Politics Happened – What Did We Learn From Them?

Chris Christie eats a donut, proves Mitt Romney right.
Chris Christie eats a donut, proves Mitt Romney right.

Last night, the 2013 elections happened. This is an off-year, so very many not important things happened. Despite Paul Krugman’s pessimism, there may still be some trends that we can tease out from the tea leaves of state- and local-level politics that might matter for 2014. (I’ll only talk about 2016 for Chris Christie, that double-named victim of Double Down, because Hillary will beat him on her way to running the world).

Let’s start in New York, where liberal candidate Bill de Blasio managed to win a race to be mayor of the most liberal city in the United States. I wrote about this already, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind here. First, a lot of the BDB agenda can’t be passed without Albany’s support, which he may or may not get; second, he may not be quite the liberal savior that many people think. There’s also an argument to be made that city inequality isn’t necessarily harmful, as Ed Glaeser, a Harvard economist, makes. There’s a difference between nationwide inequality — which demands instant rectification — and citywide inequality, which usually points to the success of the city. With America’s extremely high level of mobility, many people can live where they choose to, and many are choosing to live in New York City. As Glaeser writes, “massive global financial markets… America’s most accessible public transit system, hyper-dense immigrant communities and broad social services, like public housing… attract both rich and poor to New York, and New York should not be ashamed of that economic diversity.” This is a very fascinating article and I encourage you to read it, but one argument that I’d like to highlight is the future of inequality. If urban poor are already migrating to New York for a chance at upward mobility, then it’s likely that equality policies will not solve the problem, as the city becomes more equal for established residents but the impoverished still move there. There really aren’t any 2014 implications for New York, because this was a city election, though I’m interested to see how BDB’s policies change the growth of NYC. More statistics about this race can be found here.

One rather inconsequential race — but one that I’ll point out here in service of a larger point and because it’s hilarious — is the race for the First Congressional District in Alabama. Republican State Senator Bradley Byrne defeated Tea Party real estate developer Dean Young in a primary for next year’s midterm elections. Byrne was the establishment choice, and it’s easy to see why given the contents of the candidates’ interview with the Guardian. The interview has the candidates answers on top of each other, which makes the juxtaposition between “normal conservatism” and “insane reactionary meaninglessness” really easy to see. For example:

Leaving the question of gay marriage aside, do you believe homosexual people can feel the same love for one another as straight people?

Byrne: Yes.

Young: When you start talking about that, I don’t even know … Homosexuality is wrong, and that is just the way it is. Always has been, always will be.


Where was Barack Obama born?

Byrne: He was born in Hawaii and he has produced a birth certificate.

Young: That is what we call the $64,000 question! I have no idea! [When pushed for an answer:] Kenya.


Birthers. Gotta love ’em.

However, this feeds into a larger argument about the future of the Tea Party. My thoughts on the Tea Party have slowly morphed over the course of the last four years. I originally thought they were an Occupy Wall Street-esque movement that would last one summer then come to its senses. As they’ve stuck around much longer than I had originally anticipated, I have slowly come to the conclusion that they’re here to stay until the Republicans get sick of them; the Democrats won’t be able to do anything to stop a radical faction of an opposing party until the opposing party realizes that it houses a radical faction, and stops it. I think this is slowly starting to happen.

This probably started during October’s government shutdown battle. As I wrote back then, the Republicans realized during the battle that the Tea Party has disproportionate power over the day-to-day dealings of the GOP. One of the takeaways from the Virginia Governor’s race, between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, is that typical Tea Party campaigns based on social issues won’t fly anymore. Kevin Drum writes that Cuccinelli tried to make his campaign a fiery, social issues-based ideological battle, which flew in the face of Northern Virginia business interests. NoVa businesses want to, and historically will, vote Republican; given the slim margin of victory for McAuliffe, had these votes turned out in larger numbers, he probably would have won. McAuliffe only lost the NoVa exurbs by 2%, and won the highest income bracket, according to the Washington Post‘s exit poll. Some more votes out of these demographics may have swung the election towards Cuccinelli had he run a business-focused campaign. He did not, and when McAuliffe refused to engage Cuccinelli on social issues, Cuccinelli was forced to turn his focus to businesses, and just wasn’t convincing.

It’s easy to see where Cuccinelli lost votes in a highly-Republican state, but where did McAuliffe’s votes come from? As Markos Moulitsas points out, McAuilffe won Virginia on a platform of gun control, abortion rights, Obamacare, cap and trade, and gay marriage. Well, Jamelle Bouie suggests this is due to the rising strength of black voters. The race, Bouie argues, was always tighter than polls suggested, because the electorate for 2013 was more likely to represent the last gubernatorial election in 2009 rather than the presidential election of 2012. However, the one group that repeated its 2012 showing, and improved on its 2009 outing, was black voters, who, at 20% of the electorate, voted at a rate above their representation in the general population. And 90% of black votes went to McAuliffe. Tons of analysis has been done on the rise of minority voters in this country. There is now consistent, tangible evidence that minority groups can consistently sway elections, and both parties are going to have to plan accordingly.

Finally, there’s New Jersey, where Chris Christie managed to beat out someone who 43% of New Jersey voters don’t know. The election itself isn’t at all surprising, but what’s important here is the future of Christie’s political life. The comparisons to pre-2000 George W. Bush, who was, as we very easily forget in the aftermath of his presidency, a very skilled politician and governor, are already rolling in. As Steve Kornacki fleshes out in great detail, Christie is on the exact same path that Bush was on in 1998. In the second term of a Democratic presidency with a Congress that makes the GOP look bad and juxtaposed against a failure in an equally important swing race, Christie becomes, by default, the front runner for the Republicans in 2016. Given the fact that New Jersey has 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, Christie looks even better.

So is he viable for 2016? Chuck Todd says it’s probably not wise to answer that question when we’re at least a year out from any possible candidacy declarations. But for fun, let’s assume he runs, because he sure sounded like he would in his speech last night. Well, Jonathan Chait lists four problems with Christie’s presumptive 2016 run. First, he has substantial deviations from the GOP line in his calls for gun control and approval of marriage equality in his state; second, he’ll have to turn against Obama in the coming years, ruining his bipartisan credentials; third, the Southern GOP may not like his northeast bully-ish tendencies; and fourth, there’s a lot of shady history that is yet to be discovered. Chait develops these ideas a lot more, but there are a lot of different reasons why he may not be successful in 2016.

Now, this is nowhere near the information necessary required to make a formal guess, and history is against the Democrats winning a third term, but I currently find it hard to see Christie winning in 2016, because I don’t think he’ll be able to appeal to a Republican party quickly splitting into two distinct factions. Unless the GOP can fix its Tea Party problem in the next three years, and make sure that the radical reactionaries are brought back in line with the establishment, Christie is going to have to straddle an uncomfortable divide, and I don’t think he can do it. To be clear, I don’t think any politician could. But Christie is certainly not that person.


Image courtesy of  the Daily Telegraph