Members Only | May 13, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

GOP Senate Is Worse Than Trump

If Trump loses 2020, Senate Republicans will sabotage the new president.

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I’m probably in a minority of political observers who believes that winning control of the United States Senate is more important than winning the presidency. But I’m not alone in thinking the Democratic Party does not think enough collectively about it.

More than 20 Democrats believe they can beat Donald Trump. But a paucity of Democratic Senate candidates has come forward to challenge Republican Senate incumbents, despite conditions in big red farm states that could favor Democrats.

The peerless Jamelle Bouie explained Sunday pictures big and small. If the Democrats take the Senate in 2020, they must repeal the Senate filibuster to advance a liberal agenda. But if they fail, Bouie said (echoing Paul Waldman’s thinking), “Mitch McConnell may cripple a Democratic presidency from the start, blocking judicial and executive branch nominations in an even more extreme replay of his blockade of President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.”

Farmers in big red states have reasons to give Democratic Senate candidates a look.

In the event that a Democrat wins the White House but the GOP holds the Senate, McConnell would be emboldened because of Trump’s defeat. The Republicans have for years refused to recognize Democratic legitimacy. As Waldman wrote last week, the president has merely turned that up: “A defeated Trump will be on Fox News and Twitter every day saying that the election was stolen from him and that the Democrat is not really the president. And the GOP base, having learned well in recent years that no Democrat can ever be legitimate, will stand behind the GOP’s obstruction.”

This is why I keep saying the Democratic Party does not give enough thought collectively to the Senate. Even if a Democrat beats Trump, that won’t mean a return to “normal.” It will mean the opposite. It will mean McConnell & Co. have more reason to sabotage the Democratic president-elect, more reason to use every tool at their disposal to prevent him or her from getting any federal judges. (They will just allow courts to stand idle.) They might even prevent him or her from putting together a Cabinet. In effect, the government would be neutralized. There is no going back to the days of Barack Obama. In fact, those days were merely a taste of what’s to come.

That’s not the worst of it.

Bouie wrote that the “second problem is a set of long-term trends that will benefit the Republican Party as long as it maintains its hold on the least populated states and will burden the Democratic Party as long as it represents most of the densest, most diverse and fastest-growing major metropolitan areas in the country.” Bouie said that it’s clear that “Republicans are on the verge of a durable structural advantage in the Senate that will make Democratic majorities rare outside of the occasional ‘wave’ election.” I have articulated this slightly differently: the era of bipartisan compromise is gone. Get ready for a new era in which the GOP overtly embraces the politics of apartheid.

Bouie outlines real remedies, all of which I endorse, but all of them are far in the future, not now. At the risk of giving Trump too much credit, he is nevertheless changing the political landscape. He’s giving farmers in big red states a reason to give Democratic Senate candidates a look. As the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik put it:

“Farm prices are down, bankruptcies are up, farm equipment is getting more expensive and export markets are fading away: Is there anything to like about the impact President Trump has had on the agricultural economy of the United States?”

The president keeps saying tariffs on Chinese imports are going to protect American jobs and make money. But he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. First, tariff levies do not come from the Chinese government. They come from American consumers of imported Chinese goods. Second, farmers tend to employ immigrant not native-born labor. So tariffs on Chinese imports aren’t protecting Americans jobs. (Trump’s crack down on immigrant labor, however, is creating labor shortages in big red agricultural states.) Worse, for farmers, is that they can’t get their crops to China because of its retaliation against Trump’s tariffs. Farmer incomes have dropped to their lowest levels since 2016, and that’s probably not going to change soon, all things being equal.

The thing about tariffs is that they force overseas businesses to find new supply chains, and once they are secured, businesses don’t change easily. Many farmers are hoping that Trump will get them a better trade deal, but that presumes markets will come back. In November, soybean exports to China fell to zero. They may end up staying that way. That’s a lot of hoping Democratic Senate challengers can exploit.

A Democrat in places like Kansas can pick up the arguments that the Republicans left on the ground, presenting him- or herself as a business-friendly immigration-reform free market Democratic moderate who’s a friend to farmers everywhere. Business, not cultural issues, used to be the Republicans’ bread and butter. That’s no longer the case. This is why the Democratic Party needs to think more collectively about the Senate.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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