It’s thrilling to see signs of a Trump rebellion – it could lead to winning control of the House, and maybe the 2020 election
With new Democratic voters racing to the polls in big numbers in Tuesday’s primaries, Texas is looking purple rather than Republican red. That’s big news, especially on the heels of Democrats winning recently in Alabama, where Doug Jones beat Roy Moore, and Virginia, where Democrat Ralph Northam was elected governor.
Though their optimism may be premature, national Democrats think Ted Cruz can be defeated in November by a well-funded liberal House member from El Paso with the name of Beto O’Rourke, who just won his state’s Democratic Senate nomination.
Republican gloom in Washington DC is palpable, with White House chaos, Donald Trump’s sinking approval ratings and incumbent retirements piling up. This week brought news that Mississippi’s long-serving Thad Cochran is leaving the Senate. That has left the Republican party searching for a replacement strong enough to defeat a Roy Moore-like rightwinger in an upcoming primary from which Cochran has decided to withdraw. And a special House election in Pennsylvania next week looks dicey.
Though winning control of the House of Representatives in 2018 is their focus, my Democratic sources say that there are already 20 credible presidential challengers giving serious thought to opposing Donald Trump in 2020. The list, unsurprisingly, includes a raft of Democratic senators, and, perhaps surprisingly, at least three strong women, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.
Other credible potential candidates include New Jersey’s Cory Booker, an African American, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, a passionate promoter of stiffer gun laws, and Virginia’s Tim Kaine, who was not stellar as Hillary Clinton’s running mate but recently brought donors in Boston to tears with a performance of This Land is Your Land, played on his harmonica. Bernie Sanders is almost certain to run again. What is striking about this batch of senators is that all of them are strikingly liberal.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Los Angeles’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, also left of center, are thought to be regional presidential contenders from the two coasts.
Unlikely southern stars have aligned to boost Democrats’ confidence. West Virginia, a state that was once a stronghold, had slipped out of the party’s reach in 2000 and in 2016 gave 68% of its vote to Trump. But there’s a tide of anger over issues like the scandalously low pay of teachers, who defied the state’s right to work law and went out on strike.
Mainly led by women, they won a 5% raise just this week and agreed to return to work days ago. Their rebellion may have reignited the party’s activist base. “People are starting to get angrier,” a teacher named Jenny Craig told the New York Times, “and remember our history, remember our roots.” Those roots aren’t so old. They trace back to the time when West Virginia was dominated by unionized coalminers and long-ruling Democratic senators like Harry Byrd and Jay Rockefeller.
Then there are the new statewide victors, Alabama’s Doug Jones in the Senate, who defeated Moore last fall and Ralph Northam, who took office as governor of Virginia in January. They were carried to victory on the strength of black and women voters.
Texas has had the longest Democratic dry spell of any state. The last time a Democrat was elected statewide was in 1994. That’s why there is so much pent-up passion for Beto, who is emblematic of the Democratic new wave, unabashedly liberal and well-financed.
The El Paso Democrat is 45 and has a background every bit as interesting as his name. Beto is a nickname for Roberto (his first and middle names are Robert Francis) and his surname is Irish. He’s fluent in Spanish and represents a Texas district that is 75% Hispanic (Texas is 28% Hispanic). He is dead set against Trump’s border wall.
A critic of the war on drugs, he’s for legalizing pot and banning assault weapons. A graduate of Columbia University in New York, he performed for a time in a punk band. But Texas likes quirky politicians and O’Rourke defeated an entrenched incumbent in a primary in 2012, the same year Texas sent Cruz, now 47, to the Senate.
Beto is the polar opposite of Cruz, one of the most conservative – and most disliked – politicians in Washington DC and famously launched a filibuster and an unpopular government shutdown upon his arrival in the Senate.
Cruz was the first choice of the Mercer family, the funders of Breitbart and other arch-conservative causes during the 2016 presidential primaries. He’s a hardliner on immigration, a second amendment enthusiast, and stands to the right of Trump on many issues.
He should be cruising to a second term victory, but instead he’s running scared, issuing a blistering radio ad that attacked Beto on Tuesday night, deriding his liberalism as out of step with Texas and making fun of his name. Set to a country music tune, the ad said: “Little Robert wanted to fit in, so he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin.”
A tidal wave of early Democratic votes in the primary was reason for Cruz to be freaked. Those votes doubled compared with the midterm primary in 2014 and exceeded 2016 levels, according to Newsweek. In the last fundraising period, Beto bested Cruz by several million dollars and a recent Democratic poll put him within single digits of Cruz.
Besides Cruz’s personal unpopularity, there is Trump’s unpopularity affecting the mood in Texas. According to the Washington Post, Gallup’s 2017 year-long average found Trump’s job approval rating at 39% among Texas adults.
Of course, there are months to go until November and Beto has to be considered an underdog. Still, it’s thrilling to see signs of a Trump rebellion building in the Solid South, the Republican base where religion, racism and love of guns have advantaged Republicans since Richard Nixon’s election in 1968.
It’s easy to look at what’s happening in Washington DC and despair. That’s why I carry a little plastic Obama doll in my purse. I pull him out every now and then to remind myself that the United States had a progressive, African American president until very recently. Some people find this strange, but you have to take comfort where you can find it in Donald Trump’s America.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010