While Donald Trump's trainwreck presidency crashes along, Democrats have continued to flip state legislative seats. The most recent happened earlier this week in Kentucky, where Democrat Linda Belcher achieved a whopping 68 percent of the vote — besting her total from the 2016 election by 19 percentage points and Hillary Clinton's margin in the district by 86 points. It's the 37th state legislative seat flipped since the 2016 election.
It's a good indicator of why Democrats should contest every political office in the land, especially at this particular moment. A great many Republicans are very likely one unlucky comment or media discovery from being run out of town on a rail.
There are two basic principles at work with the particular Kentucky election. The first is that these sort of off-year elections tend to have extremely low turnout, and so a motivated core of dedicated activists can deliver the goods while most people aren't paying attention. Turnout in the election was a mere 4,497 votes — just over a quarter of the 2016 election.
The second, more important reality is that the Republican Party is simply saturated from top to bottom with conspiracy cranks, corrupt swindlers, and sex criminals. The special election that Belcher won was the result of the incumbent, Dan Johnson, committing suicide after an astounding report from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Louisville Public Media detailing a mile-long history of lies and crime — including an alleged molestation of a 17-year-old girl. After both Kentucky parties called on him to resign and the local police opened an investigation, he shot himself.
His widow Rebecca Johnson ran for his seat, insisting that the allegations were false, and that Belcher — who had held the seat previously, first elected in 2008 after her husband died in a car crash — was part of a liberal conspiracy to destroy her husband. Johnson refused to do any events with Belcher, calling them "fake debates." It's not remotely surprising that Belcher won in a landslide.
Similarly, on Tuesday, I wrote about how many key Republican propaganda outlets were pushing the idea that the Parkland school shooting survivors were FBI plants, or that the entire shooting was faked. Later that same day, an aide to a Florida state representative was fired after he contacted a journalist and falsely asserted that the survivors were "crisis actors," citing a YouTube conspiracy video.
As Alex Pareene wrote (in an article that is an increasingly vital guide to modern politics), these are simply the kind of people who do conservative politics now, from President Trump on down. The great Republican grift machine has taken over the party, and all but destroyed its ability to protect itself from nonsense, conspiratorial paranoia, or outright criminals.
As a result, some of the worst people in the entire country have percolated throughout the whole party apparatus, from state legislative staffers to the presidency, and it's causing the GOP severe political problems — particularly with regard to sex criminals. Recall that it was just a few months ago that Republicans bobbled the easiest possible U.S. Senate race due to nominating another credibly accused molester of underage girls.
If anything, this problem is going to get worse before it gets better. Republican politics is hugely unpopular among young people, and the young conservative activist groups (like College Republicans) are practically bursting with conspiracy cranks and outright racists. The cohort of future Republican politicians will almost certainly contain a steadily increasing share of "Gamergaters, MRAs, /pol/ posters, Anime Nazis, and Proud Boys."
That presents an opportunity for Democrats. Quite simply, it's easier to win elections when one's opponent is an unhinged crank or worse. And it's likely that the more conservative the district, the kookier the representative — so one has to place candidates everywhere, even in very red districts, to maximize the possibility of catching a lucky break.
Democrats should keep in mind, however, that this does not excuse them from picking good candidates of their own — that is, ones that are not hideously unpopular — and using government to produce good outcomes for their voters. They might be able to win once against loopy cranks, but if they do things like "fail to use huge congressional majorities to fix a mass unemployment crisis," they'll lose in the next election no matter how bad their Republican opponents are.