There’s a Way for Democrats to Win the “Impossible” Senate

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Matt Yglesias writes today about the good ol’ Senate:

Democrats have a Senate problem, and not just in the sense that Republicans currently hold the majority or that the prospect of that changing in 2020 is relatively slim. The problem is that the odds of ever changing it are slimmer than is generally realized. Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization, is trying to raise alarm bells about the issue. In a new memo, co-founder Colin McAuliffe writes that “the Senate is an irredeemable institution” that’s biased 3 percentage points in the GOP’s favor and systematically underweights the interests of nonwhite Americans.

This kind of stuff bugs me. A mere four years ago, we were bombarded with articles about how the House was almost permanently out of the grasp of Democrats. Thanks to gerrymandering and other issues, Dems would have to win a vast share of the national vote to have any chance of winning even a slim House majority. Then, two years later, Democrats won the House in a landslide.

Now it’s the Senate. But as recently as five years ago Democrats held the Senate, and as recently as ten years ago they held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. I know life comes at you fast these days, but nothing has changed all that much in the past ten years. Democrats are still fully able to win control of the Senate.

But how? As Yglesias says, working-class whites are moving steadily into the Republican camp, and the Senate’s overrepresentation of small, rural states means that working-class whites are increasingly overrepresented too. So what can possibly be done? Statehood for Washington DC and Puerto Rico? Needless to say, that’s a nonstarter. The Republican Senate would never support it.

But perhaps there’s another way. I know this will sound ridiculous, but hear me out: Democrats could figure out how to appeal to working-class whites.

I know that many progressives would rather move to Canada than even consider such a thing. After all, working-class whites are racist! They hate gays! They love guns! They go to church! They oppose liberal immigration laws! They want to ban abortion! They drive pickup trucks! They like low taxes! They don’t understand intersectionality!

Well, yeah. That’s true of many of them, though certainly not all. And “not all” is a key point here. It’s not as if Democrats have to appeal to stone racists or lunatic gun nuts to win in rural states. They just have to ease up on some of the things that rural voters think are important. Doing this doesn’t automatically mean that you want immigrants in cages or black men to be the targets of mass incarceration. Nor does it mean you want to force women to give birth against their will or fry the planet via climate change. It just means you accept the reality that sometimes society moves more slowly than you’d like.

In 2008, Democrats won Senate seats in Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virgina, and North Carolina. Places like that seem like nothing more than dreams these days. But they aren’t. If working-class whites can move into the Republican camp over the course of only a few years, they can move out in just a few years too. But progressives have to actually care about them and be willing to compromise here and there to win their votes. This is what politics is all about, and always has been.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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