Checkpoint: The Pendulum Will Swing. The Question Is Where?
In 2014, the nation was bleached red. The midterm elections in November cemented Republican leadership across our nation in Congress. Now, as the 2018 midterm elections creep ever closer, the Democratic party looks to rally and reign supreme in the showdown for Congress. After a politically turbulent four years, the pendulum is primed to swing in motion. Both parties face significant setbacks after a particularly polarizing president took office in 2017 and made bipartisanship nearly impossible.
The GOP and Democrats now face the challenge of reaching center voters that have grown particularly distant from either party. As millions of dollars on advertisements are spent trying to capture this “center” vote, the working class stands in the foreground of the battlefield this November.
In order to be successful, Republicans must walk the fine line between distancing themselves from a vengeful president in order to secure centrist votes, and play to their base that widely supports the president. Distancing themselves too far from President Trump runs the risk of facing severe public criticism common to the 45th president. Playing too close to the base also brings about seriously damaging consequences to potential undecided voters. President Trump has alienated thousands of Republican voters with his outlandish comments on immigration, ongoing personal investigations, and suspect family values among several other statements. Associating too closely with such a polarizing figure could mean forfeiting purple state, center voters that make the difference in this year’s crucial election cycle.
On the flip side, visibly distancing themselves from the reign of Trump poses equally serious consequences on a multitude of fronts. If said Republican candidate makes statements adverse to President Trump or his administration, it would not be farfetched to bet on a scathing tweet coming from President Trump in the following 24 hours, potentially attacking the candidate, their past, or the establishment Republican Party. This type of criticism is damaging for two reasons. Most importantly, this is a distinctly damaging look for the entire party. An incumbent president can be one of the most beneficial chess pieces an establishment can use in order to bolster their congressional candidates. A fragmented party means fragmented funding and fragmented party support. President Trump’s segment of the Republican Party is notoriously strong-willed and loyal. This type of loyalty is what allowed Trump to play strictly to his base and still win the 2016 election. Donald Trump unashamedly recognized this loyalty by stating, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” This type of unwavering loyalty to the president and his belief system adds another obstacle to the Republican Party. Trump’s harsh criticism of a fellow Republican candidate will sway the opinion of the core of the party’s base that now pledges its’ allegiance to the outlandish president. As Senator’s Dean Heller and Jeff Flake found out early on, crossing President Trump is a dangerous task. The Republican Party is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The Democrats have their own set of roadblocks stopping them from reclaiming dominance in the House or the Senate. The Democratic party has to develop an identity. Resisting President Trump will likely not be enough to win back purple state voters who feel left behind by the party of the future. Democrats must now develop a post-Trump purpose. They do not have an incumbent president to please; in exchange, they must cater to the fringe voters in their party. In 2016, Bernie Sanders revealed an intense schism existent in the Democratic Party. The rise of Sanders highlighted the voice of the youth and disenfranchised who felt the Democratic Party had grown elitist and out of touch with many of its supporters. Now, having realized this disconnect, the Democratic Party will have to work to close this gap. But politics always comes with a catch. Before closing this gap, the Democratic establishment will have to make a decision to abandon the quest of capturing center voters who voted for President Trump. The University of Virginia Center for Politics counted a total of 8.4 million Obama 2012 voters who reached across the spectrum and voted for President Trump in 2016. That is roughly 13 percent of total Obama voters who jumped ship before casting their ballot for Hillary Clinton. So, without double counting votes, the Democratic establishment must ultimately decide between two factions. They can choose to focus their messaging around their voters who align just to the left of center, who voted for President Obama and likely voted for President Trump. Or, they can choose to drift left and turn their back on center voters while catering to far left candidates.
Democratic voters offered a clue in early May by electing Stacy Abrams as the Democratic candidate in the Georgia Governor’s race. Abrams beat out State Representative Stacy Evans in a hotly contested race between two women in a deep red state. Abrams focused her campaign among young voters, voters of color, and immigrant voters. Evans worked to recapture centrist voters on the campaign trail. Abram’s self-described “unapologetic progressive” agenda seemed to resonate with Georgia voter seeking economic growth. The results of this election should be a slight eyewink on behalf of Democrats across the nation. The Democratic establishment should use this election as a case study to better understand liberal voters for the upcoming midterms. Abrams represented the left and the “Bernie Sanders liberal” while Evans represented the “middle of the road liberal”. Using this election as a case study, it is time for Democrats to commit to the progressive ideas that they are known for.
The Republican Party will likely use the Nevada Senate election as their thermometer test. Dean Heller, the incumbent Republican nominee, will square off against Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, on November 6th. Heller has been one of Donald Trump’s most outspoken conservative critics, challenging him on immigration most recently. Heller is also the only Republican Senator up for reelection in a state where Hillary Clinton reigned supreme in 2016. If the conservative voters of Nevada choose to elect a “centrist” Heller, that could be foreshadow of the Republican strategy to come.
Both major parties find themselves at a crossroads. An outsider president has entered the political arena and shaken the groundwork that these parties were built from. This leaves Democrats and Republicans alike scrambling for answers in the age of Trump.