Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cheer Up, Dems, Things Could Be Worse

Let's face it. Democrats have some huge problems on their hands. A burgeoning civil war that reared its ugly head most recently during the "CRomnibus" bill fiasco is a case in point. Seems the progressive wing of the Party, led by their reluctant warrior, Elizabeth Warren, has gotten its dander up and is determined to take a more assertive role in policy making.  The centrists, fearful of losing yet more ground in swing states, will no doubt push back hard against any move to the left. The Party's fortunes will be determined largely by which flank comes out on top.

But even with all the fractures and internal bickering, I still like the prospects of the Democrats emerging unified and resolute over those of the Republicans. Be honest, who would you rather be, Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell? You needn't be a rocket scientist to answer that question. While Reid will spend the next two years threading a needle between progressives and centrists, McConnell will have his hands full trying to keep the inmates from burning down the asylum. Dean Wormer didn't have as much trouble with Delta Tau Chi as McConnell is about to have with this band of merry misfits.

Witness the stunt pulled by Ted Cruz as exhibit number one. Last Saturday, Republicans thought they had successfully stopped Harry Reid from jamming through President Obama's judicial and cabinet nominees. And then Captain Video gummed up the works.

Obsessed with Obama's executive order on immigration, Cruz, along with his cohort Mike Lee (aka, Lou Costello), called for an immediate "point of order" vote to stop the President. The strategy backfired badly. Not only didn't the vote pass - it went down in flames - it had the unintended consequence of allowing Reid to take advantage of a procedural maneuver to keep the Senate in session into the weekend to not only pass the budget, but to get a majority of Obama's judicial and cabinet nominees approved, including Vivek Murthy, the now new Surgeon General who had the temerity to infer that guns were deadly.

The real prize, however, was the number of judicial nominees Obama was able to get through the lame duck. Thanks to Dumb and Dumber, Reid got a dozen approved, bringing the number of district and circuit judges appointed this year to 89. In all Obama has had a total of 305 judicial nominees approved in the first six years in office, well ahead of his previous two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Yet another example of the GOP's dysfunction came courtesy of Marco Rubio, who publicly criticized the President's decision to lift the embargo against Cuba and begin the process of normalization. Experts have long held that the decades-old embargo was an abject failure. The only people it was hurting were the Cuban people. Fidel Castro and his brother were doing just fine.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results than the United States' policy towards Cuba was a textbook example. Credit Obama for finally admitting what every straight-thinking person already knew. Unfortunately for the senator from Florida, the term straight thinking doesn't appear anywhere in his dictionary. But hypocrisy does. In what amounts to the rankest form of pandering to a voter demographic that is rapidly shrinking, Rubio vowed that Congress will never lift the ban. Apparently, Rubio is unaware that while Obama can't technically lift the trade embargo, he can, without Congressional approval "defang" it through executive action. *

These two examples underscore the dilemma that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans face over the next two years; indeed for the foreseeable future. Yes, they cleaned the Democrats' clock in November, just like they did in 2010. But the problem that persists for them is that mathematically their road to victory in presidential years is paved with potholes. If you take a close look at the electoral map, Democrats have a much easier path to the White House than Republicans. Why? Because with the exception of Texas, the most populated states in the country are blue states. That means that a Republican candidate has to win almost all of the purple states just to have a shot at the presidency.

That's pretty much what happened in the 2012 election. That year, there were, legitimately, seven swing or purple states: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado. Assuming all the other states went as predicted - which they did - Obama already held a 247 - 191 electoral edge going in; an enormous advantage no matter how you slice it. To win the White House, Mitt Romney had to capture Florida, then lose no more than two of the remaining six swing states. If he'd lost Florida, even running the table wouldn't have saved him. Talk about a handicap.

The irony here is that the very thing that seems to fuel Republican victories in midterm elections, ends up costing them dearly in presidential elections. In short, their base is their own worst enemy. It's the ultimate Catch-22, and one which, at least for the immediate future, has no solution in sight.

So, cheer up, Dems, things could be worse. You could be Republicans.

* An earlier version of this piece stated that President Obama didn't need Congressional approval to lift the trade embargo. That wasn't quite true. What he can do is issue an executive order to ease restrictions, thus taking the teeth out of it.  The correction was made.

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