On Monday, President Trump’s pick for the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, was confirmed in an historic Senate vote where the Vice President had to vote to break a 50-50 tie. Why historic? Because a Vice President had never in 200+ years ever had to break a tie for a Cabinet secretary. How did it get to 50-50? Educators and concerned parents bombarded Senate offices (Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania) with emails and phone calls in opposition to DeVos, who had a historically bad hearing and seems vastly unqualified for the position. Two GOP Senators voted in opposition, causing the tie.
But what emerged in this fight over DeVos’s nomination underscores what the left faces over the next two years: GOP lawmakers do not believe their re-election is in jeopardy despite massive public outcry. As Mike Gecan wrote in the Daily News, Democrats are getting played.
It goes beyond this Cabinet fight. As demonstrations have been on-going since the Women’s March the day after Trump was inaugurated, GOP lawmakers do not seem worried at Trump’s (already) large disapproval numbers. While they backpedal from some of his acerbic tweets and statements, they are still confirming his Cabinet, supporting his policies and otherwise turning a deaf ear to the complaints about his no-show on his tax returns and investigations into ties with Russia and the campaign season’s hacking of data.
At so many points, pundits cry “this is a game changer” and state that this (whatever it is) will be damaging to the Republicans. But the GOP remains non-plussed. Why? Because there is no reason to believe their jobs are in peril.
Simply stated, the left loves to pound its chest, call their lawmakers, rally in big numbers and then… do nothing else. Governing is in the weeds, it’s grass roots. Democrats have been unable to do this for 25 years. Republicans learned that you enact change on the streets and in the church, block by block and pew by pew. Not only did Republicans rally around Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” in the mid 1990s, they pounded the pavement to win control of Congress.
The left points to polls and clings to celebrities and articles in the New York Times and wait for change at the ballot box. The only time they hit the bricks hard was in 2008 when Barack Obama built a vast grass roots network to turn out the vote. And it sure helped that a charismatic African-American candidate emboldened minorities to vote in record numbers. But that was it.
Republicans put resources and dollars into the 2010 midterm elections, not just nationally, but state by state. A strategic victory that carried the spoils of re-drawing legislative districts with majorities on the committees that did so. Democrats were still on a high of controlling Congress and the White House.
The right shaped a media network around simple messages and stuck to those messages and created opposition mantra that has kept the left in the cross-hairs for two decades. The left argues on left-leaning media amongst themselves (“punch the hippie“) just as willing to criticize their own positions as Conservative positions. While lofty in being able to address an issue an analyze all points of view, the Left’s penchant for deep ideological sessions over lattes pales in comparison to the Right’s bar fight over a dropped touchdown pass.
Americans label themselves as Conservative over Liberal… except when they don’t. But on Social Media people throw around “most people are conservative” and folks just believe it… it feels correct. It has very little to do with either party’s ideology as much as how well one has approached courting voters. Most Americans, if interviewed in seclusion, would likely share tenets of both party ideologies if no labels were attached to the positions.
So why should the GOP worry that any time soon they are going to face any real opposition? Because they have seen this movie before. Wisconsin’s Governor, Scott Walker, in 2011 moved quickly to strip unions of power. Tens of thousands turned out in the streets to protest, the stuffed the Capitol building and yelled “shame” at lawmakers. They crowded their offices and jammed their voice mail boxes. But the law passed anyway. A recall election was held, but the Governor still prevailed (in fact gaining 0n his victory percentage compared to his initial electoral win) as did most of the GOP lawmakers who were also facing a recall challenge. Governor Walker easily won re-election four years after his first term ended. The GOP majority in the state legislature did not disappear.
The anger at the law should have resulted in a carbon copy of the Tea Party movement in response to Obamacare. But Democrats did not start rooting through the weeds to find candidates and build networks to topple the GOP majority. Wisconsin was not “red state” territory, but the lack of a Democratic ground game has may have turned it red for quite a while.
Even in Ohio, the swingiest of swing states, Republicans have a stronghold on the state legislature. They also, in 2011, attempted to peal back Union rights and initially prevailed. But Ohioans rallied around a constitutional measure that allows the people to repeal laws should a percentage of each of the 88 counties be reached on a petition drive of registered voters. A union-led grass roots movement collected well above the threshold needed and the measure at the ballot box was handily repealed. GOP lawmakers have not since seriously attempted the same law, even during lame-duck sessions. But Republicans gained on the control of the legislative bodies and the Governor was easily re-elected when state Democrats could only offer the former one-term Governor, Ted Strickland, who was hardly remembered as a Congressman.
The GOP doesn’t have “star” power, with Hollywood names like the left has in fans of the party, but you can easily name the next wave of national lawmakers who would take aim at the White House: Rubio, Cruz, Perry, Kasich, Carson, Christie, Paul, Ryan. But how about on the Democratic side? Aside from crusty leadership in Chuck Schumer, or rolling out Hillary again or Joe Biden, can you name more than 3 “up and coming” Democrats on the national scene? Warren, Booker… and maybe Ellison? Folks love it when the West Wing cast campaigns, but where is the non-fiction version of this crew?
For the Left, there is an opportunity at hand. The passion is there and the turnout is amazing. But what are they going to do next? Will these Hollywood go-getters fund statewide initiatives and races like the Koch brothers have with the groups ALEC and Americans for Prosperity? Will young Democrats start hitting the churches, synagogues and mosques to promote statewide candidates? Where are the future dynamic leaders who have the Bill Clinton ability to talk to regular peopled or the charismatic aura of a Barack Obama?
You have to go find these people and groom them, build a base of support around them locally, regionally and then nationally and not just re-tweet or like something. It is time, energy and patience, methodical and measured. And for the Left, getting feet wet and hands dirty in the day to day grind is something that hasn’t happened in a long time.