The New York Times is spending its Labor Day holiday plotting the Democratic takeover of Congress. The Sunday Review devoted its entire front page and two inside pages (three out of the section’s ten pages) for “Getting America Back In Gear,” consisting of two essays by two liberals devoted to strategizing how Democrats can take over the House of Representatives in November, while mitigating the “far-right” Republicans already there.
Robert H. Frank, economist at Cornell, penned “Take the House, Democrats. Are you listening?” The online headline was literally pleading: “Take Back the House, Democrats. Please.” Frank delivered a pep talk to Democrats, urging them to take some chances to win the House, so they could then fight for the climate, civil rights, and against income inequality, however those are defined.
Recent polls put Hillary Clinton slightly ahead of Donald Trump in traditionally Republican states like Georgia and close even in South Carolina. Should she make the serious investment necessary to put those states in play for real? Or should she ignore them and invest the same money in traditional battleground states? If the only concern were to minimize Mr. Trump’s chances of winning, it would be an easy call: Caution would dictate focusing exclusively on swing states.
Yet as basic economic principles make clear, caution dictates no such thing. Most people prefer not to take risks, yes, but reducing one risk sometimes creates greater exposure to another. For example, Republican congressional majorities have repeatedly blocked our rapidly dwindling opportunity to mitigate climate change, which is one of several crucial areas where they have failed us. Immigration reform, income inequality and civil rights also come to mind. The point is that expenditures on the presidential campaign must be weighed against those for congressional races. To get what they want, Democrats must go all in.
The Democratic Party comp seems poised to recapture its Senate majority this year, but the House is a different matter. Many warn that the current 61-seat Republican majority, much of it achieved by post-2010 gerrymandering, has made flipping the lower chamber an unrealistic goal.
Frank argued it wasn’t unrealistic to think of flipping the House for the Democrats.
The ads for Democratic opponents of Republican incumbents virtually write themselves. John Plumb, who’s challenging my own congressman, the Trump supporter and Tea Party Republican Tom Reed, might consider an ad like the following: “In a briefing on nuclear weapons with a foreign policy expert, Donald Trump repeatedly asked, ‘If we have them, why can’t we use them?’ Tom Reed wants to entrust this man with the nuclear codes.” An actual ad emphasizing the lack of daylight between her opponent’s positions and those of Mr. Trump, made by LuAnn Bennett, who is challenging Barbara Comstock, a Republican in Virginia’s 10th District, further illustrates Mr. Trump’s potential to haunt down-ballot candidates.
Frank found only "rough justice," and not liberal hypocrisy, in Hillary Clinton taking advantage of campaign finance laws she claims to oppose.
If Mrs. Clinton wins the presidency, she has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices sympathetic to laws curtailing campaign spending. But this election is governed by current laws. A certain rough justice would be served if those laws helped dislodge the Republicans who favor them.
Again, the most urgent reason for a serious effort to flip the House is that longstanding Republican hostility to climate science has blocked steps that could parry the biggest threat to our planet’s survival. Estimates suggest that taxing carbon could slow greenhouse gas emissions by enough to stabilize global temperatures by the middle of this century. In a rational world, we would have long since taken that step. But Republicans have persistently refused even to discuss that possibility.
The essay on the opposite side of the front page didn’t balance things out by arguing for a Republican Congress, or offer a conservative “con” to Frank’s pro. It simply supplemented the Times unapologetically pro-Democratic line, with veteran liberal journalist Michael Tomasky pleading to Republicans, “Can the party of ‘no,’ turn into the party of ‘maybe’?" The online headline: “Moderate Republicans, Unite!”
After assuming a Hillary victory because she’s in front at Labor Day, Tomasky began scheming to see how she could enact a broad liberal agenda in the face of entrenched Republican opposition:
....there is no rational reason to believe the Republicans will do anything but block efforts by Mrs. Clinton to deliver on her big campaign pledges: paid family leave, universal prekindergarten, more affordable college, a higher minimum wage. And, of course, Judicial Watch and other Clinton nemeses will keep the scandal spigot flowing, hoping to reduce public support for her and her programs, making their passage that much harder.
The central question here is, why can’t the two sides get along? Or more accurately, why has the Republican Party become so resolutely obstructionist? Yes, the Democrats obstructed President Bush on some matters, and no one on Capitol Hill is a boy (or girl) scout. But Republicans are more unified in their opposition.
So let’s return to the question: Why do so many Republicans vote no all the time? It’s partly a matter of belief, sure. But only partly. The real reason is that they fear “being primaried,” as they say, from the right.
That is the problem. And that’s what we need to change.
If the problem is that Republican legislators fear a primary challenge from the right, the solution is to make them fear a challenge from the center. That’s what our political system needs: a Club for Growth of the center.
It needs to be an extremely well-funded group that identifies Republican senators and House members who might be vulnerable to challenges from moderates, and groom those moderate candidates. It would funnel them money and staff; it might also back ads against their right-wing opponents. I suppose as a side duty it has to reinvigorate the very idea of moderate Republicanism. Yes, as I said, this will take time.
A bout of honesty near the end:
Now, I am a liberal Democrat, so you might say, “Well, this is exactly the sort of thing I’d expect a liberal Democrat to propose.” To which I say, au contraire. With my partisan hat on, I prefer the Republican Party as is. True, they bottle up a lot of common-sense initiatives.
But at least the presidency is seemingly out of this party’s reach for now. I’ll take that trade-off every day of the week.
And to those who say this sounds good but is impossible, I offer two rejoinders. First, it seemed impossible in the mid-1950s that far-right conservatives could take over the G.O.P. It took them awhile, but they did it, thoroughly.