The 2018 election looks at first glance like a wash: Republicans gained seats in the Senate and Democrats regained control of the House with enough of a margin to ensure that they can put some limits on presidential power.
But longer term impacts of 2018 are, I believe, more significant. In this election, with President Trump as party leader pushing a rabidly racist claim that immigrants fleeing from the largely US-caused poverty, chaos and violence in Honduras hoping for a better life for their kids in the US were actually an “invasion” of the US that would bring across the border everything from disease to Arab terrorists, gangs and dark-skinned rapists, and with his claiming that Democrats were behind what he labeled a “caravan” of tens of thousands (it is really just several thousand mostly young people and parents with children and babies), Republicans have hit bottom.
By having accepted Trump’s malignant campaign assistance and his anti-semitic and evidence-free hints that the Jewish immigrant investor George Soros has been funding the Honduran march, Republicans are now clearly self-identified as the party of paranoid racist and sexist white older and often evangelical Christian males (and their wives), of people with a limited education, and of rural voters with little knowledge of or interest in the larger world. Democrats by default, are the party of educated white people who oppose racism, of non-whites, and increasingly, of the young or all races, and clearly too of women, as the large number of women elected to office in this latest election dramatically attests. Since Trump’s racist campaigning obviously worked in some races — notably in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia and several other states where the margin between candidates for Senate and Governor were narrow to begin with — this reprehensible tactic will likely be adopted by the party’s candidates in 2020 and future election cycles.
Clarifying how loathsome the already awful Republican Party has become is a good thing. But on the downside, the Nov. 6 election also showed that the percentage of Americans who will reflexively respond to racist dog-whistle campaigns is frighteningly high. President Trump’s bald-faced lie about Hondurans heading north through Mexico being “invaders” may be ludicrous to rational beings, but it was believed by millions of credulous and irrational racist, anti-semitic, anti-Latino and white supremacist Republicans and independents who flocked to the polls to “defend America” from this pathetic “invasion.”
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the positive news for progressive Democrats is that candidates who openly professed to being “socialist” like the victorious new Congressmember from a Bronx-Queens district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or who advocated socialist-style reforms like a Medicare-for-all health care system similar to what people in Canada have had now since 1971, as did the narrowly defeated candidate for Senator in Texas, Beto O’Rourke, did well and in many cases won their races. Openly leftist Democratic candidates helped flip control of the House and also of six state legislatures from Republican to Democratic, including New York State. They also took away at least one of two houses in another dozen or so state legislatures. In others, they ended Republican super majorities needed to override Democratic governors’ vetos of their most pernicious legislation. All this, and the replacement of several Republican governors by Democrats, is hugely important because it is state governments that will redraw congressional and state legislative district lines after the 2020 census. Divided governments prevent gerrymandering of district lines — something Republican-only state governments did after the 2010 census with enormous impact on a decade of subsequent elections.
O’Rourke’s dramatic success in coming out of nowhere as a first-term congressman from El Paso with no money and eschewing PACs and professional campaign managers, and then almost knocking out the well-funded far-right Tea-Party Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, is a harbinger of a coming tidal change in US politics. The electrifying O’Rourke-Cruz race, which caught national attention, boosted turnout in Texas beyond the 2012 presidential race total. It provides dramatic evidence that an unapologetic progressive — someone who questioned the rationale for the US’s $717-billion military budget and its myriad endless wars around the globe, and who called for Medicaid-for-all, while denouncing Trump for his Mexico border wall and his demonization of immigrants — has a shot at winning even in Texas. In the end, O’Rourke came up 2.6% short of defeating Cruz, but he clearly captured the hearts of many of that state’s voters. It should be noted that in Republican-governed Texas, all the stops were pulled out in using voter suppression methods to keep young people and especially Latinos from voting this year. Efforts were made in college towns to make student voting hard, voting places and machines were limited in Latino neighborhoods and there were even widespread reports of voting machines that were automatically switching votes. These tactics, taken together, may have been enough to let Cruz squeak into a second term this time, but it seems clear that it won’t be long before the number of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters in the Lone Star State will overwhelm such dirty tricks.
