Much hay has been made of the recent decisions of Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, who along with Senator John McCain have become the Three Amigos of outright opposition to the President, at least on style. Senators Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins certainly also get credit for actually voting against serious legislation backed by President Trump. But what are the long-term implications of these retirements? And is this a good thing for Democrats or not?
In all likelihood, it is a mixed bag.
Let us first start by saying thing: thank you. It is a welcome relief ton hear GOP Senators criticizing the President of their own party. It is commendable that these men are taking a stand. But it is also completely reasonable that this doesn’t immediately correlate to a change in votes. Because there are two Trumps; The Twitter Trump and the Governing Trump. Twitter Trump is dangerous and spews half-baked (at best) ideas which can have serious ramifications on American society and indeed the world. Governing Trump (such as it is) is a pretty regular conservative Republican. What Flake and Corker are rebelling against is Twitter Trump, but they don’t necessarily disagree with the policy positions that Governing Trump supports.
This is what has thus far separated them from others like McCain, Collins, Paul and Murkowski, who have at times voiced concerns over style, but have voted against substance. In the case of Corker and Flake, it isn’t policy that concerns them, but style. This is why, at least to me, the idea that Flake ought to become and independent and caucus with the Democrats seems foolish. Not that long ago, Jeff Flake was considered to be a fairly conservative Republican. He isn’t a moderate. There is not incentive for him to caucus with a party he has incredible policy and ideological differences with. So, let’s just move on.
What can Democrats take away from these recent retirements?
Let us start with the good; the advantages ready to be used by the Democrats.
1). The GOP is in an existential crisis, which will likely cause some contentious primaries in unlikely places.
Democrats would be remiss to not exploit the growing rift in the GOP. As the establishment clashes with the Trump/Bannon populist wing of white resentment, there are unique opportunities arising. The rise of the Trump/Bannon wing has promised to primary almost every sitting Republican Senator. This means that incumbents, if they survive a primary, will be heavily damaged politically, adding some spring to the step of Democrats in vulnerable states. And if they Trump/Bannon candidate wins? Then we may see a redux of 2012.
In 2012, there were a lot of vulnerable Democrats, but the GOP nominated men who were far too conservative on the issue of abortion and rape and the political center swung back to the Democrats, keeping their senate majority for another couple years. It appears, at least for now, that the Senate seat in Alabama is closer than it should be thanks to the rise of “Judge” Moore, a moral crusader with a penchant for ignoring the Constitution and the Supreme Court. With Flake and Corker leaving and Trump/Bannon candidates sure to run, Democrats could win some more unlikely seats, or at least be more competitive.
2) The Senate is in play…. Well sort of.
As previously mentioned, with the race in Alabama tighter than normal, and open elections in Arizona and Tennessee, the Senate could get more interesting. Emphasis on could. The Democrats still have a tough slog ahead with seats in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, and West Virginia up for grabs. But this changes the calculations a bit.
If we can take the large assumption that, due to dissatisfaction with the President and the likely lack of action of the GOP, the Democrats have an innate advantage in a Midterm election. Expanding even farther, let us presume by some cosmic miracle that the combination of inaction, unpopularity, and bruising GOP primaries, that all the vulnerable Democrats remain in office. That leaves the Senate in its remaining balance of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents (both of whom join the Democratic caucus.) With just two votes to spare, the fact that there are close races in Arizona, Tennessee, and Alabama could be a huge problem. Not to mention that the Democrats are very likely to win Dean Heller’s seat in Nevada. A loss in any other vulnerable GOP seat deadlocks the Senate.
Though the Democrats have a definite climb, the retirements of Flake and Corker definitely open up more opportunity for the Democrats and, may spread thin critical funding.
So why is this bad?
The U.S. needs two functioning political parties. The fact that Senators, respected statesmen, are desiring to leave their posts because of the actions in their own party, doesn’t bode well. If the GOP continues this split, and heaven forbid, if the Trump/Bannon wing begins to win, does the Republican Party survive? Trump seems to have charisma in spades, and is perhaps better in this category than any other. But, there are term limits and there doesn’t seem to be another charismatic figure waiting in the wings. If, after Trump’s time in office is over (hopefully in 2020) but Bannon has seized control of the party, what happens?
Independents have fled Trump since he took office. If that trend continues, and I think it will, then the base of the GOP has shrunk. Not to mention that the Trump/Bannon wing feeds on white fear and resentment and demographics are definitely not in their favor. This could lead to some sort of split in the Republican party and either the formation of another political party or the ceding of a large swath of the country to Democrats.
This is bad because the country would be stuck in a long-term Democratic rule, where there is no credible threat of opposition. The country relies on the interplay of two different parties; where each is ostensibly the equal of the other. This means that there are in theory more ideas and better ideas. Or that no political framework is unchallenged. This doesn’t mean that we ought to always switch parties, but it does mean that the ideas are put forward and often adopted by the other side.
If the GOP does continue to grow apart and decline we will lose something as a nation. We will lose a part of what makes our country a great country.