The Path Forward

Looking at the Republican debacle over Health Care, I was constantly reminded of two things.

First, I keep on thinking of a classic Saturday Night Live skit from their third season portraying Richard Nixon as a vampire-like figure who keeps coming back.  Like Nixon in that skit, just when we think that the Republican efforts at gutting health care are done, they find a way to resurrect the bill.  Since the Senate never actually voted on the final bill (which was put back on the calendar after the substitute amendment failed), it could be brought back to the floor at any time.

Second, I am reminded of Representative Pelosi’s comments while the Affordable Care Act was pending that we would not know what was in the bill until it finally passed.  While Republicans made a lot of hay out of this comment, she was expressing the reality of the legislative process.  Until the vote on the final version of the bill, it is possible that legislators will add new provisions and delete others.  Normally, however, under ordinary process, there is a core of the bill that stays relatively the same.  With this bill, the Republicans have treated the bill as a placeholder.  The message in the House and the Senate has been just pass this bill whatever its flaws and we can decide on the real terms of the bill later.  The concept that the conference committee would write an entire bill from scratch as opposed to merely reconciling the disagreements between the two houses is mindboggling.

Of course, health care was not the only example of the dysfunction of the Republican Party and the never-ending drama that is the Trump Administration.  We have tweets announcing a reprehensible policy directive requiring the military to discharge well-qualified soldiers merely because of their gender identify with no apparent work having been done on how to implement that policy.   We have a communications director whose only skill is to coarsen the national conversation triumphing over an experienced political operative who has a clue of how to get things done in D.C.

Of course, the utter failure of the Republican Party as a governing party merely provides an opening for Democratic ideas.  One of the hard things about any democracy is that activists can get easily frustrated during the period between elections.  Our actions, while important to keep the debate going, do not bear immediate positive results.  At this point in time, the summer of the first year, the campaigns for the mid-term election are just starting to come together (and some potential winning candidates are still considering whether they will run).

During the first year of an Administration, the main campaigns are special elections and New Jersey and Virginia.  Special elections can be frustrating.  Barring deaths, special elections tend to be to replace members who have moved on to higher-ranking positions and tend to be in somewhat safe districts.  (For those interested in helping in these elections, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is a good source for the state legislative races. )  Obviously for the races in New Jersey and Virginia, the state parties are a good source of information.

Looking at 2018, the Green Papers is a good source of information for who has already set up a campaign committee for 2018.  However, as noted above, many potential candidates have yet to make a final decision about whether they will run in 2018.  Until these races firm up, it is a little early to make projections about 2018.  Obviously, the Democratic incumbent senators running in states that Trump won could use support now.   The reality of politics is that people tend to run when they think they can win.  If Democratic incumbents look difficult to beat, some top Republican contenders may choose to run for re-election to their current seats rather than challenging for a Senate seat.  The ugly reality is that Democrats did very well in 2012, meaning that we will have to defend a large number of seats and that we have very few good Senate targets.  We have at least one strong candidate in Nevada and Texas.  Democrats are still looking for candidates in Arizona.  (In Texas, we might be better off if the rumors of Ted Cruz replacing Jeff Sessions are true.  The rules for the special election would potentially allow for a Democrat vs. Democrat run-off.)

And, of course, the 2020 process has already started.  Right now the big activity is the Unity Reform Commission which will make recommendations to the Rules and By-laws committee by January 2018.  Obviously, they have a difficult task ahead but they have a survey on the DNC website for those members of the public who want input.  There are a lot of issues for them to decide including how open primaries and caucuses should be and the role of the superdelegates.  There are a lot of pros and cons on both issues.  I would note that Donald Trump is the President of the United States because of the differences between the Republican rules and the Democratic rules.  Under the Democratic rules, Donald Trump would have faced a contested convention and the superdelegates would have been in a position to play a significant role in stopping him from getting the nomination.  Under the Republican rules, many of their superdelegates were legally required to vote for Trump.  My own personal preference is to keep the superdelegates as unpledged delegates but to give them a fraction of a vote to reduce their influence.  (In the Republican Party, superdelegates represent about 5% of the floor vote.  In the Democratic Party, superdelegates represent about 15% of the floor vote.)

Right now, we know what we have to fight for.  We know that the 2018 elections will be key (both for policy reasons and for redistricting in 2021).  But it is the early days of the 2018 campaign.  The important thing is to keep the eyes on the prize and do the little things to help build up local parties so that the grassroots infrastructure is in place twelve months from now when the 2018 campaigns begin to ramp up.  Voter registration and petition drives over local issues are not always glamorous, but they are where those resources are developed.

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