If you are reading this, you already know the national score from the November election. The Democrats won the presidency, added two seats in the Senate, and won eight seats in the House by over 500,000 votes – while remaining in the minority.
But 2012 is old news. Now, in Washington, focus is on the next opportunity, the next election. In 2014, the goal for the GOP is the Senate. Republicans need six seats to overtake the current Democratic majority. But the true prize is the presidency, coming in 2016.
Last year, Republicans tried to take back the White House and Senate by gaming the system. They failed, in their terms, because their candidate “too moderate” and several Senate candidates had “little slips of the tongue.” (Although to be fair, some very prominent voices said just the opposite; that the Republicans made “offensive remarks” and were being “the stupid party”). The voter suppression, er, registration laws that were supposed to turn states “red” for Romney were struck down before the election, or suspended until after this election.
However, progressives cannot rest on our laurels, and think that just because the GOP failed this time, they won’t try to manipulate their way back on top in 2014 and in 2016. Already, lawmakers in GOP-controlled states that went blue in 2012 are talking of “hope” and “change.” As in, “I hope we can compete in 2016 by changing the way the president is elected.” They will attempt to do this in several ways, as outlined “from the inside” superbly in a “memo” from the Democratic Strategist:
- Change the electoral vote allocation system
- Learn why their massive donation advantage failed them, and use funds more effectively
- Continue efforts to lock out voters from the American political system
The call for this change came from on high. Reince Priebus wants Republican-controlled blue states to change the current winner-take-all electoral system, currently in place in 48 states, to a district-by-district or proportional system. The truly maddening point of the district-by-district plan is that the two votes that come from the statewide seats would come from not the overall winner in the states, but whoever won more gerrymandered, GOP-favorable districts.
In Virginia, state Republicans voted to change this on the day they were sure to have a one vote majority; when a Democratic state senator and Civil Rights activist left Richmond on Martin Luther King Jr, Day to celebrate Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Other states considering this change include Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Notice that there are currently 30 states with Republican-control legislatures, but only six of these are being asked to change the way that they allocate electoral votes.
These proposals were met with immediate criticism from both left and right. Obviously the Democrats would not stand for it, but Republican Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and GOP Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan have come out against the proposals. (Perhaps both with an eye on 2016.) While the attempts to change the electoral allocation system seem to be at a standstill (except in Pennsylvania, where it is very much alive), there are still other ways that Republicans could subvert majority rule.
It should surprise no one that Republicans can raise more private money than Democrats. While both sides have big donors, in last election season the heavy-hitters were on the Republican side (despite the fact that many of these billionaires still made money hand over fist during Obama’s first term). Unless Citizens United is overturned, this advantage will persist.
The 2012 election was the first post-Citizens United presidential election. Thus, it was the first time that Republicans got to try out their new toy — unlimited campaign contributions to buy elections. Ultimately this effort failed, though the reasons why they failed are uncertain. Karl Rove and the leaders of other GOP super PACs must be asking themselves: “Why didn’t it work this time?”, “Where could we have spent money more effectively?”, and “How can make that money to work for us better in 2016?”
That last question that should have progressives worried. If Democrats didn’t have a well-oiled machine like Obama for America in 2012, or a candidate who drew voters from all demographics as the president did, Mitt Romney would probably be in the Oval Office today. I am not sure another candidate like Barack Obama exists in the Democratic Party right now, or any other party for that matter.
To compete with the money that will be thrown around in 2016, Democrats must keep the internal structure of OFA alive to raise similar funds from the smaller donors as we did in 2012. Small donations from many donors did the trick in 2008 and 2012. It must continue if Democrats are to remain victorious in 2016.
Another fun way that Republicans tried to change the Presidential election and elections in general, was to introduce and pass restrictive voter registration laws. The measures were designed to prevent “voter fraud” — such a big problem that a grand total of 633 cases have been prosecuted since 2000, out of approximately 350 million votes cast. That’s 0.0000018% of votes. It’s a small number, to be sure, but that did not stop Republicans from trying to enact these laws.
On the surface, it is perfectly reasonable that we make sure everyone who votes is registered and voting in the right district. However, these laws did target groups that tend to vote Democratic. Signs bearing helpful reminders such as “Voter fraud is a felony!” popped up in heavily Democratic neighborhoods.
The Brennan Center compiled a rundown of all the states that considered restrictive voting laws, and those that passed them. Several of these laws were overturned or blunted, limiting their effectiveness in 2012. But some will still be on the books in 2016. This means that Democrats need to either get these laws overturned, or (failing that) run campaigns to help their voters get IDs.
How to Keep on Rocking the Vote in 2016
The Republicans message after November’s shellacking was “If at first you don’t succeed, change the rules of the game so you can win the next time.” These changes could be devastating in the absence of a candidate like Obama. However, the Democrats still have a major advantage that’s for the American public to see: The majority of Americans support the progressive message, and Democrats who ran on the progressive message won big in 2012.
The benefit for Democrats in continuing on this path, appealing to the majority by embracing progressive positions, seems obvious. These are also positions that the GOP cannot and will not take.
Democrats must preach a progressive message of pushing forward, whatever the circumstances. The on the right will always try to halt that progress. This gave me pause as I watched the Inauguration. Even as the president publicly embraced progressive goals, some of those on the podium were already looking to undermine him and his party.
Voter suppression laws and the lack of big funders did not impede democracy this time around, but allowing the Republicans to change the rules in the middle of the game will. For all Mitch McConnell’s whining over the potential changes to the filibuster, this is truly a nuclear option.
The GOP knows that they cannot compete unless they change. But instead of trying to compete, they’re trying to change. Change the rules of the game, that is. This is more than a threat to Democrats or progressives. It is a threat to democracy itself. At every turn, patriots believe in the vision our founding fathers passed down to us must defend that vision against these internal threats to our democracy.