This is the final essay in a series describing the 3 movements of The Resistance.
The first, The Defense: Watchdogs and Emergency Response, details the professionals who keep an eye on the government and press our rights through their organizations as well as the grassroots organizers who are mobilizing us to action on a daily basis.
The second, The Garrison, discusses the role that our already elected officials must play in The Resistance using their power and influence to prevent further erosion of our Democracy and Civil Liberties.
This essay proposes a strategy for The Offense- Winning Elections
When I speak of “we,” I am speaking of everyone who values the integrity of our elections, the preservation of our civil liberties, the stability of our government, and the value of our vote. I am speaking of everyone who sees that we are headed on a path away from democracy and that we urgently need to get back on course.
Our founding fathers understood that those who hold the right to vote, hold power. Through a civil war and subsequent hard fought political battles to amend the constitution, eventually that power was extended to all people. The power of our vote, however, depends on competitive elections that have actual consequences, and we no longer have competitive elections in our legislatures. Money in politics has corrupted both parties and aggressive gerrymandering has insulated politicians from accountability. Only 8% of Congressional seats and 14% of state legislative seats are competitive.
This is a bipartisan problem. Both parties have worked to make their elected positions less competitive in an election. The Democrats just haven’t done it as well as the Republicans. Consequently, gerrymandering has put the Democrats at such a disadvantage that they consistently win more than 50%of the vote in the House of Representatives, but cannot come close to winning a voting majority in the House. The system itself is undemocratic.
Next year 33 Senate seats, the entire House of Representatives, 36 governor seats, and 46 state legislatures are up for election. The people who win those seats will redraw the state and federal redistricting lines after the 2020 census. The Republicans openly state that they believe they can “create” 20–25 more safe Republican congressional districts through the redistricting process.
This year, NJ is one of only two states that have elections; our entire state legislature and the governor are up for election. We have an opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to be the spark that sets off a national movement to bring democracy back to our government.
So how do we do it?
The Democrats Cannot Save Us
If your thought process after the election was anything like mine, or these people’s, or these people’s, then you thought “we have to take over the Democratic Party!” However, after much consideration, I’m convinced that the Democratic Party is not situated to mount the kind of offense we need.
The Democratic Party is extremely weak compared to the Republican Party. Over the last 8 years, Democrats have lost almost 1000 elected positions across the country. Republicans control nearly 70% of state legislative chambers. Republicans have complete control of government in 25 states; Democrats have complete control of government in just 5, the lowest number since the Civil War. Republicans have supermajorities in 22 legislative chambers. Congress has not been controlled this lopsidedly by Republicans for nearly 100 years, since the Great Depression. The Democrats let Donald Trump become President despite the fact that 53% of voters had a strongly unfavorable opinion of him. Bluntly, the Democrats have not had a good offense for a very long time.
The Democratic Party is also internally weak. It is internally feuding and the average age of top House leadership is 76; the bench is shallow. More than that, the Democratic Party brand has been, perhaps irreparably, tarnished because the Democratic Party is no longer seen by large swaths of the electorate as the party of the People. Additionally, it’s not clear that the Democrats in power are actually motivated to rebuild the party or do the soul searching necessary to right the ship. They are beneficiaries of the status quo. Their seats have been safely gerrymandered as well and many have happily sidled up to corporate donors and special interests.
Even if all these issues didn’t exist, the Democrats would still be in no position to mount an offense next year because 1) numbers wise, they are defending more Senate seats, including 10 Democratic Senators in states that Trump won, and 2) the system has been rigged against them through Republican gerrymandering.
Personally, given all of these issues, I am not willing to gamble on the Democrats alone, especially given the short timeline.
How About A Third Party?
After concluding that the Democratic Party is unlikely to mount the kind of offense we need, I started to think about alternatives, such as people running as third party candidates. However, that has practical issues. First, there is the fundamental issue of building an entirely new organization, which is a massive undertaking that may take too long. Second, the “winner take all” system generally makes third parties unviable. Third, the Republicans and Democrats have protected themselves against third parties by making it difficult to create a third party; it’s tough to get on the ballot as an independent political party. For example, in New Jersey an aspiring political party cannot be qualified as a political party, with all the attendant benefits, unless it first wins 10% of all the votes for General Assembly in the prior election cycle. In other words, to become a political party in New Jersey, you must already be a political party. Finally, independent parties do risk splitting the vote with Democrats, which should be avoided given the position our country and state are in.
So What Do We Do?
How do we infuse democracy into a system that has become undemocratic? We compete where the democracy is left.
Most elections are now decided in the primaries- 92% of Congressional seats and 86% of state legislatures. More specifically, by the math, most elections in the country are decided in the Republican Primary, elections in which only a small, and extremely motivated, segment of the population votes. By sitting those elections out, we are allowing the system to be rigged against regular people. We must compete in and vote in Republican primaries.
Political parties evolve- remember, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. Parties go through realignments every 30–40 years, generally once a generation. We are overdue and many observers have floated ideas of what this realignment will look like. But, in the end, only history will tell what actually happens. We must make history.
There is very little downside to this strategy because:
1) The Republican Party is apparently up for grabs; Donald Trump is not a typical Republican.
2) It will force the Republican Party closer to the center to compete for votes that we pick up (disillusioned conservatives) or bring newly into the party. If we can turnout just 15% of New Jersey’s unaffiliated voters to vote in the Republican Primary, we would have more voters than all the other Republican candidates combined, even based on last year’s high turnout.
3) It will help the Democratic Party rebuild faster because they will be forced to run better and more progressive candidates to compete- they will no longer be the only game in town for people who value civil liberties, a strong social safety net, preserving our natural resources, common sense gun regulations, and policies that support the 99%.
4) This is a strategy that is applicable across the country, is easy to understand and implement, and could therefore be the template for a national movement in 2018;
5) In NJ, a movement towards participating in the Republican Primaries would allow fresh candidates to compete in races that are usually wrapped up by Democratic party bosses long before any election (ahem);
6) It doubles our chances of removing far right extremism from office. We’re not competing directly with the Democrats (so no risk of splitting the vote) and they’re still there as backup if we lose the Republican primary. We’re competing in different elections that don’t directly affect each other. To the extent that we end up competing against each other in general elections, see point 3.
Think of it this way: if your neighbor’s house is on fire and you leave it to burn, it’s going to take down the entire neighborhood. The Republican Party has been on fire for awhile, and now it’s threatening to take down the entire government. We only have two parties, if we abandon the one with the most power to to extremists and corporations, we may very well be abandoning our democracy. We must run toward that fire and get it under control. It’s time for a political realignment.
What I’m proposing will only work if we build a movement. Every movement is driven by the creativity, optimism, and courage of the people fighting for it. I don’t know what the world is going to look like in 10 years, but personally, I’d rather try something new than look back and wonder “what if.” If you feel similarly, join our movement.
If you’re interested in becoming a candidate, email NewJerseyAwakens@gmail.com.