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Voting Rights Failed: Here's What To Do Now
Yesterday was a tough day, but it doesn't have to be the end of our efforts to save democracy
Well, that sucked.
There is simply no other way to put it. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema got their way. The filibuster lived. Voting rights legislation died.
Voting rights is one of those issues where it is better to fight and lose than not fight at all. But you need a plan to maximize success and manage defeat. If Senate Democrats had a plan that went beyond “hope for an epiphany,” I can’t see it. I’m not sure success was ever possible given the obstinance of Manchin and Sinema, but Democrats spent two weeks ramping up expectations only to achieve nothing and further cement the damaging narrative of disarray and impotence.
It is completely fair to be furious at McConnell’s centrist enablers and frustrated with Democratic leaders who played a weak hand very poorly. I don’t begrudge anyone for sending angry tweets and/or contributing to efforts to primary Sinema in 2024. It is tempting to use this failure as a reason to disengage, but unfortunately that is not an option.
I am tempted to write 5000 words about what went wrong — including my own mistakes and misperceptions. While that would be cathartic, it would not be constructive.
The Republicans are now closer to taking the majority in 2022 and the White House in 2024. Trumpism is on the rise and its namesake is waiting in the wings to reclaim the presidency. Therefore, I want to look forward and focus on where to channel our energy and anger.
Understanding the Limits of Political Leverage
Over the last year, every wing of the party tried to put tremendous public and private pressure on Manchin and Sinema. There were promised primary challenges, protests, and television ads. In the end, none of it mattered. Neither senator budged an inch. In fact, they are significantly more dug in against changing the filibuster than they were a year ago. There are lessons to be learned about the limits of political leverage. Manchin and Sinema both believe it to be in their political interests to be seen as opposing their own party. Manchin, who represents a state Trump won by 39 points last year, is undoubtedly correct about his political situation. Sinema is likely dead wrong about her politics, but no one is going to convince her otherwise, especially since she doesn’t have to face the voters until 2024.
But because they believe pissing off their party is good politics, all of the attention lavished on them had the opposite of the intended effect. Going forward, all of us are going to have to be more strategic about how we invest time and energy, and be realistic about politics. Changing a politician’s mind about what is in their own political interests is very difficult and in this case, impossible. Our focus going forward needs to be on changing the math in the Senate. It won’t be easy, but 52 Democratic Senators means we can stop caring about what Manchin and Sinema want regarding voting rights and other key issues.
Stop Talking About Manchin and Sinema
Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are a problem. They stand in the way of popular and important policy. They are a political anvil around our necks. But it’s time to stop talking and tweeting about them. I am sick of talking about them and I know you are sick of hearing about them. But this is about more than self-care. As Jonathan Weisman put it in the New York Times:
The remarkable vitriol being trained by Democratic activists on two members of their own party has largely given Republicans a pass for blocking the bill and standing by new state laws designed to limit access to the ballot box and empower partisan actors to administer elections and count votes.
All of the focus this week has been on the inability of Democrats to reform the filibuster as opposed to Republicans using the filibuster to block voting rights legislation. The story is our failure, not their obstruction, and that’s a big problem. To win in 2022, Democrats must reconstitute the anti-Trump majority who delivered the House, Senate, and White House. The best way to do that is to remind people the crisis that sparked them into action five years ago has not receded. It has grown. We have to make this election a choice between Democrats and MAGA Republicans. We can’t do that if we keep the spotlight on the incalcitrant Senate Democrats.
Back to Basics
Passing voting rights legislation was the single best way to prevent voter suppression and election subversion. Doing so would have exponentially complicated the Republican plan to implement minority rule. But since that legislation cannot pass the Senate, we have to find other ways to save democracy. We must win more elections and do it with one hand tied behind our backs. It won’t be easy but it isn’t impossible either. As a party, we need a specific focus on the offices and groups that provide the most leverage and the biggest bang for our buck.
As Amanda Litman, the co-founder of Run for Something, told Ezra Klein:
“While Congress can write, in some ways, rules or boundaries for how elections are administered, state legislatures are making decisions about who can and can’t vote. Counties and towns are making decisions about how much money they’re spending, what technology they’re using, the rules around which candidates can participate.”
To that end, Run for Something is recruiting and training candidates to run up and down the ballot with a specific focus on local election administrators. Supporting Run for Something may be the best investment you can make for the future of democracy. You can donate here:The most important thing we do in 2022 to prepare for 2024 will be electing local election administrators who care about fair elections and will stand up for democracy. (It's why is going big + deep on these races.)Over the weekend, Trump told supporters to focus on installing "the vote counters" for future elections. On #AxeFiles, @bartongellman, who has reported extensively on Trump's comeback planning, warns this is more than idle talk. It's an active scheme. Pod:https://t.co/xdsEqCFnEj https://t.co/gdGn0XWbUpDavid Axelrod @davidaxelrod
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of winning the 2022 governors’ races. In 2022, the governorships of the top six presidential battleground states (PA, NV, MI, WI, GA, AZ) are up and all six races are toss-ups. The Republicans will use those offices to make it harder to vote and less likely legal votes are counted. The links to donate to these races can be found in this post.
Secretaries of state are the next line of defense. Republicans understand this. Too many Democrats don’t. The Republican political group that funds secretary of state races raised $33 million last year. The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State raised a whopping $1 million in the first half of last year. You can help narrow that gap by donating here:
As always, sign up at Vote Save America to learn about ways you can make an impact in 2022 through the “No Off Years” program.
None of this is easy. None of us wanted to be in this position. But the only option is to dig in and go about the hard work of saving democracy.