The backlash to Democrats’ hard-left politics in the first two years of the Barack Obama administration created a red wave in the 2010 midterms that cost them control of redistricting in a large swath of key states. They hoped to return the favor in 2020, banking on Donald Trump’s unpopularity to win back control — or at least some leverage — in several potential swing states. That would have allowed Democrats to protect their House majority, and hopefully expand it to an unbeatable bloc.
Instead, Democrats miscalculated on messaging and strategy, and wound up on the losing end even in a record turnout election cycle. Despite winning the presidency, Democrats failed to flip even one state chamber — a massive miss, and perhaps a historical anomaly, at least in the modern era. Today, the Washington Post gives a good look at the decade-long consequences of that failure:
Democrats failed to pick up any state legislative chambers this November, and they could face the consequences of that for the next decade.
That’s because next year, states will redraw electoral maps for congressional and state legislative districts. It’s something the Constitution mandates every decade based on new census data.
In many states, it’s up to politicians in state legislatures to do that. Republicans controlled the mapmaking process in most states after a stellar 2010 election and were able to draw state and congressional districts that made it harder for Democrats to regain power at all levels. After a stronger-than-expected performance this November, Republicans will control map drawing in a majority of chambers next year, too, although to a slightly lesser degree.
Actually, the GOP expanded its reach in 2020 by flipping the New Hampshire legislature while keeping Sununu in the governor’s office. The GOP actually won the gubernatorial races too, picking up the Montana executive office after Steve Bullock ran his losing campaign to unseat Sen. Steve Daines. The New Hampshire win gives Republicans an added trifecta for redistricting in a state where it matters — a state that has only two House districts, both represented by Democrats.
Even the states cited by the Washington Post’s Amber Phillips as wins for Democrats seem like consolation prizes. They are the “blue wave” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, traditional Democrat states in presidential elections but mixed bags in House races. The only good news in these states is that nothing changed in the election; Republicans still have leverage in all three, which means that there won’t be wholesale changes to support friendlier district drawing for Democrats.
They’re still locked out in the states that Democrats need to rework to add more competitive seats to their campaigns. If this list looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same states that Democrats keep claiming to be thisclose to flipping:
- North Carolina
The state legislative election outcomes in these states are rather telling. Democrats poured a waterfall of money into these states in 2020, either for Joe Biden or for Senate and House races, or all of the above. They believed that Trump’s unpopularity meant that their messaging on items like the Green New Deal and court-packing would resonate. Instead, Democrats ended up getting locked out again, and may have ended up doing more damage than ever in these key electoral states. The next Republican at the top of the ticket not named Trump will have a head start just on that basis alone.
This matters in a big way for 2022. By that time, most if not all of these states will have redistricted, just in time for the first midterm of a Biden/Harris administration. Nancy Pelosi’s razor-thin majority in this session would be at risk even with the current map, as history shows that midterms usually cut against first-term presidents. Their prospects are now worse thanks to the new maps under which those elections will transpire — and won’t improve at all for another ten years, at best.
Those are the wages of extremism. And, for that matter, those are the wages of 30,000-foot messaging rather than a good ground game that listens as much as it talks. It mattered for more than just a presidential campaign, as I repeatedly noted over the last few months, and this is a predictable result of abandoning the kind of local, in-person politicking that drives legislative-election results.