The Tea Party and Republicans believe that President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda will be comparable to Obamacare in 2012 in mobilizing massive voter opposition in coal states like Ohio in the 2014 congressional elections, giving the GOP a shot at controlling the Senate. Their assessment may be correct since turnout for midterm elections are traditionally low. The Roberts Court decision undoing the Voting Rights Act may open the door to efforts at dampening voter turnout among the elderly, students and people of color. The Republican seizure of Congress would set the stage for another epic political showdown in 2016 when Obama leaves office.
Republicans are “gleeful” at the prospects of running in 2014 against an Obama executive order to crack down on coal emissions. (New York Times, July 1, 2013) Republicans will use the issue to fire up their base in targeting seats in West Virginia, South Dakota, Louisiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other coal-rich states. Senate Democrats currently control 52 seats plus two independents.
Like Obamacare, which continues to be a difficult issue, Obama’s alleged “war on coal” will inflame those constituencies already furious about his executive actions made necessary by Republican intransigence in Congress.
The Republicans face an internal crisis over immigrant rights, however, which may cripple their prospects overall. The strength of the Tea Party at district levels is an Achilles heel for Republicans in national discourse. There are only 24 House Republican seats with more than 25 percent Latino registration in comparison to 65 Democratic ones, leaving virtually no constituent pressure on House Republicans to vote for any meaningful immigration reform. Most of the party is opposed in principle to any reforms that legalize voting rights and citizenship for 10 to 12 million undocumented. Their opposition is rooted in white American nativism plus the calculation that Latinos will become a pillar for Democratic candidates in such states as Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Florida, and in legislative races across the country.
If the House Republicans balk at voting rights, or the “path to citizenship” is too thorny for immigrant rights groups to embrace, the Republicans will continue to be branded as racist and anti-Latino for years to come. Support from the left may crumble as well as more is learned about the militaristic “Border Surge” insisted on by Senate Republicans, which includes 20,000 additional troops – more than doubling the current number of troops from 18,000 to 38,000 – $46.3 billion for fencing and surveillance – including drones – and implausible requirements of zero illegal entries. Should the immigrant rights package implode, all parties will suffer political damage but the Republicans most of the blame.
Democrats will have to depend on high turnout from women, people of color, labor unions, students, the LGBT community, and environmentalists fearing the consequences of the Republican threat. Whether the levels of mobilization will be comparable to 2008 and 2012 is unlikely, however.
An all-out democracy agenda focused on voter protection, union expansion, campaign finance reform, and disclosure of secret corporate money can push back the One Percent and cement the emerging multicultural majority that has emerged in American politics since Obama’s 2008 victory. 2014 could be the triumph of the backlash instead.