Robert Reich: Odds are against Dem takeover of House

Rampant voter suppression and years of political gerrymandering make it unlikely Democrats will win enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives, said Robert Reich, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and former secretary of labor to President Bill Clinton.

Reich, speaking at a Tuesday evening panel about the midterm elections, said that he doubts Democratic voters are enthusiastic enough to outvote pro-Trump voters in districts engineered to favor Republican incumbents.

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“I want to make sure we face the reality,” he said in his opening remarks. “State after state after state is engaged in a degree of voting suppression that is unprecedented in the modern era. I’m talking about the last 20 to 30 years. It is going to be very hard for Democrats in this election.”

Thirty years of falling wages have left white Americans frustrated, angry and susceptible to the kind of demagoguery President Donald Trump offers, he said.

“You could have seen this coming,” he said. “Ross Perot in 1992 was appealing to them, and there have been other appeals to them, but never an appeal quite as bold and direct as Donald Trump.”

Reich’s opening remarks — edited for clarity — are below. You can also watch a recording of the event, which also includes analysis from Henry Brady, dean of the public policy school, and Janet Napolitano, the president of the UC system and former governor of Arizona.


Robert Reich: I am an optimistic person, but as I read it the Democrats will have to have a margin of over 11 percent — closer to 12 percent — over Republicans in House voting across the country in order to take the House given the degree of voter suppression now going on. Given what I see so far, I don’t see it happening.

Anything could happen. These days, when you hear people make predictions about politics those are far, far less credible than weather reports or stock predictions or anything else.

But let me just say a few things by way of background to explain what I am talking about. I don’t think this has much to do with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I think what we’re seeing is a contest between authoritarianism and democracy.

Why does authoritarianism even have a chance of winning? Why did it win in 2016? Authoritarianism is winning in the United States for slightly different reasons than in other places around the world. I think it is winning here because of the failure over the last 30 years of Democratic and Republican administrations, our entire political establishment, really, to do much about stagnant wages and increasing insecurity.

Now there is a big debate about whether it was racism or economics that put Trump in office. I don’t think it was one or the other. I think it was the interaction of both. If you have 35 years of stagnant wages and you have one group–not blacks, not Hispanics or Latinos, not college graduates — but you have one group that is dropping over the last 35 years, not stagnating but have dropping incomes relative to the median, it is white people without college degrees.

I don’t think this (election) has much to do with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I think what we’re seeing is a contest between authoritarianism and democracy.”

– Robert Reich

If you have that much stagnation or decline, you have people who are susceptible to demagoguery that takes the form of racism and xenophobia and genderism and misogyny and every other kind of hatefulness and fear. You could have seen this coming. Ross Perot in 1992 was appealing to them and there have been other appeals to them, but never an appeal quite as bold and direct as Donald Trump.

This is an administration driven by hatefulness and fear. It has a propaganda machine called Fox News; we’ve never had that before on the scale we have now. It is one that has taken on the mainstream press directly and consistently. It has taken on facts and analysis, science, policy, it basically is a reversion against the Enlightenment and I don’t mean to say that lightly. We have not seen anything like this. There have been hints, there was Father Coughlin in the 1930s, there was Huey Long, there was George Wallace in the 1960. We’ve seen glimmers of this. Maybe glimmers is the wrong term. But we’ve not seen the full blown consequences.

Now, why isn’t America rising against this? Why aren’t people who believe in Democracy rising against this? To some extent they are. But I want to make sure we face the reality. It is not just old-time voter suppression. This is a new form of voter suppression.

Since the Shelby v. Holder decision, we’ve got a lot of states that are basically free to do whatever they want. And you have additional states that were not under the Voting Rights Act who were actively suppressing voting. It is voting IDs, it is purging of voting roles.

Let’s look at what is going on in Georgia. With the Secretary of State in Georgia who is actually holding up the registrations of 56,000 voters, 70 percent of whom are black. State after state after state is engaged in a degree of voting suppression that is unprecedented in the modern era, and I’m talking about the last 20 to 30 years. It is going to be very hard for Democrats in this election.

If the economy was bad we might have the chance to motivate a lot of people to get to the voting booth. Most people live in two worlds. They live in their own personal little bubble, in which they say “I am OK, not great, but I am OK.” And then there is the world they understand that is outside the bubble. They are cognizant that authoritarianism is loose in the country.

Two men and one woman sit in front of a banner saying Goldman School of Public Policy

Robert Reich, right, spoke on a panel at the Goldman School of Public Policy with Henry Brady, dean of the school, and Janet Napolitano, president of the UC system and a professor at UC Berkeley.

But will they be motivated to go out and vote? Will young people go out and vote? Remember in 2014, only 16 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 actually bothered to go out and vote. Sixteen percent!

Even if it is higher, if it is 18 or 19 percent, that is not enough. Are we going to get Hispanics and Latinos out in the numbers needed to really take on this? I’m not sure. What about women? Women are what I am relying on. When I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if there is any possibility of Democrats taking the house, I think of the women in this county who are very very mobilized. But that’s the big question.

The next big question on my mind is what happens next, whether or not the Democrats take back the House. What is the long-term prognosis, what do we do for the next two years if you’re someone that believes in democracy with a small “d?”

What do we do when there is an authoritarian in the White House who doesn’t believe in democracy? Whose demagoguery is so strong he has turned the Republican Congress into lapdogs and sycophants.

I’ve worked with a lot Republicans in Congress over the last 30 years, I’ve never seen a group that has no integrity whatsoever. The few that do aren’t running for reelection. They’re scared or they’re opportunists or they’re starting to sound like Trump.

So what is the strategy over the next two years? I would love to talk about that. I will end my upbeat presentation and take some questions, thank you very much.