Commentary: Premature Celebration

Nov 29, 2017

Earlier this month, according to many in the media, Democrats held an election and – guess what?  -- they won.  They won governorships in New Jersey and Virginia and made big gains in the Virginia state legislature.  Much has been made of this – Democrats are back, went the narrative.

My question was: Were these people looking at the same election results that I was?  New Jersey is a bright blue state that reverted to the norm of electing a Democratic governor.  Virginia is a trending blue state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.  Actually the big news would have been a Democratic defeat in either state.

It took a week for me to read a national columnist who said this – Dave Leonhardt in the New York Times.  So far all the scheduled elections have played out predictably, as have the four special elections for Congress.  But Democrats and their allies in the national media are pretty excited.

Actually Democrats remain in deep trouble and a defeat, especially in Virginia, could have been the wakeup call they desperately need.  They have three fundamental problems.

They can’t escape identity politics.  Here’s a quote from a recent column by Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review:

The DNC’s data services manager recently sent out an email soliciting applications for new hires in the IT department.  She cautioned that she wasn’t looking for any “cisgender straight white males.” 

Goldberg goes on to say: “If you want to know how Trump was elected, ask yourself how a laid-off, cisgender, straight white male coal miner who went back to community college to learn computers might react to that.”

Second, Democrats can’t escape the Clintons.  Hillary was named Democratic Woman of the Year recently.  Given all her gifts to the GOP during the 2016 campaign and before, I can make an argument that she is also Republican Woman of the Year.  And some prominent female Democrats are now having second thoughts about their support of Bill Clinton back in the day.

Finally, the GOP has lots of serious problems – a topic for a future commentary for sure – but a problem they don’t have is being out of power.  They have the presidency.  They have the Senate.  They have the House.  They have more governorships and state legislatures than at any time since 1922.  They have not only power but also substantial margin for error.

Democrats did not take care of business during the Obama administration.  They lost 1000 legislative seats and had their farm system wiped out.  So Democrats can celebrate their recent victories for a short while and build on their new energy.  But they must return soon to the sober business of rebuilding their party.