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Is it the Democrats who are really in trouble?

At present, there are seven states in which Democrats control both houses of the Legislature plus the governor’s office. The equivalent figure for Republicans is 25.

That is one of several factors that Matthew Yglesias employs (in a piece this morning on to argue that Democrats — who are enjoying the strange clown-car race for the Republican presidential nomination and the meltdown of the Republican majority in the U.S. House — are in denial. The Democratic Party is the one that is in “deep trouble,” Yglesias argues, and has “no plan to save itself.”

(An aside: If  you think “clown-car” is an unfair description, consider that the Alex Castellanos, the Republican analyst on a “Meet the Press” panel Sunday, referred to the Repub race as a “dumpster fire.”)

But Yglesias is arguing that what is happening at the state and local level is a better harbinger of what’s ahead. Not only does complete control of 25 states allow Repubs to implement their programs at the state level without having to compromise with Dems, but that complete control at the state level means one-party control of the map for Congressional districts, which then becomes a significant advantage in maintaining Repub control of the U.S. House.

(Of course, Minnesota, with a Democratic governor and a DFL majority in the state Senate but a Repub majority in the state House, is one of the remaining 18 states that are not on either list.)

In addition to 70 percent of state legislatures, Yglesias notes, Republican control…

“more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state… And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won’t lose power in the House and are hungry for a vigorous argument about how best to use the power they have.”

Yes, of course, Yglesias acknowledges, the presidency is very important. And, although he doesn’t specify this, he seems to accept the conventional wisdom that odds favor the election of the Democratic nominee in 2016 (to the extent that, from this distance in time, such odds might mean anything). But, he continues:

“[Republicans] have a perfectly reasonable plan for trying to recapture the White House. But Democrats have nothing at all in the works to redress their crippling weakness down the ballot. Democrats aren’t even talking about how to improve on their weak points, because by and large they don’t even admit that they exist.”

By the way, Yglesias, if you are unfamiliar with his work, considers himself a liberal but is known for his willingness to follow the facts where he thinks they lead, even when they make him look like he is breaking liberal ranks, so much so that conservative (sort of) blogger Andrew Sullivan gives out an annual award that he named:

“The Yglesias Award — for writers, politicians, columnists or pundits who actually criticize their own side, make enemies among political allies, and generally risk something for the sake of saying what they believe.”

I like at least the spirit of that.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/19/2015 - 03:14 pm.

    Gerry Mander

    That’s who controls the House and the State legislatures.
    Republicans gained a 58 seat majority while getting only 52% of the total national vote.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/19/2015 - 04:11 pm.

    Electoral votes

    To understand whether Republican control of statehouses portends a Republican victory in the presidential race, it would be helpful to total up the electoral votes in those Republican states. If you look at the electoral map of this country, you see that Republicans run very well in states with few if any voters. Indeed the constitution gives them a bit of an edge since even unpopulated states have three electoral votes where they only have on Congressman, giving them three times the influence their population would justify.

    It’s one of the weird things about the way elections turn out is that while Democrats have an edge in the electoral college whose membership should roughly correspond to the House of Representatives, the fact is, Democrats have virtually no chance at all of taking the House until after the next reapportionment in 2022. This is the result, in part, of gerrymandering, but also I am told because of the distribution of the population.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/19/2015 - 08:16 pm.

      Same thing

      When voting districts are drawn so that urban areas with a high population density (and mostly Democratic) contain most of the Democratic voters concentrated in a few districts, Republicans gain disproportionate control.
      If it were a requirement that all congressional districts contained (plus or minus 5%) the same populations, this degree of gerrymandering would not be possible and Democrats would control the House.
      Same for Electoral districts (how many voters in a New York City electoral district vs. one in upstate New York?).

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/20/2015 - 10:41 am.


        I am no expert on this stuff, but what I have read is that the level of concentration of Democratic voters in specific areas makes even the most aggressive gerrymandering would ensure a Democratic majority. This is not to say that some gerrymandering wouldn’t help, but it’s much more difficult for Democrats than Republicans.

