Oops, they did it again. Those “extreme” North Carolina Republicans won another election.
In 2010, they took control of the legislature for the first time in a century. In 2012, they secured super-majorities in the legislature and the governor’s mansion as Mitt Romney carried the state. It was more of the same two weeks ago, as Republicans added the other U.S. Senate seat to their trophy case.
North Carolina is now a one-party state.
As goes North Carolina, so goes the nation. While padding their margin in the U.S. House, Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate; their net gain will be nine if the heavily favored Bill Cassidy defeats Mary Landrieu in Louisiana’s Dec. 6 run-off.
Taking the longer view, since President Obama’s sweeping victory in 2008, Democrats have lost almost 70 House seats and 14 seats in the Senate.
Democrats have also suffered devastating defeats on the local level. When Obama took office, his party held 28 governorships. After Nov. 4 – when Democrats lost in the midnight blue states of Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts – the GOP now controls 31 state houses.
This string of drubbings shows that the recent election cannot be dismissed as the typical mid-term losses suffered by the incumbent president’s party. Instead of an isolated wave, they reflect a growing disenchantment with Obama and his party. (The liberal mainstream media have been so intent on undermining Republicans by highlighting their problems with women, minorities and the young, that they have largely ignored these facts on the ground.)
While handing the reins to Republicans, voters in North Carolina and around the nation discredited key arguments Democrats have offered to explain away their losses.
Since 2010, North Carolina Democrats and Moral Monday protesters have claimed that our elected GOP leaders do not speak for the people. On the only measure that matters, it is clear that they do. Like it or not, their approach to government is not extreme, it is mainstream.
North Carolina Democrats have also attributed their losses to the corrupting influence of money on politics. The headline on the New Yorker’s profile of the wealthy GOP donor Art Pope captured this belief: “State for Sale.” Money does matter; it does buy outsized influence. But Kay Hagan and her Democratic allies outspent Thom Tillis by almost $2 million and still lost.
Finally, North Carolina Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to steal elections and revive Jim Crow through “voter suppression laws.” Lo and behold, voter turnout was the same as it was in 2010 when Democrats ruled the roost – 44 percent (dismal, but ordinary). And early voting was up a whopping 34.7 percent this year, compared with the 2010 midterm election; and 47.6 percent of them were Democrats.
This has left Democrats with one card to cast doubt on the results – gerrymandering. A recent N&O editorial asserted: “The results from the 2014 general election look more like an indictment of Republican manipulation of the election process than the endorsement of Republican policies.”
I could note that Democrats didn’t complain about gerrymandering when they were in charge and that the practice is woven into the fabric of American politics – to the victor belongs the spoils. Still, it is true that Republicans went overboard in redrawing districts to maximize their electoral advantage.
Nevertheless, the GOP has won the last three state-wide races – the race for governor and president in 2012 and the Senate race in 2014. And Republican congressional candidates won 53 percent of the votes cast two weeks ago.
In addition, most national studies of gerrymandering have found that broad demographic changes rather than political manipulation favor Republicans. An article published in the New York Times noted, “Democrats receive more votes than seats because so many of their voters reside in dense cities [such as the Triangle and Charlotte regions] that Democratic candidates win with overwhelming majorities, while Republican voters are more evenly distributed across exurbs and the rural periphery.” It concluded that “even a nonpartisan redistricting process” might have little effect.
We are an almost evenly divided nation. Almost every winner will face strong opposition. It is not clear yet how far the majority of voters want Republicans to move the country to the right. They should be wary of overplaying their hand.
While Democrats advance their vision of government, they should stop pretending their policies enjoy broad support. They should be troubled by a recent New York Times story suggesting the party leaders see no reason to change course. Instead of taking unilateral action on immigration and climate change, the President should really, truly try to work with people’s duly elected representatives in Congress.
As he famously said, elections have consequences. Ignoring the democratic process is the definition of extremism.