“Today, I will tell you, with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said at a rally with President Donald Trump in Huntington. “So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
Gov. Justice’s abandonment of the Democratic Party, just months after being elected, is the latest in a long line of bad signs for Democrats. They lost their majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, they lost their Senate majority in 2014, they lost the White House in 2016, they were unable buy special election victories in 2017, and along the way they lost nearly 1,000 state posts, including legislative seats and governorships.
Unsurprisingly, media coverage has focused on the party’s challenges in the 2018 Senate race. That’s understandable given the historic geographic disadvantage they face in the coming elections, in which only eight Republican Senate seats are up for election compared to 25 Democratic seats (10 of which are in states carried by Donald Trump). As David Wasserman of FiveThirtyEight explains it:
“Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points – a pretty good midterm by historical standards – they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.”
That’s bad any way you slice it. But the Senate race breakdown is not some historical anachronism or random bad luck. The 2018 Senate map is terrible for Democrats because the political map writ large is terrible for Democrats.
To understand just how terrible, consider this stat courtesy of John Hinderaker of PowerLine:
“[Following Gov. Justice’s switch], 164 million Americans will live in the 26 states that are wholly controlled by Republicans, 109 million will live in states where power in shared between the parties, and only 50 million will live in the six states controlled by Democrats.”
Democrats are increasingly becoming a regional, as opposed to a nationwide party, with nearly impenetrable majorities in California and New York, but few toeholds anywhere else.
This geographic dominance is most impactful in the Senate, in which a state’s population of plays no role in the size of the delegation. According to analysis from Wasserman, Republicans can win a majority — 52 seats — just by winning states in which the 2016 presidential margin was 5 percent more Republican than the national outcome. An additional 20 seats are in swing states, which leaves just 28 seats in states where the margin was 5 points more Democratic. That makes winning a sustained majority next to impossible for Democrats.
Oddly, Democrats are not doing anything to address their political free fall in states like Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana and West Virginia – some of which used to be solidly in the blue column. Instead, Democrats are lining up behind Bernie Sanders—a self-described democratic socialist who doesn’t even consider himself a member of their party—and enacting a purity test that nobody electable can live up to. The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky writes about the left’s preemptive attempts to discredit potential presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Cal.) :
[T]hese attacks have the feel of something else. They have the feel of a group of people, most or all of them Bernie Sanders supporters, itching to refight 2016 and demand a level of purity that lo and behold only one candidate can possibly attain.
I wrote this many times in 2016, and I’ll write it again here: The fact that Sanders is from the state he’s from gives him the luxury of purity. I don’t doubt that he’s principled. But it’s also a fact that he (along with colleague Pat Leahy) faces less pressure from powerful interests than probably any other senator in the country.
Why? Because of the nature of their state. Nearly every state has either a big corporation of a large extractive industry or something. Not Vermont. Vermont has no huge banks. It’s home base to no massive corporate conglomerates. It doesn’t have a single billionaire. The biggest “company” in Vermont is the state university. And of course it’s home to all the left-leaning back-to-the-earth types who started moving there in the 1970s. When that’s your state, and it’s 95 percent white to boot, and a mere 150,000 votes will win you statewide elections, you have a lot of freedom to do and say whatever you please.
If the Democratic standard has shifted so far to the left that a senator from California can’t meet it, then the party is in even deeper trouble than it appears. It won’t be a question of whether they can win elections, it’ll be a question of whether they can even find anyone who is liberal enough to run.