Republicans will probably take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, according to the latest projections. It's a grim result for liberals, particularly when you consider the likely consequences: the mountain of garbage legislation that will be dumped on the White House...the possible gutting of the Congressional Budget Office...the total halting of the confirmation process for judiciary and executive branch positions.
But if Democrats do lose, they must try to keep their cool, and refrain from sinking into the usual pessimism. Because make no mistake, centrist sellouts like Will Marshall are going to descend on the Democrats' routed supporters and proclaim that the party must turn right to have a chance of victory in 2016. It's critical that Democrats ignore these calls, not only because they betray a pathetic spinelessness, but also because they're not even close to being true.
Here's why Democrats are behind in 2014, in descending order of importance: 1) In the Senate, Dems are defending the 2008 wave election, which means they have to beat back challenges in 21 out of 36 seats; 2) Democratic voters are systematically less likely to turn out in midterm elections; 3) the House has been heavily gerrymandered to give Republicans a large handicap; 4) President Obama is fairly unpopular, especially in the states where the races are tightest. All together, Republicans have a significant advantage overall in a contest that will come down to turnout operations.
The bellwether for this cycle is the Senate race in Colorado, where the Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is slightly behind Republican Cory Gardner in a tight race. To his credit, Udall isn't being cowed by Very Serious Person hand-wringing. He's making a hard play to turn out the Democratic base (basically minorities and women), and isn't backing off his strong anti-torture and pro-civil liberties positions, despite being viciously terror-baited for it.
This isn't just a noble stand — it's probably his best strategy as well. Though ObamaCare is basically working (especially the Medicaid expansion part), neither the law nor the Democratic Party are very popular in the state. A progressive agenda at the state level has led to an enraged rural backlash, and Udall has had setbacks in other areas (in particular, an utterly moronic endorsement of Gardner from The Denver Post). Playing to the center simply would have further alienated Latinos and women. It's worth noting that in the 2010 Colorado Senate race, Michael Bennet eked out a surprising come-from-behind win on the strength of Latino turnout.
And while there isn't much hard data to support it, I stubbornly hold to the premise that honest conviction and straightforward argument garner more support than today's politicos, usually focus-grouped to within an inch of their lives, tend to believe.
That brings us to 2016. During presidential election years, three out of the four issues I outlined above will be neutralized: Republicans will have to defend more seats than Democrats, Democratic turnout will be at its highest, and Obama will not be on the ballot. The electorate will also be measurably less white than in 2012 due to demographic trends. Thus, there's every reason to think that a Udall-esque strategy of turning out the base (as opposed to the traditional Democratic move of snidely dismissing the base in a "bid for the center") will work quite well.
Additionally, when you look behind the advantage that Republicans hold, you find Democrats seriously contesting some races in some totally unexpected places. Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia ought to be easy Republican locks, but have turned into competitive fights. Independent candidates have upended the races in Kansas and South Dakota — the latter is especially interesting, since the Democrat is running on a platform of unabashed economic populism.
Bottom line: don't listen to the aging New Democrats. The 2016 election ought to be run on a confidently liberal platform.