        The law is that the populations of the Congressional districts in reapportionment must have exactly the same populations. Now that is probably literally impossible but the margin of difference is much less than five percent. This is a bit off topic but one issue that’s come up lately is whether prisoners should be counted as residing in the area where they live. As a rule prisoners can’t vote. Also, as a rule, prisons are located in rural areas that tend to vote Republican. If prisoners are counted for residency purposes, the effect would be to enhance is to increase the size and probably number of Republican districts. I should add here for clarification, Congressional districts under the constitution are apportioned according to number of residences, not according to citizens or voters. So even a non citizen non voting prisoner could, arguably count as a resident for voting purposes.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/19/2015 - 09:52 pm.

    But I thought

    That congressional districts were based upon population, hence the adjustment with census results every ten years. I believe that the target population is around 700,000 people but there is flexibility so as to handle sparsely populated areas of the country and so as not to split urban apartment building down the middle.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/20/2015 - 09:42 am.

      You’re right

      My mistake.
      Doesn’t change the main point about gerrymandering and concentration of voters into single party districts.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/20/2015 - 11:17 am.

        Without such Gerrymandering

        the Congressional Black Caucus would not exist. Those districts in the South were created to ensure black congressional representation.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/20/2015 - 01:41 pm.

          The reality is

          that those districts were created to concentrate (Democratic voting) blacks in a few districts that already voted Democratic, while reducing the Democratic vote in districts that the Republicans hoped to carry.
          With more equal representation, a Black Caucus might not be necessary.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/20/2015 - 09:30 am.

    Yglesias has a nice piece

    but he overlooked a few things worthy of mention.

    Bench strength: Democrats and the pundit class have tried to make fun of the “clown car” that is the republican candidates, but republican voters are enjoying the smorgasbord of choices. (We are the party who believes in free markets and consumer choice, after all).

    Even after discarding three successful governors (Perry, Walker, Jindal), the choice of nine viable candidates remains, the most attractive of which include (by “attractive,” I mean I would vote for any of them without hesitation)

    3 popular and successful governors (Kasich, Christie, Bush)
    3 exciting, young senators (Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul)
    3 successful non-politicians – (Trump, Carson, Fiorina)

    Each has his/her own strengths, ideas and priorities, but all fit nicely under of the umbrella of republicanism.

    In contrast, the democrats’ only serious candidates consist of a 75 year-old unelectable socialist and an unprincipled woman under FBI investigation for possible violation of the Espionage Act.

    The focus of most network news today is the breathless anticipation of whether of not a twice-failed candidate for president, a man most known for his frequent and embarrassing gaffs, decides to run for a third time. Any good democrat has to be embarrassed for his party.

    The 2014 midterms devastated the bench of experienced, viable democrats who could be called upon to bail out the party in its hour of need. The denial of Mrs. Clinton’s problems and the Joe Biden fiasco illustrates just how desperate the situation has become.

    Finally, gun rights. For those who’ve ever had the dream of banning hand guns in this country, the proliferation of republican-controlled state governments has meant that 44 states now allow open carry of a firearm (including Minnesota) and 11 states allow for open carry of firearms without even applying for a permit! And with an intractable republican control of congress, good luck overturning any of that.

  5. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/20/2015 - 11:14 am.

    I am afraid the Republicans are self destructing, and nothing they do will stop some degree of Democratic Party victory. There is a bipartisan problem, though.

    Things used to work after a fashion, but about the only way now is for Republicans to go away because they neither party acts as a coherent check on the other as both attempt to hold the pendulum to their side, the Republicans so much so that we might as well not have a government for how well things work. Fortunately, government still works as Democrats and what other reasonable folks remain the loyal opposition in government let time pass with a work ethic of sorts.

    Of course what really has to happen is the Citizens Reform Act of 2017. Democrats will do fine if they campaign to embrace and repair our democracy. Reapportionment and other good stuff can’t really happen until you break the grip of big money in politics. Republicans have no hope or desire to do so as they will continue to serve big money whatever and whomever they say they serve on the stump. #letlessigdebate

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/20/2015 - 11:16 am.