Already the largest minority in Texas, Latinos — overwhelmingly Mexican-Americans — are projected to become the majority in Texas in 2020. That, of course, happens to be a presidential election year when Trump (unless his appetite for Big Macs does him in first), will presumably be running for a second term and will need to win Texas. The Mexican-American population in Texas is growing by about 200,000-250,000 a year in Texas, which is roughly double the 213,000 margin by which Cruz just bested O’Rourke.
Between larger numbers and a trend towards increased Latino voting (there was a record 24% Latino voter turnout this year in Texas), O’Rourke or other future Democratic candidates will likely do significantly better in coming state elections in the state — though Democratic candidates will have to get that Latino turnout rate higher still.
Republican dominance of Texas is going to end, probably sooner than later. And when the Lone Star State flips, it will, like California before it, be for good. And when the country’s second most populous state, with a population already 75% as great as California’s, goes Democratic, it will have profound impact on national politics.
Of course, the US political system is hopelessly corrupted and will for some time continue to be so. Corporate money will continue to fund both parties. Third parties will continue to be blocked from growing by an ongoing conspiracy of the two existing parties to keep them off of ballots and out of the media and publicly broadcast debates. And the national electoral system will remain rigged the way our aristocratic and slave-owning founding fathers intended, with a Senate that gives equal power to states with populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands and states with populations in the tens of millions, and an Electoral College that does the same thing in the selection of presidents.
That said, as Latinos have become major parts of state electorates, we can observe that the politics of those states inexorably shift to the left. This has already happened in California and Colorado, both now reliably Democratic and progressive. It’s happening increasingly in New Mexico and Nevada too, and it’s starting to happen in Arizona and Texas.
As younger voters become a bigger part of state electorates, such shifts are happening too in what have long been hard-right Republican states. Look at Oklahoma, a state where Latinos only represent 11% of a population that’s 72% white. Oklahoma just elected Kendra Horn, a Democrat, to Congress, the first Democrat elected to a national office in that state since the 1970s. And then there’s Kansas, long characterized as the “reddest of red” states in the US. Its voters just handed a win to Democrat Laura Kelly, who defeated that Darth Vader of voter suppression, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for the governorship. Kobach is the racist creep who conceived of and promoted the insidious scheme — adopted by many Republican-led states — to minimize black voting by erasing from voter lists all names that even remotely resembled names on a national list of convicted felons. Since so many blacks are descended from slaves whose owners gave them common names like Jones, James, Smith, Jackson, etc., this tactic ended up depriving millions of African Americans in states like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and the Deep South of the right to vote.
Kansans this year also elected another Democratic woman, Sharice Davids. She is a lesbian Native American and will now be one of their state’s four members of Congress. A third Democratic woman in Kansas, running against a Republican incumbent, lost her bid for a second of the state’s Congressional districts by just 2%.
There are limits to what we on the left can expect from a Democratic Party that remains as deeply corrupted by corporate cash (legal bribes) as the Republicans, but on the margins these progressive victories and near victories, and the rise of Latino and young voters as significant voting blocs, both groups being quite interested in or at least open to socialist or progressive ideas, are bound to have a profound influence on the Democrats going forward, particularly as their favored candidates start winning.
Leftists outside of the Democratic Party fret about voting for Democrats instead of honest Third Party candidates, but the reality is that progressives cannot ignore the importance of winning national and state elections, particularly as fascism’s influence grows across the country. The reality is there is no chance of a powerful labor or socialist party rising up in two years or even six, if ever, to contest with the Democrats for power. If a mass movement like the Civil Rights movement of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, or the anti-war movement of the late ‘60s and ‘70s should develop — and we should all be working towards that — it could perhaps shatter the Democratic Party and provide an opening for a genuine new left party, but until then electing progressive Democrats matters.
Meanwhile, contemplating the usual list of sorry Democratic presidential prospects (Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, or perhaps Amy Klobuchar or an aging Bernie Sanders), the idea percolating among progressive Democrats looking for someone more exciting is Beto O’Rourke as a presidential candidate in 2020. Beto would be like Bernie with a straight spine, youthful energy and a bracing willingness to condemn US militarism and to question military spending (in both fluent English and Spanish).
We’ve got an interesting next two years ahead of us.