Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Tale of Two Countries


The dust is still settling on last night's election results, but for now here's what we know: 1. Democrats have secured more than enough seats to retake the majority in the House of Representatives; 2. Republicans have added to their majority in the Senate (though at present there are still a couple of races that haven't been called which could go either way); and 3. Democrats flipped seven governorships including one held by the dread pirate Scott Walker in Wisconsin. I'll concentrate primarily on the first two in this piece.

From the start it was clear that Democrats had set their sights on the House. The list of candidates they fielded was diverse and strong, a stark contrast from previous election cycles. And, surprisingly, their messaging was disciplined. They ran on ostensibly two issues: healthcare and legislative oversight on the executive branch.

Regarding the former they were helped tremendously by a GOP that had spent the better part of the last eighteen months doing their best to strip away protections against pre-existing conditions. It was clear Republicans knew they'd stepped in it because in the closing weeks before the election they lied through their teeth trying to convince the electorate that they weren't in fact the Grinch trying to steal Christmas. It didn't work; most voters saw through the canard.

As for the latter, once again Dems were helped by House Republicans who during most of the last two years virtually rubber-stamped every malfeasance that came out of this White House. Dry humping your own party's president may play well on Fox News, but for millions of voters in swing districts across the country it didn't go over nearly as well. Clearly, a majority of the people who showed up at the polls in these districts want some kind of check on this administration. Impeachment, no; oversight, yes.

However, this wave - if you can call it that - bears little resemblance to the one that Republicans had in 2010. In fact, you could say it was the polar opposite. In 2010, the Tea Party wave that swept Democrats out of the majority in the House and almost claimed the Senate was about as far to the right as any movement the country had yet seen, including the infamous Gingrich revolution in the 1994 midterms. With a few exceptions, most of Democratic winners last night were moderates. Had they been far left most of them would've lost. I know because I live in suburban America, where most of these races were held, and I can assure you that it is not a bastion of liberalism. If it's fair to assume that Trump lost the suburbs in these midterms, it's equally fair to assume the Bernie wing of the party hasn't captured their hearts either. Something for the next Speaker to consider in the coming weeks.

But while winning the House was an accomplishment; the results in the Senate races were a sobering reminder of just how daunting a task Democrats had and will continue to have in their quest to regain the majority. Yes, it was the most  brutal map any major party has had in almost a century, and, yes, having to defend 26 seats while your opposition only has to defend 9 is akin to stepping up to the plate with two strikes against you and a cracked bat.

All that aside, what we saw from the Senate results was a microcosm of what has happened to the country. Take Florida, for example. For the second time in as many elections, the state was virtually split in two between the cities and the burbs in blue and the rural counties in red. Both incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (who was running against Ron DeSantis for governor) ran up impressive margins in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, as well as a good chunk of the I-4 corridor. But apart from those areas, the majority of the rest of the state was one gigantic sea of red.

It was as if we were seeing a repeat of the 2016 election, and not just in Florida. In every state that had similar geographic breakdowns, the results were the same. Claire McCaskill got trounced in Missouri, as did Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. The only blue dog Democrats to survive the night were Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana; and in the case of Tester, only a late surge of ballots saved him. He looked like a goner earlier this morning.

It was clear Trump's offensive and racist rhetoric down the stretch was effective in these Senate races. The ad that he put out about a caravan of migrants over a thousand miles away, which most of the networks - even Fox News! - elected not to run, was so blatant, it made the Willie Horton ad look like a promo for the Salvation Army. Trump knew precisely what buttons to push with his supporters and, in one of the most disgraceful chapters in this nation's history, was rewarded handsomely last night.

And speaking of his supporters, it is clear that a lot of them aren't being accurately represented in the polling, whether by design or by accident. Going into the election, the polls showed McCaskill ostensibly in a tie, and both Donnelly and Nelson with small but consistent leads. As of this writing, only Nelson is still technically alive by virtue of a mandatory recount. However, it is doubtful he can overcome a 30,000 vote deficit.

Welcome to the Divided States of America; Trump's America. Not since the Reconstruction era have we seen such a deep and corrosive divide within the electorate. And if you think last night's results will change anything, you must be smoking the same stuff Bill Maher and Willie Nelson are smoking. If anything, we are more entrenched now than we were 24 hours ago.

Don't take my word for it. In Der Fuehrer's first press conference, he spent most of his time doubling down on his "fake news" charge - even verbally assaulting CNN's Jim Acosta - and threatening retribution against the new Democratic House majority if they dare hold his feet to the fire; in other words, if they do their jobs. Almost immediately after, Jeff Sessions, the beleaguered Attorney General, "resigned" and Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General, bypassing the current Acting AG, Rod Rosenstein. I fully expect Rosenstein to either quit or be fired in the next few days.

You don't need a road map to see where this is going. Whitaker is on record as being an ardent critic of the Russia probe and, even if he doesn't fire Robert Mueller, he can starve the investigation to such a degree that Mueller won't be a threat to Trump at all. I have been saying for months that Trump wants to end this investigation; he's been calling it a hoax since he was sworn into office. With Whitaker in place, he now has the means to, if not shut it down, at least cripple it.

And if you think that Trump gives a rat's ass about what Democrats might do with their new-found subpoena power, you haven't been paying much attention the last three years. This man has no regard for anything or anyone; his contempt for the rule of law holds no bounds. He will fight House Democrats tooth and nail all the way to the Supreme Court, where his new BFF, Brett Kavanaugh, may well cast the deciding vote on whether this Republic lives or dies. If you really want to know why Trump went to the mat for this guy, this is why. You can call this president many things but stupid isn't one of them.

So what should House Democrats do? Well for one thing, they should be fearless and ignore the so-called "experts" who will undoubtedly warn them not to overreach. Already Republicans and their conservative surrogates are making false equivalence arguments about the GOP's impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 that cost them seats in the House that year. Just to be clear, Clinton got a blowjob in the Oval Office and lied about it; Trump's corruption is so vast, as I've said before, he makes Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln. Any attempt to equate the two is obscene and offensive to anyone with half a brain.

The second thing they should do is pass as many bills as possible to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and to undo some of the damage of Trump's tax law that, come next April, will screw millions of middle-class families when they sit down and prepare their tax returns. They can start by removing the cap on SALT payments and restoring the personal exemptions that were stripped away in the law.

Then there's immigration reform. They can pass a real bill that improves border security while providing a pathway to citizenship for the millions of people who are here through no fault of their own. Yes, I know there's no way such a bill would ever make it to the floor of the Senate, but that's not the point. Voters gave Dems the majority expecting something. Being the party of No, like Republicans were during the Obama years, may be tempting for a few in the party, but as a long-term strategy, it will cost them their majority and any hope they have of winning back the White House in 2020.

Basically, Democrats will have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. They must be as tough as possible with this lawless president, while making it clear to the electorate that they are focused on accomplishing things while in office. Let Mitch McConnell take the heat for being Trump's wing man. I believe so long as Dems take care of their side of the street, they will be rewarded handsomely by the voters in the long run.

Of course, I'm also a Giants' fan who thought they'd be going to the playoffs this year, so what the hell do I know?