(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The upset out of Queens and the Bronx was the biggest story coming out of the Tuesday primaries, but it wasn’t the only one important enough to still be talking about two days later:
- President Donald Trump is actually learning something. This time, he endorsed likely winners: incumbent South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and New York Congressman Don Donovan. Both went on to win. Why were they likely winners? Because incumbents in those offices rarely lose — and, presumably, because Trump had access to polls showing they were in good shape. There’s an argument that primary endorsements are a bad idea for the president even if his candidates win; after all, they require going up against a decent number of his own supporters, who might resent it. But it certainly beats endorsing losers.
- Despite the impressive showing for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tuesday was perhaps the worst day women have had in Democratic primaries so far this year. It probably doesn’t mean anything (other than the specific contests involved), but we’ll have to see what happens as primary season continues. Particularly disappointing for women: failure to win any of the available gubernatorial nominations.
- Speaking of which, Bernie Sanders finally had a nice win for someone he endorsed, Ben Jealous in the Maryland governor’s race. There’s a lot of bad punditry about all of this, but the truth is that it’s not at all unusual for Democrats to nominate candidates with a range of ideological placements, and the party seems to be able to do that without falling to pieces. Joe Crowley immediately endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in New York, and it appears likely that in Maryland the party will unite behind Jealous, although he’s a long shot to defeat popular Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
- One more thing about the House upset in particular, but also about the contests in general. Ezra Klein said on Twitter Wednesday that Ocasio-Cortez’s win was a sign that “the parties are weakening.” I don’t see that at all. If anything, her win and the Jealous nomination show that affiliating with a major party is a way for those with (perhaps) fringe political views to empower themselves. From what I’ve seen, Ocasio-Cortez isn’t trying to dismantle the Democratic Party; she’s trying to change it. To whatever extent that succeeds, it doesn’t demonstrate that the parties are weak; it demonstrates, to the contrary, that fighting over party policy preferences and agendas is critically important because parties are so powerful.
When the parties really were much weaker, in the 1970s, candidates could come in, capture a single nomination, and then do as they pleased; the party was to a large extent just an empty label up for grabs in every election. Now, there are strong party forces keeping elected officials in line — so strong that even a true candidate-centered party outsider such as Donald Trump is being forced to choose only Supreme Court nominees that the party approves of. But because parties are not all that hierarchical, it’s possible for party actors of all kinds, including politicians, to enter and try to influence them. Again, because there’s something worth influencing beyond just a series of unconnected single offices.
1. Rick Hasen at Slate on the confirmation of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s replacement. I think the prospects of defeating a Trump nominee are actually worse than he thinks. Hasen says that perhaps massive protests could convince Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski to oppose confirmation. But even if that happens — and I don’t think it’s impossible — Trump could just go down his list, and I think it’s hard to believe the second or third try would be unsuccessful (and there’s plenty of time for that before January, even if Democrats do gain a Senate majority in November). Truth is, the best tactic for Democrats is probably to (accurately!) taunt Trump for being such a weak president that he allows others to dictate his Supreme Court choices. It probably wouldn’t work, but Trump has been manipulated into doing foolish things before.
6. As John Wagner reports, Mitch McConnell claims to want to keep the legislative filibuster in place. Perhaps, but the truth is that no party with a 50-to-49 majority and practically no legislative agenda at all is going to go nuclear against the legislative filibuster. The sweet spot for majority-imposed reform is a majority of somewhere between 54 and 57: enough to have the votes for lots of things if a simple majority was enough but not enough to win over enough votes from the other party by cutting deals.
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