the United States, which is attempting to become the second global hegemon in history to relinquish the role. The failure of the first (Great Britain in the period between World Wars) had been enough to delay this reckoning through the 1990s and 2000s, but the American people put their foot down in 2016 (whether they were “professionally guided” – to use Sir Arnold’s term – by outside forces will be discussed later). As it will be a Republican Administration beginning the withdrawal, the US is likely to settle in as a regional, hemispheric power. This can be seen from Donald Trump himself, who is loathe to criticize tyrannies in Europe and Asia but eager to criticize them in Latin America. I am also assuming this retreat in part because of the still strong isolationist tendencies within the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Flashpoints

While this regionalist order may seem stable from day-to-day, there will be problems. The Middle East, slowly losing the attention of the rest of the world due to changes in energy markets, will continue to be of interest to the three eastern hemisphere powers (i.e., all but the US), leading to conflict. The same will likely be true of Africa (which already has heavy CCP and EU involvement).

However, the most likely sources of “problems” will be American allies unwilling to accept second-tier status and the end of global democratic aspirations. At present, political power in Great Britain rests with an explosive  coalition of insular and globalist voters united in anti-regionalism. Although it’s likely that the regionalist center will reassert itself, ti’s not guaranteed. Japan has a long history of hostility to China (there is no way that can be written without it being an understatement) and its leaders have used its recent conversion to democracy as a new reason for old geopolitics. Our NATO allies (especially in the Baltics) will be deeply worried about Russia expanding its regional hegemony. Finally, the Republic of India, while friendly with Russia, will hardly be willing to serve as Moscow’s vassal; they also have a long history of problems with the CCP.

Indeed, it will be the concept of self-determination in general that poses the greatest threat to this regionalist semi-dystopia, as nations around the world – many of whom freed themselves from colonialism less than a century ago – will be far less likely to accept what they will see (rightly) as imperialism under new names. So long as America is run by Republicans, the US will likely respond with cold indifference. The Democrats are another matter.

How it will end

At some point, Donald Trump will no longer be president. Indeed, a Democrat is all but certain to enter the White House either on 20 January 2029 or before then (I hope). However, given the aforementioned isolationism in the Democratic left (and the laws of political inertia), it is unlikely that a Democratic president will dramatically take aim at the new order (especially if said Democrat doesn’t get to 1600 PA Ave until 2025 or 2029). Said Democrat will, however, likely attempt to protect an old American ally or an African democracy from imperial encroachment. Moreover, time will show the American people that the stable international order currently under threat was a boon for international trade and American commerce.

That will likely lead to a global confrontation of some kind, forcing America out of its regionalist stupor as it relearns the lessons of the mid-20th century. How many casualties are involved in that confrontation, I cannot say.

How this can be reversed

There is no reason that this future is inevitable. Some might note the mere fact that I’m predicting it would make it less likely. More to the point, it can be avoided if the American people in general (and the Democratic Party in particular) recognize the damage to American interests that come with retreating from the world stage.

Ironically, that could come from the most divisive issue in current American politics: the Mueller investigation. The events that Mueller is probing (the Russian regime’s criminal interventions in America’s last presidential election) will be far more likely in this future as regional powers probe each other for weaknesses. If the Democratic Party is willing and able to make the logical connection between the events of 2016 and the rise of anti-American regional powers (and replace the president with one of their own in 2021), they can halt the erosion of American power before it can become permanent. Alliances and trade relationships could still be rebuilt in time; and Putin could be checked in Europe; and the CCP would realize that the US is not yet ready to give them free reign outside of the area under the regime’s control. Democrats have a further interest in challenging Russian revanchism, given Putin’s inspirational support to white supremacy in America.

However, if the Democrats are unwilling to do that, this future is more likely than any other.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described “progressive conservative” – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

Wave Goodbye to the Wave Election

by Kevin Kelton    

Though the makings of a democratic wave election in the midterms seem apparent – enthusiasm, leading indicators, a highly divisive president – one key component is missing… and it could be the fatal flaw.

It’s the “why.”

Every wave election has an overriding theme or movement behind it. Today’s Democratic party lacks either.

In the last half century, there have been six wave elections.* Two were presidential election cycles, the other four were midterms.

The 1980 Reagan wave was powered by a weak economy and the Iran hostage crisis, but mostly by a charismatic presidential candidate who gave a face and voice to the movement. Similarly, the 2008 Obama wave was driven by a war-weary nation and a financial crash, and a charismatic candidate. But let’s put those aside and look at midterms, where there is no presidential candidate to embody the movement.

In every midterm wave, there were clear economic and foreign policy crises that turbo-charged the national mood:

1974 – the Vietnam war and Watergate

1994 – a faltering economy, healthcare, and the GOP’s “Contract with America”

2006 – a war-weary nation, Hurricane Katrina, and GOP scandals (Jack Abramoff; Tom DeLay)

2010 – Obamacare, a stagnant economy, high unemployment, the national debt, illegal immigration

Now let’s look at the prospects for 2018. Other than an historically unpopular first-term president, what issues do the Democrats have to run on? Even with the current stock market correction, it’s unlikely the economy will tank before November. (It takes six months of negative GDP to classify a recession, and right now GDP is strong.) Unemployment is historically low. There is no new military conflict. By November DACA will likely be resolved and the only immigration issues will be the border wall and the lingering Muslim ban court cases. Trump is riding high on the tax cuts and the recent long-term budget deals. Even the #MeToo movement is too fractured to break solidly Democratic. The party can’t own the issue with Bill Clinton, John Conyers, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, and Anthony Weiner as its poster boys.

