Whatever happened, it is often asked, to the Republican Party? It got Tea-Partied and then it got Trumped. Respectable conservatism surrendered to a radical subset of nativist bottom-feeders.
Appalling. So wretched in fact that today’s Republicans arguably dominate American politics, all branches of government, more so than at any time in their history. They rule the executive branch in raucous, ruthless fashion. On Capitol Hill they have majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. At the judicial branch they now have a reliable conservative majority on the Supreme Court for the first time since the Franklin Roosevelt era.
At the state level Republicans hold two-thirds of the governorships, 33 of 50. It’s a first. Until recently they had never held so many. They hold majorities in the state legislatures in 25 states compared with just eight for the Democrats. They hold 4,104 of 7,383 state legislative seats.
For the Democrats, it’s a crisis, a power outage of unique dimension. They’ve been simultaneously without power in the executive and legislative branches before but not in combination with minority court status and such a lack of representation at the state level.
An opportunity awaits them in the Nov. 6 midterm elections, which the opposing party traditionally wins. But it’s no certainty that the Democrats will succeed and if they don’t, few need imagine what further humiliation they will suffer at the hands of a vindicated Donald Trump.
While showing some signs of life, the Democrats remain a bewildered lot. They felt they gave the country a quality leader. Barack Obama was fair-minded, high-minded, cerebral, honourable. They can scarcely believe what’s happened since.
They’re caught between going radical like their opponents and holding to tradition. A study by the Brookings Institution shows that while more left-leaners are running for the Democrats now than in the 2014 midterms, it’s the old-establishment Democrats who fared better in this year’s primaries. There is no “big left-wing shift,” says the institute’s Elaine Kamarck.
More women are entering and running for the party. There’s more youth, more energy. But there is as yet no new galvanizing liberal to capture the public imagination and no galvanizing issue. They will rely on an anti-Trump vote, particularly from women, and on turnout, huge turnout propelled in part by the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court appointment.
The guessing game pivots around which party will be impacted the most by the cathartic court drama. In getting people out to vote, Democrats believe anger is a bigger motivator than success. If Mr. Kavanaugh had been denied the seat, the rage on the right would be uncontainable. But in triumph, Republicans have less reason to show up at the voting stations.
The Democrats can win back many governorships and state houses. Polling shows they are favoured to win the house. If they do that, they can mount a full-scale attack on Mr. Trump by triggering any number of investigations into his alleged misdeeds, including what the Mueller inquiry into election collusion with Russians provides them. There is even talk of trying to impeach Mr. Kavanaugh, though that will be next to impossible unless they win the senate – a dim prospect.
Much will depend on how Mr. Trump brandishes his demagogic might over the next three weeks. One truth-defying powerhouse performance after another can be anticipated. On the Democratic side, there is no single voice to counter him, to command half the attention.
The big Democratic voices are relics from a bygone era. Old pols such as Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, John Kerry.
Mr. Kerry, who lost to George W. Bush in 2004, has written a memoir called Every Day is Extra. It harks back to an era when politics was not overrun by demagogues and ideologues and smears.
He’s contemplating, like Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, another run. Mr. Bloomberg has an eye on the prize as well. They seem to think they can survive on the new battlefields. They seem to think that there’s a chance for a return to high-mindedness, that the wild fires unleashed in the Republic’s politics can be tamed.