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A majority is not enough by @BloggersRUs

A majority is not enough

by Tom Sullivan


Note: Red/blue shading is not a political marker in map above.

If there is anything confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh this week have proved, it is how important U.S. Senate elections are. Senators confirm Supreme Court justices. Red states control a number of Senate seats disproportionate to their populations. Only a couple of months ago, I mentioned where that trend is taking us:


By 2040, Philip Bump responds, "30 percent of the population of the country will control 68 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Or, more starkly, half the population of the country will control 84 percent of those seats."
For a state where the votes split roughly evenly Democrat:Republican, and with a U.S. House delegation gerrymandered to split 3:10, North Carolina Democrats already have a sense of what that is like.

Just after the November 2016 election, I argued there were not enough blue states to elect enough Democratic senators for a veto-proof, two-thirds majority. Even a four-vote margin would take 27 states with two Democratic senators each. Hillary Clinton won 20.

There may yet be an emerging Democratic majority nationally. The problem is not numbers but distribution. Russia aside, the 2016 presidential election was an object lesson in how the Democrats' triple bank-shot approach to presidential elections works, or doesn't. Progressives and the Democratic Party have lacked a strategy to address that problem for decades, excepting Howard Dean's 50-state plan which was as promising as it was short-lived.

Distributing my For The Win primer this year has been instructive for illustrating why Democrats lose heartland Senate seats. Examine at the top of this post my most current map showing counties where I have sent it. Except for states which for various reasons I did not "spam" (AK, CT, DE, HI, MA, NH, NJ, RI, VT), counties in the center of the country showing no color either had no Democratic organizations or committees with no discernible digital footprint as of March 2018. (One cannot email a 5 Meg file to a land line.)

If you don't show up to play, you forfeit

Granted, many of those Plains States counties have small populations. (Nebraska has roughly a dozen counties with populations under 1,000.) But Democratic strategists inside the Beltway have for years essentially forfeited such states (and with exceptions, their Senate seats) to Republicans. How dare Dean spend money organizing out there when those funds could be better spent in places with more electoral votes? But what the distribution of that elusive Democratic majority could leave them with is permanent control of the U.S. House and permanent minority status in the Senate and on the Supreme Court.

The Great Compromise and in-migration to cities has handed less-populated states disproportionate representation in the Senate. Republican senators, as we have seen, will not challenge an unhinged, unfit, and amoral president for fear of their jobs. Only red-state senators with a political death-wish (Republicans or Democrats) will support a constitutional amendment to reconfigure the Senate and lessen the political clout of their less-populous states. If Democrats expect to avoid permanent minority status in the Senate and on the Supreme Court, they have no choice but to win Senate seats in states where they are now uncompetitive. Establishment pols are unlikely to support that. The progressive movement will have to.

One obstacle to that is less-engaged progressives' fixation on top-of-ticket races. Here in North Carolina, the Republican super-majority in the legislature since 2012 is wreaking havoc even with a Democratic governor. Fortunately, the kind of expanded organizing and engagement that can reclaim state legislatures can also help retake U.S. Senate seats. But many just waking up to the threat still look to Washington for answers that are not coming.

After years of following national politics, it was only this year it finally dawned on me why. What most Americans think they know about party politics comes from watching the quadrennial presidential election. It is the only time they are paying close attention. And besides, the media coverage is unavoidable.

So, too, with many progressive activists one meets. Federal candidates and national issues hold more interest for them than local matters. Yet, control of state legislators that draw (or currently draw) state and federal district boundaries is necessary before a progressive majority can govern like one. In states as well as nationally, progressives cannot wall themselves off in cities and expect to advance their national agendas. As I wrote last year:

But we are where we are, in part, because Democrats chasing the "emerging Democratic majority" saw changing demographics as favoring them in presidential and statewide races. They abandoned the countryside, focusing instead on the concentrations of blue voters in the cities. That left the plains and mountain states and rural counties (and their elected seats) to the tender mercies of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Ask the South Vietnamese how holding the cities and leaving the countryside to their opponents worked out.
What a shrinking white population fears is being just another minority in a country it knows too well treats minorities badly. Not to put too fine a point on it, since the country's founding they and their forebears have been doing the treating. What progressives and Democrats face now and in the near future is similar. Except, they face being a permanent minority in the U.S. Senate and on the Supreme Court while nationally holding a numerical majority.

The situation is not so unlike the pre-Civil War period when the prospective admission of new, non-slave states threatened to dilute Southern states' leverage in Congress and thus their ability to stave off the abolition of slavery. In this instance, however, swelling populations in blue states do not add to Democrats' clout in the Senate nor add to the ability of a numerical majority of Americans to see their interests defended by the Supreme Court. That privilege already lies with red states where Democrats find little footing, largely through neglect.

I wrote during the last presidential race, President Bernie could not solve that problem. Neither could President Hillary. Neither can abolishing the Electoral College. Short of secession, that problem has to be addressed today, on the ground, locally, by Democrats and progressives organizing, learning, engaging their neighbors, and winning them over.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.