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Republican Barbarity, Democratic Incompetence

If Democrats don't perform well today, they'll only have themselves to blame.

A couple walks into a polling center to vote in the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 in Provo, Utah. George Frey / Getty Images

I have no predictions for what will happen today. But the two things that stand out to me are that the Republicans still could hold on to Congress and yet, meanwhile, the Democrats could win back the House despite economic growth and generally positive attitudes towards that growth. I see three politically significant features of this.

First, if the Republicans do hold on to both houses of Congress, I think that will be misinterpreted as Republican strength. To my mind, it will be a reflection of the weakness of the Democratic Party — not to mention the political insignificance of everyone to the left of the Democratic Party (including myself). This midterm is objectively a real opportunity to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Republicans, at least in the most democratic part of the government, the House. Aside perhaps from immigration, none of the core elements of the Republican platform are actually popular — taxes, health care, racism. At least two of them, which they ran aggressively on the last few cycles — taxes and health care — are clearly much more unpopular than they used to be.

But the Democrats just don’t have that much to offer. They’re running “against Trump” and, if ad-buys and other reporting is to be believed, on health care. A lot is going on beneath the surface, and sometimes on the surface, of the Democratic Party, but as yet, it seems to me to have only a very limited ability to articulate an appealing, positive alternative in a way that allows it to take full advantage of this unusual situation: an incumbent party that can’t really run on its political economy in the midst of economic growth.

Second, the other reason that Republican strength shouldn’t be overestimated is that it depends increasingly on the least democratic institutions of government — the courts, the Senate, the electoral college, voter restriction and disenfranchisement, gerrymandering. To the degree they still will get much of what they want, they do so in spite of the fact that they represent a clear minority of the population.

Third, given how weak the appeal of the Republican political economy is, I think they are prisoners of Trumpism for a long while, despite its popularity with only a minority — and if current polls are right, shrinking number — of people. Or, at least, generally whipping up fear and division. They do not have any other kind of appeal when it comes time to win elections. Alongside that, I expect them the double-down on their anti-democratic commitments — of ruling through and defending the authority of everything that constrains and limits democratic majorities.

Which is why I think anti-majoritarianism should be attacked at every moment and it is essential to defend democracy against the temptations to see the majority as the problem. Which applies to Democratic politics, too. I don’t expect the Democratic Party to be consistently democratic, especially given its habits of constitutional veneration and the suspicion of majorities that permeates many elements of the Democratic Party.