Article by Nick Zotalis
A few weeks ago, Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey swept through several elections. Democrats Ralph Northam and Phil Murphy won the governor’s seats in each state respectively. Democrats now control the majority of the Virginia state assembly, and several major mayoral elections went blue, such as Bill de Blasio defending his position as mayor of New York City.
The reaction from left-leaning media was swift, praising Democrats for these wins and insisting that the future is bright for the party heading into the 2018 midterm elections.
While any win is a good win in politics, it is important to stay grounded. These Democratic victories are almost certainly not a reflection of what will take place a year from now. Let’s examine the key victories from last week’s elections.
It should go without saying that Phil Murphy was going to win the New Jersey governorship in any scenario. In a state that voted for Hillary Clinton in the last general election, is historically blue, and has just experienced eight years of a historically unpopular governor, Democrats could probably have run a rock against their GOP rival and won.
In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Ralph Northam managed to succeed Terry McAuliffe, a fellow Democrat, which is no small feat. Yet, Virginia is another state where Democrats are usually already successful.
Virginia has voted blue in the presidential election three times in a row, its two national senators are Democrats, and four of the last five governors have been Democrats. Winning the governor’s seat there does not represent a monumental win for Democrats.
Taking back control of the state legislature in Virginia is a solid victory, but once again in a state with such a strong Democratic tradition it should not be read into too much. As for the local elections such as Bill de Blasio’s win, incumbency plays a larger and larger role as elections become more and more localized.
A reality check would go something like this: These wins do not change that fact that Hillary Clinton lost the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin en route to losing the general election. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin had all gone blue in every election since 1988. And Clinton did not lose these states to a political superstar like Ronald Reagan or a GOP version of Barack Obama. She lost them to Donald Trump.
The fact that a billionaire reality show star seemed more in touch with rust belt, working-class voters who already lean Democratic than with the most recognizable name in Democratic politics should still be the number one concern for Democrats.
Democrats have lost over 1000 seats in state level positions since Obama’s first victory in 2008. Recently, Republicans have been so dominant at the state level that they have been just one more state legislature away from being able to unilaterally amend the Constitution. The reality of the situation is that despite a few mild successes last week, Democrats are not popular with Americans, and Republicans are the ones making pushes into territory traditionally belonging to their opponents, not the other way around.
I have many problems with the Democratic party, but as a liberal myself I don’t want to see Republicans with such an extraordinary amount of power. There are steps that the Democratic party can take to become more successful and start to chip away at the Republican dominance.
Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the country. In fact, he is the only one who even has an approval rating above 50% (54%). Just two and a half years ago, he was a virtually unknown figure, hovering at around 3% in polls during the Democratic primary. After rising from that position to winning 23 contests and garnering 43% of the popular vote in the primary, he is now the dominant voice of the Democratic party. Almost everyone has also now heard of the shady business within the DNC that may have prevented him from performing even better.
Not only is Sanders popular, but his ideas are as well. 60% of Americans support Medicare-for-all. 62% support tuition-free public college. 61% want to legalize marijuana, and this number is growing rapidly. Only 24% favor cutting taxes for the super-rich, something which Sanders fervently opposes. He has gone to West Virginia since the election and gotten standing ovations. The same goes for Kentucky. In other words, far from being far left, Sanders is in fact right in line with the American people, and is able to win support even in deep red states.
It is time for the Democratic party to change directions and adopt Bernie Sanders’ philosophy and fight for it. There are people poised to run for high political offices such as Tulsi Gabbard, Elizabeth Warren, or Ro Khanna, who have stood alongside these principles and all have good chances of being strong leaders of the party in the coming years.
Repairing the Democratic party will not be easy, but the direction needed is clear. Bernie Sanders has shown the way to do it, and the current Democratic establishment has shown how not to do it. It is up to all of us to push the Democrats in the right direction.
Feature Image Credit: Scott Pelkey ScottP-Photography/Flickr, Under CC BY-SA 2.0