Co-Director Campaign for America's Future
Washington has been fascinated by Republican self-laceration since the 2012 election. Karl Rove triggered a circular firing squad by vowing to take out unwashed challengers in GOP primaries. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal begged Republicans to stop being the “stupid party.” Strategists say the party can’t survive as stale, pale and male. Tea Party legislators knee-cap GOP congressional “leaders” and well-funded political PACs strafe any who dare deviate from the party’s unpopular gospel. Republicans are even talking about changing “Grand Old Party” to something more fashionable.
Representative Paul Ryan’s newest budget will put every Republican on record voting to turn Medicare into a voucher, gut Medicaid, repeal Obamacare, savage investment in education and leave some 50 million Americans without health insurance. Not surprisingly, polls suggest Congress is less popular than colonoscopies, and Republicans poll at the lowest levels on record.
The reengaged president is pressing reforms on immigration, gun violence, gay marriage and climate change. These issues help consolidate his majority – the “rising American electorate” of young voters, minorities and single women.
All this has Democrats thinking wistfully about taking back the House of Representatives, holding the Senate, ending gridlock and driving a new surge of progressive reform.
Well, sober up.
The 2014 midterm election is more likely to be a debacle for Democrats than Republicans. It will take a true political miracle for Democrats to take back the House. Republicans need to win a net of six Senate seats to take the Senate – with six Democratic seats up in red states, and seven in swing states. Four sitting Democratic senators are retiring compared to only two Republicans, both from safe red states.
The Bi-election Blues
The party of a sitting president generally loses seats in a sixth-year bi-election in normal times – from voter fatigue if nothing else. Democrats face an additional obstacle because their base – that rising American electorate – tends to stay home in large numbers in non-presidential years.
As 2010 demonstrated, the 2014 electorate may be older, whiter and more male than the 2012 voters who re-elected President Barack Obama. House Republicans have exacted every edge possible in reapportionment, leaving only about 74 competitive seats in play in 2014. It would take a wave election to unseat their majority.
Worse, these are not normal times. For all the offensive extremism of the Tea Party-dominated GOP, there will be one overriding issue in 2014, just as in 2010: the economy. There the Democrats are likely to be in big trouble.
Voters tend to blame the party in power – the president’s party – for the economy. And the 2014 economy is likely to be lousy. Americans are struggling with falling wages and growing insecurity. More than 20 million people are still in need of full-time work. Most of the jobs now being created have lower pay and benefits than those that were lost.
The economy slowed at the end of 2012 even before Americans were hit with the end of the payroll tax holiday, which will cut an estimated $1,000 out of the typical family’s annual paycheck, and the sequester cuts that are likely to be more disruptive than expected. Growth is expected to slow to 1.5 percent this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (CBO predicts a rebound in 2014 – but CBO always assumes the economy will rebound in the out years). The richest 1 percent captured a stunning 121 percent of the income growth in 2009 and 2010, while 99 percent actually lost ground. That is only likely to get worse, not better, as growth slows.
The Democratic base is likely to be demoralized and disenchanted. Obama’s emerging coalition – the rising American electorate – is sinking together.
Blacks, Latinos, the young and the single and divorced have all lost ground over the last decade, compared to the country as a whole. Young people carry more debt. Blacks have double the unemployment rate as whites. Women have 36 percent of the wealth of men. African-American women have lost more jobs since the recovery began than they lost in the recovery. Meanwhile, Republican governors across the country continue their relentless assault on labor.
Democrats risk replaying the 2010 midterm debacle. When the Democrats gained control of the White House and Congress after 2008, they inherited an economy in free-fall. The recovery act, emergency action by the Federal Reserve and heavy lifting to prop up the financial sector staunched the collapse.
Obama, seeking to rise above partisan bickering, chose not to pound on the failure of conservative ideology. Worse, by the fall of 2009, he turned to deficit reduction, espousing what became the Bowles-Simpson Commission and calling for a freeze in government salaries in his 2010 State of the Union Address. His campaign team geared up to sell “recovery summer.” With mass unemployment, falling wages and millions of homeowners underwater, Democrats went into the election of 2010 seeking to tout what recovery we had. They were decimated. (more…)