Donald Trump’s fluky win led to a lot of LOL Nothing Matters assumptions, which has also led to a lot of fretting about the Minnesota Senate seat opening up in 2018. It seems obvious to me that this is missing the forest for the trees:
Franken’s replacement will be named by a Democratic governor, which makes the political downside of his resigning less than it would be if he would be replaced by a Republican. But it is only a temporary replacement until the next election: instead of holding Franken’s seat until his normally scheduled reelection in 2020, it will give Democrats two seats to defend in Minnesota in 2018. Minnesota is a swing state that only narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, so there’s a possibility that Franken’s resignation could cost the Democrats a crucial Senate seat, making their already-challenging aspiration of taking control of the Senate even harder to fulfill.
Does this mean the influential women in the Democratic Senate caucus who called for Franken’s resignation were wrong, at least from a purely political perspective? Not necessarily. While there’s a political risk in putting Franken’s seat up for grabs two years early, there are also real political risks to becoming the party that tolerates sexual predators in office, as the Republicans have just learned. At this point, thanks to the Democrats’ swift action, only the Republicans are vulnerable to that charge.
As Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight points out, polls show that the public is on the side of ejecting accused sexual predators — a finding underscored by Moore’s loss. And the 2018 and 2020 elections will turn on jurisdictions where Republicans have even less margin for error than Alabama. The Democrats’ gains in recent state elections in Virginia showed that the Republicans can lose a lot more support among educated suburbanites. Getting a reputation as the party that tolerates sexual predators in its ranks can only accelerate that trend. And aside from the political risks for both parties of harboring alleged sexual offenders, Democrats have an especially strong incentive because they serve a different constituency than Republicans. Most Democratic voters are women and, according to a recent TIME poll, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe the accusers and to favor a congressman of their own party resigning when accused.
Clearly there’s a political risk to doing the right thing. But Democrats should continue to stay on course and consider making an exception only when it’s unequivocally going to lead to much worse policy outcomes for women in the long run. Republicans now might want to consider doing the same.
The thing about Kirsten Gillibrand is that she’s good at the politics. And one thing she grasps which her critics don’t in this case is that the public cares about the broad strokes, not the details. And I’m not sure how anybody who paid attention to the 2016 campaign could fail to grasp this. The 2016 presidential elections turned on the amalgamation of several different “scandals” — Clinton’s use of a private email server, bureaucratic squabbles over what material counts as classified, and hacked emails released strategically by Wikileaks — into an “EMAILS!” borg that swallowed the election. These stories were a combination of trivial issues the nobody cares about in any other context and complete non-issues, but that didn’t matter once the media decided it was a thing. Not only did very few voters understand the details, some reporters who wrote about the issue obsessively often botched major facts about the cases and conflated departures from best practices and what the alt-right faction of the FBI tried to make into a federal crime. But ultimately, this didn’t matter.
Whatever’s fair, Franken has become politically toxic, and as long as he remained in office was a powerful “whataboutism” symbol Republicans could use as a distraction. His resignation cleared the path for Gillibrand to set the trap that Trump stumbled right into like the witless misogynist he is. And yesterday’s election was not only powerful evidence that Trump and the Republican leadership that is all-in behind him are a massive anchor on Republican electoral prospects, it took away the firewall that McConnell presumably assumed would protect his majority for another two years no matter how unpopular his party’s brand became. Our Democrats is finally learning.