Signs began emerging over the last few days that the tide may be turning against the fringe conservative takeover that started several years ago with the influx of Tea Party politicians. What began on November 9, 2016 as loosely-organized outrage morphed into a well-organized resistance with representation in literally every district in the nation (red and blue alike). That reactionary outrage changed again though over the last few weeks and evolved into a two-pronged approach the Democratic Party has mostly failed at over the years.
That is to say, grassroots progressives decided it’s not enough to merely shout about what’s wrong and began organizing to promote, run, and elect people at every level of government.
Simultaneously, signs that conservative Republican infighting has taken its toll are beginning to show. Those protecting the Trump administration and mounting evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to steal the election are beginning to wear down the politicians putting their careers at risk in the name of placing party over people, policy and country.
While the story of Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) immediately comes to mind as an example of party before country, a more recent and more poignant example now sticks out: the announcement today that Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will not seek reelection in 2018.
“After long consultation with my family and prayerful consideration, I have decided I will not be a candidate for any office in 2018,” Chaffetz said in his announcement. He added, “For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives. I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.”
In covering what effectively appears to be a future-dated resignation notice, The Hill noted:
Chaffetz, 50, had been floated as a potential candidate for Senate or Utah governor, but he denied any interest in running for anything in 2018. However, he noted that he “may run again for public office, but not in 2018.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) seat is up in 2018, while Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s (R) seat is up in 2020.
Chaffetz’s announcement comes on the heels of bitter criticism for relentlessly investigating Hillary Clinton for use of a private email server while refusing to investigate Trump for anything (including having White House employees using a private email server). Add to that Chaffetz’s embattled town halls and accusations that those attending did so in an “attempt to bully and intimidate.”
He’s only been in the House since 2008.
While his seat has historically been reliably Republican, Democratic candidate Kathryn Allen, “raised nearly $400,000 more than Chaffetz last month.” Pair that with other historically red seats across the nation swinging hard-left and a bigger picture begins to take shape.
Right Wing Media
It’s not just Congress that’s changing.
After announcing at the end of his last show he was taking a vacation, it’s reported that Fox News is firing Bill O’Reilly after yet another sexual harassment accuser came forward this week.
Questions about Mr. O’Reilly’s future come just weeks after The Times reported that Mr. O’Reilly or the company had made payouts to five women involving allegations of inappropriate behavior by Mr. O’Reilly. In exchange, the women agreed not to sue or speak of the allegations. The payouts totaled about $13 million.
Two of the deals were struck by 21st Century Fox last year after Mr. Ailes was pushed out following accusations by several women of sexual harassment. In the aftermath of Mr. Ailes’s dismissal, the company said behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment” would not be tolerated. The Times reported that two other women — who had not received payouts — had accused Mr. O’Reilly of harassing them. One of those women has since reported her accusations to 21st Century Fox.
Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Ailes have denied the allegations against them.
New York magazine reported earlier Tuesday that the Murdochs were leaning toward announcing that Mr. O’Reilly would not return to his show.
An ominous sign for Mr. O’Reilly came Thursday from Matt Drudge, who is known to have close connections to people within Fox News. “O’Reilly has had tremendous run,” he said in a Twitter post. “Very few in the business get to decide when and how things end. Media is most brutal of all industries…”
It makes sense that Fox would cut their losses as a sustained campaign targeting O’Reilly’s advertisers has cost the network substantial amounts of money since news first broke that several women received settlements to keep quiet.
That Fox may force O’Reilly out is enormous as he’s one of conservative media’s “most trusted” voices. At the same time, he’s also one of conservative media’s weakest links as his misogyny, racism and general intolerance for diversity have long overshadowed any of his rational opinions.
News of his potential ousting follow reports that Steve Bannon is also on the ‘outs’ at the White House following his ongoing feud with Trump-favorite Jared Kushner. Should Bannon lose even more power (as his NSA role was already taken away), Breitbart’s (and fringe right-wing media’s) influence could be greatly reduced – at least in positions of power.
This is crucial as – before being foisted on the general population by the current administration – Breitbart was mostly known as a fringe conspiracy theory website that once wrote a hit piece about the wrong Loretta Lynch.
This media and congressional movement didn’t happen in a political vacuum; rather, the power of organized, vocal everyday citizens forced these conclusions. Organized boycotts of both Breitbart and O’Reilly’s show caused advertisers to back out.
As Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes have repeatedly pointed out since November, something in the way the public reacts to politics and media have changed. That change is in and of itself a story. And that change in participation and vigor led up to last night’s election in Georgia.
The #GA06 Congressional Seat
The momentum and pace of progressive activism following the election of Donald Trump last year didn’t just produce what’s still being called the largest organized protest in American history (the women’s march). It also moved run-off races that shouldn’t have been close (in deep red districts in Kansas and Georgia) so far left that Republicans sent in their big guns just to retain “safe” seats.
In Kansas, the congressional seat formerly held by Mike Pompeo should have been an easy win. Trump took that district by 27 points. In that same election Mike Pompeo won re-election by 31 points. This is the district where the Koch brothers are based.
In the run-off for that seat, an establishment Republican (the state treasurer) took on an unknown Democratic candidate (a civil rights attorney) and nearly lost. Republican Ron Estes won the seat by only 5 points.
…Republican campaign committee poured $100,000 in ads into protecting the seat, vacated by Trump’s new CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and took a series of last-minute steps to bolster the margin, including a Monday visit from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and taped robo-calls from Trump and Vice President Pence. In comparison, the national Democrats devoted hardly any national resources to the race as smaller individual donors directed funds to the Democrat.
“It’s a wake-up call,” said David Wasserman, the House editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
While the Democratic candidate was not expected to win in Kansas, no one expected the race to be that close. It gave Democrats hope heading into the Georgia run-off election last night to fill Tom Price’s seat.
That seat – in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District – has also been reliably Republican for over 30 years. It was held by Newt Gingrich before Tom Price. Despite that, Trump only won the 6th District by 1.5 points last year.
Heading into the run-off, the question wasn’t whether the Democrat could compete; it was whether he could win outright in an open primary facing off against 17 other candidates (11 of those were GOP). He needed to win at least 50% of the vote to achieve that.
Though he only won 48-49% of the vote – coming in just shy of the outright win – the picture is (once again) clear: Democrats can compete in red districts in the Trump era. And Republicans are realizing that.
Throughout the night last night Republicans on social media celebrated they only lost a little and not outright saying they could still (maybe) defeat Democratic favorite Jon Ossoff at the next stage when he faces off against Republican Karen Handel in June. This moving of goal posts (as conservatives were certain he wouldn’t garner enough votes to compete not too long ago) demonstrates the power of progressive activism in 2017.
That power put over $8 million into Ossoff’s campaign in just two months. That power made not one, but two reliably-red, “safe” Republican seats competitive. That Ossoff didn’t win outright will be the subject of a lot of in-party discussion, but ultimately activists should come away from last night with one takeaway: the resistance is working.
“We have defied the odds, we have shattered expectations,” Ossoff said last night. “We are changing the world, and your voices are going to ring out across this state and across this country.”
Despite Trump’s proclamation that Republicans dominated the Georgia run-off, Ossoff actually won more votes than any other candidate in the race. Ossoff won just above 48% of the total with 92,390 votes while the second runner-up – Handel – won 19.78% with 37,993 votes.
While it may seem (on the surface) like the outrage and organization on the left is achieving no tangible results, the resistance is indeed changing the narrative. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Building an effective, enduring progressive agenda both at the congressional and media information level will take time.
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) echoed this calling out naysayers and contrarians:
“The resistance has it right: They are fighting mad, but they find joy in the fight. And so it’s not that anybody should be expected to gloss over the challenges that we have, or be Pollyanna about our situation as a country or as a party. It’s just that there has to be a sense of momentum that builds over time and that requires that we define our objectives tightly — and that we are prepared to lose more than we win for the time being, but that we understand that we have the vast majority of the American people on our side, and history on our side.”
As activists take to the streets to continue opposing the Trump agenda, grassroots organizations across the nation are working to encourage everyday citizens to stand up, be heard, and run for office – even in “safe” red districts. Especially in those districts.
Success can’t be defined through the loss of a run-off for seats held by the GOP for decades any more than it can be measured by the number of blocked Trump initiatives. By using a two-pronged reaction/protest and proactive/grassroots approach to politics, Democrats (and progressives in general) may actually be ready to fight in time for the 2018 elections.