Much of the media’s attention is understandably focused on Washington, where there’s a new Congress with enhanced Republican control, a politically unpredictable president-elect methodically constructing a new administration and a Democratic Party in disputatious disarray, still stunned from losing another national gimme.
But what’s happening out in the country, that vast area of scattered light patches that elites fly over while watching movies, will play a far more important role in setting the United States’ near-term future and fortunes.
And in those little-noticed places, Republicans have in the past six years quietly engineered, political piece by political piece, a revolution in government unseen in the United States for a century.
The party of Lincoln, a Middle American who was the 16th president and the first to win the office for the GOP, has the opportunity to collectively deliver on voters’ confidence far from the bright lights of the myopic media and set Republicans on a long-term path of electoral success.
President Obama, who promised a smooth presidential transition, has claimed that although his name was not on the ballot in recent elections, his policies were. The voters’ verdict is in. Since he took office, Democrats have lost 69 seats in the House of Representatives, 13 Senate seats and 12 governorships.
Here’s how massive the GOP’s political wins have been nationally: In legislative sessions convening across the country these days, Republicans control 33 governors’ offices and both houses in 25 states. Democrats totally control five states, down from seven. That’s the fewest since the Civil War.
Republicans won 46 additional state legislative seats in November, giving them 4,170, about 57 percent of the total. Twenty-seven state legislative chambers have turned Republican during Obama’s reign, leaving the GOP in its most powerful position since the party’s founding in 1854.
The party now has to deliver on the conservative agenda voters have chosen, such as education revisions, tax cuts and right-to-work laws. And if the party can hold control, it will be in position to draw legislative districts after the 2020 census, as it did after 2010.
Another reason success outside the Beltway is key to the party’s future is that states are the equivalent of parties’ political farm teams. The Democrats’ bench is short — and elderly.
Much fun was made of the immense field of 17 GOP presidential contenders last year, average age 59. But really, it was a display of youth and a depth of party talent.
Ironically, it was an adopted Republican turned populist — a rich New Yorker with his own jumbo jet — who showed the most astute political reading and attentiveness to the frustrations and desires of mid-America. We’ll see if he delivers on their hopes and trust.
And not by accident, Donald Trump’s trusted vice president is Mike Pence, a man with long leadership experience on Capitol Hill, deep connections among party leaders there and around the country, and a successful term as chief executive of one of those flyover states, Indiana.
State Republicans are counting on him to be a sympathetic ear and accessible advocate for their needs and interests in the Trump White House and Cabinet.
The political setting is, thus, perfect for historic success. But looking back at history, never underestimate the proclivity of Republicans to slide into distracting and self-destructive squabbling, especially when enduring success.
Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent.
©2017 Andrew Malcolm