2018

Right now I’m guessing that the Democrats will gain some seats in the House but nowhere near enough to take the majority, and I think we will wind up with less Senate seats then we do now. I didn’t think this a month ago, but the way we’re headed is that we’ll win big in blue states, bigger than ever. And that’s about it. Don’t expect any big shift in governorships and state legislatures either, except that blue states on the coasts will get bluer, a deep California blue. But though the GOP will be crippled going into 2020 by their own civil war, the Democrats could come out of 2018 with less seats than they have ever had. Still, it’s highly doubtful a Republican will be elected president in 2020, even though they will dominate every other level of government in the country. Ain’t politics funny. As for 2018, we lost that this summer. Too late to fix now, and the red states will come out of this summer redder than ever. Purple is a fleeting color, and it already flit.

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Bleeding Kansas

“KSN News Poll shows Donald Trump losing ground in Kansas” says a stunning little article from a Kansas media site.

“The poll showed that Donald Trump would get 44 percent of the vote followed by Hillary Clinton with 39 percent. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had eight percent. Nine percent of those polled were undecided. The margin of error is 4.2 percent.”

That’s right–Kansas, solidly Republican Kansas, edging toward Hillary Clinton. And while I wouldn’t bet real money against the GOP in Kansas, not ever, but the fact that Hillary is gaining and is within a few percentage points in the state really shows just how bad off Trump is nationally, for now anyway. The last time a Republican presidential candidate lost in Kansas was in 1964, when Goldwater scared even Kansans. Before that you have to go back to the Dustbowl years when FDR took it twice (beating a Kansan in 1936, Alf Landon, in fact). Before that it was when the Republicans tore themselves apart in 1912 and Kansas voted for Woodrow Wilson (by a plurality) and then voted for him again in 1916, with war looming. Before that it was 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, from next door in Nebraska, gave such an extraordinary acceptance speech (“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”)[ at the Democratic convention it swept even Kansans off their Republican feet. And before that is was never. Kansas was quintessentially Republican even then.

In fact, it’s hard to find a state more Republican than Kansas. After all the state had been born bloody, in 1856, with pro-slavers–Democrats all, in those days–from Missouri beating and burning and massacring the Kansas Territory’s free soilers, soon to be Republicans all, trying without success to chase them out and bring Kansas into the union as a slave state. Kansas was also where John Brown had done his killing, his sons massacring some local pro-slavers with swords, hacking them to pieces. It was an eye for an eye response to a massacre of local free soilers by pro-slave ruffians. Politics was a murderous affair in Kansas then, with some voting and a lot more shooting and burning and death threats and beatings, and we forget that John Brown was a Republican martyr. “John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave”, went the hugely popular song of the time, “but his truth goes marching on!” The lyrics were later transformed into the Battle Hymm of the Republic, a Republican Party anthem till the party turned southern in the Reagan years.

We forget too that what gave birth to the abolitionist Republican party had given birth to Kansas, indeed the struggles between good and evil in Kansas in the 1850’s helped to create the Republican party. Forgotten almost completely now is how those former pro-slavery Democrat ruffians from Missouri morphed into Confederate guerillas and came back to Kansas on a sunny day in 1863 to slaughter a couple hundred unarmed men and boys in the town of Lawrence, merely for being free state Republicans. Jayhawkers, as they called the free soil militias who fought the pro-slavery Border Ruffians, were incorporated into the Union Army and took their vengeance on Missouri many times over. That bitterness must linger in a zillion little ways even today. Certainly small town Kansas and small town Missouri seem like very different places. And as Kansas seems to drift blue, Missouri has shifted dramatically red. The strife had enormous consequences at the time. Bleeding Kansas, as they called it in the 1850’s, helped birth the Republican Party, but also sundered the Democrats into Unionist and Secessionists and utterly destroyed the Whig Party. The bloodthirsty politics of Kansas in the 1850’s foretold the American Civil War, just as the American Civil War foretold the politics of the century to follow.

Now it seems, a century and a half later, that the Tea Party experiment in the state’s governance–Kansas is its laboratory–has completely failed and the state’s electorate is planning on voting more Democratic than it has in over half a century. In most states that might not be that big of a deal. But this is Kansas. You could not find a single example on the electoral map this year that shows more clearly how catastrophic the nomination of Donald Trump could be for the Republican Party. Foretelling the future again? Who knows. People yell, people scream, people jump about excitedly and say crazy things. You can never tell who among us is making any sense till later, when our time now is history and most of us are dead and things so confused today appear so much clearer. Perhaps Trump is a one time thing and Kansas and the rest of the red states will return to their perennial rock ribbed Republicanism. Or perhaps, like the Whigs we can scarcely remember anymore, the Republican Party will break up on the rocks on Kansas and throughout the once quiet backwaters of Republicanism and new parties will emerge from the wreckage. That, after all, is how the Republican party was born.

