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Est. April 5, 2002
July 26, 2018 - Issue 752

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Democrats’ Midterm Conundrums

"Most disturbing are the Democratic leaders’ criticisms
of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who toppled ten-term
Congressman Joe Crowley, the fourth ranking member
in the House Democratic caucus, in New York’s 14th District. 
They seem not to grasp that her focus on kitchen table
issues was the key to her victory, and that
they would do well to follow suit."

Trump Updates to the Midterms:

  • Recent polls show that Trump’s approval ratings range from 38 percent to 45 percent, his highest ratings during his Presidency despite his disgraceful performance last week at the Helsinki Summit where he continuously genuflected to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Trump has a stranglehold on Republicans with nearly 90 percent supporting him through his political ‘thick and thin,’ while 36 percent of Independents remain behind him along with single-digit Democrats.

  • However, it must be recognized that these Trump polls are much less accurate due to pollsters skewing toward Republicans (Rasmussen) or Democrats (Gallup). Furthermore, in a polarized electorate, many respondents are untruthful in their answers as they are reluctant to be viewed negatively by saying they are Trump acolytes.

  • The enthusiasm polls show that Democrats lead Republicans by nine points (51 percent to 42 percent) for the upcoming midterms, a gap that should be viewed with extreme caution as enthusiasm does not cast a vote, people do.

Democrats are in a political conundrum with less than four months left until votes are cast in the midterms. Although projected to take back the House by picking up more than two dozen seats, their political tactics remain at best confused. Notwithstanding the Democratic base’s strong opposition to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is refusing to lead a no holds barred strategy to block it. He has quietly given permission to three Democratic Senators, in tough reelection battles in Red states Trump carried by more than 30 points, to vote for Kavanaugh: Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Joe Manchin (D-WVA).

Schumer believes that he can regain the Senate majority by allowing Democrats wide berths on which parts of Trump policies they choose to support. In other words, these Senators will function as Democrats in Name Only (DINO). Such an approach to rebuilding a Democratic Senate advantage is as laughable as it is tragic.

Unlike their Republican colleagues, the Democrats still have muddled positions to take into the midterms. They are for and against abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency; they are committed to conducting a civil discourse with Trump while their base is ‘chomping at the bit’ for a more aggressive response as evidenced by Congresswoman Maxine Waters; Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair, has put his thumb on the scale in supporting New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo in his primary race (as former DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, did for Hillary Clinton in her 2016 presidential primary); and it is under-funding female and minority candidates running in the midterms.

But most disturbing are the Democratic leaders’ criticisms of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who toppled ten-term Congressman Joe Crowley, the fourth ranking member in the House Democratic caucus, in New York’s 14th District. They seem not to grasp that her focus on kitchen table issues was the key to her victory, and that they would do well to follow suit.

However, the Democrats have under-invested in setting up the infrastructure for getting out the vote (GOTV) among its supporters. Naively, it is believed that simply sending out well-known surrogates—former President Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other would be 2020 aspirants for the Democratic presidential nomination, will be the key to Democrats winning House races. Although several of the aforementioned Senators campaigned for Doug Jones in his upset 2017 win over Judge Roy Moore for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, his victory had more to do with his laser-focused state-level campaign focus than on any of the aforementioned Senate helicopter drop-ins.

Meanwhile, Trump has launched a national battle plan to elect GOP House and Senate members and governors as he crisscrosses the country with his signature rallies bashing Democrats and his designated ‘fake media.’ He is so fixated on the latter that he caused a kerfuffle when he chastised his staff on Air Force One for watching TV news channels other than Fox News on his return from the Helsinki Summit. The rigidity with which he makes all Republicans tow his party line is to be respected if not admired and/or feared.

Another omission of Democrats is the lack of attention given to public-sector employees, especially teachers and their unions, in the aftermath of their devastating defeat by SCOTUS in the Janus case which eliminated the right of unions to collect fees from non-union members. This decision will cost unions millions of dollars and likely millions of members over time as they leave and as prospective members do not join. There has been almost no Democratic show of concern about this loss which would have served to revitalize an essential component of the long-term Democratic Party foundation.

Teachers, in particular, could be the deciding voting group in state legislative, House, and Senate midterm races. The extent to which they are not fully engaged may spell defeat for Democratic candidates in the Blue states of Maryland and New Jersey where their votes could flip House seats into Democratic hands, aiding in taking back the House, and where they could help shift the governorship to a Democrat in Maryland. Moreover, the recently elected Democratic governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, has apparently backpedaled on overhauling and equalizing public school funding, a key plank of his campaign platform, which teachers overwhelmingly supported in their turnout and voting.

After he was elected, he quickly pivoted and made legalizing marijuana the centerpiece of his first 100 day schedule which he has been unable to pass. In the meantime, the Democratically-controlled Assembly and Senate have balked at his inaction on this measure, causing other progressive legislation—pension reform—to be held up. This is another example of Democrats’ failure to attend to the needs of a vital component of its base.

These conundrums are aiding Trump in maintaining his Republican majority as he has demonstrated his ability to advance a unified front to the voting public which his base finds appealing and that energizes them to turn out and vote for his candidates.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 

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