Here at The Fix, we write a lot of things about politics. Thousands of things per year, in fact. Some posts are widely read; others aren't. And sometimes we write something that we think is very important, but other people don't seem to agree.
This post is about those things. For whatever reason, the four items below haven't gotten a whole lot of publicity in the Year of Trump, but we think they should have — and that they might come into focus in the months and years ahead.
So as you enjoy your holiday break, read up on some stuff you might have missed but should definitely know going forward.
1. Republicans' nationwide dominance
Yes, Donald Trump's election win was surprising and notable and unprecedented and all of those things. It also masks just how dominant Republicans have been nationwide for the better part of the last decade.
And that dominance basically only increased on Election Day, even as the GOP lost a few seats in the House and the Senate.
- Republicans now control 33 out of 50 governorships — a record.
- They control 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers, which is tied for the record. (This includes Nebraska's nonpartisan unicameral legislature, which is essentially Republican.)
- They control the entire legislature in 33 out of 50 states (again, including Nebraska), which is a record
- They control 4,171 out of 7,383 state legislative seats (56.5 percent of all seats), which is a record.
- They control all of state government — both the state legislature and governor — in 25 out of 50 states (with Nebraska), which is up from 24 and a record. Democrats have 12 states.
As Washington has become mired in gridlock for the better part of this decade, the real movement policy-wise has been in the states, and it has largely been movement in the Republican Party's favor. And the fact that it now controls the policymaking apparatus in Washington is really just solidifying a long-running trend that has already taken hold at the state level.
The party might struggle to keep winning presidential races as the country diversifies, but state-by-state and district-by-district voting is still a Republican-favored ballgame. And their power is really only growing right now.
2. Democrats' bench problem
This story line is starting to get some attention now that folks are acknowledging that Hillary Clinton just wasn't that good a candidate. The question from there is: Well, who else could have run? And therein lies the problem.
This is actually an outgrowth of No. 1. Basically, Democrats are decimated at the state level, and the maps in many states are drawn by Republicans to help them to win competitive districts. This creates a situation in which Democrats ...
- Simply don't have as many officeholders they can recruit to run for higher office.
- Tend to have many of these officeholders coming from districts that are much more homogeneous/liberal than the population as a whole.
Put another way: Democrats have only 16 governors right now. Governor is a good steppingstone toward running for Senate and president. Republicans' talent pool here is more than twice as big right now.
The imbalance isn't quite so severe in legislatures. But that might actually undersell how bad it is for Democrats, because they don't have nearly as many members in competitive districts. For example, there are just shy of 200 congressional districts in which President Obama took 40 to 60 percent of the vote in 2012. Republicans control 64 percent of these districts.
For more on this, see what I wrote in 2014 — before Democrats lost even more ground.
3. The decline of the tea party
Remember when the tea party spurred the GOP's big wins in 2010 and led the opposition to Obama for much of this decade — even at times seeming to hijack the broader Republican Party (especially during the government shutdown)?
Yeah, Trump's win wasn't about the tea party. And, in fact, it leaves it in precarious spot.
While the tea party preached the gospel of fiscal conservatism and reining in spending, Trump is talking about a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, increasing government borrowing and doing other not-so-fiscally conservative stuff. Accordingly, the tea party (epitomized these days by the House Freedom Caucus) appears to be fading and even doing something it never would have done when there was an opposition to lead — compromise.
As the National Review's Tim Alberta wrote this week:
According to several members [of the Freedom Caucus], there has been informal talk of accepting a bill that’s only 50 percent paid for, with the rest of the borrowing being offset down the road by “economic growth.” It’s an arrangement Republicans would never have endorsed under a President Hillary Clinton, and a slippery slope to go down with Trump.
And, more than anything, it's simply not the tea party. The Republican Party as we know it seems to be undergoing a transformation under Trump. Precisely what it will become remains to be seen.
4. The looming Supreme Court upheaval
It's always a bit morbid to game out the future politics of the Supreme Court. After all, it almost inevitably involves speculating about the deaths of older justices. The death of Antonin Scalia this year, for example, appeared at the time to give Democrats a big chance to change the balance of the court for years to come.
It didn't happen, and now that Trump is president-elect, Republicans will appoint Scalia's replacement and any others.
And there could be others. Trump's victory was arguably even bigger because of the likelihood of vacancies over the next four years. On the court's liberal flank, Stephen Breyer is 78 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83. The court's moderate swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, is 80. All of the more conservative justices are in their 60s, by contrast.
Scalia's replacement should be somewhat of a wash in terms of the court's ideological balance — he was consistently one of its most conservative members. But the prospect of Trump replacing any other justice (or even more than one) could tip the court to the right for years or even decades to come.
Many didn't think Trump had a chance of becoming president and didn't really spend a great deal of time thinking about how he might stamp his imprint on the nation's highest court. Among them would seem to be Ginsburg, who declined to retire during Obama's eight years in office. (Justices aren't supposed to retire for political reasons, of course, but it happens.)
If there are one or two more vacancies on the court during Trump's tenure, that could be the biggest, most enduring result of his victory.