The Democrats, despite their exaggerated claims about the fabled “blue wave” of 2018, have a very tenuous grasp on the House majority. The Republicans need to flip only 18 seats in 2020 to regain control of that body — and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has already identified nearly twice that number of vulnerable Democrats in districts won by President Trump during the last presidential election. Moreover, the NRCC will certainly exploit the all too accurate public perception that House Democrats have veered sharply to the left and accomplished virtually nothing beyond investigating President Trump and obstructing his agenda.
The “moderate” Democratic freshmen whose narrow 2018 victories provided their party with its thin House majority are concerned that the public agrees with the President’s characterization of the Democrats as a “Do Nothing Party,” with no real legislative agenda. Their worries are well founded. The Washington Post reports that numerous focus groups indicate that most voters are “unaware of political developments that don’t involve the president.” This is largely due to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s penchant for impugning Trump’s integrity. She regularly suggests that he is corrupt and has said that he belongs in prison. But the voters aren’t buying it:
One poll that has gotten attention among Democratic leaders, commissioned by the advocacy group End Citizens United, found in early May that voters in 12 presidential battleground states trusted Democrats no more than Trump to crack down on political corruption or limit the influence of money in politics.
This can’t be comforting to those freshman Democrats who promised their constituents they would rise above the corrupting influence of the Beltway. The NRCC is taking aim at those very freshmen, and it is a target rich environment. Kendra Horn (D-OK), for example, won her Oklahoma seat by mere 1.4 percent in a district that Trump carried by nearly 14 points in 2016. The NRCC has likewise drawn a bead on Joe Cunningham (D-SC), who also won his South Carolina seat by 1.4 percent. Trump carried that district by 13 points. Another target is Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), who won her New Mexico seat by 1.8 percent in a district Trump won by 10 points.
There are 31 Democrats clinging to districts that Trump won in 2016. Of the 18 districts the GOP needs to flip in order to retake the House majority, Trump won 16 by 5 points or more. But the NRCC isn’t limiting its 2020 House offensive to the “Trump districts.” It has targeted a total of 55 in all, including 20 seats won by the GOP in 2016 and 4 additional seats identified as potential pick-up opportunities. One of the targeted districts is held by Cheri Bustos (D-IL), the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Bustos is well aware of what she’s up against and has created the “Frontline program” to defend 44 vulnerable Dem seats:
Today, we are announcing that 44 of these members have been elevated to join the Frontline program because we are determined to build a majority that lasts well into the future. Our majority hinges on these members from tough seats winning reelection in 2020, and with today’s announcement we’re sending a clear message that the DCCC will stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the fight ahead.
But it’s not a given that the entire Democratic caucus will be standing on the front line with Bustos and her 44 vulnerable members. There is a civil war going on within their party caucus that may cause considerable carnage among those endangered incumbents. You will be shocked to discover that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is involved. An AOC-linked PAC called the “Justice Democrats” wants to primary Dems they deem insufficiently progressive. Knowing how much damage that would cause during this election cycle, Bustos has essentially blacklisted consultants who work for challengers to incumbent Democrats. The divine AOC was not pleased:
The @DCCC’s new rule to blacklist + boycott anyone who does business w/ primary challengers is extremely divisive & harmful to the party … My recommendation, if you’re a small-dollar donor: pause your donations to DCCC & give directly to swing candidates instead. Some great ones.
Yep. You read that correctly. A freshman Democrat, in office for about three months at that time, advised party donors to stop contributing money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It goes without saying that this didn’t exactly endear her to the 44 endangered Democrats. Nor did it go over well with Bustos. The latter was later interviewed by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, who asked if there was “open warfare between the DCCC and the party’s progressive wing” over whether Democrats should primary other Democrats. She then pointed out that AOC was in favor of it. Bustos responded to this with a considerable amount of self-control:
We only have a 17 seat majority.… I happen to come from a district that Donald Trump won. And so I know a little bit about winning in tough districts. So my job is to hang on to this majority and then, number two, to do what I can to grow it.… So every resource, every bit the energy and effort is going to be toward doing that.
It isn’t clear, however, that any amount of energy or effort will be enough to hold off a well-organized assault by the Republicans if Bustos also has to worry about “friendly fire” from people like AOC and the usual suspects from the progressive caucus. She also has to deal with the money problem. The DCCC, as of this week, had about $12 million cash on hand compared to the NRCC’s $20 million. This chasm may or may not be connected with AOC’s crazy suggestion to her 4.4 million Twitter followers to stop contributing to the DCCC, but it will make it a lot harder for the latter to protect that 17-seat majority when most of those seats are in Trump districts.
This brings us to the President’s coattails. Time reports, “President Donald Trump raised $24.8 million in the hours following the official launch of his campaign for re-election in 2020, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.” That figure, combined with the size and enthusiasm of the Orlando crowd, suggests that Democratic hopes of denying him a second term are pure fantasy. None of the Trump voters in those 31 House districts noted above are going to split their tickets and vote for a Democrat — no matter how “moderate.” The party of investigations and obstruction is due for yet another sojourn in the political wilderness.