Plus the Democrats are still a splintered party with no national leader to rally the troops. So they will be left to a series of local races with no unifying issue or theme to power them past heavily financed incumbents.

Unless the anti-Trump movement itself is enough to power the wave, what should be a tsunami may turn into a small storm. Democrats are likely to pick up seats in the House, but unless they net 24, the GOP will still own both chambers and the Executive branch.

The party’s leaders better settle on a set of core issues now, issues that will resonate with middle-class voters and power midterm turnout. And they better be bumper sticker stances, not nuanced wonky ones that take two minutes to explain.

So what can you do? Find the issue you are passionate about and post about it tirelessly on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Join Facebook political groups to magnify your voice. Share posts on the issue and send them to your senate and congressional candidates. Be your own campaign manager and campaign spokesperson. Then pick five races with five candidates you are excited about and donate. If every Democrat becomes a one-man SuperPac, we win.

Unless we’re all in the campaign, Trump and company will be campaigning on tax cuts, jobs and prosperity, while Democrats be running on Russia and Robert Mueller.

I respect Robert Mueller. But I don’t think he’s a wave.

Kevin Kelton is a writer and co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of the Facebook groups Open Fire Politics, Open Fire Food & Spirits, and Open Fire Sex.

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* An argument an be made that 2014 was also a wave election, but since the House was already heavily GOP, movement of congress further right isn’t being counted here as a “wave.”

 

On the Republican Tax Deform

by D.J. McGuire

Taxes: the one issue where – as an economic conservative – I would be more sympathetic to my old party (the Republicans) than my new one (the Democrats). As I awaited the Republican tax reform plan, I even recommended Democrats find a way to work with the GOP to improve it.

Well, the plan was at last revealed today, and about the only link this fiasco has to actual tax reform was Congressman Brady quoted Ronald Reagan from 1986 (CNN).

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Trump’s Trade War, Part II

by D.J. McGuire

The Trump Administration’s efforts to “renegotiate” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have now created so many hackles that the Chamber of Commerce stepped in.

That Trump is willing to risk a trade war to feed his lust for protectionism is not news (he’s already set off Canada and the United Kingdom), but when the Chamber of Commerce sounds the alarm about a Republican president, we’re in big trouble.

Trump’s Trade War

by D.J. McGuire

Over the eight months and change of the Trump Administration, two of his closest allies – both geopolitically and personally – have been Justin Trudeau and Theresa May, Prime Ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom, respectively.

This week, the Trump Administration declared a trade war on both of them – and the Democrats are practically silent. Between Trump’s economic ignorance and the opposition’s political malpractice, we’re in for a very bumpy ride.

From Rinse and Repeat to Reshuffle and Redeal: The Problems with Graham-Cassidy

by D.J. McGuire

Republicans keep telling me that being a conservative Democrat will be difficult, and yet they continue to make it easier. The latest example of this is the Graham-Cassidy bill, which is ostensibly the latest Obamacare “repeal and replace” effort coming from the GOP.

Will the Democrats Continue to Go the Wrong Way on Economics?

by D.J. McGuire

The events of this week in Washington do not bode well for the Democratic Party. The combination of Democratic senators openly endorsing government monopoly health insurance and the Republican president making a move toward immigration reform, however small, puts the GOP in a better position to hold the Free Marketeers in 2018 and 2020.

Why the Three-Month Funding Deal is Bad for America

by D.J. McGuire

Democrats in Washington have a spring in their step this weekend. Why? Because, Gosh darn it, Trump likes them.

If that made you shutter, then perhaps you’re able to see through the Trump-Schumer “deal” after all. It was good for the president, and it was good for Washington Democrats. Here’s why it was bad for the rest of us.

The Week’s Advice for the Democrats: Hold Firm on Culture, Look for Openings From the Right on Economics

by D.J. McGuire

There has been a good deal of soul-searching within the Democratic Party about how to avoid repeating the 2014 and 2016 defeats. From what I can tell, most of those who (wisely) advise against careening leftward have recommended (not so wisely) downplaying “cultural” issues in an attempt to win back “working-class whites.” While I call myself a conservative Democrat, I have been advising largely the opposite – a move rightward on economic matters, not cultural ones. Events of the past week outside of the Senate health care votes have shown that to be the better approach.

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My Further Thoughts on Freer Markets and the Democratic Party

by D.J. McGuire

A couple of days after my post on where the modern center is for Democrats, many within the party seemed to confuse my preference for freer markets with support for “the Wall Street elite.” My previous post discussed neither Wall Street nor the economic “elite,” which clearly led a lot of folks on Facebook to assume I was an unadulterated fan of either. This post, I hope, will debunk those concerns.

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