Beyond Indivisible- Democrats and the Reality of 2018

Somewhere in the night of November 8th, the majority of us in America came to a realization- about 63 million people in this country were comfortable with a person like Donald Trump being President. That was a sobering thought, because Trump was quite explicit with what he wanted to do as President. Immigration raids, Muslim bans, rolling back the rights of women, a wall on the Mexican border, and so much more was spelled out by Trump during his campaign. It was all horrifying.

Along came the Indivisible Guide, the Womens March, and soon the Science March. Citizens have organized themselves together to fight and resist the Trump agenda. They are doing amazing things, and causing a political earthquake in this country- particularly as Republican Congressmen are coming home to their districts and being screamed at in town halls. Groups are fighting to save the ACA. Others are fighting to stop cabinet members. Congressional phone lines are being over-loaded by the volume coming in. It is truly remarkable.

Emerging from within it all, the Indivisible Guide is becoming the bible for progressive activists to resist. Written by Congressional staffers, it is an incredibly effective guide for how to fight back against Trump and his agenda. If you haven’t read it, do so. If you want to understand what is happening in this country right now, or take part in it, the Indivisible Guide is the best way to do so.

Eventually though, we have to get out beyond the protests and the yelling, and actually think about the most important thing- winning elections. That will start soon, particularly for people in states with state legislative, judicial, or governor’s races- places specifically like New Jersey and Virginia. It will start for the rest of the nation in just a few short months. There is a huge difference in resisting Trump’s agenda and defeating Trump’s agenda. We need to resist it right now. We need to defeat it in 2017 and 2018’s general elections. This will eventually require a tactical change from the rallies, marches, and yelling of right now, as even the Indivisible writers would probably concede. After all, their guide is “A Practical guide for resisting the Trump Agenda.” We hope to soon not have to resist it anymore.

Here’s a little truth for everyone in the streets right now- we’re underdogs in 2018. There is just one Republican Senator, out of only eight total, who has to run for re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton won. Democrats have to win three Senate seats. In addition to defeating Dean Heller in Nevada, Democrats will desperately need to contest states like Arizona (Jeff Flake) and Texas (Ted Cruz), that are admittedly long-shots. The Senate is going to be really hard.

The House offers a better opportunity, if Democratic activists can swallow a little bit of the “electable” pill for 2018. Democrats need 24 seats, and there are 23 seats that Hillary won who currently have Republican Congressmen. These are not seats situated in the urban areas that are home to our liberal, Bernie base, or our minority driven Hillary/Obama base either. These are largely white, highly educated, traditionally Republican seats. These are seats like Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional district, mostly based in Delaware County and held by former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan, or Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, stretching across Chester and Montgomery County, held by former Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello. They are districts like New Jersey’s 7th district, held by former State Senator and current Congressman Leonard Lance, someone who spent years crafting their “moderate” image. These districts aren’t “liberal” by any means, they’d better be described as competent. They’re socially moderate to liberal, not interested in deporting millions and “putting women in their place,” by any stretch, but they are also fiscally moderate to conservative, not the types who want to pay huge tax increases for huge increases in spending. In other words, the “low hanging fruit” for Democrats are white, educated moderates, living in suburban districts, who traditionally have been fiscally conservative Republicans, but are socially liberal Clinton voters, and are repulsed by Trump. Even so, those 23 seats aren’t quite enough to re-take the House, which is where some of the Bernie activism has a strong place. There are a lot of districts, like Iowa’s 1st district, Pennsylvania’s 10th, 11th, and 12th districts, and many other “Rust Belt,” blue-collar districts where Bernie’s populist economic message might be able to bring back seats that were lost in 2010 and 2014’s waves, or by re-districting in 2012 to make Republicans “safe.” To be clear, there aren’t enough of these Clinton or Bernie type of districts on their own to win back the House, because gerrymandering, but if the party can walk and chew gum at the same time, we might be able to build a majority again. The noise out of Georgia, where it seems that we’re going to nominate the activists’ candidate of choice down there in a district that doesn’t really match, isn’t making me hopeful, however we shouldn’t over-read that. Republicans lost nearly every special election in 2009, while they were trying to organize all of their activist energy, but by 2010 they won over 60 seats in the House.

Here’s my fear though- activists love protests, marches, and direct action- but the track record on that turning into mid-term waves for Democrats isn’t very good. The protests of 1968 and 1969 against the Trump of his day, Richard Nixon, eventually lead us to the 1972 slaughter that was McGovern. Everyone loved having events and rallies, but when it came time to behave like a cohesive party, we didn’t. We resisted very well, we didn’t oppose so well though. We have a bad track record here.

What I’m saying is complicated and has many steps- read Indivisible, join the protests and marches, make your voice heard, but then put your pragmatic hat on and start working to win elections in the Fall, or in 2018. Politics is about winning power, as people out of power cannot do any of the things they want, as the American left is learning now. Don’t bother re-litigating 2016’s primaries, don’t get mad no matter who wins the DNC Chair race, and don’t fight among yourselves- the small differences on how you want to regulate banks, extend health insurance to all, and protect the environment are still all tiny, when compared to the differences you have with Donald Trump and anyone who supports him. Yes, we have to accept we’ll have some differences of opinion with some of our candidates, and our fellow activists, and that’s okay. Yes, we will also have to accept that what we are doing now, making noise at town halls, marching in the streets and holding rallies, while very useful, is just a precursor to running actual campaigns to oppose the President. Politics is hard, but if everyone on the left commits to doing the right things, and not the wrong ones, we can and will defeat the disease plaguing us in Washington.