The Democrats’ Senate problem.Apr 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 29 • By JAY COST
What do Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia have in common? For one, none has a city larger than 400,000 people. For another, they all voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. For yet another, they are the most likely places for Republicans to pick up Senate seats, thus taking control of the upper chamber, in 2014.
These three facts are related.
Much ink has been spilled about the “coalition of the ascendant” that the Democrats have formed, which essentially consists of young professionals, nonwhite voters, and gentry liberals. The claim is that this coalition will make it well-nigh impossible for the Republican party ever to win the White House again.
Perhaps, but this Democratic coalition will struggle mightily to keep control of the Senate, let alone wield a working, liberal majority ever again. That’s because the Democrats, with this new coalition, have left behind the rural voters who used to be the party’s bread and butter.
For generations, the Democratic party was built on an alliance between rural and urban voters. It was often uneasy. At 1924’s Democratic National Convention, for instance, the two factions bickered over Prohibition and took more than 100 ballots to settle on a nominee. Even so, successful Democratic candidates from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton found various ways to unite the blocs. Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Clinton all were born in the South, Harry Truman came from a border state and could speak with a distinctive Southern twang, and Franklin Roosevelt had personal ties to the region. Barack Obama, on the other hand, relied more heavily than ever on the urban vote for victory in 2008 and 2012, making his coalition notably different from those that came before it.
This strategy can work on a presidential level—assuming Democrats can sustain turnout and support at the lofty heights that Obama enjoyed—but it is a problem in Congress, especially the Senate, where rural states play a uniquely strong role. This gives the Republican party a structural advantage in the battle for majority control. When he won the popular vote by just two points in 2004, George W. Bush carried 31 states, amounting to 62 Senate seats. Though he lost the popular vote by four points in 2012, Mitt Romney still carried 24 states, amounting to 48 Senate seats. The road to the White House might now run through Las Vegas, Nev., and Denver, Colo., but the road to a Senate majority still runs through Pierre, S.D., and Charleston, W.Va.
So why has the Democratic party managed to control the Senate for the last three election cycles? There are two reasons. The first is Republican incompetence. States with large rural populations, no overwhelmingly large cities, and conservative suburbs are prime targets for the GOP, but bad Republican candidates forced unnecessary losses dating back to 2006 in Alaska, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota. Second, and related, is the capacity of Democrats in these states to carve out identities independent of the national party, to emphasize the old rural (some would say “Jacksonian”) strands that still exist on the sub-national level.
In 2014, neither of these reasons appears to be much of a factor. Republicans seem to be attracting better-quality recruits than they have had in previous cycles. There will be no Todd Akin-style gaffes coming from Tom Cotton in Arkansas or Bill Cassidy in Louisiana.
Second, Obama has rebranded the Democratic party as heavily partial to the values and interests of urban voters. Arkansas Democrat Marion Berry recounted in 2010 that Obama assured him that the big difference between the upcoming midterms and 1994 was “You’ve got me.” He was correct, but not in the way he meant to imply: The GOP swept the field in the House elections that year, doing particularly well in the rural districts of the South and Midwest. Something similar is set to happen in the Senate, as a huge swath of Democrats from rural, red states will pay the price for consistently supporting Obama’s agenda.
This is often the way coalitions evolve: Change starts at the top and works its way down, slowly but surely. For a time, the local politicians left stranded by a national rebranding can last on their own, carving out independent identities and relying on the incompetence of the competition. But, sooner or later, the party’s national reputation seeps through, and the other side figures out how to run a decent campaign. This is why, though the Republicanization of the South started in earnest on the presidential level in 1952, the GOP did not win a majority of Southern House seats until 1994. Since then, the Democrats have never reclaimed that Southern majority.
Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By JAY COST
"Ready for Hillary” is the rather ominous name given to the super-PAC working on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s putative presidential campaign. One group that appears to be ready for Hillary, according to the Hill, is the vast array of lobbyists known as K Street:
Everybody loves the spirit of compromise. Except voters. Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By JAY COST
Historically, potent third parties or outside political movements have had one of two origins. On the one hand, they were driven by powerful personalities who did not fit cleanly within either of the major parties: Theodore Roosevelt (1912), George Wallace (1968), and H. Ross Perot (1992, 1996) are the three primary examples.
The corrupting effects of Obamacare.Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By JAY COST
On February 4 the Congressional Budget Office dropped a bombshell. Analysts there found that Obamacare’s structure will create an enormous implicit tax on work, such that people on the lower end of the economic scale will have an incentive to quit their jobs or scale back to part time to maximize their premium subsidies. In an earlier study, CBO had estimated that this disincentive to work would destroy the equivalent of less than a million full-time jobs. Now, it projects that an equivalent of more than 2 million jobs will be lost as people voluntarily leave the workforce.
Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By JAY COST
Last month, the House Republican leadership released its guiding principles on immigration reform. While mostly boilerplate, the document suggests that the House GOP envisions a bill similar to last year’s Senate compromise spearheaded by Marco Rubio: enhanced border security in exchange for legalization of the illegal immigrant population; more visas for the highly skilled and permits for temporary guest workers; and a rationalization of the immigration process.
Let’s redistribute power, not income.Feb 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 21 • By JAY COST
Barack Obama’s latest State of the Union address was a dreary, tiresome affair—which, to be fair, could be said of most such addresses by most modern presidents. The only real surprise was how he soft-pedaled the problem of inequality. Pre-speech hype had promised this would be the centerpiece theme, and it’s certainly one that has been a hobbyhorse of his Democratic party since its founding. But perhaps, on deeper reflection, we should not be so surprised that the word itself was only mentioned once.
Big government in bed with big insurance.Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By JAY COST
Obamacare is like an onion: The more layers you peel back, the worse it smells. The latest revelation about this horrible law is the presence of a “risk corridor,” a euphemism for an insurance industry bailout that will occur sometime in the next year.
Hosted by Michael Graham5:15 PM, Dec 9, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with staff writer Jay Cost on his recent cover story, The Battle of 2014 on the political landscape for the 2014 elections.
With the midterm elections less than a year away, the terrain looks surprisingly favorable for Republicans Dec 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 14 • By JAY COST
Regularly scheduled elections are a hallmark of the American political system. In 18th-century Britain, the monarch could call new elections on a whim, and our Founders saw in that arrangement a seed of tyranny. The Constitution they designed requires elections for Congress every two years, and the next such elections are less than a year away. This is good news for conservatives as they continue to oppose the Obama administration.
Obamacare is not an aberration Dec 2, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 12 • By JAY COST
In The Price of Politics, journalist Bob Woodward describes the toll that politics took on the presidency and public image of Barack Obama during the budget battle of 2011. Elected as an outsider with little experience in governing and none in executive leadership, Woodward’s Obama is ill-equipped to handle the byzantine ways of Washington. The result is a tarnished president, a nation brought needlessly to the brink of credit default, and a sharp diminution of public trust.
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:35 PM, Nov 20, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with staff writer Jay Cost on Obamacare's fate in the polls, and whether the Senate is in play for Republicans in 2014.
Will the GOP be ready?Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By JAY COST
The governorship of Virginia has been held by some of the most eminent men in American history: Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, Henry Lee, James Monroe. And now, Terry McAuliffe will sit in their chair. Depressing?
There’s no time to waste.Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By JAY COST
The recent government shutdown illustrated a lot of political truths. For starters, people are unhappy when the government is shut down, and they naturally tend to blame the party of less government. The media instinctively help them conclude that the Republicans are at fault.
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:05 PM, Oct 11, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with staff writer Jay Cost on the government shutdown and whether the GOP has a strategy to end it with a policy victory.