Get ready now for midterm elections

11/24/2016, 11:10 a.m.
The apprehension that I felt upon Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election has only increased as he has announced ...
Julianne Malveaux

Julianne Malveaux

The apprehension that I felt upon Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election has only increased as he has announced the appointments of his chief of staff, strategist and cabinet members. 

As of this writing, he has mainly announced the selection of older white men, including the racist U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to lead the U.S. Justice Department. The senator’s use of highly inflammatory racial rhetoric — including describing the NAACP as an “un-American” organization and expressing support for the Ku Klux Klan — prevented his confirmation to the federal district court in 1986. Now, he will be charged with law enforcement in our nation.

Equally troubling has been the selection of campaign chairman Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist and senior counselor. Mr. Bannon, a former Richmonder, is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a news site that has been the home of the alt-right, the source of lies, hate, nastiness and racist rhetoric. The position that Mr. Bannon will hold does not require Senate confirmation, while the position that Sen. Sessions will be nominated for does. With 54 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Sessions is almost certain to be nominated. Hopefully Democrats have retained enough of a backbone to raise questions about Sen. Sessions’ racism.

Senate newcomers Democrats Kamala Harris of California and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada may be among the first to raise questions. Still Republicans will have the votes to confirm anyone they want to confirm. 

Welcome to the age of Trump.

Will Republicans get more of an edge in the Senate when we go to the polls in 2018? Thirty-three Senate seats will be up for grabs then. Republicans hold only eight of them, while a whopping 23 are held by Democrats. Independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who caucus and vote with Democrats are both likely to be candidates for re-election. If some of the states that went Republican in this year’s election can be tilted, Republicans can widen their margin in the Senate.

The Trump campaign, and its affiliated Super PACS, have as much as $60 million to spend, and can use it to build ground operations in states where Democrats closely lost this year. Hillary Clinton and her affiliated Super PACS may have as much as $70 million to spend.

Democrats lost Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona by less than 5 percentage points. Incumbent Democrats Tammy Baldwin (WI), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) are all in states that Republicans won in 2016.  While many of them are popular, and incumbency is a challenging thing to overcome, we’ve just seen that the right kind of Republican rhetoric can prevail.

These candidates, and the Democratic Party, can’t afford to take incumbency or popularity for granted. They can’t afford to savor a polling lead and conclude that they don’t have to fight for every vote. If these folks want to go back to Washington, they’ll learn from the Clinton loss and work indefatigably, starting now, to keep their seats.  U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, also on the ballot, has described Democrats in the Senate as the “emergency brake” on President-elect Trump’s policy proposals. I expect them to vocally take on President-elect Trump and his team when they revert to the racist rhetoric and proposed racist, misogynistic and jingoistic policies that the Republican promoted during the campaign. Midterm election turnout is always extremely low. It was just 36 percent in 2014, the lowest level in 70 years. Democrats must start now to educate and encourage people to turn out for the midterm elections. And voting rights organizations must begin now to reverse the voter suppression that kept millions from voting on Nov. 8.

If Democrats don’t get busy now, Republicans will, indeed, prevail in 2018. So let’s stop wringing our hands and moaning. Let’s get busy!

The writer is an economist and author.