Essex column: So the GOP survived after all
During the presidential campaign, a lot of writers asserted that Donald Trump was destroying the Republican Party, moving it away from traditional positions on free trade and military alliances, among others. Turns out, though, that he led Republicans to their first full control of both chambers of Congress and the White House since 2003-05 during George W. Bush’s presidency. Before the W. Bush administration, the GOP hadn’t had such full control since Herbert Hoover was in office. Seriously.
With North Carolina still undecided, Republicans will control at least 33 governors’ offices (the most since 1922) and 68 state legislative chambers. Statehouses are where a party builds its bench of future congressional and top-of-ticket candidates — a deficiency that hurt Democrats this year.
(And school boards and county commissions are where future state legislators cut their teeth, levels of government where Republicans invest much more effort than Democrats and where current American population distribution favors conservatives.)
Soon enough, the GOP will control the Supreme Court, assuring conservative rulings for at least a generation.
While it may be that the Republican Party needed some creative destruction, it actually appears that it was the Democratic Party that Trump’s candidacy gutted. That’s the Democrats’ fault, as is Trump’s victory.
The Democrats, embodied by Hillary Clinton, are the party of Manhattan Island and San Francisco, fully out of touch with the white working class, who finally became so scared about their financial security after years of stagnation and loss of benefits that they went to what looked like a port that welcomed them. And, as we have written, Clinton was a crummy nominee, loaded with baggage and lacking the ability to fire voters’ imaginations.
After the election, Bloomberg News reported how the struggling working class elevated Trump and how traditional pollsters got it wrong:
Trump’s data “analysts, like Trump himself, were forecasting a fundamentally different electorate than other pollsters and almost all of the media: older, whiter, more rural, more populist. And much angrier at what they perceive to be an overclass of entitled elites.”
After FBI Director James Comey on Oct. 28 told Congress the FBI was examining more Clinton emails (which turned out to be nothing more than a boost for the Republican campaign), “Trump’s analysts became convinced that even their own models didn’t sufficiently account for the strength of these voters. ‘In the last week before the election, we undertook a big exercise to reweight all of our polling, because we thought that who [pollsters] were sampling from was the wrong idea of who the electorate was going to turn out to be this cycle,’ says Matt Oczkowski, the head of product at London firm Cambridge Analytica and team leader on Trump’s campaign.”
In building what is hoped to be a representative sample, pollsters must make assumptions about who will vote. If their models don’t match the electorate in a given race, the results will be way off. So, for example, if pollsters assumed greater minority turnout than actually occurred, their projection would be incorrectly skewed in favor of Clinton.
I suspect that most pollsters and the Democratic experts believed the post-2012 narrative that the nation’s demographics were changing in a way that, while Republicans could still win gerrymandered House seats in red states, made it all but impossible for the GOP to win national elections.
That may be true in five or 10 years — if turnout reflects the demographic shift. The shift is showing up. Nevada is a blue state now, and Trump won reliably conservative Arizona by just 83,000 votes out of 2 million cast.
But Clinton failed to energize Barack Obama’s voters, pulling about 9 million fewer votes than Obama did in 2008 and 6 million fewer than Obama in 2012.
Even then, the election was very close in several states that could have swung it. Trump won by 27,000 votes out of 3 million cast in Wisconsin; by fewer than 2,000 out of 4.5 million in Michigan; by 68,000 out of 6 million in Pennsylvania.
The election, while it gave voice to real pain and angst in the country, affirmed our division more than it represented a remarkable shift in America’s overall mood. It’s good for the country that the working class is being heard, but it remains to be seen if Washington will actually listen.
Pretty clearly, the Democrats need some significant disruption of their own, after spending months undermining Bernie Sanders so they could nominate a pre-weakened presidential candidate.
And the Republicans now must govern. Being the party of no won’t cut it. How will they insure the 20 million people who are covered now but weren’t before Obamacare? Will you protect people with pre-existing conditions? Will you spend money on America’s roads, bridges and sewers or on a wall across a border with net immigration zero? If you spend anything and cut taxes, how are you going to pay for it?
Don’t expect any of the Washington Republicans to stand up to Trump — he did what they couldn’t even as he vilified them. Which is why the Democrats need to become viable. A lack of credible opposition voice leads to groupthink and trouble.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.
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