Do I think so? No. My money is on the GOP recovering nicely. After all, the party recovered swiftly from the Goldwater debacle, gaining 47 House and three Senate seats in the 1966 midterms and retaking the presidency in 1968.  And it seems likely that today there is more than enough Republican solidity at the state level for a quick, phoenix-like reemergence in just a couple years. But then in 1852 I would have bet on the Whigs lasting forever too. Hadn’t they just elected a president in 1848? By 1856 what remained of them aligned themselves with the Know Nothings and disappeared.

In 2012 Ted Cruz told the New Yorker that without Texas

the Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’

Cruz was referring to Texas turning blue because half of the state’s population is now Hispanic and the Republicans were doing all they could to alienate them. But it’s not Hispanics (about 6% of the population) giving Kansas its blue tinge this year. It’s Republicans and independents. White people. Donald Trump is scaring his own kind.

Preston v Sumner

Congressman Preston Brooks, left, Democrat of South Carolina, debating Kansas politics on the senate floor with Senator Charles Sumner, right, Republican of Massachusetts, 1856. Sumner had just delivered his fiercely abolitionist Crime Against Kansas speech, two hours of vituperative elegance. Brooks objected. And you thought things were hostile now. This beating, incidentally, caused an instant media furor (news was telegraphed then almost as fast as we tweet it now) that helped to turn the Republicans into the dominant party of the north. The Civil War did the rest. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Democrats retook control. And it wasn’t until the sweeping electoral victories of Ronald Reagan that Republicans became dominant again, by basically abandoning the world view of Senator Sumner and taking up that of Representative Brooks. OK, I exaggerate. But Donald Trump does have far more in common with Preston Brooks than with Ronald Reagan. Something changed. Perhaps politics is much more immutable down south, ancient beliefs lasting generations. When the GOP shed it’s northern skin and became based in the south, it began to take on a lot of ancient southern ideologies as well. Ideas and notions have staying power south of the Mason-Dixon line, while up north they come and go with the generations. John C Calhoun is still a living presence down there, and we up north and out on the coast can barely remember the name Henry Clay.

 

Democrats and Republicans, a brief history off the top of my head

(A Facebook post.)

I wouldn’t call the Democrats reactionary before the Civil War. There were as many northern as southern democrats. And the Republicans didn’t exist till the 1850’s, and only became national when the Whigs dissolved (split like the Democrats by slavery). The Republicans were Abolitionists, and I suppose you could equate that with Progressivism, but after the War they also became the party of Big Capital and business. When Progressivism began it went after both Democratic big city corruption and Republican business ties. There was also a definite upper class edge to Progressives, and they were for eugenics, which is one of the great divides between New Deal Democrats and Progressives….FDR’s politics was anything but elitist. They could be racist, as he needed the Southern Democrats to counter all the Republicans who would have done in Social Security and the New Deal and just about everything else in his program, but they were never elitist. FDR never backed eugenics, not at all. That was a great ideological dividing line long since forgotten, and thankfully so.

Progressivism didn’t start till the turn of the century, actually, and before then it was the Democrats were more friendly to labor, for instance, and to immigrants, and small farmers and had a distinctive anti-Big Capital edge. William Jennings Bryan and Al Smith were Democratic progressives (well, Bryan was a proto-Progressive) and both were the nominee twice, and of course Woodrow Wilson actually won. And Progressivism actually sundered the GOP just as the Dixiecrats did the Democrats later. 1912 was the year the GOP split. Much of the Progressive GOP eventually wound up Democrats (though Al Smith wound up an anti-New Dealer, go figure.). During FDR’s terms much of what were to become Dixiecrats in 1948 were actually very pro-New Deal (Remember Huey Long?). FDR, like I said, was dependent on southerners to pass all his key legislation. It was a vastly different political world in the South from today’s.

The Dixiecrats broke from the Democrats in 1948 (over Truman’s civil rights and desegregationist tendencies) but then stayed loyal Democrats, pretty much, till 1968. Goldwater failed to attract as anywhere near as many as he’d hoped in 1964 (if you look at the state by states results, you’ll be amazed at how many states below the Mason Dixon line broke strongly for LBJ). In 1968 Wallace was the home of the Southern Democrats, and would have been again in 1972 had he not been shot. (Arthur Bremer is a very important man in American political history….) Wallace had no need to even join the American Independent party (A.I.P.), he could run as a Democrat in the primaries, and then as A.I.P. (or whatever label was handy) in the general (Sanders could conceivably follow the same route next year, as could Trump). Nixon just barely won in 1968 (he’d been sliding against Humphrey and it’s said that had the race gone on just a couple more days Nixon would have lost). In 1972, Wallace’s attempted assassination and removal from the race allowed the GOP to go after Southern Democrats in a big way in the general election because the Left had disastrously taken over the Democratic party that year. 1972 was the year the Nixon Campaign developed its vaunted Southern Strategy, which helped set the stage for the Reagan Revolution and the future of the Republican Party. The mess that the GOP is in today can be traced all the way back to 1972.

