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Republicans not immune to the malady that hobbled Democrats

The first rule in politics is to blame anyone but yourself for losing — Hillary Clinton being the most dogged current practitioner. With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Democrats are in a blind rage over the possibility that President Trump will replace Ginsburg with a conservative nominee. Creating new states, ending the Senate filibuster, and even a new impeachment trial are among the “solutions” liberals have put forth. All for a Justice who was in the ideological minority for most of her career.

I guess broadening their appeal to the voters is off the table.

Consider a 2016 scenario in which the Democrats soften their rhetoric a bit and move ever so slightly to the center (and the far-left base is mature enough to accept it). If the Democrats could have flipped just 1 percent of voters away from Trump and the Republicans to the Democratic federal candidates (net 2 percent change), Hillary would have won in a breeze.

She would have won Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for a 307-231 electoral college margin (Note that the liberal vote in 2016 — Clinton plus Jill Stein — would still have been less than the conservative vote — Trump plus Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin — by just under 900,000 votes). The improvement for Democratic candidates for Congress would have been more modest: They would have gained a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania (but remained in the minority 51-49) and would have gained an additional 4 seats in the House for a 237-198 deficit.

And that’s your Democratic Supreme Court majority — no chance Mitch McConnell could have kept the old Scalia seat vacant for four years.

Democrats’ claims of “unfair” representation due to Republican dominance of rural states is more than a little disingenuous. There is nothing preventing the Democrats from working to appeal to these states. Consider the Dakotas. From 1960 to 2018 North Dakota had at least one Democratic U.S. Senator and both were Democrats from 1986 to 2010. Since 1964 half of the U.S. Senate elections in South Dakota were won by Democrats, including as late as 2008. Further, 12 states and 24 U.S. Senators have three (3) or four (4) electoral votes: The partisan split in the Senate for these rural states is 12-12.

Republican wins in 2016 were built on failure of the Democratic Party to expand its appeal and the incompetence of the Clinton campaign. Blaming the Electoral College and the composition of the Senate is absurd. After all, the rules for winning have been in place for over 200 years. When you decide to live in a coastal elite echo chamber and obsess over the approval of the New York Times, losing is what you deserve.

Fortunately for the Democrats, the Republicans and Trump have climbed into their own ideological bunker.

The Republican Party has been engaged in a purge of “insufficiently pure” elements for some time. That strategy has had mixed results, at best. While it is true that the GOP made large legislative gains during the Obama administration, those gains were in line with gains made during the Clinton administration. At the same time, President Obama became the first Democrat to be re-elected with a majority of the popular vote since Franklin Roosevelt.

Trump and the Republicans benefited from the mistakes of the Democrats in 2016, but even then, Trump himself attempted to directly advocate outside the GOP base. Trump made explicit appeals to Bernie Sanders voters and African Americans. Trump even had an openly gay speaker at the convention.

That attempt at broader appeal, however, has been subsumed by Trump’s antics in the White House, and there is not much evidence that the Republican Party as a whole has made a truly concerted effort to widen its appeal beyond cosmetics. Every time Trump puts out a policy initiative (criminal justice reform, for example), it is quickly overshadowed by rage tweets and plays to his base.

For now, this attitude has not mattered. Flipping 1 percent of the vote in 2016 and 2018 does not yield nearly the benefits that the Democrats would have gained. While Trump would have won New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nevada in 2016, he still would have been behind in the popular vote. Republicans would have had 4 additional House seats and would have won the New Hampshire U.S. Senate seat. In 2018, a 1 percent flip would have gained 11 House seats, but the GOP would still have been in the minority.

The real problem for Republicans is 2020. Trump is behind in the national polls and in the Electoral College projections — and not by a little. The RealClearPolitics averages and map point to a 4-seat loss for Republicans and no chance to regain control of the House.

In 2022, Republicans will be defending 21 Senate seats they currently hold with seats in Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin likely competitive (Arizona looks likely to flip to the Democrats in this year’s special election). The Democrats may have four competitive seats, at most (Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire and possibly Arizona). The GOP will need to gain just 18 seats to control the House, a much easier prospect.

Republicans can celebrate a Supreme Court majority, but it is worth remembering that the court only makes decisions on cases that it chooses to put on the docket. The court does not prescribe policy — and sometimes justices vote in unexpected ways. A Trump nominee wrote the 6-3 majority decision that significantly expanded workplace rights for gay and transgender employees — not exactly what “moral conservatives” expected.

The failure of both parties to develop an issue agenda designed to secure a lasting majority has left both parties profiting only on the mistakes of the other.

Democrats keep hoping for demographics to deliver, forgetting that today’s cranky, old Republican voters were yesterday’s 1960s flower children. Republicans have put their hopes on the caprices of the Federal courts. It is little wonder neither side can generate lasting domestic policy changes.

But at least it’s always someone else’s fault.

NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to correct the Electoral College margin mentioned in the fourth paragraph.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, is a public affairs consultant who specialized in Pennsylvania judicial elections. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

Tags Bernie Sanders bunker Donald Trump Donald Trump presidential campaign exclusion Gary Johnson Hillary Clinton Ideology Mitch McConnell popular vote Republican Party Ruth Bader Ginsburg Trump tweets

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