Midterms go to the party out of power, but as Roe decision shows, Democrats aren’t actually in power


Meanwhile, this same Supreme Court makes it harder to vote, makes it easier to suppress the vote, and allows partisan gerrymandering that makes a mockery of equal representation. The Senate is so breathtakingly undemocratic that five of the six Republican-appointed justices were confirmed by Republican majorities having earned fewer votes and representing fewer people than the Democratic minority.

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There are ways to mitigate the inequities in our system: statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico if they want it, Supreme Court expansion and term limits, a federal ban on partisan gerrymandering, etc. But none of that will happen if historical trends maintain and Republicans take control of the House or Senate.

What’s worse: Holding our ground isn’t enough. We have to gain seats to break the Senate logjam and disempower Send. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. We also need the cushion, because the 2024 map is tough, and unless President Joe Biden can turn his approval ratings around, a Republican trifecta would be the end of whatever rights we have left. They wouldn’t even need a Supreme Court at that point. 

So yes, it’s hard to argue for voting as the solution, when voting has proved so impotent to this point. And therein lies something else I feel viscerally: the disempowerment of our supposed majority. In fact, it feels like we’re in the minority. Because functionally, we are. And I can sense that permeating through—not just from the politically engaged, but even among the kinds of people who only perk up around presidential election time. I’m even sensing it among the apolitical

It feels like November 2016, when Trump “defeated” Hillary Clinton despite receiving three million fewer votes. 

We all know what history says about midterm elections—the party that controls the White House usually gets walloped, particularly during a new president’s first term. There are several reasons for that, such as a president’s inability to deliver campaign promises through our broken Congress. But the biggest reason is quite simple—the minority motivates. The Tea Party movement emerged after Barack Obama’s election. The Resistance emerged after Donald Trump’s selection. QAnon hit the big time after Joe Biden won, fueling school board protests over masks and the “CRT” boogeyman. 

Meanwhile, those in the majority become complacent. “We won, mission accomplished!” That, along with dissatisfaction with the pace of accomplishments, led to a double-whammy situation where the opposition party is highly motivated and mobilized, the party in power is moribund. More often than not, a wave election sweeps the opposition to legislative power. 

Who is in the minority today? 

Republicans, sure. Democrats control the presidency, House, and nominally, the Senate. 

But who is really in the minority today? We are.

Every liberal who cares about gun safety, about abortion, about core privacy rights, about keeping the conservative theocratic agenda out of our lives. We can’t even safeguard public health during a pandemic because of these conservative ideologues. We may not even be done this Supreme Court term, as the court may literally strip the Environmental Protection Agency of the power to protect our environment (in a decision that would gut the federal government’s agency power). 

Even if we gained Senate seats and got rid of the filibuster next year, would the Supreme Court allow D.C. statehood? Would they allow a genuine voting rights bill? Of course not! This is a renegade Court, literally inventing nonsensical rationales to push their unpopular agenda on all Americans. Somehow, the Second Amendment’s plaintext “well-regulated militia” has morphed, thanks to a supposed “originalist,” into a perverse blanket right for all gun fetishists to threaten society.

It viscerally feels like we’re in the minority because we are, in fact, in the minority.

Thus November puts us in uncharted territory. Yes, Joe Biden is unpopular. Yes, inflation and gas prices are high. Yes, history says the party out of power gains seats. But it’s the party out of power that is currently winning. The rules are being rewritten. 

Republicans have gotten big mileage out of their single-issue abortion and gun owners. Evangelicals may love Trump today, but they were originally unhappy with the amoral philanderer crook who ripped off his own charity and had sex with a porn star while his wife was at home with their baby. That didn’t stop them from voting for him, because abortion. Nothing else mattered. Meanwhile, liberals love to complain about all the ways a candidate fails us, and it costs us. 

But now, we may now be seeing the birth of the single-issue liberal voter. Kerry Eleveld wrote about an intriguing poll of the Pennsylvania governor and senate races. Respondents were asked their top priorities. 

PA SEN/PA GUV: TOP ISSUES FOR PENNSYLVANIA WOMEN
WOMEN MEN ALL VOTERS
ABORTION (SEN/GUV) 24%/16% 4%/3% 14%/10%
ECONOMY (SEN/GUV) 16%/24% 29%/28% 22%/26%
GUN CONTROL (SEN/GUV) 16%/18% 18%/15% 17%/16%

Women respondents were more apt to cite abortion as their top priority in the Senate race, clearly not yet understanding that abortion is explicitly on the ballot in their governor’s race as well. That’ll come, undoubtedly. 

Women then preferred the Democratic candidate in the Senate race by 23 points, and in the governor’s race by 16 points. In other words, the more abortion mattered to women, the stronger their support for the Democratic candidate, overriding concerns over the economy that would normally be front and center in a midterm election. 

To be clear, this is a single data point, so we need more information, but it certainly supports my gut feeling that traditional dynamics have been upturned. Why else would Democrats be leading in Wisconsin as well? If Democrats are leading (if slightly) in two of the most evenly divided states in the union, that certainly suggests that we’re not in business-as-usual territory. And note, both those polls were conducted before this decision hit with the force of a neutron bomb. 

One more anecdotal data point is this dynamic: 

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My apolitical, hyper-religious, large Latino family group chat is on-fire angry about this decision. My partner reports the same, with women realizing that even their fertility treatments are at risk. You might be seeing the same on your social media feeds and group chats. Keep an eye on people you considered apolitical, or even Republican-leaning. If you’re seeing what I and others are seeing, chime in the comments. I’m really curious to learn, even anecdotally, what others are experiencing. 

In a perfect world, this outrageous conservative overreach galvanizes progressive (and even non-progressive) turnout on behalf of Democrats, who take advantage of the moment by campaigning heavily against the Supreme Court, promising reforms to restore balance and strengthen our democratic right to vote. 

Add votes on contraception, too, and that’s a real solid plan heading into November. 

Today, we saw Nancy Pelosi read some stupid poem, House Democrats sing “American the Beautiful” on the steps of Congress, and House Whip Jim Clyburn claim the decision to end Roe was “anti-climactic.” We need better leaders, and a better approach these next few months, to maximize our chances for victory. We need fire. 

But it may not matter in the end, just like Evangelicals voted for Trump. With abortion on the ballot, in every state, red or blue, we may see the kind of mobilization we’ve never seen before, especially in a mid-term election. It’s either that, or we start a countdown for the next cherished right on the chopping block. 



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