The favorite story line of lazy pundits is to claim there is a “civil war” within the Democratic Party between its center-left and far-left. Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vs. Conor Lamb. The problem, however, is that it’s just not true.
Ocasio-Cortez won her primary in a deep-blue New York district; Democratic moderates generally won on Tuesday in Michigan, Kansas, Ohio and Washington. This is not a civil war; it’s how you win a House majority. Moreover, after the primaries are won by one candidate or the other, there is scant evidence the loser’s supporters are going to stay home in November. (The risk of that happening is on the GOP side, where wacky Trump-backed characters need to worry about losing moderate Republicans.)
As Democrats have rejected a one-size-fits-all approach, the House map has expanded enormously in their favor. As of this writing, the Cook Political Report shows Republicans with only 152 safe seats compared to 181 for Democrats. Republicans hold 60 seats that are Lean Republican or worse (Toss Up, Lean Democratic or Likely Democratic). David Wasserman pegs the number of seats that are less Republican than the Ohio 12th at nearly 70.
The districts include those in affluent suburbs with lots of college-educated voters, as well as those in more industrial or even rural areas. And frankly, they are running — with some exceptions — a rather uniform message: Trump tried to take your health care away. Trump gave big tax cuts to the rich. Republicans are the swamp. Vote for us.
Sure some candidates will add guns or trade into the mix. Others will call out the incumbent Republicans for wrapping themselves around the extreme Trump agenda and forgetting about the needs of constituents. That said, what is striking is the absence of an ideological battle. At least for now.
The president is arguably helping reunite the Democratic coalition, reminding suburban white women, college-educated voters, minorities, working-class voters (of all races), and young voters that they have shared interests in blocking Trump’s agenda and demanding accountability from the Republicans. The party that has shattered, or shrunk if you prefer, is the GOP — which now consists primarily of the non-college-educated, rural white male voter (and even some of those have left), and evangelicals who are willing to ignore Trump’s conduct, values and rhetoric. Throw in some of the super-rich who simply want to scoop and you have a very limited, Swiss-cheese base. They cannot be too educated, nonwhite, women, young, urban, suburban, believe in objective reality, get their news from some place other than Fox News, get queasy about actual corruption, etc. Separating upscale suburban voters (including those infamous country-club Republicans) from the Trumpized GOP has been an invaluable gift to Democrats.
In the Atlantic, Ron Brownstein writes, “On both the urban and suburban battlefields, the results in Ohio showed how Trump’s turbulent presidency is reconfiguring the landscape for the GOP: While [Republican Troy] Balderson largely re-created Trump’s percentages, [Democrat Danny] O’Connor combined Clinton’s support with the vote cast for third-party candidates in 2016.”
Brownstein adds that “Trump seems determined to widen the suburban-rural gulf with his midterm strategy, which has focused overwhelmingly on energizing the blue-collar and nonurban Republican base by provoking cultural and racially infused fights. That might generate more pressure on the Democratic senators seeking reelection in the preponderantly white heartland states Trump carried — such as North Dakota, Indiana, and Missouri — but it imposes a burden on GOP candidates in suburban areas.” (Also, given Trump’s inane tariff policy, Democrats in those rural states have a handy economic argument to drive home the cost of a Congress unwilling to block Trump’s dumbest ideas.)
Another point is worth making. Republicans have elevated immigration — xenophobia, if you will — to a preeminent position in the party’s agenda. It’s more important to Trump and his base than virtually anything else. He talks about it incessantly, returns to the issue when things are going badly and manages to convert his anti-immigrant ideas into vivid portraits of suffering by innocents (be they “dreamers” or chldren of migrants). That infuriates not only minority voters but parents, employees in diverse workplaces and young voters who are coming to see the GOP not as merely wrong, but as cruel, racist and irrational. Trump may think pounding the drum on immigration is the way to save his party. More likely, it has been a key reminder of the values shared by voters outside his base.
Yes, reuniting America around shared values of tolerance, rationality, kindness and honesty may be the “backlash,” if you will, to Trump. Not in anger, but in disgust, Americans may be coming to their senses.