McGovern was a huge mistake for the Democrats. It took most moderate voters away from us for the first time since Eisenhower’s two elections (JFK aimed his campaign at them in 1960) and put them solidly in Nixon’s camp–and Nixon was running as a moderate more than as a conservative (people forget that now.) Nixon was not trying to dismantle the welfare state or environmental laws. He was not gunning for the unions. He was essentially an Eisenhower Republican, that is essentially a New Deal Republican. But Nixon took advantage of uncompromising southern racism to get southern Democrats to vote for him, or vote against the Democrat, anyway. (Though Wallace running as an independent would have served his purpose almost as well.) It was under Reagan that Nixon’s Southern strategy morphed into a way to undo the New Deal. That is, from 1980 on they weren’t using Nixon’s but Goldwater’s southern strategy. Goldwater sought to undo Civil Rights legislation and dismantle the New Deal. Nixon could not possibly have advocated that. There were still substantial numbers of liberal Republicans who had to be accommodated. (People forget that now, too.) They had tried in 1976 but failed, but Carter’s catastrophic presidency had left the country wide open to a conservative takeover, especially with the Left still unrecovered from 1972. The McGovern debacle, if not a mortal wound for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, was a crippling one. It took years and the birth of a new generation of voters for it to even begin recovering.

With each election cycle from 1982 on more southern Democrats were purged by the voters and the last of them flipped to Republicans in the 90’s. Democrats became as scarce south of the Mason Dixon line as Republicans had been fifty years before. But what truly turned the GOP so hard right on a national level was not so much the Southern Strategy but the purging of its northern liberals and moderates, the people who were instrumental in getting civil rights legislation passed. Watergate had made it worse when in 1974 and 1976 many of the Northern Republicans had been beaten by Democrats in their formerly safe Senate and House seats. As the liberal and moderate Republicans in the northeast disappeared, the numbers of Republican voters in the region dropped, leaving the party there increasingly conservative. Remaining moderates and liberals were then easy pickings for conservatives who would challenge them in the primaries and win, only more often than not be beaten in the general by a liberal Democrat. It was a party committing regional suicide for ideological purity. But by 1976 the writing had been on the wall for the liberal wing of the GOP anyway (that was the year Reagan’s delegates shouted Rockefeller down at the convention as he gave his speech, Rocky then flipped them off), and they’ve been virtually extinct for a couple decades now, ending the great tradition of Republican Progressives (in the old sense, not the new far left sense) that dated back to Teddy Roosevelt. There are no liberal Republicans now and few moderates, and very few conservative Democrats. And because of that Congress has been divided worse than at any time since 1860. It seems unlikely that anything as sweeping as, say, the 19th Amendment–the women’s right to vote–could get through Congress now.

I recall at the peak of the Tea Party there were calls in the South by extremist Republicans to recall the 13th Amendment–which had ended slavery–and to remove Lincoln’s birthday as a national holiday. For Republicans in the South, Lincoln was an enemy. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. The man who made the GOP. He was now an enemy to many of the southern Republicans. Which made sense, because he had been an enemy of Southern Democrats. And thus do parties change. The once slave owning Democrats are now champions of civil rights and demanding the confederate flag be pulled down everywhere, while slavery loathing Republicans pass laws to repress black votes and even wave that very rebel banner that once represented everything their party hated. Ain’t life funny sometimes.

Today's very confused Republicans.

Today’s very confused Republicans.

Know Nothings

Know Nothing flag, mid-1850's.

Know Nothing flag, mid-1850’s.

Native-American didn’t always mean American Indian. That definition took hold in the 1970’s*. Back in the 19th century, at least until the Civil War, it meant native-born American, and American meant White, English, Protestant and especially not Irish. In fact, many people in the 1850’s hated the Irish flooding into American ports after the Potato Famine of the 1840’s, hated them so much they formed a political party, the Native American Party. It was a secret, at first–secret societies were all the rage back then–and if asked a member was supposed to say I know nothing. Hence the common name. (Seriously, that explains the name, as stupid as that sounds.) Later it called itself the American Party, but it wasn’t around long enough for that name to stick. To this day we know them as Know Nothings. Only the Anti-Masonic Party of a generation earlier (they really hated Freemasons) had an odder appellation for a major American political party. Continue reading