Donald Trump’s political outlook isn’t looking good at all.
In recent weeks he has oscillated between petty insults to elected officials, grandstanding and threatening his political opponents, and committing acts of casual brutality. While none of this marks a noticeable change of course for an administration that began putting migrant children in cages within months of taking office, the reaction of the American people to Trump is rapidly changing.
This steep decline in Trump’s popularity is bad news for the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it could also spell catastrophe for his party.
As Americans have swung further to the political left over the years, the Republican Party has lost interest in crafting meaningful public policy and has instead become wholly focused on gaining and keeping power for power’s sake.
Republicans are particularly bent on taking permanent control of the judiciary by appointing judges and other officials who can stymie progressive reforms at every level. Republicans have used their control of the U.S. Senate to seat Trump’s nominees. The Senate, of course, over-represents the thinly populated, rural states that are the only places the Republicans still reliably control.
However, Trump appears to be handling the various ongoing crises he is faced with so badly that the odds are increasing that the Republicans could lose the Senate despite the structural electoral advantages they enjoy.
The Democrats need to take three more seats (or four, if Mike Pence is still Vice President in January) to reach a majority. According to Cook Political Report, at least four Republican-held seats are “toss ups” in 2020: Colorado, Maine, North Carolina and Arizona. Worse still for conservatives, some seats that appeared to be reliably red in January are becoming alarmingly competitive.
Georgia is the best example of such a state. For twenty years, the Peach State has been a Republican stronghold. Generations of Democratic politicians, strategists and activists have worked tirelessly to chip away that control, aided by the state’s rapidly changing demographics. As the state becomes younger, more diverse and more urban, Democrats have inched closer to success.
In 2017, the national spotlight fell on a special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district. The election – which spiraled into the most expensive House election in U.S. history – ultimately went in the Republican candidate’s favor, but the margin of victory (under 3%) gave Democrats cause for hope.
The following year, Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial run came even closer to victory. She ultimately lost by a mere 1.5%.
Her Republican opponent, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, only managed to win by thoroughly purging likely Democratic voters from the voter rolls.
Two years later, state Democrats are telling everyone who will listen (and they very much want national Democratic leaders to listen… plus send money) that 2020 is the year that Georgia can finally be flipped blue.
More surprisingly, Republicans seem to believe them.
At the end of April, the state’s senior U.S. senator, David Perdue, gave his supporters a shocking assessment: “Here’s the reality. The state of Georgia is in play.” Both Perdue’s seat and that of his colleague, Kelly Loeffler, will be up for grabs this year. Perdue is looking for re-election to the seat he won in 2014, while Loeffler is looking ahead to a “jungle primary” (a special election that does not take account of party affiliation) after her appointment to the seat last December.
Both senators face challenging elections. Electorally, Perdue is the stronger of the two; he has the advantage of being an incumbent, he has a substantial war chest amounting to over $9 million, and he is the cousin of two-term Georgia governor and current secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue.
However, David Perdue faces a tough and formidable opponent in Jon Ossoff, a thirty-three-year-old investigative reporter and filmmaker.
If you follow national politics, you may remember Ossoff, who rocketed to national fame during the 2017 GA‑06 special election.
He was the Democratic candidate who narrowly lost the district.
Ossoff (who won the Democratic senate primary on 9th June, narrowly avoiding a runoff) raised more than $23 million in his 2017 run.
He has used the leftovers from that year to kick-start his 2020 run, and is likely to be able to keep up easily with Perdue’s fundraising. He also has the endorsement of several prominent Georgian figures, including U.S. Representative Hank Johnson, and the legendary civil rights-hero and congressman, John Lewis.
Ossoff is a highly charismatic figure and, happily for progressives, has adopted a more progressive set of platform planks than he did in 2017, emphasizing the issue of civil rights. His experience as an investigative journalist specializing in corruption could also make him a lethal campaigner against Perdue, who has a long and storied history in the world of international business.
Senator Kelly Loeffler is in an even less stable position than Perdue, with challengers from both sides of the political spectrum.
She also failed to do herself any favors by becoming embroiled in a scandal involving insider trading; having sat in on secret coronavirus-related Senate committee briefings, Loeffler quickly moved to dump shares before the pandemic crashed the stock market, making a fortune for herself.
Her most immediate challenger is Doug Collins, a right-wing congressman who made his name desperately sucking up to Donald Trump during the House impeachment hearings. Collins isn’t afraid to attack a member of his own party, and has amplified the accusations against Loeffler.
“Instead of working for the people of Georgia for the past five months in D.C., she seems to have been working for herself,” Collins has charged.
The contest between the two Republicans has degenerated into insult-swapping, with Loeffler calling Collins a “do-nothing career politician,” and Collins retorting, “it’s amazing she can read a cue card from her consultants.”
Loeffler doesn’t only have to worry about the sniping from her right. She also faces a serious Democratic challenger: Reverand Raphael Warnock.
The senate race is Warnock’s first entry into electoral politics, but a lifetime as a Baptist preacher with a reputation for fiery sermons advocating justice and equality has prepared him for the better than most career politicians to take Loeffler to task. Warnock’s position as the head pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church – Martin Luther King Jr’s former congregation – gives him a powerful moral position that none of his rivals (Republican or Democrat) can touch.
He also enjoys support from influential Democrats: Stacey Abrams, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, U.S. Senators Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown and Chris Murphy, have all endorsed his campaign.
The senate seat Loeffler currently holds will be up for election on November 3rd, but there could be a runoff in December between the top vote getters.
On the surface, the situation in Georgia looks very promising for the Democrats: two Republican incumbents are on shaky ground, strong Democratic candidates are running against them, and there is a widespread, ongoing effort to counter Kemp’s voter purges (around 700,000 new voters have registered since 2018).
If 2020 turns out to be the year that state Democrats hope it will be, it could become the basis of a road map to victory in the rest of the South, reversing the years of Republican dominance that began with the “Southern strategy”.
However, the Democrats should not be overly confident about their prospects in the Peach State. 2018 was also expected to be a turning point, and would have been if not for the rampant voter suppression committed by shameless Republican Brian Kemp – who is now the state’s governor.
Kemp seems to be up to his old tricks already.
The primary elections on 9th June were a shambles, with hours-long queues, malfunctioning equipment, poor training for elections volunteers and even missing voting machines. Unsurprisingly, the hardest places to vote were in Democratic-leaning areas and communities of color. Jon Ossoff – who was kept waiting for three hours at an early voting location – called the process an “embarrassment” and “an affront to our constitutional principles.”
If Democrats want to win in Georgia, they will not only need to campaign against the state’s two incumbent Republican senators, but also keep ahead of the state government’s efforts to keep their voters away from the polls.
This will take a gargantuan effort, involving organizing on the ground, helping disadvantaged voters to register, taking legal action, and many other steps.
It remains to be seen whether the Democrats are up to the task.