I remember joining panels at KCTS-TV in 1977 and 1993 following Democratic election sweeps to discuss an assigned topic for the day. Would the Republican Party survive, and did it have a future in the state of Washington?
Republicans had an answer: They staged an electoral comeback in 1978, and in 1980 captured the presidency, the governor’s office, and elected the state’s first GOP senator in three decades. The GOP flipped six U.S. House seats in 1994 to make Washington “the ground zero of the Gingrich revolution.” Newt came out here to gloat.
The GOP is seeking another surprise comeback in the 2022 mid-term election. Sure, we’ve become a pretty blue state: The Gipper was the last GOP presidential nominee to carry Washington. Trump has twice lost King County by margins of half-a-million votes. Still, Washington voters have a history of suspicion toward one-party government and slapping down a party in power.
A competitive election ought to be a wakeup call especially for Seattle’s legislative district Democrats. They occupy an echo chamber in a one-party city, lately indulging radical politics, defending and advocating socialist city council candidates like Kshama Sawant and Nikkita Oliver, who’ve openly disdained the Democratic Party.
Democrats have run all branches of our state government since they flipped the state Senate in a 2017 special election. The departure of Secretary of State Kim Wyman puts D’s in every statewide elected office. Gov. Inslee has maintained a State of Emergency since the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out and this week he has unveiled an ambitious “green” legislative agenda.
Campaign tactics used by our state parties have taken the form of leaden stereotyping. The Democrats label every GOP candidate a “Trump Republican.” The Republicans bash Seattle, riots and using the statue of Lenin in Fremont while seeking to hold the 45th District (Kirkland-Redmond) in 2017. Voters aren’t buying. Trump labeling didn’t save Democrat Terry McAuliffe from a come-from-ahead defeat in the Virginia governor’s race. A Republican, Ann Davison, was elected Seattle City Attorney over the radical Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. Democratic State Chair Tina Podlodowski relentlessly attacked Davison as a “Trump Republican.” That didn’t work, especially when Davison was endorsed by ex-Democratic Govs. Gregoire and Locke.
On the right, an anti-Seattle smear backfired on longtime King County Council member Kathy Lambert last month. She depicted challenger Sarah Perry as a puppet on strings manipulated by a Council colleague. The message: “Sarah Perry is backed by Seattle socialist leader Girmay Zahlay who wants to DEFUND THE POLICE.” Lambert lost.
But that doesn’t mean Washington won’t be a battleground next year. Nationally, the country is in a grumpy mood. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 800,000 Americans. Republicans are blaming Joe Biden over the pandemic while trying to sabotage his every effort to curb it. Inflation is flaring. Biden’s job approval ratings are in the drink.
U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-8, is on the Republicans’ target list, after an unexpectedly narrow win in 2020. State House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox has been on the road recruiting candidates, and results appear promising. Suburban state Senate seats, captured by Democrats in 2018, are up for reelection. The Democrats are bedeviled by their own divisions. The key program, Build Back Better, continues to face solid opposition from 50 Senate Republicans. Democratic Sens. Manchin and Sinema complain that its provisions are inflationary. The Dems’ margins are wafer thin, 221-213 in the House and 50-50 (with Vice President Harris as tie breaking vote) in the Senate.
What’s baffling, more than Manchin and Sinema on the right, is the non-stop bitching at Biden from the left wing of the Democratic Party. Typical are Twitter shots taken by prominent Seattle woke left figure Robert Cruickshank, an organizer for Demand Justice. He takes out after “the world-historical failure of D.C. Democrats in 2021,” and bitches that “Biden has enabled Manchin at every turn.” He once took after the country’s most effective Democrat, suggesting at one point that Nancy Pelosi be replaced as House Speaker by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Everybody-else-is-a-sellout voices are heard, such as nasty former Bernie Sanders speechwriter David Sirota in The Guardian. Left pundits blame Senate Democratic leaders (including Sen. Patty Murray) for not abolishing the filibuster, never mind the 50 Senate Republicans lined up in opposition. “What’s it going to take for the Senate to finally abolish the filibuster and deliver for the people,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, part of “The Squad” of left Democrats, Tweeted on Tuesday.
David Hogg, a Parkland shooting survivor and leader in March for Our Lives – he’s the young man Marjorie Taylor Greene harassed on a D.C. street — lamented in a Tweet on Tuesday: “If there is one thing I have learned in the past four years of this work, it’s that liberals are our own worst enemy. We get caught up in so much stupid b.s. We miss the forest for the trees. There’s a reason we’ve been having our ass handed to us for the past 60 years.”
Need an example of the b.s? There was recently a rally for voting rights legislation in our nation’s capital. However, Sunrise, D.C., the capital chapter of the youthful environmental advocacy group, pulled out at the presence of “Zionist organizations.” The Sunrise Seattle chapter has feuded and severed ties with national Sunrise.
Hogg, 21, has done his share of cussing at Congress’ shameful inaction on gun safety, and its fear of the Gun Lobby. But he repeats a basic point: Generation Z will make its influence felt for economic and social justice only by going out, persuading people and winning elections.
I’m not advocating, not for a New York minute, that progressives abandon their advocacy voting rights, the child tax credit, paid family leave, or college debt relief. Such “radical” proposals are staples of the social safety net in Western Europe, where the economy is a servant of the people rather than vice versa. But I’m reminded of favorite saying of the late Rep. Morris Udall, D-Arizona: “When we Democrats form a firing squad, we form it in a circle.” The radicals in the party are ragging on a Democratic president rather than his obstructionist opposition. Three “Berniecrat challengers have already declared against Democrats in Washington’s congressional delegation. Such folks seem to believe that by “demanding” this and that, they will make it so.
Not so. A great way to lose votes is by indulging in identity politics, and bullhorn excess. Who can forget City Attorney candidate NTK Tweeting to Seattle’s finest: “Eat some COVID laced s*** and quit ur jobs?” Or King County Democrats chair Shasti Conrad, in The Stranger excusing the excesses of Sawant, “Women and people of color pay a price that isn’t leveraged at others, particularly white men.” Such goings on in the Emerald City might even give resonance to Seattle-bashing tactics used by Republicans in suburban, exurban and legislative districts, and in the effort to take out Kim Schrier.
The Democrats would be wise to give up the sandbox politics of endorsement meetings and focus on grunt work. As incentive, they might ponder the prospect of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who could become chair of the House Judiciary Committee, or the insipid Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker, or Mitch McConnell back setting the Senate’s agenda.
The Republicans are coming. The country is uneasy and unhappy. The GOP once stood for honest, forward-looking government – Dan Evans ran for governor on the slogan, “A Blueprint for Progress” – but pure opposition is now its default response. Meanwhile in the Legislature’s contested districts, the GOP is fielding attractive candidates. There are GOP wacko birds in the Legislature – Reps. Jim Walsh, and Jenny Graham – but the Republicans’ leadership is savvy and focused on winning back a legislative chamber. The name of the Republicans’ most prominent congressional challenger to Schrier, Reagan Dunn, suggests ties to a pre-Trump presidency.
The Trump “Big Lie” can carry the Democrats only so far. Nationally and locally, a circular firing squad won’t turn back the coming challenge.