Friday, November 01, 2013

Proceed With Caution

Even before the 2012 off-year elections- when Democrats had to defend 23 seats and Republicans only 10- the conventional wisdom had begun coalescing around the view that Repubs were in danger of losing the presidential election for the next 340 years.   In May of that year, Reid Wilson of the National Journal got a jump on most of his colleagues when he wrote

Demographics are destiny. This much, in American politics, is true. But we rarely appreciate the pace of the racial and ethnic change happening throughout the country. To step back and see the broader, long-term picture is to recognize that, while we’re an evenly divided country now, we may be close to a tipping point after which the entire landscape will change.

If recent electoral and population trends hold, Democrats need only wait a few presidential election cycles until they begin every White House contest as clear, eventually even overwhelming, favorites.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from Lincoln Park Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm in Washington. A Democratic firm predicting Democratic wins may not sound like news, but their reasoning has strategists on both sides convinced that unless Republicans start making serious inroads in minority communities, the party is doomed to run from behind.

Current Census Bureau estimates say the nation’s population will grow by about 61 million people over the next 18 years, to 373 million. That growth will come largely among minorities; the bureau believes the nation’s Hispanic population will grow by 63 percent, the number of African-Americans will increase by 27 percent, and the Asian-American population will increase by 55 percent. At the same time, the number of whites in America will rise by only 4 percent. Those numbers point to a much more diverse nation: Today, about 64 percent of the population is white. By 2030, that figure is predicted to shrink to 56 percent.

That’s frightening news for Republicans, a party that has had little success winning over minority voters in recent years. In a presidential year, an 8-point drop in the percentage of white voters is enough to move mountains—or at least purple states.

At the moment, Democrats can count on at least 165 electoral votes in base Democratic states, where the average level of Democratic performance is higher than 55 percent, as calculated by Lincoln Park Strategies. The party also has an advantage in states with another 86 electoral votes, where average Democratic performance is between 52.5 percent and 55 percent. Republicans can count on 143 electoral votes from their own base states and another 53 from lean-Republican states, leaving 91 votes in seven pure swing states, where neither party’s average candidate is projected to win more than 52.5 percent of the vote.

Disproportionate minority population growth will mean substantial changes to the electoral map by 2032. Twenty years from now, increased minority populations in Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa have the potential to move those states toward the Democrats, giving the party 274 base and lean electoral votes, according to the Lincoln Park Strategies report—more than a candidate needs to win the White House.

After the Todd Akin-inspired Senatorial debacle of 2010, Republicans themselves got nervous and started touting their openness to some sort of immigration reform so they would be seen as sympathetic to the concerns of Hispanic immigrants and not continue to get shellacked by the Latin vote.  Still, the Democratic Party is perceived by Democrats, most Republicans, and most of the mainstream media as having an advantage in presidential elections.

The conventional wisdom better be right, or we're in for some dangerous times, as foreshadowed by the esistance from the Senate minority on nominations for important positions. The Associated Press' Alan Framm explains

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked President Barack Obama's picks for a powerful federal court and a housing regulatory agency, prompting Democrats to threaten curtailing the GOP's ability to derail nominations.

"Something has to change, and I hope we can make the changes necessary through cooperation," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the votes.

In a setback for the president, Republicans derailed his picks of Patricia Millett to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The Senate voted 55-38 to end the delays against Millett and 56-42 to end the blockade against Watt _ falling shy each time of the 60 votes Democrats needed to prevail.

The defeats immediately subjected Democratic leaders to pressure from liberal groups and newer Democratic senators to change Senate rules that let the minority party _ currently Republicans _ force the majority to muster 60 votes on controversial nominations, instead of a simple majority.

Within minutes, a coalition of Democratic-leaning groups including the Alliance for Justice, the Communications Workers of America, Common Cause and the Sierra Club issued a statement saying "Democrats must be prepared to change the Senate rules."

Said freshman Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., "The conversation on rules changes can't come fast enough for me." He called the GOP procedural hurdles "a government shutdown by another tactic."

No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said he doubted Democrats would act on their threats, which they'd been hinting at for days.

He said if Democrats change the rules and Republicans win the White House and Senate, "Then we could confirm another Scalia, another Thomas with 51 votes," a reference to conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. "So I think they need to think twice, and I think they understand that."

Hint, hint.  Cornyn's warning, though, may be more than an effort to sway Democrats from rushing headlong into amending the Senate rules, from requiring 60 votes to a simple majority to move a nomination forward. He is probably prescient, for if there is a Repub elected president, as ultimately there will be (comprehensive immigration reform or not, voter suppression or not), there will be nominees appointed from the hard, hard right.  And most likely there will be a bloc vote of Republican Senators voting in favor of the nominees selected by a Republican president. Gaining assent from a majority of Senators would be a done deal; getting 60, far more difficult.

The ideal course for Senate Democrats, then, is to modify in an advantageous manner the filibuster rule, for nominations and other matters.  But the 60-vote threshold then may work to their advantage when there is a Repub president and Senate- if Democrats prove willing to play hardball.  Otherwise, the likes of Secretary of Defense Graham, Secretary of Defense Paul, or Secretary of Education Christie might not be fantasy.

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