Reflections at the Electoral Equinox

We passed the electoral equinox this week. The 2016 election is now further removed than is the 2018 election ahead of us. This is a good time to survey lessons learned that can shape the 51 1/2 weeks ahead.

First, it’s now clear that Trump, like Obama before him, is his own brand. Those who campaign on the promise that they’ll be just like Trump cannot make those claims sound believable. Only Trump is just like Trump, and him we already got. Whatever mix of brash and bravado voters found attractive in him is not transferable in contested general elections, which will be plentiful in 2018.

There’s a problem with being perceived as the greatest. When you’re The One, there’s no room at your side. Your coattails are no help if the aspiring candidate is stuck behind you. When you campaign holding outsized coattails, you are obscured from view.

The second insight follows the first. The latest tell-all political memoir, cynically scheduled for release on Election Day, details how the Democrats were forced to heel to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s fundraising prowess. The deals that were struck obscured what would have otherwise have been obvious. Both political parties are weaker than they have been in generations.

While an ex-Democrat was negotiating a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party could have — maybe should have — handed its brand to a democratic socialist. Without the Clinton legacy, we could have seen a quadrennial autumn that had almost nothing to do with conventional Republican or Democratic presidential candidates.

We knew why, but we’re only learning now how much — voters were in no mood for incremental change. Fewer voters than ever were motivated by anything that looked like “more of the same.” Candidates who didn’t offer wholesale change failed to get out the vote.

Donald Trump got roughly the same number of votes as Mitt Romney got four years earlier. The biggest difference in 2016 was that those votes were enough.

Finally, big ideas drive national elections, because they get national news outlets talking. Do Democrats have any big ideas that can enhance their political fortunes in the years ahead? So far, no. But those ideas are out there, ready to be kindled into a political firestorm.

If Democrats want to storm the Capitol in 2018, we’ve already seen a storm they can use. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico six weeks ago, and the relief efforts have not made America proud. With heart-wrenching HDTV detail, we can see now that Puerto Rico’s second-class citizenship is ready to be second-guessed. Guam and a scattering of ocean islands face similar perils.

So-called “territories” are no longer viable for America. It’s past time to offer them statehood or sovereignty. The same must be said for Washington, DC, home to more Americans than Vermont or Wyoming.

This gives Democrats an issue that is both compassionate and expansionist. For those Americans who feel we are in decline, they may be feeling a stasis that is real. The middle initial in USA has always been expanding. America steadily added more States to its Union.

Why did that stop in 1960? It’s been 58 years since we added any stars to our spangle — longer than any stretch in our history. Once the Democrats say they want to expand the Union, the other side will be left to defend the status quo, which is what no politician wants to be stuck doing these days.

But they would have no choice. Each of these stepchildren states votes overwhelmingly Democratic. Adding just a handful of new senators would upset the power calculus in Washington.

For reasons that have never been well explained, liberals like ocean views and conservatives are afraid of heights. Most election maps show our country as a sea of red with blue edges, but what if the results could be shown by elevation? The country’s ground floor residents are mostly Republicans, but those who use elevators daily vote Democratic in overwhelmingly numbers.

It must be those ocean breezes.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs.