On 8 November 1960 Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy defeated Vice President Richard Nixon for the Presidency of the United States. Future President Kennedy won 49.72% of the vote, and went on to be a deeply remembered President for the 3 years until he was shot on 22 November 1963. He didn’t get much legislation passed during his short Presidency, but he laid the ground work for President Johnson to continue his mission by enacting the Great Society package of programs. The 1964 election was the last time a Democrat went on to win over 60% of the vote, and in the 1966 elections for Congress the Democrats increased their majority in the House. Democrats ran on a strong platform of racial equality and fighting economic inequality and had 8 years of government.
In 1968 of course, a lot of Democratic leaning voters chose not to vote for the Democratic nominee, Nixon used the Southern Strategy to win 43.4% of the popular vote, and the Presidency.
The 1972 Presidential featured a candidate who blamed the inflation of the 1970s on the Great Society. He failed to secure even 100 electoral college votes.
After the details of the Watergate scandal came out, and President Nixon became the only President to resign in American history, President Carter ran a fairly moderate campaign, won 50.1% of the vote, and 297 electoral college votes. He is the last President to start his term with over 60% of the Senate being shared with his party. He didn’t pass much significant legislation during his time as President besides the formation of the NSA, but he did benefit from a Democratic trifecta for both of his terms. Rampant inflation and the Iran Hostage Crisis led to President Carter being the last Democrat to fail to win even 100 electoral college votes in his reelection bid.
President Reagan’s first term was a time of hyper inflation, high unemployment, and a stagnant GDP. In 1984 Democrats ran a candidate who ran on the Equal Rights Amendment, nuclear freeze, and more. The economy was improving by 1984 and Reagan rode that wave to win his reelection.
The 1988 election was the biggest underperformance by Democrats in American history. After news of the Iran Contra Scandal and Iran hostage crisis broke, the Democrats failed to hold George H.W. Bush accountable for his being involved in these illegal activities. After shooting at Dukakis as an elitist “Massachusetts liberal” the Democrats should have responded by pointing out that both John F. Kennedy and John Quincy Adams were both “elitist Massachusetts liberals” and did phenomenal jobs as President. In fact, I cannot name a single bad President from Massachusetts. With weak messaging, the Democrats were resoundingly defeated with Dukakis winning only 111 electoral college votes.
The 1992 election saw Bill Clinton win a plurality but not a majority of the popular vote after running a very moderate campaign. Ross Perot stole a lot of votes from George H.W. Bush which gave Clinton the Presidency. Democrats lost seats in the House and picked up one seat in the Senate.
The 1996 election saw Clinton win a plurality but not a majority of the popular vote yet again. Republicans kept both houses of Congress.
The 2000 election was the fourth time in American history where a President won the Electoral College without winning the popular vote since direct elections began. It was the first Republican trifecta since 1953. Republicans won fewer seats in the House than in the 1998 elections. This followed massive bills signed into law by President Clinton which included Wall Street Deregulation with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Defense of Marriage Act. Signing into law bills which fall in line with Republican social and economic policies led to Republicans winning a trifecta in 2002. Clinton’s strategy clearly did not work.
The 2004 election saw George W. Bush win a majority of the popular vote for President against decorated War Hero, founding member of the New Democrat Caucus, and US Senator John Kerry. The strategy of Democrats in that election clearly did not work.
The 2008 election was a very historic election. It was the only time in the last 50 years a Democrat has won the Presidency with over 300 seats in the House. It is the second time in the last 50 years a Democrat has won over 50% of the vote, and was the largest majority received by a Democrat since President Johnson’s landslide in 1964. The Democrats gained 8 seats in the Senate that year, the largest gain for the Democrats since the Democrats picked up 15 seats in a single year in 1958 when Lyndon Baines Johnson was Senate Majority Leader. Obama’s strategy focused on health care, infrastructure investment, and human rights. He followed up by proposing bills on all of these issues as soon as he reached office, and passed the largest health care reform bill in over 50 years. The Affordable Care Act was greatly whittled down by the House of Representatives, and the rest of his proposals were dead in the water. This showed the massive schisms in the Democratic Party, how some Democrats will be happy to campaign on popular progressive proposals but as soon as they get into office they stall. With that being said, the 111th United States Congress was the most important legislative session under Democratic control in over 50 years. Obama ran his campaign outside of the Democratic National Committee, and focused on what politicos like to call “grassroots organizing” and the “50 state strategy” which is basically a focus on talking to actual voters, which involves aggressive phone banking and door knocking in every state. I like to call it “effective politics” and “the winning strategy”. Not only that, but the Republicans nominated John McCain, a seasoned Senator who earned a purple heart in the Vietnam War. Even nominating a candidate like McCain was not enough for the Republicans to win. It was the largest gain in the house for the Democratic Party while picking up the Presidency since 1932. It was also the first year where the Democrats picked up the Presidency, gained seats in the House, and gained seats in the Senate since 1932. President Obama had grown a reputation for not being as progressive as Sheldon Whitehouse or Russ Feingold, but also not as conservative as Hillary Clinton or John Kerry. He is pretty much at the dead center of the Democratic Party, and he moved America to the left on many issues, such as gay marriage. He did all of this as Fox News kept calling him a socialist, claiming he wasn’t an American citizen, and the rest of the conspiracy theories just get more crazy from there.
