Working Class Hero?

The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 10-
This week:

  • Unions and Trump
  • Another early sign of Democratic enthusiasm for 2018
  • Has Trump solved Orrin Hatch’s Huntsman problem?


Labor unions: Democrats did their best to drag their feet on President Trump’s cabinet appointments, such that we’ve reached March and not all of the positions have been filled. But they could have all been filled by by now, except that Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, dropped out.

Trump responded by nominating Alex Acosta, dean of Florida International University’s law school. And one of the more interesting features of this nomination is that organized labor is praising the nomination of the former NLRB commissioner.

What’s more, union bosses — some of whom adamantly opposed Trump during his election and even called him a “bigot” and worse, are suddenly praising the infrastructure plan he advanced in his joint address to Congress. Various unions (for even more straightforward reasons) have also praised his decision to move forward on the construction of pipelines that had been blocked during the Obama administration.

Which leads you wonder: Given that Trump performed unusually well among the 18 percent of voters from union households (losing them by only nine points), is he actually forcing the union bosses to moderate, to adopt a less partisan political posture, in order to prevent a rebellion among rank-and-file union members?

That’s one explanation. Another, of course, is that unions, in their declining state, recognize that Democrats have nothing to offer now that they’re out of power. If they are eager for whatever scraps they think they can get from Trump’s table, this might also explain the behavior of Richard Trumka and other labor leaders. Surely, this squares better with Republicans’ overall posture toward unions, and their eagerness to pass right-to-work laws in the states they control — including most recently Kentucky and Missouri.

Certainly, the vitriol the union bosses displayed over Trump in 2016 is now a thing of the past. But after Trump won his election on the back of normally Democratic working-class voters, it’s worth wondering whether there isn’t more to it. Does he really have a shot at changing the strictly partisan affiliation of the unions? History would suggest they will simply cheer for one initiative here and another there, and then quickly endorse his Democratic opponent for re-election. But history also suggested Trump had no chance of winning in the first place, so can it be trusted?

Democratic enthusiasm: It’s nothing new for a party out of power to show signs of life during a midterm election cycle. It happened in 2006, and again in 2010, and again in 2014. It’s the rule, not the exception.

Democrats are waaaay out of power right now, about as far out as they have been on all levels in nearly a century. And they are indeed showing such signs of life already.

Whether you’re looking at the town halls being mobbed by left-wingers or the minor by-elections that have already taken place, it’s clear at the moment that the Democrats’ partisans display an unusual willingness to invest their time and energy in swaying public opinion and showing up to vote. Whether this will amount to anything in 2018 is still anyone’s guess. But it is there, and Republicans would be negligent were they to dismiss it, the same way so many of them dismissed Donald Trump early on.

Last week, we looked at a small special election contest in Delaware for state Senate where Democrats (who were slightly favored) not only won, but won by a vast margin.

Last Tuesday, it happened again. And even though Democrats lost this time (also as expected), the results contain further warnings that the Democrats’ hardest core of voters is far more energized than anything normal. An enthusiasm gap appears to exist in their favor over Republican voters.

A special election was held for two state Senate seats in Connecticut, one previously Democratic and one Republican. In theory, Republicans could have seized control of the chamber with two wins, but the Democratic seat is about as far from competitive as they come. In any event, both seats stayed in their respective party’s hands.

What’s instructive, as we noted in in the case of the Delaware special election last week, is the fact that the Democrat running in the more Republican district performed much better than one might have expected. A comparison between how this district voted in November and on February 28, via Ballotpedia, is instructive:

November 8, 2016:

Robert Kane (R)…..67.83%…..33,090

Greg Cava (D)…..32.17%…..15,697

Total Votes…..48,787

February 28 special election:

Greg Cava (D)…..44.2%…..8,339

Eric C. Berthel (R)…..53.9%…..10,160

Dan Lynch (UA)…..1.9%…..365

Total Votes…..18,864

You always expect turnout in a special election to be lower than it is in a general election. And it was here. Between the general election and this special election, overall turnout fell by 61 percent. But it did not fall evenly. Turnout among Republican voters fell by 69 percent. Turnout among Democrats only fell by 47 percent.

Another way of putting it: The Republican candidate got less than one-third this time of that he’d gotten in November. The Democrat (who happened to be the same person) got more than half the number of votes he’d gotten in November.

It would be a mistake to dismiss this just because of the result. If something like this were to happen in every remotely competitive district in America in 2018, Democrats would be restored overnight to a level of power they haven’t enjoyed since President Obama was first elected.

To be sure, that isn’t likely. This is a special case — a special election in fact, where only the most energized voters show up. In a general election, more voters would presumably show up than just the most energized ones, and the difference between the two parties’ performances would be somewhat less.

Still, one of the early signs of the coming Republican victory in 2016 was the high turnout that Republicans enjoyed during the primary process. This election result, like the one in Delaware, evinces a similar enthusiasm gap, but this time in favor of Democrats. It will be worth watching next month when more is at stake, when the first round of the special Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District special election takes place.

House 2017

Montana-At Large: Democrats have nominated country singer Rob Quist, to run for the U.S. House seat vacated by Rep. Ryan Zinke, R (Trump’s newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior, who rides to work in D.C. on a horse). He was chosen in convention over seven others, including 2014 Senate loser Amanda Curtis, a more radical left-wing politician. A Republican PAC has already launched a $700,000 ad campaign against him painting him with the same left-wing brush.

Republicans were widely expected to nominate Greg Gianforte on Monday — he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2016, but still held the relatively popular Democratic incumbent, Gov. Steve Bullock, to less than a four-point win.

Montana is a Republican state in all recent presidential elections. But it has a very strong labor tradition, and before Donald Trump even came onto the political scene Democrats often won with a kind of Trump-ish populism. So Quist has a winning model to follow, and a midterm-cycle wind at his back, but he’s running statewide in a state that just went for Trump by 20 points. This race is still the Republicans’ to lose. Election day is May 25.

Senate 2018

Utah: We had mentioned previously the possibility of a primary between Sen. Orrin Hatch, an ally of President Trump, and other potential hopefuls. One of these was Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor, presidential candidate, and ambassador to China, who was even considering an independent run against Hatch.

It still isn’t clear whether Hatch will even run for re-election, but Trump may have solved his Huntsman problem. Huntsman is reportedly in talks with the administration by offering him one of two jobs in the State Department: Either the job of deputy secretary, or the ambassadorship to Russia, and probably the latter.