Yes, Barack Obama is taking a victory lap in his seventh year in office. Yes, Republicans can't find a credible candidate to so much as run for speaker of the House. Yes, the GOP presidential field is led by a megalomaniacal reality TV star. All this is true — but rather than lay the foundation for enduring Democratic success, all it's done is breed a wrongheaded atmosphere of complacence.Yglesias is right to highlight this problem. But in doing so, he hypes it so out of proportion that it becomes hard to take him seriously. For example, to draw the contrast between "complacent" Democrats and the success of Republicans, he actually writes this sentence.
The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
Not only have Republicans won most elections, but they have a perfectly reasonable plan for trying to recapture the White House.Given that he just mentioned the fact that the GOP's leading candidate to accomplish that task right now is a "megalomaniacal reality TV star," and that none of their establishment candidates seem capable of holding their own against him, it's hard to take that sentence seriously. But later on in the article, Yglesias get's more specific about that "perfectly reasonable plan."
The GOP, by contrast, has basically two perfectly plausible plans for moving its agenda forward. One is to basically change nothing and just hope for slightly better luck from the economic fundamentals or in terms of Democratic Party scandals. The other is to shift left on immigration and gain some Latino votes while retaining the core of the party's commitments. Neither of these plans is exactly brilliant, innovative, or foolproof. But neither one is crazy.I don't know that it's crazy for a political party to count on an economic downturn or the possibility of finding and hyping a Democratic scandal as their plan for winning the White House. But it's a pretty good indication that their agenda is weak and inept if that's all they've got. And please...wake me up when Republicans decide to shift left on immigration. The entire Trump-mania phenomenon has been based of shifting right on that issue (look no further than Marco Rubio's flip-flop on that one).
While everyone else is noticing that the Republican Party is in chaos right now, Yglesias actually thinks they're doing just great.
Much of the current Republican infighting — embarrassing and counterproductive though it may be at times — reflects the healthy impulse to recognize that the party lacks the full measure of power that it desires, and needs to argue about optimal strategies for obtaining it.I fail to see how the efforts of the Ted Cruz and Freedom Caucus wing of the Republican Party to stall any attempt to actually implement an agenda since 2014 are a "healthy impulse." At the beginning of this legislative session Majority Leader McConnell hoped to pass legislation that would force vetos from President Obama and make him look like the obstructionist. The chaos sparked by the Republican insurgents kept that from happening.
Yglesias is right to point out that Democrats have a problem with losing control of Congress as well as too many state legislatures and governor's races. But his analysis of why that has happened and what to do about it is deeply flawed.
First of all, he suggests that they haven't even admitted the problem and are instead focused on the competition in the presidential race between Clinton and Sanders about how far left to go. My response to that is that we are in the midst of a primary and that's what happens during this phase of an election. But here's how Yglesias sees things:
Consequently, the party is marching steadily to the left on its issue positions — embracing same-sex marriage, rediscovering enthusiasm for gun control, rejecting the January 2013 income tax rate settlement as inadequate, raising its minimum wage aspirations to the $12-to-$15 range, abandoning the quest for a grand bargain on balancing the budget while proposing new entitlements for child care and parental leave...Yes, the Democrats are embracing a platform that has broad-based appeal among voters while the Republicans continue to paint themselves into a more extremist corner. You are going to have to convince me how that is a problem.
While it's true that Democrats have done poorly in the 2010 and 2014 midterms (and there has been no shortage of handwringing in the Party about that), Yglesias does a good job of summarizing why that happened.
1. The natural distribution of population in the United States tends to lead the average House district to be more GOP-friendly than the overall population.Too few of the people analyzing this issue have acknowledged #4. Our memories sometimes don't take us back far enough to remember that the 2006 midterms during the Bush/Cheney presidency were a bit of a wave in the other direction.
2. GOP control of most state legislatures lets Republicans draw boundaries in a way that is even more GOP-friendly than the natural population distribution would suggest.
3. Incumbents have large advantages in House elections, and most incumbents are Republicans.
4. So-called "wave" elections in which tons of incumbents lose are typically driven by a backlash against the incumbent president. Since the incumbent president is a Democrat, Democrats have no way to set up a wave.
The problem with midterms is that we seem to have come to a place where anger at an incumbent president is the motivating factor for the few who actually turn out to vote. That is not only what happened in terms of control of Congress in '06, '10 and '14, it also has an effect on state elections. That is a problem we should all be concerned about.
But we're not facing a midterm election in 2016. Control of the Senate is in play this time around, but Democrats probably won't win a majority in the House (even though they are likely to pick up House seats as they did in both the 2008 and 2012). Rather than complacency, the Democratic presidential front-runner is offering a platform that not only provides a vision for going forward, she is making a clear distinction between the Democratic agenda and the Republican extremist fear-mongering. The choice for voters going into 2016 cannot be more clear.
If, as so many did in 2014, Democrats shy away from that distinction going into the 2018 midterms, we can raise the specter of complacency and denial.