2008 is where the Democrats received the biggest majority of the popular vote for President since 1964, the largest electoral college majority without a spoiler taking Republican voters since 1964, the largest Democratic gain in the Senate since 1958, and the largest Democratic majority in the House of Representatives since Gingrich’s Contract with America. Democrats also dominated state governments following Obama’s wave. The strategy of Congressional Progressive Caucus member Howard Dean’s leadership of the DNC and Barack Obama clearly worked. What is even more amazing is that Democrats won this large majority of 257 seats on the same map which had given Republicans their largest majority in 2004 which was the largest number of Republicans elected to the House since 1946, a 58 year high. While gerrymandering is important, looking back now gerrymandering was clearly not the main cause of Democrats or Republicans doing well but instead the ability of the Obama Coalition to give Americans something to vote FOR instead of simply voting against the Republican platform. We need to replicate this strategy.
In 2010 the Democrats lost significant amounts of seats. While Obama campaigned on a strong platform which was to the left of Clinton but not solidly in the progressive wing, the Democrats in Congress failed to pass most of Obama’s proposals, giving Democrat voters little reason to turn out and vote. We saw a massive decline in Democratic turnout as a consequence and the Republicans picked up 64 seats in the House of Representatives. This was the worst showing for a midterm in a Democratic presidency since 1938.
In 2012 Obama announced his support of gay marriage and free community college, and he became the first Democrat to win reelection with a majority of popular vote since 1944. He broke a 68 year streak of Democrats failing to pick up a majority of the vote upon their reelection campaign. While Obama failed to pick up Congress in his reelection following Republican gerrymandering, the fact that he became the first Democrat to win reelection with a majority of the popular vote since 1944 is extremely important. If this wasn’t amazing enough, Republicans nominated Mitt Romney who was one of the most moderate Republicans they could nominate and the Democrats destroyed him. Obama built a cabinet which brought together people from all sides of the party, and in sum it translated to him being reelected as a much more moderate bloc of Democrats in Congress once again failed to win the election. It is Obama’s success at being the first Democrat to be elected to reelection since 1944 which makes it clear to me that the reason Democrats saw a drop in turnout was not because of President Obama but because of the lack of spines in the Democratic Congressional Leadership which made it so Republicans won the 2010 midterms.
The 2016 election saw a reversal of fortunes. The Hillary Clinton campaign failed to properly reach out to all wings of the Democratic Party, her grassroots organizing game was not strong compared to what Obama had done only 4 years earlier, she did not have the advantage her husband had with a spoiler peeling voters away from the Republican candidate, and she lost to the most unqualified candidate in the history of the United States. Her campaign chose to ignore states which she thought she would win handily and we have paid dearly for that over the last 4 years. That election created the first Republican trifecta since 2005. Clinton faced the same number of absolutely absurd and crazy conspiracy theories which Obama faced in 2008. She faced a far less qualified candidate who did not command a majority in the primary election, and her strategy did not work.
The 2018 election demonstrated that even with the gerrymandering which I myself thought was the main culprit to the Democrats losing congressional elections in most of the 2010s was not actually the main culprit. Democrats made a strong case for why they needed to be elected, the Congressional Progressive Caucus surged in urban, suburban, and rural districts, and we gave people something to vote FOR. I admit I was mostly wrong that gerrymandering was the main cause for Democrats consistently losing elections through most of the 2010s but instead it was from not giving people a reason to stand in line in freezing weather. I do believe the gerrymandering contributed, but it wasn’t enough by itself to create a Republican majority. Once Democrats campaigned on policies Americans agreed with, just like in 2008, Trump lost more seats in his midterm than any other Republican midterm since 1974.
The 2020 election was the first time a Democrat had defeated an incumbent since 1992. It is the first time a party won the Presidency while losing seats in the House since 1992, and unless if the Democrats win both elections to the Senate it will be the first time where a Democrat has won the Presidency without also carrying the Senate since 1884. Joe Biden is the first New Democrat to ever win a majority of the popular vote for President. While Democrats lost seats in the House in 2020, the Congressional Progressive Caucus kept every seat they had won in 2018. If the Democrats fail to win both seats in Georgia then we are in waters which are almost completely uncharted.
