Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is the most dangerous demagogue to ever be nominated by a major political party. He is certainly the least qualified candidate in both experience and temperament to ever be nominated for the nation’s highest office. The country and progressives are fortunate that he will run against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who is as deeply qualified for the office as Trump is woefully incompetent.
Trump has shown us on countless occasions that he lacks both the skill and the empathy to be commander-in-chief. His response to this past weekend’s tragic mass shooting targeting the LGBT community at an Orlando nightclub when he continued to express his extremist policies including calling for a temporary ban on Muslim migration to the United States show his incompetence to lead this country.
While I am confident Trump will lose the presidential election and lose badly, neither the country nor progressives can afford even a moment of complacency. We must mobilize as never before because winning the White House is not nearly enough.
The Republican Party that will nominate Trump holds a majority in every elected office below the presidency. Time and again, they have won power by stoking similar resentment, hate and divisive politics with a similar base of voters who backed Trump.
This is the party that won the U.S. Senate majority in 2014 by stoking fear about the Ebola virus and child refugees on our southern border. This is the party that sought to preserve their power in states by imposing restrictions on voting, with Republican leaders in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin admitting the measures were aimed at non-white and younger voters, the New American Majority — voters you don’t see many of at Trump rallies.
With progressives at such a low-ebb of power, we cannot afford a lonely victory for the White House. In several recent presidential elections, the party winning the national popular vote has actually lost important ground down-ballot.
In three of the last five presidential years — 1996, 2000 and 2004 — the party winning the popular vote lost control of more legislative chambers, and in President Obama’s 2008 landslide, Democrats gained a net of just one legislative chamber nationally. And in 2004, President Bush narrowly won reelection while Republicans lost four Senate seats.
Why have presidential victories often failed to carry coattails down-ballot? Certainly some voters are ticket-splitters, although their numbers have diminished as politics has become more polarized and nationalized. A trend disproportionately affecting progressives is “ballot roll-off,” instances of voters casting ballots for the presidency and top-of-ballot races, but not voting for state legislature and local offices.
The truth is, state and local offices have the greatest impact on the daily lives of voters and their communities, but numbers of presidential voters skipping these elections can be staggering. In 2012, President Obama won Ohio, yet Democrats end up with only ten out of 33 seats in the State Senate and 39 out of 99 seats in the State House. Over half a million people who voted in the Presidential race in Ohio, skipped their State House election. Over 10 percent of Ohioans skipped voting for their legislature.
Those skips matter. Since 2013, Ohio’s ten largest cities have seen continued cuts to their city budgets, harsh restrictions have been placed on Planned Parenthood, Ohio’s strong clean energy regulations have been repealed, and the conservative majority has pushed more harmful bills to block voters’ rights and participation.
Our challenge in 2016 is both to deliver a historic voter mobilization to the polls and to engage progressives on the vital issues and elections down-ballot.
Many voters will be mobilized in their strong opposition to Donald Trump. They must be reminded of Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan whose endorsement of Trump read, “the reality is, on the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement.”
From the nation’s fiscal policy to attacks on women’s health care to voter ID laws to attacks on unions to anti-LGBT laws, to shunning refugees to ideologically gaming the federal judiciary — Donald Trump and conservative leaders in Congress and the states indeed have far more common ground than disagreement.
The reality for progressives is that to truly defeat Trump, we must also defeat his party in the Congress and the states. We must mobilize not only against Trump, but against the dark forces in the conservative base that nominated him and that have pushed their party to similar extremes for years.
Greg Speed is the president of America Votes, the coordination hub of the progressive community working with more than 400 national and state partners to advance progressive policies, protect everyone’s right to vote and win elections.