    The Current Level of Gerrymandered Districts

    Does, indeed, put Democrats at a disadvantage when it comes to regaining the U.S. House,…

    but I suspect it is a temporary disadvantage.

    As we saw in Minnesota, and currently see in Kansas and Wisconsin (and a collection of other states),…

    when we hand the reigns to the Republicans they consistently prove that their ideas have no basis in reality,…

    and that no matter how much the truly believe those ideas MUST CERTAINLY work,…

    and no matter how much they double down on them when they clearly DON’T work…

    the fact remains that they don’t work, and can’t work, and never will work,…

    because they ignore the justified tyranny of basic mathematics,…

    and they ignore the most basic tenets of human nature.

    Our Republican friends, wherever they’re in control are currently cooking their own collective “goose” far beyond delectably golden brown.

    By the time they’re done, that “goose” will be such a black, charred, lump,…

    that even the pan and roasting rack will have to be discarded.

    The public will be only too happy to discard anything labeled “Republican” for a very long time to come.

    Likely in less than ten years that charred goose will be long forgotten as the Democrats,…

    together with the increasingly-ascendant moderate Republicans,…

    go back to making policy based on facts, figures, statistics, evidence,…

    and the nature of humans as they actually live and react to the circumstances of their lives.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/22/2015 - 08:25 am.

    In the short term…

    Republicans may run the table here and there but it’s an imploding party and the tensions we’re seeing on the national level will eventually trickle down to the local races. It’s hard for a party to remain credible if they can’t govern, or put a candidate in the White House.

    I think it’s true that the democrats don’t have a plan, and that they are largely AWOL in terms of exploiting the republican melt-down, but that’s the democrats since the advent of the DLC. Unfortunately for the republicans the lack of democratic coordination doesn’t help them survive because they are their own biggest enemy. Eventually the republicans will be routed in places like KA and WI and that may happen on a breathtaking scale.

  8. Submitted by Mike Davidson on 10/24/2015 - 10:25 am.

    State Not National

    I do not believe the Democrats are in trouble nationally. Despite a plethora of candidates from which to choose, the Republican party’s top contenders do not appeal to Independents and moderate Democrats who are willing to vote GOP if they like the candidate. Ben Carson, though leading, is showing himself to be about as extreme as Huckabee and Santorum. The party’s only mainstream candidate, Jeb Bush, is in the process of imploding because he can’t shut up about 9/11. Rubio has cash problems. This is the first election cycle in decades Democrats have an actual, legitimate shot at keeping the White House for a third successive term. As for Congress, retaking the Senate is a matter of math. In 2016 Republicans simply have too many seats to defend, so recapturing control of the U.S. Senate should be relatively easy. Couple the internal meltdowns in the House GOP caucus and the disastrous Benghazi hearings, and Democrats should easily be able to exploit these weaknesses.

    As for the US House of Representatives, Republicans will control that body at least until 2021 depending on the 2020 election. The reason is gerrymandering. All of the redistricting that occurred in 2011 all but guaranteed that. For that, we Democrats have no one to blame but ourselves. Too many of us stay home during mid-term elections. Other than the 2006 mid-terms, I cannot recall a mid-term election in my teenage years or adult lifetime that favored Democrats. This ties back to state and local elections.

    Many state and local elections are decided during mid-term elections. If Democrats/liberals/progressives can’t be bothered to come out in droves and vote, then we cannot reasonably expect to affect the changes and policies Democrats want to make. Put another way, let’s go ahead and assume we keep the White House and retake the U.S. Senate … victory? Yes, that’s a victory, but a small one. Unless we can put a dent in Republican control of state houses and state legislatures around the country, it will just be like rewinding the clock a few years before the 2014 mid-terms.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 10/25/2015 - 02:24 am.

      Regarding those local elections

      Many of them are held in odd-numbered years. Election day is just over a week away, yet many Democrats who show up for every midterm won’t bother voting. The winners of these offices might not be in Congress, but they still have impact, and they form a bench of candidates for higher office.

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