The Republican campaign strategy was so disorganized that Rudy Giuliani reserved a landscaping company thinking it was a 5 star hotel. Joe Biden faced the same amount of opposition and batshit crazy conspiracy theories from Fox as Obama did in 2008 against a far less qualified candidate, and with the massive advantage of an ongoing epidemic and recession which the incumbent Republican President did almost nothing to stop. The American people agree with the Democrats on every issue according to exit polls on individual issues. Even with all of these advantages the campaign strategy of the Democratic Party failed to increase their margin in the House, lost several key Senate races they should have won in Iowa and Maine, and are at risk of not having the Senate for the first year of a Democratic Presidency for the first time since 1884 . At the exact same time, several progressives picked up several seats in the Washington State legislature. I cannot find any evidence that the main cause of an underwhelming election is because the Republicans are any better organized than they were in 2008, though there is loads of evidence that the Democratic campaign strategy has fundamentally changed. We are not using the 50 state strategy, Biden chose not to campaign in Ohio, and the Democratic Party continuously fails to provide sufficient support to legislative and congressional races which consistently leads to poor performance year after year.
This is a long article, but the main conclusion of this article is that the 50 state strategy produced the biggest landslide majority for the Democratic Party in the last century. We saw a similar type of strategy here in Washington State this year, where Democrats picked up seats in formerly Republican districts after a very successful legislative session with a lot of legislation passed on many issues which people care about.
The 2022 and 2024 elections are going to be more challenging than the 2020 election. We won’t be running against Donald Trump or a literal epidemic. It would be highly unlikely for there to be a recession during President Biden’s term, but the main focus for the next two years for the Democratic Party needs to be to give voters a reason to give the Democrats a trifecta in 2022. We need to give voters something to vote FOR, and this means that President Biden, Vice President Harris, Speaker Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Schumer need to ensure that they build very strong bridges which unify the party on issues like health care, education, economic mobility, and social justice not just with a President championing these issues but also with a party unified among policies and values which have been on the official party platform since 1932.
We did this in 2008 with historic results, and I fully believe that if Democrats use the 50 state strategy to rebuild the Obama coalition we can give President Biden a large trifecta which he can work with if he chooses to in 2023, and then keep the coalition strong well until the Republican Party is forced to abandon the failed policies of Richard Nixon. The 2008 election started the longest streak of Democrats winning the popular vote for the Presidency ever. If the Clinton campaign in 2016 had used the 50 state strategy and worked harder on building bridges with progressives and turning out young voters like Obama did then I am certain she would have won the election. A strong strategy in the Presidential race increases turnout and victories in congressional, state, and local races.
We need to not replicate the mistakes of the 111th congress where Democratic leadership in Congress refused to use all available tools at their disposal to pass Obama’s extremely popular agenda which ended in a massive drop in voter turnout. If Democrats are lucky enough to pick up enough seats in the Senate and House to have a strong majority in 2023 then we will need to make sure that the Democratic Party gives American voters a really good reason to vote for the Democrats, just like we did in 1964 and 1936.
This is about more than just health care, education, the environment, economic mobility, but about Democracy itself. Republicans have shown that they will go to any length to fulfill their goals, they will openly discriminate against African American voters, praise foreign dictatorships, send money to terrorist groups like the Contras and Mujahideen, undermine ongoing peace negotiations, and undermine our basic civil liberties. The Republican Party has not cared about democracy for as long as my parents have been alive, and they demonstrate it every single year. Every time Republicans have gained power their opposition to basic Democratic norms becomes ever more apparent, starting with undermining the Vietnam peace treaty which effectively killed American soldiers in 1968, to engineering the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1980, undermining our civil liberties with the PATRIOT ACT in 2001, receiving help from foreign dictatorships in the 2016 election, and fighting against the medical advice of experts during the COVID epidemic of 2020. The Republican Party clearly does not care for the Rule of Law, democracy, fair elections, civil liberties, or the lives of American citizens. The only way for America to fully overturn their apathy towards liberty is to ensure that not only do we provide a strong Democratic majority in 2022 but for the rest of the decade for the Presidency, House, Senate, Governorships, State Legislatures, county governments, and city governments. We need to completely demonstrate that fascism has no place in the United States anymore, defend our constitution, and show that being liberal means that we are strong.
This is why I believe that we need to elect many more strong progressive democrats like Elizabeth Warren, Katie Porter, Ayanna Pressley, Russ Feingold, and Sheldon Whitehouse to congress and state legislatures across this country. These are people who have shown not only that their values are strong but they understand how to use the mechanisms of power to make real lasting change. If we fill the benches of congress and the state legislature with people like them who respect the constitution, believe strongly in Liberal American values, and are willing to fight for what we believe in then I believe the 2020s can be a decade like the 1960s or 1930s where Democrats are able to against make lasting change. I believe we can choose to make 2026 replicate the elections of 1966, 1962, 1942, 1938, and 1934.
Or we can go back to the policies of the Clinton Administration which were contrary to the stated values on the Democratic platform or the infighting of Pelosi’s first term as Speaker of the House which led to the Republicans winning midterms in 2010 and 1994.
The choice is ours.